Posts Tagged ‘Tar Sands’

How tar sands oil is produced

May 6, 2015

gr-tar-sands-948Source: NPR.

The death throes of Alberta tar sands?

March 3, 2015
Alberta tar sands.  Source: The Economist

Alberta tar sands. Source: The Economist

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

The dangerous and destructive Alberta tar sands project may be in jeopardy economically because of falling oil prices, the Washington Spectator reported.

An end to the project would be good news, but the desperate struggles of the dying industry to survive by any means necessary could cause even more damage before it disappears.

Tar from tar sands is extracted by a process as environmentally destructive as strip mining and hydrofracking combined.  Tar Sands Solutions says an area of northern Alberta the size of Florida is being devastated.  Scientists say that the tar sands project in and of itself could have a measurable effect on global warming.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Extraction products a product called bitumen, a corrosive slurry that must be brought to a refinery to be converted into a useful product.  This creates a high risk of pipe breaks or leaks from tanker train accidents along the way.

As oil prices fall, the higher the volume of bitumen that must be shipped from northern Alberta to generate enough revenue to keep the project going.  Mark Dowie, writing in the Washington Spectator, says this creates an opportunity to block the project.

It is not necessary, he wrote, to stop all tar sands pipelines—the two planned for Canada’s west coast, the one planned for Canada’s east coast or the Keystone XL pipeline through the United States to the Texas Gulf Coast.  Blocking two or three would be enough to make the project economically unfeasible.

This makes sense.  But tar sands in its death throes could be even more destructive than it is now, as the owners try to ship their product by tank cars or by any other means necessary.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

President Obama vetoed a bill requiring him to approve the Keystone XL pipeline on his own.  But he still could approve it on his own authority.  Canada could ask a NAFTA tribunal to order the United States to pay penalties if he doesn’t.  Or it could wait for until a new President is elected in 2016.

I used to look upon Canada as not just a good neighbor to the United States, but as a good example.  That’s no longer true under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

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Alternative tar sands pipeline is ready to go

November 12, 2014

oil_industry_and_great_lakes

Source: Honor the Earth.

While the U.S. government ponders whether to allow the Keystone XL pipeline to transport tar sands oil from the Canadian province of Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico, another Canadian company decided to short-circuit the process and transport tar sands oil across the upper Midwest to the great lakes.

The company, Enbridge, had applied for permits to transport the highly corrosive tar sands bitumen, but then it decided that it didn’t need permission, and decided to go ahead with the project anyway, the Washington Spectator reported.

The project is dubious because, among other reasons, of the danger of pipe leaks and spills, which would pollute streams and underground water.  Enbridge has a bad record in this respect.  Tar sands developers have been blocked by other Canadian provinces from building pipelines east and west, so they’ve chosen to go south into the United States.

The Washington Spectator reported that Enbridge already has a permit, issued in 1967, to transport oil across the border via its Alberta Clipper pipeline.   The company claimed it didn’t need a new permit to expand the pipeline and transport tar sands bitumen, and federal regulators raised no objection.  So unless state governments decide to stop the project, the Alberta Clipper is a done deal.

LINK

Second Canadian Company Completing Tar Sands Pipeline into the U.S. by Lou DuBose for the Washington Spectator.

How Much Will Tar Sands Oil Add to Global Warming? by David Biello for Scientific American.

Simon & Finn on environmental restoration

March 25, 2014

sf-oilsands1small

Whether it is hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, surface mining for coal or processing tar sands for oil bitumen, it is never going to be possible to put the petals back on the flower (figuratively speaking).

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steven-cohen/the-political-power-of-en_b_859287.html?view=print&comm_ref=false

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/03/20/1286250/-Guess-who-s-the-major-stakeholder-in-Canada-s-oil-sands-Of-course-it-s-the-nbsp-Kochs

Click on simonandfinn for more cartoons.

The world scene: Links & notes 12/2/13

December 2, 2013

Obama Approves Major Fracked Gas Pipeline by Steve Horn for Counterpunch.

The oil product extracted from tar sands is a thick gunk called bitumen, which can’t be moved through pipelines unless it is diluted by a natural gas produced called condensate.  The U.S. State Department on Nov. 19 approved construction of a 1,900-mile gas pipeline to carry condensate produced by hydraulic fracturing in the Eagle Fort Shale Basin in Texas through Kankakee, Illinois, to the tar sands area of Alberta.  This will make it feasible to pump diluted bitumen through the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast.

Under the radar: Israel’s security establishment supports new Iran agreement by Larry Derfner for +972 Magazine.  Hat tip to EconoSpeak.

Maybe “supports” is too strong a word, but Israel’s top brass would rather have negotiations and a slowing of Iran’s nuclear program than no negotiations and no concessions.   The Israeli stock market also responded favorably to announcement of the negotiations.

100 injured as second day of clashes shakes capital by the Bangkok Post.

Anti-government demonstrators in Thailand spray contents of honey wagons at police, and use giant fans to blow tear gas back at them.

The passing scene: Links 11/25/13

November 25, 2013

Switzerland votes against a cap on executive pay by The Guardian.

Voters in Switzerland voted, by a 2 to 1 ratio, to reject a proposed law that would have limited executive pay in a corporation to 12 times that of the lowest-paid employee.

Foxconn invests $40M in Pennsylvania to tap research, talent by Michael Kan for Computerworld.

China-based Foxconn, the world’s largest manufacturing employer, plans operations in the United States.   Presumably, there won’t be nets around the buildings to catch suicidal employees.

Toxic Lakes From Tar-Sands Projects Planned for Alberta by Jeremy Van Loon for Bloomberg News.

Some day the bitumen in Alberta will be exhausted, but the toxic wastes in artificial lakes will be there indefinitely.

 

Tar sands and the Keystone XL pipeline

February 22, 2013

While the United States looks to hydraulic fracturing for natural gas for energy independence, our northern neighbor Canada looks to an even more problematic and dirtier energy source—tar sands.

Tar sands are a mixture of clay, sand, water and a tarry substance called bitumen, which can be processed into crude oil.   Bitumen can’t be pumped.  It has to be mined.   Then it has to be cooked in order to separate it from the sands and mixed with chemicals to make it liquid enough to be piped to a refinery.

Double click to enlarge

Double click to enlarge

Canada is the only country with an important tar sands industry.  The Canadian province of Alberta has one of the world’s two largest known deposits of tar sands (the other is in Venezuela).  They underlie an area as large as the state of Florida or the nation of England.  If all the tar sands were usable as oil, Canada could in theory be an oil producer equal to Saudi Arabia.

Tar sands are pumped into the United States partly through Keystone pipeline, which became operational in June, 2010.  The pipeline extends from Hardisty, Alberta, to Cushing, Oklahoma, and Patoka, Illinois.  Now the TransCanada, the pipeline owner, wants to make extensions of the Keystone pipeline—the Keystone XL pipelines—which would take the tar sands crude from Cushing to refineries in Houston and Port Arthur, Texas, and create a more direct route from Hardisty across the Great Plains.

Canada is the largest source of U.S. oil imports, and a large fraction of that is tar sands oil.   Enbridge, another Canadian tar sands company, also operates pipelines in the United States and also looks to expand.

Environmentalists have valid objections to tar sands generally and to the Keystone XL plan in particular.  Alberta’s tar sands are extracted through surface mining, one of the most destructive extraction practices in existence.  Tar sands mining contributes to global warming by releasing underground carbon, increasing carbon emissions, and destruction of forest land.  Environmentalists say tar sands mining and processing uses four times as much energy as it makes available.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Processing of tar sands bitumen requires corrosive chemicals to make it liquid enough to pump.  The chemicals can corrode pipes and create the danger of spills.   Whistleblowers say that TransCanada doesn’t properly inspect its pipelines.  There were 12 spills during the first year of the Keystone pipeline’s operation, admittedly all relatively minor, and a more serious spill in Michigan by Enbridge.

TransCanada says it already has the necessary approvals for the southern Keystone XL through Texas, but President Obama has authority to disapprove the northern Keystone XL because it would cross the U.S. border at a new point.   That extension would take the tar sands pipeline through the Ogallala Aquifer, an underground water reservoir which supplies irrigation water for 20 percent of U.S. farm production and drinking water for many communities.  A spill or leak could contaminate this water.   If President Obama can’t bring himself to disapprove the pipeline altogether, he should insist that it be rerouted around the aquifer.

No matter what he decides, tar sands will reamin as a presence in the United States and as an issue.

I have to admire the oil industry’s enterprise and ingenuity.   It is amazing to me that techniques such as deep water ocean drilling, horizontal hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, and conversion of tar sands to usable petroleum are even possible.  I think the environmentalists’ objections to tar sands are all valid.  But I want gasoline for my car and that gasoline has to come from some source, dirty or clean.

I wish the intelligence, hard work and capital investment that is going into developing dirty energy can be redirected into developing clean energy.   The oil industry probably would say the latter isn’t economically feasible.   I can’t prove this is wrong, but if it is, industrial civilization doesn’t have a future.

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