Monday, February 1, 2010
Class Review: Alberta Tar Sands
The tar sands of Alberta are a mixture of bituminous sands, sand clay water and are viscous (generally not free flowing). Only recently have they come to be considered part of the world’s oil reserves since production of the sands is fairly recent. Canada and Venezuela each have oil sand reserves approximately equal to the world's total reserves of conventional crude oil. However, oil sands are often referred to as unconventional oil or crude bitumen as it is not free flowing and is mixed with sand a clay. To get to the oil reserves they must be strip mined 40-60m down. Hardly a nature friendly process. Processing is intensive requiring either hot water / caustic soda (NaOH) added, slurry piped, agitated, oil skimmed off top to remove residual water and sand or mixed with lighter petroleum or chemically split for transport by pipeline. A lot of work considering 2 tons oil sands produce only 1 barrel oil (8:1). Taling ponds help boost production but are extremely harmful as they are simply lakes and ponds filled with sludge. There are many issues with the tar sands such as the amount of land harmed (420 km2 disturbed and 65 km2 under reclamation) as well as H2S in water sources. Canada is now the largest exporter of oil to the U.S. surpassing Saudi Arabia.