The Norman Transcript

April 11, 2013

Oil production contaminates vital water

By Jesse Fuchs, Ph.D.
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — I have read with interest the news stores concerning the recent Minnesota rail oil spill, the Arkansas Exxon pipeline oil spill and news stories concerning the pros and cons of the Keystone pipeline construction.

However, I believe news reporters are missing a major portion of newsworthiness when writing about oil spills and tar sand oil transportation.

Attention so far has been mostly directed to the environmental dangers of tar sand oil transportation, little to the environmental dangers incurred during production. The location of the origination Keystone tar sand oil is, of course, Canada, also the location of a major portion of the world’s renewable water supply.

Canada is estimated to contain 7 percent of the world’s renewable fresh water, currently third in this amount after Brazil and Russia. It makes absolutely no sense to use this water for the production of tar sand oil to maintain our current unthrifty and unwise energy consumption rate. Use of fresh water in this reckless fashion has a potential of destroying and endangering a major portion of the world’s fresh water supply.

I have yet to read a major newspaper article or see a TV news story concerning the real and potential environmental impact of using tar sands to produce oil.

The simple facts are, producing petroleum from tar sands has both real and potential detrimental environmental impacts. These facts are enumerated as follows:

1. Tar sand oil production is energy inefficient. It takes an enormous amount of energy to mine and produce a barrel.

2. It is carbon-intensive. It releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide and other environmental detrimental gasses.

3. Mining and processing a barrel of tar sand oil consumes several barrels of fresh water; estimates are of up to four-and-a-half barrels for every barrel of oil.

4. The tail-end processing of tar sand oil, cleanup and storage contaminates an additional several barrels of fresh water.

5. The polluted barrels of water from the tar sand oil production are not easily treated and will require storage before and during treatment, with the potential for spills and the contamination of additional water.

In summary, the production of tar sand oil is energy inefficient, produces large amounts of environmentally detrimental gasses, uses huge amounts of fresh water and has a potential to pollute more barrels of water.

In addition to the environmental dangers of Keystone pipeline oil transportation, the production of the tar sand oil entails huge environmental costs at the expense of future generations.

Even if the proponents of such construction were correct in their exaggeration of jobs produced, the avocation of pipeline construction and tar sand oil for job and energy production purposes is a “penny wise and a pound foolish” idea.

Dr. Jesse Fuchs is a demographer, now living in Norman. He welcomes your comments and questions at

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