refineries

Thu, 2013-10-03 09:31Derek Leahy
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Oil for Export: Tar Sands Bitumen Cannot be Refined in Eastern Canada

Tar sands bitumen

The misconception with 'west-to-east' pipeline proposals like Enbridge’s Line 9 or TransCanada’s Energy East is shipping western Canadian oil to eastern Canada means ‘Canadian oil for Canadian refineries.’ This assumption overlooks the fact eastern Canadian refineries cannot refine a certain type of Canadian oil - tar sands bitumen.

Bitumen is the heavy unconventional oil found in the Alberta tar sands (also called oil sands). Only a specialized refinery can process bitumen and turn it into refined products such as fuels. Few refineries in Canada can do it. None of the refineries in eastern Canada can refine large quantities of bitumen.

TransCanada and Enbridge claim their west-to-east pipelines will transport mainly conventional oil and only small amounts of bitumen. This is unlikely to be true in the long term as conventional sources of oil dry up in Canada and bitumen production continues to increase.

If no eastern Canadian refinery makes the massive investment to outfit their operation to refine bitumen, Line 9 and Energy East are destined to ensure more bitumen will flow to markets overseas, not Canadian refineries.

Fri, 2013-05-24 05:00Caroline Selle
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Is Houston a Tar Sands “Sacrifice Zone”?

This is a guest post by Caroline Selle

Much of the debate around the Keystone XL pipeline has focused on the dangers of extracting and transporting the tar sands. Left out, however, are those in the United States who are
guaranteed to feel the impacts of increased tar sands usage. Spill or no spill, anyone living near a tar sands refinery will bear the burden of the refining process.

Tar sands oil is produced from a mixture of sand, clay, water, and the sticky, peanut-butter like form of petroleum known as bitumen. Unlike conventional crude, it’s essentially solid at room temperature, has a higher heavy metal content, and has to be diluted for transport. The diluents are trade secrets, and the content mixture - which often contains benzene, a human carcinogen - isn’t something companies are required to report.

DeSmogBlog has covered the impacts of tar sands extraction on indigenous communities, and the dangers of moving tar sands through a network of pipelines is aptly covered here. And while major nonprofits have completed studies on the dangers of transporting tar sands, there is significantly less information available on how refining tar sands differs from processing conventional crude.

Additional heavy metals and benzene might sound like a recipe for disaster anywhere, but the location of several major tar sands refineries is already overburdened with pollutants. In Harris County, Texas – home to the city of Houston – people are already surrounded by refineries and factories spewing toxic pollution into the air. And as the southern leg of the Keystone XL project slowly fills in its missing pieces, the spectre of toxic bitumen looms.

Tue, 2013-01-22 12:52Carol Linnitt
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Oil Change International: The Coal Hiding in the Tar Sands

Thanks to Alberta's tar sands, coal-powered energy production just got cheaper, and dirtier.

That is largely due to an often overlooked byproduct of bitumen upgrading: petroleum coke. The byproduct, commonly referred to as petcoke, is derived from the excess heavy hydrocarbons necessarily processed out of bitumen in the production of lighter liquid fuels like gasoline and diesel. The leftover condensed byproduct, petcoke, bears a striking resemblance to coal, and is being integrated into coal power plants across the US and internationally, contributing a tremendous amount of carbon emissions to the tar sands price tag that has been previously unaccounted for.

That is, until the research group Oil Change International released a research report that calculates the use of petcoke in American energy generation increases the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline's emissions by a staggering 13 percent. 

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