Monday, February 15, 2010

As Canada Seeks Asian Tar Sands Investors, Marathon Moves Ahead With Detroit Refinery Expansion

As more American and Canadian firms turn away from Alberta's tar sands, Canada is courting Asian investors. The Canadian government recently approved a deal with the Chinese oil company PetroChina for a $1.9 billion majority share in two tar sands projects in the Mackay River and Dover areas. Canadian Prime minister Stephen Harper said to expect more energy investment from China.

The shift to Asian investment in the tar sands comes at a time of strong opposition to the energy intensive project. Major oil companies such as Shell have backed off their plans for expansion in the tar sands amidst a recent revolt by shareholders. The tar sands are controversial because producing one barrel of oil produces three times the amount of greenhouse gases than by conventional means.

The tar sands were booming when gas prices were high, but as gas prices fell so did tar sands production and plans to expand refineries. In October of 2008, environmentalists sounded the alarm that these refinery expansions would effectively export tar sands pollution to the Great Lakes region. These refinery expansions included the heavily industrial area of southwest Detroit. Marathon Oil announced that they were going to implement a $2.2 billion Heavy Oil Upgrade Project (HOUP). This expansion was abandoned in February 2009, due to poor market conditions. On February 3rd of this year Marathon Petroleum Company has announced that they will be going forward with the project.

Ironically enough, the project announcement came on the same day that The Detroit News did extensive coverage of a grassroots effort by residents of southwest Detroit to put a moratorium on industrial expansion which would stop the asphalt company Great Lakes Petroleum from opening up shop. Southwest Detroit residents of the 48217 ZIP code have the highest levels of fine particle pollution in the state.

In September of 2009, southwest Detroit residents used the EPA approved bucket brigade tool to test the air for dangerous pollutants. The bucket brigade tool is an easy to operate air sampler that is housed in a five gallon bucket. With the help of the grassroots organization Global Community Monitor, they found high levels of the hazardous substances Methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) and toluene.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment are doing air samplings and monitoring residents' results. The report should be finished in a few weeks.

Here are some related articles:

Canada looks to China to exploit oil sands rejected by US

Report: How the Oil Sands Got To The Great Lakes Basin

Marathon Petroleum's Detroit Refinery to Build Heavy Oil Upgrade Project

The Detroit News article: Southwest Detroit residents want industrial development halted in neighborhood

Bucket Brigade collects air sample, discovers high level of toxic chemicals

HOUP: Detroit Heavy Oil Upgrade Project

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