Energy: Why we need it? Where do we get it?

April 5, 2016

060801_trafficjams_hmed_1phmediumReading all the articles against fossil fuels and for renewable energy sources has been both fascinating and frustrating. As a retiree who worked in the petroleum sector both for industry and government regulators for over 35 years I have my opinions. Note that when I refer to “energy” I’m referring to all sources of energy not just oil and gas and coal (fossil fuels).

First I urge all people and organizations involved and interested in energy and its impact on the environment and the human race to get educated. Obtain your information from a variety of sources not just the media. Use government, industry and scientific sources to read up on the subject. Next look at where you and your family use energy and products derived from petroleum in your daily life. Ask intelligent questions and make sure you get answers. The entire realm is getting far too emotional and needs more realism injected.

Facts to remember,

  • Society requires energy to maintain our lifestyle.
  • Energy in all forms is needed to ensure the health, welfare and survival of the human species.
  • Energy is needed by humans to feed us, heat us, maintain health and allow us to transport goods, services and people from place to place.

The key question is how to obtain this energy in a way that is economical and yet environmentally friendly. Energy sources must also be sustainable to ensure society continues to progress.

Renewable sources of energy are important, but it will take time to develop them so they are reliable and cost efficient. Crude oil and natural gas will continue to be extremely important for a long time to come, however, much can be done and is being done to produce and utilize these in a more efficient and environmentally sustainable manner. Reducing the carbon footprint is good business for petroleum producers.

Revenues obtained from fossil fuel production will enable us to investigate and perfect the use of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal. It will not be cheap at least initially to convert and move toward more dependence on other sources of energy. On the plus side this will be exciting and many economic opportunities will be available over the coming years related to the more intensive use of renewables.

One point that seems to escape activists is that government and industry are buying into the need to become more efficient and reduce that carbon footprint, but the other side of the coin involves the consumers of the energy. Individuals, industrial operations and governments who use the energy have to do their part to reduce energy use, and most of all to use energy more efficiently. Both sides must work together. Energy producers are in the business of supplying energy because there is a demand and a need for it.

Where we as a society need and use energy must be clearly identified and prioritized. Once this is done it will ensure we don’t leave ourselves short of what we need. It will allow us to concentrate our efforts to reduce the carbon footprint where it is most effective, obviously in those areas where it is consumed in the greatest amounts at the present time.

Myths that need to be dispelled,

  • Energy producers don’t care about the environment. False. Real people work for these companies and let me assure you they do care deeply. All human operations and activities impact safety and the environment in some way. The goal is to mitigate and minimize these impacts.
  • Energy producers don’t care about spills and other threats to the environment from their operations. False. They do care for several reasons, it is very expensive to have a spill and it is terrible to the operators reputation. Reputation is a huge financial asset to a good operator. Environmental protection and the safety of the companies employees, contractors and the general public is priority one.
  • Regulatory approvals for energy development such as pipelines are just rubber stamped by governments. False. In fact the opposite is true. Laws and regulations governing energy development in Canada are the toughest in the world. I know because I worked for both sides over my career. I was with the Regulator and educated and enforced these rules and regulations. I also worked for energy operators in obtaining these approvals and in ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements for all our operations. Regulatory, safety and environmental compliance is the number one priority for both energy operators and the regulators in this country.

So the next time your commute to work, drive your vehicle, buy groceries, purchase goods for you home or your leisure activities think about the energy required to produce those goods and services, and to transport them to the store near you.

Oil Sands: Damned If We Do, Damned If We Don’t

August 3, 2008

Author’s Disclaimer: I am employed by a petroluem company involved in developing the oil sands. This company shall remain nameless.

Oil sands open-pit mining

Northeastern Alberta, Canada contains some of the largest crude oil reserves in the world. Oil sands are a mix of naturally occurring bitument, a thick, sticky oil, and abrasive sand. The challenge is to recover the oil in an economic manner, but still protect the environment. The amount of oil is too large not to be developed.

Alberta has the largest known deposit of oil sands in the world. They cover a 140,800 square kilometre area. Currently 1.1 million barrels of oil are extracted each day. By 2015 it is expected that rate will increase to 2.7 million barrels per day.

The Province of Alberta benefits greatly from this resource. In 2004 the government collected $718 million (CDN) in royalty payments from oil sands production. The entire resource is owned by the province. Freehold mineral owners in the remote northeaster area of the province are essentially non-existent.

The oil sands reserves considered recoverable using today’s technology are designated at 175 million barrels. This is second only to those of Saudi Arabia (260 billion). That’s less than the 1.7 to 2.5 trillion barrels actually in the oil sands, if only the right technologies can be used.

Crude oil provides 36% of the primary energy the world uses for industry, transportation, heat, light, and air conditioning, and petrochemical products. Many of the petrochemical products are medical supplies. Gasoline and jet fuel are the most common transportation related products.

Oil sands are produced today using,

Surface Mining: near surface oil sands are developed using enormous truck-and-shovel mining systems. Hot water is used ot separate the bitumen (oil) from sand and clay.

In-Situ Mining: bitumen is obtained from deeply buried formations by injecting steam or other chemicals underground. This makes the thick bitumen thin and separates it from the sand. It is then pumped to the surface.

Upgrading: before the heavy oil (bitumen) is sent to refineries it has to be “upgraded” first into light oil. The conventional refineries can then process it into fuels, lubricants and other products.

Regulatory and environmental approvals required for these developments are stringent and numerous. Are there people opposed to developing these resources? Sure there are, but until demand for fossil fuels goes away how can we not use the oil.

Right now most of the recovered oil is sent to refineries in Canada and the United States. China and the Asian market are also clammering for more and are investing heavily in the area.

Further Reading:
Oil Sands Discovery Centre

Canada’s Oil Sands

%d bloggers like this: