International Trip Provides Education for the States

International Trip Provides Education for the States

By the Honorable Cliff Branan, OK (SD — 40) 

As a late addition to the group of Exchange Council legislators travelling to Canada to learn about the Alberta oil sands, a number of questions quickly came to mind — perhaps most pressing of which was, “how cold would it be?”

Another question I considered was, “what makes this oil different from what is produced right here in Oklahoma, and why is it so difficult to extract?”

After an early wake-up call to fly two hours north from Calgary, our group landed north of Fort McMurray at a facility operated by Shell. I have never seen anything like it: a sprawling modern facility in the far reaches of the North, where oil is separated from basic beach sand and the sand replaced to reclaim the land. I was impressed by the high priority and constant focus Shell places on the environment and safety of their employees. I also learned a great deal about the process, such as the answer to my question about how the oil in the Alberta sands is different from our oil in Oklahoma. The oil (or bitumen) is ancient oil that has degraded to a heavier gravity than most oil found in the world.  When blended with lighter crude oils, it produces a refinery-quality crude that can be used just as more common crude oils.

This surface technique is only possible in certain portions of the Alberta oil sands, but Devon Energy developed a now widely-used ‘in-situ,’ or ‘in-place’ method of heating the underground reservoir by injecting steam and flowing the oil to the surface.  The environmental footprint is limited to the well pads and the central processing plant — similar to natural gas wells and processing in the United States.

I highly recommend this International Relations Task Force oil sands trip to others. We gained valuable information about the process, facilities, operations, environmental concern and employee safety. This first-hand experience provided an excellent education on the proper way to energy production.

As for the question of weather, it was surprisingly comfortable, even for this Oklahoma man.

In Depth: Energy

It is difficult – and perhaps even impossible – to overstate the relationship between readily available access to safe, affordable and reliable energy and individual prosperity and economic wellbeing. This is because energy is an input to virtually everything we produce, consume and enjoy in society. Think for a minute…

+ Energy In Depth