Every so often we hear about how Alberta tar sands are the answer to the peak oil scenario. There are said to be 180 billion barrels of heavy crude oil mixed in with the tar sands in Alberta. But there are serious problems with this using these tar sands as a ‘fix’ for our oil addiction.
First, NASA climate scientist James Hansen warns that we must keep Alberta tar sands in the ground rather than burn them, otherwise we will fry the planet and it will be game over for the climate.
Then there is the fact that the energy return on energy invested (EROEI) for tar sands is so meagre that we risk getting only a tiny amount of extra (net) energy for all the energy and other resources (eg water) that will be needed to extract the oil.
And, last but not least, there is the immense environmental devastation caused by mining the tar sands. A post by Carol Linnitt at deSmogBlog provides an eerie glimpse of the sheer scale of it, indicated in a recent report by the oil industry on how it envisages it will ‘restore’ the plains of Alberta after it has done its business with the tar sands:
This week, the Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA), an industry-funded consultancy group in Alberta, released the End Pit Lakes Guidance Document to the Government of Alberta for review. The 434-page document outlines a 100-year plan to integrate open-pit mines and tar sands tailings into Northern Alberta’s local ecosystem, introducing what they call a ‘reclaimed lake district’ as a long-term alternative to the temporary tailings ponds that currently hold the billions of gallons of water, sand, clay, hydrocarbons, naphthenic acids, salt and other byproducts of the bitumen extraction and upgrading process.The 30 proposed end-pit lakes (EPLs) will take up more than 100 square kilometers, spread out over an area of 2,500 square kilometers. Toronto, for comparison, covers an area of 630 square kilometers.
One can only imagine the kind of lunar landscape this will leave behind. We are reaching a point where delusional thinking is setting in, where some people believe that it is (a) necessary (b) acceptable and (c) even feasible in the long term, to wreak such havoc on the earth.
For a good video about the Alberta tar sands, see Petropolis. For an on-the-ground video perspective (unreflective) see Heavy haulers in the oil sands. These heavy haulers are at the tar face: “The Caterpillar 797B heavy hauler is the world’s biggest truck. It’s taller than a four-storey house, as wide as a tennis court and it removes nearly 35,000 tonnes of oily sand a day from a deep open cast mine in northern Alberta in western Canada.” From The Guardian 11 July 2008.