Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Government of Morocco on Tar Sands 'potential' in Morocco.

This is a government ministry of Morocco report. Moroccans refer to tar sands and oil shale almost interchangeably, and even refer to Alberta's giant "oil shale" mines.


Morocco Oil Shale Deposits, an Alternative Oil Source Following Oil Spill in US Golf
Thursday, May 20 2010 11:43

Washington / Morocco Board News Service - The on shore oil spill at the US Golf Coast and the ensuing environmental disaster, the shortage of drilling sites and high Oil prices have pushed the oil companies to look at "unconventional" hydrocarbon deposits in places such as Morocco, Jordan as well as the US . Canada's current development of tar sands has triggered a rush by oil companies to set up similar operations in Russia, Congo and others. Canada is currently the only major center of production but investment is expanding by oil companies such as BP, Shell, Total and ENI.

However, environmental groups consider that Tar sands and oil shale to be much more damaging to the planet than normal oil operations because extraction is highly carbon- and water-intensive.

BP and Shell contest environmental claims that tar sands are up to five times as carbon-intensive to exploit as normal crude. They say that they can mitigate the impact by using carbon capture and storage techniques, but these technologies are unproven on a large scale.

There are ten oil shale deposits in Morocco, and the three most-explored, and therefore the most likely to begin commercial production in the near future, are near the city of Tangier, near the Mediterranean sea, Timahdit, to the east of the capital Rabat and Tarfaya, near Morocco’s southern Saharan provinces. Morocco’s total in place oil shale reserves are estimated at between 50 and 55 billion barrels. The Timahdit zone contains an estimated 16.1 billion barrels of oil in place. Tarfaya is around 22.7 billion barrels of oil. The thickness of the Timahdit shale is between 80 and 250 meters and Tarfaya between 22 and 28 meters. While Tarfaya is shallow enough to be entirely developed potentially with surface mining, Timahdit will require a combination of mining and in situ production. The Tangier deposit, at a thickness between a few centimeters and 8 meters, contains an estimated 2 billion barrels of oil.

Morocco is highly dependent on energy imports, hence the government’s interest in exploiting domestic deposits of oil shale. Omar Bekri, a former head of Research and Development at the Moroccan National Oil Company, estimates that with a production of 50,000 barrels per day from shale, more than 40% of Morocco’s energy consumption would be covered. Because of this, the National Office of Hydrocarbons and Mines (ONHYM) says that “the Moroccan authorities have decided to elaborate a new legal and attractive fiscal framework for the oil shale projects” to encourage large oil companies to invest. In 2008 ONHYM employed Brazilian state oil company Petrobras to evaluate the Timahdit deposit in the hope of confirming the studies done in the 1980s and to assess the feasibility of developing the deposit. Total has since joined this project by signing a cooperation agreement with Petrobras, stating: “Petrobras owns an oil shale extraction process [….] Total, meanwhile, has state-of-the-art oil upgrading technology and deep knowledge of the region”.

In July 2009, Irish oil company San Leon Energy announced it had signed a three-year agreement with ONHYM to use “In-Situ Vapor Extraction (IVE) technology” on the Tarfaya deposit. The first testing phase is due for completion by mid-to-late 2010. ONHYM has also signed an agreement regarding the Tarfaya field with a company called Xtract and a “confidentiality agreement” on the Tangier field with a company called Enefit. Xtract Energy is a London-based multinational energy company, which owns 70% of Xtract Energy (Oil Shale) Morocco, with the other 30% stake being held by Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia. The agreement is for the “evaluation and possible development of an oil shale deposit near Tarfaya”. However, “in light of market turmoil and falling oil prices, no significant work [has been] done by the joint venture [….] Since July 2009, investment conditions have started to improve and it is hoped that work can begin during the current financial year”. Enefit is the Latvian subsidiary of Estonian company Eesti Energia. There is little information about their agreement with ONHYM, but the CEO of Eesti states that “confident of our success in Jordan, we are ready to export our unique oil shale production know-how to other countries interested in oil shale utilizations such as Morocco”.

The Tarfaya deposit spans the line between the province of Tarfaya and Morocco Saharan Provinces, a sparsely populated region that is the centre of an ongoing political dispute.

From an environmental perspective, the Timahdit deposit is close to the Ifrane and Haut Atlas Oriental national parks. The former contains the largest Atlas cedar forest and a population of Barbary apes. The latter is heavily used for pastoralism and agriculture, with an estimated 18,000 people using the park’s resources as of 1993. The Moroccan government says to have undertaken environmental studies on both the Timahdit and Tarfaya projects, but the environmental impacts need to be monitored closely.


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