Tag Archives: energy

Will Canada’s oil boom be an environmental bust? The new global wasteland?


Alberta the new oil wasteland

Alberta the new oil wasteland

FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta (AP) — The largest dump truck in the world is parked under a massive mechanical shovel waiting to transport 400 tons of oily sand at an open pit mine in the northern reaches of Alberta. Each Caterpillar 797B heavy hauler — three-stories high, with tires twice as tall as the average man — carries the equivalent of 200 barrels.

Shell, which has 35 of the massive loaders working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, has ordered 16 more — at $5 million each — as it expands its open pit mines. And it is not alone among major oil companies rushing to exploit Alberta’s oil sands, which make Canada one of the few countries that can significantly ramp up oil production amid the decline in conventional reserves.

Shell, Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, Canada’s Imperial and other companies plan to strip an area here the size of New York state that could yield as much as 175 billion barrels of oil. Daily production of 1.2 million barrels from the oil sands is expected to nearly triple to 3.5 million barrels in 2020. Overall, Alberta has more oil than Venezuela, Russia or Iran. Only Saudi Arabia has more.

High prices — a barrel reached almost $150 last month and is around $115 now — are fueling the province’s oil boom. Since it’s costly to extract oil from the sands, using the process on a widespread basis began to make sense only when crude prices started skyrocketing earlier this century.

But the enormous amount of energy and water needed in the extraction process has raised fears among scientists, environmentalists and officials in an aboriginal town 170 miles downstream from Fort McMurray. The critics say the growing operations by major oil companies will increase greenhouse gas emissions and threaten Alberta’s rivers and forests.

“Their projected rates of expansion are so fast that we don’t have a hope in hell of reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Dr. David Schindler, an environmental scientist at the University of Alberta.

Oil sands operations, including extraction and processing, are responsible for 4 percent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, and that’s expected to triple to 12 percent by 2020. Oil sand mining is Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gases and is one reason it reneged on its Kyoto Protocol commitments. Experts say producing a barrel of oil from sands results in emissions three times greater than a conventional barrel of oil.

Worries about environmental damage have gotten enough attention that even the oil industry realizes it must tread softly on the issue. “Industry has to improve its environmental performance,” Brian Maynard, a vice president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said recently.

Questions about developing Alberta’s oil sands have seeped into the U.S. presidential campaign and the debate in Canada and the U.S. over keeping down the price of gasoline while still protecting the environment.

The Bush administration sees Alberta as a reliable source of energy that will help reduce reliance on Middle East oil. U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins said the oil sands will define the relationship between the two countries for the next 10 years.

“We are blessed by the fact that our friend and neighbor is also our number one supplier of foreign oil,” Wilkins told The Associated Press.

However, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s top energy adviser said oil sands emissions are “unacceptably high” and may run counter to Obama’s plan to shift the U.S. away from carbon-intensive fossil fuels.

“The amount of energy that you have to use to get that oil out of the ground is such that it actually creates a much greater impact on climate change, as well as using much more energy than even traditional petroleum,” Obama adviser Jason Grumet said.

Mining oil sands also was criticized by American mayors in a resolution adopted at their annual conference in June urging a ban on using oil sands-derived gasoline in municipal vehicles. They alleged the oil sands mines damage Canada’s boreal forest — boreal refers to the earth’s northern zone — and slows the transition to cleaner energy sources in the U.S.

John Baird, Canada’s environment minister, warned that Washington would lose energy security if it doesn’t take Alberta’s oil.

“If American mayors want to send their money to unstable, undemocratic countries in the Middle East instead of to Canada, that will be their call. If they want to pay a premium for Iranian, Saudi, Iraqi oil that will be their call,” Baird told the AP.

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Nuclear Power versus what options in Ontario?


I am no lover of Nuclear power and its by-product. Nuclear waste! Taking close to 10,000 years to simply become safe for handling or disposal, seems to be an extreme and dare I say “insane” option. However, no energy source is perfect, right? Some have tried to claim that nuclear energy comes close to perfection. In my mind they are misguided or smoking something. The use of nuclear energy is cheap and environmentally safe, ONLY if the waste is contained. Unfortunately the people of Chernobyl may disagree.  Nuclear energy produces radioactive waste that can destroy the environment. In addition, cancer causing radiation must be closely monitored and managed in order to produce the power we need in Ontario. There are three major questions to be answered. (1) The health of the environment, (2) The question of safety and (3) The alternative options available to us in Ontario.  May I remind Ontarians that we do need stable and consistent power? Coal is bad for the environment, however, since rising CO2 emissions will destroy planet at a faster rate, we have decided to choose the “lesser of the two evils”. So again, what are the options? Wind power? Geo-thermal? Hydro-electric? Solar? Others? These are all questions to be asked? However, while are Governments studies these options we continue to increase our need for power in Ontario. What legacy are we leaving for our children? We are hoping that they will be able to find solutions to the removal of nuclear waste. Maybe they will? But what happens if they do not? It’s something to think about. Again, I am not lover of Nuclear power, but what are the options and where is the innovation? Where is the investment? And where are the thinkers?

By: Andy MJ
a.k.a “The GTA Patriot”
Toronto, Ontario

More oil from old wells and more electricity from the wind


Crude prices have fallen from their record levels. Apparently the wise folk on Wall Street now think Turkey will not attack ther Kurdish area of Iraq. Still, crude prices are in the $85 range and many renewable energy prodeucers think they can compete as long as oil is above $50 per barrel.

That said a start-up wind energy fimr just ordered $350-million worth of wind turbines from General Electric.
Third Planet Windpower will place these on windmills in Texas, New Mexico, Nebraska and Wyoming starting in 2009. Here’s what the wind folks say on their website about their new company, “Third Planet Windpower (TPW) was established in 2006 to develop, acquire, own and operate a diversified portfolio of wind generation assets. The company has 20 projects under development, comprising more than 7,500 megawatts.”

Their press release goes on to give big green kiss to GE, “GEs wind turbine technology is a key element of ecomagination, the GE corporate-wide initiative to address challenges such as the need for cleaner, more efficient sources of energy, reduced emissions and abundant sources of clean water.” now that’s some of that marketing NoImpactMan was dreaming about, I guess.

TWP, as I now know them, also deals with one major environmental complaint against wind farms: the slicing and dicing of flying critters. As a birder I actually care about these things. TWP claims in their FAQ section that their turbines will be carefully placed with concern for flying animals.

An interesting aspect of this GE contract. A lot of the work wil lbe done in the U.S. I don’t often find much evidence of trickle down economics. But in this specific case the folks in the Carolinas can be pleased. Two factories there will be busy making the 167 turbines for TWP.

Old Oil Wells Renewed?

For those folk stillmaking a living ingthe oil biz, there may be good news from a Dutch researcher. He says hydrophobic gels can help get the oil out of the apparently defunct wells.

First, let’s clarify that this gel has nothing to do with rabies of any kind. Secondly, what it does do is form a barrier between the water and petroleum molecules, making the separation easier. In many old oil wells the mix of water and oil creates an economic barrier to extraction and refining by making the processing of the crude so complex and expensive.

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Gas-fuelled power plant on agenda for Toronto and Mississauga


Buried in the release of Ontario Power Generation’s 2006 financial results last Friday was an intriguing paragraph: “OPG is exploring the potential development of a gas-fuelled electricity generation station at its Lakeview site and is continuing with the decommissioning and demolition of the Lakeview coal-fired generating station.”

There is, as you might expect, a story behind this story and it sheds some light on how dysfunctional our electricity system has become over the past few years.

First, some background:

Ontario Power Generation, or OPG, is one of the successor companies that emerged when Ontario Hydro was broken into pieces in 1997. Still government owned, it runs all the old Ontario Hydro power plants, including the coal-fired facilities, which contribute to our air pollution and global warming and which the governing Liberals have promised to close.

In 2005, OPG’s Lakeview site, along Mississauga’s waterfront, became the first of the coal-fired plants to be closed.

But the Ontario Power Authority – an agency set up by the Liberals to plan for future electricity needs – says a replacement power source will be needed in the Mississauga area by the year 2011.

Hence, OPG’s interest in building a gas-fired plant on the old Lakeview site.

OPG has lined up a partner for the project – Enersource, the local electricity distributor, which is 90 per cent owned by the City of Mississauga and 10 per cent by Borealis, the infrastructure investment arm of OMERS (the municipal employees pension fund).

Also reportedly backing the project is Hazel McCallion, Mississauga’s formidable mayor (although, uncharacteristically, she did not respond to requests for an interview for this column).

With such an array of backers and a province thirsty for more power, the Lakeview project would seem to be a sure thing.

But not so fast. The power authority wants a competitive process before making a decision on a new plant. In this respect, the authority insists it is just following government policy, although insiders suggest the authority harbours a bias against OPG and in favour of private-sector suppliers.

As it happens, there is at least one private-sector firm interested in building a new gas-fired power plant in south Mississauga – Sithe Global, which already has regulatory approval for a site called Southdown (on the east side of Winston Churchill Blvd., between Royal Windsor Dr. and Lakeshore Rd.)

And more private-sector suppliers might come forward if they were allowed to make bids based on the OPG-owned Lakeview site, as the power authority has apparently suggested – to vociferous objections from OPG.

In any event, the power authority says the competitive process won’t begin until next year. That will create a tight timetable, however, as the electricity is said to be needed by 2011, and it takes three years to build a new gas-fired facility.

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The Nuclear Power that Binds Us in Ontario


In an effort to become a green city, little thought is given to the two major nuclear plants, just outside of the Toronto area. I think we like to imagine that they are not there. Do the benefits really outweigh the cost? In regards to the greening of the planet proponents like to say that nuclear power is green energy. However I beg to differ. Nuclear power is not “clean and green,” as the industry claims, because large amounts of fossil fuels are required to mine and refine the uranium for nuclear power reactors. In addition, much thought is not given to the concrete reactor buildings, along with the need to transport and store the radioactive waste. Nuclear power reminds me of the common “deal with the devil” syndrome. We will get quick and immediate satisfaction, however in the long term we are actually killing and destroying our planet. As with always, little is shown to the common Ontarian about the facts of nuclear waste. If people knew how toxic and how long it takes to even safely get rid of it, maybe we all would think a little different about the legacy we are leaving future generations. Although we talk about the need to become more environmentally friendly, we are moving away from this goal at an ever increasing pace. As Toronto expands and grows, attracting more and more people we will require more and more power. Although we want to be “green”, let’s face the fact. Unless we may major changes and investments in renewable resources, along with offering green choices for consumers, we are essentially going to see more nuclear reactors. We are attached to nuclear power, not out of wanting, but necessity.

By: Andy MJ
a.k.a “The GTA Patriot”
Toronto, Ontario