LETTER: Bitumen upgrading a bad economic, environmental idea

Yvonne Zarowny (Alberta must refine bitumen before shipping it, Letters, Feb. 15) invites us to get involved in this debate. Having spent much of my career and all of this last week reviewing options for upgrading in Alberta, I’ll do just that, but briefly on the bitumen processing. The social justice issues raised by Yvonne need more space.

The balance between processed and unprocessed bitumen in an exporting country is based on economics and offshore refinery capabilities. Kinder Morgan’s shippers know there is a market for 800,000 barrels per day of diluted bitumen via the pipeline and the port of Vancouver, instead of using rail cars to other parts. While a market for some added synthetic crude could be developed, the economics are very sub-standard (four per cent return on a good day) and require government assistance to make them fly with investors. Which Canadian government is willing to say to its voters: we are shovelling more money to the “big, bad oil companies?”

Now let’s look at greenhouse gases for those who worry about possible catastrophic man-made climate change. Processing bitumen twice (upgrader and downstream refinery) has the unfortunate effect of markedly increasing life cycle GHG emissions through double processing. The Alberta government has set a cap of 100 mega-tonnes CO2 for oil sands production, and while there have been (and still are) great efforts to reduce CO2 footprint in the oil sands industry, to do as the writer suggests will take emissions well above the cap, and may require the Alberta producers to cut an enormous amount of bitumen production and likely cut production. Not a winner for Alberta or Canada.

These are all complex questions, but I applaud Ron Kyle (Canada runs on Alberta oil, not B.C. wine, Letters, Feb. 15) in his address to the economic issues. The spill issues are real, but already adequately addressed with world class tanker technology, shipping controls from the Burnaby terminal and clean up technology.

Len Flint

Qualicum Beach

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