Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Oil sands pollution comparable to a large power plant

23.02.2012
It takes a lot of energy to extract heavy, viscous and valuable bitumen from Canada's oil sands and refine it into crude oil.

Companies mine some of the sands with multi-story excavators, separate out the bitumen, and process it further to ease the flow of the crude oil down pipelines. About 1.8 million barrels of oil per day in 2010 were produced from the bitumen of the Canadian oil sands - and the production of those fossil fuels requires the burning of fossil fuels.

In the first look at the overall effect of air pollution from the excavation of oil sands, also called tar sands, in Alberta, Canada, scientists used satellites to measure nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide emitted from the industry. In an area 30 kilometers (19 miles) by 50 kilometers (31

miles) around the mines, they found elevated levels of these pollutants.

"For both gasses, the levels are comparable to what satellites see over a large power plant - or for nitrogen dioxide, comparable to what they see over some medium-sized cities," said Chris McLinden, a research scientist with Environment Canada, the country's environmental agency.

"It stands out above what's around it, out in the wilderness, but one thing we wanted to try to do was put it in context."

The independent report on the levels of these airborne pollutants, which can lead to acid rain if they are in high enough concentrations, is a part of Environment Canada's efforts to monitor the environmental impact of the oil sands' surface mines, McLinden said. While some land-based measurements have been taken at particular points by other researchers, and a NASA airplane made another set of localized measurements, no one had calculated the overall extent of the oil sands' air quality impacts including the giant dump trucks, huge refining facilities where the bitumen is processed, and more.

To do that, McLinden and his colleagues turned to satellite data. Several satellites orbiting Earth detect sunlight that passes through the atmosphere and is reflected back up to the space. Based on the patterns of reflected wavelengths, scientists can calculate the concentration of certain gasses - in particular nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide. It's a relatively new way to study pollution over small areas, he said.
The study is published today in Geophysical Research Letters, a publication of the American Geophysical Union.

The scientists found that sulfur dioxide amounts peaked over two of the largest mining operations in the Alberta oil sands, with a peak of 1.2x10^16 molecules per square centimeter.
Nitrogen dioxide concentrations reached about 2.5x10^15 molecules per square centimeter. When researchers looked at the concentrations over the years using older satellite information, they found that the amount of nitrogen dioxide increased about 10 percent each year between 2005 and 2010, keeping pace with the growth of the oil sands industry.

"You'd certainly want to keep monitoring that source if it's increasing at that rate," McLinden said. "There are new mines being put in, they're pulling out more oil."

It's important to examine the overall impact of the excavation and processing from the oil sands, said Isobel Simpson, an atmospheric chemist with the University of California at Irvine. She was not involved in this study, but previously participated in the airplane-based research of air quality over the oil sands.

"There are so few independent studies of oil sands," Simpson said. The new study is something scientists haven't been able to do before-to "see the big picture and the birds-eye view of the impact of emissions from the oil sands industry," she said. She called for broader, future studies that would measure additional pollutants and map their extents. With the oil sands industry expanding, she said, the area needs more monitoring.
Notes for Journalists
Journalists and public information officers (PIOs) of educational and scientific institutions who have registered with AGU can download a PDF copy of this paper in press by clicking on this link:

http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2011GL050273

Or, you may order a copy of the final paper by emailing your request to Kate Ramsayer at kramsayer@agu.org. Please provide your name, the name of your publication, and your phone number.

Neither the paper nor this press release are under embargo.

Title:
"Air quality over the Canadian oil sands: A first assessment using satellite observations"
Authors:
Chris A. McLinden and Vitali E. Fioletov: Environment Canada, Toronto, Canada;
K. F. Boersma: Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, De Bilt, The Netherlands and Eindhoven University of Technology, Fluid Dynamics Lab, Eindhoven, Netherlands;

Nickolay A. A. Krotkov: Laboratory for Atmospheric Chemistry and Dynamics, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, USA;

Chris Sioris: Environment Canada, Toronto, Canada;

Pepijn Veefkind: Eindhoven University of Technology, Fluid Dynamics Lab, Eindhoven, Netherlands and Delft University of Technology, Delft, The Netherlands;

Kai Yang: Laboratory for Atmospheric Chemistry and Dynamics, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, USA, and Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland, USA.

Contact information for the authors:
Chris McLinden, Telephone: +1 (416) 739-4594, and Email: chris.mclinden@ec.gc.ca

Kate Ramsayer | American Geophysical Union
Further information:
http://www.agu.org

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Filling the gap: High-latitude volcanic eruptions also have global impact
20.11.2017 | Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences

nachricht Antarctic landscape insights keep ice loss forecasts on the radar
20.11.2017 | University of Edinburgh

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Nanoparticles help with malaria diagnosis – new rapid test in development

The WHO reports an estimated 429,000 malaria deaths each year. The disease mostly affects tropical and subtropical regions and in particular the African continent. The Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC teamed up with the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME and the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen for a new test method to detect malaria parasites in blood. The idea of the research project “NanoFRET” is to develop a highly sensitive and reliable rapid diagnostic test so that patient treatment can begin as early as possible.

Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted by mosquito bite. The most dangerous form of malaria is malaria tropica. Left untreated, it is fatal in most cases....

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Previous evidence of water on mars now identified as grainflows

21.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope completes final cryogenic testing

21.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

New catalyst controls activation of a carbon-hydrogen bond

21.11.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>