The Art of Political Lying & the Canadian Oil Sands

Posted by Byron W. King: The Daily Resource Hunter

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There’s a long list of political-oriented lies floating around out there, about oil sands. They’re in the nature of “throw it against the wall and see if it sticks” kind of things. For the sake of completeness, here are a few of the biggest whoppers…

  1. Oil sand development requires huge strip mines that scar the land. No, not any more. That’s 1970s technology. Today, it doesn’t work that way. With deeper oil sand targets, the process calls for directional drilling to emplace wells within a few inches of where the geophysics and core drilling identifies the targets. Oil service provider Halliburton does this, by the way. Then it’s a process of injecting steam down “injection wells,” to warm the gooey bitumen, and get it to flow into other “recovery” wells. Today, a relatively small surface footprint of wells can drain bitumen from much larger acreage. It’s quite efficient. Oh, and the 1970s-era strip mines are being recovered — better than we recover strip mines in the U.S., in my view — which is the law in Canada.
  1. Canadian oil is “too” carbon-intensive. Having visited several oil sands operations, my view is that Canadian oil is no more or less “carbon intensive” than heavy oil from anywhere else. Actually, the most-modern oil sand operations are models of sound engineering. That is, energy is recycled and reused in the best sense, and to the practical limits of thermodynamics. ConocoPhillips at Surmont, Alberta, comes to mind. When it comes to the idea of “too much carbon,” the chief culprit is not the source of the oil, in Alberta, but it’s the tailpipes of 500 million automobiles worldwide.
  2. Canadian oil uses “too much” water. Actually, no. Not at all. That’s completely wrong. The sites I’ve visited have impressive capabilities to recycle water. To begin with, the original water source is NOT surface water. Most processed water at oil sand operations comes from brackish, deep zones. You’d never drink this stuff. You can’t use it for agriculture. The oil sands operations pump out deep, brackish water, clean it up, use it in oil recovery operations and then recycle it. Any water that gets discharged (and that’s a very small quantity) is generally cleaner than the streams into which it flows.
  3. Canadian oil is the “consistency of peanut butter,” which is bad for the pipe. I’m serious — that’s one of the arguments. And it’s so stupid as to be ridiculous. Let’s just say that natural bitumen in Alberta, fresh from the sandstones, in the middle of winter, is the “consistency of peanut butter” — and so is every other form of oil out of the ground. It’s the nature of viscous hydrocarbons. But when you heat up bitumen and “cut” it with what’s called a “diluent” for pipeline transport, Canadian oil flows just fine. As for dissolving the pipe? Any sort of steel will corrode over time — it’s called “rust.” But oil pipe won’t fall apart if you use the right kinds steel and design the pipeline correctly.
  4. If the pipeline leaks, it’ll contaminate the Ogallala Aquifer. Just as if the Alaska Pipeline leaks, it’ll contaminate the otherwise pristine waters that flow across the spectacularly beautiful state of Alaska. Well, there’s a way around that — if you double-case the pipeline in critical spots, as the builders plan to do, any spill will be contained. By comparison, the Alaska Pipeline operates in super-extreme conditions — what with Arctic temperatures and its location in vast regions of seismicity — and it has never had a serious leak. Meanwhile, if a train derails in Nebraska, that, too, could contaminate the aquifers. And if any of the other several thousand miles of major fuel pipelines in Nebraska break, it could also be a mess.