Wednesday, May 31, 2006
The oil addict's desperation move
(Turn clean water and clean-burning natural gas into oil. "Anything but conservation" seems to be the watchword.)
Canada Pays Environmentally for U.S. Oil Thirst
Huge Mines Rapidly Draining Rivers, Cutting Into Forests, Boosting Emissions
By Doug Struck
Wednesday, May 31, 2006; A01
FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta -- Huge mines here turning tarry sand into cash for Canada and oil for the United States are taking an unexpectedly high environmental toll, sucking water from rivers and natural gas from wells and producing large amounts of gases linked to global warming.
The digging -- into an area the size of Maryland and Virginia combined -- has proliferated at gold-rush speed, spurred by high oil prices, new technology and an unquenched U.S. thirst for the fuel. The expansion has presented ecological problems that experts thought they would have decades to resolve.
. . .
The miners have created a marvel of human industry that takes a spongy muck once considered worthless and converts it into oil for gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. But the price of that alchemy is high: Each barrel of oil requires two to five barrels of water, carves up four tons of earth, uses enough natural gas to heat a home for one to five days, and adds to the greenhouse gases slowly cooking the planet, according to the industry's own calculations.
. . .
Critics also question the wisdom of using natural gas to heat and upgrade the oil sands. "We are taking a cleaner energy source and turning it into something that produces a lot of emissions when you produce it and when you burn it," said Dale Marshall, a climate change policy analyst with the David Suzuki Foundation in Ottawa.
. . .
Mining operations have been permitted to take twice the amount of water from the river than is used annually by Calgary, a city of 1 million people, according to Pembina. The group's report predicts that the oil sands mines will increase withdrawals by 50 percent in the next six years.
. . .
Industry officials say they do not pollute the river, and instead reuse the water they take as often as 17 times. The leftover emerges as a black, foul liquid collected in tailing ponds. The ponds have grown; one dam is among the largest in the world. The mining companies must fire off propane cannons to scare away migrating birds from the toxic waters. (WA Post--free registration required.)