The mining and processing of the oil sands has negative environmental impacts, such as greenhouse gas emissions, large strip mines which “strip the land” of all natural flora, and impacts on water quality.
By Linn Smith
Republished February 8, 2015
September 7, 2013—-Producing oil from tar sands is “scraping the bottom of the barrel”, and so it is with the KeystoneXL Pipeline, a pipeline owned by a company named TransCanada, that would double the tar sands currently being transported from the oil fields of Alberta, Canada to the U.S.. The tar sands are under the Boreal Forests of Alberta, home to many species of plants and animals.The Boreal Forest not only cools the earth with its shade, it also plays an important role in preventing global warming, as the trees store and use carbon dioxide (the global warming culprit) in photosynthesis. Under the TransCanada leasing conditions, the company would have the option to lease an area the size of Florida for tar sand production.
Strip Mining for Tar Sands
Tar sand (or oil sand) consists of sand, sandstone, clay, and water, which are saturated with an extremely thick form of petroleum. These fields of tar sands have only recently been mined for their oil deposits, as new technology has made it possible to extract and use the oil. The tar sand oil is often called unconventional oil and is different from the traditional oil of oil wells, having a composition as thick as molasses.The oil sand is so thick it must be extracted from the earth by strip mining or by injecting steam or solvents into the sands. The mining and processing of the oil sands has negative environmental impacts, such as greenhouse gas emissions, large strip mines which “strip the land” of all natural flora, and impacts on water quality (using 2-3 barrels of water for each barrel of oil). In processing the tar sand, the water is contaminated, stored in human-made ponds, known as tailing ponds, and left to seep cyanide and ammonia back into the ground, contaminating our clean water supplies. When transported through a pipeline, the tar sand oil is mixed with lighter hydrocarbons to allow it to flow. Processing the tar sand for household use requires a processing that generates 12% more greenhouse gases per barrel than conventional oil. Currently, oil is not produced from tar sand on a large, commercial basis, but the XL Pipeline would change that, opening the spigot to allow the flow of “dirty oil” around the world. .
Carrying the Sands to the Gulf of Mexico
The pipelines of TransCanada have yet to reach a coastal port–that’s what XL would do–carry the tar sand to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. The company is currently in 56 separate eminent domain actions against landowners in Texas and South Dakota who refuse to give permission to build the Keystone Pipeline on their land. A Texas judge has given permission to TransCanada to seize the land if the owners refuse to sign an agreement with the company. Why not build the pipeline across Canada to their own coastal ports? In June 2013, British Columbia rejected the pipeline across their land. “The British Columbia government said “no” to moving half a million barrels a day across the 600 miles to their ports, stating the risk of spills to the pristine environment would pose a risk to salmon fishery and to human health”. The pipeline has been rejected by the Canadian government and approval by the U.S. is still pending. If rejected by the U.S. government, TransCanada will reportedly seek routes to the Arctic Circle for transportation purposes, shipping the tar sand to China and countries which have no regulations against burning the “dirty oil”– reaping the company enormous profits!
One of the Dirtiest Most Carbon-Infested Fuels
James Hansen, NASA climatologist testified in the U.S.congress that there is still time to save the planet and reduce the global warming villian, CO2, in our atmosphere, “but that means moving expeditiously to clean energies of our future. Moving to tar sands (oil sand), one of the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fuels on the planet, is a step in exactly the opposite direction, indicating either that governments don’t understand the situation or that they just don’t give a damn. People who do care need to draw the line!” Seventeen of Hansen’s fellow climate scientists have signed a letter urging President Obama to reject the pipeline, stating the pipeline is “counter to national and planetary interest.” The U.S. already imports 800,000 barrels of tar sand oil per day. The Keystone XL would import another 830,000 more barrels per day of the dirty oil. The tar sands of Canada have been estimated at 1.63 trillion barrels. If all of it was extracted from the Canadian tar sand fields, it is estimated the temperature would rise .4 degrees C or approximately 14 degrees Fahrenheit. President Obama will ultimately decide the fate of the pipeline.The southern half of the pipeline, Oklahoma to Texas, is currently under construction. The northern half is still in the proposal phase. Obama rejected the first permit for the northern project, but TransCanada resubimitted their application and a decision is expected some time in the fall of 2013.
TransCanada’s oil is a “dirty little secret” to some, called “black gold” by others, depending on a person’s affiliation with personal oil investments or their concern for the environment, but if people care about preserving our planet, it must stay in the ground.
it must stay in the ground!
- Gulf Refineries Don’t Care About the Keystone XL Pipeline, But Here’s Why it Still Matters. (motherjones.com)
- Keep The Keystone XL Pipeline Off Our Land! (petition) (illuminatebytanya.wordpress.com)
- Why Keystone Flunks the Climate Test (sierraclub.typepad.com)
- Report: TransCanada’s U.S. pipeline lagging (upi.com)
- Keystone XL: TransCanada admits bitumen sinks, contradicting Enbridge’s claims (vancouverobserver.com)
- Keystone XL Pipeline “Flunks Climate Test,” New Report (ens-newswire.com)
- Why Keystone XL Flunks the Climate Test (ecowatch.com)
- Canada’s oil pipelines will not build a nation – they are a great swindle | Martin Lukacs (theguardian.com)
*Originally published September 2013