OIL SANDS The Case for Caution Saskatchewan Environmental Society What are oil sands? A dense, sticky mixture of sand, water and tarry material found underground Bitumen Source: Scientific American, October 2009 A Grain of Oil Sand Bitumen Film Water Layer Sand Particle Source: Canadian Centre for Energy Information Canada has the second largest reserve of crude oil in the world. Source: Athabasca Oil Sands Corporation Biophysical Features of the Region www.chrs.ca/Rivers/Clearwater (Website of Canadian Heritage River Systems) Clearwater River Valley www.chrs.ca/Rivers/Clearwater (Website of Canadian Heritage River Systems) The Clearwater River Valley and the nearby oil sands area are a source of valuable archaeological sites www.chrs.ca/Rivers/Clearwater (Website of Canadian Heritage River Systems) Oil Sands Projects Mining In-Situ Mining Process Source: Shell Canada Digging and transportation of oil sand ore Oil sands is a source of contamination for many birds, as well as a primary cause of fragmentation of their breeding habitat. Source: The Waters That Bind Us (Pembina Institute) Suncor’s Operation At Fort McMurray Photo Credit: David Dodge, Pembina Institute The Governments of Alberta and Canada permit waste disposal in tailings ponds that have become like lakes. 1.8 billion liters of tailings is produced each day. Photo Credit: Pembina Institute Reference: The Tar Sands Leaking Legacy by Matt Price (2008) Refer to Page 8. Environmental Defense and Pembina Institute estimate that 11 million liters of contaminated water per day leak from tailings ponds into the larger environment. Photo Credit: Oil Sands Myths: Clearing The Air (Pembina Institute, 2009) Reference: The Tar Sands Leaking Legacy by Matt Price (2008) Refer to page 2. Suncor’s Tar Island Dyke separates an oil sands tailings pond from the Athabasca River. We do not expect tailings ponds to be part of oil sands in Saskatchewan, but this photo speaks to how the Government of Canada has regulated the industry. Tailing pond Athabasca River Tar Sands from Space Tailing Ponds Athabasca river Source: Google Maps In-Situ process – Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage Source: The Pembina Institute Heavy use of water – where does it come from In-Situ production Source: Alberta Oil Magazine The Central Facility of the Opti-Nexen In Situ SAGD Project Source: Pembina Institute and David Dodge Impacts on the Environment The Central Facility of the Opti-Nexen In Situ SAGD Project Source: Pembina Institute and David Dodge SAGD Oil Sands And Forest Fragmentation: 80% Of Lands Are Within 250 Metres Of Industrial Infrastructure Photo Credit: Pembina Institute/David Dodge Northeast Alberta Species In Decline • • • • • • • • • • • Lynx Caribou Marten Fisher Wolverine Boreal Chickadee Rose-Breasted Grosbeak Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Red-Breasted Nuthatch Brown Creeper Various Warblers Source: Richard Schneider and Simon Dyer. Death by a Thousand Cuts (2006). Refer to page 13. Photo Credit: Google Images Woodland boreal caribou in the oil sands areas of northern Alberta are in decline Source: Pembina Institute and Wayne Lynch Pipeline Gathering System For Bitumen Extraction Source: Pembina Institute & Petro Canada Species Decline: Lynx numbers drop significantly in regions of the boreal forest subjected to industrial development. Photo Credit: Pembina Institute and David Dodge An aerial acrobat and a member of the goatsucker family, Chordeiles minor (common night hawk) is classified as threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. It inhabits the proposed oil sands area in northwest Saskatchewan. Source: Nature Canada Web Site; Photo by Dick Canni The Lesser Scaup breeds in northwest Saskatchewan and will be vulnerable to oil sands. The Scaup has faced a 70% decline in population in North America over the past 50 years. Photo Credit: Google Images Road construction, construction of water crossings and pipeline construction can cause soil erosion and increase the sediments entering surface water. Scope of Water Impacts • Steam injection can lower aquifer levels in the vicinity of the source well, in turn creating a reduction in the water levels of nearby lakes, ponds and wetlands. • Aquifer water quality can be damaged by well blow outs. • Thermal plumes created during bitumen extraction can mobilize arsenic. • Bitumen under pressure may leak into permeable aquifers. • Sludge and solid wastes disposed of in landfills could leak over the long term. Air Pollution Airborne pollutants from oil sands plants include volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, nitrous oxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide. Opti-Nexen Upgrader, Alberta Photo Credit: Pembina Institute: David Dodge Greenhouse gas emissions from the oil sands are at least triple those from conventional oil. For many in situ plants oil sands plants, greenhouse gas emissions can be even higher. Photo Credit: David Dodge, Pembina Institute Comparison of GHG emissions resulting from production of oil Acid precipitation can take place hundreds of miles away from the emission source Slide Credit: www.jamesglass.org Impact of acid rain on lakes • Bacteria, algae, insects, plants, clams, snails, crayfish, frogs negatively affected • Fish can starve because of food depletion • Fish and their eggs poisoned • Different species affected at different levels of acidity Emission Acid deposition SO2 H2O2 PANs NOX O3 Others Direct damage to leaves and bark Reduced photosynthesis and growth Increased Susceptibility to drought, extreme cold, insects, mosses, and disease organisms Soil acidification Leaching of soil nutrients Acid Tree death Release of toxic metal ions Root damage Reduced nutrient and water uptake Impact of Acidic Deposition on Ecosystems Summary of Environmental Impacts From Oil Sands • Forest fragmentation and loss of boreal forest habitat / many species in decline • Loss of lands that deserve protection or have high alternative economic values • Risk of aquifer contamination and decline in surface water quality • Sulphur and nitrous oxide emissions result in acid rain and damage to northern lakes. • Unusually high greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional oil production The question: • Is it worth it? • Would it make more sense to concentrate on developing cleaner sources of energy?