[Marxism] Re Peak Oil
ilyenkova at gmail.com
Fri Oct 14 17:26:48 MDT 2005
If Louis' source is correct then the Canadians, Chinese and the
petrogiants would have to be as stupid as they are greedy. Since the
HTML link I sent in the last post doesn't work I'm sending Krauss'
article. Aside from the debateable matter of exactly how much
extractable oil exists in Alberta, the environmental devastation of
this development which Louis points up and Krauss describes, is
October 9, 2005
In Canada's Wilderness, Measuring the Cost of Oil Profits
By CLIFFORD KRAUSS
FORT McMURRAY, Alberta - Just north of this boomtown of saloons and
strip malls, a moonscape is expanding along with the price of oil.
Deep craters wider than football fields are being dug out of the pine
and spruce forests and muskeg swamps by many of the largest
multinational oil companies. Huge refineries that burn natural gas to
refine the excavated gooey sands into synthetic oil are spreading
where wolves and coyotes once roamed.
Beside the mining pits, propane cannons and scarecrows installed by
the companies shoo away migrating birds from giant toxic lakes filled
with water that was used in the process that separates oil sands from
clay and dirt.
About 82,000 acres of forest and wetlands have been cleared or
otherwise disturbed since development of oil sands began in earnest
here in the late 1960's, and that is just the start. It is estimated
that the current daily production of just over one million barrels of
oil - the equivalent of Texas' daily production, and 5 percent of the
United States' daily consumption - will triple by 2015 and sextuple by
2030. The pockets of oil sands in northern Alberta - which all
together equal the size of Florida - are only beginning to be
Because the oil sands region is so remote, the environmental damage
receives little attention from the Canadian news media or public
comment from Prime Minister Paul Martin's government. But industry
leaders acknowledge that they face an enormous challenge because
refining oil sands is several times more energy intensive than
conventional oil production. In addition, the process is a major
source of heat-trapping gases and far more destructive to the
landscape than traditional drilling.
"There is a significant environmental footprint associated with the
development of the resource, and that could become a potential
constraint to growth," Gordon Lambert, vice president for sustainable
development at Suncor Energy Inc., said in an interview. But he added
that with technological improvements in extraction and refining,
"we're bending the curve on a number of these historic environmental
Oil sands development was once considered a crazy dream, too expensive
and polluting to be profitable. But with oil prices exceeding $60 a
barrel, companies like ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron
Texaco are committing large investments to new projects, and some
companies are offering record-breaking bids to lease growing amounts
of land for future development. Energy-hungry China has noticed, and
Chinese companies are investing in oil sands projects and a pipeline
to take the fuel to the Pacific coast for export.
In a neighboring and politically stable country, the oil sands are
destined to become an increasingly important source of energy for the
United States market for decades. The industry and government say the
northern Alberta sands hold proven reserves of 175 billion barrels, a
claim some experts dispute. But if it is true, only Saudi Arabia may
have more oil.
But environmentalists have a list of warnings, starting with the
energy costs of extracting the oil.
"What bugs me about oil sands is that it is a resource that is being
inefficiently used," said Marlo Raynolds, executive director of the
Pembina Institute, an environmental research group based in Calgary.
"We're using natural gas, which is the cleanest fossil fuel, to wash
sand and make a dirtier fuel. It's like using caviar to make fake
The environmentalists also warn that the growing oil sands industry
threatens to tear up a huge stretch of Canada's boreal forest, which
is a nursery for hundreds of bird species and where bogs filter water
and store carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.
They say the enormous volume of water the industry needs threatens
fish in the Athabasca River, the principal water source. They predict
that increases in emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide will
increase levels of acid rain and destroy lake fish across northern
They also say that Canada, already behind in its commitments to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol on climate change,
will not be able to reach its Kyoto targets if production of oil sands
keeps rising at the current rate.
Few Canadians seem to be complaining. This year, every Albertan - even
children - is receiving a $400 check in the mail from the provincial
government, whose budget surplus has exploded from oil revenue. While
Fort McMurray is among the fastest-growing cities in Canada, real
estate prices are climbing across the province.
The few protesters tend to be local Indians, although many of the
local bands are getting into the oil sands business or supplying
projects with services.
"There are no moose, no rabbits, no squirrels anymore," complained
Howard Lacorde, 59, a Cree trapper whose trapline has been interrupted
by a new oil sands project developed by Canadian Natural Resources.
"The land is dead," he added, shaking in anger, as he walked through a
construction site that was once his trapline.
Suncor, the EnCana Corporation and Shell Canada Ltd. are talking about
setting up a cooperative effort to capture, transport and sell carbon
dioxide that otherwise would be released into the air from oil sands
production. Total S.A. is considering building a nuclear power plant
here to extract the oil sands without having to use increasingly
expensive natural gas and reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases,
which many scientists associate with global warming.
The companies say they are committed to restoring the lands they drill
and mine to a state as close to natural as possible, and they note
that advanced technologies are decreasing the amounts of gas released
per barrel of oil they produce.
So far they have reclaimed 13,000 acres of forest and wetlands, about
15 percent of the land disturbed. But the provincial government has
approved oil-sand work on more than 230,000 additional acres over the
next 60 years, and applications for new projects are proliferating.
Suncor, the earliest major operator and still one of the biggest, has
made a public commitment to environmental responsibility. It has
planted 3.1 million trees, taking cuttings from shrubs and native
vegetation. The company says it is recycling 90 percent of the water
it uses, and it boasts that one species of toad considered at risk is
thriving in its reclaimed ponds.
On a new production site using steam injection to liquefy rather than
mine the raw material of oil sands and raise it to the surface, Suncor
will reuse water from the mining operation instead of using fresh
"With concerted effort and the technology in play, we will be taking
on the environmental challenge aggressively," Mr. Lambert of Suncor
said. But he conceded that "the economic growth we are experiencing
means a rising greenhouse gas production profile."
The only thing likely to slow production is a sustained decline in oil
prices, something few energy specialists predict.
"There is no environmental minister on earth who can stop the oil from
coming out of the sand, because the money is too big," said Canada's
environment minister, Stéphane Dion, in an interview. "But we have to
be very strict on environmental impact."
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