(Intro)The driven the exploration of unconventional oil sources
(Intro)The Alberta oil sands produce about 2.5 million barrels of oil per day.The Canadian oil sands are a large area of petroleum extraction from bitumen, located primarily along the Athabasca River with its centre of activity close to Fort McMurray in Alberta, approximately 400 km northeast of the provincial capital, Edmonton. “Oil sands are a mixture of sand, water, clay and bitumen. Bitumen is oil that is too heavy or thick to flow or be pumped without being diluted or heated. Some bitumen is found within 70 metres (200 feet) of the surface, but the majority is deeper underground.”(canadasoilsands) Increased global energy demand, high petroleum dependency and geopolitical conflict in key oil producing regions has driven the exploration of unconventional oil sources since the 1970s which, paired with advances in the field of petroleum engineering, has continued to make bitumen extraction economically profitable at a time of rising oil prices. Oil sands are called “unconventional” oil because the extraction process is more difficult than extracting from liquid (“conventional”) oil reserves, causing higher costs of production and increased environmental concerns. There are two main methods to extract this oil. Surface mining. We use large trucks and shovels to extract the oil sands. Only 20% of all oil sands are close enough to the surface to be mined. The reclamation process begins as soon as mining operations are completed.In Situ. Using techniques that are similar to conventional oil production, we inject steam into the reservoir to heat the bitumen so it can be pumped to the surface.(Thesis) Although the Alberta oil sands are one of the main energy suppliers for Canada, we should limit the use of them due to the growing amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and other environmental hazards.Why we should not use the oil sands Although the Alberta oil sands are one of the main energy suppliers for Canada, we should limit the use of them due to the growing amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This means that the carbon dioxide trapped in the atmosphere is heating up the planet which causes global warming. Oil sands emissions will be capped at a 100 megatonne limit per year. (CBC) “OSAG co-chair Dave Collyer said oil sands output now stands around 2.5 million barrels per day, and he doesn’t believe the emissions limit would really start to have an impact until output reaches four million barrels per day.” (CBC) The oil sands sector accounts for roughly one-quarter of Alberta’s annual emissions. Oil sands facilities are currently charged a Specified Gas Emitter Regulation (SGER) levy based on each individual facility’s historical emissions, irrespective of how intense (e.g. tonnes of GHG per barrel produced) or efficient that operation has been. Oil sands operations currently emit roughly 70 Megatonnes (Mt) per year. Limiting the oil sands will reduce the greenhouse gases being released in the atmosphere. In order to extract the oil huge tailing ponds are left which can be hazardous to wild animals. Tailings are the materials left over from the oil extraction. Wild animals have been trapped in these ponds and have been reported around the world which looks bad for Canada not to mention the animals suffering. In addition One of the major concerns associated with tailings ponds is the migration of pollutants through the groundwater system, which can in turn leak into surrounding soil and surface water.25 There is currently a lack of publicly available information on the rate and volume of seepage from oil sands tailings ponds, despite known incidents involving tailings seepage. How to deal with the tailings still remains an issue. Together, these oil sand deposits lie under 141,000 square kilometres (54,000 sq mi) of boreal forest and muskeg (peat bogs) and contain about 1.7 trillion barrels (270×109 m3) of bitumen in-place, comparable in magnitude to the world’s total proven reserves of conventional petroleum. When the oil companies are finished with the land, the land is not in the condition we expect it to be and restoration of the land becomes a canadian problem. Producing a barrel of synthetic crude oil from the oil sands by mining requires two to four barrels of fresh water after taking into account water recycling.16 Companies are currently licensed to withdraw over 590,000,000 cubic metres of water per year, which is roughly equivalent to what a city of 3 million people would require.17 Water for oil sands mining is pumped from the Athabasca River, a river that fluctuates seasonally as well as year to year, and withdrawing water during natural low flow periods (which occur primarily in the winter) has the potential to harm aquatic life in the river.18 This water cannot be returned to the river system because it becomes toxic in the extraction process and must be retained in tailings ponds. In situ development is less water intensive at approximately 0.9 barrels of water per barrel of oil, yet this is still higher than water use for conventional oil production, which averages 0.1-0.3 barrels of water per barrel of oil.19 In situ operations produce steam from fresh and saline water sources that is then injected to “help reduce the viscosity” (melt) the bitumen in the reservoir so it can be pumped out. Wastewater produced by in situ development is not contained in tailings ponds, but rather injected into deep aquifers on site.20 See Down to the Last Drop: The Athabasca River and Oil Sands and Troubled Waters, Troubling Trends for more information on water in the oil sands. The mining of the oil sands also cause health problems. Chemicals such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) are released into the air, water and soil when bitumen-rich oilsands are mined and processed. PAHs are thought to cause cancer. A big question remains: what is the cumulative impact of all of the above points together? No one knows the answer to this very important question and so there is uncertainty in our future.Why we should use the oil sands? Alberta’s oil reserves play an important role in the Canadian and global economy, supplying stable, reliable energy to the world. Alberta’s oil sands have been described by Time Magazine as “Canada’s greatest buried energy treasure.” This means that Canada can benefit greatly from the oil sands which are not used enough. This is beneficial to Canada. The oil sands dominate Canada’s export industry. Money is made through the selling of the Oil for the company and the Canadian government through royalties and taxes. Canadian jobs are created. In 2016-2017 royalties alone made the government 1.48 billion (energy.alberta). The government can reinvest in Canada with the money it makes by putting it back into the community in various ways. For example, roads and infrastructure in Alberta can be renewed with this money saving taxpayers. Money is put into social programs that benefits all Albertans. The total sales tax rate in Alberta is lower than other provinces at only 5 percent because the province is wealthy. The people in Alberta also pay lower tax than the rest of the provinces. Tax rates in Ontario start to increase at $42,661, while in Alberta it starts at $128,145 in 2018 (kpmg). All of the above are economic benefits!The oil sands have caused much debate amongst politicians and citizens. It has made Canada look bad as Canada’s emissions rate is high. Most of the emissions come from the oil and gas industry. Compared to other countries Canada is not as green and this makes Canada look like a poor world player. This negative publicity may be bad for tourism. (Conclusion) I have reviewed the economic advantages and the environmental disadvantages of the oil sands. In my opinion it comes down to economy vs environment. As the economy drives a countries progress and future we cannot ignore the impact. The environment however must be protected for the next generations. Although the Alberta oil sands are one of the main energy suppliers for Canada, we should limit the use of them due to the growing environmental concerns. There should be strict laws in place before any mining occurs that sets limits of negative impact for every potential environmental issue.