Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the future of a continent

a book by Andrew Nikiforuk.

This was mainly a polemic against the tar sands (though the industry prefers the term oil sands) industry as practiced in Alberta, Canada, and how it connects to provicial politics there. The problems with the industry are legion: they use enormous amounts of natural gas to extract and upgrade the tar; loads of water is used; this load of water is then collected in highly toxic tailings ponds. Open pit/strip mining uses less natural gas than in situ extraction, but leaves obvious scars. And in any event, only 20% of the bitumen is available through mining — the other 80% requires in situ (referred to as SAGD,¬† Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage).

The biggest thing that I was surprised at was how far along the industry is: it currently produces (er, I prefer the term extracts) 1.5million barrels a day — and has serious plans to increase to 5million within a decade or so. As Nikiforuk points out, such an increase would wreak all sorts of havok, and may in fact be not feasible.

The EROEI, being quite poor; and as an alternative to natural gas, nuclear energy may be substituted.