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

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