Canoe. Alberta, Canada, Premier Ralph Klein is dismissing the possibility of building a nuclear power plant in the oilsands region to support the production and upgrading of the resource.
Klein also says that he is firmly set against using natural gas for the processing, preferring to see the oil sands companies use coal, hydroelectricity, coal bed methane or the bitumen itself as “much better alternative than using natural gas.”. Using natural gas would be a “tremendous waste of a resource.”
The issue arises because oil sands processing is energy—and hydrogen—intensive.
Historically, oil sands companies have relied on abundant and inexpensive natural gas for the heat used in processing, for the generation of electricity, and for the generation of hydrogen required for the hydrotreating upgrade of the bitumen.
According to the Oil Sands Technology Roadmap (OSTR), published by the Alberta Chamber of Resources, declining natural gas production combined with the projected “business as usual” rate of consumption for expanded oil sands production would lead to an unsustainable dependence on natural gas well before 2030, and perhaps as early as 2015.
OSTR identifies coal and nuclear as alternatives to natural gas for fuel and power. Coal has the added attraction of being an alternative hydrogen source by employing gasification, at economics that are increasingly attractive as natural gas prices rise.
Presumably, the electricity produced by the nuclear plant would also be used for electrolysis to generate hydrogen for upgrading the bitumen as well.
The portion of bitumen that might be used for fuel and hydrogen generation (via gasification) is the least valuable residue, which is similar to coal in its technical appeal.