Dirtiest residue from dirtiest oil on earth

Alberta lands may be temporarily disturbed by tar sands activity but a site of extraction undergoes active reclamation and, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, gains new life. At least, that’s what the oil industry and the governments of Canada and Alberta want us to believe.

They prefer we associate tar sands with pastoral scenes like the one above from Suncor’s research wetlands. They don’t want us to think about the “long overlooked byproduct of Canada’s oil sands boom.

A Black Mound of Canadian Oil Waste Is Rising Over Detroit, Ian Austen, New York Times, May 2013:

“Detroit’s ever-growing black mountain is the unloved, unwanted and long overlooked byproduct of Canada’s oil sands boom.

“And no one knows quite what to do about it, except Koch Carbon, which owns it.

“…The company sells the high-sulfur, high-carbon waste, usually overseas, where it is burned as fuel.

“An initial refining process known as coking, which releases the oil from the tarlike bitumen in the oil sands, also leaves the petroleum coke, of which Canada has 79.8 million tons stockpiled. Some is dumped in open-pit oil sands mines and tailing ponds in Alberta. Much is just piled up there.”

Categories: Environment, oil and gas

5 replies »

  1. And that's from 28,000 bbls/day! Can you imagine the amount if they processed the whole 1,000,000 bbls/day that we propose shipping?
    Maybe keeping it (the oil) in Canada is not such a good idea. Let someone else pollute the world on our behalf.
    John's Aghast.


  2. Jeez, I never realized bitumen coking produces that much slag. The locally named “coal hills” in Union Bay, right at the mouth of Hart (Washer) Creek, have been the subject of controversy around here. The Kensington development has gotten its permit to proceed with an ambitious development which includes housing, a golf course, a hotel and convention centre and a marina, the last two involving the “coal hills”. Currently nothing grows on this toxic pile of coking slag left behind from giant ovens that coked Cumberland coal for shipping in the early 1900s. The thinking had been to let it sit there leaching cadmium, arsenic and other elements into Baynes Sound rather than disturb it, which would increase the rate of leaching. As I understand it, Kensington will be permitted to level the pile and cap it with asphalt and buildings, the result supposedly being better than the status quo and safer than removing it. Sure a lot cheaper, I'll bet, too.

    But bitumen coking slag? The shear volume of it makes me shudder.


  3. I was just reading a July 2013 Report today on the viability of a California Refinery:

    The U.S. Geological Survey (“USGS”), for example, reported that “natural bitumen,” the source of all Canadian tar sands-derived oils, contains 102 times more copper, 21 times more vanadium, 11 times more sulfur, six times more nitrogen, 11 times more nickel, and 5 times more lead than conventional heavy crude oil, such as those currently refined from Ecuador, Columbia, and Brazil.

    The environmental damage caused by these pollutants includes acid rain; bioaccumulation of toxic chemicals up the food chain; the formation of ground-level ozone and smog; visibility impairment in Class I areas, such as National Parks; odor impacts that affect residents near the Refinery; accidental releases due to corrosion of refinery equipment; and depletion of soil nutrients.

    Additionally, many of these chemicals pose a direct health hazard from air emissions. These metals, for example, mostly end up in the coke.


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