FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Just the Beginning of Canada’s Filthy Tar Sands

by MACDONALD STAINSBY

The breakneck pace of tar sands development in Canada is well known; it is the sheer size of the multiple mines, in-situ plants, upgraders, pipelines, rail lines, refineries and more across all of North America that earned the nickname “the Gigaproject.” Now, what if we took the most destructive aspects of tar sands mining, combined that with the worst parts of in-situ, and put them together into a project that was even worse than any tar sands development for the climate?

What if the technology in Canada’s tar sands was used to open up potential oil deposits that could more than double all the known oil reserves on the face of the earth? That Canada’s “gold rush” of bitumen extractors are now seeking other places in the world to dig or attempt to pump tar sands into mock oil is not news, though certainly under-reported. But it is Oil Shale– not fracked “tight oil” trapped by shale, but rocks infused with Kerogen– a building block for synthetic oil much like bitumen (though composed quite differently) that is truly the ultimate prize for corporations the world over.

Climate activists are in a bind; stopping a pipeline filled with tar sands bitumen from being constructed is important politically, to establish that such things can indeed, be stopped. However, the mines still operate 24/7 and continue to heat up the atmosphere and become more financially efficient doing so. Fighting the Gigaproject from expanding is not wrong, but insufficient.

But as Canada is to tar sands, Brazil and Estonia are to Kerogen/Oil Shale. For decades, both as a part of the USSR and now, Estonia has had both oil and electricity provided by extracting energy from Oil Shale. In fact, over 90 percent of both energy and pollution in Estonia comes from their oil shale mining industries. The state-owned company, Eesti Energia, has begun to carry out a rush on other locales.

After the invasion of Iraq and the disaster of Katrina we had almost every major energy company in the world rush to bid on at least some level of asset in Canada to be used for later or immediately. A mad dash towards Alberta took place and is still happening, though not as quickly. From BP to Shell and Exxon to Conoco-Philips, Statoil, Japanese, Korean and Chinese companies, even TOTAL of France and multiple start-up local Canadian or small American corporations.

The Oil Shale rush is taking place almost in the opposite manner. Almost every corner of the earth is now being staked, contracts are being signed and new mines are being proposed and in some cases, already constructed– but the main developers are only a few. Today in the world, only three countries are commercially producing oil from shale: Estonia (with Eesti-Energia), Brazil and China.

There is much to be said about the plans of Royal Dutch Shell for this “bottom of the barrel of the bottom of the barrel” development; RDS deserves an entire piece unto itself. For now, let us identify corporations from these 3 “pioneering” countries who are attempting the creation of a world where food production, normal weather patterns, healthy, predictable seasons and life supporting eco-systems are designed for a museum.

There are three main specific to kerogen oil-shale only types of extraction expanding around the globe. All are based on retorting– using heat after shale rock is crushed to ‘bleed’ kerogen out of the source rock. This often takes months, making it considerably more climate intensive than the worst tar sands in-situ operation– themselves already worse than mining. Estonia’s Eesti Energia has a procedure named “Enefit,” while Chinese developers have something they call the “Fushun process,” developed in oilshale mines that are in Manchuria, some 80km’s from the Korean border. Along with massive energy use, the Fushun process estimates some seven barrels of fresh water are contaminated by their extraction of kerogen.

Then there is Brazil, who have developed what they titled “Petrosix” technology in their commercial oil shale mines in the south of their country, relatively close to the border with Uruguay and Argentina. Since 1953 they have been mining oil shale, and since the 1990’s they have been doing so for profit. However, the global expansion of Petrosix technology also borrows from Alberta-based technology and access, through multi-country partnerships with TOTAL SA of France. TOTAL collaborates with Petrobras directly in two of the places on the planet furthest along in being opened up for shale mining into oil: the Kingdoms of Morocco and Jordan.

Eesti Energia of Estonia has also begun plans for work in both Jordan and Morocco, along with Serbia. TOTAL has also had a pilot, demonstration project underway in the single largest potential oil field on the planet.

Enefit– the subsidiary of EE and also the name of EE’s retorting process– has a large stake in the Green River Basin of the United States (specifically: Utah, Wyoming and Colorado). Petrosix technology has also been looked into as a possible retort for the GRF, and TOTAL is part of a larger venture with Utah-based company “Red Leaf” to begin mining shallower deposits of the vast shale rock. This is only the beginning for companies involved and the countries they are using as a laboratory to get the dirtiest– and largest–  single source of synthetic crude anywhere on earth.

Other companies are also invested in R&D throughout the GRF, but as deposits around the world from Brazil to Estonia to China, Jordan and Morocco are opened up, the contribution of Jordan, Morocco or elsewhere in refining technological means to unearth the minimum estimated 800 billion recoverable barrels in the United States cannot be overstated. The emissions are guaranteed to be worse, given energy needs to heat the crushed kerogen-rocks. The destruction of water has been the barrier to such disastrous development in the Green River Formation up until today. And the amount of oil we are talking about? If industry estimates are true, the recoverable barrel number is almost five times more than exists in Canada’s tar sands, even with all four Albertan, the Saskatchewan and the Melville Island bitumen deposits combined.

These companies– Eesti Energia/Enefit, TOTAL SA and Petrobras are the cutting edge of the Mad Max world of extraction the large energy corporations want to take the planet towards. There are others; Chinese, Korean and Japanese investments in such schemes in country after country also feed this. So too does the long term plans and reserve assets of Royal Dutch Shell, and new start up companies such as San Leon of Ireland, or Genie Energy of the US (and Israel).

Globally resistance is more connected, intertwined and interwoven than ever. It must remain and expand at that level, because if we thought that climate justice organizing was going up a sisyphean mountain, we need to recognize the size of the behemoth. In the size lies the transformative hope, however. If organizing to dismantle this can begin, it will have to take place at an international level, and discard nationalist sentiments entirely. And that has always been the only means by which we can even hope to address climate change, anyhow. We must now be humble, march slowly and most important: we must be good at learning on the fly. With each other– in every time zone and on every continent. We must invert the old slogan, “nothing to lose but a world to gain.” We have a world to lose, but for the bulk of humanity and other life on the planet, there is nothing to gain from an unchecked, fossil fuel descent into climate chaos brought about through these mock oil monstrosities.

One first step in addressing this reality is information: Multiple countries and different plans are now laid out in one place, at www.tarsandsworld.com– and here you will find information on both what is being planned, and recent developments in terms of resistance on a global level.

Macdonald Stainsby is an anti-tar sands and social justice activist, freelance writer and professional hitchhiker looking for a ride to the better world, currently based in Vancouver, Canada. He can be reached at mstainsby@resist.ca

Macdonald Stainsby is an anti-tar sands and social justice activist, freelance writer and professional hitchhiker looking for a ride to the better world, currently based in Vancouver, Canada. He can be reached at mstainsby@resist.ca

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones
La Realidad: the Realities of Anti-Mexicanism
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Susan Block
#GoBonobos in 2017: Happy Year of the Cock!
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
David Yearsley
Manchester-by-the-Sea and the Present Catastrophe
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail