ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF PETROLEUM EXPLOITATION IN CANADA 3
ADVANTAGES AND ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF PETROLEUM EXPLOITATION INCANADA
Petroleum is a major industry in Canada and it immensely contributesto the development of the country. Canada is the fifth largestpetroleum provider in the world ad its oil reserves are the thirdlargest in the world. The country produces 438,000 cubic meters ofoil every day. The products include 45% of conventional crude oil,49.5% of bitumen from the oil sands and 5.5% of natural gas.1Most of the oil mined in Canada is exported to the United States. Theoil deposits in the Northern part of Canada have become a focus dueto their contribution to the country’s development and DP. Thebitumen and synthetic crude oil production from the oil and in thepast ten years has been classified on an international scale.2 Despite the benefits that accrue to the petroleum production inCanada, it has become a topic of controversy due to the publicizedenvironment and health benefits. The issue has attracted both thelocal and international advocacy groups and media. Variousenvironmental activists have highlighted the concerns on both thehealth and environmental implication of petroleum production, andthey have advocated for consumer boycotts. Therefore, to understandthe current situation and the future of oil exploration in Canada, itwould be imperative to understand the current benefits andenvironment implications.
Advantages of Petroleum Exploration in Canada
First, Canada has stood out among the petroleum exporting countrieswith a daily production of 438,000 cubic meters.3Research also shows that the country has the third largest oilreserves in the world. These combined, they make the country thebiggest exporter of oil to the United States followed by SaudiArabia. The exportation has been very instrumental in strengtheningthe economic ties between the two countries. Also, the exportationearns Canada foreign exchange to facilitate internal development andfun oil and research and exploration.
Secondly, petroleum exploration as triggered economic growth in thecountry. Canada reaps from exporting oil into United States and othercountries. Also, the consistent prices of petroleum products in thecountry attract investors who have confidence in the regular andconsistent supply of their raw material. Thousands of people alsowork in the oil wells. In 2012, about 121,000 people were working inthe various sites of exploration.4The number of employees is projected to hit the 500,000 in 25 yearstime if the plans to expand the exploration becomes ideal. In 2012,the proceeds from oil exploration and exploration accounted for 22%of the GDP and royalties amounting to $3.56.5
Petroleum exploration in the country has also triggered investmentand technological innovation. For example in the oil sands wherebitumen is extracted, the capital investment has had a positivetrend. In 996, the investment spending was $1 billion and the amountincreased to $4.2 billion 2000. In 2008, investors had invested $16billion in the oil sands. The increased investment is attributable tothe demand for oil and the need to employ new methods of exploration. In the various wells, the government and other investors havecommitted more than $207 billion in acquiring new technology andexpertise. For every dollar invested in the oil exploration, theexpected returns can extend up to eight-fold. However, despite themassive investment to make the exploration methods efficient, theinstallations do not have an intensive adoption of the new methods.The traditional methods used in export exploration have resulted in alot of emissions of greenhouse gases.
Environmental Impacts of Petroleum Exploration in Canada
The process of oil mining in the wetlands and the sands is anintegrative process that brings together set of excavation method.All the wetlands must be drained, and all the rivers in the areadiverted to avoid interfering with the process. The plantation on theground is then cleared by bulldozers to expose the sandy deposits.The miners then use steam shovels to remove the tar-soaked sand andferried t the extraction plant by large dump trucks that emitenormous volumes of gases into the atmosphere. I the plant, water andnatural gases are exploited to process the sand at high temperatures.The result is a separation of sand from the bitumen. For the bitumento flow, it undergoes re-processing upgrading. In the field, only 20%of the sand is available for scooping.6The rest extend to more than 100 meters into the ground, and theexperts have to heat it and ump it into the service. At the refinery,the bitumen is processed into fine products including jet fuel,gasoline among others.
As mentioned, the oil mining companies have invested in acquiring newand efficient machinery. However, the level of replacement of the oldmachinery with the new ones is still low. The conventional machinesrelease a lot of gases into the environment. Extracting bitumen fromthe oil sands requires energy-intensive methods that result in thesubstantial emission of greenhouse gases into the environmentincluding carbon dioxide. The oil sands industry is the secondlargest emitter of carbon dioxide I the Albert area. Reducing theemission is a major goal of the Alberta administration and thegovernment of Canada.
In the oil sands, various activities contribute to the emission ofgreenhouse gases. They include the combustion of stationary fuelflaring, the industrial processes, transportation o material on thesite and venting.7 Also, the extortion process involves the use of a steam generator inwhich the combustion of natural gases takes place. An important pointto note on emissions is that the government of Canada does notdictate any specific method of calculating the gasses emitted by thecompanies.8However, it recommends the method that complies with the UnitedNations Framework connection on climate change. The frameworkrecommends the focusing on the specific plant sections that producemost of the gases. There is also, a very irregular reporting by thecompanies that result in uncertainty on the amount of gases emitted.The available records indicate that there was a short increase in thegases produced by the industry between 2004 and 2008. In 2008, theindustry petroleum industry produced 37 million tons of carbondioxide which are about 2% of the annual global emission.9
With the current trend of emission and without the correctlegislation, the emission will hit 127 million tons by 2020. Theresult would be an accelerated temperature rise in the northernareas. Currently, the northern part of the country inside the ArcticCircle has suffered the effects of temperature changes. The largewater bodies characterized by ice may continue melting, and thiscould cause the sea to surge.10
Effects on the Air Quality
Air quality is a primary concern when discussing the effects ofpetroleum exploration in Canada. The process of exploration emitspollutants that contribute to the degradation of the ambient airquality. Over the past 50 years, extensive research on the effects ofoil mining in Canada with a specific interest on airs quality. One ofthe common pollutants emitted in the process is sulphur dioxide. It astrong smelling colorless gas that emanates from the combustion ofmaterials containing sulphur. Fossil fuels contain sulphur, and theircombustion is the greatest contributor to the presence of the gas inthe environment. From the year 2001 to 2008 the environmentsurrounding the oil sands recorded and an average sulphur dioxide of2.1. To 3.2 milligrams per cubic meter.11The air quality in the oil has been affected greatly, and it is noteven close to the national air quality of 30 milligrams per cubicmeter of sulphur dioxide. It is also observed that the air qualitygets better as one move away from the oil sands.
Nitrogen oxide is another major as produced in the oil fields. It isthe most common pollutant produced during high-temperature combustionof fuels. The emissions of the plants in the oil producing areascontain nitrogen oxide. Nitrogen oxide released from high combustionresults to the formation of nitric acid. The level of nitrogen oxidein Alberta that stands at 47.2millirams per cubic meter is way belowthe national air quality of 60 milligrams per cubic meter. Albertahas been experiencing rains with a high level of nitric acid.12If there is no legislation to curb the emission, the instances ofacidic rain are likely to increase.
There have been several public hearings to express the deterioratingair quality as a result of petroleum explorations. The residents ofFort McKay have expressed concerns due to the increased odors in thevicinity and the poor quality of the soil due to acidic rains. Thegovernment has, therefore, proposed the application of The BestAvailable Technology Economically Achievable (BETA).13The government is working together with the Alberta Research Councilto help in enforcing the technology on the companies.
Effects on Water Quantity and Quality
All activities involving surface mining, in situ extraction andupgrading of bitumen are dependent on water. During the extraction ofbitumen, one cubic meter of its upgrading into synthetic crude oilrequires 2.5 cubic meters of water. Oil mining in Canada, therefore,significantly affects the quantity and quality of water. Using waterin the oil fields impacts the aquatic environment near the sites dueto the withdrawal of ground water and interference with the aquaticenvironment.14During oil mining, the quantity and quality of surface andgroundwater are affected.
In surface mining, the thick material and soil deposited less than 75meters is removed. In Canada the bitumen deposits mined at thissurface make about 3% of the total extraction. During the mining, theexperts do way with the overlying material. The resulting excavationis dewatered to facilitate mining15.The water whose quality is not naturally affected by the soilcompositions is contaminated through extraction and direction intothe receiving streams. Also, the extractors store the water forreusing during bitumen extraction. As a result, of the extraction,the levels of ground water are lowered in the area around theexcavation site. A good example is the pumping of ground water fromthe Basal Aquifer located at the Muskeg River Mine has resulted in adecrease amounting to 40 meters at the site and in the nearby wells.16The reduced level of ground water reduces water inflow into thebodies that are always in the hydraulic contact with the round water.There is also a consequential recharge rate of the neighboring wateraquifers.17
The removal of the surface material interferes with the permeablematerial, and the ground water loses protection. The petroleumexploration al affects the ground and water surface exchange rates.The lake and the b wetlands in Fort McMurray region have beenaffected by the operations in the oil sands. The watersheds have lowprecipitation and evaporation rates and observed dry soils.
The extraction of oil also affects the quality of water. Duringsurface mining, the residual material that consists of sand, silt andclay particles forms I the tailing ponds. The water containscontaminants that can reach into the surface and groundwater. Thewater that is in hydraulic contact with the water is also likely toget contaminated. The environmental protection agency requires thatsurface miners report on any contaminated water released to thegroundwater. Also, there is a regulation requiring the miner toconstruct tailing that restricts the seepage of contaminated water.However, there has been a very irregular reporting on seepage.18The effects of the seepage of the underground water, therefore,remain largely unknown.
The advantages enjoyed by the citizens of Canada are likely todiminish due to the far-reaching effects of the disadvantages. Theenvironmental impacts including effects on the waste quantity andquality can be countered by the application of right technology. Thewater used to extract bitumen can be reduced by applying the BestEconomically Technology Achievable.19It can help in reducing protecting both the surface and ground water.Also, adhering to the regulatory body’s construction of tailingponds to reduce the seepages. The revenues collected from theproceeds of exportation can be used for other functions thanreclaiming the environment.
The number of years that the companies shave been in operationwarrants them to be using high-end technology but on the contrary,most of the methods are fossil fuel intensive. The primary reason fortheir reluctance in adopting technology and submitting reports onseepages is because the government of Canada and the Albertaadministration. For example, there is very little data to indicatethe seepage of water from the tailings that contaminate theunderground water. The government should institute strict measures toenforce adherence to the existing rules. The rationale for this isthat the miners can continue exploiting the environment at theexpense of the citizens’ health. The amount revenues realized fromthe sale of oil can be very minimal in the long run if the governmentwill spend it on the decreasing health and environmental burden.
In conclusion, petroleum exploration in Canada has various advantagesthat contribute to the growth of the economy through directemployment and earnings from export. Thousands of people find alivelihood by working in the in the oil fields. It also triggersinvestors to commit resources to research and technologicalinnovations. The country has the third arrest oil reserve in theworld and if well exploited it can immensely contribute to thecountry’s economic growth. However, the petroleum presents variousenvironmental challenges including loss of vegetation cover andreduced quality and quantity of surface and ground water. There arealso harmful gases emitted by the plants including nitrous oxide andcarbon dioxide. Using appropriate technology that reducesoverreliance of burning fossils can curb the emission of gases. Thegovernment should address the environmental impacts as a matter ofurgency since it increases people susceptibility to healthdetrimental health conditions.
Allen, Erik W."Process water treatment in Canada`s oil sands industry: I.Target pollutants and treatment objectives." Journal ofEnvironmental Engineering and Science 7, no. 2 (2008): 123-138.
Evans, M. S., W. L.Lockhart, L. Doetzel, G. Low, D. Muir, K. Kidd, G. Stephens, and J.Delaronde. "Elevated mercury concentrations in fish in lakes inthe Mackenzie River Basin: the role of physical, chemical, andbiological factors." Science of the Total Environment 351(2005): 479-500.
Evans, Marlene S.,Derek Muir, W. Lyle Lockhart, Gary Stern, M. Ryan, and Pat Roach."Persistent organic pollutants and metals in the freshwaterbiota of the Canadian Subarctic and Arctic: an overview."Science of the total environment 351 (2005): 94-147.
Hrudey, Steve E., M.Anne Naeth, André Plourde, René Therrien, Glen Van Der Kraak, andZhenghe Xu. "Environmental and health impacts of Canada`s oilsands industry." Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Royal Society ofCanada, 2010.
Jonsson, Grete,Renee K. Bechmann, Shaw D. Bamber, and Thierry Baussant."Bioconcentration, biotransformation, and elimination ofpolycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in sheepshead minnows (Cyprinodonvariegatus) exposed to contaminated seawater." EnvironmentalToxicology and Chemistry 23, no. 6 (2004): 1538-1548.
Kamman, Neil C.,Neil M. Burgess, Charles T. Driscoll, Howard A. Simonin, WingGoodale, Janice Linehan, Robert Estabrook et al. "Mercury infreshwater fish of northeast North America–a geographic perspectivebased on fish tissue monitoring databases." Ecotoxicology14, no. 1-2 (2005): 163-180.
Kelly, Erin N.,Jeffrey W. Short, David W. Schindler, Peter V. Hodson, Mingsheng Ma,Alvin K. Kwan, and Barbra L. Fortin. "Oil sands developmentcontributes polycyclic aromatic compounds to the Athabasca River andits tributaries." Proceedings of the National Academy ofSciences 106, no. 52 (2009): 22346-22351.
Kindzierski, W. B.,P. Chelme-Ayala, and M. Gamal El-Din. "Wood BuffaloEnvironmental Association–Ambient Air Quality Data Summary andTrend Analysis." Edmonton, Alberta: Department of PublicHealth Sciences (2010).
Kinghorn, April,Patricia Solomon, and Hing Man Chan. "Temporal and spatialtrends of mercury in fish collected in the English–Wabigoon riversystem in Ontario, Canada." Science of the Total Environment372, no. 2 (2007): 615-623.
Schindler, David W.,and William F. Donahue. "An impending water crisis in Canada`swestern prairie provinces." Proceedings of the NationalAcademy of Sciences 103, no. 19 (2006): 7210-7216.
1Hrudey, Steve E., M. Anne Naeth, André Plourde, René Therrien, Glen Van Der Kraak, and Zhenghe Xu. "Environmental and health impacts of Canada`s oil sands industry." Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Royal Society of Canada, 2010. p. 27.
2 Hrudey et al., 32
3 Hrudey et al., 32
4 Hrudey et al., 43
5 Hrudey et al., 53
6 Allen, Erik W. "Process water treatment in Canada`s oil sands industry: I. Target pollutants and treatment objectives." Journal of Environmental Engineering and Science 7, no. 2 (2008): p. 124.
7 Kindzierski, W. B., P. Chelme-Ayala, and M. Gamal El-Din. "Wood Buffalo Environmental Association–Ambient Air Quality Data and Trend Analysis." Edmonton, Alberta: Department of Public Health Sciences (2010). p.32.
8 Jonsson, Grete, Renee K. Bechmann, Shaw D. Bamber, and Thierry Baussant. "Bioconcentration, biotransformation, and elimination of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in sheepshead minnows (Cyprinodon variegatus) exposed to contaminated seawater." Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 23, no. 6 (2004): 1539.
9 Jonsson et al., Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, p.1541.
10 Jonsson et al., Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, p. 1544.
11 Jonsson et al., Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, p. 1546.
12 Jonsson et al., Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 1547.
13 Evans, Marlene S., Derek Muir, W. Lyle Lockhart, Gary Stern, M. Ryan, and Pat Roach. "Persistent organic pollutants and metals in the freshwater biota of the Canadian Subarctic and Arctic: an overview." Science of the total environment 351 (2005): 97.
14 Evans, M. S., W. L. Lockhart, L. Doetzel, G. Low, D. Muir, K. Kidd, G. Stephens, and J. Delaronde. "Elevated mercury concentrations in fish in lakes in the Mackenzie River Basin: the role of physical, chemical, and biological factors." Science of the Total Environment 351 (2005): 480.
15 Schindler, David W., and William F. Donahue. "An impending water crisis in Canada`s western prairie provinces." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103, no. 19 (2006): 7213.
16 Kamman, Neil C., Neil M. Burgess, Charles T. Driscoll, Howard A. Simonin, Wing Goodale, Janice Linehan, Robert Estabrook et al. "Mercury in freshwater fish of northeast North America–a geographic perspective based on fish tissue monitoring databases." Ecotoxicology 14, no. 1-2 (2005): 164.
17 Kinghorn, April, Patricia Solomon, and Hing Man Chan. "Temporal and spatial trends of mercury in fish collected in the English–Wabigoon river system in Ontario, Canada." Science of the Total Environment 372, no. 2 (2007): 619.
18 Kelly, Erin N., Jeffrey W. Short, David W. Schindler, Peter V. Hodson, Mingsheng Ma, Alvin K. Kwan, and Barbra L. Fortin. "Oil sands development contributes polycyclic aromatic compounds to the Athabasca River and its tributaries." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106, no. 52 (2009): 22348.
19 Jonsson, Grete, Renee K. Bechmann, Shaw D. Bamber, and Thierry Baussant. "Bioconcentration, biotransformation, and elimination of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in sheepshead minnows (Cyprinodon variegatus) exposed to contaminated seawater." Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 23, no. 6 (2004): 1541.