By Andy Rowell
The inherent risks of transporting crude oil have once again been brutally and painfully exposed after a massive explosion in Quebec, Canada left part of an affected town looking like a war zone.
At least five people died when a crude oil train derailed and blew up on Saturday, causing an explosion that has been compared to an atomic bomb. An estimated 40-50 people are missing, many whom had been enjoying a late night drink in a local bar. An estimated 30 buildings have been completely incinerated.
The fire and explosion was so intense that the local police are warning that some bodies may never be recovered or identified. The explosion happened in the picturesque lakeside town of Lac-Megantic, which is close to the U.S. border with Maine. The train had been bringing shale oil from the Bakken Field in North Dakota to a refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick.
In the aftermath of the disaster the on-going debate as to whether it is safer to transport oil via pipeline or railroad has once again been raging. The disaster may well be used by the proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline to argue that pipelines are safer.
Both transport modes have problems. Edward Whittingham, the executive director of the Canadian research organization, the Pembina Institute, argues there are safety and environmental risks inherent in both pipelines and railroads. We only have to think back to Exxon’s recent Arkansas spill to know that pipelines in the U.S. are not that safe either.
But for the moment, even as Canada’s tar sands are delivered apace, there is no clear route for them to get to the international markets. That is why they continue to press the U.S. to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.
Despite this on-going uncertainty, Canada is looking to exploit another heavy form of oil too in Northern Alberta. Think of it as "Tar Sands Two"—except this time its called Dolofudge and has the consistency of peanut butter.
This sludgy bitumen like substance is not like the tar sands and found in the region’s sands, but it is located in the porous rocks of the region’s limestone and dolomite, hence the name Dolofudge. The Canadians are saying the region could contain some 500 billion barrels of Dolofudge—more than the combined recoverable reserves of Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.
Dolofudge is not even included in the traditional oil reserve amounts of Canada, because no one has managed to extract it on a commercial scale. But one pilot study is now up and running in the West Athabascan Grosmont, about 100 kilometres west of the tar sands center of Fort McMurray, Alberta.
How much Dolofudge is recoverable is anyone’s guess. What we do know is that with any new oil development there is a huge amount of hype which may not bear any resemblance to reality. One analyst has warned that developing the new fudge reserves is “fraught with blind alleys and unanticipated setbacks.”
The trouble is, that is what they used to say about tar sands and it never stopped the oil industry before.
Visit EcoWatch’s TAR SANDS page for more related news on this topic.
Recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize are calling for the rejection of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. A letter from 10 Nobel Peace Prize winners addressed to both President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry announced by the Nobel Women's Initiative was inspired by the Laureates’ concern for the rapidly expanding Canadian tar sands.
As wildfires burn out of control in Colorado adding to record-breaking weather across the nation, the Laureates said “as leaders who have spoken out strongly on these issues, we urge you, once again, to be on the right side of history and send a clear message that you are serious about moving beyond dirty oil.”
The letter sent today followed an earlier letter sent in 2011 also calling for a rejection of Keystone XL. When the great moral leaders of our time, including Archbishop Tutu, call for a rejection of tar sands in the face of catastrophic climate change, it is time for the U.S. to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, a linchpin enabling the tripling of expansion of this dirty oil.
Like millions of others, we were buoyed by words in the President’s second inaugural address: “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” Mr. President and Secretary Kerry, this is an opportunity to begin to fulfill that promise. While there is no one policy or action that will avoid dangerous climate change, saying "no" to the Keystone XL pipeline is a critical step in the right direction. Now is the time for unwavering leadership.—Nobel Laureates Letter, 2013
The climate impacts of a world that accommodates tar sands expansion are unimaginable. If industry and the Canadian and Albertan governments had their way we would be on track for six degrees centigrade of global warming—triple the two degree limit that the President has promised to avoid.
The International Energy Agency, among many other respected bodies, has found that in order to prevent catastrophic global warming of over two degrees centigrade we must leave two thirds of fossil fuels in the ground.—Nobel Laureates Letter, 2013
In addition to the climate pollution, the tar sands are doing irreversible damage to water, air, land, animals and communities in Northern Alberta and along their pipeline routes where the question of a spill is not if but when.
Recent tar sands oil spills in Kalamazo, MI, and Mayflower, AR, have served as a harsh reminder that shipping the world’s dirtiest oil will never likely be safe enough for human health and the environment. —Nobel Laureates Letter, 2013
President Obama and Senator Kerry have both been clear about the urgency and importance of dealing with climate change, and recognizing that as the world’s largest polluter, the U.S. is a critical player in ensuring a safe future for generations to come. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline debate has illustrated the two pathways we face as a country. One locks us into decades of dirty fossil fuels, taking us down a path of negatively affecting millions of lives and livelihoods. And on other pathway we build real energy security based on clean and renewable energy that will protect our economy, our people and future generations.
The Laureates acknowledged the President was under pressure to approve Keystone XL, especially by big oil interests.
We also recognize the pressure from forces in your own country. The Keystone XL pipeline will not benefit or improve the lives of Americans, but nevertheless we understand that the politics of action on climate are not easy. We believe you are the kind of leaders who can stand up to those interests when necessary, to do what is right for the world and for future generations. —Nobel Laureates Letter, 2013
The decision on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has emerged as an issue of international interest. It is about standing up to big oil and rejecting the expansion of some of the dirtiest oil on earth. President Obama and Secretary Kerry: It is time to say no to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline once and for all.
Visit EcoWatch’s KEYSTONE XL page for more related news on this topic.