Thursday, March 19, 2009

Dirty Oil: The Nagging Spouse

This will be my third blog in three days... Hope you're enjoying it as much as I am. Tonight's topic is the "Tar/Oil Sands" Debate in northern Saskatchewan. SHould Saskatchewan develop its' tar sands?

Participating in the debate were Andrew Nikiforuk, an award-winning journalist who has wrote on the environment and the economy and Dr. Carolyn Preston, the Executive Director of the Petroleum Technology Research Centre in Regina. Andrew spoke against the expansion of a tar sands industry in Saskatchewan without national targets for renewable energy while Carolyn was in favour of the tar sands as an energy source. His most recent book is called "Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent".

The first thing that hit me from this debate was that both of them agreed upon the great mistakes Alberta had made with their strip mining and steam sand extraction of oil. This type of extraction known as System Assisted Gravity Drainage or SAGD has destroyed many boreal forests and wetlands and has caused the pollution of natural waterways in section of Alberta the size of the state of Florida or 3000km sq. This may be exaggerated but I can only imagine that it is a large parcel of land at any rate. If you see pictures of this you will understand the true definition of "raped land".

Here were a couple other random stats that hit me from Mr. Nikiforuk:

1. Albera royalties on oil produced are at 1% of what used to be 35% years ago. This means our government is basically giving away our resources. ANother stat said that Canadian people are actually seeing 39% of all profits from our oil whereas a country like Venezeula pockets 89% of all oil produced.
2. Of the remaining oil in the world today, most of it is bitumen or the type that is very heavy and difficult to extract oil from. This means that most oil extracted 30 or more years ago gave high yields for the energy put into extracting it (1 barrell of energy such as natural gas = 100 barrels of oil). Most of the oil left today all comes at a high cost of investment because of its crude and dirty nature (1 barrell natural gas = 3-5 barrells of oil). Is this sustainable?
3. As Canadians our biggest consumer is the US. The US buys more oil from us than any other country in the world. WHy? Because we practically let them do it for free for reasons I explained above.

Pretty interesting stuff. As for Dr. Carolyn. Here was a summary of her points:

1. Oil sands only produce 5% of our national contribution to global emissions.
2. Canada is at 2% contribution to Global emissions.
3. The efficiency of our combustines engines could be much better.
4. Cleaner oil can be produced.

She had some other points, but like the ones above they still don't seem like long term solutions to our problems, rather they seem like bandaid, quick fixes which seek to distract us. They distract us from the real issues of looking for truly sustainable energy solutions.

At times, I kind of felt bad for Dr. Carolyn who seemed to really want to do what was best as well. She is part of a team of researchers paid to come up with petroleum solutions to the tar sand problems. One must ask the question though, why are we not paying more experts to research the possibilities of more sustainable energy projects which could harvest wind, solar, and geo-thermal energies?

I really hope that we can work together on these solutions. As we all know wind turbines and solar panels are made of plastics that come from petroleum products. For this and other reasons (jobs, transportation and time for shifts in educational focus) I don't think we can just go cold-turkey to non-petroleum energy sources. My hope is that we can start to divert more and more to renewable energy sources. We should not be afraid to engage in these conversations just because we may feel like hypocrites (I still drive and fly in a plane; how about you?). It would be the same as saying that we should stop talking about deforestry because I am writing this blog on a wooden table in the kitchen of my wood framed house?

What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. "One must ask the question though, why are we not paying more experts to research the possibilities of more sustainable energy projects which could harvest wind, solar, and geo-thermal energies?" I was the girl in the pink that DID ask that question at the end of the debate. And Dr Carolyn kind of snapped at me...