Archive for March 17th, 2009

Bitumen presentations

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

A few days ago I mentioned The Great Tar Sands Debate.  Tonight I went to it, and I found it very interesting, but I would hesitate to call it a debate.

I thought that both speakers did a fine job of their presentations.

Andrew Nikiforuk spoke against the “tar sands” from the perspective of a concerned Alberta environmentalist.  He raised what I believe to be some very valid concerns about the environmental costs of both the open-pit mining of bitumen and “in-situ” extraction such as steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD).

Carolyn Preston spoke about the exploration efforts of Saskatchewan’s “oil sands”, explaining that the bitumen is too deep to extract using open-pit mining.  She also explained that SAGD won’t be an option because of the nature of the overburden – I hadn’t been aware of that.  She then discussed other extraction methods that are being tested, involving solvents and electricity.

Little real debate was generated, because of the Alberta/Saskatchewan experience/future possibility perspectives.

Audience questions covered the duty to consult with the local aboriginal population, health concerns, and the effect of using natural gas for bitumen extraction on the price of natural gas for home heating.  I thought both speakers did an adequate job of answering questions.

Oil is a non-renewable resource, and our North American lifestyles are dependent upon it.  It’s easy to point a finger at the evil polluting industry, but I agreed with Carolyn Preston that it’s we the consumers who demand the product.  Reducing our consumption is important.  The sooner we can find affordable, clean, renewable energy options the better.  Forest biomass, whether for cellulosic ethanol or direct combustion, has potential to be part of the solution.  Saskatchewan has a lot of open space so wind power should be an option. It’s likely to make me some enemies, but I’m even willing to look at the nuclear option.