EEF visit to oil sands in Alberta, Canada

The EEF has been invited by the mission of Canada to the EU to visit Alberta and its oil sands. The visit, planned for the period 31 August – 3 September 2011, will include meetings with government officials and stakeholders, visits of oil sands production sites as well as a CCS project.

Canadian officials will explain how the governments of Canada and Alberta are acting responsibly in this context.

We know that the production of “oil sands” is very harmful to the environment and that non-governmental organisations, in Canada and elsewhere, oppose this development. However, the government is committed to tapping this resource and will undoubtedly provide us with the appropriate information, in the form of a kind of “educational” training session.

Since our forum is basically an organisation of free debates in which expression can be given to both sides of the argument, we deem it advisable that provision should officially be made for the participation of NGOs that are opposed to the official arguments.

As far as the European visitors are concerned, we likewise feel that the group of Active and Associate EEF Members should include at least one member of the European Parliament who would “a priori” be hostile to the production of oil sands, regardless of where this occurred, and at least one association of promoters of “clean energy” which could expound its evidence. We will be working in that direction.
Canada has huge deposits of oil sands, most of which are to be found in the province of Alberta, and more specifically in the Athabasca river basin.

From the point of view of Canada’s mining-based energy resources, it should be noted that the Athabasca river basin extends to the east of Alberta into the province of Saskatchewan, which contains the world’s largest uranium deposit with an extensive mineral concentration, making it easier and less expensive to develop (NB: the visit to Alberta will not take in Saskatchewan).

If we bear in mind the vast hydraulic resources located between the Hudson Bay and the St Lawrence River, we realise that Canada is potentially a key player on the world energy market.

Coming back to the oil sands deposits, the three main deposits located in Alberta extend over an area the size of Belgium. It is estimated that the reserves that could be recovered from these deposits represent at least 170 billion barrels of oil. So far less than 10 million barrels have been produced (and exported to the USA), which is still a negligible amount.

Finally, the total amount of oil trapped in the region’s sands represents 1,700 billion barrels – much more than the total volume of oil currently produced worldwide.

Sooner or later this supply of hydrocarbon will end up being tapped – even within a system of strict environmental criteria. Europe will not be able to ignore the existence of this resource, so it would be a good idea if it got ready to work out a strategy now, which is specific to it and suitable for it, such as to enable it to deal with this challenge.

Except for the case of Venezuela, which also has substantial reserves, the quality levels of the oil sands resources in those few other countries that boast them are markedly lower than those to be found in Canada. It should be noted that the tapping of oil sands began in the Palaeolithic age and was intended for all kinds of uses that were not originally energy-related.

In Europe, oil sands resources have been extensively exploited near the village of Pechelbronn, in Alsace, where the process of separation by steam was used from 1742 onwards.

Pechelbronn is a lovely village located 40 km north of the Cathedral of Strasbourg as the crow flies. The substratum of this area has been extensively drilled and analysed and is perfectly documented from the point of view of its geology. This geological knowledge was pivotal in the selection of the site for the “European deep geothermal science project“, which, by drawing the heat from the ground at a depth of 5,000 m, has begun to produce electricity on an demonstrational  basis. The site of this project is 2 km from Pechelbronn, in the village of Kutzenhausen, a hamlet adjoining the small town of Soultz s/s Forêt.

Less than 20 km to the east of this complex is the village of Beinheim where a company has for over a year been tapping geothermal heat for commercial purposes in the food-processing industry.

It goes without saying that at the request of any member of parliament, the EEF can arrange an ad-hoc visit to these sites, outside its normal programme.

Jean-Claude Charrault
Director General