20 October 2010

Tar Sands Pipeline Likely to Be Approved by Obama Administration

The Hill reports that the Obama Administration is set to approve a pipeline from Canada's tar sands in Alberta to Texas refineries for petroleum from tar sands:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appears poised to approve a
 controversial TransCanada pipeline carrying tar-sands-based crude oil
 from Alberta, Canada, to Texas despite pushback from House Democrats 
and environmental groups.

Clinton has indicated that the State Department “is inclined” to grant 
approval for the pipeline, which has come under intense scrutiny over 
its potential impact on water quality and wildlife.

“We haven’t finished all of the analysis,” Clinton told a crowd at the 
Commonwealth Club in San Francisco Friday evening. “But we are 
inclined to do so.”

 She said the U.S. is “either going to be dependent on dirty oil from 
the Gulf or dirty oil from Canada.

That will continue to be the case “until we can get our act together as a country and figure out that clean, renewable energy is in both our economic interests and the interests of our planet,” she said.

“It's a very hard balancing act,” she said. “But … energy security requires that I look at all of the factors that we have to consider while we try to expedite as much as we can America's move toward clean, renewable energy.”

 Anyone wanting to keep track of that expediting can see recent US decarbonization data here.


  1. Tar Sands . . . c'mon get with the program. You should be thanking Canada for cleaning up this massive oil spill that is polluting vast areas of northern Alberta and Saskatchewan. And despite the hysterical propaganda from USA based Tides organization -


    astroturfing a $37 million anti-oil sands campaign, the production of hydrocarbons from the massive Oils Sands deposits is getting cleaner and cleaner by the month.

    Besides, if you buy oil from the Arabs and Nigeria and Venezuela you are supporting despotic regimes that violate human rights on a massive scale.

    You wouldn't buy Blood Diamonds, why would you even think of buying Blood Oil?


  2. Ahem.....

    They're properly called the Oil Sands.

    "Tar Sands" tends to be used by people who don't like us.


  3. Roger: I have to agree with Robert. Technically, the sands are "bitumen sands". Colloquially, they are "oil sands".

    Tar is an entirely different substance, with different chemistry, different sources and different end uses. The only resemblance is that both are carbon based, dark and highly viscous.

    But so is Vegemite. And as nasty as that it is, it does not make it “tar”.

  4. There has been a half-hearted campaign here in Nebraska, run by the Sierra Club and some of the local LumpenLeft, to have the pipeline stopped or at least rerouted so it doesn't cross a tiny corner of the Nebraska Sandhills, whence it might contaminate the Ogallala aquifer. A local blog commenter noted that ancient gas-station storage tanks that dot the little towns in the Sandhills are a far bigger threat to the aquifer than the viscous bitumenous crude the pipeline will carry. But what have reason or logic got to do with environmentalism?

    I love the Sandhills and regularly bird there. But I suspect many of the Nebraskans protesting this pipeline live in Lincoln or Omaha and have never seen the Sandhills, which aren't really visible from I-80, and which can be very empty and monotonous unless you have some reason to be there.

  5. Many sources say these oil sands have as much oil as the global proven reserves of conventional oil.

    Add shale gas and... well, what will happen to oil price?

  6. Imported oil protects us from offshore drilling and hydrofracking, so isn't it green?

  7. The use of the pejorative "Tar Sands" is in the same low class as using the Holocaust evoking "Deniers" label for people who do not buy into the popular and alarmist and catastrophic global warming theories and political policies.

    The term is used by those who have weak technical and/or scientific arguments and need to fall back on simplistic emotional imagery . . . just like the fake, photoshop'd pictures of plaintive looking polar bears on little ice drifts used by the environmentalist fund raising advertising campaigns.

    Won't help your argument Roger . . won't help. Shows a built in bias and attempt to deceive. Although I don;'t believe you meant to do it . . . your track record certainly doesn't support such actions.

  8. I did not realize that "tar" was a pejorative for some folks. Duly noted and I'll be aware of this going forward, thanks for the feedback all!

  9. Gerard Harbison #4,

    "...than the viscous bitumenous crude the pipeline will carry."

    The recovery process for oil sands produces a lower viscosity product that is similar to normal crude either by hydrogenation or dilution with conventional crude oil. Pumping a highly viscous substance thousands of miles to refineries that were not designed to process high viscosity crude wouldn't make much sense.

    The other problem with oil sands is production rate. The deposits may be vast, but achieving a production rate of ~6 million barrels/day seems optimistic. That seems like a lot, but it's only 7% of total current world production and less than 30% of total current US and Canada petroleum consumption. If Canadian oil production has peaked, then oil sands may not be enough in the longer term to maintain sufficient supply.


  10. Those Democrats just love the environment, don't they ? You would never see them kow towing to big oil.

  11. Tar sands indeed tends to be pejorative, but it's very commonly used in a neutral sense and doesn't carry the connotations of "denier" - just substitutes one dark gunk for a slightly fouler one. As for "thanking Canada for cleaning up this massive oil spill that is polluting vast areas of northern Alberta and Saskatchewan", I say keep your thanks to yourself. But if you'd like to come over and clean up the tailings ponds left over from extraction, I'll be thanking you.

  12. The stuff at the La Brea Tar Pits is also bitumen. Do we need to rename them the "El Petroleo Oil Pits"?

    Bitumen has been referred to colloquially as tar almost ubiquitously for over a century. When Spanish explorers discovered the La Brea pits in the mid-18th century, they called the stuff "brea," meaning tar. The Athabasca deposits were named "tar sands" in the 19th century, so it's hardly as though this was an epithet devised by radical environmentalists. Rather, outrage about the traditional name "tar sands" sounds like absurd political correctness.

  13. These deposits have been described as tar sands without any pejorative intent for decades. See, for example, the elementary geology text "Earth" by Press and Siever (1974).

    The idea, therefore, that "tar sand" is wrong and only used by people against their use is a post hoc PR construct.

    Like any other energy source, use of tar sands has costs and benefits. How they balance depends to some extent on your values and not on science or economics alone.

  14. Tar sands may be an old term, but these days it is favored more by the critics. Oil sands is the result of largely successful re-branding. Just google "tar sands" and see what comes up - some industry/government re-direct, a couple of neutral links, and a bunch of environmental sites. Googling "oil sands" produces the opposite effect.