Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Oil sands pollution comparable to a large power plant

Date:
February 22, 2012
Source:
American Geophysical Union
Summary:
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.

It takes a lot of energy to extract heavy, viscous and valuable bitumen from Canada's oil sands and refine it into gasoline and 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 was published February 22 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 1.2x1016 molecules per square centimeter. Nitrogen dioxide concentrations reached about 2.5x1015 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.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Geophysical Union. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. C. A. McLinden, V. Fioletov, K. F. Boersma, N. Krotkov, C. E. Sioris, J. P. Veefkind, K. Yang. Air quality over the Canadian oil sands: A first assessment using satellite observations. Geophysical Research Letters, 2012; 39 (4) DOI: 10.1029/2011GL050273

Cite This Page:

American Geophysical Union. "Oil sands pollution comparable to a large power plant." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 February 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120222154641.htm>.
American Geophysical Union. (2012, February 22). Oil sands pollution comparable to a large power plant. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120222154641.htm
American Geophysical Union. "Oil sands pollution comparable to a large power plant." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120222154641.htm (accessed July 29, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Baluchistan Mining Eyes an Uncertain Future

Baluchistan Mining Eyes an Uncertain Future

AFP (July 29, 2014) Coal mining is one of the major industries in Baluchistan but a lack of infrastructure and frequent accidents mean that the area has yet to hit its potential. Duration: 01:58 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Newsy (July 28, 2014) The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs struck at the worst time for them. A new study says that if it hit earlier or later, they might've survived. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming

The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming

AP (July 28, 2014) AP Investigation: As the Obama administration weans the country off dirty fuels, energy companies are ramping-up overseas coal exports at a heavy price. (July 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge from Nest

Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge from Nest

AP (July 27, 2014) A live-streaming webcam catches loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings emerging from a nest in the Florida Keys. (July 27) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins