19. NUKE THE TARSANDS
An interesting teaser about nuking the tarsands to free up the resource:
"Intro: A step back in time and a blast from the past. Historian Michael Payne looks back at efforts to set off an atomic bomb at Cheechum Crossing. All in the name of getting oil out of the Athabasca Tar Sands.The article continues here.
With all the activity in Alberta's oil sands, just be glad this isn't the 1950s. Back then some very important people were absolutely convinced that they could release the oil by blasting it with atomic bombs and Cheechum Crossing near Fort McMurray was picked as the test site for the first detonation. Historian, Dr. Michael Payne, relates one of the more bizarre stories from Alberta's oil sands history."
Apparently the idea was killed in 1961, primarily due to the political climate, but it was resurrected again in 1970, and again in 1973. A related process was even patented, and the image of the patent can be found here:
Patent No. CA 933087, "Nuclear Explosive Method for Stimulating Hydrocarbon Production From Petroliferous Formations"
Following up a little, I found a DOE article, authored by the inventor of the above patent (whose owner is the U.S. Govt.). This file contains a wealth of information on how the Soviets used nuclear dynamite to stimulate hydrocarbon production. The results were surprisingly good -- recovery rates 40-80% higher for oil, and up to 20 times greater than normal for gas. It seems the Soviets were using nuclear well stimulation clear up until 1987, and some of the stimulated sites were still being actively developed as late as 1996. From the file:
"Summary of Oil and Gas Stimulation. Overall, the Soviet PNE program carried out 5 projects directed at the stimulation of oil production, all from limestone or dolomite reservoirs. Three of the projects utilized multiple explosions with yields between 2.3 and 7.6 kt. Results over 10–20 year production periods indicate an increase in production of about 40–80% over that projected for the fields before stimulation. Two oil stimulation projects using a single explosion have been carried out, but no results have been published. All of the explosions were completely contained, and no problems with radioactive contamination of the site or product have been reported except for Project “Grifon,” where product and ground water contamination appears to be a growing problem. The Soviet program to stimulate the production of natural gas appears to have consisted of two projects, only one of which produced results that have been reported. This project, “Neva,” utilized six 13- to 16-kt explosions for stimulating a dolomite reservoir and one 3.2-kt explosion in salt, presumably for storage or disposal of waste. Results over a 15-year production history indicate a recovery rate more than 20 times normal, results about 2 times more favorable than those for U.S. experience. All explosions were contained. Although the gas would be expected to contain a low level of tritium, no problems with product contamination have been reported."The report also mentions the discovery of a new phenomenon which facilitates oil recovery:
"Along with the mechanical alteration of the rock surrounding the explosion, Soviet scientists also report the discovery of a new phenomena, the permanent electrical polarization of the rock (see Fig. 4). The region of anomalous polarization extends to distances of 200–250 m/kt^1/3 from the explosion. It is directed toward the explosion point and facilitates the motion of oil toward the center of the explosion."Here's another interesting site on this topic:
It has illustrations showing what an underground nuclear device does:
One way of making this idea more palatable would be to look into other methods of producing massive explosions. For example, is it possible to use a fission-fusion device, and minimize or eliminate the fission component? Can the bombs be engineered to eliminate radiation? How about an antimatter-matter explosive? Or a fusion device triggered by an extremely powerful chemical explosive, like "Red Mercury" -- the substance the Russians are rumored to have invented? What is the most powerful chemical explosive you can engineer? Can you trigger underground fusion with lasers? Fusion may be a viable idea if you're doing it deep underground simply to cause an explosion, and don't have to worry about harnessing or controlling it.