10 June 2008 17:38 [Source: ICIS news]
By Nigel Davis
LONDON (ICIS news)--Does ?xml:namespace>
The question is not trite but one that is being asked with some urgency as Americans continue to thirst for fuel and the prospects of further exploiting Canada’s oil sands deposits increase.
Environmental groups last week raised the temperature of the debate, claiming that refining the crude extracted from oil sands could do untold damage.
Increased processing of oil from
“It is hard to imagine what else it is that the US oil industry could do to go backwards further and faster than to rely on Canadian tar sands or similar resources in the US,” Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) director Eric Schaeffer said on publication of a report damning oil sands development.
“Not only would this mean significantly more pollution overall, but it would substantially boost the greenhouse gas emissions linked to global warming,” he added.
“The tar sands project is the most destructive project on Earth,” added Matt Price of Environmental Defence Fund
“Nowhere else are we talking about ripping up an area the size of
The trouble with these statements is that with the colour of their language they draw attention away from rational debate.
Extracting useable hydrocarbons for oil sands and oil shale deposits has not been and will not be easy. It will push extraction technology and the requirement for strict environmental control to the limit.
Energy giant Shell, which has its own oil sands business, has discussed with Canadian leaders how to balance the economic opportunities with long-term preservation of land use, communities and the environment.
The “well to wheels” emissions of the oil it is producing from Alberta’s mines is 189g/km, some 15% more than conventional gasoline, but not twice or three times as much, it says.
Shell says it is committed to reducing those emissions by up to 15%. Carbon capture and sequestration projects will be key to future development.
Shell’s executive in charge of oil sands, Rob Routs - who also runs oil products and chemicals - says the company won’t exploit deeper reserves, which would require more energy and emit more CO2, on a large scale until it can do so efficiently.
Oil sands exploitation also soaks up water. Between two and four barrels of water are needed to mine one barrel but Routs maintains that even at the industry’s aspiration levels of 2.5m bbls/day this would equate to only 2-3% of average regional river flow.
Shell is committed to a ‘reclaim as we go’ policy which would help disturbed ecosystems recover within 15 years, he says.
But if Shell is doing the right thing then so must others. All extractors and refiners will be under pressure to spend heavily on the environmental controls needed to process heavier crude cleanly.
But taking heavier deposits out of the equation currently is hardly an option. Fundamental supply/demand issues are driving global oil prices as much as speculation. The era of cheap, and indeed peak oil, is past.
Hence the need not simply for tough decisions but more rational debate, which factors in the opportunities that will present themselves to help make science and technology work better to help us exploit difficult sources of hydrocarbons and, indeed, new sources of energy.
The point is that they need to be exploited cleanly and effectively.
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