Posting in Energy
The sticky battle over tar sands oil heads south. Environmental groups and the Alberta-based Earth Energy Resources spar on whether to mine Utah's tar sand deposits.
While debate rages on TransCanada's proposed 1,900-mile pipeline carrying tar sands oil from Canada's boreal forest to refineries in Texas, another Canadian company also looks south—this time, for mining. Earth Energy Resources has leased state land in Utah in order to open the first tar sands mine of its kind on U.S. soil.
The company thinks it can recover more than 250 million barrels on its leased* 7,835 acres over the next 60 years or so. Within Utah's Book Cliffs (above), the 62-acre mine would fall on the border of Grand and Uintah counties. Along with being the country's first tar sands mine, the project would also be the company's first commercial try at producing fuel from bitumen.
Processing tar sands oil, a thick and sticky form of petroleum, typically requires a lot of water, something which western states don't have much to spare. Touting a "bio-based" citrus solution, an absence of tailing ponds and less water use in its operations, Earth Energy Resources says it can mine for bitumen without the environmental degradation their northern counterparts have a reputation for.
Environmental groups aren't waiting to see if such a scenario pans out.
Living Rivers and other groups, the Associated Press reports, have appealed to the Utah Division of Water Quality to stop the mine from going through. They are concerned it could mar the limestone landscape and that pollution from the mine might contaminate groundwater and find its way within the watersheds of the Green and Colorado rivers. They also see the mine as a gateway for other large-scale tar sands interests in the West.
In addition to land and water concerns, is the air. Tar sands oil itself ranks among the dirtier of fossil fuels. Separating the thick oil from sand and clay is energy-intensive, and greenhouse gas emissions for the extraction and refining processes run high. From well to tank, the EPA estimated last July (while reviewing the Keystone XL pipeline proposal) that tar sands oil releases 82 percent more greenhouse gases than conventional crude.
The AP quotes Richard Fineberg, a pipeline analyst with Ester, Alaska-based Research Associates:
If this project only produces 2,000 barrels of oil a day, it's irrelevant in terms of the 19 million barrels the U.S. consumes a day. It's not contributing anything to national security.
With the cost, energy and amount of water that is used, it does not seem economically feasible, whereas investment into conservation and alternative energy is renewable each year.
A hearing on the project is scheduled for the end of May.
Image: Flickr/Zeesstof by permission
Apr 11, 2011
To dispense with the net energy use for extracting the oil, perhaps Earth Energy Resources should look at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (http://www.smartplanet.com/business/blog/smart-takes/google-gives-solar-power-tower-a-168-million-boost/15433/) to meet their electric and steam needs. They have plenty of sun in Utah. I'm a conservationist at heart and the "green meanies" have gone too far. Instead of trying to stop the evolution of existing technologies to producing cleaner fuels and processes, they should be partnering with them to achieve a better result. We need to use all the resources we have and be smarter about them, while developing new resources for the future. It's not an "either-or" situation.
As a boy in the mid 1960's, I saw some of the results from this type of activity. The tar sands are at the edge of a large oil shale deposit. Utah and Colorado oil shale is measured in cubic miles. any way you slice it, that is a lot of oil. Oil companies have been looking at this greedily for generations. The problem is that they have never been able to get it out economically. I remember seeing a flatbed truck loaded with about 6 feet of oil from the tar sands and oil shale area. The oil was extracted from the ground by running high pressure steam down the well shaft, then pumped into ponds, cooled and cut into bricks. The bricks were stacked onto a flat bed truck and shipped to a refinery in Salt Lake City. The refinery could crack the oil into usable fuel. It was a small scale, mostly experimental operation, because generating the steam and injecting it into the ground used almost as much fuel as they got out of the ground. It sounds like they are still working on it. At least the tar sands can be easily scooped up. Our oil shale deposits are probably close to Saudi Arabia in extent, if we can ever figure out how to extract and use it.
Your article states: "Earth Energy Resources has leased state land....", then goes on to say: "...250 million barrels on its 7,835 acres..." ITS acres? I thought they belonged to the people of Utah! This is not private property. I am curious how the public benefits from this use of public land.
I am not enamoured with the prospect of oil tankers coming to Canadian ports to take oil sands product to China, but if the U.S. is adamant about blocking such overland piping, then I will be a convert to ship to China.
The oil sands are what they have been called for at least 40 years...The material that is found in the sand beds contains bitumin. It does not contain ANY tar. Tar is made from wood. The nearest thing called tar is the substance remaining from distilling synthetic gas from coal This is not chemically neither "tar" nor bitumin. It may be black and sticky and tarry but it is not. As to whether the U.S. wants or does not want to purchase materials from the Athabasca OIL Sands is moot. It will be sold to whoever is willing to pay for it. If the U.S. chooses NOT to buy it, The people of China would step right up and get all that is available. The astonishing propaganda regarding the mining of the oil sands is most interesting since it primarily consists of showing the earliest mines at that site and not at all the benign in situ mining that uses heat to melt and draw up the thinned bitumimous oil and is NOT open pit. I should suggest that all those West Virginia mines, the coal reserves throughout the U.S. ought to be closed a lot more quickly than to spend the energy attacking what is approaching state of the art conservation, reclamation and conscious awareness of improvements and their application in Fr. MacMurray and environs. The tailings ponds are to be eliminated with a new solidification process already perfected and the much more abundant deep and non minable oil will be removed with little interference on the surface. I have NO connexion with the energy or government sector but I happen to be a citizen of Canada and Alberta and am not ignorant of its processes and its applications. This would be a reasonable expectation to hear correct and fair pronouncements from Green organisations rather than the din of agit/prop that reminds me of the McCarthy Era in which anyone not agreeing with the latest trumpetted must be by "logic" in the pockets of Big Oil. It is quite possible to extend this to considering that conventional oil owners might very well be spreading lies about Alberta's synthetic oil as it is hugely threatening to those whose reserves are limited and running low and thus more expensive to produce than that from Alberta's Oil Sands. Oil that comes from heavy and sulfurous deposits that are imported today from South America and elsewhere are a lot worse for the environment than that of Alberta and there is no danger to the oceans such as the disaster in the Gulf. Personally I will be glad when there are alternatives to any fuel burning of this sort and then the Oil Sands can be used for plastics and chemical production. As I said, buy it or don't buy it...tis up to you. We in Alberta, however, fully intend to export it and there are and will remain plenty of purchasers. If the U.S. chooses to freeze in the dark when they have run out of this readily available alternative, keep this in mind and please do not complain to us if our exports are locked up by other national needs.
@Schleeve In Canada, we call them "tar sands". We've been calling them that since long before I was born.
The author's use of the pejorative term "tar sands" rather than the more correct "oil sands" indicates to me that they have bought in to the propaganda of the US-based, big-oil funded "charitable foundations" that have as their purpose opposition to any source of petroleum that isn't owned and controlled from the US of A.