Thursday, March 27, 2014

Oil Sands- Bituminous Deposits ah Tar Sand

Alberta Tar Sands

A peak in media coverage of global warming occurred in early 2007 from there many governments around the world had convinced the public to change your habits in lessening your carbon footprint. While all that was going on, in the background what was taking place is the most devastating human development in mining, Oil Sand.

From Wikipedia:
History:

The exploitation of bituminous deposits and seeps dates back to Paleolithic times. The earliest known use of bitumen was by Neanderthals, some 40,000 years ago. Bitumen has been found adhering to stone tools used by Neanderthals at sites in Syria. After the arrival of Homo sapiens, humans used bitumen for construction of buildings and waterproofing of reed boats, among other uses. In ancient Egypt, the use of bitumen was important in preparing Egyptian mummies.

 In ancient times, bitumen was primarily a Mesopotamian commodity used by the Sumerians and Babylonians, although it was also found in the Levant and Persia. The area along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers was littered with hundreds of pure bitumen. The Mesopotamians used the bitumen for waterproofing boats and buildings. In North America, the early European fur traders found Canadian First Nations peoples using bitumen from the vast Athabasca oil sands to waterproof their birch bark canoes. In Europe, they were extensively mined near the French city of Pechelbronn, where the vapor separation process was in use in 1742.

The name tar sands were applied to bituminous sands in the late 19th and early 20th century. People who saw the bituminous sands during this period were familiar with the large amounts of tar residue produced in urban areas as a by-product of the manufacture of coal gas for urban heating and lighting. The word "tar" to describe these natural bitumen deposits is really a misnomer, since, chemically speaking, tar is a human-made substance produced by the destructive distillation of organic material, usually coal.

Production:

The Alberta oil sands have been in commercial production since the original Great Canadian Oil Sands (now Suncor Energy) mine began operation in 1967. Despite the increasing levels of production, the process of extraction and processing of oil sands can still be considered to be in its infancy; with new technologies and stakeholders oversight providing an ever lower environmental footprint. 

A second mine, operated by the Syncrude consortium, began operation in 1978 and is the biggest mine of any type in the world. The third mine in the Athabasca Oil Sands, the Albian Sands consortium of Shell Canada, Chevron Corporation, and Western Oil Sands Inc. purchased by Marathon Oil Corporation in 2007 began operation in 2003. Petro-Canada was also developing a $33 billion Fort Hills Project, in partnership with UTS Energy Corporation and Teck Cominco, which lost momentum after the 2009 merger of Petro-Canada into Suncor. 

Surface Mining:

Since Great Canadian Oil Sands (now Suncor) started operation of its mine in 1967, bitumen has been extracted on a commercial scale from the Athabasca Oil Sands by surface mining. In the Athabasca sands, there are very large amounts of bitumen covered by little overburden, making surface mining the most efficient method of extracting it. The overburden consists of water-laden muskeg (peat bog) over top of clay and barren sand. The oil sands themselves are typically 40 to 60 meters (130 to 200 ft) deep, sitting on top of flat limestone rock. Originally, the sands were mined with draglines and bucket-wheel excavators and moved to the processing plants by conveyor belts. In recent years, companies such as Syncrude and Suncor have switched to much cheaper shovel-and-truck operations using the biggest power shovels (100 or more tons) and dump trucks (400 tons) in the world. This has held production costs to around US$27 per barrel of synthetic crude oil despite rising energy and labor costs. About two tons of oil sands are required to produce one barrel of oil.

The near future plans 30 to 40 more tar sand mines, ah we're all down stream of this.

Look at an time lapse of the mining from 1984 to 2011

Tailing Ponds:

There is conflicting research on the effects of the oil sands development on aquatic life. In 2007, Environment Canada completed a study that shows high deformity rates in fish embryos exposed to the oil sands. David W. Schindler, a limnologist from the University of Alberta, co-authored a study on Alberta's oil sands' contribution of aromatic polycyclic compounds, some of which are known carcinogens, to the Athabasca River and its tributaries. Scientists, local doctors, and residents supported a letter sent to the Prime Minister in September 2010 calling for an independent study of Lake Athabasca (which is downstream of the oil sands) to be initiated due to the rise of deformities and tumors found in fish caught there.

The bulk of the research that defends the oil sands development is done by the Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program (RAMP). RAMP studies show that deformity rates are normal compared to historical data and the deformity rates in rivers upstream of the oil sands. These results are dubious, however, as RAMP is funded largely by those energy companies with direct interests in the relevant environments. Further, unlike academia, where peer review happens on a per study basis, RAMP does a peer review of the entire organization only once every five years. Hence, RAMP cannot be said to meet widely accepted scientific standards. The European Union has indicated that it may vote to label oil sands oil as "highly polluting".  Yea Think?! 

In 2014 results of a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that official reports on emissions were not high enough. Report authors noted that "emissions of organic substances with potential toxicity to humans and the environment are a major concern surrounding the rapid industrial development in the Athabasca oil sands region (AOSR)." This study found that tailings ponds were an indirect pathway transporting uncontrolled releases of evaporative emissions of three representative polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons phenanthrene, pyrene, and benzo and that these emissions had been previously unreported.
                                  
The Future:


 In May 2008, the Italian oil company Eni announced a project to develop a small oil sands deposit in the Republic of the Congo. Production is scheduled to commence in 2014 and is estimated to eventually yield a total of 40,000 barrels per day. 

In the United States, oil sands resources are primarily concentrated in Eastern Utah. According to the WEC, natural bitumen is reported in 598 deposits in 23 countries, with the largest deposits in Canada, Kazakhstan, and Russia. 

End Note: Carbon footprint?  The drinking water and wildlife along with us will be getting sick and dying off long before we end fracking and this consumption of the most delicate land. The cost of this is $27 per barrel, now has anyone factored in the reclaiming of the land and the cleaning of contaminants in the water?  Ah, there goes the neighborhood and any profits for an industry involved in this but no worry they pack up and leave us with a clean up bill. The taxpayers are always willing to take it in the bum, even if you die off there's future generations that have to foot the bill.  No wonder we cry when were born, you ever wonder that? 

So will just keep digging? 


Frankenmine
For almost twenty years, Garth's photography of threatened wilderness regions, devastation, and the impacts on indigenous peoples has appeared in the world's leading publications. His recent images from the boreal region of Canada have helped lead to significant victories and large new protected areas in the Northwest Territories, Quebec, and Ontario. Garth's major touring exhibit on the Tar Sands premiered in Los Angeles in 2011 and recently appeared in New York. Garth is a Fellow of the International League Of Conservation Photographers.

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