Report: Alberta Oil Sands Most Destructive Project on Earth

Mon, 2008-02-18 10:40Terrance Berg
Terrance Berg's picture

Report: Alberta Oil Sands Most Destructive Project on Earth

Want the facts on the Alberta Oil Sands? Check our Top 10 Facts About the Alberta Oil Sands  section.


   

Environmental Defence has released a report calling the Alberta Oil Sands the most destructive project on Earth.

Few Canadians know that Canada is home to one of the world's largest dams and it is built to hold toxic waste from just one Tar Sands operation,” Rick Smith, the executive director of Environmental Defence.

And according to the report this is just the beginning. Approvals have already been given that will double the size of existing operations and Canada's leaders have been talking with the US government to grow oil sands operations in a “short time span.”

Even a former Premier of Alberta is concerned. Peter Lougheed who served as Premier from 1971 to 1985 was recently quoted on the oil sands as saying:

… it is just a moonscape. It is wrong in my judgment, a major wrong… So it is a major, major federal and provincial issue.”

However, there is a silver lining in all this. A recent Canadian parliamentary committee recently stated that:

A business as usual approach to the development of the oil sands is not sustainable. The time has come to begin the transition to a clean energy future.”

Here's a few facts about the Alberta Oil Sands:

- Oil sands mining is licensed to use twice the amount of fresh water that the entire city of Calgary uses in a year.

- At least 90% of the fresh water used in the oil sands ends up in ends up in tailing ponds so toxic that propane cannons are used to keep ducks from landing in them.

- Processing the oil sands uses enough natural gas in a day to heat 3 million homes in Canada.

- The toxic tailing ponds are considered one of the largest human-made structures in the world. The ponds span 50 square kilometers and can be seen from space.

- Producing a barrel of oil from the oil sands produces three times more greenhouse gas emissions than a barrel of conventional oil.

- The oil sands operations are the fastest growing source of heat-trapping greenhouse gas in Canada. By 2020 the oil sands will release twice the amount produced currently by all the cars and trucks in Canada.

A full copy of the Environmental Defence report is attached to the end of this post.

AttachmentSize
TarSands_TheReport final.pdf963.2 KB

Previous Comments

The oils sands actually REMOVE oil from the soil, thats the point the arctic in the oil sands area had always been impossible to live in because the land is A Frozen solid and B Toxic. The oil sands actually remove the oil from the land and clean the sand and then reclaim the land. It’s like the Exxon Valdez only on a massive clean up scale.

# Oil sands mining is licensed to use twice the amount of fresh water that the entire city of Calgary uses in a year. - yes and it’s recycled,
# At least 90% of the fresh water used in the oil sands ends up in ends up in tailing ponds so toxic that propane cannons are used to keep ducks from landing in them. - yes, what the tailing pond are bi products from the soil, salts, minerals, that you don’t want ducks landing on or drinking, it’s like salty mud, but it’s not unnatural they recycle the water from the ponds it drys up and they bury in where they found it.
http://www.nrcan-rncan.gc.ca/com/elements/issues/2 …

Processing the oil sands uses enough natural gas in a day to heat 3 million homes in Canada. - Yes this is true, but we don’t need the gas and we do need the oil, nuclear is also an option.
http://www.energyab.com/nuclear_energy/index.html

The toxic tailing ponds are considered one of the largest human-made structures in the world. The ponds span 50 square kilometers and can be seen from space. - so? Most dam created lakes can be seen from space, this is no different, they dam it, recycle the water, what would you like them to do?

Producing a barrel of oil from the oil sands produces three times more greenhouse gas emissions than a barrel of conventional oil.
The oil sands operations are the fastest growing source of heat-trapping greenhouse gas in Canada. By 2020 the oil sands will release twice the amount produced currently by all the cars and trucks in Canada. - Yes but actually we are working on that, and I mean we as an Albertan, I have nothing to actually do with the oil sands.

But this one is really cool, the Canadian and Alberta Governments are running projects right now that force CO2 deep into the earth where it pushes the oil from the oil sands up locking the CO2 into the earth, so in the end the oil sand could be not the problem but the solution the CO2. Plus they continue to reduce their “footprint” using carbon sequestration.
http://www.oilweek.com/news.asp?ID=13902

Don’t let these people scare you, come to Alberta if you don’t believe me we are probably the most naturally beautiful area in North America, and we intend to keep it that way.

I’m Albertan, too, and I think this whole thing is absurd. They’re not de-toxifying the soil, they’re just making a mess. They’re bringing previously contained toxins to the surface so they can pollute the air and water. This is like sequestration in reverse.

And on the topic of sequestration, it’s not a solution, it’s a DREAM. Even IF the technology is viable – and we don’t know whether it is or not right now, since we’re still researching it – nobody’s going to start doing anything about it for the next 12 years. Don’t buy the crap that Stelmach is feeding you. Why don’t we do something about it now? Like, February 19th, 2008 NOW?

Don’t be an oil industry apologist. There ARE things that they could be doing that would reduce their emissions and clean up the mess they’re making TODAY, but they don’t want it to cut into their enormous, record-breaking profits. Talk to any industry engineer that was working with the oil sands 15 years ago when it wasn’t profitable. They wasted a lot less, and used a lot less water and energy; they had to, because using less was the only way to make money when oil was $30 a barrel.

“Why don’t we do something about it now? Like, February 19th, 2008 NOW?”

DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT ON MARCH 3, 2008. GET OUT AND VOTE!!

… and get everyone ELSE out to vote, too. Inform, inform, inform and get the vote out! It CAN be done. In the provincial election here (Ontario) last year, Green candidates made huge strides. Make the oil sands mess an election issue & badger candidates until they take a stand.

Here’s a piece by Sheila Pratt in the Herald a couple of days ago that’s quite interesting on the status of the environment in the election:
http://www.canada.com/calgaryherald/features/,[space inserted]albertavotes/story.html?id=7a529eeb-[space inserted]498f-46d3-a9a7-ff97fc261af0&k=26923&p=2

Fern Mackenzie

Dear Femack:
After Dalton McGuinty’s attack on Alberta today, I am sure you won’t have to urge people to get out and vote. Since, according to McGuinty, Alberta is to blame for the demise of the auto industry in eastern Canada along with the other long list of things that are all Alberta’s fault, I have to wonder if all these beat-on-Alberta folks are on the Conservative Party’s payroll. The surest way to keep the same policies in effect in this Province is to keep up the tirades.
Powell B. Lucas

I really enjoyed all the facts in you statements, oh wait, there were none. Thanks for your OPINIONS, which were you just blowing off steam, harassing someone who was making fact filled points.
- your opinion ” Talk to any industry engineer that was working with the oil sands 15 years ago when it wasn’t profitable. They wasted a lot less, and used a lot less water and energy; they had to, because using less was the only way to make money when oil was $30 a barrel.” is completely wrong. You have no idea! I have immediate family members whom have been working in the tar sands for 25 years working directly with the oil companies and they will tell you that the major focus of all of the developing tar sands in preserving the environment. And NO it wasn’t like that 15 years ago.

Thanks Guys I live in Idaho. When I retired I took my 401 k, I invested it on the TXS Canadian stock market in Alberta Oil Sands.That was three years ago. I just bought My first Gulfstream. I cannot thank Canada enough.A new 5,000 sq ft home,the works.”God Save The Queen”. With the Bakken Field that is just starting up Sask. ND, Mont. this is another chance to fill the coffers again take a look..THANK YOU.

WHO is workig theBakken Basen.

ME said: “thats the point the arctic in the oil sands area had always been impossible to live in because the land is A Frozen solid and B Toxic”.

Have you ever looked at a map or been to Fort McMurray? It is a long way from the Arctic. There are many communities far further north than Fort Mac.

Everything else you claim is just as wrong. Try reading, it is supposed to broaden the mind.

Ian Forrester

And if you believe THAT, folks, I’ve got some nice vacation property for sale with a beautiful view of the tailing ponds. Gorgeous sunsets, and don’t worry – the black flies are grossly exaggerated.

Fern Mackenzie

I’m Albertan, Its not as beautiful as it was, even 5 years ago.

This province is being torn apart from all directions.. we have all the crazzzy oil riggers and barons up North and everywhere, killing every moving animal and tearing up the soil, spreading the chemicals.

We have the Chinese Pine beetle massacring our forests from the west, Jasper national park is one big tinderbox of orange colored dead trees.

Its gross now.

Its a nationally protected wasteland with a brand new pipeline right through its heart.

This is too serious to be sarcastic or light-hearted but no-one cares, too busy pushing the “oil” agenda and working at destroying what we have left to pay those bills.

Of course, we got the good ol capitalists from the usoa coming up from the south, looking to make a buck (a strong Canadian buck) and not giving a real shit as to what environmental destruction is left behind after they make that buck. De-regualtion is a wonderful thing as proved by Enron.

ON TOP OF ALL THAT we have this clown, saying we don’t need the GAS!! Maybe his oil company doesn’t need the gas, but the people do. VIVA NAT_GAS POWERED VEHICLES, or anything that doesn’t use oil. Soon our NHL hockey teams will be the Calgary burn-outs and the Edmonton oil-sequesterers.

I have to believe that there are enough Albertans like you, AAD, that soon there will be a great upheaval and (electoral) overthrow of the rapacious provincial government. I have lived in Alberta and dread the thought of going back if what I am hearing from you & others is true. While I was there 1978-81 Calgary was uniformly young, WASP, and there for the money. La plus ca change!

Fern Mackenzie

The issues in the oil sands are not as cut and dry as you would have them appear in your comment: 

“The oil sands actually remove the oil from the land and clean the sand and then reclaim the land.”

The oil sands underlie approximately 149,000 square kilometres of Alberta’s northeastern boreal forest – roughly 23% of the province. This forest is thriving with wildlife and vegetation and is not toxic. Canada’s boreal forest contains 35% of the world’s wetlands and has the largest coverage of peatlands in the world. It provides habitat for many important wildlife species and has the highest diversity of breeding bird species in North America.

“what the tailing pond are bi products from the soil, salts, minerals, that you don't want ducks landing on or drinking, it's like salty mud, but it's not unnatural they recycle the water from the ponds it drys up and they bury in where they found it.”

In these ponds, the sand, silt and fine clays slowly settle to the bottom. Then as much water as possible is pumped back to the extraction plant and reused in the extraction process. Because of the bitumen that remains in the tailings, the ponds pose a number of environmental risks including the migration of pollutants into the groundwater system and leakage into the surrounding soil and surface water. One such group of pollutants are the naphthenic acids that are a naturally occurring family of compounds found in bitumen. During the bitumen extraction process, these acids become concentrated and end up in the tailings ponds. The concentration of naturally occurring naphthenic acids in rivers in the region is generally below 1 milligram per litre (mg/ L) but may be as high as 110 mg/L in tailings ponds.

The ultimate objective is to wait for the fine clay particles to settle in the tailings and become what is known as fluid fine tailings. This can take anywhere from a few decades to 150 years depending on the technology employed.

“Processing the oil sands uses enough natural gas in a day to heat 3 million homes in Canada. - Yes this is true, but we don't need the gas and we do need the oil, nuclear is also an option.”

September 2004. Energy Pulse in depth article on supply, demand and pricing
Summary: “Natural gas is somewhere between a limit to growth and a disaster waiting to happen right now, and no one is doing anything about it. Only a few months of inclement weather will cause severe shortages and rocketing price spikes. There is a high risk of major availability declines with unimaginable economic impact, and there is no supply side solution.”

Producing a barrel of oil from the oil sands produces three times more greenhouse gas emissions than a barrel of conventional oil.
The oil sands operations are the fastest growing source of heat-trapping greenhouse gas in Canada. By 2020 the oil sands will release twice the amount produced currently by all the cars and trucks in Canada. - Yes but actually we are working on that, and I mean we as an Albertan, I have nothing to actually do with the oil sands.

Greenhouse-gas emissions from Alberta's oil sands would be allowed to rise dramatically under a draft version of the government's long-anticipated climate-change plan obtained by The Globe and Mail.

Second story: Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach, whose recently-announced climate change plan has been criticized for falling short of what other provinces are doing, is leaving early. The province announced last week that it plans reductions in carbon dioxide emissions of 14 per cent below 2005 levels by 2050.


Here's a great report put out last year by the Pembina Institute on the environmental impacts of the oil sands. 

“The oil sands actually remove the oil from the land and clean the sand and then reclaim the land.”

This is the single stupidest thing I’ve read in a very, very long time. It reminds me of the episode of the Simpsons where the forestry lobbyist makes a case for cutting down the trees, because the animals keep bumping into them.

Well let’s see, if the sand has oil in it, I would like to know what species of plants and animals thrive in oil. Then after removing the oil it becomes habitable?

How is that the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard unless you are a very dumb person which may very well be the case

And read Kevin’s post “The oil sands actually” above, specifically this part:

The oil sands underlie approximately 149,000 square kilometres of Alberta’s northeastern boreal forest – roughly 23% of the province. This forest is thriving with wildlife and vegetation and is not toxic. Canada’s boreal forest contains 35% of the world’s wetlands and has the largest coverage of peatlands in the world. It provides habitat for many important wildlife species and has the highest diversity of breeding bird species in North America.

The “oil sands” are not a vast surface feature devoid of life. Your view of the operation is simplistic in the extreme.

Fern Mackenzie

The actual Oil Sand sits underneath 3 metres of clay and topsoil that has to be stripped off before the tarsand can start to be extracted. I know this because i spent three years working with a contractor responsible for the stripping.

The way the process works is simple. Heavy equipment (hydraulic shovels and haul trucks) strip off the first three metres of topsoil/clay and truck it to areas in the mine where toxic materials are to be buried. Generally we use the clay to cover waste from the Cokers (carbon) and other areas that are to be “re-claimed”. Once the clay has been placed (1.5 metre cover) the topsoil is then skimmed over it and hydro seeded to create nice grassy fields.

This is generally done around the public areas of the mine site, such as near highways, roads, or any other area that could be seen by environmentalists.

Don’t be fooled … nothing is being spared.

If you like i could explain a few more techniques used in strip mining.

I am definitely interested in learning more.

Ok, i’ll try to explain the mining process as best i can.

First, as i mentioned above, the top layer or “bench” is created by removing the topsoil and clay. At most of the major oil sands operations they have chosen mine areas which have the least possible clay on top of the tarsand to minimize the cost of removing the ‘overburden’. This clay is either used to cover ‘re-claimed’ areas of the mine, or is stockpilied at a location for later use.

Next, the huge electric shovels are moved onto ‘bench 1’ and begin excavating the tar sand. The tar sand is loaded onto 797B Haul Trucks to be transported to the ‘Feeder Breakers’ (sometimes called ‘Sizers’) which crush the lumps of tarsand into smaller pieces. Once crushed, the tar sand is transported to the plant site via huge conveyor belt systems that can stretch for over 15 kms.

Once the tar sand has been transported to the plant site it then goes into the first stage of refinement which is called the OPP (Ore Preparation Plant). This plant serves the basic function of removing as much sand and contaminants from the tar sand as possible. The process is simple: mix tar sand with vast amounts of boiling water and allow the tar to wash off the sand. Once this process is complete you are left with four byproducts: contaminated sand (tailings sand), hot contaminated process water, tar-coated oversize rocks, and the bitumen (oil slurry).

The contaminated sand, which contains vast amounts of various heavy metals, is pumped to ‘Tailings Ponds’. These are not simply small ponds, but instead massive (i mean really, really, really massive) holding areas for the now tar-free sand. Syncrude actually uses one of its old mine sites to hold most of its tailing sands … that mine is over 300 ft deep and perhaps 10kms long by 5kms wide. Suncor has built the worlds largets dyke (dyke 10) to contain its tailings. I do believe that dyke is something like 10 km long by 10 km wide. Thats 100 square kms of pure toxic shit. I know one of the companies that i was working with were doing the level 1 drainage on the dyke and i spent over a year with a hitatchi 450CLC excavator just digging the ditch for the drainage pipe to sit in. This thing is MASSIVE.

Next would be the hot process water. Granted most plant sites do reuse the majority (they CLAIM 90%, but i would suspect its more in the 75% range) of their water. This water is held in ponds, although these ponds are generally much smaller than the tailings ponds. Water ponds are disgusting places. The water is coated with a thick sheet of pure oil sludge that just sits there. The use propane cannons to keep wildlife away (most of the time).

The oversize rock that is ejected from the OPP is dumped just outside the plant and re-loaded into haul trucks to be dumped back in the feeder breakers again. This process happens until the rock coming out of the OPP is somewhat cleaner, then it is trucked to a ‘slop dump’. As you can imagine, hot water and rock coming out of a building is not exactly solid material.

The bitumen is the REAL prize. This is heavy crude sludge that is pumped from the OPP to the main refinery or ‘Upgrader’. The upgrader turns this slurry into light sweet crude by removing excess carbon and other contaminants. This is one area that i do not have a lot of knowledge of, since i worked primarily in the mine. I do know that the process is ridiculously energy intensive, and produces the ‘coke’ in massive quantities. The ‘coke’ is the excess carbon and its as black as coal, yet much finer than sand. This stuff gets EVERYWHERE when you work around it. It gets in your lungs and onto every part of your body. This coke is trucked by small rock trucks with tailgates and dump covers to whats called ‘coke cells’. These are areas of the mine that have been bermed up to create depressions which the coke is dumped into. Then, as i mentioned in my first post, we ‘re-claim’ that dump site by bringing in clay (1.5m thick) and spreading topsoil over it.

Anyways thats enough typing for now. If anyone wants any more information i’ll be glad to help.

Regardless …. i can GUARANTEE that oil sands operations are the nastiest, dirtiest, most destructive thing to every be conceived. Maybe another time i’ll tell you about the leases and how we get the land prepped for mining.

Thanks for the in-depth description! I appreciate your insight as I was not aware of the whole process.

The entire resource deposit is the size of Florida but the Alberta government officially recoverable reserve figure means “only” 1,400 square miles gets laid to waste. Maybe its a good deal. They turn this much of Canada into a moonscape, and the world waves bye bye to an area ten times this size down in Florida, that’s half of Florida flooding as sea level rises. Now that will teach them to come up with something like Bush. And we’ve got plenty more tar sand where that came from. Canada is applying to the U.N. for special permission to keep on mining, even if it becomes uneconomic, until Florida goes. I’ve heard Hansen is trying to endorse this.

The Alberta government is considering a fleet of nuclear reactors so the gas they are presently using to process the bitumen can be sold for emission release elsewhere, and they are proud of their plan to pump liquid CO2 into their old depleted conventional oil fields to get even more oil. That tar sand “resource” ten times the size of the “reserve” means they might actually produce an amount that dwarfs what the Saudis can pump out, total, from now to the world’s end, which is going to be tomorrow or the next day if these people have their way. They must have figured out the reserve size based on some number, like $30, or $50 a barrel, if the oil price was above that, “x” amount of this deposit could be mined. At $140 the sky must be the limit.

50,000 square miles of Canada, most of it in British Columbia, this is an area almost the size of the entire state of Florida, now has a dead pine forest on it due to a beetle that isn’t killed because the winters here are not as cold anymore and people are starting to connect the dots. But its a national effort at present, we’re happy to let our forests die, rot, and emit even more carbon into the atmosphere if it rids the world of the state that pounded that stake into Al Gore’s heart. newsflash! we only have to raise the sea by 50 meters and all of Florida is gone! Burn that fossil fuel!

The oil barons controlling this deposit got Canada’s Kyoto obligations rescinded and it is these clowns who have their heads deepest into the (tar)sand on global warming. Calgary newspapers mourned some time ago (last year?) as the “smartest man in the oilpatch” died, an unshakeable global warming denier. I’m beginning to think its time to talk about throwing them out of Confederation. Let Alberta negotiate with the rest of the world who one day will be viewing tiny populations who are emitters on this scale as a threat to global security as great as the U.S.S.R. once was.

There is a similar deposit, apparently about this size, in Venezuela. World coal reserves dwarf the total of Canada and Venezuelan tar sand put together. People who think the world is running out of fossil fuels should consider what is happening up here, as an example of how amazing the invisible hand of the market is, driving investment to the next best place immediately, once the signal of a high market price for oil comes from the markets, that just sticking straws into the ground for it doesn’t work that well any more. Right now we’ve let the barons talk us into dismantling government, and we’ve got to build up our faith in government again to keep the barons from killing the planet.

We can’t even talk about a carbon tax in Canada, these people pretend just hearing the talk will cause them to die. The Prime Minister was reduced to a gibbering idiot muttering this will “ruin” the entire economy and “screw” everyone when the Opposition Leader merely unveiled a tentative plan for carbon taxes he might campaign on. The people the Prime Minister represents, the oil barons, are the ones who are making sure there is no future for everyone. A tax on emissions will let them even finish mining the tar sands if that’s what they need to do, but I say pass a law so they won’t be able to emit anything to the atmosphere or we tax them out of existence.

The spray-on lawn makes a dandy new habitat for all of the species of flora & fauna displaced by the mining in the first place.

Now, about that tailing-pondfront property …

Fern Mackenzie

Most people will never see polar bears. How valuable is it to them to know that they still exist?

The grassing of areas exposed to the public is not just for the environmentalists. The same thing is done in forestry. They put the nastiest of the cutblocks out of view; shaped cutblocks with various kinds of retention are put where people see them. I have a couple of friends who are foresters and I told them that I’d seen different retentions and shapes and they asked me which ones I thought were better. I said I didn’t know – the simple square cut block has the least edge effect…. They wanted to know which I thought was more aesthetically pleasing. I (environmentalist) wanted to know which was better for nature. One of them replied that retention might provide a benefit in the form of re-seeding potential. From our conversation I learned that they saw aesthetics as something they were supposed to provide, not to hide the ugly aspects of the industry, but as a value to the public. They expected that most people don’t care about the ugly stuff as long as they don’t see it. Perhaps they are right? It seems that public consultations supported the notion that many citizens didn’t mind the ugly effects of industry as long as it wasn’t in their face. Anyhow, this is somewhat off-topic, so I’ll just leave some urls if anyone is interested in reading further.

http://www.spruceroots.org/Dec04/Tree.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edge_effect http://www.answers.com/topic/sloss-debate?cat=technology

This is kind of cheesy description of the boreal forest, but it's from the Atlas of Canada and it highlights the fact that the land developed during oil sands mining is far from void of life:

Draped like a green scarf across the shoulders of North America, the boreal or “northern” forest is Canada's largest biome or environmental community. It occupies 35% of the total Canadian land area and 77% of Canada's total forest land, stretching between northern tundra and southern grassland and mixed hardwood trees. The boreal forest's animals, plants and products affect each Canadian every day, from paper products, to the jack pine railway ties, through to the air we breathe. This northern forest, named after Boreas, the Greek god of the North Wind, is an inevitable and unavoidable part of who we are.

The boreal forest is an integral part of our economy, history, culture and natural environment. It gives birth to new life through its diverse ecosystems and helps to sustain our lives through the renewal of the air above and soil below. This vast body of land provides the lakes, streams and rivers that act as the veins and arteries of so much of our country. It is also an important source of forest products, and, thereby, a significant part of the economic base of Canada.

A while back, the Onion had a story about how Bush wanted to help the environment by getting all the toxic oil out from under the national parks and wildlife refuges. Once again life imitates the Onion. Lol.

You need to check your facts. Alberta is NOT in the Arctic. The land is inhabited by plenty of species of wildlife. The land is not frozen solid. I have never heard anyone claim that removing the oil from the sand is a “cleanup effort”.

I want to know if you have lived and worked in Fort McMurray? This is my hometown, where I grew up. I seen the boom, the bust, and boom again. The water here looks sick and stinks. The air here is thick and toxic. People are dying of rare cancers. Animals are mutating. People are sick with addictions. Families are broken up. People work too many hours with little time left for their families. Suicide. Murder. People are still dying to work here. In the end, after the water is polluted the air toxic, the animals diseased and the earth is raped, you will find that you can’t eat money.

So what you’re saying, is this is probably not the best way to go about getting the oil out of this sand/rock.

Does anybody ever tell these companies to find and use a better method of extracting the resources BEFORE they actually grant the permits to begin?

And why isn’t human ingenuity and imagination used to find better ways of extracting minerals, elements, oil, etc… from sand/rock, without resorting to these similar methods that create toxic ponds/piles of tailings?

I don’t believe the Klein government gave a hoot about the environmental effects. Certainly Albertans including Peter Lougheed have talked about the need to slow down development at the oil sands partly for environmental reasons and partly because the societal effects are getting worse. But Stelmach does not seem to be willing to put the brakes on.

Do you know that all the oil extracted from the Alberta Oil Sands is shipped directly to the US ?
This project has been in operation only to supply more oil to the American people, we Canadians are not allowed to keep one gallon for our own use…

And they’re keen to see that increase.

U.S. urges ‘fivefold expansion’ in Alberta oilsands production - The U.S. wants Canada to dramatically expand its oil exports from the Alberta oilsands, a move that could have major implications on the environment.

One reason the oil is shipped down to the States is because they have the refining capacity that we do not have. Have you ever noticed that they pay less for gas at the pump…this is one of the reasons. I also know for a fact that China is also buying a lot of the oil as well too. I don’t really feel confident in comenting on how the Oil Sands is hurting the environment as I do not know all the facts, but how many people complaining about the oil sands drive cars to and from work everyday? That takes oil…it has to come from some where!

One would hope that outcomes of exposure of this issue to the public would be reduced frivolous burning of oil and also increased pressure to protect the environment from needlessly excessive destruction during extraction. Complaining is a (very small) step toward those outcomes.

The Alberta Oilsands have got to be the most wasteful project on earth. It boggles my mind the amount of natural resources that go into one barrel of oil. How can anyone deem this “worth it”?

I grew up in Fort McMurray, the town behind the environmental monstrosities known as Syncrude & Suncor, as well as a plethora of other small projects that seem to be popping up daily. Although I had a great childhood, its when I grew up that I realized what was going on down the highway.

Driving out to the plants is like driving to a different world, especially at night. It looks like a glowing twisted heap of metal and pipes as far as you can see. The open pits and the shattering reality of the size of the tailings pond…. just insane.

Another victim of the oil companies in northern Alberta is the town of Fort McMurray itself. Unable to cope with the surging influx of workers the cities infrastructure has basically collapsed. Getting from one side of the city to the other 10 years ago would have taken about 10 minutes. Your lucky if you can do it in under an hour these days.

The one highway (Highway 63) going up to Fort McMurray is a dance with death every time you take it. A single lane highway with at least 8 lanes worth of traffic and heavy machinery. You compete with over worked, tired contractors and pieces of industrial complexes larger then a house.

Things have to change.

Pardon me, Bertrand, but would you like to repeat that again. We aren’t allowed to keep one barrel for ourselves? How about you check your facts. In the mid 1980s I worked on the project at, what was then the Gulf Oil refinery in Edmonton, which was built for the sole purpose of refining oil from Fort McMurray. I also worked on the Co-Op project in Regina in the late 80s which installed a heavy oil upgrader and the facilities to refine the upgraded crude. As I understand it, although this one I didn’t work on, Imperial Oil also installed the necessary units to process the oil from Fort Mac. Shell has similar facilities at their Scottford refinery and are in the process of installing four new upgrading units. It is true that this oil is not processed in eastern Canada but that is because they still draw the fast depleting conventional crude from Alberta or else use imported oil from all those ‘friendly’ nations in the middle east. If these refineries installed the processing units necessary they could have all the upgraded crude they want. Just another instance of knee-jerk greenies spewing out falsehoods in their tirades against the oil sands. (at least until they get shut down, OPEC has a strangle hold on supply and gas goes to $5.00 a litre)
Powell B. Lucas

That is all I can say.It seems people not from here LOVE to point out what is wrong while supporting regimes in the Middle East or Countries that call for the violent overthrow of the United States openly.

You know what, that is your government’s own stupid fault. I’m American and I can’t wait to get my hands on all your oil. Listen, if we don’t start aggressively start drilling for oil, and I mean everywhere, we are screwed. China or Russia or somebody else is just gonna take it. And people say “oh, it’ll take 10 years to drill down to get the oil.” How the hell long have we been working on solar and wind energy. They are both crap and we have nothing to show for it.

Boy, a report like this, from such an UNBIASED source makes me want to run right out and shut off the valves. And all the greenies complain about the spin that the oil industry applies to their side of the story. Hypocricy is alive and well.
Powell B. Lucas

PBL, this post isn’t as smart as your earlier ones, IMHO. Environmental Defense is: “We focus on the most critical environmental and health issues of the day under three broad areas: Greening Cities, Protecting People and Saving Species.” What about this group would bias them toward singling out the tar sands as the worst? There are plenty of other environmental problems upon which they could have focussed.
Who would you pick for an unbiased review? The Alberta government? Suncor?

No Steve, I wouldn’t believe the Alberta government, Suncor or any other big oil interest any more than I believe Environmental Defence or the Pembina Institute. My point is that both sides have their own narrow viewpoint and they will twist any issue to meet their needs. What I want is less hysteria. It’s all well and good to publish doomsday scenarios, but it doesn’t solve a thing. Where is the answer, folks? Slap on Draconian measures? Those costs will only get passed on to the public. Produce only conventional oil? Canada’s production is declining rapidly. Use OPEC produced oil? That production has peaked as well and is subject to embargo at a whim. All the foregoing will drive the price for a diminishing commodity above the exhorbitant levels they have already reached. How about $8.00 a litre gas? Use wind power? There is already screams coming from the western U.S. about how the windmills are ruining the landscape. Nuclear energy? Two groups have proposed these facilities for Alberta and already the environmentalists are mounting action against it. Tidal power? Nova Scotia is set to test (only test) a facility in the Bay of Fundy and a university environmental professor has alreay been on the tube attacking it. Solar power? Even its adhernts admit it is many years away from becoming a viable alternative. Ethanol? The U.S. produces suffient to fuel only the vehicles in the State of Utah and it has already driven the price of corn above the level that the average Mexican can afford, to say nothing of the increased demand for fertilizer. So, a little less hysteria and a few more practical solutions are needed. Trying to stampede a public that is poorly informed about the realities of the energy mess we are in only raises unrealistic expectations about how easy it will be to solve the problem. Until such time as I see some workable solutions coming from the environmental groups (and I don’t mean just slapping taxes on everything in sight or looking to government to bail us out)I will continue to rail against these groups that seem only spew out short sighted invictive. And, if the oil companies show up on these blogs with their brand of tripe, they’ll get the same.
Powell B. Lucas

I appreciate your reply, but I still don’t see why this environmental organization can’t be trusted to identify what it thinks is the worst project. Regarding “slapping taxes on everything or looking to government”, I consider a progressive carbon tax to be rather far-sighted. In addition, it utilizes market properties to create both carrot and stick incentives. If revenue neutral I consider it a fair tax in that it is really just a way of internalizing present externalities in a clear user-pay framework. You have identified difficulties but what do you think is a better approach? Expressing anger that someone else is polluting my atmosphere/environment without paying costs, in this context, seems perfectly justifiable to me.

Steve, I have no quarrel with anyone who voices outrage over the way we humans are fouling our own nest. I’m angry too over the ruination of our waterways, over the asthma producing garbage from our tailpipes, over the needless amounts of waste gorging our lanfills, over the urban sprawl that is chewing up our productive farm land at a prodigeous rate and on and on. My complaint is directed toward the overblown hyperbole that emanates from all sides. The article in question clamed that the tar sands is the most destructive project on earth. It may be Canada’s, but not the world’s. I watched a round table discussion on pollution the other night and it produced a statement that was staggering. From the time of the initiation of the Kyoto protocols until the expiration of the first phase in 2012, India and China will have constructed 850 new electrical generating stations. The combined CO2 output from these plants will be five times greater than the combined proposed savings from the protocol had all the signatories met their agreed upon targets. Now, do I take this as fact? Not on your life. It’s just another example of overblown rhetoric by the anti-Kyoto crowd. I do believe you could allow for about a 500% exaggeration factor. Even so, the number is staggering. My point is twofold. This type of over-the-top numbers game only breeds inertia and gets us into a pissing contest that no one wins. My second point is that this type of panic reaction only leads to ill-conceived plans such as Kyoto. Had Canada followed through on its commitments we would have had sent vast sums of money to a someplace populated by sheep herders and a corrupt government that would have stolen the money to line their own pockets. And that money would have bought the polluters the right to go on polluting right here at home. Better we keep the money in Canada and go ahead with carbon taxes and firm reduction levels with penalties attached. And none of this revenue neutral B.S. People have to understand there will be a cost associated with these efforts. Having everyone think its FREE like they do with health care is self-defeating. Then, they might see what the choices really are and if they’d rather smother under their own offal they can vote that way. Now, since 99.9% of our politicians couldn’t find their way to their offices every day without a road map, I would cut them out of any decisions on where the money gets spent. Use the same type of process as B.C. does when it comes to clear cut logging and logging in old growth forests. Once those groups quit spewing lies at one another they got to work and came up with some reasonable approaches to their problems. The zealots on both sides are unhappy, but the general consensus is favourable. So, in this long winded narrative, I hope my thoughts come through. Stop the over blown hype, make ALL users pay the real costs so they can decide what choices to make and keep the politicians as far away from the process and the money as possible. A Herculean task, but one we had better come to grips with
Best Regards
Powell B. Lucas
P.S. All the data I have seen so far still leads me to believe that global warming is primarily caused by increased solar activity. But that doesn’t let us off the hook. I also believe human activities are exacerbating the problem to a great extent and, though we can’t stop it, we can certainly mitigate some of the more disaterous consequences

Hi Powell, thanks for the detailed reply. I think we can agree on some things. First, as it was the genesis of our conversation, I’d like to agree on how you’ve identified the source of Enviro Defs’ bias – they are going to campaign on something they can sell domestically. It would be harder to get money to campaign in Canada about China’s 3 Gorges Dam, for example. Second, I agree that there are some on both sides who exaggerate in hopes of winning an argument. That is not a good way to come to agreement that allows progress. Third, I’m not psyched on politicians, like you. But I don’t know how to effect policy change without their involvement, and then there are some other things we disagree upon (look at data for cooling stratosphere, for example). Nice chatting with you, Steve

[…] calling it the most destructive project on earth. Some key points from the report (courtesy of DeSmogBlog)[…]

Link didn’t make it: http://www.stimulans.se/2008/02/oil-or-volvo-dependent-dont-watch-this.php

I read many of the articles written by people who ‘obviously’ work for companies tied to the tar sands and all I can think of is…
Dont forget your a puppet, you are paid to make very limited decisions, you may have the technical background though you have a very defined role to serve your master and are often limited to ‘go-with-the-flow’ or find another job.

Close to 30 years ago I visited my brother teaching in Ft.Mckay north of Ft. Mac.
The place was a polluted wasteland then, I have no desire to see what it has become.
I have lived in Alberta my entire life, come from a long following of farmers, and pursued an education in the earth sciences several decades ago. Agriculture has not been without its challenges and has also contributed negatively to the environment. After working for both the provincial and federal gov., in this province I can only conclude that their environmental practices are poorly regulated and are geared to our gross exports often at the expense of the environment.

After seeing both sides of the fence, some people get it and some go on to being a lifelong puppet for their master.

There are so few people living here who know what a beautiful province this was before all this pandamonium with oil began, many make there fortune and never live here, many move back to where they came from.

I hope for the sake of our children we start understanding that oil is not sustainable, not for the environment, not for future generations.

Thanks for that John. I also grew up in Alberta, and when I was a kid in the 1960s, I chased rabbits in the natural scrub brush, there were frogs and salamanders and garter snakes in the Red Deer River, and unspoiled forest in a huge tract from the foothills to the mountain border, south to north. Plenty of fish too. The SKY was a dark blue, clear as crystal.

All that is GONE. The acidic conditions created by oil and gas activity killed off the frogs and so on, the forest was cut by oil exploration and forestry, and the rabbit habitat was plowed under for farms. The lakes and streams are fished out and polluted now.

Solutions include replacing the corporate humps in the conservative government, but not enough Albertans who should care about their province bother to even vote.

The problem isn’t co2 emissions nitric oxide 300 times more of a pollutant maybe we should look at a way of controlling it instead

I’ve read a few posts here and then skimmed a few more.

I stopped reading once total absurdity appears to have grabbed a hold in this conversation.

Most specifically, I am referring to one poster’s idea that removing oil from Canadian soil is somehow beneficial to the environment.

Oil in the soil is something which the environment has evolved with and adapted to. It is not toxic, instead the area that is now the oilsands was once highly productive Boreal Forest - by the way, the Boreal is one of the largest remaining “in tact” (less raped) ecosystems in the world.

Do Canadians really want to be known as the people responsible for destroying the final vestiges of our world before oil came along?

It is so easy to blame the oil companies for all the envriomental problems in the world or atleast most of them but what do we do ourselves to help the enviroment? I agree something needs to be done about the oilsands but first we need to show that we really care. Recently I sold my car in place for a bicycle and wherever it can’t take me I use public transit. I honestly beleive that if every person in Canada did this same thing or atleast half of Canadians did this we would see a major improvment in our CO2 emissions. I know that some of you are going to be quick to criticize me and say its not possible for me to live without a car I am too good for public transit and thats fine if you feel that way. Then maybe instead buy a hybrid and get rid of your large SUV’s and pick up trucks. When I say pick up trucks I mean those who own them for no good reason. I am not talking about people who actually need them for work related purposes I am talking about people who use them to tow a 35ft. trailor two weeks of the year. Here’s a thought, just rent a truck since that’s the only time you really need it. I think if we want to see an improvement in our country we need to be the ones to do it as a team not just say to our our government fix this now because I can’t change my pollutting ways.

Pages