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Oilsands scare ads tough to counter

Don Braid, Calgary Herald
If oilsands politics were football, the world would get a penalty for piling on. Demonstrators scale a bridge in Ottawa. Ads show images of Canada dripping black goo on the United States. Even a top NASA official, James Hansen, says the oilsands shouldn't be mined.

All this draws about 1,000 times the usual publicity because President Barack Obama is in Canada today, trailing the world's most carbon-intensive media circus.

But here in Alberta, the government is strangely perky even as the fusillade grows in volume and impact.

The quiet Tory mantra is realism. They say it will set in eventually because the U. S. needs Canada's oil, and half our neighbour's daily Canadian imports already come from the oilsands.

Premier Ed Stelmach was encouraged by Obama's refusal to use the term "dirty oil," and his emphasis on technology to solve environmental problems.
(19 February 2009)


NASA's Hansen concerned about Canada's oil sands

Deborah Zabarenko, Reuters
Canada's oil sands are an environmental "wild card," NASA's James Hansen said in an interview before President Barack Obama's trip to Ottawa, where energy and climate change will be on the agenda.

As director of the U.S. space agency's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, with a focus on climate change, Hansen has long opposed the burning of oil, gas and coal for their contribution to global warming.

And he really objects to the burning of fuels gleaned from tar shale and tar sands in western Canada.

"If we burn all the conventional fuels -- oil, gas and coal -- we would be heading the planet to eventually an ice-free state," Hansen said in an interview on Tuesday, two days before Obama's scheduled visit to Canada, the first foreign trip of his presidency.

"This unconventional fossil fuel is a total wild card on top of that," Hansen said. "You just can't do it, that's what politicians and international leaders have got to understand. You can't exploit tar shale and tar sands without pushing things way beyond the limit. They're just too carbon intensive."

For this reason, Obama's discussion on Thursday with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a "a really important meeting," Hansen said.
(18 February 2009)



The Canadian Oil Boom: Scraping Bottom

Robert Kunzig, National Geographic
Once considered too expensive, as well as too damaging to the land, exploitation of Alberta's oil sands is now a gamble worth billions.
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... Within a 20-mile radius of Boucher's office are a total of six mines that produce nearly three-quarters of a million barrels of synthetic crude oil a day; and more are in the pipeline. Wherever the bitumen layer lies too deep to be strip-mined, the industry melts it "in situ" with copious amounts of steam, so that it can be pumped to the surface. The industry has spent more than $50 billion on construction during the past decade, including some $20 billion in 2008 alone. Before the collapse in oil prices last fall, it was forecasting another $100 billion over the next few years and a doubling of production by 2015, with most of that oil flowing through new pipelines to the U.S. The economic crisis has put many expansion projects on hold, but it has not diminished the long-term prospects for the oil sands. In mid-November, the International Energy Agency released a report forecasting $120-a-barrel oil in 2030—a price that would more than justify the effort it takes to get oil from oil sands.

Nowhere on Earth is more earth being moved these days than in the Athabasca Valley. To extract each barrel of oil from a surface mine, the industry must first cut down the forest, then remove an average of two tons of peat and dirt that lie above the oil sands layer, then two tons of the sand itself. It must heat several barrels of water to strip the bitumen from the sand and upgrade it, and afterward it discharges contaminated water into tailings ponds like the one near Mildred Lake. They now cover around 50 square miles. Last April some 500 migrating ducks mistook one of those ponds, at a newer Syncrude mine north of Fort McKay, for a hospitable stopover, landed on its oily surface, and died. The incident stirred international attention—Greenpeace broke into the Syncrude facility and hoisted a banner of a skull over the pipe discharging tailings, along with a sign that read "World's Dirtiest Oil: Stop the Tar Sands."
(March 2009)

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