Innovation and the Oil Industry, Part II

Further to my earlier post about innovation and the oil industry, the folks at Popular Mechanics have up a fascinating piece on the same subject. It comes to a somewhat more worrisome conclusion about steam injection:

Only about 10 percent of Al­berta’s oil sands can be extracted with
open-pit mines. The rest is deeper, tucked into porous rock, and has to
be extracted in situ. This much tougher process requires operators to
inject steam into formations, and pump the resulting stew of bitumen
and water to the surface. “In situ” alarms environmentalists even more
than open pits. If all the oil sands’ underground reserves were
developed, the ecological impact would be 50 times greater than that of

[via Popular Mechanics]


  1. realistically the word IF should be replaced with WHEN
    as in WHEN “all the oil sands’ underground reserves [are] developed, the ecological impact w[ill] be 50 times greater than that of mining.”

  2. I would respectfully suggest that given the huge recent advances in technology with oil extraction from oil sands (and oil shale), by the time the reserves are developed not only will more oil be extracted, but the ecological impact will be relatively minor, even if greater than that of mining (though possibly less.)

  3. We’re still leaving over 60% of the already discovered conventional oil in the ground. New technology is going to “squeeze the sponge” and get more of that oil out as well.
    In situ methods don’t show up as blatantly on Google Earth.

  4. Terry Foecke says:

    The statement “ecological impact…50 times greater than that of mining” is nonsense without any context. Ecological impact is a values-laden analysis. How much do you value pristine water resources? vs water availability? vs. increased release of carbon dioxide? And so on. Even if this is taken in the engineering sense, looking at quantities of pollutants liberated and joules of energy used, there is no way to aggregate all those individual hard facts into a composite like “50x greater”.