Saturday, January 31, 2009

Whither Athabasca?

The bitumen rich Athabasca Tar Sands are in a slump now that world oil prices have collapsed to rational values. The Tar Sands are not only an environmental scourge but they're also incredibly expensive when it comes to producing a barrel of synthetic oil. It's costly to get the goop out of the sand and costly again to refine it into a form of oil capable of being refined into conventional petroleum products. Other unique features of the Tar Sands include the insane amount of greenhouse-gas emitting energy needed to extract and refine the goop and the massive quantities of water consumed in the process - not to mention those ginormous tailing ponds of toxic sludge, big enough they're visible from space, for which nobody has any solutions other than to let them slowly leech into the soil and water table.

Back when the Oil Patch was giddy with anticipation of $200 per barrel oil prices there was talk of carbon sequestration, an expensive and unproven scheme to capture the CO2 emissions and pump them into permanent storage in deep underground crevices. The viability of this technology is uncertain at best but you can draw your own conclusions by asking how much Athabasca CO2 has ever been sequestered. In today's economy it's a safe bet that the Oil Patch and the Conservative governments in Alberta and Ottawa are in no mood for bitumen sin taxes.

Still, with world oil prices in the tank and a decidedly Tar Sands unfriendly administration now in place in Washington, what will be the fate of the long-promised environmental remediation of Athabasca? It's already an environmental mess. Could that turn into an environmental catastrophe if these two governments don't start putting a boot up the backside of the Oil Patch to clean up the mess they've already made?

Both Harper and Ignatieff have warmly embraced the Tar Sands as a century's worth of wealth for Canada. Both have paid lip service to environmental problems in Athabasca. Neither has demanded a damned thing be done to really clean up this mess. Fortunately there's a guy headed to Ottawa next month who actually does have a spine and he's got the Tar Sands on his agenda, some might say in his crosshairs. Maybe the best solutions for Athabasca will be Made in America.

1 comment:

Cicely said...

MOS: there is already a guy in Ottawa that has a spine and has the Tar Sands on his agenda -

http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20080907/election2008_layton_080908/20080908?s_name=election2008