Just in time for world water day, researchers at Penn State university have discovered a new “waterless” method for extracting oil from the thick mix of clay, water and bitumen that makes up the tar sands.
The current method for getting the oil out of the sand involves using huge amounts of both fresh water and energy. Hot water is mixed into the sand, which is then piped to an extraction plant and shaken up to release the bitumen. Some of the water from the process is recycled, but huge amounts are simply dumped into toxic lakes.
The new process, according to the Penn State scientists, uses ionic liquids – salt in a liquid state – to separate out the oil from the sand, and, since it doesn’t use water, doesn’t create the tailings ponds. It has been widely reported as cleaner and eco-friendly.
There is not, and never will be anything intrinsically eco-friendly about the tar sands.