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Could Algae Help Save the Keystone XL Pipeline?

President Barack Obama has said that he will not approve plans to build the Keystone XL pipeline to carry crude oil from Alberta’s oil sands to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico if there is a possibility that it could negatively impact the environment through increased carbon emissions.

In response to this Canada has begun to research ideas that could reduce the pipelines carbon footprint, and the latest is to use the CO2 produced as a feedstock for algae that can in turn be turned into cattle feed and other useful products.

The problem with crude extracted from the tar sands is that it is far heavier than other types of crude, meaning that it requires constant heating to soften it sufficiently so that it can flow through pipes. In most cases natural gas is burned to heat the oil, but this can produce huge amounts of CO2. It is these carbon emissions that are to be collected, and mixed with waste water to create a food for algae.

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John Parr, the vice president at Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., one of the companies involved in developing the process, explained; “we’re taking CO2 and making it into a valuable product. There’s a business case that can be made for it.”

Studies have shown that producing a gallon of fuel from crude extracted from the oil sands, produces from 8% to 37% more carbon than using more conventional sources of crude oil, because it takes more energy to extract, transport, and refine the heavy bitumen.

Canada’s oil sands produce more CO2 emissions than conventional oil.
Canada’s oil sands produce more CO2 emissions than conventional oil. (Price of Oil)

According to Sustainable Prosperity, carbon emissions in Alberta, where most of the 170 billion barrels of recoverable oil sands crude is located, have increased by 62% since 2005; not exactly good publicity for Keystone XL which is trying to play down the environmental impacts of oil sands.

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In an interview with the NY Times at the end of July, Obama hinted that Canada “could potentially be doing more to mitigate carbon release.”

Yet despite the increasing emissions Prime Minister Harper is still unwilling to create harsher regulations on the oil and gas industry in an attempt to reduce the environmental impact.

PJ Partington, an analyst at Pembina Institute, stated; “our biggest customer is asking good questions and our government isn’t providing good answers. If you look at the current trajectory, emissions are going way up.”

By. Joao Peixe of Oilprice.com



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