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Posts tagged “oil sands”

By Robert Rapier on Dec 16, 2013 with 21 responses

How Bitumen Gets to Market

Introduction

Today’s article concludes the series covering my recent trip to the Athabasca oil sands around Fort McMurray, Alberta. This is an annual trip hosted by the Canadian government for energy journalists to raise overall awareness on issues involving the oil sands. Expenses for the trip were paid for by the Canadian government.

Previous articles in this series include:

In today’s final article I want to discuss the logistics involved in getting the oil sands to market. There is a narrative widely promoted by some environmental groups that they can successfully stall oil sands development by shutting off new routes to market. CONTINUE»

By Robert Rapier on Dec 9, 2013 with 17 responses

The Cost of Production and Energy Return of Oil Sands

Introduction

Today’s article continues the series covering my recent trip to the Athabasca oil sands around Fort McMurray, Alberta. This is an annual trip that the Canadian government hosts for energy journalists, and expenses for the trip were paid for by the Canadian government.

Previous articles in this series include:

Today I want to discuss in more detail the two companies that we visited on this trip: Canadian Natural Resources Limited (NYSE: CNQ, TSE: CNQ) and Cenovus Energy (NYSE: CVE, TSE: CVE). I will detail the cost of oil sands production via the different methods these companies utilize, as well as the energy return on energy invested (EROEI) of extracting the bitumen. CONTINUE»

By Robert Rapier on Dec 2, 2013 with 11 responses

How Alberta’s Oil Sands are Produced

Introduction

I spent the first week of November in the heart of the Athabasca oil sands around Fort McMurray, Alberta. I was there as a guest of the Canadian government, which hosts annual tours for small groups of journalists and energy analysts. In the previous two articles, I covered some of the environmental issues arising from the development of the oil sands.

In Oil Sands and the Environment – Part I I discussed greenhouse gas emissions, impacts on wildlife, and I touched upon water usage. I also detailed some of the work of Pembina Institute (PI), which is working to improve the environmental conditions as the oil sands are developed. In Oil Sands and the Environment – Part II I covered the tailings ponds, water consumption, impacts to water quality, and impacts to indigenous people.

Today I want to discuss the actual process of converting the oil sands into oil. Some may feel that this should have been the first article I wrote, but because the development of the oil sands is environmentally controversial on many fronts, I thought it was important to go over environmental issues first before discussing the process. I think that if I had covered the process first, most of the comments and questions would have been about the environmental issues. CONTINUE»

By Robert Rapier on Nov 22, 2013 with 15 responses

Oil Sands and the Environment – Part II

Introduction

Today I continue coverage of my recent visit to the Athabasca oil sands near Fort McMurray, Alberta. I was there as a guest of the Canadian government, which hosts annual tours for small groups of journalists and energy analysts. I will be covering multiple aspects of oil sands production in a series of posts.

In last week’s post — Oil Sands and the Environment – Part I — I discussed greenhouse gas emissions, impacts on wildlife, and I touched upon water usage. I also detailed some of the work of Pembina Institute (PI), which is working to improve the environmental conditions as the oil sands are developed. Today’s article will discuss the tailings ponds, water consumption, impacts to water quality, and impacts to indigenous people.

Tailings Ponds

There are two primary ways of extracting bitumen from the oil sands. In situ production involves injecting steam into the ground to heat up the bitumen which is then pumped out of the ground. Surface mining is done when the resource is fairly close to the surface. During my trip we visited one in situ producer – Cenovus Energy – and one surface miner – Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL). These methods will be discussed in greater detail in next week’s post. CONTINUE»

By Robert Rapier on Nov 11, 2013 with 15 responses

Oil Sands and the Environment – Part I

Introduction

I spent the past week in the heart of the Athabasca oil sands in Fort McMurray, Alberta. I was there as a guest of the Canadian government, which hosts annual tours for small groups of journalists and energy analysts. During my trip I was told that the only person who ever asked as many questions as I did was when David Biello from Scientific American was a guest. (You can read one of David’s articles from his trip here).

I felt like I learned enough to write a book on the oil sands, so I have a great deal of information I want to share with readers in a series of articles. In these articles I will provide an overview of the oil sands, compare and contrast the different ways of processing them, discuss the environmental issues, and then discuss the particular companies that I visited on this trip — Cenovus Energy and Canadian Natural Resources Limited.

I want to start this series with a 2-part discussion on the environmental issues. Generally when people think of oil sands, the environmental issues are foremost on their mind. That has always been the case with me, so most of the questions I asked during my trip related to the impact of oil sands development on the environment. This is a very contentious issue, and one in which the battle lines have been drawn. CONTINUE»

By Robert Rapier on Nov 1, 2013 with 19 responses

Soliciting Reader Questions for Oil Sands Tour

On Sunday, November 3rd, I am heading to Fort McMurray, Alberta for a tour of the oil sands operations. Here are the details from the initial email that I received inviting me on the trip:

Each year, the Consulate General partners with other U.S. Canadian missions to organize a tour of Canada’s oil sands for American media, mainly from the East Coast – for reporters/writers/editors from traditional publications, as well as those from other, more specialized publications, such as Energy Trends Insider.

The trip will go through Edmonton and Fort McMurray, including visits of mining/in situ/refining operations, as well as the chance to meet federal/provincial/local government officials, business and private sector contacts, environmental groups, possibly First Nations representatives, etc. We will look at the full range of topics related to the oil sands and their place in the Canada/U.S. energy partnership, including economic growth/job creation/competitiveness, environment and climate change concerns, innovation and technological development, and energy security.

Among other things, we will tour in situ operations at Cenovus and mining operations at Canadian Natural Resources Limited. But we are also meeting with Pembina Institute (the major environmental NGO in Alberta) as well as Alberta Environment and Sustainable Development (covering air, land, and water regulations; as well as climate change and GHG issues). CONTINUE»

By Geoffrey Styles on Jul 30, 2013 with 19 responses

Obama Interview Reveals Shallow View on Oil Exports and Keystone Pipeline

Attention Shifts to Pipeline’s Potential Benefits

Over the weekend the New York Times carried an interview with President Obama in which he commented on the merits of the Keystone XL pipeline project. The Washington Post suggested that these remarks “give opponents reason for hope.” While confirming that the White House’s main objective criterion for making this decision was still the pipeline’s greenhouse gas impact, the President also speculated about the project’s job-creation potential and the ultimate destination of the crude oil it would carry. This appeared to endorse arguments raised by opponents of the project. These issues deserve more than the dismissive treatment they received in the interview.

Estimating Keystone’s Employment Impact

With regard to the number of direct construction jobs that the northern leg of the Keystone XL Pipeline (KXL) might create, I don’t know whether the right number is the 2,000 the President cited or the tens of thousands estimated in an earlier State Department study. Either way, his administration lacks credibility on this subject. This is the White House that devised a new metric of “jobs created or saved” for assessing the impact of its 2009 stimulus measures. It has also routinely touted projects with “green jobs” potential, not just in terms of their direct employment gains, but also their indirect job creation estimated via generous multiplier effects.

Either indirect jobs are always relevant, in which case KXL would create far more jobs across the economy than the President seems willing to admit, or they also aren’t relevant to justifying clean energy and other, more favored infrastructure projects. In any case, his reported ”chuckles” at 50-100 new permanent jobs struck me as unseemly for a President still contending with unemployment over 7.5 percent in the fifth year of this recovery.
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By Robert Rapier on Jul 8, 2013 with 44 responses

Protecting a Drowning Man from Sunburn

Later this week I intend to start a series covering the recently released BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2013. However, first I want to follow up on last week’s post The Increasing Irrelevance of the Keystone XL Debate. With few exceptions, the post was well-received by people on both sides of the debate. There was some reasonable debate on the post on my Twitter feed, and much less rancor. I think only one person accused me of being an “enemy combatant” while most recognized that I am sincerely trying to shine a light on a problem that I see as orders of magnitude worse than Keystone XL.

The primary objection to my argument over the irrelevancy of Keystone XL is the same one that has been voiced in the past. It is that the Keystone XL project itself may be relatively insignificant, but add up many Keystone XL projects and you get a big effect. The only problem is that this really isn’t even true.

In last week’s article I referenced a 2012 paper by Neil C. Swart and Andrew J. Weaver from the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Victoria published in Nature Climate Change. That paper contained a graphic that I shared on Twitter, and it got quite a bit of commentary. The graphic shows the relative potential warming contributions of various fossil fuel resources:

warming_global_resources

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By Robert Rapier on Jul 2, 2013 with 54 responses

The Increasing Irrelevance of the Keystone XL Debate

Keystone XL’s Insignificant Contribution to Climate

Last week President Obama unveiled a new plan to combat climate change in a speech at Georgetown University. While there is generally broad consensus that his comments further threaten the already battered US coal industry, his comments on TransCanada’s (TSX: TRP, NYSE: TRP) Keystone XL pipeline project had pundits guessing at his meaning. Here is what the President said in his speech about Keystone XL:

Now, I know there’s been, for example, a lot of controversy surrounding the proposal to build a pipeline, the Keystone pipeline, that would carry oil from Canadian tar sands down to refineries in the Gulf. And the State Department is going through the final stages of evaluating the proposal. That’s how it’s always been done. But I do want to be clear: 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 reason that there have been widely differing views on the President’s intentions boils down to his use of the phrase “only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” The State Department’s Draft Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the Keystone XL Pipeline project already concluded that approval of the project would have little impact on global carbon dioxide emissions or on the development of the oil sands because of their view that the oil will get to market one way or another. More on that below. CONTINUE»

By CER News Desk on Nov 9, 2012 with 1 response

Alberta Oil Sands Expected to Draw $364 Billion in New Investment

tar sandsA new report issued by the Conference Board of Canada suggests that Alberta’s lucrative oil sands region will draw a further $364 billion in investment over the next 25 years, providing an astounding 3.2 million person-years of employment during that time.

The report, titled Fuel for Thought: Benefits of Oil Sands Investment for Canada’s Regions, aims to present a full overview of the financial implications of that country’s largest oil retrieval project, easing worries about its environmental impact while reminding Canadians – the the world at large – just how much is at stake in the oil sands. (Read more: The Facts About Canada’s Oil Sands and Climate Change)

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