Saturday, January 21, 2012

Oil and water don't mix

wired.com
Water is thought as being a renewable natural resource, after all, doesn't the rain refill our usage? In the best of times that seems to be true, but in the worst of times - modern society seeking energy - water is quickly becoming non-renewable. Even assuming that the quantity is sufficient - its quality or usability is at risk.

Some of the fear about the Keystone oil pipelines in Nebraska and other states in the high plains is based upon contamination of a major, if not the major, aquifer in the US. Also that pipeline exposed the ever growing threat that the water supply is being used faster than it can be replenished.

And there is an ever increasing threat to the quantity and quality of the water supply that comes from the desire to increase domestic oil supply. Oil companies like BP have used the 'oil independence' to their advantage, i.e., increased domestic oil production serves BP more than it serves the US.


Water has become the center of domestic oil production and alleged oil independence because of its use in the domestic extraction of oil from tar sands and shale. E.g., BP claims that the US would be self-sufficient by 2030 by production of shale oil and gas.

Of course that requires one to ignore the detriments, one being the rapid use of water - a resource quickly becoming non-renewable because the consumption rate is greater than the replenishing rate; another being the danger to the environment and mother earth.

This domestic oil production from shale and tar sands fields has merit. Oil and Gas Journal 2004 (yes 2004) noted that achieving domestic oil independence was unrealistic goal - but it notes too that the US could be effectively independent of Persian Gulf oil. This would require large scale oil production from shale oil and continued growth in tar sands oil production.

According to the  Oil and Gas Journal 2004  the production from shale oil far would exceed the Alberta tar sands oil production; that is what is being transported from Canada via the first phase of the Keystone pipeline. There is a difference in the process but there is a similarity in that oil production from either shale or tar sands uses, arguably, excessive amounts of water usage and water contamination.

While both the extraction of shale oil and tar sands oil requires several more barrels of water than barrels or oil produced, there are other substantial issues: "Both mining and processing of oil shale [and tar sans] involve a variety of environmental impacts, such as global warming and greenhouse gas emissions, disturbance of mined land; impacts on wildlife and air and water quality." See Oil Shale/Tar Sands Guide and see About the Oil Shale and Tar Sands Leasing Programmatic EIS.

Arguably, it is a reasonable assumption, increased domestic oil production from non-renewable shale and tar sands will convert a renewable natural resource water into a non-renewable resource. Peak water is an accompanying fear to peak oil.

The increased water usage and contamination comes from a process known as fracking which apparently has other detriments. "Fracking (aka, hydraulic fracturing or industrial gas drilling) is a dangerous way of getting oil and gas and a shortsighted energy strategy." [Fracking Gone Wrong: Finding a Better Way].

More on fracking later, but it has to be obvious that it isn't just CO2 that we need to be worried about. We need so desperately leadership in this country that sees the big picture without the political eyeglasses.


Resources:

The U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management (BLM):
About the Oil Shale and Tar Sands Leasing Programmatic EIS
Oil Shale/Tar Sands Guide
About Oil Shale
Tar Sands Basics

More:
Shale oil and gas 'will make US self-sufficient'
Alberta Energy: Facts and Statistics
Oil and Gas Journal 2004
Oil in Shale Sets Off a Boom in Texas - NYTimes.com
Peak Water: Aquifers and Rivers Are Running Dry. How Three Regions Are Coping :
peakwater.org

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