Tag Archives: tar-sands oil

Keystone XL: 2014 Update

An estimated crowd of 35,000-50,000 gathers near the Washington Monument on February 17, 2013 to protest the Keystone XL pipeline and support action on climate change. Image from wikipedia

Keystone XL makes environmentalists livid… Oil extracted from Canada’s tar sands produces about 17% more carbon dioxide than conventionally-pumped supplies do—largely thanks to the energy needed to get it out of the ground. The process uproots forests and leaves toxic lakes behind. A pipeline carrying Canadian oil to Gulf coast refineries would lower the cost of getting such oil to market, so it might encourage energy firms to extract more…

Canadian oil is already getting to market, points out Charles Ebinger of the Brookings Institution, a think-tank—just mostly by barge and train. A new pipeline would ease the strain on Canada’s railways and increase the profitability of extracting the oil. But compared with swings in global oil prices, the effect will be small. Nor will many jobs be created. Most of those 42,000 are temporary posts; just 35 full-time permanent employees will be needed to run the pipeline.  Oddly, the project may not matter much in Louisiana. If completed, Keystone XL will deliver oil to Texas…

Excerpt from: Keystone XL: Back in the Pipeline, Economist, Nov. 22, 2014, at 26

Economics and Environmental Impact of Oil Shale Production

oil shale combustion. Image from wikipedia

[A] second shale revolution is in prospect, in which cleaner and more efficient ways are being found to squeeze the oil and gas out of the stone. The Jordanian government said on June 12th that it had reached agreement with Enefit, an Estonian company, and its partners on a $2.1 billion contract to build a 540MW shale-fuelled power station. Frustratingly for Jordan, as it eyes its rich, oil-drenched Gulf neighbours, the country sits on the world’s fifth-largest oil-shale reserves but has to import 97% of its energy needs.

In Australia, Queensland Energy Resources, another oil-shale company, has just applied for permission to upgrade its demonstration plant to a commercial scale. Production is expected to start in 2018. Questerre Energy, a Canadian company, also said recently that it would start work on a commercial demonstration project, in Utah in the United States.

In all these projects, the shale is “cooked” cheaply, cleanly and productively in oxygen-free retorts to separate much of the oil and gas. In Enefit’s process the remaining solid is burned to raise steam, which drives a generator. So the process produces electricity, natural gas (a big plus in Estonia, a country otherwise dependent on Russian supplies) and synthetic crude, which can be used to make diesel and aviation fuel. The leftover ash can be used to make cement. Enefit’s chief executive, Sandor Liive, says his plants, the first of which started production in December 2012, should be profitable so long as oil prices stay above $75 a barrel (North Sea Brent oil was around $113 this week).

Although the new methods of exploiting the rock are cleaner than old ones, environmentalists still have plenty to worry about. Oil shale varies hugely in quality. Estonia’s is clean, Jordan’s has a high sulphur content, Utah’s is laden with arsenic. Like opencast coal mining, digging up oil shale scars the landscape. Enefit has solved that in green-minded Estonia, by landscaping and replacing the topsoil. Other countries may be less choosy.

Some of the world’s biggest energy firms have also experimented with mining and processing oil shale, only to give up, after finding that it took so much energy that the sums did not add up. However, Shell says it is making progress with a new method it is trying, also in Jordan, in which the shale is heated underground with an electric current to extract the oil.

These rival technologies have yet to prove their reliability at large scale—and they are far from cheap. Mr Liive reckons it will cost $100m to get a pilot project going in Utah (where his firm has bought a disused oil-shale mine), and another $300m to reach a commercial scale. A fall in the oil price could doom the industry, as happened in the 1980s when a lot of shale mines went out of business…America this week loosened its ban on crude exports. If the second shale revolution succeeds, it will have a lot more oil to sell.

Oil shale: Flaming rocks, Economist, June  28, 2014, at 58