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The environmental effects of diluted bitumen on Pacific estuarine and marine organisms in the Straights of Georgia / Juan de Fuca area of British Columbia


Canada is the sixth largest oil producing country in the world producing an average of 197,000 m3/d of bitumen, mostly from oil sands in northern Alberta. Canadian pipeline companies have proposed a number of major new transmission pipelines from this area, as well as increases in rail transport and the use of existing and proposed new marine terminals for tanker export of bitumen to overseas markets. In British Columbia (BC), existing and proposed pipelines would carry diluted bitumen and crude oil for transfer to ships destined for overseas markets, highlighting the potential risk of a spill of diluted bitumen into the marine environment.

Few studies exist on the toxicity of diluted bitumen alone or in combination with dispersants (e.g. Corexit® 9500A) to marine organisms. Key information from toxicological studies of crude oil and its components such as BTEX and PAHs may be applied to diluted bitumen, however, generalizations on risk cannot be made with any certainty. Some toxicity studies with oil and Corexit® 9500A exist, but few in a Canadian context. This highlights the need to conduct research that informs the potential risks from spills of diluted bitumen to marine habitat quality on the Pacific coast of Canada.

The objectives of this proposal are to generate new empirical data on acute toxicity and sublethal effects in representative marine species (including salmon, flounder, shrimp, mussels and kelp) that directly address how diluted bitumen and dispersants may affect marine life in the southern waters of BC. Specifically, this research will focus on two major ecosystems in this area (the estuarine and marine environments) and their biological components. Results from this research will aid in the development of risk assessment plans that would inform decisions on the transport of diluted bitumen. The results will also inform response activities in the event of a spill to mitigate impacts to marine organisms in this and other coastal areas of Canada.

Program Name

National Contaminants Advisory Group (NCAG)


2015 - 2017


Pacific: Strait of Georgia

Principal Investigator(s)

Christopher Kennedy
Professor Department Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University (British Columbia)

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