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Alberta Oil Sands Bitumen – Heavy Crude Oil

By Green Guest | December 26, 2009

Canadian oil sands extraction, greenhouse gases, and the tailings as a result of the process of recovering the oil are of major contention in Canada and increasingly around the world. The Alberta lands leased for mining are scarred and polluted with oil trails. Government regulations concerning these environmental damages have resulted in responses from several of the land leasing companies in the form of reports addressing liquid oil tailings. Seven of nine such companies will not comply with the provincial law. These are negative connotations with the oil industry and poor regulatory performance in leaving the issue so long unaddressed. Recently companies operating in the Alberta area indicated it would take over four decades for their companies to deliver oil tailing environmental compliance to the regulatory standard required.

These topics are of especial note to Canadians due to the recent expansion plans of the Enbridge Oil pipeline project. Studies show that British Columbia salmon are at risk as a result of environmental impacts of the pipeline project to the area. If climate and soil, water and energy impacts are worse than the studies indicate, an environmental crisis might arise if the pipeline suffers form rupture or accident during operations. The development in Saskatchewan in the area of bitumen mining and oil sands creation potential has Canadians watching the process closely. British Petroleum, a company responsible for billions of dollars of investment in Canadian oil field production, is viewed as the main instigator of such environmental crimes. The oily sands, or heavy sand rich with oil or oil production by-products, and its results on the land have become a tense issue in Canada.

The nature of the problem is the composition of soil in the vast BP oil leased lands. The Canadian holdings issue four times the amount of carbon dioxide emissions during processing than traditional oil production elsewhere. Kyoto Protocol treaty agreements with Canada will be exceeded considerably, but as the result of a British company. Are Canadians shouldering the environmental production burden for a billion dollar British oil corporation? The consumption of copious amounts of fresh water, natural gas, and erosion of native vegetation and scarring of topsoil via oil tails has been of extreme concern to Canadian nationals of late.The cost of tar sands oil in terms of containment and pollution stoppage, and irreversible damage to former wild lands.

The Athabasca region of Alberta, Canada has been particularly affected by bituminous oil production. The oil sands land there has been profitably leased to oil companies using the materials there to obtain oil for shipment and sale in barrels. Density of oil production holdings threatens the provincial government’s ability to regulate the manner in which the commercial production of oil is being performed. Special refining techniques and resource-intensive processing for delivery complicates the oil extraction process. As the largest supplier to the United States of oil products, demand for oil production from these oils sands has become a formidable market dynamic and commercially profitable flow of trade.

Controversy has been built around the ongoing production of bitumen oil from these area due to concrete evidence of environmental damage, water contamination and climate change of a formerly life-giving ecosystem. Canada is famous for its unspoiled national parks and fresh regional landscapes. The Athabasca, Cold Lake, and Peace River areas of Canada are most dense with oil sands. These oil sands areas comprise the largest oil reserve in the world, at a time when conventional oil production is in a decline. The thick nature of oil sands bitumen extraction require methods such as steam, gravity, and leverage site extraction that must be denatured before later processing for additional by-products.

Canada and Venezuela share the largest oil sands deposits naturally occurring on Earth. Bacteria and erosion differentiate the existing extra heavy oil and bitumen oil sands deposits at the center of oil production activity. The eagerness many felt when looking to Canada for oil production independent of the Middle Eastern drug cartels is now mitigated by dread of an environmental catastrophe. Cleanup of affected areas and cessation of unconventional tar sands oil production could cost world independence from Middle Eastern oil for its resolution.

The entry into the Alberta business landscape of British Petroleum follows heavy foreign investment into an alternative to fossil fuels from the Middle East. Yet bituminous oil extraction from Alberta oil leases requires natural resources from the local ecosystem environmentalists claim cannot return. This fact is especially disturbing with continuing oil production in a manner not concordant with the promotional efforts of British Petroleum marketing its corporate identity as green-friendly and environmentally responsible.

As the pipeline option is not viable for the heavy and bituminous oils, processing and denaturing of certain elements like metal, sulphur, and nitrogen takes place close to the sites. The viscous oil feedstock is then upgraded into a material suitable for processing into synthetic oil. This is the process which results in absorption of local freshwater and results in oil trails contaminating local water. The necessary hydroprocessing of oil sands stock is not replicated in Venezuela due to lack of funding and materials. Thus Canada is the world’s oil production leader, and can’t viably turn away from this trade progress into the most profitable and demanded product sector in commercial history.

Of much more serious note is the incidence of cancerous and other related medical problems blooming in populations downriver from the exiting water supply and tailing ponds of the Canadian oil production land. Criticism of too rapid development of Canadian oil sands is now converging with concern for the economic viability of change. Energy development at the cost of direct environmental pollution, introduction of new human health concerns, and the opportunity cost of utilizing a Canadian resource base uniquely fitted to current oil demand and technological processing of oil sands make a conundrum even experts cannot solve.

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