Skip to main content

The consortium of oil industries mining the tar sands bitumen in the world's biggest carbon bomb is fighting back against critics as could be expected for a project that could top $218 billion in investment. This international consortium has staked out 54,000 square miles within the boreal forest in Northern Alberta, Canada. Our Prime Minister Stephen Harper called the boreal forest covering the tar sands deposits "an unuseable mass of dirty sand."

Words matter and we know that the boreal forest, the muskeg, the lakes and rivers, the flora and fauna are so much more than that.

May 2010
Canada's Boreal Forest. Photo Credit: Greenpeace

Tar Sands in Alberta lay under 54,000 square miles of boreal forest, lakes, rivers, muskeg that took thousands of years to form. 20% of the deposits are being stripped mined (Syncrude calls it "surface mining") and 80% are being extracted "in situ." Under the heading "in situ" we have two kinds of extraction, Cyclic Steam Stimulation (CSS) and Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD).

This is open pit strip mining, forests are clear-cut, wetlands, streams, lakes are drained and the soil is scraped off to get at the bitumen. The process leaves a desolate ruined landscape:

Tar Sands
Greenpeace in the Alberta tar sands. Photo credit: Greenpeace




The "in situ" extraction is accomplished either by Cyclic Steam Stimulation (CSS) or Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD). Both methods have huge carbon costs. The propaganda from the industry tells us that in situ mining does little harm to the forests. In fact the forests are marked with clear-cut paths to form grids for exploration purposes and that is only the beginning. Imagine how that affects the ecology.

Besides the land for mining, industry takes up land for drill pads and roads to connect them. Land is needed for upgrade plants, steam plants, storage tanks, for housing for thousands of workers, more coming in everyday. Alberta has imported 100,000 temporary guest workers on speeded up VISA's. All this construction begins with clear-cutting the forest.

Doublespeak from Ethicaloil.org the blog of the Ethical Oil Institute
Often when we picture what oilsands production looks like, we conjure up images of those large open pit mining operations: that’s what anti-oilsands groups and reporters want us to picture, so they broadcast those images as widely and frequently as they can. In fact, most of the expansion happening in the oilsands now involves in situ oilsands mining, a process that can extract tens of millions of barrels of oil over tens of thousands of acres with a physical footprint about the size of a shopping mall parking lot.
Here is some of that "physical foot print," much larger than a shopping mall parking lot:
The bitumen product whether extracted from strip mining or in situ drilling has to be upgraded. Here is the upgrader for SAGD bitumen owned by NEXEN recently acquired by the China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC)

OPT1 NEXEN, Photo Credit: David Dodge, Pembina Institute.

More doublespeak from Alberta OilSands Inc 
Benefits of the in situ approach
In situ extraction, particularly SAGD, offers compelling technical, economic, environmental and public policy benefits.
[...]
In situ oil sands projects create much less surface disturbance, cover a smaller land area and typically use less water than surface oil sands mines. They are therefore environmentally much friendlier and meet public expectations of reduced environmental and social impacts.
Environmental benefit is doublespeak for there is less environmental damage but there is still damage. We don't even know how this high pressure steam will affect the aquifer. Will there be runaway bitumen going into the aquifer? The carbon cost of heating the water into steam, driving the pressure and upgrading is not mentioned. How "environmentally friendly" is a method that requires forests to have grids, well-pads, and roads cut into them?

 OPT1 NEXEN SAGD at Long Lake, Alberta, Photo Credit: David Dodge, Pembina Institute.

This is "less surface disturbance:"


OPT1 NEXEN SAGD Long Lake, Photo Credit: David Dodge, Pembina Institute.

Facts from Scientific American:
The Opposite of Mining: Tar Sands Steam Extraction Lessens Footprint, but Environmental Costs Remain

Already, plumes of steam billow from the boreal forest across northeastern Alberta where a host of developers work—from Nexen, recently acquired by the China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC), to oil majors such as Royal Dutch Shell—like mushrooms springing up from the ground after rain.

And it's not as if in situ development has no impact on the land: there's the industrial plant for producing steam and processing bitumen, tank farms to hold the final product, and big, boxy clearings for well pads kitted out with machinery like an elongated caterpillar with wells for legs that also connects to multiple pipelines snaking through the boreal forest. So do row after row of clear-cut lines for the seismic testing that reveals where the tar sand deposits lie, cuts that take a long time to heal given the slow growth rate of trees this far north.



Facts about the Ethical Oil Institute
Ethical Oil is a pro-industry group, with close ties to both the oil industry and the Harper government, that promotes tar sands oil as more “ethical” than what it calls “conflict oil” from places like Nigeria and the Middle East. It maintains a website, ethicaloil.org, and has run pro-tar sands advertising campaigns on television and radio as well as billboards, including ads in support of the Northern Gateway pipeline.
The organization has its origins in a book of the same name by Ezra Levant, a conservative media pundit who has previously worked as communications staff person for the Conservative party and as a lobbyist for the tobacco industry. It was founded as a pro-industry, nonprofit corporation in May 2011 by Levant and Thomas Ross, a Calgary-based lawyer who specializes in working for the oil sands industry, with Alykan Velshi as the primary spokesperson and Executive Director Velshi was previously a communications officer for a Conservative cabinet minister, Jason Kenney, and has since left Ethical Oil to become the Director of Planning in the Prime Minister’s Office. The new Executive Director of Ethical Oil, Jamie Ellerton, also used to work for Jason Kenney on Parliament Hill. The close relationship between Ethical Oil and the Conservative Party has been well documented, with key figures working for both either consecutively or even simultaneously.

[Jame Ellerton the new Executive Director when "testifying before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance to deal with charity provisions in the 2012 Federal Budget offered a succinct definition of charity. 'If you need to debate whether or not something is charitable,” he told the House, “it is not.'" He was offering his testimony in order to strip environmental groups of their tax exempt status. from DeSmog.ca]

It has run pro-tar sands advertising campaigns on television and radio as well as billboards, including ads in support of the Northern Gateway pipeline.The organization has its origins in a book of the same name by Ezra Levant, a conservative media pundit who has previously worked as communications staff person for the Conservative party and as a lobbyist for the tobacco industry. It was founded as a pro-industry, nonprofit corporation in May 2011 by Levant and Thomas Ross, a Calgary-based lawyer who specializes in working for the oil sands industry, with Alykan Velshi as the primary spokesperson and Executive Director. Velshi was previously a communications officer for a Conservative cabinet minister, Jason Kenney, and has since left Ethical Oil to become the Director of Planning in the Prime Minister’s Office.
The close relationship between Ethical Oil and the Conservative Party has been well documented, with key figures working for both either consecutively or even simultaneously.
The People Behind Ethical Oil

Some words to Oprah Winfrey for accepting ads from the oil sands lobby "Ethical Oil."
Open Letter to Oprah Winfrey on 'Ethical Oil' Ads

As PM Stephen Harper travels to New York City to deliver his tired message that "The US can't afford to turn down" the economic benefit of his tar sands project, a new website is launched: OIL SANDS REALITY CHECK

"Like any other tool,
language can be abused,
used not to build but to destroy,
not to communicate but to confuse,
not to clarify but to obscure,
not to lead but to mislead."

- William Lutz




Bald Eagle, Photo credit: Agathena



[Photographs used with permission. Their inclusion in this diary does not "imply that the Pembina Institute supports any point of view unless it is their own."]

Originally posted to Climate Change SOS on Mon May 20, 2013 at 01:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by DFH writers group, Climate Hawks, and Community Spotlight.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site