Wednesday, September 19, 2007

[tar sands] canada sits on barely usable oil

This article was referred to me by Two Wolves: Tar Sands: Part 2 by Chris Nelder, originally written for Energy and Capital and it's severely abridged to fit it into a blog front page.

It touches on problems faced by Canada and ultimately the U.S. in using Alberta tar as one of the sources of fuel for internal combustion engines.


- plants typically use two to four barrels of water to extract a barrel of oil - currently enough to sustain a city of two million every year.

- water ends up toxic, some of it reused, vast amounts pumped into enormous settlement ponds as toxic waste.


- needs over 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas - to produce one barrel of bitumen.

- consume about 4% of Canada's natural gas supply.

- quadrupling production would consume 16% of the supply

- estimates over the next ten years exceed the projections for available amounts of natural gas

- proven reserves of natural gas will be gone in about eight years

- after gas, the next obvious choice is nuclear energy - costs and water usage still a problem.

- total Energy Return On Investment around 5% to 10% but with oil over $60 it still makes economic sense

- other processes like "toe heel air injection," are being looked at.


- perennial shortage of skilled labor

- workers want a bigger piece of the action.


- primeval boreal forest the size of Florida is being blighted

- toxic sludge in huge tailings ponds

- industry pays next to nothing

- every barrel of oil uses enough natural gas to heat a family's home for four days.

Therefore there is the scenario of us sitting in our cars burning up the environment with the only limit in our minds vague ideas of environmental difficulties and the limiting cost of increasingly pricy fuel and this being supplied at all costs through a very inefficient and damaging process.

As my Min pointed out, the Arabs have only to drop the price below 50 dollars and still make a profit and the whole tar sands wastage then becomes pointless. This is how the middle-east has the west over a barrel.

Bob Ebersole [oilmanbob] says:

Its time to do the heretofore unthinkable, and demand that no more internal combustion engines be sold new in North America, and go full tilt into Alan Drake's Electrification of Rail program.

That's the rationale coverage of the issue.

Another point of view has it that far from being indifferent to the blighting of the landscape, making it unfit for human habitation and destroying all eco-systems, the driving force for this energy madness is quite happy to see this state of affairs and will do all it can to continue it.

Verse 6:12 here states it clearly.

Just an alternative point of view, that's all. But still these are words. I myself have sold my gas guzzler which I admit simply transfers the problem to someone else.


jmb said...

This is a total turn around. Just a few posts ago you were demanding that the Oil Sands be developed so that we could tell the Arabs to get lost.

And what about the Americans who buy Canadian natural gas and burn it to make electricity to run their air conditioners? This always totally incenses me.

Wolfie said...

JMB : To be fair to James I think he wasn't fully appraised of all the facts and has the decency to admit it, I've had to do the same myself on occasion. Lets face it we all can only base out point of view on available information and the right thing to do is to simply say so and move on. I was excited when I first heard of the tar sands but after extensive personal research and picking past the FUD and spin I realised it was simply insanity.

Some would argue that its about differing opinion but this is a scientific/engineering issue, there is little manoeuvre for opinion. Its about facts and piecing them together in a cohesive manner.

Blognor Regis said...

Big feature on same in Telegraph last weekend James.

I'm with you, people had bigged up the area as a panacea but it's not quite as expected. Rather grotty in fact.

Gracchi said...

Yeah I think this is a real compliment to James as a blogger that he has changed his mind on this- I don't know anything about the issue- but changing your mind is a sign of a good intellect.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

I'm with Wolfie and Gracchi. YOu have my admiration, James.

Dr. James P. Holdren said...

Well, Gracchi and Welsh - I'm blushing.

JMB - it was available information, as Wolfie and BR said.

BR - I'll chase that link - thanks.