Nobody hates Albertans.

It has never been personal. A close friend of mine in the oil business always used to greet me with the comment. “Damn, you haven’t frozen in the dark yet!” Back when they lived in Denver, Colorado, the wife and I would drop off our kids with him and his wife (the wife’s BFF from high school days). The kids got in some good skiing, while the wife and I enjoyed the shows and action in Las Vegas.

When they moved back to Calgary, he and I had some interesting discussions about the oil business. The exploitation of the tar sands was still something in the distance but he certainly knew that the province’s crude oil reserves were nearing the end of their run.

What I did not understand was the lack of political motivation for the province to diversify its economy. The question should always have been: If that industry shut down tomorrow, how long would it take to absorb the people into the broader economy? You could never get a decent answer.

And why did nobody care? In Calgary, they were building homes out into the prairies and nobody worried about when the balloon would burst. The reality is that tar sands exploitation is a serious polluter before you measure a barrel of anything. Despite the scenes of enormous open pit mining of bitumen, the reality is that most of the tar sands are below ground and double drilling and hot water is used to force the future fuel up from underground seams.

The dirty water from bringing up the bitumen and washing out the sands is in itself a serious environmental hazard. Settling ponds for this dirty water are not a natural phenomenon. In addition, refining of bitumen into ersatz crude oil takes even more energy and creates what is known as bitumen slag, produced from the excess carbon in bitumen.

I have read various estimates that say that producing crude oil from the tar sands creates three to five times the carbon of Texas light crude. I expect it depends on the source of the bitumen. And calling bitumen ‘heavy oil’ is an attempt to describe it as something it is not.

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Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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