Canada’s mining of oil sands has become an environmental issue / Kanadas utvinning av oljesand har blivit en miljöfråga i Bryssel.

Posted on February 27, 2012

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On Thursday 23 February a panel of experts including representatives from all the 27 EU member nations voted on the position they would take to a suggestion that Canada’s oil sands be classified as a dirtier fuel than conventional oil. The vote did not give either side of the question a qualified majority – 54 experts agreed with the suggestion while 128 disagreed. I do not know if Canada’s threat of, among other things, trade sanctions was decisive but obviously Canada was concerned.

Global Energy systems at Uppsala University has studied the possible oil production from Canada’s oil sands and we noted that the possible future production volume is limited even if one disregards economic constraints. In my book “Peeking at Peak Oil” that will be released at the end of May I have made a new estimate and I note that from 2010 to 2030 it would be possible to increase production by 2.5 million barrels per day. That is more than today’s production level and, of course, it will mean increased effects on the environment. To illustrate those environmental problems I will refer to a report from Alberta University published in August 2010. Here is a quote from the report:

“We show that the oil sands industry releases the 13 elements considered priority pollutants (PPE) under the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act, via air and water, to the Athabasca River and its watershed. In the 2008 snowpack, all PPE except selenium were greater near oil sands developments than at more remote sites. Bitumen upgraders and local oil sands development were sources of airborne emissions. Concentrations of mercury, nickel, and thallium in winter and all 13 PPE in summer were greater in tributaries with watersheds more disturbed by development than in less disturbed watersheds. In the Athabasca River during summer, concentrations of all PPE were greater near developed areas than upstream of development. At sites downstream of development and within the Athabasca Delta, concentrations of all PPE except beryllium and selenium remained greater than upstream of development. Concentrations of some PPE at one location in Lake Athabasca near Fort Chipewyan were also greater than concentration in the Athabasca River upstream of development. Canada’s or Alberta’s guidelines for the protection of aquatic life were exceeded for seven PPE—cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, silver, and zinc—in melted snow and/or water collected near or downstream of development.”

Today almost all the oil produced from the oil sands is exported from Canada to the USA and in the USA a debate is ongoing about future oil imports. There is a proposal to build an oil pipeline, Keystone XL, to transport 700,000 barrels per day from Alberta in Canada to the USA’s refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. Today these refineries receive oil produced from oil sand from Venezuela and they are worried that these imports may decrease in future. (China is interested in buying Venezuela’s oil.) At the moment President Obama does not want to agree to the construction of the pipeline.

If we summarise the possible increase in production of oil from the oil sands in Canada and Venezuela it amounts to about 4 million barrels per day. That is equivalent to the decline in conventional crude oil production from currently producing fields during one year. The conclusion is that the future possible increase in environmental damage due to oil sands mining over 20 years will yield only one year of oil supply replacement. Oil from the oil sands cannot prevent Peak Oil.

(Swedish)
Torsdagen den 23 februari röstade en expertpanel med representanter från samtliga 27 medlemsstater i EU om hur man skulle ställa sig till ett förslag som klassar oljesand från Kanada som ett smutsigare bränsle än konventionell råolja. Vid omröstningen, som inte gav endera sidan en kvalificerad majoritet, sade 54 experter ja och 128 nej till förslaget. Om Kanadas hot om bland annat handelssanktioner var avgörande vet jag inte, men självfallet var Kanada oroliga.

Globala Energisystem vid Uppsala universitet har studerat möjlig oljeproduktion från Kanadas oljesand och vi noterade att den produktionsvolym som är möjlig i framtiden är begränsad även om man bortser från de ekonomiska villkoren. I min bok ”Peeking at Peak Oil”, som kommer i slutet av maj, har jag gjort en ny uppskattning och noterar att det från 2010 fram till 2030 finns en möjlighet att öka produktionen med 2.5 miljoner fat om dagen. Det är mer än dagens produktion och självfallet kommer miljöpåverkan att öka. För att belysa de miljöproblem som finns vill jag hänvisa till en rapport som Alberta University publicerade i augusti 2010. Här är ett citat från artikeln:

“We show that the oil sands industry releases the 13 elements considered priority pollutants (PPE) under the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act, via air and water, to the Athabasca River and its watershed. In the 2008 snowpack, all PPE except selenium were greater near oil sands developments than at more remote sites. Bitumen upgraders and local oil sands development were sources of airborne emissions. Concentrations of mercury, nickel, and thallium in winter and all 13 PPE in summer were greater in tributaries with watersheds more disturbed by development than in less disturbed watersheds. In the Athabasca River during summer, concentrations of all PPE were greater near developed areas than upstream of development. At sites downstream of development and within the Athabasca Delta, concentrations of all PPE except beryllium and selenium remained greater than upstream of development. Concentrations of some PPE at one location in Lake Athabasca near Fort Chipewyan were also greater than concentration in the Athabasca River upstream of development. Canada’s or Alberta’s guidelines for the protection of aquatic life were exceeded for seven PPE—cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, silver, and zinc—in melted snow and/or water collected near or downstream of development.”

Idag exporteras nästan all olja från oljesanden i Kanada till USA och där pågår också en debatt om framtidens import. Det finns ett förslag att bygga en oljeledning, Keystone XL, som skulle transportera 700000 fat olja per dag från Alberta i Kanada till USA:s raffinaderier vid den Mexikanska Golfen. Idag får dessa raffinaderiers oljesandsolja från Venezuela och man är oroliga för att den importmöjligheten skall falla bort i framtiden (Kina är intresserad av att köpa oljan). För tillfället vill inte president Obama säga ja till oljeledningen.

Om vi summerar möjlig produktionsökning av oljesandsolja från Kanada och Venezuela fram till 2030 så motsvarar det 4 miljoner fat om dagen. Det motsvarar den produktionsminskning som dagens råoljefält har under ett år. Slutsatsen blir att den framtida möjliga ökning av miljöbelastningen under 20 år motsvarar ett års minskning i den konventionella råoljan. Olja från oljesand kan inte hindra Peak Oil.

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