Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Saskatchewan tar sands development could hurt environment: think-tank

Saskatchewan oilsands development could hurt environment: think-tank
By James Wood, Canwest News Service
June 13, 2010

REGINA — Developing Saskatchewan’s oilsands could harm the environment, a think-tank warns.

A fact sheet released by the Alberta Pembina Institute compares “in situ” extraction used for deep reserves of bitumen — like those found in Saskatchewan — and the surface mining used for shallower deposits.

Based on two previous studies done by the organization, the fact sheet says in situ oilsands projects actually have greater emission of greenhouse gases and sulphur dioxide per barrel of bitumen produced than surface mining.

Simon Dyer, oilsands program director with the Pembina Institute, said as in situ development increases in Alberta there has been a tendency for industry and government officials to downplay its impact and present it as a more environmentally friendly option.

“There are very significant per barrel impacts associated with in situ developments, as our report shows. There are very significant land use impacts. This is nothing like conventional oil and gas development despite the attempts of some boosters in the industry to paint it that way,” he said in a telephone interview from Fort McMurray, Alta.

“This is a very serious form of industrial development that needs to be considered and managed carefully.”

Saskatchewan currently has no oilsands production but two companies are conducting extensive exploration and testing in the province’s northern boreal forest.

About 27,000 square kilometres of northwestern Saskatchewan, an area covering about five per cent of the province, has some level of oilsands potential. Independent estimates put the size of the resource at as much as 2.3 billion barrels of bitumen, according to a report put out by the Saskatchewan Environmental Society last year.

“My advice to Saskatchewan would be, if you actually want a high-performing industry, you should ensure you actually have regulations that demand best practices and demand continuous improvement. And currently neither Alberta or Saskatchewan has a regulatory framework to actually drive the kind of improvements that are possible,” said Dyer.

The most common form of in situ extraction involves injecting high-pressure steam underground so the heated bitumen can flow to a well and be pumped above ground. Other solvents and extraction methods are being reviewed by companies but are not at this point being used, according to Pembina’s report.

Roy Schneider, a spokesman for the Ministry of Energy and Resources, said the province does not yet have specific rules for oilsand development separate from regulations for conventional energy development.

Companies are still working to determine if Saskatchewan’s resource is recoverable on an economic basis.

“Until we see a game plan from them it’s really premature to comment on what specifically might be needed there,” said Schneider.

Saskatoon StarPhoenix
© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix


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