Stupid Idea number two. Good article by Dan Woynillowicz from World Watch on the growing importance of Canada’s tar sands, especially to the US. If you thought coal to oil (see blog below) was stupid, tar sands is much worse.
The United States has its hopes pinned on Canada’s “tar sands” for North American security in the oil market. But their “black gold” is an environmental nightmare and four tons of material are moved and huge amounts of energy are needed to produce every barrel of bitumen.
When the U.S. Department of Energy formally acknowledged these reserves in 2003, it vaulted Canada’s oil reserves from 21st to 2nd in the world, behind only Saudi Arabia. It’s little wonder then that the U.S. Energy Policy Development Group has described the tar sands as “a pillar of sustained North American energy and economic security.”
Canada’s so-called “black gold” has come to be regarded as an abundant, secure, and affordable source of crude oil. But development of this unconventional fossil fuel comes with unconventional risks and consequences. Everything about the tar sands is big, most significantly its global warming and environmental implications — leading some to now describe the tar sands as “Canada’s dirty secret.”
Most tar sands production takes place in vast open-pit mines, some as large as 150 square kilometers and as deep as 90 meters. Before strip-mining can begin, the boreal forest must be clear-cut, rivers and streams diverted, and wetlands drained. The overburden (the soil, rocks, and clay overlying the tar sands deposit) must be stripped away and stockpiled to reach the bitumen.
The environmental consequences of oil production from tar sands are major, beginning with its effect on climate change. North America’s transition to oil from the tar sands not only perpetuates, but actually worsens, emissions of greenhouse gas pollution from oil consumption.
Despite this, argues Dan “major global powers are positioning themselves to ensure access to oil from tar sands. To date, four of the five largest publicly traded oil companies in the world (Royal Dutch/Shell, ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, and TotalFina) have invested or committed themselves to invest billions of dollars in tar sands development. National oil companies have also staked their claim, ranging from Norway’s Statoil to China’s Sinopec.”
Tar sands speculation, investment and development has grown dramatically. The tar sands industry is now focused on quintupling production as quickly as possible. It is projected that tar sands production will reach 3-4 million barrels per day by 2015 and could grow to 5 million barrels per day by 2030, if not sooner. It is the prospect of this growth that has led Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to label Canada an “emerging energy superpower.”
Dan finishes by arguing “The environmental and global warming consequences of even 1 million barrels per day of tar sands production must serve as a wake-up call, and we must acknowledge that increased reliance upon this unconventional, high-impact fossil fuel is not a viable path forward.”
I wonder if politicians and the oil industry understand the term “non viable”.