Oil Isn’t Just Gasoline; Cows Aren’t Just Beef – An Alberta Story

Oil -the viscous liquid derived from petroleum – is loved by some, and hated by others. But no matter how hard we try to reduce our reliance on it, it plays a much bigger role in our lives than we realize. In addition to gasoline, diesel, and other fuels, about 6000 or so everyday products are made from it. Some of them are shown in this diagram:

The first oil wells were drilled in China in 347 AD, but it wasn’t until 1849 that oil was distilled to produce kerosene. (This was the fuel that replaced whale oil.) There is no question that we will eventually have to find a replacement for oil too, but I have it on some authority that the whales do not want to take part again.

Here in Alberta, we are vilified in some quarters for our oil industry, (most recently because of the Oil Sands.) This industry accounts for approximately 8.5 per cent of Canada’s total GHG emissions and about 0.12 per cent of global GHG emissions. (Environment Canada 2015). Canada’s total emissions are 1.6% of global GHG emissions (Environment Canada 2012).

In recent years, the Oil Sands has countered the anti ‘tar sands’ rhetoric with discussions about the value of ‘Ethical’ oil that is produced in a  Democratic country that gives equal rights to all citizens, pays fair wages to employees, reclaims the land after projects are completed, and does not fund terrorism. This makes some Canadians wonder why Eastern Canada imports oil from Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Angola and Iraq, instead of building the pipe lines that would allow for Alberta oil to easily flow east.

The oil and gas industry has made a profound mark upon Albertan culture. Alberta singer, songwriter Corb Lund captures what the ‘workplace’ is like for those men who ‘pull the dragons from the ground’:

Alberta is also known for a Beef Industry that is the largest of the province’s agriculture sectors. It is estimated that Alberta’s livestock industry contributes about 1% of Canada’s total GHG emissions. The main gases emitted by this industry are methane from the animals, and methane and nitrous oxide from manure handling and storage.

But what about those cows? How ironic is it that the animal that is being blamed (partly) for global warming is the source of so many things, including manure, which is an excellent fertilizer and must be viewed and managed as a resource rather than as a waste. Other products include beef, milk, marshmallows, fertilizer, hides, soap, insulin, sutures, shoes, glue and more recently a motor oil that is made from animal fat.

The point of this story is – everything is intertwined, often in ways we don’t realize. The very things we think are the problem, might just end up being the solution to something else.

When I heated my home with oil, I used an average of 800 gallons a year. I have found that I can keep comfortably warm for an entire winter with slightly over half that quantity of beer.
– Dave Barry –

Let me tell you something that we Israelis have against Moses. He took us 40 years through the desert in order to bring us to the one spot in the Middle East that has no oil!
– Golda Meir, 1973 –

Post 295

24 comments

    • Hi Pensioner – I don’t know either, which is why it is good to see people looking for replacement resources, and not just alternate energy like sun and wind.

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  1. This was very interesting to me~ I hadn’t heard about using cow fat to make oil but it makes a lot of sense. My own attempt to use less oil in one form or another has met with little success but perhaps learning is the first step.

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    • Hi Melissa – oil certainly is a slippery subject! Like everything else in life, there are good fats and there are bad fats when it comes to food choices!

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  2. Not sure about cows, though I do love a good steak and if we can make use of the ethane they produce in the production of that succulent piece of beef then why not? Here in continental Europe there’s a big push for wind power. We have lots of wind towers in the landscape and I think currently over 40% of all Luxembourg’s energy is powered by wind. Which is encouraging considering we are down”wind” from a French nuclear reactor that is seeming to be well past it’s best buy date. Not sure how our wind towers will fare against a nuclear meltdown but I have iodine on hand, just in case.

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    • Hi Cathie – I seem to recall seeing French nuclear reactors parked very close to Luxembourg’s border! There are more and more wind generating facilities in our province, which seems logical with our constant wind.

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  3. Hi,
    A very interesting post. Yes oil is used in so much it really is amazing. But no doubt as the years go on different things will be invented, look at how far we have come in the last 100 years or so, what awaits the next generation in the next 100 years, things most likely we wouldn’t even think about today. 🙂

    I loved your quotes, brilliant. 😀

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    • Hi Mags – As always, I think mankind will adapt. It is either that or perish, and I don’t think that is nearly as likely as it has been in the past.

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  4. Great, informative post! As someone who heats with oil, I especially liked the opening quote from Dave Barry. The diagram is also excellent. I remember a trip to the Netherlands which unveiled wind tower energy production everywhere I went (and I don’t mean the old windmills). Americans seem to be fighting the idea of wind power because of the way the towers look and the noise they make. We need to think beyond today…

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    • Hi Carol – We live in a windy province so more and more wind turbines are being erected. I happen to like the look of them, but have never been close enough to know how noisy they might be. The turbines are, of course, dangerous to birds and bats, but realistically, every source of energy will have an impact on someone or something!
      Yes, we all need to think beyond today – reduce, reuse, recycle!

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    • Hi Lorna – There are so many ways to be more mindful of our surroundings. Here at the Red House we recycle everything we can, compost our vegetable scraps, use high efficiency light bulbs, etc. We’re always finding new ways conserve.

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  5. It’s because most people have hard time to give up the convenience of driving and good living that costs high energy to maintain. Solar energy makes sense, but ordinary people can’t really afford; wind energy is cheap, the problem is transporting it to hundreds of thousands of consumers…

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  6. I just love Dave Barry! Love his books! 😉 That quote is great!
    This is an interesting post, Margie! Good food for thought. Being green is so important. (as Kermit would say!)

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    • Hi Judy – There has to be a Dave Barry quote for just about everything! Yes, Kermit is right – it is important that we all try to be a bit greener.

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  7. We do need to explore all alternative sources of energy, and wisely use those we already have. The problem with those of us in the USA is we so want green alternatives to happen that our government tosses our money at companies who promise them, without due regard to whether or not they have the scientific or business ability to deliver.

    I love your quotes!

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    • Hi Peg – I agree – we want green alternatives, and we want them to be cheap, and we want them to work as well as the energy they replace. Is government involvement going to deliver these? I don’t think so.

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    • Hi Amanda – The Golda Meir quotation was almost too good to be true, but I found quite a few references to it throughout the web, including the year it was reported to have been said.

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    • Hi Mark – some of the first golf balls were made from cow hide and chicken feathers.Today there are made from petroleum products, so your slice can’t be blamed on the good old cow, I’m afraid!

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  8. Great post. I’m all for an alternative fuel, or energy source, but, like you I believe all will affect someone, or something in a harmful way. “Is government involvement going to deliver these? I don’t think so”. Not likely. Or, at least not until they find a way to capitalize on the proceeds. The first Electric Automobile, or, coach as it were came on the scene in Scotland with non-rechargeable cells in 1832. By 1897 Electric taxis were all over New York City…but, of course, by that time John D. Rockefeller had connected the worlds most powerful bankers, and millionaire marketers with a network of pipelines and crude. And then of course, viola …central banking!

    They weren’t likely to settle for selling just enough oil to keep batteries charged. I love the quotes you’ve used too. The one by Golda Meir, though definitely held as much water in Moses’ day as it did in 1973, may have sprung a leak 36 years later, with the oil finds by Zion Oil Company since 2009 steadily increasing. (Could wind up being the cause of world war 3) They haven’t hit the mother-load they are anticipating yet, so I guess time will tell.

    Didn’t mean to knit the whole ball of yarn…So, did you ever see any extra “Aurora” tonight?

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    • Hi Sonsothunder – My blog welcomes comments from a man who knits -and the whole ball at that!
      There isn’t going to be any one good source of fuel and feedstock to replace petroleum.
      I think each and every person has to take responsibility for monitoring and controlling their use of resources. That will be the first, and biggest step towards a cleaner world.

      The Car Guy and I were hoping the clouds would clear off, but it stayed overcast – no aurora last night. Maybe tonight.

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