The Coming End of Expensive Energy | Slog | The Stranger | Seattle's Only Newspaper:
At about $30 a barrel, it becomes profitable to scoop up the tar sands of Alberta--4500 pounds of sand per barrel--heat it up to separate out the tar from the sand and then chemically crack the tar into something resembling crude oil. Needless to say, all of this comes at a hideous environmental cost. Thanks to all of the energy intensive processing before the sands become oil-like, about fifteen to forty percent more carbon is ultimately released per barrel of oil equivalent--all of the reduced carbon emissions from increasing CAFE standards? Instantly canceled out in Canadian rockies--plus vast pools of toxic water, destruction of the boreal forest and the unearthing of heavy metals. Production is expected to expand for the next twenty-to-thirty years, helping fill the gap between global energy consumption and traditional crude production.
What about biofuels? Aren't we already subsidizing plants? Isn't that the more environmental way to go? Nope, not when you consider these alternatives with a proper life cycle analysis--considering the impact not just of running the plant, but building and decommissioning it as well. In fact, the only current technologies better than fossil fuels? Wind and geothermal. Solar might get close to the total environmental impact of fossil fuel at a large scale of manufacturing.
Profitable at today's energy prices? Coal liquifaction. Coal liquifaction doubles the carbon impact per barrel compared to the already hefty impact of crude oil.