Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

"Technology will solve oilsands environmental challenge"

If you ever needed evidence that the consciousness rising around tar sands the world over was powerful, look at the horse-hockey that the Can West chain (through their Edmonton Journal) is reduced to. There is no technoligcal fix. It is currently science fiction.

If one were to talk of space travel in the same fashion, the equivalent would be of saying we don't need to stop destroying the livable biosphere on the earth, for technology will get us to the ability to switch planets in the future. Oh, sure the technology does not exist now, has not been proven and would cost more than any other enterprise in human history, but hey! Don't you have faith in technology? Get back to work!


Technology will solve oilsands environmental challenge, observers say
By Dave Cooper, Canwest News Service
December 28, 2009

EDMONTON - In 2000, Alberta's massive bitumen resource was not well- known internationally as a secure source of oil. It wasn't a target for environmentalists - protesters chaining themselves to equipment, and oily dead ducks wouldn't be news around the world for many years.

As the century began, the province's oilsands were simply seen as an engineering marvel.

After a decade of virtually no growth, Alberta's oilsands in 2000 were set to explode out of their obscurity - both above and below ground.

At the turn of the century, Syncrude was just opening its Aurora project, the first satellite mine that feeds the Mildred Lake bitumen upgrader through a 35-kilometre hydro-transport system developed by the firm.

In the huge pits, the now-common 400-tonne Caterpillar monster trucks, the largest ever built, were being tested.

Nearby, Shell was building its Albian Sands mine - the first new oilsands project since 1978, which was set to join pioneers Suncor and Syncrude on the landscape.

But is was underground that things were really heating up.

Alberta researchers had devised a way to tap the 80 per cent of the bitumen, a tarlike form of petroleum, that is too deep for surface mining.

And in 2000, a group of companies that had participated in the field work were ready to begin $3.4 billion worth of commercial ventures.

All these large underground projects today - which use a technology known as steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) - were kicked off at this time, including Suncor's first Firebag project and others at Surmount, Christina Lake, Foster Creek, Primrose, Hangingstone and McKay River.

"SAGD is a vast step change in technology with no mine, no tailings ponds and no water from the river," said Don Thompson, president of the Ft. McMurray- based Oilsands Developers Group. "It has changed the face of the oilsands."

The boom that became evident in 2000 actually began with a national oilsands task force report in 1995, a time when there was no new money going into development.

Former Syncrude president Eric Newell was a key player in the push to "get things going," bringing governments and industry to the table to hash out new royalty and tax terms that spurred the massive expansion.

"We were trying to get people excited. The groups developed a vision where we would triple oil production over 25 years at a cost of $25 billion, and we all worked through the numbers and what it would mean to people, such as how many jobs would be created across the country and how much revenue would flow to the governments," said Newell.

By any measure the vision has come true in spades, with oilsands production now at 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) - four times its 2000 level and likely to hit two million bpd by 2015.

While scientists, regulators and producers knew the resource was a massive 175 billion barrels of oil trapped in sand - the world's second largest deposit after Saudi Arabia - it was not yet common knowledge.

That changed in 2003 when the influential Oil and Gas Journal in the U.S. determined that the existing technology could now efficiently produce the resource. The oilsands suddenly became America's new reliable source of energy, a popular idea in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and amid a growing dislike of pumping more money into the pockets of Middle East nations.

"That's the date people outside Alberta recognized the vastness of this resource, and when the international attention started," said Greg Stringham, a vice-president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

Eddy Issacs, executive director of the Alberta Energy Research Institute, said when he used to attend international conferences, "the oilsands were seen as a marvel, people were awed by what was happening. In recent years, the oilsands have been seen as an environmental challenge, an environmental bust or environmental disaster. Call it what you want."

And things got nasty at the 2008 World Petroleum Congress in Madrid.

"The negative attention, or black eye, was foisted on the oilsands, I think unfairly," he said.

"We need to focus on environmental and economic sustainability, but the oilsands is so young. After the first 25 years as a teenager it is now a young adult. It takes time to mature."

But some groups say too much environmental damage has already been done, from air and water pollution to clear-cutting great chunks of the boreal forest which lies over the Florida-size resource.

Greenpeace's attention-getting "Stop the Tar Sands" campaign aims to halt further projects. And when Maude Barlow, chairman of the Council of Canadians, flew over the oilsands last year she told the media that the scene of open pits mines, tailings ponds and plants reminded her of Mordor, the fictional blackened and barren landscape in The Lord Of The Rings.

So how did the oilsands go from marvel to Mordor?

Stringham shares the view of many oilsands players that industry and government didn't keep their eye on the ball.

"At the beginning there was so much work to just get the oilsands recognized as part of the world's resources. We know how to do reclamation and reduce the amount of water used, but that was an operational thing," he said.

"Some groups began painting the picture the other way, so we had to react. Companies just never focused on the communications aspect of what they were doing."

Stringham and others believe that new technologies now being tested, such as better ways to handle tailings and using cogeneration to cut carbon dioxide emissions and get the carbon footprint down to the same size as conventional oil, will eventually erase the "dirty oil" black eye.

As Issacs said, "there is nothing you do that it not going to have environmental consequences, unless we want to sit in the dark."

And the importance of technological advances can't be underestimated.

"Technology is the enabler. In 1996 you needed to have the technology there, so when the rules changed things could happen in the oilsands, and they did."

And the same applies to the environmental challenges.

Thompson thinks that just as engineering advances in the 1990s solved production challenges and paved the way for the boom of this decade, so the work starting to appear today - advances in areas like water use, emission controls and tailings management - herald the changes which will alter the face of the oilsands industry over the next decade.

"It should be a positive decade ahead."

Adds Newell: "We've made great progress on the environmental challenges and we have more to do. But I am bullish on the oilsands."

Edmonton Journal
© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service


Oilsandstruth.org is not associated with any other web site or organization. Please contact us regarding the use of any materials on this site.

Tar Sands Photo Albums by Project

Discussion Points on a Moratorium

User login


Syndicate content