Gates and Buffett to invest in tar sands and spawn more two-headed fish?

Two heads are apparently not better than one — certainly not for fish and apparently not for the super-rich, either.

two headed fish found in lake athabaska photo

If you thought that the two richest Americans got that way by being green — or had suddenly become green because they are now giving their money to charitable causes — you were mistaken. The Calgary Herald reports that last week that the two gazillionaires “quietly flew into northeastern Alberta on Monday, where they took in the oilsands, apparently with awe.”

Who wouldn’t be awed by the “biggest global warming crime ever seen” — an investment so tempting even BP is selling out its environmental credentials to invest in? Who wouldn’t be awed by Canada’s version of liquid coal? Who wouldn’t be awed an environmental blight so unprecedented that last week a mutated two-headed goldeye fish was found downstream? George Poitras of the Mikesew Cree said,

People were in disbelief. Here they saw a fish that we suspect is very much linked to tarsands development and contamination of the Athabasca River. Our elders tell us that what happens to the animals and the fish is just a sign of what is going to happen to human life.

As for the other two exotic heads found in Canada last week, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), who made a presentation to the dynamic duo, said:

“They were exercising curiosity, basically saying, ‘Wow, this is neat.’ “

I’m gonna have to say that I seriously doubt that Buffet used the word “neat” although I suppose Gates might have, especially if they served him the fish, Simpson‘s style. [Note to my many nuclear-radiation-supporting readers — I am mostly fully aware that the Simpsons is fiction.]

One source said Mr. Gates and Mr. Buffett, who in recent months said he favours investing in the Canadian oil sands because they offer a secure supply of oil for the United States, visited the booming hub to satisfy “their own curiosity” but also “with investment in mind.”

I can understand the desire of any smart investor to make money off of peak oil. But these guys not only have more money than many countries, they have pledged to devote most of that money to the public good. And that means investments in the tar sands — or liquid coal or a Hummer factory — must be considered off the table for them.

Buffet in particular carries a lot of weight in the investment community given his astonishing track record over the decades. Heck, even though oil prices have been declining recently, “Canadian energy shares have reportedly risen as much as 7.5 percent since Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates and world’s richest man Warren Buffet ‘secretly’ toured oil sands properties by Helicopter this week.” That is precisely why they should publicly state that the tar sands is a socially irresponsible investment.

Shout out to Lloyd Alter at Treehugger.

15 Responses to Gates and Buffett to invest in tar sands and spawn more two-headed fish?

  1. copper potts says:

    Remember we put that oil into our tanks as we are a major importer of Canadian oil. let’s face it, we unfortunately will use that oil whether Gates and Buffet invest in it our not.

    so what exactly do we do Joe? stop investing in the tar sands? just foresake all those billions of dollars in investment? what about the jobs that pay people from the economically depressed canadian east coast? where will they get jobs? how will they save those old fishing communities on the east coast?

    it’s easy to criticize but what is your solution? I agree that it’s the dirtiest oil ever, but with high energy prices the oil sands are most likely here to stay.

    If I am not mistaken we get more oil from canada than any other country.

    No plans to buy into oil sands: Buffett

  2. JohnnyRook says:

    I’m not surprised that Gates is interested in tar sands, but I did have higher hopes for Buffett. His statement in the Financial Post piece quoted by copper potts above is not encouraging.

    But Mr. Buffett said he has no “buy order” out.

    “And what I learn today may be useful to me two years from now. I mean, if I understand the tar sands today and oil prices change or whatever may happen, I’ve got that filed away and I can use it at some later date.”

    In other words, his considerations are entirely economic with no room for ethics, and may change in the future if he can make a buck.

    It’s worth nothing that James Hansen’s proposal to get atmospheric CO2 down below 350 ppm, while admitting the inevitability of consumption of current conventional petroleum reserves, specifically rules out exotic sources such as oil shale and tar sands if we are to avoid climate disaster.

    Requirements to halt carbon dioxide growth follow from the size of fossil carbon reservoirs. Coal towers over oil and gas. Phase out of coal use except where the carbon is captured and stored below ground is the primary requirement for solving global warming.

    Oil is used in vehicles where it is impractical to capture the carbon. But oil is running out. To preserve our planet we must also ensure that the next mobile energy source is not obtained by squeezing oil from coal, tar shale or other fossil fuels.

    Fossil fuel reservoirs are finite, which is the main reason that prices are rising. We must move beyond fossil fuels eventually. Solution of the climate problem requires that we move to carbon-free energy promptly. [emphasis added–JR]

    Proponents of tar-sands development wielding economic arguments are victims of their own lack of imagination. They shed crocodile tears for unemployed workers, but fail to acknowledge that sustainable energy development such as wind, solar and geothermal creates far more jobs than does fossil fuel extraction. See this report from researchers at the University of California at Berkeley

    One of the great lies of the fossil fuel industry is that our collective well being is tied to their collective well being. So, far this year the fossil fuel industry has spent nearly half a billion dollars trying to convince us that this lie is true. See here:

    Blogging for the future at Climaticide Chronicles

  3. John Mashey says:

    Thwe real question is: will they invest or not?
    From copper potts’ post, it sounds more like Buffett at least just wanted to understand what was going on up there. To be honest, it might be a *good* idea if more US people knew what that area of Alberta looked like.

    Joe has always offered the solution of doing efficiency first, but thinking the tar sands will be a major long-term source is pretty chancy.

    See Charlie Hall on unconventional oil at TheOilDrum.

    The conclusion of a detailed analysis says:

    “In conclusion, tar sands are an economically and energetically viable, although hardly ideal, approach to maintaining liquid fuel supplies. The most severe problem is probably their local and global environmental impact, and they are already impacting Canadian CO2 releases significantly. But the tar sands are unlikely to make a large impact on overall supply of liquid fuels because their supply is likely to be rate, rather than total resource limited. If the maximum rate were to grow to about 2 billion barrels a year this would approximately meet Canada’s demand and could leave relatively little for export if Canada’s production of conventional oil continues to decline. Achieving even this rate of production from tar sands is uncertain because of growing concerns about environmental impacts downstream and insufficient hydrogen and water.”

  4. gjden says:

    …. what we are to do is to get off of oil, gas and coal. All of our efforts should be directed toward investing in and creating clean, renewable energy. We should be providing training for the millions of jobs that will be necessary to attend to these new technologies.

    Whether there is money to be made from tar sands investing cannot be the overriding concern. What IS paramount is that our planet and the life it supports (us) will not tolerate the continued burning of fossil fuels.

    Science tells us it is imperative to bring our atmospheric carbon levels down to a level no higher than 350 ppm. I suggest we rally around the Gore challenge of deriving 100% of our electricity from renewables in the next decade.

    We’ve got the science, we’ve got the challenge, and the technologies to get the job done …. now all we need is the common sense to get moving … before it’s too late!!

  5. paulm says:

    Its a stick topic…Canadians are conveniently turning their heads the other way, the wimps we are.

    I can’t see it lasting once Obama gets in.

    It’s up to you Americans to reject dirty oil.

  6. john says:


    What we do is a no-brainer. We start ratcheting up mileage standards immediately, and require all cars sold after 2015 to be PHEVs that get 80 or more MPG, with 100 mpg equivalent by 2020. At that rate we’d be getting negabarrels at on fourth the price of oil — and we’d be getting more of them, particularly if we bought back the worst gas pigs and retired them, enabling people to get more efficient cars. With monthly gasoline costs of $400 or more dollars for a typical pig- mobile, consumers could even save money while they saved gas. If we did this, we would not need to import oil — from Canadians or anyone else — by 2025.

    The real question, Mr. copperpotts, is what would we do if we introduced all the CO2 from tar sands into the atmosphere — about 3 times as much per gallon as conventional oil. That would likely trigger runaway methane emissions from the Tundra, and we’d be toast — nothing we could do would make a damn bit of difference at that point, as 3000 gigatons of methane at 20 times the warming strength of CO2 started a self-reinforcing feedback.

    It’s worth thinking about those questions, too, Mr. copperpotts, as you whine about doing without “our” oil.

    There’s a solution — PHEVS and EVs — the alternative to not using them is untenable. So what exactly is your point?

  7. copper potts says:

    I wish we could only deal with the environmental effects of the tar sands but we need to also deal with the political and economic effects. those provinces are now modern day boom towns. you’re going to shut that down? first of all, the investors are private companies and there isn’t much the US government can do about Canadian oil sands. those are well paying jobs so anyone who mentions crocodile tears just isn’t dealing with political reality.

    secondly, according to wikipedia there is 173 billion recoverable barrels barrels.

    $115 X 173=around $20 trillion dollars of oil. it’s just not probable, unless oil gets to $20, that the sands won’t be developed. taking it off the market would probably mean $200 oil and $5-6 dollar gasoline. we already saw both obama and mccain flip-flop over offshore drilling because of high gas prices. what will the canadian government do when the world is beating on their door for tar sands oil at $300 per barrel? if the canadian government were to ban the tar sands it would probably have to pay in the hundreds of billions of dollars, maybe even trillions, to pay off the companies who have tens of billions invested. then we need to cut a deal with the Provincial governments who are drowning in oil and then pay of the tar sands workers too. remember, there is probably $20 trillion dollars of oil in the tar sands. plus companies are investing tens of billions each as we speak. they would have to be compensated.

    I would love to not develop that oil but it probably isn’t feasible given the money at stake. so what do we do? we do everything that john says above. but his goals for 2015 or 2025 don’t help us in the next few years and we’d still be using coal for our electricity in a big way.

    we also try to make the tar sands as green as possilbe. canada would have to process the tar sands with green energy. they’d have to find a way to control pollution. that’s what we can do until we get to 2015 or 2025. acting like the tar sands doesn’t exist isn’t feasible.

    “The real question, Mr. copperpotts, is what would we do if we introduced all the CO2 from tar sands into the atmosphere — about 3 times as much per gallon as conventional oil.”

    I would like to see some hard facts behind this.

  8. David B. Benson says:

    For around $135 per tonne of carbon, carbonaceous materials such as biochar or torrified wood can be sequestered deep underground. If one must have the tar sand petroleum, tax it enough to pay those sequestration costs.

    Which, by the way, might be done in the Global South for around half that cost.

  9. David B. Benson says:

    “On a life-cycle basis, including emissions related to transportation by pipeline or tanker, refining, and end use, tar sands are about 10 per cent more carbon intensive than Middle East crude oils.[citation needed]” from

  10. nataraj says:

    I’m sure Bill Gates will listen to environmentalists – he is interested in energy alternatives to Arab oil. He has already invested in Ethonol in Washington, for eg. – he needs to be “lobbied” as to the ills of tar sands.

  11. Copper Potts Wrote:

    What exactly do we do Joe? stop investing in the tar sands? just foresake all those billions of dollars in investment? what about the jobs that pay people from the economically depressed canadian east coast? where will they get jobs? how will they save those old fishing communities on the east coast?

    Speaking as one of those people who lives in a fishing town on the economically depressed east coast, (Lunenburg, Nova Scotia), I don’t want to be saved by Alberta Tar Sands Oil. And I don’t know anyone in Atlantic Canada who wants to go down the road for a job in the oil patch. They’d rather stay here.

    I hold the view that others have expressed here: the Alberta Tar Sands are the world’s worst environmental disaster, and our country is doing nothing about it. The current Conservative government has buried its head so deep in the Tar Sands that they are willing do anything to make the West into Canada’s new center of power. And they are sacrificing the prosperity of the country to do so.

    I can sit out on my back deck, and look out at the blustery Atlantic. In Nova Scotia, the ocean is our alpha and omega. No one lives more than 50 km from the sea, and most of us can walk there easily. It really is lovely, and capricious. Strong storms, huge waves. The world’s highest tides are found in the Bay of Fundy, where whales frolic. It’s an unspoiled wilderness. Nova Scotia, just one of four Atlantic provinces, has more than 4,500 miles of undulating coastline, and less than one million inhabitants.

    And yet, in the last federal budget, the government sent $5 million (if memory serves) to our provincial government so we could research carbon capture and sequestration. Do you see where I am going?

    We should be the Saudi Arabia of wind and wave power, more than enough to power eastern Canada and most of the Northeastern US, I’d wager. We should be planting wind farms everywhere, along the coast — and off our coast, with its gently sloping 200 mile continental shelf.

    We also have two of the three deepest harbors in the world, so we should be building wind turbines and shipping them all over the world.

    But our government doesn’t believe that global warming is a serious problem, and doesn’t believe that Canada should meet its international obligations, so we’re putting all our money into the oil patch, with nothing left over for clean, safe renewable energy.

    So I would like to see a serious, progressive carbon tax that would make oil companies pay for the right to pollute or, better still, start cleaning up their operations so we wouldn’t need to be an international laughing stock. And I hope that Americans will stop buying oil sands crude.

    And then, the government should take all that carbon tax money and pour it into clean energy and green technologies so that Canada — all of Canada — is ready for the new low-carbon economy.

    I’m sure others here can make the point more eloquently. We didn’t inherit this land from our parents, we’re borrowing it from our children and our grandchildren. If we keep sending CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere with nary a care for their world, then they will remember us for the rest of our lives as the Selfish Generation.

  12. JohnnyRook says:


    You omitted part of the Wikipedia quotation: Here’s the full quote:

    Environmentalists state that their main concerns with tar sands are land damage, greenhouse gas emissions, and water use. Tar sands extraction is generally held to be more environmentally damaging than conventional crude oil – carbon dioxide emissions, for example, are roughly three to five times greater with tar sands extraction.. On a life-cycle basis, including emissions related to transportation by pipeline or tanker, refining, and end use, tar sands are about 10 per cent more carbon intensive than Middle East crude oils.[citation needed]

    These two claims (note the “citation needed”) comment are obviously mutually absurd. How can something that produces 3-5 times the carbon in the extraction process only by 10% more carbon intensive than Middle Eastern crude? Plus, huge forest carbon sinks are destroyed in the process of extraction.

    See the following for more info:

    and particularlly the Tyndal Centre report (PDF) which calculates that developing Canadian tar sands in accordance with the modest goals of the Kyoto treaty would require that Canada use 65% of the worlds carbon credits (CDM) established under the Kyoto Treaty.

    Blogging for the future at Climaticide Chronicles

  13. copper potts says:

    “ow can something that produces 3-5 times the carbon in the extraction process only by 10% more carbon intensive than Middle Eastern crude?”

    it must be the difference is how the oil is shipped around from the tar sands versus shipped from the middle east. I am not saying that data is correct, just that that’s what could account for it.

  14. David B. Benson says:

    JohnnyRook — Thanks for noting that. Somehow I missed it.

    copper potts — Unlikely that shipping costs can account for the difference; ocean vessels are extremely efficient on a tonne-kilometer basis.