Saturday, November 17, 2018

Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel

This is what it looks like....

The situation at Canada’s Alberta Tar Sands Operations has gone from bad to worse as the super-low oil price is now costing the industry billions of dollars each month.  Unbelievably, the price for the Western Canadian Select heavy oil fell to a gut-wrenching $14.65 yesterday down from a high of $58 in May.  Tar sands oil is now selling at an amazing $40 discount to U.S. West Texas Oil which is trading at $56.

Many “energy experts” have said that a Manhattan tar sands project could prevent oil decline in the future. But that’s not likely. Here are a few reasons why:
  1. Reaching 5 Mb/d will get increasingly (energy) expensive, because there’s only enough natural gas to mine 29% of tar sands (and limited water as well). Using the energy of the tar sand bitumen itself would greatly reduce the amount that could be produced and dramatically increase the cost and energy to mine it.
  2. Since there isn’t enough natural gas, many hope that nuclear reactors will replace natural gas. That would take a lot of time. Kjell Aleklett estimates it would take at least 7 years before a candu nuclear reactor could be built, and the Canadian Parliament estimates it would take 20 nuclear reactors to replace natural gas as a fuel source.
  3. Mined oil sands have been estimated to have an energy returned on invested of EROI of 5.5–6 for mined tar sands (perhaps 10% of the 170 billion barrels), with in situ processing much lower at 3.5–4 (Brandt 2013). Right now, 90% of the reserves being developed are via higher-EROI mining, yet 80% of remaining oil sands reserves are in situ, so the remaining reserves will be much less profitable.
  4. Counting on tar sands to replace declining conventional oil, with an EROI as high as 30 will be hard to accomplish, especially if it turns out to be the case that an EROI of 7 to 14 is required to maintain civilization as we know it (Lambert et al. 2014; Murphy 2011; Mearns 2008; Weissbach et al. 2013)
I believe the biggest problem with the sustainability of tar sands if we ignore the nasty environmental issues, is the low EROI – Energy Returned On Invested.  As point (4) states, a minimum of 7-14 EROI is needed to maintain civilization.  However, I believe the realistic range of a minimum EROI to sustain our modern societies is likely 10-12 EROI.  So, shale oil at an EROI of 5/1 or less (probably much less) and tar sands at 4-6/1, these are not sustainable energy sources.

1 comment:

TSE said...

Hey! Hey!

My! My!

Rok 'N Roll will never die...