Saturday, 12 July 2008

The Sands of Time?

The rocketing rise in the cost of a barrel of oil could, at least in theory, favour attempts to develop alternatives to this declining (and rather dangerous) resource. Having said that, it could also make things worse by encouraging people to exploit what were, until recently, regarded as marginal deposits. One such are the tar or bitumen sands of Fort McMurray in Alberta (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/jul/11/fossilfuels.pollution) that could, in theory, make Canada the second largest oil producer in the world. The trouble is that the tar sands are messy to extract. 470 square km of forest were removed to get access to the deposits, giant excavators are used to remove the sand and masses of water are used to separate the oil from the sand. The last activity results in great lakes of toxic waste. Even worse, although it is estimated that obtaining a barrel of conventional oil generates 30 kg of carbon dioxide, a barrel of tar sand oil produces about a 120 kg. This could rapidly turn Canada from one of the 'good boys' in terms of greenhouse gas generation to a serious offender. It is natural that Canadians argue that they currently produce relatively little carbon dioxide per capita and that they need the oil profits for their economy to grow.

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