A (futile) line in the oil sands


As a lifelong conservationist and the former head of the Izaak Walton League of America, I think environmental opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline is wrong ("Taking it to the streets," HCN, 2/18/13). Climate change is a vital issue that must be addressed, but drawing a line in the oil sands will not help.

Canada's tar sand oil will be developed and used. The Keystone XL pipeline will not change that reality. The pipeline will assure that more heavy crude is shipped in pipes, where spills are rare and more easily contained. It will reduce the amount of oil shipped in trains and will substitute for oil shipped in ocean-going tankers, where spills are more common and harder to contain. There may be a bit more refined oil shipped in tankers, but even it is less damaging than crude. It means that more crude will come from Canada, where it is extracted under higher standards, than from countries like Nigeria and Venezuela, where extraction practices are awful.

The greater irony is that another advance opposed by some of the disobedience groups -- hydraulic fracturing -- has lead to the greatest reduction in greenhouse gases since the beginning of the industrial revolution. While frackers need to be held to a high standard, blanket opposition to this breakthrough works against lowering greenhouse gases.

Climate change is a mainstream economic and environmental issue of enormous importance. Addressing it requires smart strategies, not marginalizing ones.

Paul W. Hansen
Jackson, Wyoming

Steve Doyle
Steve Doyle Subscriber
Apr 02, 2013 03:08 PM
Even Canadians(42%) do not like the tar sands, which are turning their country into a petrol state with the following results: no money for climate change research, the muzzling of govt scientists, and tax audits of enviro groups under the pretext of "foreign funding". To wash the bitumen from the sands entire rivers are sucked up and boiled into hazardous wastes, then dumped into tailing ponds (70 square miles so far). Bitumen yields only 4-6 joules per joule invested in its extraction, compared to a 15 joule yield with conventional oil extraction. Which leads to the myth of fracking, as nice as it is for increasing our peak barrel oil equivalent (boe) production; huge amounts of methane are released during multi-stage fracking as the draw well is left open, with methane 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. And we stand to lose a lot of aquifers. Mostly no-wins nowadays as resources get tighter and the human population balloon, wanting as much energy and stuff as, well... Americans have. We are all so screwed.
Mike Stevenson
Mike Stevenson Subscriber
Apr 23, 2013 09:36 PM
Disobedience groups? I'm sure that industry would appreciate it if we were all obedient but the truth is they don't have such a good track record. The development of oil and gas resources should be done slowly and carefully - not in the hog wild frenzy we have seen so far. I think our children will wish we had drawn more lines in the sand, not less.
Malcolm McMichael
Malcolm McMichael
Apr 24, 2013 09:55 AM
Mr. Hansen is correct (inadvertently); fighting the pipeline is like closing the barn door after the horse is already out.

Tar sands extraction should be stopped before it happens. And fossil fuel reliance should be eliminated proactively, instead of fighting its consequences re-actively.

However, I do not accept his false dichotomy that we must choose between either tar sand extraction or return to coal burning. Nor do I accept the premise of his dichotomy, which is that unconventional extraction is a sufficient improvement over coal - in fact, research is showing that life cycle analysis of these methods reveals them to be at best a modest improvement, especially in light of the total environmental costs.

In addition, I do not accept his premise that tar sands extraction (and therefore shipment) is inevitable, and so our only choice is to roll over and accept it.