Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Too Much Energy Used to Mine, Move Bitumen Says BC Firm

Too Much Energy Used to Mine, Move Bitumen Says BC Firm

'Energy Return on Investment' hard to justify says P.G.-based engineering

By: By Geoff Dembicki 6 February
2012, TheTyee.ca

A B.C. engineering consulting firm claims it has hard numerical proof that
Enbridge's Northern Gateway proposal augurs poorly for the future of modern

The Prince George-based C.J. Peter Associates
Engineeringcame to this conclusion after
performing an EROI analysis on the
$5.5-billion project.

That acronym stands for Energy Return On Investment, a little-known but
potentially revolutionary concept with direct implications for Alberta's
oil sands.

It refers to the amount of energy that must be expended in order to produce
more energy. (Think, for instance, of all the heavy machinery, pipelines
and refineries needed to produce gasoline.)

What C.J. Peter Associates found when it analyzed each stage of Northern
Gateway's global supply chain, is that getting oil sands bitumen from
Alberta to China requires so much energy it might not be worth the effort.

"When animals expend more energy foraging than they obtain from plant food
sources, they die," the firm's Norman Jacob
public hearings on the project in Prince George last month. He added:
"Societies that ignore EROI necessarily fail."

*Energy in, energy out*

To understand the firm's analysis, you must first know that Enbridge's
proposal is about much more than a steel pipeline across northern B.C.

Northern Gateway is actually a new global supply
heavy Alberta oil that begins somewhere in Australia or the Middle

Each of these regions produce large quantities of a natural gas liquid
known as condensate, one vital to Alberta's oil sands industry.

If Northern Gateway is approved, tankers loaded with condensate would cross
the Pacific Ocean to the small B.C. coastal community of Kitimat.

Here the condensate would be sent east through a 1,172 km pipeline
stretched across creeks, rivers and mountain ranges to Bruderheim, Alberta.

It would then be mixed with the thick, viscous bitumen extracted by deep
steam injections or surface mining projects near Fort McMurray.

Doing so would allow the diluted bitumen to flow west through a separate
pipeline all the way back to Kitimat.

That product would then be loaded onto tankers and shipped to refineries on
the far side of the Pacific, facilities built to remove the condensate, and
then turn raw Alberta bitumen into gasoline, diesel and jet fuel for
fast-expanding Asian markets.

During the heyday of Texas oil development in the 1930s, energy companies
could reasonably expect to produce 100 barrels of oil for each barrel's
worth of energy they invested. By the 1970s, the EROI for oil had shrunk
more than a third.

And now, four decades later, expend one barrel's worth of energy to power
Enbridge's Northern Gateway supply chain and how much could you expect to
get back? A paltry 2.41 barrels, according to C.J. Peter Associates.

"It begs the question of why are we doing this?" the firm's Jacob told The
Tyee in an interview. "Because as EROI gets lower, a greater percentage of
the overall economy is subsidizing the production of oil."

*Wait for more efficient method: analyst*

The C.J. Peter Associates analysis contains an important caveat.

Transporting bitumen and condensate by tanker and pipeline is actually a
relatively energy efficient process, the firm concluded, when compared to
the massive amounts of energy needed to process and refine oil sands

But the entire global supply chain created by Northern Gateway would enable
large expansions of Alberta's oil sands industry, deepening our dependence
on some of the planet's least sustainable energy, it argues.

"From the perspective of the energy systems of the earth, [the project]
sounds absurd," Charles
prominent energy analyst and ecologist at the State University of New
York, said when contacted by The Tyee.

Hall is one of the leading proponents of EROI theory, seeing it as
important tool for probing and quantifying a society's sustainability.

He arguedin
a 2010 academic paper that EROI analyses "should always be done and
comprehensively for any major political or financial decision about energy."

What his research has shown is that the effort modern society puts into
producing energy has grown steadily over the past few generations.

And we may soon reach a point, Hall argued in a 2009 study, where "oil and
eventually gas will cease to be a net source of energy."

The implications for our fossil-fuel dependant society could be massive,
say Hall and other EROI theorists.

Projects such as Northern Gateway, argue C.J. Peter Associates, with its
relatively small energy returns, get us closer to that day.

"The tar sands should be left in ground until we can find a more elegant
and energy efficient way of dealing with them," the firm's Chris Peter told
The Tyee, adding, "if that ever occurs."


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