Canadian Tar Sands: a Hydrocarbon Hurricane
A million barrels of oil per day are made from Alberta's tar sands. It is a difficult process; According to Andrew Nikiforuk in his brilliant article in Explore:
It is a mess of heavy tar trapped in sand and clay that requires Herculean engineering efforts to upgrade into oil. "You know you are at the bottom of the ninth when you are schlepping a tonne of sand to get a barrel of oil" notes CIBC chief economist Jeff Rubin. It uses enough natural gas to heat three million houses, and even oil analysts consider the use of a clean fuel to make a dirty one poor alchemy, its "turning gold into lead"
It is, like all of Nikiforuk's work, extremely well written and totally terrifying. Explore is a sort of Canadian Outside Magazine and its content is unfortunately not available online, silly because they are so proud of saving 200,000 pounds carbon by printing on 100% recycled paper and could save a lot more if they sold it by the byte, and real shame, as this is a shocking and important article.
The toxic tailing ponds hold more contaminated water than will be behind the Three Gorges dam. People downstream are dying of cancer. The highway into Fort McMurray is the most dangerous in Canada. The article concludes:
"The tar sands are a man-made hydrocarbon hurricane still gathering irrational force. Given that only three percent of the accessible bitumen has been recovered to date, experts agree that one of the most destructive energy projects on the planet is on a roll.
These days, whenever I fill up my gas tank, I think of toxic tailing ponds, Highway 63, dead caribou, cancer-ridden elders, weather-making clouds of carbon- and 50 more projects to come.
I have started walking more."