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Page added on December 29, 2008

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Canada’s vast oil cache hides dirty environmental secret

Getting at the deeper underground deposits, in a process known as “in situ” mining, necessitates the generation of huge amounts of steam to liquefy the oil so it can be pumped to the surface. Producing the steam requires burning enough natural gas each day to heat 3 million North American homes.

That intensive burning of natural gas is particularly alarming to climatologists, because it sends three times more climate-changing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than drilling for conventional oil.
By any measure, the oil sands deposits are massive. Some 173 billion barrels of oil lie beneath the province of Alberta across an area roughly the size of New York state, making up the second-largest proven oil reserve in the world behind Saudi Arabia. And even though falling world oil prices are causing oil companies to postpone some planned oil sands developments, most experts predict that’s only a temporary delay given predictions that prices will rise again once the global economic recession ends.

“It’s difficult to come up with new sources of supply, and the oil sands represent a politically stable and massive resource that could help meet North America’s demand for many decades to come,” said Matt Fox, senior vice president for oil sands at ConocoPhillips Canada. “This is a major part of the future.”

Federal and provincial officials in Canada, eager to reap royalties and tens of thousands of new jobs, are aggressively promoting the oil sands boom. Ft. McMurray, the frontier town of 80,000 that is the gateway to the oil sands fields, has seen such wild growth – and resulting housing shortages – that the average single-family home here now sells for nearly $600,000. Workers are so scarce that oil companies build airstrips next to new oil sands mines so they can fly them in on chartered 737s.

“A carbon-based economy is still going to be a very good business for a very long time,” Alberta Deputy Premier Ron Stevens said.

Poughkeepsie Journal

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