What is Dilbit?

Bitumen prior to dilution

dilbit = tar sands

"Dilbit" is the oil industry term for diluted bitumen, which is commonly known as tar sands oil. Another synonym for bitumen is asphalt. Bitumen is a tar-like substance that has various chemicals and hydrocarbons added to it so that it will flow through pipelines. The industry refers to the substance as “dilbit”. Here’s some of our main concerns: Dilbit contains benzene, mixed hydrocarbons and n-hexane. All three are toxins that can affect the human brain and central nervous system.

Dilbit’s characteristics make it very different than conventional petroleum, therefore it operates very differently than does conventional oil as it flows through the pipeline. Dilbit has much higher acidity, viscosity, sulfur content, pipeline temperature and pipeline pressure than do conventional oil pipelines. Dilbit also contains higher rates of flow per second of quartz and silicates than do commercial sand blasters. These factors create concerns regarding pipeline spill risks. Dilbit does not float when it spills into water like conventional oil. Dilbit sinks, making surface water containment strategies ineffective.

When dilbit spills onto water, unlike conventional oil, it sinks to the bottom making cleanup much more difficult.

Much of the bitumen flowing across America in pipelines comes from strip mines in the northern Alberta, Canada region called the Athabasca Tar Sands (aka Athabasca Oil Sands).