Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Athabasca = Irreversible

James Hansen wants Athabasca's bitumen left safely underground, warning that the effects of continuing to mine the product on the earth's environment will be irreversible.

The top NASA scientist and climate change expert admits that carbon sequestration and capture could solve the Tar Sands carbon emissions problem but says that CCS proponents conceal the deal-breaking costs that would be involved.

"If we develop unconventional fossil fuels we're going to have to figure out a way to suck that CO2 back out of the atmosphere. And the current estimates are that could cost something like $200 to $500 per tonne of carbon," he said.

"Someone's going to have to clean that up and the costs of cleaning it up are more than the money that's made by burning that. So it doesn't really make sense. That's why I say, it looks like gold but it's fool's gold."

Read more: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/edmonton/story/2010/10/05/edmonton-hansen-nasa-oilsands.html#ixzz11YW0jvNm


mauser98 said...

Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) lists its carbon credit at 10 cents a ton. this scam created by Al Gore and Ken Lay (Enron)is a dead parrot.

The Mound of Sound said...

I agree that carbon trading is entirely vulnerable to all manner of scams. The reason the price has plummeted today is the drop in industrial activity which perversely allows the remaining emitters a "carbon holiday."

But carbon trading and carbon sequestgration are much different things. Sequestration, what Big Oil has promised for decades for Athabasca, captures CO2, compresses the captured gas and pumps it into supposedly safe reservoirs deep underground. Carbon credits are mere slips of paper issued on the strength of perceived emission reductions.

A carbon capture & sequestration operation could presumably be worth a massive number of carbon credits but, at the price you quoted for credits and the cost Hansen suggests for sequestered carbon per ton, Big Oil would undoubtedly prefer to shut down Athabasca altogether than ever make good on their committments.

A little known side issue is that if a market price was applied to the massive flows of Athabasca River water the Tar Sands gulp up, that would also shut the place down. In effect the Tar Sands operate on a massive, free-water subsidy. That and a rich variety of other subsidies and tax breaks Ottawa and Alberta drop their pants and bend over to provide Big Oil. Ah, but that's life in any classic petro-state.

LMA said...

"Someone's going to have to clean that up and the costs of cleaning it up are more than the money that's made by burning that. So it really doesn't make any sense. That's why I say, it looks like gold but it's fools gold."

We humans have a lousy record of reversing and cleaning up our environmental disasters; the radiation from Chernobyl is still there, the oil from the Exxon Valdez is still there, and estimates are that as much as 50% of the oil from the Deepwater Horizon is still there.

Are the oil companies going to restore the thousands of years old boreal forest ecosystem, or give the caribou back their habitat, or remove the toxins from the Athabasca, or make whole the deformed fish, or restore the lakes turned into tailings ponds?

Ignatieff thinks the Tar Sands are a national treasure, but Hansen is right, it looks like gold, but it is fools gold.

The Mound of Sound said...

The Tar Sands are primarily a mining operation. The area is cleared, the ground is stripped away and the shovels start digging out the tar. Mining operations in Canada have a richly earned history of getting what they want and then bolting. Sometimes the public gets to foot the bill for the cleanup, sometimes there is no cleanup.

What I've read is that the most easily accessible, surface mining bitumen reserves are running out which is supposed to see a move to more water and energy-intensive boiling operations where massive amounts of Athabasca River water are diverted to be heated by massive amounts of our limited stocks of natural gas to be pumped underground to melt the bitumen to get it to the surface.

I find these Big Oil ads of late quite funny. Yes they did clean up a tailing pond but they don't mention that was accomplished by pumping the toxic tailing sludge to other, smaller ponds. The mess and all the associated toxins are still untreated, just relocated.

Yesterday I saw one ad that talked about drilling deep underground to tap into brackish water reserves. The point they were making is that using brackish water relieves the demands on fresh water from the Athabasca.

What they deliberately left out was just what is going to happen to that brackish wastewater tailings. It's brackish because it contains salt. It's low concentration saltwater. Now you've brought that salt to the surface and, sooner or later, you're going to have to release it at which point it sterilizes the soil that absorbs it.

The ancient Mesopotamians met their end because of their heavy reliance on irrigation. They drew water for their crops from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers near their mouths where the freshwater mingled with the Gulf saltwater to create brackish water. The salts from the brackish water used to flood the farm fields slowly built up until, fairly rapidly, the soil turned sterile. No crops, no food, no civilization.

The Tar Sand ads are horribly deceptive but I expect they reach the desired market with the desired result. They're very well crafted lies.

LMA said...

Wow. Are these ads being aired in the US newspapers or on the networks? Have you read any comments in the media about the lies?

I don't expect they will ever reclaim the tailings ponds. What a catastrophe if the earthern berms containing the toxic tailings were to collapse, as in Hungary where chemicals likened to drain cleaner are 3 metres deep and could eventually affect the water supply of six countries.

The Mound of Sound said...

The ads are being run on Canadian network TV. They have a real "feel good" atmosphere to them. I suppose it's no coincidence that they hit the airwaves just as the science is coming in about groundwater contamination.