Biodiesel: How Green is it?
The Long View
Photo taken half a mile From Hacker Creek Spill
Channel 3 News recently reported about the Hacker Creek diesel spill in the Salmon Creek Watershed. It mistakenly named the fuel used to power the illegal marijuana grow as biodiesel. A commenter on Heraldo’s site wondered about how biodiesel would affect the environment.
For discussion here, there are three main types of diesel
• Diesel sold in the gas station for cars.
• Off road diesel. Red diesel, so called because it is dyed to allow law enforcement to tell that it is not sold for use on roads,. It isn’t charged taxes.
• Biodiesel is usually the most expensive of all and made from soybean oil and waste food oils such as might have been used to fry foods. There are blends that combine biodiesel with regular car diesel in differing amounts. In fact most biodiesel is a blend.
The contractor on the spill, Jim Crook, said that the fuel in Hacker Creek was red dye Diesel. After the diesel had been on the creek for awhile, it began to break down and the dye dissipated leaving only an oily sheen in the water. However, it was not biodiesel.
An article in the San Francisco Chronicle makes it clear that if the spill had been biodiesel the effects would have been only marginally better.
According to the National Biodiesel Board, a trade group, biodiesel is nontoxic, biodegradable and suitable for sensitive environments, but scientists say that position understates its potential environmental impact.
“They’re really considered nontoxic, as you would expect,” said Bruce Hollebone, a researcher with Environment Canada in Ottawa, and one of the world’s leading experts on the environmental impact of vegetable oil and glycerin spills.
“You can eat the stuff, after all,” Hollebone said. “But as with most organic materials, oil and glycerin deplete the oxygen content of water very quickly and that will suffocate fish and other organisms. And for birds, a vegetable oil spill is just as deadly as a crude oil spill.”
Biodiesel substantially reduces air emissions but, in a spill, the damage can result in incredible environmental damage. Biodiesel Magazine reports today that while spills are relatively uncommon in the industry, there is not much tracking of biodiesel spills in particular from other diesel spills. So far, there apparently haven’t been any big biodiesel disasters.