Page 1

Keystone XL and Oil Viscosity: Environmentally Significant? There has been a great deal of controversy lately surrounding the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline. The debate has reached to the echelons of Presidential commissions and the United States Congress. The controversy revolves around whether the higher-viscosity oils that would be transported by this extension of the pipeline will do more environmental damage when burned than would oils of lower viscosity. What is not in question is that high-viscosity oils are the most effective type of oil for many popular industrial applications. High-viscosity oils are easy to heat with a variety of electrical heaters, which are an inexpensive and efficient means of heating liquids in the petrochemical industry. History of the Issue In September 2008, an application was submitted to the federal government by TransCanada, asking for permission to build a pipeline for the transportation of crude oil from Canada to the US. Since the proposed project would straddle this international border, it would be necessary for the US State Department to issue an official Presidential Permit if the project were to go forward. The State Department studied the proposal and in November 2011 it made public its decision that further details from TransCanada would be necessary regarding “alternative pipeline routes through the Nebraska sandhills� (Ramseur, 2013) before the project could move forward towards approval. In the meantime, a legislative mandate expressed disapproval of the project, and consequently in January of 2012 the State Department, acting in accordance with the wishes of the Presidential administration, officially denied TransCanada’s application for a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. TransCanada did not take this news passively, and instead, prepared a revised application that attempted to address some of the previous problems, and submitted it in May 2012. Final judgment has still not been passed regarding the fate of the pipeline, but there are strong emotions on both sides. The Science Involved Crude oil in general is a hot-button environmental issue. The Keystone XL pipeline would originate in Alberta, Canada, where there are oil sands that produce the crude. The US government has given a great deal of credence to studies showing that higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions are produced by oil sands oil than crude from other sources. This is mainly due to the higher viscosity of oil sands oils, which necessitates extraction methods that use more energy and resources. On the other hand, different modeling assumptions produce different results. Industry stakeholders are quick to cite other studies showing that greenhouse gas emissions from oil sands oils are not significantly higher than those of other crude oils currently available in the US. These industries often need higher-viscosity oils for the type of petrochemical engineering involved in their manufacturing processes and products. These types of oils can be heated easily by various types of industrial electric heaters, including immersion heaters and flanged heaters. Often these heaters are sourced from WATTCO, an internationally recognized name in industrial heating. Wattco has long been an exponent of environmentally sound heating options, and regardless of whether the Keystone XL pipeline is judged environmentally viable, the type of oils it could pump would be able to be heated for industrial use in environmentally sound ways. Company Bio:

WATTCO develops and manufactures electrical heating products. Founded in 1969, the company offers industrial heating solutions that are used around the world. WATTCO’s specialties include oil and gas heating, renewable energy, heating/ventilation/air-conditioning systems and projects done by government contract. Their website and customer service representatives offer expert advice on industrial heating projects. For more information visit us at:

Keystone XL and Oil Viscosity: Environmentally Significant? | The potential environmental damage associated with the Keystone XL oil pipeline extension is inconclusive, accordin...