Today, on our way back to Calgary, we stopped in at the Canadian Oilfield Discovery Centre in Leduc. We stayed there a lot longer than I expected, and I reckon it was the best museum-like stop of the whole trip. I could have stayed another 2 hours at least!

I have always had a bit of an energy fetish and this place was stoked with energy information. I hardly know where to start, but I just have to jot down some stuff that I remember.

The museum is at the site of “Leduc #1”, which found oil on Fev. 13, 1947, after some 30 years of fruitless exploration in the area (though oil had been discovered 20 years earlier near Calgary in the Turner Valley). There are three or four still-operating pump-jacks within sight of the parking lot, in the middle of fields of grain (according to the museum, some farmers make 30%-40% of their income from oil company fees for using their land), and likewise here and there you can see collection tanks that they use to gather up the oil. At the time, an oil well cost about $100,000 to drill, and took about three days to move from site to site. Once oil is hit, for a while it is unsable due to impurities and just gets burned off. The Leduc well is about 5,000 feet down and I guess this is typical.

I am not certain I understood this correctly but it seems oil and gas are often produced simultaneously, with machinery devoted to separating the two.

There are about 15 major pipelines in Canada, mostly radiating from Edmonton or snaking around Ontario, and each owned by a different company; about half oil, half gas. Pipelines are often used to transport different things, that is, they will pump oil down the line for a while and then switch to kerosene or auto gas or whatever, and just discard the relatively small area where the two get mixed together. A pipeline is about 3 feet round and has pumping stations every 30 miles or so.

There are about 17 refineries in Canada, two in BC (the one visible from North Vancouver, and one more in Prince George). Refining consists primarily of heating things up and allowing them to separate in different layers. Car gas forms one layer, jet fuel another, and so on.

In the oilsands area – the museum was effusive about all the possiblities that the oilsands represent, and claims they contain the second largest reserves of oil in the world (I read in National Geographic that we are actually #1, but in any case the other one is Saudi Arabia, obviously) – they said that about 7% of the oilsands can be surface-mined and the rest has to be pumped up (injecting steam or hot water first to loosen it up. That’s the problem with oil sands, you have to pump so much energy down to get the oil up; but I guess it’s worth it or they wouldn’t be doing it; I don’t think the Alberta oil industry is subsidized in any way, is it?)

This place was obviously funded by the industry as it devoted a lot of time to pointing out all the zillions of products that rely on oil (a scary thing, in my opinion); downplaying the environmental problems associated with the tar sands (there was a ridiculous video clip featuring the president of some company talking about bison they had saved); and otherwise telling typical corporate half-truths.

In a Banff bookstore I spotted a book called “Stupid to the Last Drop”, about the environmental problems associated with oil sands. Who cares, really, though? As long as it will let us keep driving to the mall and flying to Mexico, nobody.


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