Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

*Can T&T Survive Extreme Extraction?*

*Can T&T Survive Extreme Extraction?*

April 22nd, 2012

In late March 2012, I was introduced to Mr. Macdonald Stainsby.

I had been looking forward to meeting Mr. Stainsby after having been informed of his intent to visit Trinidad by Miss. Monique Walker of Green TNT.

Mr. Stainsby is from Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada, but for the past 5 years or so, he has been living in Alberta, home of the third largest oil reserve in the world, behind Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.

You may be wondering why I’m telling you this, and if you read on, I’ll attempt to explain in as simple a fashion as I can.

1. Why has Mr. Stainsby visited Trinidad three times in the past 3 years, despite having no family, or business concerns in T&T.

2. Why am I giving you a ‘crash course’ on Canadian energy and economic policy?

3. What is our government negotiating with the oil giants (or “Big Oil”) regarding bringing the “Canadian Model” to T&T.

4. What are the associated concerns we the public should know about?

As it turns out, Mr. Stainsby is an environmental activist whose main reason for being in Trinidad is to help raise public awareness on the issue of Tar Sand mining. He runs a website where you can read about Tar Sands in detail. To visit, please click the following link. http://oilsandstruth.org.

In Canada, An Area The Size Of Florida Is Being Sacrificed For The Oil Sands Beneath.

For millennia, human beings have been aware of the presence of petroleum-related deposits at various sites around the world known as “Bituminous Sand” or more commonly, Tar Sands, with the earliest recorded use of it being over 40,000 years ago by Neanderthals.

Historically, bitumen was commonly used to waterproof boats. Indigenous peoples used it as a means of patching their canoes, much like tar would patch the roof of a school today. The ancient Egyptians also used it in the mummification process, and in fact, the English word, “Mummy”, comes from the Egyptian word * mumiyyah,* which means bitumen.

This Ancient Boat At The British Museum In London Is Coated In Bitumen For Waterproofing.

Pure Bitumen

Tar sands constitute a large fraction of remaining possible oil sources on the planet today, with estimates going as high as several trillion barrels worldwide. Until relatively recently, (in the last decade since the Iraq war began) has not been a viable source of synthetic oil, as the process involved to extract the bitumen from the sand, followed by the extensive conversion and refining process, had been too costly to justify the investment in the eyes of the oil companies.

The past few years have seen the price of a barrel of oil steadily on the rise as proven reserves dwindle. As a result, tar sand extraction and processing has become more and more attractive to both industry and governments, and worldwide, oil industry players are vying for their piece of the pie that is the tar sand reserves.

Tar sands are being rebranded as oil sands, and are made up of water, soil, sand and bitumen, which is a thick, heavy substance similar in look and smell to tar, hence the name.

When tar sands are found close to the surface of the earth, pumping oil jacks into the ground will not be the method used to extract oil from the earth.

The most common method currently used in Canada is a form of open pit mining that involves removing all surrounding vegetation and topsoil cover, then huge bucket cranes scoop out chunks of the underlying tar sand before off-loading it onto the largest trucks in the world. Each one of these monsters has tires that are 30 feet tall, and they are capable of transporting up to 360 tons each.

The second method, known as ‘in situ extraction’ involves drilling two separate wells a few feet above and below each other, then continuously pumping huge quantities of steam into the upper well, which heats up the bitumen in the surrounding strata, allowing it to ‘drain’ into to lower well, which then pipes it up to the surface where processing begins. In this process, where conventional oil would have one small platform, often as many as a dozen much larger platforms go deep into the earth to separate bitumen from sand and silt before pulling out the raw bitumen. This process often uses more water and even more energy– i.e. Natural gas– than the mining procedure.

Before I continue, I’m sure many of you who are reading this must be wondering what all this has to do with us all the way here in T&T, thousands of miles from the Canadian tar sand industry?

Well, we may be closer to this reality than we realize. Mr. Stainsby has been aware for some time now, (as I’m sure a few of you reading this are as well,) that the government of Trinidad & Tobago is engaged in negotiations to open the Southwest corner of our island to this type of industry.

In an effort to remain objective I will try to present both sides of the coin to the reader in order that he/she can come to as informed an opinion as possible after reading this article.

After talking with Mr. Stainsby, a number of things became clear to me, that had been confusing me for some time now.

For example; the new section of highway being constructed from Golconda to Point Fortin. While I agree that it will be convenient to have a six-lane highway all the way to Point, I have often wondered whether or not it seemed a little excessive for Trinidad’s needs, even when considering future growth projections.

Each Of These Monsters Can Carry Up To 360 Tons OfTar Sand. (About 200 Barrels Of Oil Per Load.)

Following yesterday’s meeting with Mr. Stainsby, another piece of the strategy seems to have fallen into place in my mind. It makes perfect sense that in order for it to be possible for an industry such as this one to function in Trinidad, it is essential that there are adequate infrastructure upgrades to ensure that no aspect of the process causes another to back-up, that includes the supply lines these businesses would use.

This Giant Loader Can Scoop About 100 Tons Per Bucket Load.

According to Mr. Stainsby, the government of Trinidad & Tobago began to really look into the feasibility of exploiting the tar sands in the La Brea area in about 2009 when Mr. Conrad Enil was the minister of energy under the previous PNM administration. In point of fact, the announcement was made on February 13 of that year– while many of us were enjoying our Carnival.

As you know, the last election saw the removal of the PNM from power, however this seems to have had little negative effect on the industry’s plans.

First Mrs. Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan and now Mr. Kevin Ramnarine (both ministers of energy under the current People’s Partnership administration) have been aggressively pushing for the development of this previously un-exploited resource in Trinidad. Just over a year ago at the Normandie Hotel, a conference was held called, directly, “Development of Trinidad: Trinidad’s Tar Sand Resources.”

[http://www.gstt.org/events/2010 2011/lunch%20and%20learn%2024%20march%202011.htm]

It was around this point that I had to interrupt Mr. Stainsby as I began to wonder. If Canada has the 2nd largest amount of tar sands of any country on Earth after Venezuela, with Kazakhstan, Madagascar, Russia and Nigeria each having fairly significant tar sand reserves– how much oil does Trinidad & Tobago stand to make if oil giants bring their tar sands bitumen extraction technology here?

The answer to this question can of course only be an estimate, because in cases like this, exact figures are impossible to calculate with so many unpredictable variables to consider. Mr. Stainsby explained that long standing estimates of bitumen reserves say that T&T stands to possibly more than double their proven reserves by commercially exploiting the tar sands at La Brea and surrounding areas.

Trinidad & Tobago's Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissesar & Canada's Stephen Harper Recently Held Talks At The 2012 Commonwealth Heads Of Government Summit in Brazil.

It is difficult to say for sure at any particular time, just how much oil remains in our proven conventional on and off-shore reserves. In recent weeks, Bayfield Energy Holdings PLC struck new oil off the East coast with an initial estimate of 30 million barrels. This number has increased twice since, first to 48 million barrels, now we’re being told it’s actually 80 million. It should be mentioned that the both the CEO of Bayfield, Mr. Hywel John and the minister of energy, Mr. Kevin Ramnarine are optimistic that more oil will be found from the six further wells Bayfield has permissions to drill.

Now, I’d like to go over some of the facts concerning tar sand extraction, upgrading and refining.

· Two to four tons of sand and soil are removed and dumped for every barrel of oil produced.

· It takes 3-5 barrels of fresh water to produce one barrel of oil from tar sands in Canada.

· Salt water cannot be used.

· Tar sands synthetic oil production emits 3 times more carbon emissions than does processing an equal amount of conventional land based oil

· Tar sand extraction processes involve the use of large quantities of natural gas. Conventional oil will produce approximately 35 times the energy needed to get it to market. Bitumen extraction and conversion, roughly 3.

· Incidences of serious illnesses and diseases have been shown to increase following the introduction of the tar sand industry in the region near the giant mines in Canada.

To read more please visit:


All the points listed here are relevant to the Canadian model. Now, we all know that in the past, Trinidad & Tobago’s track record regarding regulating, monitoring and enforcement of both environmental and safety laws has been less than stellar. In fact as a former commercial diver who worked in the local oil field industry for nearly a decade, I can say from experience that concern for environments directly affected by our oil field operations is minimal to say the least. With this in mind, I became extremely nervous when I heard that our government is pushing so hard to commit us to 25-50 years of a technology that will leave millions of gallons of fresh water contaminated for generations.

A Pipe Discharges Heavily Polluted Water Into A "Tailings Pond" In Alberta, Canada.

Yes you read that correctly, for generations.

This vast Tailing Pond In Canada Is Visible From Space. Locals Claim The Toxic Water Is Entering Nearby Rivers As Well As Groundwater Sources.

During the processing stage of tar sand extraction mining, the fresh water used—somewhere around 4 barrels for 1 barrel of oil– becomes heavily contaminated. Currently, the only known way to deal with this waste (as in all resource mining projects around the world,) is to store it in huge ponds known as ‘tailings ponds’. In Alberta there are 10 such ponds, the largest being 17 miles across. Mr. Stainsby informs me that it is currently estimated to be six centuries before the water at the surface of these ‘ponds’ can be skimmed off for re-introduction to the natural environment.

Additionally, environmentalists and even the industry itself have realized that these tailings ponds all leech at least some amount of this soup into the ground, and the reality is that this water, containing extremely high quantities of harmful, carcinogenic contaminants is escaping into the surrounding water table in Canada.

In 2008, the Alberta Cancer Board said it would conduct a comprehensive review of cancer rates in Fort Chipewyan, a town downstream of the tar sands operation. The peer-reviewed report released in 2009 found that the community had a 30% higher cancer rate than models predicted, and that there were “higher than expected” rates of blood, lymphatic and soft-tissue cancers. Also, they were forced to admit that several rare and difficult to diagnose cancers had been found in 14 employees working at one of the tar sand mines and that incidences of cancer were much higher in people living near to a tar sand mine and that they were often fatal. (From the book ‘Tar Sands” by Andrew Nikiforuk)

If you didn’t already know, it is well known within government circles here in T&T that the towns and villages surrounding the Point Lisas area are experiencing far higher than normal incidences of serious cancers and other illnesses. This can be seen by going to page 80 at this link to the 2000 budget debate in parliament.


All Vegetation & Topsoil (Collectively Called "Overburden" By The Industry) Must Be Removed In Order To Access The Bitumen Sands Below.

Do you think we should be entertaining the possibility of introducing another of the worlds most polluting industries into our little country when our track record of safeguarding the wellbeing and health of our people has taken a back seat to the demands of these industry giants? I hope not…

Sights Such As This Would Become The Norm In South-West Trinidad, If The Industry Finds It's Way Into T&T.

At 9976140 square kilometers, Canada is the world’s second largest country by landmass, and it contains the largest source of fresh water of any country in the world. In comparison, Trinidad & Tobago comes in at number 173 with 5128 square kilometers between the two islands, and as our fresh water availability is probably a little below the international average currently. Just imagine how much more people will suffer for water if this mine goes forward. And it is highly likely that whatever water is available to them will be contaminated as a result of this proposed mine.

Similar to how the highway to Point project could help the industry extract tar sands, so too could the construction of a desalination plant near La Brea, as well as the large Natural Gas electricity plant in the same area. One cannot say that these upgrades are being carried out specifically to facilitate tar sands extraction, however, they could say that the presence of these different facilities could ensure that tar sands extraction becomes far easier financially and technologically. The same holds true of the multi-billion dollar upgrade recently performed at Petrotrin’s Point-a-Pierre refinery.

The companies operating in Canada are said to be excavating an area equivalent in size to England and Wales combined, or the US state of Florida.

We do not yet have an idea of the size of the planned mine here in T&T, but you can be sure that we will be using a far larger percentage of our total landmass for tar sand mining than is being used in Canada.

If Approved, Scenes Such As This One Await Us In T&T... Can Our Little Island Take The Strain?


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