Alibi V.16 No.27 • July 5-11, 2007 


Mmmm, Delicious Tar Sand

Alberta's pockmarked landscape is the next big thing for oil companies worldwide

Canada, ho! Where the health care flows like water and there's oil in the very sand. In honor of the Alibi's Canada issue, we're going to discuss what may be the most important source of fossil fuel for the United States in coming years: Tar sand in Alberta, Canada.

Second in quantity only to Saudi Arabia's 260 billion barrels of oil, 175 billion barrels have been proven to exist in this frigid province--but there could be two trillion barrels or more under Alberta forests. That's a whole lot of oil in an area without much political strife, making it the most viable source of smack for the U.S.'s volatile addiction.

The sands look like topsoil, and you can't just squeeze the grains to get the oil out. You have to heat it up before it's sent to a refinery, and when you do, quality black gold is the result. But the process requires a huge amount of energy, jacking up greenhouse gas emissions. Not to mention the nasty gouges in Alberta's landscape caused by carting off truckloads of oil sands.

Why haven't you heard of this stuff before? Because when oil was $1.50 a gallon, the cost of turning the sands into usable petrol was too great. But as those gas pump numbers spin up, so does the feasibility of Alberta's product.

TransCanada Pipeline is looking to build a pipe to ship 435,000 barrels of bitumen to the U.S. every day. Albertans are asking why they should build a big pipe to the States to help revitalize its flailing refineries when they could be turning Alberta into a hopping hub of refinement.

Who else wants Alberta's oil? China, of course. On June 29, the China National Petroleum Corporation became the first Chinese firm with a hand in Alberta. The company won exploration rights to about 258.6 square kilometers of Canadian land expected to give up 220,000 barrels of crude oil every day.

So everyone wants a piece and Alberta's got to figure out how to manage all those courters knocking on its doors. But as the expense of extracting oil grows, one has to wonder if the United States shouldn't be giving more attention and time to new prospects for energy instead of trying to date the same polluted girl over and over again.