Thursday, August 22, 2013
Out of Sight, Out of Mind. Putting Athabasca Back in 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.