Saturday, July 30, 2016

Tar Sands Lexicon

Link to this: 

In a Nutshell:

Crude Oil
Dilbit / "Diluted Bitumen"
(Tar Sands Shippable Product)
Natural, Organic Product
Synthetic, Man-Made, assembled from scavenged hydrocarbon parts
Broad Spectrum Hydrocarbon
"Hole in the middle", heavy and light (but lacking mid-weights)
How produced?
Pumped out of an oil well
Mined with a shovel, extreme tech processing, requires massive amounts of water and natural gas and propane. Requires deforestation on a scale never seen before. Produces massive tailings ponds which form a scar which can be seen from space.
Crude Oil transmission (pipeline) contributes to Spill Cleanup Tax Tar Sands Products are not Crude Oil, so are exempt from the tax.

I see things like this all the time:
  • "....1,700-mile pipeline that would ship tar sands crude..."
  • "...Pipeline Leak Detection System Failed in Massive Alberta Tar Sands Spill..."
  • "...reservoir of crude bitumen..." 
  • "Alberta's oil sands has the third largest oil reserves in the world."
All of these statements are pulled from major news outlets and environmental NGOs. All of these statements are false, inaccurate, or misleading.

None of these things exist!

Here are some quick facts: 
  • Tar Sands Crude": There is no such thing!
  • "Tar Sands Spill": Never has been one.
  • "Reservoir of Crude Bitumen": Nope. You use an OIL WELL to tap a reservoir, -- NOT A SHOVEL.
  • "Alberta Crude Oil Reserves": Not much, if any. 
  • "Bitumen, a form of heavy crude": No it isn't. 
  • "Tar Sands Pipeline" : Impossibility. Don't say this!
  • "Diluted Bitumen, a kind of heavy crude oil": No that's not right.

So many media outlets, NGOs, and activists get the Tar Sands lingo incorrect. So, here is a Tar Sands lexicon, authored by me (Bill Huston). Hope this is helpful.

Tar Sands Lexicon
Refinery Process Diagram, shows Bitumen
as a "Residual" (waste product), a refinery OUTPUT.
Q: So why are we now using this low-grade junk
as a refinery INPUT?! WTF?

  • Oil = a very overloaded term. Generally, "a slippery liquid". Could mean crude oil, fuel oil, lubricating oil, or even edible products, such as corn oil, cottonseed oil, olive oil, salad oil.

  • Crude Oil = Natural Product. Broad-spectrum mixture of hydrocarbons

    • from the lightest NGLs (Natural Gas Liquids, a/k/a "condensate")
      from C3/Propane to C10/Decane "Natural Gasoline"

    • middle weight hydrocarbons from Kerosene to Diesel (C10-C20)

    • heavy oils, lubricating oil, fuel oil, greases, wax (C20-C50)

    • extra heavy tars (C50+) Bitumen (Asphalt, Pitch) Semi-solid

    Conventional Crude oil occurs in "Reservoirs" and is extracted by drilling an Oil Well and pumped out of the ground.

  • Tar Sands = Geological formation. Largest is in Alberta, Canada. Also may refer to a raw material (bitumen+sand) found in the Tar Sands formation. "Tar Sands" is NOT A SHIPPABLE PRODUCT. Requires cleaning and processing before being further refined.

    A Pipeline might carry a "tar sands PRODUCT" (e.g., Dilbit, Syncrude, SynBit, etc), but it is not correct to say that a pipeline was carrying "tar sands".

  • Oil Sands = a very misleading term. "Tar Sands" is more accurate. The Tar Sands formation in Alberta contains very little of what what might be called "crude oil".

  • Bitumen = a low-grade, extra heavy hydrocarbon. While Bitumen is technically a highly viscous liquid, it appears to be a SEMI-SOLID, and smashes like glass if you strike it with a hammer.

    cf. "Pitch Drop Experiment"

    Bitumen deposits are mined with a shovel. Bitumen is not a "slippery liquid", thus the terms "oil" or "crude oil" often used for bitumen are inappropriate.  Bitumen can be a natural product, or a residual product of crude oil refining.

    Bitumen is a component of crude oil.  BITUMEN ITSELF IS NOT "CRUDE OIL". Bitumen is the raw material of interest in "tar sands".  Bitumen is not a product which can be easily shipped, except in a rail hopper car like coal. Prior to modern times, Bitumen has been considered a refinery WASTE PRODUCT. Old refinery diagrams called it "residuum" or "bottoms product". It was used principally to seal roads, and roofs as a beneficial use. 

    Bitumen cannot be shipped in a pipeline without being diluted with a solvent, generally, NGLs.  Raw bitumen destined for refineries (vis. bitumen used for roads) is typically diluted whether it is shipped by pipeline or by rail.

    Synonyms: Asphalt, Pitch, Tar  

  • Upgraded Bitumen = Prior to modern times (~1990s), bitumen had very little use as a refinery input, since it contains very little of the most valuable light and middle-weight hydrocarbons used for fuel, lubricants, and as inputs to the petro-chemical industry. Bitumen has only recently become used as a refinery input because most of the easy-to-get crude oil on planet earth is depleted. It is only through extreme-technology that bitumen can be used as a source of refined products (such as gasoline), as it must be "upgraded".

    The Suncor Upgrader in Ft. McMurray, Alberta. This is perhaps the worlds largest machine.

    Upgrading bitumen is an extremely expensive process, both in terms of capital -- the Suncor Upgrader in Ft. McMurray Alberta cost ~$12B --, it is also expensive in terms of energy inputs.

    Upgrading bitumen requires massive amounts of other fuel (such as natural gas or propane), as a heat source, at extreme energy levels (somtimes 850 °C or higher) to smash the long hydrocarbon molecules into smaller components. Tar Sands products also require importing large amounts of NGLs (largely from the Wet Gas regions of the Marcellus Shale) for use as diluents.

    This consumption of massive amounts of fuel for the refining process of the raw tar-sands product, transportation, refining is the reason why Tar Sands products are such a generator of Greenhouse Gasses, and thus have such a concern for Climate Change. 

  • Dilbit is a High-Tech "Franken Fuel". It might
    resemble natural crude oil, but like Frankenstein's
     Monster, it is a man-made thing which is assembled
     from component parts.
    Diluted Bitumen a/k/a, DilBit =  a SYNTHETIC PRODUCT, raw bitumen diluted by NGLs. Diluted Bitumen can be thought of as a low-grade synthetic crude oil, however it has a "hole in the middle". It is made of light hydrocarbon diluents, and extra-heavy bitumen. But very little of the middle-weight hydrocarbons found in natural crude oil.

    Diluted Bitumen IS NOT "CRUDE OIL"!!!  They are taxed/regulated differently, refined differently, they are chemically different, and spill response is different.

  • SynCrude = Synthetic Crude. SynCrude is a trademarked product, a higher grade form of synthetic crude than Diluted Bitumen. SynCrude is made by blending Diluted Bitumen with middle-weight hydrocarbons created by Upgrading Bitumen.  There are various other blends such as "SynBit".
  • EROEI or EROI = Energy Returned on (net) Energy Invested. this is a term used to measure a fuel source's efficiency. In the old days, the EROEI of a crude oil well in W. Texas might be 100:1. For 1 unit of energy input, you get 100 back. And EROEI of 100:1 means there is going to be a big party somewhere. 

    Whereas with modern fuels, from Deep Ocean drilling, Unconventional Shale Gas/Oil, Arctic Drilling, and Tar Sands-based fuels, the EROEI is approaching 5:1 or less. Once you hit 1:1, this is a net=ZERO. You spent 1 to get 1, so why bother with it?

    Some fuels like Corn Ethanol are such a bad idea because they are actually an energy SINK, and not a source. The EROEI of Corn Ethanol is more like 1:1.5. This means you have to spend 1.5 units to get 1 back. Corn Ethanol is really a bad idea.

I feel it is CRITICAL we use correct, descriptive, and accurate language.
There is SO MUCH confusion about these terms.

The Oil and Gas industry WANT US to believe Alberta has "the third largest reservoirs of crude oil", and continuously refer to bitumen as "crude oil" or tar sands as "oil sands".

We should strive to use correct language.

TRUTH: Bitumen is the DREGS of hydrocarbons,
a low grade source which can only be converted into refined products using EXTREME TECHNOLOGY.

It takes $BILLIONS of capital investment to create "Upgraders" , and to add cokers to refineries.

Here's a Chevron video (very nice production!) which shows the delivery
of new Coke Drums needed for refining extra heavy tar-sands products,
like Dilbit (diluted bitumen)

Upgraders must be used to remove sulfur (cf. "Great Sulfur Pyramids of Alberta"). [2] [3]
Great Sulfur Pyramids of Alberta is actually larger than the Great Pyramid of Giza,
and can be seen from space.

Upgraders also consume MASSIVE amounts of heat from natural gas or propane to smash the long bitumen molecules into bits at temperatures approaching a ceramics kiln. 
If people understood the true nature of bitumen mining in Alberta, they might ask the question:

WHY ARE WE GOING THROUGH SO MUCH EFFORT to take what was until recently considered a low grade refinery waste product, and using it as a refinery input!?
Then they might understand the truth: Most of the crude oil reserves on planet earth are GONE FOREVER, depleted.

I hope this is helpful, 

May you, and all beings
be happy and free from suffering :)
-- ancient Buddhist Prayer (Metta)

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