Crude Awakening  

Posted by Big Gav

TreeHugger has a brief note on the series in the Canadian "Globe and Mail" on peak oil.

The Globe and Mail, Canada's major serious newspaper, has started a seven day series "Crude Awakening" about the effects of Peak Oil on Canada and the World. Articles today include Supply- Are Saudi reserves drying up? and Demand- the Unquenchable thirst of China.-a scary combo. It is available online but unfortunately the remarkable two page graphic on supply and demand is not.

Canada's oil sands are also the topic of an article examining the environmental devastation caused by extracting oil from the tar sands in the San Francisco Gate. It sounds like converting all of Canada's tar sands into oil should emit enough greenhouse gasses to fry every last one of us - but they may run out of the natural gas used in the process first - so start praying for natural gas depletion to kick in early.
Nowhere else is the conflict between energy use and ecological cost so stark. "The oil sands are a big challenge," Canada's environment minister, Stephane Dion, who has fought publicly with other Cabinet officials for a tougher line on global warming, said in an interview. "They are sending out a lot of greenhouse gas emissions. "But there is no minister of the environment on Earth who can stop this from going forward, because there is too much money in it," Dion said.

The sands make up three broad oil fields, the combined size of Florida, in northern Alberta 500 miles from the U.S. border. Up close, a visitor quickly enters a world of vast industrial scale, in which the tar-like scent of the sands permeates everything. The largest of the pits is a 50-square-mile moonscape of slag heaps and tailings ponds owned by Syncrude, a consortium of Canadian and American companies. Next to the pit is a refinery -- or upgrader, in oil sands terminology -- whose towers, tanks, pressure chambers and spaghetti-like piping cover 1,000 acres.

As these pits are depleted, companies will be forced to go after deeper deposits. Those are extracted by a process known as "in situ," or in position, in which steam is pumped into underground deposits to dissolve the thick oil and allow it to be piped to the surface. In-situ work is much more expensive than open-pit mining, requiring about four times as much natural gas to create the steam.

In both methods, the extremely heavy oil that is produced, called bitumen, has to be further refined into lighter synthetic crude oil before it can be piped to customers, mostly in the U.S. West and Midwest, for further refining and distribution. Even though costs have dropped, the oil sands process remains inefficient. Two tons of sand yield a single barrel -- 42 gallons -- of oil. On average, each barrel creates more greenhouse gas emissions than four cars do in a day.

Elsewhere at TreeHugger there are some notes on alternative energy and energy efficiency - generating electricity from elephant dung (OK - so thats a pretty small niche), mapping the world's wind reserves (the west coast of Tassie is the best bit of Oz apparently), news of the world's first commerical wave powered energy generation in Portugal (also noted by WorldChanging), eco-efficient air conditioning and finally a list of online resources on hybrid cars.

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