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Oil sands no quick fix as Big Oil leaves Venezuela

Jeffrey Jones and Scott Haggett, Reuters
For Exxon Mobil Corp. and ConocoPhillips it may appear simple: shift efforts, people and resources to Canada’s oil sands now that the oil majors have retreated from Venezuela.

In reality, it’s no simple matter.

The oil sands have their own set of risks: surging costs due to a squeezed labor force, technical complexity and a shrinking pool of attractive available properties.

Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips — who fled Venezuela last week after refusing to agree to President Hugo Chavez’s more nationalistic terms — are already among the biggest oil sands players. They know well that new projects take years to build as the rush to exploit the unconventional resource fattens costs and schedules.
(4 July 2007)

Black gold’s tarnish seen in Canada

Tim Reiterman, Los Angeles Times
.. Almost half of Canada’s oil production comes from the oil sands — and the energy industry estimates that enough oil can be economically extracted to fill the country’s needs for three centuries.

The vast majority of Canadian oil exports goes to the United States, and the Bush administration sees the remaining resources as America’s best hope for reducing dependence on Middle Eastern oil. ..

The benefits may be great, but the toll on other natural resources is also enormous.

Separating petroleum from sand burns so much natural gas that the enterprise is becoming the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions growth in Canada. The oil sands lie within a major intact ecosystem, the boreal forest covering almost a third of Canada’s land mass.

The forest is one of the world’s biggest freshwater storehouses and absorbs a vast amount of carbon dioxide. It also provides habitat for hundreds of species of birds and is home to caribous, wolves and bears. Expansion of the oil sands operations could tear huge holes in a forest already rent by logging, oil and gas exploration and other industries. ..

Statistics recently compiled by the local nursing station show an increase in mortality and of cancer-related deaths in the last decade. Twenty-one residents died last year, eight of cancer.

After the doctor expressed his concerns in a radio report last year, federal health authorities filed a complaint this year alleging that he was unduly alarming the public. Alberta’s medical licensing body is investigating the complaint.

A year ago, the Alberta Health & Wellness ministry had conducted a study that found more cases of certain cancers than expected in Fort Chipewyan, but only one case of cholangiocarcinoma. It concluded that overall cancer levels were not significantly different from elsewhere in the province.

But local residents and colleagues of O’Connor questioned the thoroughness of the study and accused the government of trying to shut up the doctor to protect the oil industry.

“The message for anyone who blows a whistle is you will be clobbered,” said Dr. Michel Sauve, the regional chief of medicine. ..
(8 July 2007)

Global warming threatens alternative-oil projects

Daniel B. Wood, The Christian Science Monitor
Development of oil-sand, oil-shale, and coal-to-oil projects could be slowed by a new California law.

Oil-sand, oil-shale, and coal-to-oil projects – alternative fuel sources that could enhance US energy security – have always faced one hurdle. They look good only when oil prices are high. Now, they have another challenge: global warming.

California has enacted new climate-change policies that make energy companies responsible for the carbon emissions not just of their refineries but all phases of oil production, including extraction and transportation. If that notion catches on – at least two Canadian provinces have already signed on to California’s plan – then the futures of oil-sand, shale, and coal-to-oil projects may look less attractive.

The reason: Extracting these alternative sources of oil requires so much energy that their “carbon footprint” may outweigh their benefits.

The issue has gained fresh currency because of the new state legislation and predictions that Congress will call for mandatory carbon controls in the next two years.

“As the US and the world move toward more controls on carbon to solve the problem of global warming, it is clear that the development of high-polluting fuels will incur a penalty and the support of and investment in such fuels will be a more and more risky business,” says Roland Hwang, a senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

California’s move came in January, when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) signed a state executive order creating a new “low carbon fuel standard.” The standard gives petroleum refiners 13 years to cut the carbon content of their passenger vehicle fuels by 10 percent. In May, Governor Schwarzenegger signed agreements committing Ontario and British Columbia to adhere to California’s standard.
(6 July 2007)
An interesting set of priorities that sees oil-sands, etc. as being threatened. An alternative framing would be that human populations and ecosystems are threatened by these alternative-oil sources. -BA

Its Time For Albertans To Draw A Line In The (Tar) Sand

Bill Moore-Kilgannon, Vue Weekly
There once was a thin red line on a map. That may sound like the start of a fairy tale, but in fact it is the real beginning of a critical debate about Alberta’s energy future. ..

This line is called the Keystone Pipeline, and it is part of a proposal from TransCanada Pipelines to ship 435 000 barrels of bitumen from Alberta’s tar sands per day to be processed into oil and other petrochemical products in the United States.

This line is important to a lot of powerful people. In particular, this line is seen by many of the largest oil companies as a critical foundation in their plan to keep rapidly expanding Alberta’s oil sands to feed the United States’ “addiction to oil” while keeping declining US processing plants functioning. ..

This would explain why the pipeline and oil companies had close to 40 corporate lawyers and senior staff out to defend their pipeline at the National Energy Board (NEB) hearings last week in Calgary.

Normally, the NEB is a mere speed bump on an oil company’s path to developing their plans, but this time the NEB hearings have become the scene for serious interventions from the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), the Communications Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP) and the Parkland Institute.

The three groups have used the only venue that is available to highlight some facts and pose some critical questions about whose interest will be served by this pipeline. ..
Bill Moore-Kilgannon is the executive director of Public Interest Alberta, an Edmonton-based, non-partisan, province-wide organization focused on education and advocacy on public interest issues.
(July 2007)