The U.S. Dept. of Energy (DoE) and Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have signed an agreement, announced on Tuesday, to begin the process of expanding exploitation of Alaska’s “vast unconventional energy reserves.” This phrase refers to fossil fuels other than the typical fossil crude oil that is the source of fuels like gasoline or diesel. The effect of the agreement will be a broadening of oil company operations in Alaska, much of which is sensitive remote wildlife areas.
The purpose and scope of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the DoE and DNR, is to “improve cooperation and collaboration between Alaska DNR and DOE/FE on research and development of unconventional resources, including viscous oil and methane hydrates; and on information sharing related to the development of unconventional energy resources.” In other words, the DoE is looking to convert Alaska’s North Slope into a tar sands strip mining operation just like the one that is devastating Alberta Canada today.
The role of Alaska’s DNR is to “resolve land access issues; arrange for the leasing of state land; and coordinate infrastructure, logistics, permitting, and regulation, where appropriate” and in general facilitate the work of DoE researchers.
The DoE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), in collaboration with various federal, industry, international, and academic partners, will be principally responsible for developing research and development opportunities in Alaska and for providing scientific expertise and scientific resources in support of projects. The purpose of these projects is to “highlight the potential of all of Alaska’s natural resources, including conventional resources such as natural gas, and unconventional resources such as gas hydrates and viscous oil, as important supply sources to meet domestic energy demands and to ensure domestic economic and energy security.”
In other words, the goal is to do the research necessary to allow fossil oil companies to work in Alaska, pursuing the business of extracting, refining and selling fossil fuels.
While Alaska has two of the largest conventional oil fields in North America (Prudhoe Bay and Kuparuk) the state is also the location of significant “unconventional” fossil hydrocarbon deposits including both viscous oil and methane hydrate deposits.
Consider the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline. That pipeline is proposed for the purpose of shipping crude oil strip-mined from the Alberta Tar Sands, with the destination being oil refineries along the Gulf Coast. It exists because the Canadian Government are cooperating with the oil companies, allowing the oil companies to commit environmental disasters.
Viscous oil is a thick syrupy oil, that requires extra processing (and cost) to convert into normal crude oil. The North Slope is thought to have reserves of 20 billion to 25 billion barrels of viscous oil deposits contained within shallow, regionally extensive sands. This is essentially the same sort of resource as the Alberta Tar Sands. Fossil oil extraction from that sort of resource requires strip mining the sands from thousands of square miles of land, trucking the tar sands to a processing facility, where enormous quantities of heat are used to extract crude oil locked in the sands, and the remaining material is dumped in vast toxic waste ponds.
Methane hydrates are essentially frozen bubbles of natural gas trapped in ice formations on the ocean floor. The USGS estimates there are 85 trillion cubic feet of natural gas resources extractable from methane hydrate deposits along the North Slope.
DOE Acting Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy Christopher Smith said “This is a clear example of how the state and the federal government can work together on energy issues that will play a critical role in Alaska’s future. Forming good working relationships with state and local partners is critical to the Energy Department’s efforts to responsibly and sustainably develop all of America’s rich energy resources. By establishing a framework for our continued work with the State of Alaska, we will advance America’s energy development and research, including our understanding of methane hydrates – a vast, untapped potential energy resource. And this agreement will help ensure Alaska continues to play a critical role in supplying America’s and the world’s energy needs.”
DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan said “As a state, we want to responsibly develop and commercialize all of the North Slope’s energy resources, which include gas hydrates, shale and viscous oil, and other unconventional energy resources. Simultaneously, the Department of Energy is strongly interested in demonstrating that these resources can be developed on an economic scale. By establishing a framework for our continued work with the State of Alaska, we will advance America’s energy development and research, including our understanding of methane hydrates – a vast, untapped potential energy resource. And this agreement will help ensure Alaska continues to play a critical role in supplying America’s and the world’s energy needs”
With friends like this, does the environment need enemies?
Memorandum of Understanding Alaska Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Fossil Energy Energy Research, Methane Hydrates, and Other Unconventional Resources in Alaska
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