February 22, 2013

What are tar sands?

Just in case you are looking for some tar sands . . . 

The nice folks at Grist provided this dandy description but here is a synopsis. First of all no tar sands have yet been found in Virginia. So you can sleep better tonight.

Tar sands are deposits of about 90 percent sand or sandstone, water and clay mixed with only about 10 percent high-sulfur bitumen. If you paid attention back in high school science class, you may remember that bitumen is a viscous black petroleum sludge that is rich in hydrocarbons. It is also known as “natural asphalt.”

The Alberta, Canada tar sands deposit (home to the start of the Keystone pipeline) may hold about 170 billion barrels and it covers an area larger than the state of Florida. The Keystone goal is to pump more than one million barrels of bitumen sludge a day, all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.The catch is that the pipeline comes precariously close to a lot of folk's freshwater drinking supply.

Tar sands and nature do not happily coexist. Extracting that bitumen is a gargantuan task, and then you still have sludge, not oil. That is another major task that the refineries in Texas will need to handle--after the slurry gets there via that pesky pipeline that lots of folks want. Click that link above to get the gory details.

Four tons of sand and four barrels of fresh water to fill up a 42-gallon gas tank? Sure seems easier to build a lot of wind turbines out there on those windy plains. But no one asked me!