Posts tagged “tar sands”

EPA's thoughts on Keystone XL

Obama, yesterday:

Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward. It’s relevant.

The EPA, reviewing the State Department’s environmental impact assessment of the Keyspan proposal:

As recognized by the DSEIS (Department of State’s draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement), oil sands crude is significantly more GHG intensive than other crudes, and therefore has potentially large climate impacts. The DSEIS reports that lifecycle GHG emissions from oil sands crude could be 81% greater than emissions from the average crude reformed in the U.S. in 2005 on a well-to-tank basis, and 17% greater on a well-to-wheels basis. This difference may be even greater depending on the assumptions made. The incremental emissions from oil sands crude transported by the Project would therefore be 18.7 million metric tons C02-e (carbon dioxide equivalent) per year when compared to an equal amount of U.S. average crudes, based on the Project’s full capacity of 830,000 barrels of oil sands crude per day. To place this difference in context, we recommend using monetized estimates of the social cost of the GHG emissions from a barrel of oil sands crude compared to average U.S. crude. If GHG intensity of oil sands crude is not reduced, over a 50 year period the additional C02-e from oil sands crude transported by the pipeline could be as much as 935 million metric tons.

The whole report is interesting, though laden with acronyms. The EPA decided that there’s insufficient information to make a clear decision at this point, tossing the ball back into State’s court. They specifically focus on a central conclusion of the DSEIS report — that the tar sands oil will find a way to market whether or not the pipeline is built. EPA doesn’t contest that point directly, but requires more sophisticated and modern modeling of the impacts of these alternates routes of getting the oil to the US. This makes sense — if the oil will be pulled from the ground and travel to and through the US, then all possible routes and methods of transport must be equally evaluated.

That said, the current analysis of Keystone indicates it could “significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

The Koch coke pile in Detroit

The NYT reports on a growing pile of coke, a byproduct of refining, in Detroit. In this case, the coke is produced as a result of tar sands refining; due to its high sulfur and carbon content, it is largely useless in the developed world. It seems that Koch brothers, who have purchased the coke from tar sands operations in Alberta, plan to sell it abroad.

Coke, which is mainly carbon, is an essential ingredient in steelmaking as well as producing the electrical anodes used to make aluminum.

While there is high demand from both those industries, the small grains and high sulfur content of this petroleum coke make it largely unusable for those purposes, said Kerry Satterthwaite, a petroleum coke analyst at Roskill Information Services, a commodities analysis company based in London.

“It is worse than a byproduct,” Ms. Satterthwaite said.”It’s a waste byproduct that is costly and inconvenient to store, but effectively costs nothing to produce.”

Murray Gray, the scientific director for the Center for Oil Sands Innovation at the University of Alberta, said that about two years ago, Alberta backed away from plans to use the petroleum coke as a fuel source, partly over concerns about greenhouse-gas emissions. Some of it is burned there, however, to power coking plants.

The Bakken Oil Shale Field

Nice, keen catch from Dr. Drang:

Look north and slightly east of Denver. See that big, somewhat diffuse patch of light? Here’s a zoomed-in view of that area with a few cities labeled to help you get your bearings.

Even if you didn’t know that this lit-up patch was in a generally empty area, covering western North Dakota and parts of eastern Montana and southern Saskatchewan, you could guess that it’s not a population center; despite its size, there’s no bright center to it.

The lights are from the oil shale fields spread out over the Williston Basin. It’s one thing to read about the boom in oil shale, it’s quite another to see such graphic evidence.

As a point of reference, here’s EIA map of 2011 oil shale plays in N. America.

More NPR Tar Sands Coverage

NPR’s got some great coverage of Tar Sands (and energy issues in general). In particular, there is a great, recent interview with a Texan whose land the Keystone XL pipeline will be traversing.

What Daniel wants most from TransCanada is answers. He actually drew up a list of 54 questions.

“One of my many questions was: If there’s a spill and we have to leave, are you going to take care of us?” Daniel says.

He also wanted to know things like: What kind of damage could a spill cause? And what chemicals would flow in the pipeline?

TransCanada told Daniel in writing that questions about spills were hypothetical because their pipeline would be designed not to spill. But in a document for the State Department, TransCanada predicted two spills every 10 years over the entire length of its Keystone XL pipeline, from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Some scientists argue that the company underestimates that risk. Another pipeline it put into service two years ago has had 14 spills in the United States, although most were small, according to TransCanada.

2 spills every ten years doesn’t seem like great numbers - or numbers that should be permissible at all. And the ease at which the spills are cleaned up, according to the article - and unsurprisingly - is oversold. In Michigan,

Early on, the EPA gave the company a couple of months. Two years and $800 million later, the cleanup is still going on. The cost eclipses every other onshore oil cleanup in U.S. history.

… Cleanup crews didn’t know what they were dealing with. They expected it to act like oil usually does and float on water. So they focused on vacuuming oil and skimming it from the surface.

But about a month into the cleanup, some fish researchers got a surprise. One of them jumped from a boat into the river. With each step he took, little globs of black oil popped up.

That kicked off a search for sunken oil.

“And everywhere they looked, they found it,” Hamilton recalls.

And, finally, perhaps the most rational appeal people who oppose Keystone XL and tar sands writ large can make:

“For me, as a father, I have a duty and responsibility to protect my family. What I know about this project is they can break laws and put my family at risk. I’m not OK with any of that. If that means I’ll have to stand in front of a bulldozer, I’ll stand in front of a bulldozer.”

Tar Sands Madness, Depicted

Nice, simplified infographic from NPR about the production of Tar Sands.

The oil product extracted from Canada’s tar sands isn’t like conventional crude. Known as bitumen, it’s sticky and so thick, it can’t flow down a pipeline without extensive processing. There are two methods for getting bitumen out of the ground and turning it into usable products. Both are complex, energy-intensive and expensive processes - but high oil prices are finally making tar sands profitable.

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