How does bitumen get to market?

Once converted to synthetic crude oil capable of moving through pipelines, bitumen is sent to refineries that have been retrofitted for this product. A web of pipelines already links the oil sands to the rest of North America, but two controversial projects would significantly expand producers’ market options. TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline would graze the Ogallala aquifer in the American Midwest on its way to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline would head west over the Rocky and Coastal Mountains to a terminus at the head of Douglas Channel in British Columbia, crossing innumerable salmon streams along the way. At Kitimat, diluted bitumen would be loaded onto quarter-mile long supertankers, each carrying 2.2 million barrels of oil. These ships would negotiate a 190-kilometer maze of fjords and islands on their way to markets in California and the Orient. Tides can be extreme and winter storms regularly ride in on winds well in excess of a hundred kilometers an hour. First Nations tribes who have plied these waters for millennia are concerned about the possibility that an oil spill would destroy their fisheries and time-honored way of life.

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