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Alberta Tar Sands

In the span of Human history, the Alberta Tar Sands project is the largest industrial project initiated by Humans, larger than China’s 3 Gorges Dam. This project is the driving force behind the BP expansion here in East Chicago, and the air I will be expected to breath.

Andrew Nikiforuk’s video is about the best overview of the project I have found.

Some from the energy sector argue that if Americans continue to consume energy at present rate of increase then this is not a project of choice but of necessity. Unfortunately that discussion has not been held in public. What this project does tells us is that the present condition of our energy sector is struggling severely to keep up with the energy demands of the American life style in an environment of diminishing efficient resources. Seven years ago the American energy sector shifted its reliance from the Sweet Crude of Saudi Arabia to the Sour Dirty Crude of the Tar Sands. Since then we have attempted to rely on far inferior energy resources to support our high energy consumptive life style.

With the Tar Sands the energy return on energy investment (EROEI) falls

from

  • 1-barrel investment to produce 100-barrels of product (for sweet crude)

to

  • 1-barrel investment to produce 5-barrels of product (for dirty sour crude from the Tar Sands)

The fact that we are shifting our dependence on a resource with such diminished efficiencies reveals some of the true costs of the last sixty years. Other costs include:

  • Deforestation: The tar sands ranks second to the Amazon Rainforest Basin in its rate of deforestation on the planet, and wiping out the ancient Boreal Forest in Canada.
  • Increased CO2 Emissions: The tar sands mining procedure releases at least three times the CO2 emissions as regular oil production.

What I can gather from my minor position is that our obvious neglect of exponential growth and demand has reframed the discussion and limited the realm of possible solutions for our energy needs. A generation of ineffective confrontation with clear evidence puts us at this disadvantage. I realize I need to come to grips with the fact that we live in an era where positive action is a lagging indicator.

Most Americans have no knowledge of this colossal project. They have no knowledge of the reasons why it has been initiated nor the socio-economic and environmental impacts it may have. They just know that the cost of gas has gone up. The issues surrounding the project are only just beginning to enter the public discourse – long after our public and commercial leaders have committed us to this solution.

Recently, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu addressed the issue publicly (not behind closed doors as in Cheney’s Energy Task Force).

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu told the Reuters Global Energy Summit that the balance between the environmental impact from the huge energy resource in northern Alberta and its importance to U.S. energy supply is a complicated one that will require solutions from the industry.

Environmental groups have mounted major campaigns to get the message out to Americans that the expansion of Canada’s oil sands industry threatens to intensify global warming, deforestation and damage to water resources.

“It’s a complicated issue, because certainly Canada is a close and trusted neighbor and the oil from Canada has all sorts of good things. But there is this environmental concern, so I think we’re going to have to work our way through that,” he said. “But I’m a big believer in technology.”

Canada is the largest foreign supplier of oil to the United States and its oil sands represent the biggest deposits of crude outside the Middle East.

The Canadian and Alberta governments as well as the oil industry are going to great lengths to ensure that U.S. energy and environmental policies do not put oil sands-derived crude at a disadvantage in its most important market.

The resource is mined in open pits as well as produced in wells with the aide of steam pumped into the ground. Then it must be processed by upgrading plants into light oil that can be fed into refineries.

There is concern about the large amount of energy required to produce oil sands, Chu said. He said Canadian producers point out they are making strides in extracting the crude “more cleanly.”

Cutting the energy used to extract a barrel of oil sands crude would be “economically good and it will be environmentally much better,” he said.

– via [ Business Insider ]

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