Peeking at Peak Oil – The Tap of the Canadian Oil Sands

Kjell Aleklett, President of ASPO International

On Tuesday I will give a presentation at UBC’s Okanagan campus in Kelowna, Canada. Currently, a number of pipelines are planned through British Columbia (BC) and the leadership of BC must agree to their construction. Many people are opposed to the projects and in my presentation I will attempt to explain why it is that China, above all, wants the pipelines built. To my surprise the organisers have sent out a press release ( and have invited the public to attend the presentation titled, “Peeking at Peak Oil – The Tap of the Canadian Oil Sands”.

Without new “taps” it will not be possible to expand the production of the very viscous oil from Alberta. Currently there is one pipeline from Edminton to Vancouver and it passes north of Kelowna. Its capacity was increased to 300,000 barrels per day in 2005 and they are now planning to lay new pipelines along the same path so that the capacity will be increased to 750,000 barrels per day. It is estimated that this increase will allow 25 supertankers to export oil from Vancouver’s harbour every month.

China and South Korea have shown great interest in Canada’s oil sands and have invested $13.9 billion in them in the past three years. If these investments are to be profitable they need to build a new pipeline from Alberta and the planned “Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline” is estimated to cost $5.6 billion. China is willing to make this investment. This will move 525,000 barrels per day of produced oil to the Canadian coast but to move that oil out they will, simultaneously, need to pump 190,000 barrels of condensate per day to Alberta (to facilitate the production and transport of the viscous oil).

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers have shown that “Big Tar” plans to increase production by 4.5 million barrels per day by 2030. What this means for construction of new pipelines is described by the Vancouver Observer:

“Let’s be clear about one thing: Big Tar is planning to build lots of new pipelines. Keystone XL was just one of many. The tar sands industry says they plan to increase their production by 4.5 million barrels per day in the next 25 years. Here is how many pipes they will need to move that extra oil:
•15 new pipelines the size of existing Kinder Morgan Transmountain into Vancouver, or
•8 more pipelines the size of the proposed Enbridge “Northern Gateway” giant to Kitimat
“However you slice it, Big Tar has very aggressive plans that require slapping down a big new tar sands pipeline project every two to four years for decades.”