Alberta bitumen seeks the sea.

What do bitumen and lemmings have in common? They both seek the sea. And you would think that when God put all those tar sands in land-locked Alberta, maybe He was trying to tell us something. And why is Alberta Premier Alison Redford running around North America seeking routes to pipe bitumen to the sea?

Despite the efforts of the public relations people from Enbridge and others, bitumen is not ‘heavy oil.’ Not that there is anything wrong with bitumen. It is considered to be the oldest engineering material known to mankind. The Mesopotamians when building what became known as the Tower of Babel used bitumen instead of mortar because of its easy availability in the Middle East. The ancients also used bitumen to waterproof the wooden hulls of their galleys. Today we still use it to build roads.

The fact that Alberta has so much bitumen in the Athabasca tar sands appears to be the reason for the Alberta Premier’s sales efforts. What she fails to promote is the conversion of the bitumen from the tar sands into synthetic oil before it is shipped out of Alberta. If this was done in Alberta, the entire province would be knee deep in a form of slag known as bitumen coke. Even worse, Canadians in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Northern Ontario would be up in arms about the destruction of their farms and forests from the black rain of carbon fallout.

The eagerness of Albertans to get that stuff out of their province is quite commendable. Their only concern is that others should not suffer because of their desire for lower taxes. This is why they want the pipelines to take their bitumen to sea ports and let other countries worry about the black rain. There are now six different pipeline routes in various stages of proposals or planning.

The west coast is closest and Northern Gateway by Enbridge is an obvious loser as it proposes to head straight for Kitimat, B.C. Expect much more effort to be spent on completing the twinning of the Kinder Morgan pipeline to Vancouver.

President Obama still has to decide the fate of TransCanada’s Keystone XL line south to the Texas Gulf ports but there is a back-up route for Enbridge to take up some of the slack on that route to the sea.

Ontario has gotten into the act with the pipelines seeking the Eastern Seaboard. Enbridge’s Line 9 was built more than 20 years ago to take crude oil from Eastern ports to Ontario refineries. By reversing it, heating the bitumen slurry and increasing the pressure, they hope to send bitumen to Portland, Maine and Saint John, New Brunswick. Waiting behind this scheme is a TransCanada gas pipeline to Montreal that TransCanada is considering using for bitumen slurry.

Lemmings are little furry rat-like animals that tend to over-produce and have to control their population excesses by heading for the sea and self-destruction. Bitumen is an asphalt like substance that has some use but, until the world is actually desperate for oil, it should be of academic interest only.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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