Sunday, August 07, 2005

delectable oil sand morsels

What does it tell us that everyone in the world has a stiffie for the Canadian oil sands?

French firm snags oil sands project
"Total can go anywhere they want -- Russia, Venezuela, offshore West Africa -- and they've chosen to go after the oil sands of Canada," said Raymond James analyst John Mawdsley. "There's a good reason for that: political stability, huge resource base, known technology. It's something, frankly, that no other country in the world has to offer."
"It speaks to a huge vote of confidence in the long-term potential of the oil sands as a sustainable, dependable source of oil to global markets," said Ari Levy, a vice-president at TD Asset Management Inc.

The plot thickens in energy sector
Another subplot emerged this past week when China's CNOOC Ltd. scrapped an $18.5 billion takeover bid for U.S.-based Unocal Corp. over political opposition in Washington.
"You'll see them looking elsewhere, and Canada is the perfect place for them to be, given that the oil sands needs a lot of capital and has a long reserve life," Arif said. "That's exactly what the Chinese are looking for."

Last time I checked, natural gas had peaked in North America.

Are we getting a little desperate?

Last time I checked, it takes tremendous natural gas resources to produce tar sands oil.

Last time I checked, thirty odd natural gas terminals were on the drawing board for North America, and none had yet been built or even attained permits.

Fear and loathing, baby, fear and loathing. Maybe those ballooning stock prices mean all is well.


At 3:17 AM, August 08, 2005, Blogger Big Gav said...

You'll probably end up shipping all our nice clean LNG over there so you can dig up all that dirty sand and turn it into bitumen.

Unless that scheme to build a nuclear plant to generate steam to clean the sands with goes ahead of course.

I once read a story about a North American Indian legend from that region that said the world would end after the land was ripped up. Maybe they had it right...

At 6:36 AM, August 08, 2005, Blogger Chris said...

You have a nice way with words, MG. Helps the mind reel that much more freely.

Gav, you might want to supplement that legend with Robinson Jeffers' epic poem, "The Inhumanist," in his publicly reviled post-WWII book, "The Double Axe." In it, he takes the long view of human history, and its inevitable collapse, as both a terrible nightmare as well as a beautiful work of art. Reading it is like drinking a hot triple malt that, strangely, only leaves you that much more sober.

At 12:00 PM, August 08, 2005, Blogger Phila said...

They're getting all het up over it in Utah, too. The news stations out there seem to do a story a month on their own oil sand "reserves"...

At 6:14 PM, August 08, 2005, Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

Nit:  It doesn't take natural gas per se to convert bitumen into light hydrocarbons, it takes hydrogen.  You can make hydrogen by steam-reforming methane, but you can also make it by gasifying some of the bitumen.  The gasification process is more expensive and requires more water, which is why it's not being used yet; on the other hand, I have seen a news item regarding development of that exact technology.

At 11:29 PM, August 08, 2005, Blogger Big Gav said...

E-P: Don't you need to heat the stuff as well as mixing in hydrogen ? I think that's the main reason natural gas is being used currently (and that's the part they would possibly replace with nuclear power).

Chris: thanks for the tip - I'll check it out.

At 5:06 AM, August 09, 2005, Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

Bitumen can be considered as a mixture of compounds lying between heavy oil and coal in molecular weight and hydrogen content.  If you need process heat, you can burn bitumen just as easily as you can burn coal or oil; there is also a great deal of byproduct heat coming from the gasification process.

At 10:05 AM, August 09, 2005, Blogger monkeygrinder said...

E-P, Gav, I didn't put much emphasis on the fact that there are alternatives to NG in producing tar sands - certainly the energy componant can be made up by actual oil, so the fields can bootstrap themselves.

However, NG is easy. The infrastructure is in place. Switching to other modes of production will raise complexity and (at least for a time) energy costs in an era of energy famine.

Also, in general, I think oil sands reserves are overstated (as has been pointed out by ASPO and others) because the deeper and farther away from the water sludge ponds you dig, the more energy it takes to haul the sand around. Eventually, standing up to your ankles in moily sand, the jig is up.

At 11:38 AM, August 09, 2005, Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

NG requires a pipeline; bitumen is available on-site.  In addition, NG is more expensive per BTU than oil (and ergo more so than raw bitumen).

I expect that the ultimate system is going to wind up building the mines with diesel power, and bootstrapping the refinery startup with the same stuff since it's already on hand.

Bunker fuel oil is essentially wax, but it fuels big marine diesels.  Bitumen isn't all that much heavier, and I wonder if it couldn't also be burned in diesels with heated fuel systems.  The idea of a tar-sands mine which "eats its own dog food" is interesting, and would probably increase the EROEI.

At 6:46 PM, August 09, 2005, Anonymous Jack said...

Bitumen isn't all that much heavier, and I wonder if it couldn't also be burned in diesels with heated fuel systems. The idea of a tar-sands mine which "eats its own dog food" is interesting, and would probably increase the EROEI.

I do not understand why some people insist on changing the engineering of a system just so they can keep burning Carbon.

Electric powered mining equipment already exists. Wind turbines already exist. And coal-based (or even trash burning) steam to electrical power already exists.

Why run about 'redesigning a diesel engine' when one can combine the above electrical items into a working system? Unless one likes adding costs and creating an untried system.


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