Tar Sands Oil
It just so happens that Koch Industries, headquartered in Wichita Kansas, has its largest refinery in Rosemount, MN. It is the 14th largest refinery in the United States and gets its oil from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada. This is not the light crude oil that we think of, but a very thick mixture of oil, sand, water, and clay that is solid at normal temperatures. About four tons of this material must be extracted for every one barrel of oil produced. It requires as many as 1000 cubic meters of gas to convert a barrel of the substance to thick crude that can be piped to a refinery.
Destruction of the Boreal Forest in Alberta
This process destroys the environment and ecosystems in Alberta, Canada, leaving gaping open pit mines 75 meters deep scarring the landscape. The boreal forest ecosystem stores more carbon in its peatlands, soil, and trees than any other ecosystem in the world, including the tropical rainforests. Tar sands extraction in Northern Alberta is destroying previously untouched boreal forest equivalent to the size of the state of Florida. The environmental destruction is immense and releases huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. See the Democratic Visions interview of Maureen Hackett on the Tar Sands.
Tar sands mining releases at least three times the CO2 emissions as regular oil production and is slated to become the single largest industrial contributor in North America to climate change. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports that toxic elements were found near tar sands mining sites and downstream from them. The oil sands industry releases the 13 elements considered priority pollutants (PPE) under the US Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Water Act, via air and water, to the Athabasca River and its watershed. Seven PPE—cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, silver, and zinc exceeded Canada's or Alberta's guidelines for the protection of aquatic life. Indigenous residents of Fort Chipewyan, who live downstream from the tar sands mines, were found to have elevated rates of cancer by the provincial cancer board.
Refining the thick crude oil produced pollutes both air and water. A recent report from the University of Toronto's Munk Centre says the massive refinery expansions needed to process tar sands crude, and the new pipeline networks for transporting the fuel, amount to a “pollution delivery system” connecting Alberta to the Great Lakes region of Canada and the U.S. The various projects, when taken together, threaten to “wipe out many of the pollution control gains” achieved around the lakes since the 1970s. It will lead to "an exponential increase in pollution, discharges into waterways including the Great Lakes, destruction of wetlands, toxic air emissions, acid rain, and huge increases in greenhouse gas emissions.”
Many Minnesotans are not aware that 80% of their gasoline comes from Canadian tar sands oil. Though our attention has been focused on the Keystone XL Pipeline, pipelines already bring tar sands oil to refineries in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Alberta Clipper is a 36-inch pipeline that covers 326 miles, most of it in Minnesota. It runs from the northwestern tip of the state, along a line through Thief River Falls, Clearbrook and Bemidji, then eastward through Deer River, Grand Rapids, and finally to Superior, Wisconsin. Older pipelines bring tar sands oil to the Flint Hills refinery in Pine Bend, MN and to the Marathon Refinery in St. Paul Park, MN.
Existing and proposed pipelines would bring tar sands oil to over 30 refineries throughout the U.S. Over the last ten years, diluted bitumen (DilBit) exports to the United States have increased almost fivefold, to 550,000 barrels per day (bpd) in 2010. By 2019, Canadian tar sands producers plan to triple this amount to as much as 1.5 million bpd of DilBit.
The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) warns that tar sands pipelines may be putting public safety at risk. The pipelines carry diluted bitumen or “DilBit”—a highly corrosive, acidic, and potentially unstable blend of thick raw bitumen and volatile natural gas liquid condensate using conventional pipeline technology which is not adequate for the high operating temperatures and pressures required to move the thick material through a pipe. The DilBit is highly corrosive because it is both acidic and abrasive. The Alberta pipeline system has had 16 times as many spills due to internal corrosion as the U.S. system.
The NRDC recommends that the U.S. evaluate the pipeline safety regulations required for pipelines transporting DilBit, improve spill response planning for DilBit pipelines, put construction on hold until adequate safety regulations for DilBit pipelines are in place, and reduce U.S. demand for tar sands oil.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ranked an 800,000 gallon tar sands spill into the Kalamazoo River in 2010 as the largest spill in Midwestern history.
Alberta tar sands mining is the most devastating industrial project the planet has ever seen. Victoria, photographer Garth Lenz shares shocking photos of the Alberta tar sands mining project and the beautiful and vital ecosystems under threat. Tar sands oil produces more CO2 than any other oil. Tar sands mining is sending chemicals down the Athabasca River which have raised the cancer rates of native people living along the river to 10 times the cancer rate in the rest of Canada. The tailings ponds are built unlined on the banks of the Athabasca River. Low income people who live downstream have to eat the carcinogenic fish and animals to survive.
Native peoples have lived in a sustainable way in the Boreal forest for the past 10,000 years. Canada's Boreal Forest sequesters more carbon than any other eco system, double the carbon sequestered in the tropical rain forests. The Great Bear Rain Forest has the greatest density of threatened species.
The Keystone XL pipeline would go through the agriculture heartland of the U.S. A four times increase in production is proposed, equivalent to the size of the state of Florida. "We all need to act to insure that Canada acts to respect its massive supply of fresh water. Garth Lenz concluded, "We need to all gather to say no to the Canadian tar sands. Everyone has a role to play. . . We have an incredible opportunity to preserve the Boreal Forests, our best defense against global warming." Watch his talk accompanied by his photos of the Boreal Forest and the tar sands mines.