Thursday, August 22, 2013

Out of Sight, Out of Mind. Putting Athabasca Back in Bitumen.

We - Canada, Alberta, the Oil Patch - are the sine qua non of the emissions that result from the production, transportation, refining, distribution and consumption of Athabasca bitumen.

Just because we find someone else to burn the crud doesn't matter.  We made it available for them to burn.  We marketed the stuff to those who burn it.  We transported it thousands of miles to their markets so they could burn it.  That's all on us, not them.

It doesn't matter that they burn the stuff thousands of miles distant.  The emissions still go into our atmosphere, the world's atmosphere, mankind's shared atmosphere.   Someone else may burn the stuff but the climate change impacts are felt the same way they would be if we set fire to it here.

Surely this is a distinction without a difference, right?  It doesn't really matter that the emissions go on some other country's books instead of Alberta's, does it?  Actually, I think it might.

Look at the process we go through to get that bitumen coursing through pipelines and into the bellies of supertankers to Asia.   It begins with tankers full of condensate, light oil diluent, that has to be imported and then sent via pipeline to Athabasca.  Somebody had to refine that stuff and transport it to those tankers so they could bring it across the sea that it could then be pumped through a pipeline to Athabasca.

Then we use the condensate to mix with the partly processed bitumen so that, with enough heat and pressure, the diluted bitumen or dilbit is capable of being pushed through pipelines to distant refineries or tankers.

Eventually somebody, somewhere else refines the dilbit.   They extract all the particulates including the high sulfur, granular coking coal, called petcoke, that's quietly sold for power generation.  What's left is synthetic crude products that can then be sold to end-users.

So, why does any of this matter?  Ask Steve Harper or Alison Redford.  Ask them why bitumen isn't refined into finished, synthetic crude products on site in Alberta?  Ask them why we don't dispense with having to import condensate from abroad and pump it to Athabasca with all the emissions from refining and transporting that stuff only to put it in another pipeline and pump it straight back out again?   Why do we need supertankers to bring condensate to Canada and far more supertankers plying our coasts to carry their mixed load of condensate, bitumen, petcoke and particulates thousands of miles away.  Shipping relatively clean and benign, fully-refined synthetic crude would require far fewer tankers and greatly reduce the risk of catastrophe to the British Columbia coast.  It would also keep those refining revenues and jobs in Alberta.  So why not?

The standard answer is there is surplus refining capacity elsewhere but I think that's a sop.  I just don't believe that's it.  I think Alberta and Ottawa don't want the emissions and other environmental impacts of refining bitumen on site in Athabasca on Alberta's and Canada's books.  They want it "out of sight, out of mind."   And, besides, as dilbit, Alberta gets to export its petcoke unnoticed.  It would have a hell of a time flogging that stuff openly if the bitumen was refined in Athabasca.

It's time Christy Clark and the other premiers called Harper and Redford on this.  Why should other provinces be Kalamazooed by ruptured dilbit pipelines when it's completely unnecessary.  It's time Harper and Redford got the message - clean up your crud and then we'll talk.


Anonymous said...

I wonder if co2 output from refining (on the gulf coast) will be taken into consideration with Obama's assurance that Keystone won't be approved if it "increases net emissions".

I assumed at the time that this was a factor, and why it was phrased the way it was. (It appeases some major players in the petrochem lobby since it allows him to 'safely' approve expansion of fracking operations under the guise of it being relatively co2 light (*bleh*), while also paying lip service to the growing collection of interests rightly concerned about co2 outputs. It also makes him look good to people concerned about energy independence.

Kinda damned if you do and damned if you don't, but I'd rather not have the pipeline go through, and continue to fight the fracking battle.

But maybe I'm missing something, and the intention is to continue to go full steam ahead with the destruction of the planet.

Anonymous said...

What is your take on fracking and its problems?

The Mound of Sound said...

Unfortunately Obama spoke with some generality which always leaves some wiggle room. We won't know what he meant before he makes his decision and explains it.

As to fracking, I'm as concerned as most people. My neighbour's son operates a fracking tractor/pump vehicle in Alberta (and makes a fortune.) He, of course, thinks it's harmless although he says the cocktail that's pumped is incredibly dangerous stuff.

I think that fracking is an issue that calls for implementation of the "precautionary principle" by regulators. I wrote about this back in January:

LeDaro said...

Premier of New Brunswick is so happy about dilbit coming to Saint John for refinement that he is giving t.v. commercials. I don't know the views of Quebec or Ontario premiers. I have feeling that they may welcome the pipeline too -it will create jobs?

kootcoot said...

"It's time Christy Clark and the other premiers called Harper and Redford on this"

Christy Clark calling out Harper and Redford, other than maybe Alison to prove she (Christy) is a more manly lady, surely you jest!

LeDaro said...

kootcoot, you make a good point.

The Mound of Sound said...

Sure it will create jobs, L.D., just as it has in Kalamazoo, Michigan. One pipeline leak into a riverway and you can keep a team of workers and equipment working for years flailing away trying to clean it up.

Koot, I think you misread me. I was advocating for what I think Clark and the other premiers should do, not what I'm sure they will do.

Clark with her fracked gas fetish is going to have to lay awfully low on the greenhouse gas issue. We know that fracked gas is so susceptible to leaking methane directly into the atmosphere that it's dirtier than burning coal.

Sooner or later someone is going to go up north with an infrared camera and document the leaking methane plumes and then the cat will be among Ms. Clark's pigeons.

LeDaro said...

Mound, thanks for explanation. None of the premiers will show any opposition to pipeline - not sincerely. I understand your argument.

When I said it will create jobs I was being sarcastic. The environmental impact is very worrisome.

Anonymous said...

Forget the politicians. They are just shills for the resource extraction industries. The real question we should ask ourselves is why have we allowed the resource industries to take over our politics?

Wendell Dryden said...

Sending this stuff to NB is also a way to have a transfer payment that doesn't look like a transfer payment. Ottawa needs some way to re-distribute wealth or the country will be in real trouble. (See Europe as an example of a shared economy without transfer payments. In the US, transfer payments often take the form of military spending - a base of factory providing regional employment.)

Of course, it's a really, really bad way to go about it. And, there aren't going to be many jobs created. But here in NB - where the family that owns the refinery also owns all the newspapers - people are talking as though Alberta were finally sharing the wealth.

Seriously. Grown men and women. "Sharing the wealth."

The Mound of Sound said...

Yes, the Irvings will pocket some badly-needed revenues from the refining operation (word is they're skint) but what then?

Irving Oil, as I understand its operations, has operated a tanker port to receive foreign crude and transport that to its refinery and then distributed the refined products throughout the Maritimes.

Will Irving refine bitumen in lieu of foreign crude or in addition to it? Will it refine Athabasca bitumen to meet the Maritime's needs and foreign markets? What of the petcoke?

LeDaro said...

Mound, Irving are the true rulers of New Brunswick. They puppeteer the provincial government whether it is Cons or Libs.

You can go anywhere in N.B where they don't own land. Most of this land is forests for Irving's paper mill.

And another fact about Irving operation is that you have to hold your nose, if you're in Saint John, because of the stink from these mills -especially in the mornings. A city manager of Saint John once said that Saint John was the shithole of Canada. He was asked to pack his bags and get going. It was sad as I knew the gentleman fairly well and he was one of the smartest manager Saint John ever had.

As I pointed out earlier even the premier is giving T.V commercials to promote this new venture of pipeline from Alberta. It looks he is working for Irving.

Anyong said...

Most of the bitumen when it reaches St. John will be shipped to India and China. The PM made that statement twice on CBC several weeks ago. However, it cannot be found any longer. The following does exist...Maude Barlow: Pipeline is a 'problem, not the solution' - New Brunswick ...
... China, India and Europe are in line. This would threaten the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Bay of Fundy with supertanker traffic carrying diluted ... N.B ...​story/2013/08/02/nb-barlow...