The Atmospheric Environment Service (AES), circa 1978
‘… is concerned primarily with meteorology, the science of the atmosphere. It provides national weather and climatological service for the public and special users. Since 1958 it has been responsible for ice services supporting navigation in Canadian waterways, coastal waters and the Arctic Archipelago. It is also involved in meterological research, research on effects of pollutants on earth’s atmosphere and instrument design.
‘AES is continuously looking at the environmental impact of major industrial developments such as the Alberta oil sands project and the Nanticoke, Ont. complex. A major departmental program is under way to establish the causes and impacts of acidic precipitation in Eastern Canada; preliminary studies indicate that fossil fuel burning is likely a major source of the contributing pollutants. Thus the potential impact on Canada’s lake and forest ecosystem is being assessed prior to the development of large new fossil fuel power plants in the Eastern US.’
from: Canada Handbook 1979; Publishing Section, Information Division, Statistics Canada; 1979; Minister of Supply and Services, Canada.
Above: One of the first production-sized heavy oil upgraders is being built in the tarsands at Fort McMurray. Behind, you can see the boreal forest being removed before pit mining activities begin. While Canada’s vast expanses of low forest are not necessarily attractive to most tourists, they are nonetheless the natural state of the land and support resident and migratory wildlife. They are also critical to the survival and social identities of the First Nations people who have inhabited them through thousands of years of history.
Energy Mines and Resources, Canada, 1978
‘Surface mining is proceeding on the highest-grade, most accessible oil sands deposits near Fort McMurray, Alberta; at the same time the oil companies, with the co-operation of AOSTRA (Alberta Oil Sands Technology and Research Authority) and a $100 million government of Alberta fund, are developing the in-situ technology to recover up to 15 per cent of the bitumen from oil sands that are overlain by 2300 metres or more of overburden. However, over half of the oil sands are too deep to be exploited by surface mining and not deep enough for in-situ technology. Therefore in 1976 the Canadian Centre for Mineral and Energy Technology (CANMET) initiated feasibility studies to assess the potential for adapting and developing underground mining technology that may be applied to the recovery of up to 90 per cent of the bitumen content. ‘
‘Once the oil sands have been mined, the bitumen must be removed from the sand. During 1976 a successful small-scale ‘cold water’ separation system was developed by CANMET in co-operation with industry; the process has the potential of considerable energy saving, water conservation and pollution reduction compared to present processes that use hot water. Other separation systems are also being considered, with the aim of making it possible to select processes that yield maximum liquid fuel for minimum expenditure and environmental impact.’
‘A major economic cost and operating difficulty associated with oil sands processing is the production of coke, which plugs and fouls the refining equipment. Recent research has led to a greater understanding of this process and to the development of a means of significantly reducing coke formation. ‘
‘Fisheries and Environment Canada is predominant in environmental management (especially of oil and gas pipelines).’
from: Canada Yearbook; Publishing Section, Information Division, Statistics Canada; 1978; Minister of Industry, Trade and Commerce.
‘A confidential report on the oil sands drawn up for the provincial cabinet in mid-1972 by a large group of Alberta’s civil servants representing some 20 government departments proposed a reversal of “the historical trend of ever-increasing foreign control of non-renewable resource development in Canada”.
‘Pointing to the fact that the pressure on developing the tar sands was largely emanating from outside Canada, the civil servants urged the Lougheed cabinet to resist the temptation to allow foreign energy demands to dictate the terms of development. “The policy decisions should be guided primarily by the perceived benefits that will accrue to Albertans and Canadians.” The civil servants warned that the oil companies were interested in rapid development on their own terms and conditions, they would tend to import equipment, engineers, managers and staff and in turn export the synthetic crude in an unprocessed form.
‘The report, “leaked” to Mel Hurtig, controversial publisher and then Chairman of Committee for an Independent Canada, raised a public furor, one of many that has delayed and threatened development of the tar sands since they were first viewed by a white man in the latter part of the 18th Century.’
from: Oil - The History of Canada’s Oil and Gas Industry; Ed Gould; 1976; Hancock House Publishers.
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The previously posted Christina Lake location is at the bottom of the image. From there, the natural drainage pattern takes surface water north past Fort McMurray where the bitumen quarries are often photographed for news reports.
The Athabasca River’s water eventually ends up in the Arctic after its northward flow is completed.
The locations named in red are First Nations Reserves or particular band settlement sites. Fishing is one traditional source of food here.
In the news in Canada these days is the Northern Gateway Pipeline. It is to take (unrefined) bitumen crude from the Alberta Tarsands to the Pacific Coast for export by tanker. Currently two years of ‘environmental hearings’ are being undertaken by a three-person panel of the National Energy Board to hear from concerned parties along the route.
Our political leaders are stating that if the US doesn’t want our oil at a good price, then we will sell it to China via this pipeline. Then again, if the US wants all of our Tarsands oil, it will be easier and cheaper to ship down the west coast and through the Panama Canal to the US east coast via this pipeline.
Our political leaders are telling us that foreign money being funnelled to Canadian environmental groups to obstruct the process (‘some of these radicals don’t even want us to have hydrocarbons!’) must not get in the way of a “Canadian Decision” about a “Canadian Resource” and “Canadian Jobs”. Our leaders change the subject when asked how much foreign ‘oil company money’ is being used to push this project forward … so the low-value crude is exported without Canadian employment opportunities.
We are told by our political leaders that ‘there is not enough capital in all Canada’ to complete this project … although little old Canada successfully built “The Trans-Canada Pipeline” way back in the 1950s.
This old 1923 map shows the general geography. Haida Gwaii (“Islands of the People”) is what the Queen Charlotte Islands have recently been renamed.
The Kitimat map label is marked with a blue dot. The word ‘Kitimat’ ends roughly where the bulk bitumen crude oil terminal will be located - at the end of the Douglas Channel.
I recommend this site if you are into engineering, geology, soil science, Pacific weather, wildlife, land use, the environment, etc, because it is quite interesting to see how big project like this is put together. At the same time, these documents also telegraph that a LOT of money has been put into this project already and the stakes are very high.
At the website you can also “Join the Alliance” if you agree with the Enbridge “Membership Form” that you swear to support the pipeline and give them your personal data. What do you get in return? … Well … um … you can tell people you have joined the “Alliance”! This is not the western Canadian “Alliance Church” or the western right wing “Canadian Alliance” political party … so please don’t get confused about which Alliance you are joining. You may already be a member!
Into Kitimat will sail about 200 tankers per year … “estimate”. Some are taking loads in, and others are taking loads out. This pipeline consists of TWO PIPES.
The pipeline flowing TO ALBERTA will take “refinery condensate” (light petroleum). The condensate will be mixed with the bitumen crude as a diluent, so the mixture can flow through the other pipeline to Kitimat. Otherwise the bitumen is too … tarry … and won’t move efficiently. I don’t know if the condensate is coming from China on the same tankers … I doubt it.
Once loaded, the tankers make their way out to the Pacific and get into the greater Pacific by either the north or south route around Haida Gwaii. There are lots of rocky coasts here and, well, it IS the Pacific Ocean so sometimes it will be stormy and things make get a little dangerous.
Don’t worry, they have all sorts of plans about what to do if a tanker of bitumen with condensate diluent splits open and covers the coast. Just like they have blowout valves on rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. Safety first!