Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Canadians Develop Improved Oil Sand Extraction

The Canadians, specifically the Alberta-based consortium N-Solv, have developed a way to extract oil from the abundant (to use an understatement) supply of Canadian oil sands.  It uses a solvent such as propane (instead of steam) to access the 80% of the deposit that would otherwise be inaccessible using the steam method.  The N-Solv process means that oil can be extracted from the ground, leaving behind most of the tarry bitumen natural to the sand deposits (and reducing further refining), rather than digging up the sands for processing.  Since the solvent is recoverable and recyclable, it reduces greenhouse-gas emissions by some 85%.  

The previous economic break-even point for developing oil from the sands using the steam method has been with the world-wide oil price hovering above the $50-$60 per barrel mark (currently around $90-$100), but with the new method, it would still be economical even if the price fell to $30-$40 per barrel, not seen since the 1990s.  These factors together mean that oil can be economically extracted from the oil sands at twice the rate of the steam method.

Professional ecologists from the green movement have decried that the old method, involving ‘fracking’,would cause (they claim) underground pollution of the water table due to methane involved in the process.  The new method would recover whatever methane is produced, and would use it to heat the propane.  Sounds good, right?

But leave it to the ecology industry: lest any better technology block their attempts to shut down actual energy production, an academic at the University of Calgary states that if oil production is increased, then people will use it, and thus “it may actually result in increased net greenhouse-gas emissions”.  As usual, no alternatives are offered.  The standard approach is to try to shut down energy production in favour of some future, unknown, unproven, or inadequate technology.

If the N-Solv solution works in Canada, there is always a chance that the process can be delayed in the US, beyond, of course, the usual impediments that the Obama administration has thrown up to increase the unemployment roles of the domestic petroleum industry.  Otherwise, it would run counter to the move to shut down oil production in West Texas due to the presence of the dunes sagebrush lizard.

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