Year 4, Month 12, Day 28: I Ain’t Good-Lookin’, Babe.

US News And World Report’s Jeff Nesbit, on the Keystone XL:

Right now, there is an awful lot of dirty, heavy, crude oil sitting underground in vast areas of the Tars Sands region of Canada. The reserves of this very heavy crude oil – which is more expensive to refine and bring to market than any other type of oil – are big enough that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett once visited the region just to marvel at the untapped economic potential and money to be made there.

The only thing keeping much of this heavy, unrefined crude oil in Canada is cost. It’s why TransCanada and the oil industry needs the Keystone XL pipeline. It now costs $17 a barrel to ship this oil by rail. The cost would drop to $10 a barrel if it’s shipped through a pipe. That’s enough of a cost differential to matter – and potentially keep much of the oil locked up in Canada if Keystone isn’t built.

By some accounts, the Tar Sands reserves are as big as anything in Saudi Arabia or Venezuela. All by itself, financial analysts say, the Tar Sands could supply all of the United States’ energy needs for the next 30 years if 170 billion barrels of oil are recovered. It’s that big.

But should it be recovered? That’s the question that no one ever asks. TransCanada, Exxon Mobil, Suncor and every other big company looking to make trillions of dollars from the Tar Sands region just assumes that the answer is…well, yes, of course. They are already making money from the Tar Sands region. They just expect to make a lot more, with a bigger profit, if the Keystone pipeline is built.

But should it be built? That’s another question that no one ever really asks, largely because it runs counter to the history and notion of innovation that has defined America. People invent things, companies innovate, new industries are born, and economic winners enjoy the spoils of victory.

Yet it’s a question that needs to be answered sooner rather than later now that we know, with scientific certainty, that we only have a limited amount of time in this generation – and a finite budget of carbon that we can burn globally – before we tip the earth’s climate system towards an unstable and inhospitable state. The science question is settled. The economic one isn’t yet.

Kill it before it kills us! December 14:

The assertion that a transcontinental pipeline will reduce the cost of Alberta’s Tar Sands oil ignores several troublesome facts. Pipelines leak, and the crude intended for transport in the Keystone XL is a particularly toxic variety. Let it contaminate an aquifer en route, and the price goes up to include countless thousands of human lives.

More importantly, the CO2 emissions from the project would trigger runaway climate change an order of magnitude more severe than anything we’ve yet experienced. Such a planetary disaster would carry costs of Brobdingnagian proportions — damages which our trivia-obsessed political establishment seems incapable of imagining.

Let the exploitation of the Tar Sands proceed, and all of these consequences are inevitable — natural consequences of a business plan that profits from environmental destruction. We’d be better off minimizing and eventually eliminating fossil fuels from our energy economy, and leaving all that dirty crude in the ground.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 27: Happy Day After Boxing Day!

The Edmonton Journal explores the potentials of the Tar Sands:

Alberta’s oilsands reserves are a gift, blessing the province with jobs, Texas-sized bragging rights and a revenue stream most jurisdictions would envy.

But it is a gift that comes with strings.

As an ongoing Edmonton Journal series exploring the oilsands industry illustrates, some of those strings are difficult to untangle — especially persistent environmental challenges such as tailings ponds and greenhouse-gas emissions.

Let’s start with tailings, which is a problem the industry has wrestled with from the beginning, but the province only started cracking down on in 2009.

Oilsands, as the name implies, is by its very nature heavy on sand. The process of breaking the bonds between oil and sand adds a host of chemicals to the equation.

For decades, the resulting tailings ponds have been a problem with a solution promised just around the corner.

Only a single 220-hectare site has been reclaimed. In the meantime, tailings ponds have blossomed from 50 square kilometres in 2005 to 176 square kilometres in 2010.

Premier Alison Redford promised a Washington, D.C., audience that tailings ponds will disappear from the Alberta landscape in the near future.

Companies are investing in research to solve the problem and there are promising projects. A viable, affordable solution could be close.

But as of this moment, there is still, despite Redford’s statements, no magic bullet to the tailings problem.

There are parallels between the old problem of tailings and the newly appreciated problem of carbon dioxide emissions.

It’s actually a pretty good piece. December 13:

The oil industry’s sales pitch for developing the Tar Sands is full of reassurances. “There won’t be any environmental damage, and if there is, we’ll fix it.” “CO2 emissions will be trapped and sequestered.” “We need the energy to power our civilization.” “Our economy needs the stimulus.” “Nothing can possibly go wrong.”

It’d all be very soothing, if only it were true. If only these fossil fuel companies had a track record of living up to their promises. If only their history of malfeasance, mendacity, venality, incompetence and corruption didn’t give the lie to their assertions. If only our politics wasn’t dominated and controlled by the financial power of these same multinational corporations.

Our society is addicted to the ostensibly cheap energy provided by oil and coal, and the platitudes of their purveyors sound disturbingly like a heavy smoker dismissing a cardiologist’s warnings. We’d be better off overcoming our addictions.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 2: She’s My Curly-Headed Baby…

Great work against the PIPELINES recently. The Burlington Free Press (VT):

MIDDLEBURY — Activists attempted to draw the line against what they called dirty fuels Saturday.

As high noon hit the Middlebury Town Green, young families, teens, seniors and outspoken 30-somethings eagerly donned wide, orange strips of tape to connect each other in a human line intended to send an unyielding message against the Keystone XL, Vermont Gas, and Portland-Montreal pipelines.

Raymond LaLumiere of Leicester heckled guest speakers by shouting, “What about the facts? What about the facts?”

Rally coordinator Maeve McBride of South Burlington calmed the pipeline supporter so the more than 100 registered activists could listen to the speakers on the gazebo who rallied against pipeline projects in Vermont.

Activists at the rally were from the Center for Biological Diversity, joined by members of 350 Vermont, Rising Tide and other citizens to voice their opposition.

I sure do love reading about protests. September 24:

Patriotism is not expressed by flags and slogans, but by acting on a shared responsibility to the future of our nation and the world. It was two hundred and thirty-eight years ago that the Green Mountain Boys struck a decisive blow in the early history of America, catapulting Ethan Allen into our nation’s pantheon of legendary patriots, and laying the groundwork for the creation of the State of Vermont. The American Revolution was the world’s first fight to establish a country free from economic and political domination by a major world power, and its effects are still part of our lives, centuries later.

Now Americans are under the domination of a different sort of major power — the multinational corporations which profit by selling us fossil fuels. Just as King George III’s government disregarded the needs and wishes of the American colonists, these giant collective entities are indifferent to the common good…and just as the heroes of the revolution fought back against British rule, so too must ordinary citizens resist the incursions of our new corporate rulers. Ordinary citizens — like the patriots who came to Middlebury last Saturday to express their dedicated opposition to the destructive and polluting oil and gas pipelines proposed to cross Vermont.

When most eyes are focused on pop stars and the banalities of television news, these environmental activists seek a world where our energy consumption no longer endangers humanity’s future, while grossly enriching a corrupt few.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 8, Day 19: Boys, This Car’s Hotter’n a Two-Dollar Pistol.

The Winnipeg Free Press writes about the debacle at Cold Lake:

CALGARY – The Alberta Energy Regulator has ordered Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. to restrict the amount of steam it pumps into two oilsands projects following four spills earlier this year.

The move comes three weeks after the AER reported an emulsion of oilsands bitumen and water had been released into an unnamed water body on the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range in eastern Alberta.

The watchdog says Canadian Natural (TSX:CNQ) must restrict steam injection, enhance monitoring and speed up clean up efforts at its Primrose and Wolf Lake projects, which use a method called high-pressure cyclic steam stimulation to extract the bitumen.

“Although there have been no risks to public safety, until we investigate these incidents, better understand the cause of these releases, and what steps CNRL will to take to prevent them, we are taking these measures as a precaution,” said AER CEO Jim Ellis.

The AER ordered the suspension of steaming operations within the eastern part of Primrose earlier this year following three bitumen emulsion releases.

In late June, Canadian Natural reported a fourth release, prompting the AER to order CNRL to take further measures, including suspending steaming within one kilometre of the leak and restrict steaming throughout the northern and southern parts of Primrose.

High pressure cyclic steam stimulation — sometimes described as a “huff and puff” method of extraction — involves injecting steam into a reservoir through a well, letting it soak for a while and then drawing the softened bitumen to the surface through the same well.

It differs from steam-assisted gravity drainage, or SAGD, which uses two wells — one to inject the steam, and one right below it to flow the bitumen to the surface. The reservoir is also fractured using cyclic steam, whereas in SAGD it is not.

More on the addiction analogy. July 27:

Industrial civilization grew up on a diet of coal and oil, the liquid fossils of Earthly life from an unimaginably distant past. Like the “crack babies” of urban legend, our consumer culture was born addicted to these carbon-based fuels, and like any other addicts, we employ extraordinary creativity and resourcefulness to maintain the supplies of our chosen drug.

The destruction wrought in Eastern Alberta is a vivid example of the kind of unintentional sociopathy that is all too characteristic of addicts. Just as the junkie who burgled your apartment didn’t want to violate your privacy, nobody wanted a beautiful lake and a vibrant ecosystem to be destroyed — but in both cases, the demands of the habit took precedence over any- and everything.

Cold lake is a small and beautiful ecosystem now endangered by a single disastrous engineering decision. And what of Earth – a medium-sized planet in an unimportant galaxy — and its denizens? We too are endangered by societal choices made in the thrall of a crippling addiction.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 8, Day 18: Sweet Sister Morphine

The Edmonton Journal talks about the Cold Lake catastrophe and the response from First Nations people:

EDMONTON – The chief and council of Cold Lake First Nations want a tour of traditional lands contaminated by four recent surface releases of bitumen emulsion from oil wells, says the First Nations industry liaison.

“We have many concerns because that’s our traditional territory,” said Christine Chalifoux, who works as liaison between Cold Lakes First Nations and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. “As always, our concern is how much damage is done to the land and the wildlife that is out there.”

After a spill reported June 24 affecting 40 hectares of land at Canadian Natural’s Primrose South location, as well as three other spills at its Primrose East location this spring, the Alberta Energy Regulator ordered the Calgary-based producer to stop a process using steam to melt bitumen, allowing it to pool into wells before turning off the steam and pumping out the bitumen.

Both projects are on the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range about 240 kilometres east of Edmonton. That range, Chalifoux said, has been federally recognized as part of the First Nation’s traditional territory.

This is utterly tragic. July 26:

The apparently unstoppable bitumen leak that is rapidly destroying Cold Lake is a demonstration of the dangers inherent in allowing our planetary energy economy to become so heavily dependent on fossil fuels. There is a grim pathology evident in the behavior of all who participate in this system — everyone from corporate CEOs and their government enablers to ordinary consumers who need to drive to work.

Rationalizations, evasions, manipulations, and thoughtlessness are all depressingly common characteristics of addicts, and it is time to start calling our relationship with carbon-based fuels what it really is: an addiction. A junkie doesn’t care about the lives he destroys or the lies he tells, as long as he can get his next fix — and our petroleum-powered consumer society is likewise unconcerned about the destruction of regional ecosystems like that centered on a beautiful Alberta lake — we’ve gotta have that oil, whether it’s good for our long-term well-being or not (hint: it’s not).

The Earth itself — a small planet in an obscure corner of a minor galaxy — is increasingly vulnerable to the climatic consequences of our addiction. We all live on the shores of Cold Lake.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 8, Day 3: Just Shoot Me

The Chicago Tribune comes down heavily on the side of the predators:

North American railroads typically transport oil and other hazardous materials with care and caution. Yet the disastrous train wreck in Lac-Megantic on the U.S.-Canadian border points to the risks involved. A runaway train carrying crude oil exploded in a fireball, devastating the town.

In all commerce, public safety risks have to be weighed. This frightening crash points to a fact of life in the shipment of the continent’s fast-growing supplies of oil and gas. Pipelines are the safest means of transit, safer than trucks and trains. Safer for people. Safer for the environment.

Yes, this is an argument for the Keystone XL pipeline.

This page has voiced strong support for the privately funded $7 billion pipeline, which would connect the rich Canadian oil sands with U.S. refineries at the Gulf of Mexico and create thousands of jobs.

This is maddening, albeit predictable. July 16:

To assert that “pipelines are the safest means of transit” as an argument for approving the Keystone XL is a bizarre rhetorical evasion based on the unfounded assumption that the dangerous and dirty tar sands oil will inevitably be extracted and transported across the continental US.

This is like an emphysema patient rationalizing, “having purchased all these cigarettes, I must smoke them — but I’ll use a filter, which is safer.” Far better, obviously, to leave the tobacco unburned in the first place.

The question of pipelines’ safety record may be forever unresolvable: which is worse, an explosive train derailment or a massive leak over a vulnerable aquifer? But what has been resolved conclusively is that CO2 emissions from the Canadian Tar Sands are more than enough to trigger runaway climate change on an order far greater than any we’ve yet experienced. The Keystone pipeline is a disaster in the making.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 7, Day 10: I Heard It Through The Pipeline

Another day, another ruptured pipeline. Fort McMurry Today (Canada) reports:

Officials have confirmed that hundreds of barrels of crude oil have leaked from a ruptured Enbridge pipeline south of Fort McMurray, contaminating a nearby stream.

According to company spokesperson Glen Whelan, a leak was detected at approximately 5:20 a.m. on Line 37, a pipeline located 70 kilometres southeast of Fort McMurray between Anzac and Janvier.

Emergency crews found that approximately 750 barrels of light synthetic crude oil had ruptured from the pipeline. The crude slid down an embankment, contaminating an unnamed stream. Whelan says Enbridge shut the pipeline down “within minutes of the alarm warning.”

As of Saturday night, Whelan did not know how long it took emergency crews to respond to the scene, or how long the pipeline had been leaking.

The company is still investigating the cause behind the leak. However, investigators believe heavy rainfall in northern Alberta may have loosened the soil surrounding the pipeline, creating ground movement on the right-of-way that may have impacted the pipeline.

Clean up crews have installed booms in the area, preventing the crude oil from spreading to other areas and waterways.

Innumeracy is a useful element in the corporate game plan. June 23:

Good news! Enbridge managed to shut down their pipeline after a mere 750 barrels of toxic crude oil leaked into a nearby stream. That doesn’t sound like that much, does it? Let’s do the math and find out. A barrel turns out to hold just under 159 liters, so 750 times 159…hmmm, carry the four…. Well, that’s not so terribly reassuring. 120,000 liters is actually quite a lot of oil, especially when it gets spilled in a vulnerable ecosystem.

And here is the central problem with trusting the fossil fuel industry to act in the best interests of our society. Their business model depends on our society’s continued consumption of a substance which is highly poisonous across all scales of time, from the short term (contaminated water supplies, devastated ecosystems) to the long term (CO2 buildup in the atmosphere). In Enbridge’s corporate mission statement, responsible environmental stewardship can never be more than a footnote.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 6, Day 30: I Was Always There, Right On The Job

All plants and trees died. All of them. The Globe and Mail (Toronto):

The substance is the inky black colour of oil, and the treetops are brown. Across a broad expanse of northern Alberta muskeg, the landscape is dead. It has been poisoned by a huge spill of 9.5 million litres of toxic waste from an oil and gas operation in northern Alberta, the third major leak in a region whose residents are now questioning whether enough is being done to maintain aging energy infrastructure.

The spill was first spotted on June 1. But not until Wednesday did Houston-based Apache Corp. release estimates of its size, which exceeds all of the major recent spills in North America. It comes amid heightened sensitivity about pipeline safety, as the industry faces broad public opposition to plans for a series of major new oil export pipelines to the U.S., British Columbia and eastern Canada.

In northern Alberta, not far from the town of Zama City, the leak of so-called “produced water” has affected some 42 hectares, the size of 52 CFL fields, in an area less than 100 kilometres south of the Northwest Territories border.

No shame, these people. Sociopaths, every one. June 14:

When looking at the devastation wreaked upon Northern Alberta by almost ten million litres of toxic Tar Sands waste, it’s easy to understand why people everywhere are worried about what will happen should the Keystone XL pipeline be constructed across North America. After all, 100 percent mortality of vegetation doesn’t sound too healthy for fauna either. With that in mind, the recent news that internal TransCanada documents labeled anti-Keystone activists as “potential eco-terrorists” is even more disturbing.

If another nation dropped a bomb on Canadian forest land, exterminating everything within a 42-hectare space, it would rightly be condemned as egregious aggression; an act of war. If a sectarian group did the same thing it would justifiably be called terrorism. Why is it that when the same damage is committed by a multinational corporation based in Houston, Texas, it’s simply part of the cost of doing business? Who’s the terrorist in this picture?

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 6, Day 11: They’re Not Going To Care, Are They?

The Boston Globe looks at the pressure facing John Kerry over KXL:

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who for decades has portrayed himself as one of the nation’s leading environmentalists, is under siege from all sides as he faces one of the most difficult decisions of his career: whether to approve the Keystone pipeline.

Several environmental groups are set to launch campaigns this summer to pressure Kerry into opposing the pipeline. One will publicize his past calls to fight global climate change — statements that they argue would make Kerry look like a hypocrite if he now supports the pipeline.

Pipeline advocates, meanwhile, aregearing up for lobbying efforts of their own, hiring firms whose consultants include several former Kerry aides.

One measure of the intensity of public sentiment: A staggering 1.2 million comments — an unprecedented number — have been submitted by the public as part of the State Department’s review process.

The Keystone pipeline would transport tar sands oil from Canada to refineries along the Gulf Coast. Environmental groups warn that a spill along the route would have a devastating effect on drinking water and that turning the tar sands into usable fuel would result in excessive greenhouse gas emissions.

Just fucking block the thing, ok? May 28:

If John Kerry approves the Keystone XL pipeline, he will have bowed deeply to the corporatist forces which have largely co-opted our system of government. Given Kerry’s lifelong environmentalist orientation, such capitulation is a depressing diagnostic indicator of how deeply the rot has penetrated into our society.

The pipeline’s claims of minimal environmental impact have been revealed as risible, the loudly-touted job creation claims have been substantially debunked, the authors of the State Department’s study of the project are case studies in conflict of interest, and the world’s leading climatologists are unified in their assessment of the tar sands’ potential to trigger devastating and geocidal destabilization of Earth’s climate. What’s left? The Keystone XL is about profits, and nothing more.

If John Kerry wishes to be remembered as a statesman, he must place the lives of our descendants above the lure of unfettered gains for the privileged and powerful few.

Warren Senders

Published.

Year 4, Month 6, Day 8: Giving Kabuki A Bad Name

Political posturing? That’s the job description! The San Antonio News:

WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives passed legislation Wednesday that would speed construction of the Keystone XL pipeline — a largely symbolic measure with probably no chance of clearing the Democratic Senate and overcoming a presidential veto.

The bill approved 241-175 is the latest attempt by the Republican-controlled House to pressure the Obama administration to approve the pipeline that would transport oil sands crude from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

TransCanada Corp. first sought approval to build the border-crossing pipeline in 2005, and it likely will be many months or longer before the administration issues a final verdict on the project. Republicans accused the White House of foot-dragging and say the pipeline would ensure the United States uses more oil from a North American ally instead of hostile foreign regimes.

(snip)

The backdrop for the debate over Keystone XL is a bigger fight over Canadian oil sands development. Environmentalists say the proposed pipeline would spur use of more energy-intensive extraction methods than those used for conventional crude, resulting in increased greenhouse gas emissions.

Pipeline backers insist that blocking Keystone XL will do little to inhibit oil sands development. Trains and other pipelines will carry the product to the Gulf Coast even without Keystone XL, these supporters say, even as other projects could deliver bitumen to Canada’s west coast for export to Asian markets.

By Grabthar’s Hammer, I detest these fucking frauds from the bottom of my flabby middle-aged heart. May 25:

Leaving aside the absurd political theater of passing a bill which even its sponsors agree is entirely symbolic, the supporters of Wednesday’s pro-Keystone XL legislation are flying in the face of facts — and Ms. Dlouhy’s article unfortunately shies away from challenging their illogical and indefensible positions.

That the pipeline requires energy-intensive methods is not just something that “environmentalists say,” but a simple factual statement about the technical requirements of extracting the tar sands bitumen. Nobody on either side of the ideological aisle disputes that these methods are messy, polluting, and generate higher levels of greenhouse emissions — although conservative lawmakers are overwhelmingly likely to assert (even as the Oglala aquifer runs dry and Oklahoma is hammered by devastating tornadoes) that the greenhouse effect poses no danger to our civilization.

As to the dangers posed by running a pipeline full of toxic crude across the continental US, perhaps we should ask the residents of Mayflower, Arkansas what they think. Leaks and spills are inevitable; rather than acceding to a business strategy that derives profits from the despoilation of the land, perhaps we’d be better off just leaving that dirty crude in the ground, and finding ways to conserve, reduce, and eventually eliminate our use of fossil fuels.

Warren Senders