Getting Ready for Oil Sands

posted at 10:55 am on February 3, 2011 by Jazz Shaw

A new report prepared for the Dept. of Energy is catching the attention of domestic energy advocates this week. With an eye toward the future it examines the potential of bituminous sands (or oil sands) from Canada to virtually replace US dependence on remaining Middle Eastern oil supplies in the decades to come, eventually providing a significant portion of US requirements. Unfortunately, for this option to remain viable, early action will be required in terms of pipelines and infrastructure to make sure the opportunity isn’t lost. More from Heliogenic Climate Change.

Study results indicate U.S. refining of Canadian crudes could rise from 1.9 mbd [million barrels per day] in 2009 to 4 mbd by 2030. Associated oil sands streams imports would rise from under 1 mbd in 2009 to over 3.6 mbd by 2030. This projected increase would curb dependency on crude oils from other sources notably the Middle East and Africa.

It is fair to point out that the price point for oil from bituminous sands is currently too high for mass production as compared to pooled crude oil deposits found under Saudi Arabia, for example. This is because more time and energy is required to separate the usable oil from the grit and clay in which it is embedded. However prices change on both ends. Advances in technology may lower production costs of Canada’s supplies even as increased demand from other nations – China in particular – drive prices for existing crude supplies higher. But we will need to construct and expand new pipelines from Canada down to the gulf coast refineries to make this viable.

Don’t think China hasn’t noticed this. They are already looking at purchases in the oil sand rich areas as well as the possible construction of shorter pipelines from the Alberta fields to ports on the British Columbia coast where the oil could quickly be shipped across the Pacific.

The evidence from the WORLD model cases is that, if pipeline projects to the BC [British Columbia] coast are built, they are likely to be utilized. This is because of the relatively short marine distances to major northeast Asia markets, future expected growth there in refining capacity and increasing ownership interests by Chinese companies especially in oil sands production. Such increased capacity would alter global crude trade patterns. WCSB [Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin (oil sands)] crudes would be “lost” from the USA, going instead to Asia.

Of course we are already seeing resistance to this from Washington. The EPA is protesting the amount of carbon dioxide breathed out by sweaty oil rig workers increased levels of greenhouse gasses generated by the higher energy extraction methods required. They also note that a new, rich bounty of oil could “hurt efforts to produce more-efficient cars and electric vehicles.”

Having the Obama administration dither over this and kick the can down the road will not do. This report should make clear that a decision will need to be made now in order to prepare for future demand, and sitting on their hands will only allow China to lock this market up before we can get a toe in the door.

Read the original Dept. of Energy report here.


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