The non conformer's Canadian Weblog

January 8, 2009

Canada’s Oil Sand Projects



Toxic chemical levels higher in water downstream of Alberta oilsands plants Vancouver Sun –  This photo shows how at least one company is bulldozing right to the Athabasca River’s edge. EDMONTON – Levels of toxic chemicals in the Athabasca watershed are up to 50 times higher downstream of oilsands development, a new University of Alberta study …The research, spearheaded by renowned aquatics ecologist David Schindler, also estimates that Suncor and Syncrude deposit the equivalent of an oil spill’s worth of bitumen into the surrounding environment each year. The chemicals are dispersed through two main modes: on airborne particles from plant stacks and dusty mine sites; and through run-off from developed sites. The full paper will be available at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science website at

Pollution levels increase due to oilsands operations: study

Oilsands pollution far exceeds official estimates: independent study An independent study suggests that pollution from Alberta’s oilsands is nearly five times greater than official estimates.  The study says toxic emissions from the controversial industry are the equivalent of a major oil spill repeated every year. Government and industry officials have said contamination in the area’s soil and rivers occurs naturally, but the report links it firmly to oilsands mining.  A study of water quality at 60 sites along the Athabasca River and its tributaries makes it clear the oilsands have added cancer-causing toxins to the environment, a scientist at the University of Alberta says. The highest levels of polycyclic aromatic compounds [PACs], which are known to contain carcinogens, were found within 50 kilometres of two major oilsands upgraders, David Schindler said Monday. On a scale of 1 – 10, as a reputable scientist Dr. Schindler is an 11. If he says there is a problem with tar sands operations poisoning the Athabasca River and other water bodies …. you can be sure that the problem is there and the cause for concern is real. Do you think any of Syncrudes or Suncors top executives are living along the Athabasca River? Not likely.


Alta. bishop lashes out against oilsands – EDMONTON – A Roman Catholic bishop in Alberta says the current pace of development in the province’s oilsands “cannot be morally justified” because of the damage it is doing to the environment.
Alberta Bishop calls for halt on oilsands growth Calgary Herald
Rapid development of Alberta oil sands can’t be ‘morally justified Globe and Mail – – Catholic Culture – Daily Commercial News
all 74 news articles »
 Syncrude charged Metro Canda – Edmonton –  The province has charged Syncrude with violating Alberta’s environmental enhancement act yesterday by not leaving appropriate deterrents at a tailings pond located at the company’s Aurora North Site that killed 500 ducks last spring.
Ottawa, Alberta charge Syncrude in oilsands pond duck deaths
Alta. oilsands giant charged for duck deaths
Globe and Mail – Edmonton Sun – Reuters Canada – Calgary Herald
all 168 news articles »  


“Ground Shifts Under Advocates of Oil From Sand (Source: International Herald Tribune)By Ian Austen The oil that can be extracted from Canadian dirt is either a savior from oil from the unstable Middle East, or an environmental catastrophe in the making. As Barack Obama prepares to take office in two weeks, the debate is no longer academic. The U.S. president-elect has promised to move forward with an ambitious program to fight climate change. Not all oil is alike when it comes to environmental repercussions, and many environmentalists single out production from the oil sands as the epitome of “dirty oil.” In a recent study, RAND, a policy research group, estimated that oil from the oil sands generated about 10 percent to 30 percent more greenhouse gases than conventional crude. Canada, in large part because of the production capacity of its oil sands, is now the largest oil supplier to the United States. But environmental groups in both countries are pushing for a slowdown or even a halt to further oil sands development, which is concentrated in northern Alberta. Operators of oil sands projects and Canadian governments are eager to point to its potential for reducing American dependence on oil from politically unstable regions. Canadian oil sands produce about 1.2 million barrels a day, or about 9 percent of the imported oil consumed in the United States. Production was headed toward 3.5 million barrels a day by 2015 before the economic slowdown; with the vast reserves available, Canadian oil sands have the potential to produce the equivalent of 1.7 trillion barrels of oil. The oil sands companies, however, have been scaling back as falling oil prices and the general market turmoil have created a significant economic challenge for the projects. The entire process adds up to the world’s most capital-intensive method for extracting oil. A tiny example: Each of the tires on the cartoonishly oversize dump trucks used in oil sands mining costs about $60,000. While no one is about to park the giant dump trucks, several companies have recently announced delays in future oil sands investments. In November, a consortium led by Petro-Canada said it would temporarily stop expansions worth 23.8 billion Canadian dollars, or $19.5 billion, of its oil sands operations in Alberta. “We’re not in megaproject mode anymore,” Steve Laut, the president and chief executive of Canadian Natural Resources, said to analysts after cutting his company’s capital spending plans in half. And as Washington prepares to deal with climate change, environmentalists, who generally prefer to use the deposits’ traditional name – tar sands – are already pressing for restrictions on the projects. “It’s one of the most destructive projects on earth,” said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington. “It would be strongly resisted in the United States to exempt the tar sands from any climate agreement.” Transforming the tar, more properly known as bitumen, which is mixed with sand, into petroleum is energy-intensive and creates significant carbon emissions. Steam created by burning natural gas separates the semisolid bitumen. Then, more natural gas is needed to turn the bitumen into synthetic crude, which can be processed by refineries. The development of oil sands projects has created the greatest North American boomtown of recent years – Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Its outsize economic importance has prompted Canada’s Conservative government, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, to champion the industry. After the November election in the United States, Harper said he would seek to devise a continental climate change pact with the Obama administration. Harper suggested that any agreement would include an apparent escape hatch for the oil sands because, he argued, of the energy security benefits they offered the United States. Since then, however, Harper has avoided an early defeat of his government, which does not control a majority of seats in the House of Commons, by shutting Parliament. Even if the Obama administration is willing to hold talks with Canada, Harper’s grip on power is now uncertain.

ECONOMICS DO CONTROL THE VIABILITY OF CANADA’S OIL SANDS PROJECTS… Economics do  control the direct oil sand extraction  process, engineering as well and also now not all firms are equally environmentally conscious, concerned so they all do now need to be better managed here, something that has falsely not been adequately done for sure so far.. and yes neither by the provincial or the federal governments HAVE DONE A GOOD JOB HERE


Calgary and Edmonton are the two  main and  largest cities, both nearly the same size too,  in the Province of Alberta, Canada.  There are no other significantly large towns in this province as well. The main economy of Alberta is cattle farming and the oil industry. The provincial government has never been able to diversify the economy. Oil which was first discovered in Alberta in 1902   did not become a significant industry in the province until 1947 Alberta’s  quickly found itself at the centre of the ensuing oil boom and grew when oil prices increased with the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973. The population increased significantly  in the years between 1971 and today. Mainly bcause of the governmental  misleading spins that Alberta was a place to get rich fast, but this is not at all true. Few people got rich in Alberta, many went broke though.  Alberta’s economy is so closely tied to the oil industry that the  subsequent drop in oil prices were cited by industry as reasons for a collapse in the oil industry and consequently the overall Alberta, Calgary and Edmonton  economy.  This is still mainly a one horse economy, province.  Do see   also How many rich people in Calgary, Edmonton Alberta?

Recent environmental assessments, including the RAND study, also do not further the cause of the oil sands industry. While climate change is the current focus, it is not the only environmental issue surrounding the projects. Spent water used in oil sands projects is placed in lake-size tailings ponds, one of which killed about 500 migrating birds in April. Seepage from the ponds is polluting rivers in northern Canada, some scientists argue. In December, Environmental Defence, an environmental lobby group based in Toronto, estimated that about four billion liters, or about a billion gallons, of contaminated water leaks from the ponds each year. The Alberta government and the oil industry dispute that finding. Strip mining of the oil sands, the most common method of extraction, has destroyed large swaths of boreal forest, an important habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife. In December, a study published by the Natural Resources Defense Council and two other groups found that 6 million to 166 million birds could be lost over the next 30 to 50 years because of that disruption.

Producers say they are making efforts to address environmental concerns. Laut’s company, which recently completed a 110,000-barrel- a-day oil sands project, is developing systems to capture and store much of the carbon dioxide it emits. It has applied for government grants to test a system that will trap some of its carbon dioxide output by bubbling the exhaust gases from an upgrading plant through the spent water from a strip mine’s steam. Large-scale programs to capture and store carbon dioxide are not yet in place. The demonstration project of Canadian Natural Resources, for example, is not scheduled to begin until 2010.

With oil prices about $48 a barrel, profitability is fast eroding at oil sands projects and may already be vanishing at some operations. Producers have widely differing cost structures and varying definitions of profitability. But Andrew Leach, a professor of environmental economics at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, estimates that long-established plants can operate with prices as low as $30 a barrel. He said, however, that newer operations needed $60 to $70 a barrel for acceptable returns and that no one would proceed with proposed projects until prices returned to the $80 to $90 range.

Exactly how Canada could participate in the shaping of a U.S. strategy for climate change is unclear. Harper, who is from Alberta, initially dismissed concerns about climate change. After taking power in 2006, he abandoned commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions made by the previous Liberal government when it signed the Kyoto Protocol of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Instead, Harper’s government has promised a 20 percent reduction in Canadian greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. What is more significant, however, is that the proposal wants to use as a baseline 2006 – a year with more pollution – rather than the Kyoto standard of 1990. In addition, the new plan requires companies, including oil sands operators, to reduce only the rate at which they emit greenhouse gases. If they achieve those efficiencies, they will still be allowed to raise their total emissions through increased production.

Even if Canadian producers dislike U.S. climate change policies, they will be hard-pressed to sell their oil elsewhere. Canada’s pipeline network takes oil sand production south and offers no routes to ports for export to other countries. ”  The New York Times Media Group.

I rightfully do not trust anything the Alberta Government says or do, not Stephen Harper now as well.

PS I have worked at Syncrude Fort MC Murray Plant  myself. Extraction of the oil is   basically a  simple but a very costly process,

see also

“Reuters, Thursday January 10 2008

By Jeffrey Jones
CALGARY, Alberta, Jan 10 (Reuters) – Canadian oil sands mining projects, seen as a key source of North American energy supply for decades to come, have been given poor environmental marks in a report released on Thursday, with even the best performer barely garnering a passing grade.
Environmental groups Pembina Institute and World Wildlife Fund surveyed 10 Alberta oil sands ventures, including seven yet to start producing, for attention to land, air emissions, water, climate change and overall environmental management.
Authors of the study called on the government to set more stringent limits on water use, emissions and impacts on wildlife and public health.
Only Royal Dutch Shell Plc’s Muskeg River mine got a passing mark, and even that was just 56 percent, according to the report, entitled “Under-Mining the Environment.”
“What this study has shown is that there’s more talk than there is action in terms of meaningful commitments to addressing the issues,” said Dan Woynillowicz, senior policy analyst at the Pembina Institute.
All projects scored well in some areas and poorly in others. If each adopted the best features of their rivals, the industry could make meaningful improvements, the study said.
For instance, if all mines had the greenhouse gas emissions intensity proposed by Canadian Natural Resources Ltd for its Horizon project, due to start up later this year, Alberta could cut its emissions by 3 percent a year, it said.
If all companies had similar water use to Petro-Canada’s proposed Fort Hills project, the oil sands industry could reduce its consumption by almost 60 percent, said the report, which took a year to complete.
Canadian Natural got an overall 31 percent mark and Petro-Canada scored 37 percent. The average was 33 percent.
Canada’s oil sands are the target of more than $100 billion of investment as the world’s oil industry aims to cash in on the need to feed growing demand for secure oil supplies, especially in the United States.
Mined oil sands from Shell, Syncrude Canada Ltd. and Suncor Energy Inc, are processed into about 800,000 barrels of refinery-ready light crude a day, which is roughly 30 percent of the country’s overall oil output.

Output is expected to triple by the middle of the next decade, an increase in the energy-intensive business that is alarming to environmentalists and residents of towns near the northern oil sands hub of Fort McMurray, Alberta.  The oil industry said it was not surprised by the findings, pointing out that some of the equipment being used is older and less efficient and that it is being upgraded every few years. “It points out areas that I think people are already working on, certainly that industry and government are already working on, said Pierre Alvarez, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. “Everybody acknowledges there’s work to do but I think they also acknowledge that performance has improved and there’s the expectation it will continue to improve.” Pembina and the WWF also criticized the Alberta government, saying they found it provides the public with only limited summary information about developers’ environmental performance and much of that is out of date. “The government has not been in any way driving environmental performance. The government’s been as focused on growth as the industry has — it’s been ‘How fast can we go?’ not ‘How well can we do it?’” Woynillowicz said. He said the study is partly aimed at investors, who will eventually have to deal with liabilities among firms that do not live up to coming regulations for things like greenhouse gas emissions, which will carry major costs.”


Rest of Canada would suffer if oilsands were to get emissions deal: study EDMONTON – A new environmental study warns that other regions of Canada would suffer if a national cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions made allowances for Alberta’s oilsands

Prentice defends oilsands following National Geographic article –  A portion of the Shell Albian Sands oilsands mine is seen from an overlook near Fort McMurray, Alta. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)Canada will continue to
Peter Eric James Prentice PC QC (July 20, 1956 – October 13, 2016) was a Canadian politician who served as the 16th Premier of Alberta from 2014 to 2015.  In the 2004 federal election he was elected to the House of Commons of Canada as a candidate of the Conservative Party of Canada. He was re-elected in the 2006 federal election and appointed to the cabinet as Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians. Prentice was appointed Minister of Industry on August 14, 2007,  and after the 2008 election became Minister of Environment on October 30, 2008.[2] On November 4, 2010, Prentice announced his resignation from cabinet and as MP for Calgary Centre-North. After retiring from federal politics, he entered provincial politics in his home province of Alberta, and ran for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta to replace Alison Redford, who had resigned earlier that year. On September 6, 2014, he won the leadership election, becoming both the leader of the Progressive Conservatives and as such the Premier, as his party held a majority .  Prentice was a very short-serving premier — only eight months in the job. He was chosen as leader of his party, but never won as premier in a general election. Next  an early provincial election on May 5, 2015, ” Prentice’s PCs were defeated, dropping to third place in the legislature with 10 seats – ending 44 years of Tory rule in Alberta. Despite winning re-election in Calgary-Foothills, on election night Prentice resigned as both PC leader and MLA and retired from politics after results indicated that the Alberta NDP had won a majority government. He was no hero of mine.
Former Alberta premier Jim Prentice on October 13, 2016, was among the four people killed in a small-plane crash in British Columbia Pilot of plane crash that killed former Alberta premier Jim Prentice was likely disoriented, safety board says soon after take off.   Investigators believe that the pilot, dealing with a high workload flying the aircraft alone, experienced spatial disorientation soon after takeoff. Its climb rate was erratic and the jet wandered off course, before entering a steep descending turn to the ground.

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