Environmental and health concerns for Delaware City Refinery's new plans for tar sands
The Delaware City Refinery has recently delayed plans for a proposed $1 Billion expansion and in lieu of, has launched a $60 million campaign to bring in tar sands via rail from Canada. This change in strategy will in no way addresses the Refinery’s continued assaults on local fish populations, the Delaware River, and the general environmental quality of the surrounding community. It does, however, create new environmental threats that will be more injurious to the Delaware City community and beyond.
What are Tar Sands?
Tar sands are oil that is naturally found in deposits consisting of mixtures of sand, water, clay and bitumen. Unlike standard oil deposits, tar sands oil cannot be pumped from the ground, but involves an extensive “mining” process, from which the oil is later extracted.
Extraction & Transportation
Currently operating at a capacity of over 190,000 barrels per day, the Refinery has plans to refine 100,000 barrels of tar sands oil daily. The extraction and transportation process in handling tar sands is extremely brutal to the natural environment.
The processing of tar sands can produce up to 5 times the amount of greenhouse gases as the process for refining conventional oil.
At the point of extraction, largely in Canada’s boreal forest, part of the world’s largest forest system, further assaults persists as large tracts of woodlands have been destroyed. The mining process involves consumption of vast amounts of water, which is largely unable to be reused and ends up in tailing ponds, which house toxic chemicals. Individual projects have accounted for water use greater than cities that have populations in the millions. Also in the crosshairs of tar sands projects are the human losses and animal casualties. Chemicals associated with tar sands extraction process include: lead, mercury, benzene and arsenic. There have been documented increases of cancer in tar sands communities of 30%, and increased threats to wildlife including death and deformities. Additionally, tar sands mining poses severe threats on Native hunting and fishing grounds.
Locally, increases in rail not only have the potential to create commuter traffic nuisances, but the exponential increase in freight will threaten local quality of life issues (noise, perpetual threats to wildlife). The threat of a toxins-laden derailed car has the potential to do unalterable damage to the local environment and any habitat and life in its wake.
Refining tar sands oil increases local threats to human health and the environment as well. Because of the increased thickness in contrast to conventional oil, and requisite watering-down at the time of extraction, it must be made suitable during refining through the use of natural gas liquids which involves burning off excesses.
In the process of refining, a slew of toxic heavy metals are released into the environment, and emissions have been correlated to prenatal brain damage and emphysema. Communities with tar sands refineries are associated with increased carbon, heavy metals, sulfur, lead, hydrogen sulfide and benzene compared to conventional oil refineries.