Monday, March 27, 2006

Oil from sand

Today's front page article in the WSJ, "As Prices Surge, Oil Giants Turn Sludge Into Gold,"by Russell Gold, (paid subscription required) is sobering reading.

The article focuses on the oil sands in Canada and the oil company Total. It costs much more to extract "heavy-oil" than light crude. The environmental impact is also significantly higher. These two paragraphs are next to each other in the article:
In northern Alberta, the oil-sands boom is remaking the landscape. The mining operations have clear-cut thousands of acres of trees and dug 200-foot-deep pits. The region is dotted with large man-made lakes filled with leftover waste from the mining operations. To chase off migratory birds, propane cannons go off at random intervals and scarecrows stand guard on floating barrels.

Alberta's energy minister, Greg Melchin, says oil-sands development creates a minimal environmental disturbance that is outweighed by the opportunities and jobs created. "It's worth it. There is a cost to it, but the benefits are substantially greater," he said.
Another cost is the huge amount of carbon dioxide generated by extracting the heavy-oil.
Canada, which exports more oil to the U.S. than any other country, already is having trouble meeting its pledge to cut CO2 emissions largely because of its mushrooming heavy-oil production. By 2015, Canada's Fort McMurray region, population 61,000, is expected to emit more greenhouse gases than Denmark, a country of 5.4 million people.
The descriptions of the machines used in "mining" the oil are pretty amazing, too. Cranes with buckets that can dig up 100 tons in one scoop; dump trucks that are two stories high and loaded weigh the same as a 747; machines that wash out the oil from the sand leaving toxic waste water that fill lakes.

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