In Response: Rex Murphy and the Oilsands

In a commentary in the National Post tonight Rex Murphy calls the Tar Sands “Canada’s great national project for the 21st century” and those who might deride those same Tar Sands and advocate for greener energies (like Dalton McGuinty) as, in as many words, naive hypocrites.

As much as I enjoy Mr. Murphys command of the English language, he is dead wrong in this respect.

First, no matter what you call them, the Tar Sands, or Oil Sands, are not oil resources. None of it is oil that can go to an actual refinery until it is either dug out of a mine and sent through a separator or literally melted out of the ground using copious amounts of Natural gas.

Shell Scothford Bitumen Upgrader

Then it must be sent to one of 5 bitumen upgraders where it is turned into “SynCrude” which only then is roughly equivalent to ‘heavy’ regular (with caveats) crude oil and can be sent to appropriate refineries and turned into gasoline for our cars.

He might not like the ‘dirty’ oil tag that Oil Sands has gotten, but the reality is, your standard Alberta Oil Derrick is spic-and-span compared to the Tar Sands both in terms of the CO2 intensity of the operation, and the devastation and population it wrecks on land, river, and air.

Second, there is nothng ’21st century’ about continue the practices of the 19th and 20th. There is nothing new and amazing about the Tar Sands. At best they are using technology (eg. SAGD, CCS) that was developed 40 years ago

Why Oil Prices are so High
This is not why gas prices are high
to create a fuel that we started burning in large quantities barely 100 years ago, and will likely begin reaching the limits of production of it within the next 10-15 years if not sooner.

It does not matter what you, or Rex Murphy, or Dalton McGuinty drives today. What matters is what we drive, and demand, and use, tomorrow and how little CO2 we can have it produce. That is the 21st century challenge.

Arctic sea ice volume anomaly from PIOMAS updated once a month.
Today, with an Arctic that is thinning at unprecedented rates and where Winnipeg is breaking high temperature records by a dozen degrees or more, the Tar Sands are a national scar and an international embarrassment.

I have ideas about what “Canada’s great national project for the 21st century” might be. (It might end up looking a lot like Canada’s great 19th century project) I hope that Mr. Murphy takes the time to investigate every single facet of what the Tar Sands means to Albertans, Canadians, and the World before he passes judgement again in the National Post.

#Oil Sand Crude Caveats: According to the Canadian Encyclopedia “Bitumen”:

The distillates obtained from the hydrocracker, the delayed coker and the fluid coker are good feedstock for a conventional refinery. However, such distillates are “live,” tending to polymerize and foul surfaces, and must be mildly hydrotreated before being pumped through pipelines to distant refineries. This mildly hydrotreated feedstock is called synthetic crude.

Note also that I did not mention “dilbit” in my post, which is, as the name implies, diluted Bitumen and is, I believe, a much more recent invention and is also far more corrosive and heavier than syncrude.

(Thank you to @andrew_leach for pointing out some inconsistencies)

3 replies on “In Response: Rex Murphy and the Oilsands”

  1. What do you suggest we do? I have to earn a living. You are right your figures are spot on but i have bills to pay

  2. Humanity has had bills to pay since the invention of money. Oil and Tar Sands in particular are a tiny moment of time. There will always be jobs for people to do and earn the living wage that they need. We have a gigantic amount of fossil fuel based infrastructure that must be deconstructed and new clean-energy infrastructure to be constructed.

    The jobs potential is enormous.

  3. Contrary to what Mr. Murphy says I do not think any proper-minded critic of the tar sands thinks any less of any worker who goes there. We all do what we must do.

    There is absolutely nothing stopping us from offsetting any loses in oil sands employment by creating new jobs building the clean energy industry we require to replace or reduce that non-renewable energy consumption to something that is renewable or non-existant.

    Specifically, the retrofits required to make every house in Canada near-zero-energy for heating would power the construction and renovation sectors for a decade or more.

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