Tar Sands: "Every Canadian has a stake in this"

On this we can agree: as the mysteriously funded industry apologists say today in the Vancouver Sun, every Canadian has a stake in the Alberta tar sands.

Certainly, every Canadian is affected by the pollution, the environmental devastation and the international condemnation that the tar sands create. It’s high time that every Canadian had a voice in deciding whether wholly unfettered development should be allowed - much less promoted - in what is the largest point source for greenhouse gases on the continent, and the fastest growing source in Canada.

The public relations campaign to give the tar sands carte blanche is being led by a shadowy organization calling itself the Alberta Enterprise Group, which advertises itself as “a common sense public policy advocacy group” that won’t admit where it gets its funding.

This anonymity is no problem for the provincial government of Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach, who is happy to participate in the AEG’s publicity stunts to draw favorable attention to Canada’s biggest environmental eyesore. In addition to what the oil industry is already spending through the AEG, Stelmach’s government added a $25-million ad budget last spring to try to prop up the reputation of the tar sands.

The tar sands is the largest industrial program in Canada. It’s a 3,000 square kilometre disaster area that generates 1.8 billion litres a day of toxic waste, which is collected into tailing ponds that already cover 50 square kilometres. And regardless of how AEG tries to spin it, the tar sands generate greenhouse gases at three times the rate of conventional oil generation.

So, yes, every Canadian has a stake. It’s time that the government of Alberta stopped spending taxpayers money on slick public relations propping up this questionable project and started taking more seriously its responsibility to truly protect the public interest.


Richard, when are you going to do an investigation and blog on peak oil? We are exploiting the tar sands for only one reason. There is no other oil available on the planet that is cheap and easy to extract. The IEA claims we need to find 20mb/day of new deposits over the next 15 years just to keep up with depletion and growth. That much oil does not exist anywhere on the planet. Thus we are within 10 years of permanent terminal decline of the world oil flow. (The current recession bought us a few years)

The tar sands is a literal scraping the bottom of the barrel. It’s EROEI is pathetic, 3:1 or 4:1 when a conventional oil well is at least 25:1. It’s consumption of natural gas is unsustainable. Yet we basically have no choice but to get what we can while we can from the tar sands.

Closing down the tar sands would drive fuel to much higher prices than we saw this summer, with more devastation on the economy that we are currently experiencing. So it isn’t going to happen. The oil industry is in panic and desperation mode as it knows there is no more oil to be found in the volumes we need to keep society going. It’s only a matter of time before the wide public gets whiff of this. From what I’ve seen in comments in both the Star and the Globe and Mail, there already is a growing swell of very informed people. Harper and Dion also know about peak oil.

JR, you call the Tar Sands easy and cheap to exploit?  It’s the most energy-, financially-, environmentally-, and human-costly oil exploitation project on the planet!  How can your eyes be so clouded by PR smog not to have read about this?

Oh, and about the peak oil debate, check out Matthew Simmons (who’s actually fairly conservative, not a “lefty”):


Also, watch “The End of Suburbia” for some really useful stuff on peak oil and urban planning.

Quite the opposite.  Read the post again.  I said we are mining the tars sands because there is NO MORE cheap easy oil.

I’ve read Simmons, Twilight in the Desert, I’ve seen the films, including Crude Awakening.  I’ve known about peak oil for more than 10 years.  I’ve moved and changed my lifestyle because of it.  I read the Oil Drum every day.  And viewed the series http://www.chrismartenson.com/crashcourse/chapter-17a-peak-oil

So somehow you have completely misunderstood what I wrote.  Or did you miss the part where I said the tar sands was unsustainable, or that the EROEI is 3:1

JR, I am with you on peak oil. In fact, whenever you start talking about it I notice my head bobbing in agreement (not perhaps my usual reaction to your comments, but more frequent than you might imagine).

Here’s what I don’t get. If you, Stephen Harper and the beaters on the Oil Drum all recognize that the oil party is over, why are you resisting the imposition of policies that will help move our economy away from oil in an orderly fashion?

Burning carbon is a problem. It causes global warming. And even if you want to argue about that, it remains the source of a host of other pollutants. It’s also a terrible waste of a resource that might ultimately be critical (as fertilizer) in feeding nine billion humans on a finite panet.

Oil exploration is increasingly difficult and expensive and our reliance on oil strengthens groups in Russia, the Middle East and, arguably, Venezuela at our expense.

So, putting a price on carbon and especially on carbon emissions will hasten the day that we wean ourselves from this problematic (and dwindling) resource and find affordable alternatives. Far from shattering the economy, it will smooth the transition, preventing a worse economic crisis down the road. And, by the way, it will help keep the world’s climate within a range that humans have found habitable since our emergence as a species.

We’re talking win/win here, JR. Why don’t you and I agree more often?

Some conflict in a major way.  Here are the conflicting “solutions”. Carbon sequestration will cost billions, and use our resources up faster.  It will take oil to set up and do the sequestering.  It ‘s a total waste of time, energy and money, neither of which we have much of.

Second is the cap and trade and carbon taxes.  The cap and trade system only makes the middle men rich.  Already hundreds of millions is being put into the pockets of carbon traders.  There isn’t even any evidence that this money is actually being used to for “green” initiatives.

The major difference I see is the layout of what the future could be.  You’re notion appears to be that civilization will go merrily along just as long as we replace oil with alternatives.  Instead of millions of people driving to work in their SUVs they will instead be driving to work in electric cars.  Food on the stores will still be plentiful and peace and prosperity will go on just as it did in the past.

I see things very much differently.  The problem, the ultimate problem, is not global warming, it’s not even peak oil.  The root cause to all our problems is over population.  We have been beyond the planet’s carrying capacity since the 1800’s.  We feed ourselves from energy that is stored in fossil fuels.  For every unit of energy we eat we consume 10 units of oil energy.   Once oil goes into terminal decline we simply cannot feed 6.5 billion, let alone 9 billion forecasted in the future by the UN.

Alternatives forms of energy will not work. As I have noted before, alternatives suffer from 3 limiting factors.  They cannot be scaled up, cannot be scaled up in time, and/or have a very low or negative EROEI.  So called “green” money pouring into hydrogen is a total waste of time and energy.  Hydrogen is not a fuel, it is an enormous energy sink with losses ranging from 50-90%.  Ethanol’s EROEI is 1.2:1 to negative.  The ethanol plant not far from Sarnia gets it’s corn TRUCKED in from Michigan!!  There is no way that has a positive EROEI.

What I see is that once oil goes into terminal decline, within the next 10 years, the human population will also go into a severe decline.  Starvation will be one reason, but also through increased aggression over dwindling resources.  China is not amassing a large military for nothing.  They are not trading oil for weapons in Africa for nothing.  Take a close look at the AK47’s child soldiers are carrying there and you can safely bet is says “Made in China” stamped on the rifle and ammo.

Ultimately, we are heading to a time like we were in the 1700s before massive amounts of available energy allowed us to move into this era of peace and prosperity.

You guys are all worried about humanity’s ability to survive global warming consequences in 100-200 years.  The human population could very well be 10-20% of current levels by then.

How’s that for trumping your AGW doom and gloom scenarios.

That said, there are a number of items that can be done now to lessen the blow on Canadians.  You won’t like some of them as it will fly in the face of your core belief system.  But I’d be happy to list what I think we should do if you are interested.


Washington insiders are well aware of oil depletion. It has been the subject of at least four reports funded by the United States Government, more than a dozen books, and multiple independent reports. Congress has taken testimony. Key figures in Washington have made speeches. Although there are some differences in the details, they are trivial in comparison with the broader perspective.

It is highly probable that oil demand will exceed oil supply within the next 8 years.