In 2012, Congress tasked the Secretary of Transportation to “determine whether any increase in the risk of release exists for pipelines transporting diluted bitumen.” The US Department of Transportation turned to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which recently published its report on its study. In addition to discussing the chemical properties, physical properties, and environmental behaviors of diluted bitumen in comparison to more commonly transported crude oils, the report examines spill response planning and regulations. The report notes that the chemical, physical, and environmental differences of diluted bitumen indicate areas for improvement in current spill response planning and regulations.
The report makes several recommendations concerning The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration’s (PHMSA) spill response planning regulations including identification and standardization of product names included within the spill response plans with Safety Data Sheets noting all spill relevant properties, and publicly available annual reports online by volume of product. The report also calls for further coordination between PHMSA, the Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), and the Coast Guard (USCG), including PHMSA gathering USEPA and/or USCG input on spill response plans and the sharing of spill response best practices between federal, state, and local governments. Additional recommendations and research opportunities can be found in the full report at the National Academies Press.