Do NOT read this post on Canada’s climate ‘secret’ if you don’t have a security clearance!

tar-sands.jpgI’m about to reveal Canadian state secrets: William Shatner is an overacting jerk. The tar sands are an unfixable climate disaster.

Lock me up in Gitmo! Or wherever the Canadian version of that hellhole is. I’m guessing Athabasca.

The Onion CBC News reports:

CBC News has obtained a government document that says reducing greenhouse gases from Western Canada’s oilsands will be much more difficult than some politicians and the industry suggest.

The ministerial briefing notes, initially marked “Secret,” say that just a small percentage of the carbon dioxide released in mining the sands and producing fuel from them can be captured.

The oilsands are the fastest-growing source of CO2 in the country, set to increase from five per cent to 16 per cent of total emissions by 2020 under current plans.

Capturing the gas and pumping it underground has been the key public strategy for reducing the oilsands industry’s contribution to global warming.

Only in Canada is it a government secret that conservative politicians and the fossil fuel industry lie to further their agenda. At least in the good old United States of America, our state secrets are really secretive stuff like torture and eavesdropping.

Note 1 to CBC: Please stop with the “oilsands” euphemism. No doubt it makes it seem like, say, up through the sand comes a bubblin’ crude, oil that is, black gold, Texas tea, Athabasca euphemism (as noted here). The stuff is tar. And it’s buried in sand.

Note 2 to CBC: Speaking of euphemisms, “the key public strategy for reducing the oilsands industry’s contribution to global warming” is an odd sort of a phrase to use for what your story clearly shows is in fact “the key public relations strategy for reducing opposition to the oilsands industry.”

Given that large-scale, commercial carbon capture and storage of CO2 at coal plants has been floundering everywhere even though the CO2 stream can be quite concentrated (discussed here), it can hardly be surprising that a far more challenging technical problem is bascially a dead end. As the CBC explains

The briefing notes, obtained by CBC News under freedom-of-information legislation, are based on the findings of a joint Canada and Alberta task force on carbon capture and storage.

Not concentrated enough

Little of the oilsands’ carbon dioxide can be captured because most emissions aren’t concentrated enough, the notes say. For efficient capture, there must be a high concentration of CO2 coming out of a smoke stack.

“Only a small percentage of emitted CO2 is ‘capturable’ since most emissions aren’t pure enough,” the notes say. “Only limited near-term opportunities exist in the oilsands and they largely relate to upgrader facilities.”

The Canadian and Alberta governments are spending about $2.5 billion on developing carbon capture and storage, and the oilsands generally come up as the first reason for spending the money.

In March, when he repeated a $240-million federal commitment to a project in Saskatchewan, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said: “This new technology, carbon capture and storage, when fully commercialized … will collect carbon dioxide emissions from oilsands operations and coal-fired electrical plants and seal them deep underground.”

The briefing notes, which went to federal and provincial politicians, were produced months before Harper’s announcement. The carbon capture task force issued a public version of its final report in January.

David Keith, a professor of petroleum and chemical engineering at the University of Calgary, was the lead scientist on the task force.

He says he’s frustrated that politicians and the industry keep focusing on the oilsands when there are sources of greenhouse gases to capture more easily and at less cost, including coal-fired power plants.

Rational people shouldn’t focus on reducing emissions in the oilsands through carbon capture and storage, Keith says.

“The actual content of the briefing note is a pretty fair summary of the technical situation we have,” he told CBC News.

I know Keith. He’s a pretty smart guy, except for the part about imagining that politicians might be rational people. But he is a Canadian, so that possibly explains his na¯vet©.

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12 Responses to Do NOT read this post on Canada’s climate ‘secret’ if you don’t have a security clearance!

  1. Will Koroluk says:

    A few things in play here.
    Our prime minister, Stephen Harper, has over the last two or three years shown himself to be a control freak. Initially elected on a platform that included government transparency and accountability as key planks, he has build a government that is, perhaps, more opaque and less accountable than any other in recent memory.
    Add to that the fact that his core strength lies in Alberta’s right-wing religious population. For him to bad-mouth the scheme to sequester carbon would be like bad-mouthing, well, any of the biblical heroes.
    Remember that many of his supporters, when polled, told us that Sarah Palin was a good v-p candidate for you folks below the 49th. The angry outsiders, in other words, even though one of their own occupies the prime minister’s chair.
    Harper has put forth a “plan” based on intensity targets, meaning that the petroleum industry could keep increasing oil production from the sands, provided it reduces the amount of carbon produced per barrel of oil. In other words, keep jacking up production and, by the way, you can keep jacking up carbon release.
    Ultimately, reality will rear its ugly head and whack Harper upside his head. We can only hope it happens sooner rather than later. Because for a lot of folks up here, the slow pace of climate change enables them to keep denying/delaying. It’s going to have to get really, really bad before Alberta’s religious right is going to pay any attention.

  2. Ecostew says:

    The tar sands are a disaster, but oil shale is worse when it comes to AGW.

  3. Nick Kong says:

    Hey Joe, does the same thing apply to oil shale in terms of potential for CCS?

  4. Milan says:

    ‘Oil sands’ is actually the correct terminology. Tar sand deposits contain various mixtures of sand (or rock) with bitumen or heavy crude oil, rather than tar. Most tar is artificially produced from coal as a byproduct of coke production.

    The oil sands are certainly a very filthy source of energy, but it isn’t necessary to manipulate vocabulary to demonstrate that.

  5. JCH says:

    Recently Venezuela opened a bidding process for new partnerships in their tar sands.

  6. David Lewis says:

    The CBC reporter who put out this story did not supply meaningful cost figures. All he says is it will cost billions of dollars to capture the carbon. So? The obvious, how much will it cost to capture the carbon from the emissions of the energy used to process the oil out of the tar sand, per barrel of oil produced, is not estimated. The reporter’s name is Erik Dennison, he works for Edmonton CBC. The series this report is taken from is called “Black Eye or Black Gold? Alberta’s oilsands”. It is available on podcast for anyone who wants to listen to the entire report.

    The scientist quoted, i.e. David Keith, University of Calgary, is quoted in the CBC report as saying he is frustrated that all this money is going into carbon capture aimed at the process energy used at the tar sands projects. He is quoted saying that there is a lot of other places where a bigger bang for the buck in the way of emissions reductions could be achieved. But from the government’s point of view, given that both the Alberta and Canadian governments are full of climate change deniers, this is necessary research. They want to market the oil. The US, it seems to some in Canada, might not want oil that can be labelled “dirty” over the emissions of CO2 that result from its processing. So, where decades of arguments couldn’t get them to lift one finger to do anything on the climate front, they are now spending some serious money on carbon capture.

    I say let them go to it. It might prove to be simply PR, in that these governments will either not spend the money, or they will just throw it away not doing any meaningful research, but it remains to be seen.

    Joe Romm, of course, is clairvoyant, and he knows already that this is simply a PR exercise and nothing will come of it. Its all a “dead end”, he can say this now, and that is that.

    A few facts, not that Joe would be interested in them: the energy used to process the oil out of the tar sand is said to result in 187 pounds of CO2 emissions, per barrel of oil produced, compared to an “average” of 62 pounds of CO2 emitted as conventional oil is produced. Figures like these are used in this CBC report, when the reporter states that tar sand oil production causes 3 times the emissions as it is produced, as conventional oil does. The CBC report states this is a maximum figure, as it brings up the fact that tar sand oil is very close to the US market compared to Saudi oil and states that the comparison can be less than 3 times depending on how far what you are comparing it to was transported. But lets say it is 3 times as much.

    The professor Keith the CBC reporter goes to, the same one who is so frustrated that all this money is being spent on research into how to control tar sand oil processing emissions, has a pilot plant that can extract CO2 from ordinary air at an operating cost of 100 kw/hr of electricity per tonne of CO2 extracted.

    This electricity retails where I live for $7. But lets take an IPCC estimate for what it will cost to capture carbon dioxide and sequester it from coal plant exhaust as our figure to work with here. The IPCC says $20 – $45 per tonne, stored in the ground, assuming the burial location is within 200 km. So, to capture 182 pounds of CO2, if it were feasible, would cost perhaps as much as $4.

    So, for what, $4 a barrel, the process emissions could be captured, making the oil less “dirty” to the US market? Oh that’s right, the tar sand processing emissions are not as pure CO2 as coal plant exhaust. Take the Rand figure for the tar sand then. Rand is saying $7. Whatever. Does this sound like so much money it will cause CCS to be not viable? Let’s not do any research into fleshing this out. Let’s pronounce now that if a government in Canada wants to spend some money on researching this, its all going to be a dead end.

    I’ve never heard campaigners dump on technology that would remove a pollutant by ignoring data before. Perhaps I wasn’t paying attention. I remember when car makers were claiming they couldn’t do anything at a reasonable price over the smog their products were causing in urban areas, and the activists fighting them at that time were not telling the world that the technology was bogus and the only way forward was eliminating car production entirely. These days, a computer monitors almost every engine in the US fleet each revolution, calculating the optimum amount of fuel to inject for the next cycle, the exhaust is monitored, it is passed through expensive platinum catalysts, and the result, I hear, is a 97% improvement over what they started with back in the 1960s.

    But CCS is all bogus. Its absolutely for sure, because Joe Romm says so.

  7. Barry says:

    David Lewis, it is great that folks are looking at ways to extract CO2 from the air. I hope efforts like this get funding, as you say.

    If it were an oil spill we would demand cleanup. We definitely need to figure out how to “put it back”. Hansen envisions burning biomass in powerplants and doing CSS on that to remove CO2 from the air.

    But Joe is also right that Oil Sands folks, and Harper folks, have misled the public consistently on both actual impacts and how easy cleanup of Oil Sands will be.

    Another point hidden from most folks about Oil Sands is that they are only barely a source of energy. The EROEI (energy returned on energy invested) is very low…around 10%. If you add CSS costs to this, however you do CSS, the Oil Sands stop being a net energy source at all. They are an ENERGY CONVERSION project. And this energy conversion project is one of the dirtiest on the planet.

    Again this fact is hidden from public but well known by oil companies and governments.

    If you want to spread truth and facts about the Oil Sands you should also include the fact that we only need this eco-disaster because we are not transforming our infrastructure from “oil” to other energy sources. Pickens says lets use the natural gas directly for transport. Many folks want electric transportation build out. Then their is better efficiency in transport…re-localization…on and on. Lots of ways to ditch oil sands with no energy loss to humanity.

    Oil Sands = energy conversion process at huge ecological, social, political costs.

    More truth and transparency of options available is needed all around.

  8. Barry says:

    The follow-up article on this story is here:

    In it, the the Alberta Environment Minister Renner admits he isn’t sure how much of the emissions from the oilsands can be captured by this technology.

    “That’s why we are spending $2 billion to find out,” he said.

    This is *NOT* the way CSS in oilsands has been sold to taxpayers or voters. Both the federal government and alberta government have consistently said oilsands are sustainable and expandable because CSS will capture their CO2 emissions.

    Joe is right that the PR has been, and continues to be, at odds with what the government knows internally.

  9. Barry says:

    David Keith, the scientist quoted, recently gave a talk at Gussow Climate Change Conference in Banff. The topic:

    * geoengineering the atmosphere by seeding it with sulphate crystals to reflect sunlight

    He was quoted at the conference as saying:

    * “we have enough coal and gas to double our current burn rate for centuries but of course if we did that without CCS we’d ruin the climate.”

    That’s the mindset of many, many folks out there right now. We have virtually unlimited fossil fuels and can continue to burn them if we just take over control of the composition of the earth’s atmosphere (properly!) for centuries. So full speed ahead. Stay the course.

    A glimpse of the coming battle lines for a climate stable enough to support advanced civilization.

  10. On the far horizon there appears a chimera, a paint horse upon which imperious and ignoble GREED rides. This horse and its pin-striped rider are an unexpected front runner, a Fifth Horseman of the Acopalypse. The “Four Horsemen” in tandem are following close behind.

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on the Human Population,
    established 2001

  11. See the “Horsemen of the Apocalypse” ride during “blitz” of Wal Mart in Valley Stream, NY.

    “Blitz” lines are a sign of the times. These ‘lines’ are designed to evince rampaging greed. How many other ploys can you think of that surreptitiously exploit human avarice?

    Here and now we behold the chimera, the “paint horse and its pin-striped-suited rider, named GREED” being followed closely by a pale horse ridden by Death.