Judith Lavoie's blog

Sat, 2014-05-03 11:48Judith Lavoie
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Salish Sea Orca Whales Not Mating, Socializing in Polluted Soundscape

orca whales, salish sea, kinder morgan, coal export terminals

Vessel noise is already hindering endangered southern resident killer whales from communicating and finding fish and the noise bombardment will get worse if proposals for coal terminals and pipelines in B.C and Washington State are approved, said scientists and environmentalists at a conference looking at the health of the Salish Sea.

“Ships dominate the soundscape of Puget Sound,” said Scott Veirs, Beam Reach Marine Sciences and Sustainability School program coordinator and professor, speaking at the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference.

Veirs and his students take underwater sound recordings off Lime Kiln Park on San Juan Island, an area where the killer whales are known to spend time, and then model the echo-location and communication consequences for the resident killer whales. The resident killer whale population has dropped this year to 80 animals in three pods, the lowest number in more than a decade.

Fri, 2014-05-02 10:42Judith Lavoie
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U.S. Officials Search For Answers On Bitumen Spills As Canada Eyes Enbridge, Kinder Morgan Oil Pipelines

EPA sampling during Enbridge bitumen spill

U.S officials are struggling to figure out how bitumen from the Alberta oilsands will behave if there is a spill either from a pipeline or into the Salish Sea, the fragile ocean environment between Canada and the U.S.

As the U.S. debates the future of the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport Alberta oil to the Gulf Coast, and Canada looks at Kinder Morgan's proposed twinning of the Trans Mountain pipeline and the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway project, there is a growing urgency to find out how diluted bitumen behaves if there is a spill, said scientists, policy makers and environmentalists gathered in Seattle for the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference this week.

“Does it float or not float? That's the question,” said Gary Shigenaka, marine biologist with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) hazardous materials response division, flashing a picture of thick, black bitumen extracted from the oilsands.

NOAA is studying the behaviour of bitumen and the diluent with which it is mixed to make the peanut-butter like substance flow through pipelines, but, so far, there are few concrete answers, Shigenaka said.

Studies show that although diluted bitumen — dilbit — initially floats in water, it sinks when it is mixed with sediment, which would happen in high turbulence or in areas such as a river estuary, Shigenaka said.

Fears about the behaviour of bitumen in water have been growing since the 2010 spill of about 3.2 million litres (843,000 gallons) of thick crude into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. It was the first spill of diluted bitumen from Alberta into a waterway, and agencies struggled to cope with a substance that released toxic fumes from the diluent and then sank as the bitumen mixed with river sediment.

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