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Anti-pipe folks say he's just "kicking the can" to boost election hopes, pipe supporters say he's killing jobs

In one fell swoop the President of the United States (POTUS) Barack Obama managed to infuriate Canadians and Republican U.S. politicians alike.  Those are typically mutually exclusive feats, but his decision to bow to activist pressure and shelve the development of a critical oil pipeline is drawing criticism from both sides.

I. To Oil Sand, or Not to Oil Sand, That is the Question

Dubbed the Keystone XL pipeline, the pipe in question was supposed to stretch 1,700 miles across the U.S. plains, transporting process oil sands crude -- a low to mid-grade crude to U.S. refineries in Texas for procesing into fuel (the initial removal of sand would occur at local facilities in Alberta). 

Currently the Alberta tar sands are underutilized due to insufficient refining capacity.  Meanwhile refineries in Texas sit idle due to insufficient domestic oil supplies.  The pipeline would have remedied both problems, pumping the equivalent of 700,000 barrels a day (249.2m barrels a year) into the U.S. market.  

The U.S. uses 19.15m barrels/day, so the new supply would offer approximately 3.7 percent of the domestic demand.  While that may sound trivial, it would allow the U.S. to potentially entirely drop one of its more hostile sources of foreign oil, such as Venezuela (806,000 barrels/day) or Iraq (637,000 barrels/day).

Aside from the direct savings in life and financials stability that could yield, the pipeline also offered more benefits.  According various studies the construction would create between 5,000 and 20,000 jobs.  It would also give $5B USD in new tax revenue.

Iraq Militants
The pipeline could completely eliminate American dependence on volatile Iraqi oil, a dependence that has cost the lives of many American servicepeople. [Image Source: Dalje]

Like everything in the world, though, there was a perceived downside for these gains.  First, the pipeline would likely cross through personal property dropping local value.  Second, it could potentially elevate local risks of toxic oil spills -- a major public fear in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Last, but not least oil sands require a more intensive separation process than standard oil.  The cost of getting all that sand out is a 10 to 30 percent emissions hike in greenhouse gases [source].  As you might guess, the amount of emissions is tied to the cost of the refining process, so the final number would like be closer to a 30 percent increase, than the lower estimate.

However, that emissions hike occurs largely at the extraction level, meaning that as long as Alberta finds someone to sell/ship its crude to, the emissions hit will be taken, regardless of whether that someone happens to be the U.S.  It's unclear whether the pipelines environmentalist adversaries realize this and are just morally opposed to being involved.

Recent studies have shown that in the last decade global temperatures flatlined, even as greenhouse gas emission continued to rise.  Yet many environmentalists and their powerful political allies remain convinced that the long-term trend will be continued warming.  Many of these parties predict a doomsday "runaway warming" scenario, in which soaring temperature amount to mass humans deaths.

Groups like 350.org, Bill McKibben, Bold Nebraska's Jane Kleeb, and Friends of the Earth decried the potential environmental (mostly global warming) impact of the pipeline and threatened to drop support for President Obama if the project was granted a speedy approval.  If these groups sound familiar, they're among those who attacked the POTUS on his support of modern nuclear power -- pressure that the President Obama caved to in the wake of Japan's Fukushima nuclear accident.

Further threats to the project came from the Republican-controlled Nebraska State Senate, which looked to take legal action [PDF] to block the pipeline.  The state senators were upset about the oil pipe crossing the state's key water supply (aquifer).

It didn't help that the State Department received a complaint [PDF] that the pipe operator TransCanada (TSE:TRP) -- the pipeline company -- had a business relationship with the "independent" contractor hired by the State Department to conduct the review.  The pipeline supporters saw their attacks on the President regarding insider actions with "green" firms like Solyndra turned back on them.

Reports of robocalls erroneously indicating public support also have been circulating around the blogosphere, damaging the momentum for approval.

II. POTUS Caves to Pipe Critics, "Kicks the Can" to 2013

As an apparent result of these cumulative protests the Obama administration has punted the approval process two years out.  The State Department announced this week, that approval "could be completed as early as the first quarter of 2013."

The key words there are "could" and "2013".  The State Department primarily blames the Nebraska state government, commenting, "Given the concentration of concerns regarding the environmental sensitivities of the current proposed route through the Sand Hills area of Nebraska, the Department has determined it needs to undertake an in-depth assessment of potential alternative routes in Nebraska."

But it's seems likely the decision also had something to do with the Obama administration fearing the loss of votes in the upcoming 2012 presidential elections.

President Obama faced enormous pressure, even from his own staff.  Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu (Ph.D) was reportedly fearful that the project would kill alternative energy jobs and investment.  He pointed to a Cornell University study, which claimed that the project would result in net job loss due to a negative impact on the alternative energy sector.

Cornell Report
A Cornell University report broke with most analyses, claiming the pipe would cost jobs.
[Image Source: Cornell University]

III. Obama Receives Most of the Punishment, Little of the Praise for Choice

Ironically the move is earning the President less support than he may have hoped.  While Daniel Kessler, spokesperson with Tar Sands Action, commented, "This is a major victory.  It's a testament to the thousands of people who came out to protest in the streets, and we think the president responded to that," other critics scoffed at the decision.

Glenn Hurowitz, a senior fellow at the activist think tank Center for International Policy, writes in a piece in The Huffington Post, "This is an extraordinary achievement for the thousands of grassroots activists... [but] I'm a little dismayed at suggestions that this kick-the-can decision means environmentalists will enthusiastically back President Obama in 2012. Is the price of an environmentalist's vote a year's delay on environmental catastrophe? Excuse me, no."

Meanwhile opponents are pointing their barbs primarily at Obama, overlooking the activist and local political action.  Writes American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard, "This decision is deeply disappointing and troubling.  Whether it will help the president retain his job is unclear, but it will cost thousands of shovel-ready opportunities for American workers."

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was even more pointed commenting, "More than 20,000 new American jobs have just been sacrificed in the name of political expediency. By punting on this project, the president has made clear that campaign politics are driving U.S. policy decisions -- at the expense of American jobs."

In short, as with many of his recent actions President Obama finds himself receiving most of the punishment, but little of the praise for actions he set in motion.  In trying to walk the tightrope of pleasing both sides, he has badly slipped -- many anti-pipe advocates are reprimanding the President for merely shelving rather than killing the decision, while the pipe's supporters are attacking the President for shelving the product.

President Obama is sad
President Obama faces criticism from all sides for the way he punted on the pipeline approval. [Image Source: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images]

TransCanada is disappointed, but hasn't given up on the pipe.  It's sunk $1.7B USD into steel, which will now sit in warehouses for two more years.  Company president and CEO Russ Girling optimistically comments, "We remain confident Keystone XL will ultimately be approved.  This project is too important to the U.S. economy, the Canadian economy and the national interest of the United States for it not to proceed."

One poll [source] found 85 percent of Americans to strongly or moderately agree with taking advantage of oil sands.  The poll was sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute, but it was conducted by the respected Harris Interactive agnostic metrics firm.  If those numbers are even close to reality, the president may be in trouble should he be pitted against a strongly pro-oil sands candidate like Ron Paul.

If the U.S. chooses not process Alberta's oil, there's already someone stepping up to the plate to take its place -- China.  It's looking to pour billions to building an alternate pipeline to west coast of Canada for affordable shipping to Asia.  The only thing standing in its way?  You guessed it -- local property holders and environmentalists in western Canada -- who are apparently just as eager to block the project as their American counterparts.

Sources: The U.S. State Department, CNN Money, The Huffington Post, Mining.com



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I don't always see eye-to-eye on Obama...
By quiksilvr on 11/11/2011 6:00:17 PM , Rating: -1
But I stand by his decision. Oil sands not only give out more toxic emissions, the energy required to extract refined oil vs energy gained isn't high enough to spend billions on a 2000 mile pipeline. It literally would be cheaper (and quicker) to just build a refinery closer to the Canadian border.




RE: I don't always see eye-to-eye on Obama...
By aspade on 11/11/2011 6:11:26 PM , Rating: 5
If it were "cheaper and quicker" to "just build a new refinery closer to Canada" then why didn't any of the businessmen and investors putting real money into this project think of that?

Money talks, bull---t walks.


RE: I don't always see eye-to-eye on Obama...
By Samus on 11/11/2011 6:41:24 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
If it were "cheaper and quicker" to "just build a new refinery closer to Canada" then why didn't any of the businessmen and investors putting real money into this project think of that?


Because the interested parties want to use their EXISTING refineries in the states that heavily subsidizes oil processing, in this case, Texas.

Indiana is a natural middle-ground as Gary and Hammond have underutilized refineries, but the people pushing for the pipeline don't own those refineries (obviously.)


RE: I don't always see eye-to-eye on Obama...
By JasonMick (blog) on 11/11/2011 7:01:14 PM , Rating: 4
quote:
Because the interested parties want to use their EXISTING refineries in the states that heavily subsidizes oil processing, in this case, Texas.

Indiana is a natural middle-ground as Gary and Hammond have underutilized refineries, but the people pushing for the pipeline don't own those refineries (obviously.)

Okay that's fair perhaps, but that's not what anyone is suggesting here. They're arguing pipe or no pipe.

TransCanada who controls the production wants to build the pipeline to Texas. How do you expect to force a business to change from piping to Texas to piping to Indiana?

Further the numbers don't give a whole lot of support to your idea....
Indiana only has ~426,000 barrels/day worth of refining capacity (two refineries, one very large one that's pretty small):
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_oil_refinerie...

Texas has many times that:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_oil_refinerie...

Without claiming to know intimate details of utilization % on a per refinery basis (which I'm guessing you and I both don't know), I'd say Texas looks like the more financially rewarding place to send pipe.


By Mueller on 11/14/2011 12:48:11 PM , Rating: 3
A refinery is basically a giant distillery. Refineries are built around the types of crude oil they can process. The dirtier the crude(a relative term) the more processes a refinery needs to process it.
Texas has both the capacity and processes to handle the Alberta crude.


By Mueller on 11/14/2011 12:31:28 PM , Rating: 2
If you think a pipeline is expensive a refinery dwarfs it in terms of money spent. Not to mention the environmental hoops.


RE: I don't always see eye-to-eye on Obama...
By KCjoker on 11/11/2011 6:17:15 PM , Rating: 5
Good luck getting a refinery built with the eco loons out there that will block it.


By FITCamaro on 11/11/2011 7:42:01 PM , Rating: 5
Yeah a company tried to build a refinery in Minnesota, South Dakota, or North Dakota several years ago. The people of the area it was going to be built in OKed it (some opposed the but majority supported). But then environmental groups came in and "on the people's behalf" sued the plan out of existence.

Thanks a lot Supreme Court that said environmental groups can sue on "the people's behalf".


RE: I don't always see eye-to-eye on Obama...
By stm1185 on 11/11/2011 6:20:05 PM , Rating: 2
His decision was to wait until after the election so he does not piss off the Unions who back him by not approving it, or piss of the environmentalists who back him by approving it.

Which tells me that he was going to say yes and have the pipeline built. Because the unions won't support a Republican no matter what. While if Obama pushed this through he would almost certainly lose votes from environmentalists sitting out the election or pointlessly voting for some fringe candidate.


RE: I don't always see eye-to-eye on Obama...
By jimbojimbo on 11/11/2011 11:46:52 PM , Rating: 5
This is like his history of voting present on everything. He's so worried about getting people's votes he'd rather not do anything. That's a great trait in a leader.


By Dorkyman on 11/13/2011 6:44:29 PM , Rating: 3
The man is a disaster. I look to Hillary challenging him in the spring.

I also would not be too surprised to see the Chinese offer to build a pipeline to Vancouver in order to supply their rapidly-growing economy. It would make Americans look like fools for voting in such an inexperienced ideologue.


RE: I don't always see eye-to-eye on Obama...
By JasonMick (blog) on 11/11/2011 6:24:32 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
But I stand by his decision. Oil sands not only give out more toxic emissions, the energy required to extract refined oil vs energy gained isn't high enough to spend billions on a 2000 mile pipeline. It literally would be cheaper (and quicker) to just build a refinery closer to the Canadian border.

Oh brother.

First off the pipeline is not 2,000 miles, it's 1,700. 300 miles gets you almost from San Diego to Las Vegas, so that's a pretty big roundup.

Second nobody -- not even environmentalists -- have suggested that the pipe would emit toxic gases. Greenhouse emissions are hardly toxic or we'd be all dead by now. If you're referring to warming, I'm sure some readers here could offer you some pertinent commentary.

As for quicker and cheaper, most U.S. refineries have a capacity of around 70k barrels per day:
http://www.argusleader.com/article/20070712/VOICES...

Mega-refineries of 300k or 400k barrels are extremely expensive and seldom seen outside the Middle East.

And as the above link shows, local states are trying to do exactly what you suggest, but it still requires a lot of pipeline build out to get to the U.S.

It's really not quicker OR cheaper to cut the pipeline by 1,000 miles, but have to build 10 new refineries...


RE: I don't always see eye-to-eye on Obama...
By Samus on 11/11/11, Rating: -1
By JasonMick (blog) on 11/11/2011 6:49:03 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
Jason, keep your political views out of your articles. It's simply bad journalism.

I did. The fact of the matter is if you read the press releases most of the anti-pipe agencies were criticizing Obama for punting, while the press releases from the pro-pipe parties were criticizing him FOR punting.

I'm sorry if you don't like the facts but they are what they are.

I tried to present a balanced analysis of both sides' arguments and some of the factors that played into the delay (e.g. the robocalling scandal and the TransCanada business relationship). I'd hardly call it a glowing endorsement of the pipeline deal, more an observation on the general sentiment from all sides, regardless of my personal feelings (which I present in the comments section).

And I'm allowed to have an editorial opinion in my comments even on straight news. Nobody is confusing my comments for journalism (I hope).


RE: I don't always see eye-to-eye on Obama...
By jjmcubed on 11/11/11, Rating: -1
RE: I don't always see eye-to-eye on Obama...
By JasonMick (blog) on 11/11/2011 7:05:46 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
Nine out of ten times I don't agree with the Mick bashing(or I just cut him more slack than the average bear), but your statement is correct.

Well, thanks (I guess?) for your past support, but the fact of the matter is that the question is simple:
Did I state the facts or didn't I?

Please read the linked press releases before you leave this kind of comment.

The press releases from both pro- and anti-pipe folks level varying degrees of criticism against Obama, but they're virtually all critical, hence my tag line. Am I "being political" for quoting the opinions of a diverse set of parties who ostensibly have very different political leanings but are united in their criticism here (for different reasons)?

Be honest, did you read the linked press releases?


RE: I don't always see eye-to-eye on Obama...
By Ringold on 11/11/2011 8:45:00 PM , Rating: 3
You're right on this one. Another fact that can't be underplayed: If Canada can't export it to the United States, it will happily send that oil right across the Pacific to the Chinese. This is not my idle postulation, but the stated intention of Canadian oil firms and the government. They'd prefer to send it to their friendly neighbor, but money is money.

Therefore, the choice America faces is if we want the jobs and economic benefits that come from cheaper energy sourced from extremely stable nations, or do we want to expand China's access to energy in our own back yard?

Obama chose delay, which amounts to ignoring America's wider best interests in favor of his re-election interests. Is this the change Democrats voted for? We get the government that we deserve.


By Nfarce on 11/12/2011 2:56:01 PM , Rating: 2
And I'll throw in another fact most people who whine about our dependency on Middle East oil don't know behind their emotions: we import more oil from Canada that we do from ALL of the Middle East. But don't ever let a good "war for oil" rant get in the way of a bed wetter.

http://38.96.246.204/pub/oil_gas/petroleum/data_pu...


RE: I don't always see eye-to-eye on Obama...
By jjmcubed on 11/12/2011 3:29:44 PM , Rating: 1
Nope. Didn't read any of it. Mine was a general statement about political views in Daily Tech articles. Wasn't meant to be a shot at you at all.


By harshbarj on 11/14/2011 1:53:35 AM , Rating: 2
Without reading the link, how did you come to the conclusion that Jason was injecting his political views into the story? By agreeing with Samus that is the equivalent of saying it yourself.

As a resident of Nebraska I can tell you I have been paying close attention to the pipeline and Jason nailed it with this story. I myself am for it and am not happy one bit with Obama (sad as I really like him overall). I also know many who are against the pipe and again, they are not happy because the pipe was not killed.

So before you accuse someone of injecting their political views into a story perhaps you should make sure you know WHAT the story is.


By Shadowmaster625 on 11/14/2011 11:10:13 AM , Rating: 2
The pipeline is going to break at some point. It is going to spill. They always do. This pipeline will be transporting nasty sludge. Look at what they have to do to the sludge just to get it ready for transport. So when it spills it is going to be particularly nasty. And it will spill. Especially once the geniuses in washington start a war with iran and all our infrastructure here comes under guerilla attacks.


RE: I don't always see eye-to-eye on Obama...
By MrTeal on 11/11/2011 6:26:46 PM , Rating: 2
The article is misleading, the pipeline wouldn't be transporting a sluice of tar and sand. The sands are mined and processed on location or nearby (relatively), and a synthetic crude is made. It's the synthetic crude oil that's sent down the pipeline to be refined into diesel, gasoline, etc down in the south.


RE: I don't always see eye-to-eye on Obama...
By rcc on 11/11/2011 7:19:18 PM , Rating: 2
Not exactly synthetic. Perhaps extracted would be more accurate.


By MrTeal on 11/11/2011 7:28:26 PM , Rating: 2
It's not exactly synthetic, but that is the name that is used for this exact product. There's a reason why the largest tar sands company is called Syncrude.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synthetic_crude


RE: I don't always see eye-to-eye on Obama...
By ct760ster on 11/11/2011 9:58:40 PM , Rating: 1
The truth is pollution generated is too much and undesirable for a refinery in a higher latitude location. Colder climate is like a magnet for pollutants.


By Dorkyman on 11/13/2011 6:48:09 PM , Rating: 2
I see your point but read the other comments.

The oil is going to be developed whether we build the pipe or not. It will either go to us or to the Chinese. Our path is somewhat cheaper, but the oil WILL be extracted.


By Mueller on 11/14/2011 12:35:45 PM , Rating: 2
Due to the different environments over the course of a year, it's much cheaper to design for a warmer climate. In the northern lattitudes the alloys for the steel are different to allow for the colder temperatures.
Cold makes it easier to clean up, once it freezes.


RE: I don't always see eye-to-eye on Obama...
By Reclaimer77 on 11/12/2011 2:28:36 AM , Rating: 5
Whatever, you're absolutely clueless. It's not the job of the President to preside in these matters. Private companies want to put up billions in a venture to create jobs and expand a badly needed resource. Who are you to armchair quarterback this like some kind of expert?

quote:
It literally would be cheaper (and quicker) to just build a refinery closer to the Canadian border.


There hasn't been a refinery built in like 20 years. Easier? It's a freaking act of Congress to get one built! Your statement is purely hypothetical fiction. Our energy policy is so ridiculous that you're wrong. It actually IS cheaper and easier to run a pipe gillions of miles than to try and get a refinery built.

People are willing to put up their own money to get this done. If it wasn't worth it, why would they do that? TransCanada already bought over a billion dollars in steel pipe for the project! I think they know a bit more about it than you if they're that committed. Also didn't you miss the part where the actual sand removal is done in Canada? This pipeline doesn't add to any environmental impact. They're extracting the oil, they just need it to be refined!

Once more the Democrats and Liberals prove their "progressive" energy policy is simply to have no energy.

So China gets more oil from North America that we need while our gas prices stay high. Brilliant decision here Barry. Not that it comes as any surprise given your obvious disdain for petroleum regardless of the market, how many jobs are on the line, or the needs of the population.

I don't know why I'm bothering on specifics though. I knew I was talking to a moron the minute you said you "stood" by Obama. That's a dumb move on ANY issue. The man has literally not had a real job in his entire life. It's no wonder he can't create any and then makes decisions like this.


By kattanna on 11/14/2011 11:36:38 AM , Rating: 3
one thing i see lacking from all is that just how silly the environmentalists are on this issue.

the tar sands will be processed.. thats a given. but if you deny a pipeline from being built, then it has to be transported via rail/truck and ship.. all of which have FAR more environmental impacts.

so, once again, the environmentalists are damaging not only the economy, but the environment they profess to care about so much.


RE: I don't always see eye-to-eye on Obama...
By Captain Orgazmo on 11/12/2011 2:36:03 PM , Rating: 4
"Oil sands not only give out more toxic emissions"
Cite your source, idiot.

"the energy required to extract refined oil vs energy gained isn't high enough to spend billions on a 2000 mile pipeline"
This doesn't make sense scientifically, logically, or even linguistically.

"It literally would be cheaper (and quicker) to just build a refinery closer to the Canadian border."
Wow, you are retarded. Do you have any idea how much it would cost, and the energy required to build enough new refining capacity to properly utilize oilsands output? The whole point of the pipeline is to use existing underutilized refining capacity on the US gulf coast.

I work in the oil & gas sector in Alberta, what are you, an armchair enviro-economist? You probably have no problems with getting your oil from the same type of bituminous deposits in autocratic Venezuela, and then have them dangerously shipped over the Gulf of Mexico, so you can sit in front of your computer and make stupid generalizations. Don't forget where the plastic that comprises your computer, car, clothing, and other household goods comes from. Or where the fertilizer that allows you to eat is extracted. Or who freezes their ass off working 15 hour days, 25 days a month, to deliver you the vastly under-appreciated fuel that our way of life ENTIRELY DEPENDS ON.


RE: I don't always see eye-to-eye on Obama...
By knutjb on 11/14/2011 1:03:43 AM , Rating: 2
Nothing like delusional environmentalist who sit in their warm houses typing out half truths. There is no solar cure as Solyndra has shown. Yes I would like something cleaner but it doesn't exist at this time.

As for the pipeline they have been trying to get a refinery in South Dakota for this oil to ensure a stable fuel supply for farmers at harvest time. They frequently have to truck in a large quantity of fuel so you can eat. But the perpetual scaremongers imply you, and everyone else too, will directly harmed by such a venture, no matter how careful we are. So lets just ship it all to China where all will be just spotlessly clean.


RE: I don't always see eye-to-eye on Obama...
By texbrazos on 11/14/2011 6:58:13 PM , Rating: 2
First off, solar works well for lot's of people. Solar power works, and would work well if the majority of Americans had good panels installed properly. Just because a few companies in the solar sector screw up does not mean it is bad. If you want to go that route, there are more than a fair share of oil and gas companies that are screwing us right now, as well as those like Enron.
"I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. what a source of power. I hope we don't have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that."
Thomas Edison 1931


By Skywalker123 on 11/15/2011 10:47:28 PM , Rating: 2
Edison? Wasn't he the guy who electrocuted an elephant (among various other animals) to prove that Alternating Current was too dangerous to use?


RE: I don't always see eye-to-eye on Obama...
By blankslate on 11/16/2011 3:37:22 PM , Rating: 2
Here is a source that suggests that developing the Tar Sands does have a set of repercussions that are serious enough to warrant concern.

http://www.pnas.org/content/107/37/16178.full

"Oil sands development contributes elements toxic at low concentrations to the Athabasca River and its tributaries"

According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor the extra processing that goes into making the oil extracted from Tar sands suitable for use in current refineries as adds about 24 dollars to the cost of a barrel as of 2006

"However it's extracted, all bitumen has to be transformed into oil in a process called upgrading. There are several different steps in upgrading, all of them using a lot of energy, usually natural gas. Itcosts $23 to $26 a barrel - depending on the project - to produce light oil from sticky goo of the oil sands."

link is here http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0512/p04s01-woam.htm...

Seeing as how the article is 5 years old it can be guessed that the cost would come down by now. However the additional costs of making sure extra pollutants from extracting the usable oil from the bitumen are contained may make up for the reduction in costs of the main processes.

You're right in that we are not looking at a comprehensive long term energy solution. At least most of American citizens aren't.

I think that the article in the December 16th 2007 issue of Scientific American detailed a plan for moving to a mostly Solar means of producing energy by 2050 is a very good read that isn't clouded by alarmist rantings.

If I recall correctly, it's been a few years since I read the article The plan incorporated other sources of energy that included nuclear, natural gas and a few others as intermediate sources as a transition solar power.

Of course no one in public office thinks on that long of timeline anymore so we're basically stuck...


RE: I don't always see eye-to-eye on Obama...
By Captain Orgazmo on 11/16/2011 8:10:52 PM , Rating: 2
Good reply. The article you mention has been disputed by, among others, Alberta's own version of the EPA, the ERCB (actually a department who keeps an eye on the energy sector specifically, due to its importance to our province). Also, the main author, David Schindler, is an American, with a background in zoology, and was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford. He is naturally biased against the type of massive projects that oilsands development requires, and like all scientists going after grant money, is more inclinded to find problems and crises that warrant further research (and extra funding, of course).

Numerous other studies over the years have found no added pollution in the waterways caused by the mining or upgrading operations. There are numerous natural oil seeps into the rivers of the area -- the local natives used to use the seeping bitumen exposed by river erosion as waterproofing. Also, the most recent, and biggest developments, use 100% recycled water for extraction and upgrading, and produce no effluent. In addition, a Utah company has discovered a method, using natural citrus solvent I believe, that will totally eliminate the need for massive tailings ponds (an eyesore, and PR boon for environmental propagandists).

You mention the added costs of converting bitumen to light crude. This still holds true, and something like a third of natural gas production in the province currently goes towards heating water to produce the steam needed for SAGD, CSS, and other steam assisted recovery techniques, as well as heating needed for upgrading and refining. This is troubling, and nuclear plants would help solve the problem (at least in the static facilities, as fission plants produce steam primarily -- this could be used directly without the need for electrical generation), however rabid, irrational environmentalists, ignorant NIMBYs, and cowardly politicians have prevented this solution from coming to fruition.

Oil and natural gas are still very abundant resources, but I am totally for the pursuit of new energy sources. We should be saving our hydrocarbons for better uses like plastics and other petroleum based products. Sadly, our democratic systems prevent any real long-term planning, and private investors naturally don't like to bet on companies who's success is based on technology that has yet to be invented. I would advocate investing government oil & gas revenues on research towards fusion or other technology that would pay back great dividends when hydrocarbons are no longer economically suitable for energy uses, but instead our government squanders the money on a bloated public sector and its greedy unions.


RE: I don't always see eye-to-eye on Obama...
By blankslate on 11/16/2011 11:23:32 PM , Rating: 2
I'll have to look into the concerns that you bring up over David Schindler.
I'll do more research in regards to that matter and read the studies that reported that proper extraction of oil from bitumen doesn't increase pollution in water.

As far as nuclear goes there are unanswered concerns about the use of it as a source of power.
For example as far as I know fully insuring new nuclear power plants are expensive enough that private insurance companies would not be willing to accept the risks and the burden for insurance would have to fall on a government agency.
Another concern is the fact that extracting and processing does cost resources and those costs may go up as uranium reserves are depleted.
Reactors that use thorium as a fuel may mitigate those concerns however.

I do suggest that you read the Scientific American article I referenced that outlined a multi-decade plan to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels while maximizing the use of Solar Energy when ever possible.

The article doesn't suggest that fossil fuels would be done away with completely but used for niche purposes where their advantages outweigh the advantages of using energy produced through other sources. Nuclear energy is also mentioned as a nearer term solution that can be used until solar energy technology becomes efficient and cost effective enough to be used much more widely than it is today.

What I liked about it when I read it is that it struck me as taking a realistic long view when it comes to suggesting a viable way to transition to energy sources that have less chances of being the sources of catastrophic accidents.

I agree that unfortunately our representatives in government do not plan or make decisions with long term planning in mind.

However, I disagree that public sector unions are particularly worthy of being singled out for blame when it can be pointed out that the private sector can be shown to have enough of their own greedy bad actors. It is a debate for another time though.


By Captain Orgazmo on 11/17/2011 8:30:01 PM , Rating: 2
The reason that the bitumen extraction and upgrading cannot possibly cause waterway pollution is because they recycle the water used in the plants. There is literally no effluent outflow into rivers like in stereotypical old fashioned industrial estates. The newest projects don't even need tailings ponds (large dugouts lined with multiple layers of non-permeable membranes, or even concrete).

It infuriates me when people complain about our (Canadian) industry practices, with sensationalist media coverage as their only source of knowledge on the subject. Nobody mentions how for example, in the Persian Gulf, if a well produced less than 2000bbl/day, they'd just let it flow into the water. Or how in Nigeria, BP seriously contaminated whole river deltas through sheer laziness, with the government turning a blind eye, starving local populations of the fish depend on to live.

I will try to find the article you mention, sounds interesting. Solar power has obvious promise, it just needs a bit more development to really become practical. China has the clear upper hand in such developments and cheaper manufacturing, due to their lack of concern for the environment and workers, and their national-socialist style of government that can sink billions without an electorate to worry about.

As far as the public sector unions I am talking about, it is a problem Americans have only just begun to get a taste of. For example, Alberta has a population of about 3.7 million, and a provincial budget of $38 billion! 50% goes towards our public-funded healthcare monopoly, with wages, pensions, and benefits consuming 75% of the health budget. Not only that, they get yearly wage increases of about 6% (double the private sector average), and indexed pensions. Before massive government reforms in the early 90's, Crown Corporations ran all sorts of things like telephone and utilities, and even liquor stores! Two of my uncles who worked for the government and have been retired 10 years currently make more money from their public-funded pensions than I do, and I work in the "greedy" oil patch! That is clearly not sustainable. Norway, similar to Alberta in size, population, and oil-production, has managed to save a whopping $500 billion in the same amount of time that we have saved a measly $14 billion. America would be well advised to prevent the "bureaucracy from expanding to accommodate the expanding bureaucracy."


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