We're going to put the trees back too... no, really, we are...
May 20, 2012 9:33 AM   Subscribe

The Canadian oil sand mines refused us access, so we rented this plane to see what they were up to: A slideshow of oil extraction from above Alberta's tar sands fields. (Warning: surreally-coloured pools of water inside)

After his requests for information continue to fall on deaf ears, Business Insider's Military and Defense editor Robert Johnson hires a Cessna for a few hours, to see for himself.
It used to be that people would come to work the mines for a couple of years and go back where they came from, but that is changing as people put down roots and raise their children and grandchildren.

About 140,000 people are involved in working the oil sands, with 100,000 more jobs expected in the next five years.

So, no matter how you feel about the oil sands or the burning of all that oil, you can be sure that as long as there's a market for it and people need jobs, the oil companies aren't going anywhere.
A comprehensive set of his images are available on Flickr.
posted by nickrussell (129 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh, how we're going to regret this in a generation.
posted by tommasz at 9:36 AM on May 20, 2012 [12 favorites]


The fellowship would have had a whole lot easier time if they had rented a Cessna to do a recon flyover of Mordor too.
posted by sarastro at 9:44 AM on May 20, 2012 [11 favorites]


NASA's James Hansen described Canada's exploitation of tar sands as Game Over for the Climate.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:47 AM on May 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Except even the Dark Tower had a PR department that didn't reject facility tours outright.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 9:47 AM on May 20, 2012


Oh, how we're going to regret this in a generation.

I doubt that very much. It's providing employment for Canadians from across the country who would otherwise have worse jobs or no jobs at all, reducing American dependence on oil from the Middle East, and, once the projects are done, they'll be planted over with trees again. They definitely need to make sure that the tailings ponds are properly managed, but that's easily achievable. In fact, while the large strip-mining operations get all the press, most of the operations are in-situ, which involve no tailing ponds.

People lament the death of industry in North America - well, here it is. It may not look pretty, but that can't be the test for whether something is a long-term good.

NASA's James Hansen described Canada's exploitation of tar sands as Game Over for the Climate.

Yup. The oil sands produce a catastrophic 0.1% of global CO2 emissions. How will the planet ever survive with this industrial menace stalking humanity?
posted by Dasein at 9:50 AM on May 20, 2012 [20 favorites]


So Dasein, why would they do it with so much secrecy?
posted by fuq at 9:53 AM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I doubt that very much. It's providing employment for Canadians from across the country who would otherwise have worse jobs or no jobs at all, reducing American dependence on oil from the Middle East, and, once the projects are done, they'll be planted over with trees again. They definitely need to make sure that the tailings ponds are properly managed, but that's easily achievable.

Is there some way I can set up a thing that just emails this to Dasein in ten years
posted by theodolite at 9:54 AM on May 20, 2012 [39 favorites]


reducing American dependence on oil from the Middle East

What does this mean? Oil is sold on a global commodity market, meaning that everything that is produced becomes part of the total available pool of product, and prices are set by the market, not by the producer. Every purchase of oil from any source is part of buying oil from all sources. The only way to keep from purchasing oil from the commodity market is to find ways to extract it locally. And Canada is not the US, so tar sands oil is part and parcel of the global market.

Every time I hear "Canadian tar sands oil reduces American reliance on oil from the Middle East", I truly wonder what it means, since oil markets don't really work that way. Perhaps I'm mistaken in my understanding. I'd welcome being taught otherwise.
posted by hippybear at 9:56 AM on May 20, 2012 [16 favorites]


On the brightside, we all know that if you've done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear. And only wrong doers need privacy.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:59 AM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


It doesn't look so bad, save the first settling pond. Looks like reclaimation works nicely.

Shame that Camada basically gifts this resource to private enterprise. We should be extracting a lot more money from the oil companies.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:01 AM on May 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


Image #60: LEGOS EXIST
posted by Edogy at 10:01 AM on May 20, 2012 [18 favorites]


I have to agree with Dasein about the environmental impact. There are lots of worse ones in the world, including pretty much the entire industrial sector of the third world. If, somehow or other, North American societies decided to shut this operation down, they'd continue to buy oil from sources equally or more problematic. And we will keep consuming oil until it gets more expensive than the next options, whatever they turn out to be. As far as global warming is concerned, we've passed the tipping point; even if some countries manage to reduce their carbon impact, collectively the world will not be able to do that; the oceans are going to rise, and we're going to have to deal with the impacts of that, rather than worrying about colored pools of water way up north.
posted by beagle at 10:01 AM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


So Dasein, why would they do it with so much secrecy?

Because people react to these photos the way people are reacting in this thread, whether it's called for or not. They know bad press when they see it coming. But I agree, the smart thing to do is to invite everyone in, give them the tour, explain how you're creating jobs, and how you will develop an appropriate remediation plan when this is all mined out in 20 years. Don't let Greenpeace set the narrative.

Is there some way I can set up a thing that just emails this to Dasein in ten years

Go for it. The oil sands are driving Canada's economy, now that huge amounts of manufacturing has been offshored to China. If in ten years Canada is managing to balance its budget while paying the health care costs of the baby boomers, we'll have the oil sands to thank. The one thing I would hedge on is that while it's easily achievable to properly manage all the industrial waste, it's entirely possible that if, say Wildrose gets elected, the Alberta government won't bother forcing companies to manage it properly.

What does this mean? Oil is sold on a global commodity market

It means that America imports less and less oil from Saudi Arabia, and more and more from Canada. But, you make a good point - energy independence isn't a way to automatically starve the Saudis, because they'll just ship their oil to China, instead; and it doesn't automatically mean that Americans pay a lower price, because the oil price is set globally. The exception to that is that since Canada can't get its oil to global markets - until the Northern Gateway pipeline is built - it has to sell it at a discount to the American market.
posted by Dasein at 10:02 AM on May 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


One of the most powerful movies I've ever seen had no dialogue or narration - just aerial views of the tar sands, shot from a helicopter.
posted by Vectorcon Systems at 10:03 AM on May 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Worth noting that the Energy Returned on Energy Invested in bitumen mining is about 3:1.

It takes 1 barrel of oil equivalent in fuel, materials, etc. to extract and upgrade 3 barrels of oil (equivalent).

That's worse than wind and solar for most of the world. And arguably it's too low to support civilization.

The reasons the tar sands are profitable, as far as I see:
  1. free carbon pollution, externalities of climate change not priced. Likely that pollution cleanup is also not being properly priced (but that's par for the Canadian course)
  2. fracking and cheap natural gas,
  3. structural dependence on oil (due to car infrastructure)

posted by anthill at 10:04 AM on May 20, 2012 [28 favorites]


You don't need to rent an airplane unless you are determined to get a close up view that will likely make you sick to your stomach. Google satellite view on Athabasca and it is obvious there is like a 50 mile diameter strip-mined hole in ground at 57 degrees north and 112 degrees west.

The companies are under contract to restore the land to some approximation of its original condition when they have extracted the oil sand but it is pretty damn obvious that approximation is not going to be even close.
posted by bukvich at 10:05 AM on May 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


So Dasein, why would they do it with so much secrecy?

There's little secret. These aren't the first photos. National Geographic was out there in 2009, for example. However, he wanted a "mine tour" and I guess that means walking around. There's a lot of danger out there for anyone, but especially someone with no HSE training. Anyone who writes, "Thanks Mike, I'd have never known where to buy that hard hat and reflective vest without you" really doesn't need to be roaming around that site.
posted by Houstonian at 10:07 AM on May 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


However, he wanted a "mine tour" and I guess that means walking around. There's a lot of danger out there for anyone, but especially someone with no HSE training.

I've been on many an open cast mining tour (admittedly not in Canada), and I've got no HSE training. Its very common to take investors out on tours like what he was requesting.
posted by JPD at 10:16 AM on May 20, 2012


Holy crap that's a lot of sulfur. I'm just glad that smell-over-IP hasn't been perfected yet.
posted by Johnny Assay at 10:16 AM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


it has to sell it at a discount to the American market.

There has been a recent gap between Brent crude and WTI, based on the fact that Brent crude is traded at port, whereas WTI is traded in the middle of Oklahoma. In recent years, as Canadian production has ramped up, there has been an oversupply of WTI, sitting in the middle of America. The transport costs of brining that oil to sea raises the price above that of Brent, thus it has been stored.

It is that oversupply that has created the discount factor for Canadian oil. There is a pipeline that runs from the sea to Oklahoma, however it's been traditionally used to bring oil in. With the glut that exists, it's apparently being reversed, so that oil can now be taken out, which should somewhat rebalance the price between WTI and Brent crude.

To digress, this at a time when the United States has a heavy focus on energy efficiency and energy security. Demand for oil is expected to continue to fall to a more 'internally' sustainable level, if Canada and Mexico are included in the term 'internally', which illuminates the heavily-intertwined fates and fortunes of North America.

Back to oil pipelines and the addicts that love them, this has been the major push-and-pull about the Keystone Pipeline, from Canada straight into the refinery centres of Texas. The issue with oil is 1) finding it, 2) moving it, 3) refining it, and then 4) distributing it. All the crude in the world doesn't do one any good, until it is refined into useful products – as Iran well-knows. Iran is a net exporter of crude oil, and has been a net importer of gasoline.

Overall, the idea strategy remains energy-efficiency and shifting the majority of transport to electric-based. We will never get rid of the need for oil, that is assured, however, the tar sands show that we are addicted to it. Like a drug addict sniffing around the carpet for left-over remnants. Burning the furniture for warmth in a long winter of our own creation.
posted by nickrussell at 10:20 AM on May 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


hippybear: "Every time I hear "Canadian tar sands oil reduces American reliance on oil from the Middle East", I truly wonder what it means, since oil markets don't really work that way."

The more the US relies on Canadian oil, the more Quebec relies on Middle Eastern oil.

"Ethical Oil" is a marketing lie and anyone who repeats it really just advertising their gullibility.
posted by klanawa at 10:22 AM on May 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


The more the US relies on Canadian oil, the more Quebec relies on Middle Eastern oil.

This is a new one... please do tell...
posted by nickrussell at 10:25 AM on May 20, 2012


Yup. The oil sands produce a catastrophic 0.1% of global CO2 emissions. How will the planet ever survive with this industrial menace stalking humanity?

Do you mean the emissions from the production of oil from tar sands, or from the oil produced by tar sands when it's later used? Because the former is bound to be small, whereas the latter is the real worry. The issue is that we've found a new source of fossil fuel that will allow oil consumption to continue unabated. Efficiency needs to be the watchword, and increasing oil prices help drive that. Of course, higher prices also help drive the exploitation of new sources, so it's a political rather than an economic decision how much tar sands are mined. Making such a decision will harm the economy in the shortrun, for sure, but the longrun is that we avoid the worst of the CO2 effects, whatever they be.
posted by Jehan at 10:26 AM on May 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


My understanding is that the climate impact of a given activity can vary based on where you are conducting that activity. I'm told that even if flying and driving produced the same emissions per person, flying would be more harmful to the overall climate since the emissions are deposited at a higher level of the atmosphere. Similarly, I recall hearing that many industrial pollution sources can have more deleterious worldwide climate effects when conducted closer to the poles. Am I remembering this correctly, or am I misremembering some argument about more local environmental effects being more serious in arctic regions due to the environment there being more fragile (also a big problem for the Canadian tar sands development)?
posted by eviemath at 10:30 AM on May 20, 2012


The Oil Drum had a great post yesterday collecting lots of news links about oil and energy; the first one is to a Globe & Mail article, The age of extreme oil: ‘This used to be a forest?'

This encounter was born of a new dynamic: the age of extreme oil. Gone are the days of sweet Texas crude and boundless Arabian oil fields, when petroleum lay so near the surface that all a company had to do was prick the Earth's crust and let the black gold gush. To the environmentalists who worry about reaching “peak oil” (and a subsequent decline in fossil fuels), critics can point out accurately enough that the world is flush with new hydrocarbon reserves. They are less quick to acknowledge the epic complexity and risks of most of these new finds.

Alberta's oil sands are the obvious example: Here, on average, two tonnes of earth must be strip-mined and seven barrels of water heated to steam in order to produce a barrel of oil. It takes a barrel's worth of energy to produce just three barrels of oil; 30 years ago it would have been 100.


Seems very obvious we should be putting much more time into non-oil-related energy sources, and less time into scraping the bottom of the fossil fuel barrel.
posted by mediareport at 10:31 AM on May 20, 2012 [19 favorites]


So Dasein, why would they do it with so much secrecy?

This isn't secrecy; this is a routine level of corporate media control. You'll find muntaintop-removal coal mining companies and nuclear plant operators also aren't big on all-access media tours. Heck, I've been banned from taking photos inside the manufacturing operations of wind-turbine component makers. And the mining of the many precious metals in this laptop and your smartphone ain't pretty, either.

I'm about as far from an apologist for the tarsands as you'll find among people who call themselves Albertans - the majority of my working life is dedicated to reporting on ways to end the fossil fuel age in my lifetime - but the rhetoric from the industry's critics is now guilty of the same sort of hysteria, hyperbole and obfuscation it loathes in the industry itself.

I respect the hell out of James Hansen for his twenty-odd years of tireless advocacy, but if you crunch the numbers on his game over scenario, you find that it's predicated on the idea that Alberta bitumen mining can add 200ppm to global CO2 all by itself. To accomplish this, at a rate of 5 million barrels mined per day (more than double current production levels) would take until - wait for it - the year 3316.

It's a messy business. The Canadian and Alberta governments have done an appallingly poor job of regulating it, and their us-vs.-them growth-at-all-costs attitude have undermined Canada's once-sterling reputation as a responsible environmental steward in a couple of short, mean years. About the only good use I can see for Joe Oliver is as a blunt instrument with which to pound Stephen Harper senseless.

That noted, the tarsands is no more "game over" for the climate than any other given couple million barrels of oil per day. The commodity remains the hardest of the fossil fuels to readily replace. And coal remains the enemy of humanity, as it always has been.
posted by gompa at 10:31 AM on May 20, 2012 [22 favorites]


This is a new one... please do tell...

This is the idea that Canada should be shipping the crude east, instead of south, for refining. It's actually starting to happen. It's a bit of an odd complaint, given the way Quebeckers demonize the oil sands - but it's illustrative of exactly what the trade-off here is. Not whether to burn oil or not, but whether to burn Canadian oil, or Saudi and Nigerian oil.
posted by Dasein at 10:31 AM on May 20, 2012


This is what happens when rural Ontarians vote to let Alberta run the country.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 10:34 AM on May 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


This is what happens when rural Ontarians vote to let Alberta run the country.

Anyone who thinks what's happening in northern Alberta is a break from established tradition in Canadian industry knows shit-all about the history of Ontario nickel mining, BC forestry, the maritime fisheries and the Hudson's Bay Company, among many others.

Again, not a defence, but this crazy-rednecks-in-Alberta rhetoric eventually grates even on a pinko treehugger like me.
posted by gompa at 10:39 AM on May 20, 2012 [15 favorites]


So Dasein, why would they do it with so much secrecy?

That's kind of a dumb question.

I once was contracted to do some IT stuff on the production floor of a company that makes Little Debbie Snack Cakes. After the background check, I had to sign a stack of waivers and NDAs and I was searched before and after for cameras and whatnot and had a handler who stayed with me the whole time I was there.

All this for the production of little dessert cupcakes.

Maybe they were weapons grade, I dunno.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:39 AM on May 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


About the only good use I can see for Joe Oliver is as a blunt instrument with which to pound Stephen Harper senseless.

Hey now. The fact that gay marriage is legal in Canada doesn't mean it's mandatory.
posted by Dasein at 10:42 AM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is what happens when rural Ontarians vote to let Alberta run the country.

Also, if Ajax-Pickering and York Centre are "rural Ontarians," them I'm a cowpuncher on the open goddamn range.
posted by gompa at 10:42 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Oil companies are required to return the land to its original condition..."

Ha. Ha ha ha. Hahahahahahahahahaha.
posted by steamynachos at 10:54 AM on May 20, 2012 [11 favorites]


Yup. The oil sands produce a catastrophic 0.1% of global CO2 emissions. How will the planet ever survive with this industrial menace stalking humanity?
posted by Dasein


So says some random guy on the internet with no citation, no plausible argument, and, quite frankly, very little accrued credibility from previous comments.

James Hansen, on the other hand, who is virtually by consensus the most respected climate scientist in the world, says in jeffburdges' final link that the tar sands contain enough carbon to produce more than double the carbon dioxide emissions of all previous burning of fossil fuels in the entire world to date.

Oh, who, who to believe-- who will free us from this terrible dilemma?
posted by jamjam at 10:58 AM on May 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


James Hansen, on the other hand, who is virtually by consensus the most respected climate scientist in the world, says in jeffburdges' final link that the tar sands contain enough carbon to produce more than double the carbon dioxide emissions of all previous burning of fossil fuels in the entire world to date.

Again, this is technically accurate, but Hansen omits the key piece of information, which is that such a tarsands bonfire would require the complete exhaustion of the resource - a feat not even the industry thinks is possible - and take 1,300 years. The best source on this is Andrew Leach of the University of Alberta, who's obsessed with hard data and is as impartial as anyone I've found.
posted by gompa at 11:03 AM on May 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


(Seriously, anyone who knows me would find it pretty absurd that I'm in the role of "industry defender" here. My Vancouver book launch was at enemy-of-the-Harperite-petrostate Tides Canada's office for chrissake . . .)
posted by gompa at 11:05 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, if Ajax-Pickering and York Centre are "rural Ontarians," them I'm a cowpuncher on the open goddamn range.

Have a look at York Region on Google Maps.

Happy punching!
posted by Sys Rq at 11:14 AM on May 20, 2012


York Centre riding reaches all the way up to Steeles Ave. Lotta yeoman farmers in Thornhill, are there?
posted by gompa at 11:20 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anyone who thinks what's happening in northern Alberta is a break from established tradition in Canadian industry knows shit-all about the history of Ontario nickel mining, BC forestry, the maritime fisheries and the Hudson's Bay Company, among many others.

So 20th Century myopia somehow justifies 21st Century criminality?
posted by philip-random at 11:22 AM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


... or maybe it's just an honest lack of perspective
posted by philip-random at 11:26 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


And here is one very immense pile of coke.
posted by snofoam at 11:30 AM on May 20, 2012


jamjam, that's brilliant. Because you don't agree with me, my facts must be wrong. What a convenient way to live your life. "Accrued credibility!" You would have fit right in with the Bolsheviks. Look up the numbers yourself if you're so interested - Canada's share of global CO2 emissions is 2%; the oil sands make up 5% of Canada's emissions. The math is easy.
posted by Dasein at 11:34 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also a very immense pile of coke.
posted by hippybear at 11:35 AM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


One needs only look at a map of which ridings are Conservative in Ontario to see that, indeed, this is rural Ontario's fault. We've known for decades that Alberta is a 'bad apple', but that didn't stop up from voting in these Albertan hooligans and wannabe criminals.
posted by Yowser at 11:35 AM on May 20, 2012


I think people are also missing one fact: forests sequester CO2 and cutting down a forest releases all the CO2 that was stored in the trees and plants. This would be an ecological disaster, even if you didn't count anything below scraping off the topsoil.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:39 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


cutting down a forest releases all the CO2 that was stored in the trees and plants

Well, no. Cutting down and burning a forest releases a good portion of the CO2 that was stored. Simply cutting one down only stops more from being stored, as whatever had been stored previously remains stored in the wood and other plant material.
posted by hippybear at 11:42 AM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Find what: oil sands
Replace with: tar sands
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 11:43 AM on May 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


The scale of this project is just unreal. Those dumptrucks are barely believable. Thanks for the post.
posted by painquale at 11:43 AM on May 20, 2012


So 20th Century myopia somehow justifies 21st Century criminality?

Here, again, are literally the next four words in the post of mine you've quoted: Again, not a defence. I'm sorry that wasn't clear; in my mind it means the same thing as not a justification. My further regrets that we've lost the blink tag here on the blue, or I'd make these phrases blink for you as well.

In Canada, the development of the tarsands is being framed as a sort of ideological battle between enlightened and unenlightened regions. (Witness the posts in this thread suggesting that the Conservatives winning 32 of 47 seats in the Greater Toronto Area and 21 of 36 in British Columbia indicates that "rural" Ontario and Alberta are the only constituencies in favour of the industry's growth).

Whereas to my mind the tarsands is one piece of a global fossil fuel dependency - and not even a particularly large one, especially compared to coal - and so drawing battle lines between regions within Canada like this only serves to delay concerted action on the larger problem and (likely) to reinforce the industry's (and our loathsome Conservative government's) own rhetoric that a bunch of have-nots and pinkos are trying to impose overzealous regulation from without. If you label the thousands of Canadians who work in this industry as criminals and climate killers, you're making the same mistake that (for example) delayed collaboration - or even civil discourse - between industry, labour, government and greens on clearcut logging for a great many years.

But hey, I'm sure it feels awesome to assume that climate change is mostly the fault of a bunch of overfed greedy Albertans. Such a relief. I could move 250 kilometers west and no longer be part of the problem!
posted by gompa at 11:51 AM on May 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Might I introduce you to the work of Edward Burtynsky?
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 11:52 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


this crazy-rednecks-in-Alberta rhetoric eventually grates even on a pinko treehugger like me

It's not that sort of rhetoric at all. It's more Tory voters in Ontario not realizing and/or not caring that the Tories don't actually do much that benefits them.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 11:53 AM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, no. Cutting down and burning a forest releases a good portion of the CO2 that was stored. Simply cutting one down only stops more from being stored, as whatever had been stored previously remains stored in the wood and other plant material.

And then the biomass rots and decomposes, and all the CO2 is released.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:53 AM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


And even that doesn't hold a candle to the amount of carbon released by all that peat scraped off the pits.
posted by steamynachos at 11:55 AM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Witness the posts in this thread suggesting that the Conservatives winning 32 of 47 seats in the Greater Toronto Area and 21 of 36 in British Columbia indicates that "rural" Ontario and Alberta are the only constituencies in favour of the industry's growth

Given that the wins in Toronto especially were largely due to the electorate moving to the left and splitting the vote, I'm not sure that holds up too well.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 11:56 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


That it's not pretty is just an optics problem. That they put "back" trees is an optics solution. What they are really doing is taking apart the boreal forest, an ecosystem, the breeding ground of many migratory bird species that are declining. (But to state the obvious, the tar sands are not the only major force affecting the boreal forest.) They put back trees, but they can never put back the wetlands, the ecosystems displaced.

Wish I had better links, but gotta run.
posted by Listener at 11:59 AM on May 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


“You know how they say ‘big money, big problems'?” said Mr. Bird, a father of 10 with a boxer's build and a shaven head, after the introductions. “That's what happened here. Fifteen years ago, when there were only two oil plants, moose would wander into the front yard and the lake was full of fish. Now, there are 20 oil plants and everyone has a job, but there are no more fish in the lakes and we haven't seen a moose here in years.”

“How do you eat?”...

“We go to the store.”

“Has your economic situation improved?”

“Money is there,” Mr. Bird said, “but we fight over it non-stop. … Nobody trusts each other.”

“Do your children get a better education?”

“Good enough to work for the oil companies.”
That's from the Globe and Mail article that mediareport linked. The only reason strip-mining what little remains of our natural resources is profitable is because none of the companies running it plan on being in business by the time they proceed with restoration. They'll bankrupt all of their little subsidiaries, leave the indigenous people and everyone else with the bill, and proceed to find another promise to break. The assortment of companies that turned my hometown into a chemical dumping ground did the same thing. Though they were considerate enough to leave pools of pure mercury on the ground.

What can you say about a society that destroys an environment that took hundreds of thousands of years to create in order to have more shit to put in bigger houses that have to be miles away from daily activities? We are stupid, stupid, stupid.
posted by deanklear at 12:21 PM on May 20, 2012 [31 favorites]


The kids get it. Most of them. The tragedy is that It will take a couple generational die offs for them to have the power to fix things. Except by then we'll be rather fucked compared to now.
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:33 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


As an aside, there are many spectacular songs by VNV Nation, but Carbon is one of the better environmentalism songs I've heard.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:45 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


The only reason strip-mining what little remains of our natural resources is profitable is because none of the companies running it plan on being in business by the time they proceed with restoration. They'll bankrupt all of their little subsidiaries, leave the indigenous people and everyone else with the bill, and proceed to find another promise to break. The assortment of companies that turned my hometown into a chemical dumping ground did the same thing. Though they were considerate enough to leave pools of pure mercury on the ground.

The ironic thing is that a not-insignificant portion of the population of Fort McMurray, AB is from Cape Breton. I can't say I blame them for following the jobs, but, yeesh.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:57 PM on May 20, 2012


Minnesota's Canadian Tailpipe:

About 80% of our oil comes from Canada, fed into the state via the Enbridge Pipeline System—historically known as the Lakehead Pipeline. When it was first built in 1950, it ran almost 1,000 miles from Edmonton, Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin. A few years later, it was extended all the way to Sarnia, Ontario. A junction point at Clearbrook, Minnesota connects to the Minnesota Pipeline, which brings petroleum down to refineries in Rosemount and Saint Paul Park.

...Oil sands are being used to produce more and more of our oil each year. The amount used by our state is unclear, but Canadian oil sources have shifted to the point where about half of their production comes from oil sands today. If this holds for Minnesota, 30 to 40 percent of our liquid fuel comes from tar sands, and it's an ever-increasing proportion.

(Incidentally, the refinery in Rosemount is run by Flint Hills Resources, which is owned by Koch Industries of Koch brothers fame.)

It would also be interesting to know what proportion of overall Alberta oil goes down this pipeline.
posted by gimonca at 1:03 PM on May 20, 2012


We are like the heroine in 50 Shades of Grey. Oil is the Red Room of Pain and the tar sands are like her request for "No Fisting".
posted by humanfont at 1:11 PM on May 20, 2012


"beagle: I have to agree with Dasein about the environmental impact. There are lots of worse ones in the world, including pretty much the entire industrial sector of the third world...."

Thanks for that! We'll all sleep better knowing our environmental impacts are better than those of the Third World. So that's why Mr. Harper's government is in the process of upgrading Canada's environmental and fisheries legislation to 3rd World standards!
posted by sneebler at 1:18 PM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sys Rq, it's worth pointing out that while the Tar Ponds were awful, they've also being remediated - at huge cost, of course, and any company operating in the oil sands understands that this time around it won't be the government footing the bill if contamination isn't dealt with.

So that's why Mr. Harper's government is in the process of upgrading Canada's environmental and fisheries legislation to 3rd World standards!

I don't know much about the fisheries aspect (though could we do a worse job of managing the fishery than we did before?), but the environmental assessment process has been badly in need of fixing. There's no reason for a project to have to go through two duplicative reviews, at the provincial and federal level, which consider exactly the same factors. And it's absolutely true that environmental groups use the process to stall projects, rather than simply to ensure that arguments are heard on their merits. The environmental standards aren't being changed - the process is just being made better.
posted by Dasein at 1:24 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


The environmental standards aren't being changed - the process is just being made better.

No. They are being broken worse.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:30 PM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I tend to agree with gompa here - Canada has never, ever been recognized for its environmental stewardship.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:39 PM on May 20, 2012


Wherever you are, the spot you are sitting or standing on, right this second - what was it like 200, 300 years ago?
posted by caclwmr4 at 1:42 PM on May 20, 2012


>>>>>>>>People lament the death of industry in North America - well, here it is. It may not look pretty, but that can't be the test for whether something is a long-term good.>>>>

Dasein, have you really looked at these pictures? I can't understand how anyone can not feel sad and horrified for ourselves and the earth. I don't normally consider myself a woo woo person and I drive my car as much as anyone else, but this is really a product of a species who has turned their backs on the earth and on ourselves. This is the product of a species that has lost all connection to the earth and doesn't remember that the earth nurtures us and doesn't remember that it's one huge ecosystem and it's all connected. An entire family died using the road next to this from the production fumes. Does anyone really believe that this land is going to be returned to its original pristine state anytime soon.
posted by gt2 at 2:31 PM on May 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


The ironic thing is that a not-insignificant portion of the population of Fort McMurray, AB is from Cape Breton.

that link brings back memories for me - my uncle lived a few blocks from that mill described in the article and i spent a summer there - most of the time the wind blew the other way - but the few nights it didn't - oh.my.god.was it horrible - i'd stand out on the porch with neighborhood kids, smoking cigarettes - (and you always had to hand someone your butt before the smoke was done) - and all i could taste was steel mill

and of course, with a huge unemployment rate, cb'ers are going to go anywhere and do anything for a decent living ...
posted by pyramid termite at 2:32 PM on May 20, 2012


KokuRyu & gompa are right; Canada certainly isn't an environmental powerhouse. Here the major companies that pay for political support are almost entirely resource-based.

One effect of urbanization in Canada is that in and around the cities things are kept fairly clean, but once you're out in the hinterlands all bets are off - the economies become solely about getting the wood, the minerals, the oil. Any environmental concerns quickly generate threats about companies leaving and going to 'friendlier' countries. Then the cries go up about local jobs, the tax base, etc.....

The politicos on the left need the unions and on the right they need the board members. I just don't see a quick solution to this anytime soon.
posted by Salmonberry at 2:34 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dasein, have you really looked at these pictures?

Yes. And the (better) ones in National Georgraphic. I wouldn't build a playground nearby, but I really have no problem with some areas, especially remote areas, being devoted to industrial use - even if it scars the landscape. Canada has unbelievable tracts of boreal forest; this is not an endangered ecosystem. And as I said above, most oil sands extraction (about 80%) is in situ, not strip-mining. As long as the areas are remediated after production is finished, I think it's a totally reasonable price to pay for extracting a resource that is essential to the global economy and our way of life, and I think the economic benefits far outweigh the environmental costs. The oil sands are to Canada's future what central Canadian manufacturing was to its past. And I think that the environmental effects will be much better-handled than they were in say, Sudbury or Sarnia.
posted by Dasein at 2:46 PM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


And then the biomass rots and decomposes, and all the CO2 is released.

Sigh - no, it doesn't - even if it were not the best of lumber, it would get chipped-up, turned into powder, shipped to Sweden, put into a trendy designed package and shipped back in flat-pack form to buy from IKEA...

Then, after 2-5 years when it inevitably falls apart, or the current owner decides on a new, trendier "ICKBURG" style, then it may end-up in a landfill, where it will decompose and release the CO2... Potentially, if the current owner knows any other suckers (er... dear friends), then it may escape the landfill for a few more years...
posted by jkaczor at 2:48 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


An entire family died using the road next to this from the production fumes.

I forgot to add, do you have a link for this? I'd never heard of this before.
posted by Dasein at 2:50 PM on May 20, 2012


The environmental standards aren't being changed - the process is just being made better.

You are getting a little careless there, Dasein. The process is being made better, all right -- for the resource extraction industries.

Among the changes to the 70 or so pieces of existing legislation in the current Federal "budget" now being rushed through with negligible opportunity for Opposition scrutiny, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act is taken apart; The Species At Risk Act and the Fisheries Act have been changed to apply only to a restricted set of lakes and streams; habitat protection provisions under the Fisheries Act are effectively removed; and only species considered important economically, ecologically or to aboriginals are now given any Fisheries Act protection at all.

That's just a start. The Minister personally now decides which fish get protected, and which can be ignored. Only species considered important economically, ecologically or to aboriginals will be subject to Fisheries Act protection. The whole idea that some species can be designated as "unimportant", particularly by the current Minister of Fisheries, betrays a profound ignorance of ecology and the kind of work it takes to make such a determination -- not to mention the value judgment involved. That's not surprising: the current government continues to show its utter contempt of environmental science in its cynical closure of the Experimental Lakes Area and the Kluane Research Station, to cite just 2 instances that have arisen in the last week.

You may well find these changes make the process "better" from your point of view. But I do look forward to your explication as to how these changes actually don't exist.
posted by dmayhood at 2:53 PM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


dasein: The environmental standards aren't being changed - the process is just being made better.

That is indeed the government's stance. Their recent arbitrary and unthinking cuts to Environment Canada, and the extreme measures they've taken to deny ANY debate on this subject fill me with confidence.

Seriously, I don't think you've been paying attention.
posted by sneebler at 2:55 PM on May 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


An entire family died using the road next to this from the production fumes.

um... I've lived in AB for 10 years and haven't heard that one.

Now - the road between Fort Mac and the rest of the province is horribly under-engineered and there are constant traffic fatalities due to speed, and the sheer amount of traffic volume currently on it.

But fumes?

Yes there is pollution, yes it appears to be getting into the wateshed - to me, that and the horrendous use of water (50 barrels of water to make 1 of oil) in a province rapidly drying up (with a history of drought) is worse than turning muskeg into prairie (and potentially forest)- at least you can farm prairie in the future... (if... you had the water...)
posted by jkaczor at 2:55 PM on May 20, 2012


The oil sands produce a catastrophic 0.1% of global CO2 emissions.

Hansen's point, which he clarified, was that if humanity is willing to destroy an ecosystem on a scale such as this to get at a tiny amount of useable carbon buried beneath enormous amounts of pristine earth - if we're going to make building a Keystone XL pipeline to get another little hit of terrible EROEI carbon into our consumerist bloodstream, then we are committing ourselves to a path of global destruction. There are vast swaths of earth covering and mixed in with tiny scraps or slurries of carbon that we can dig out and compress and heat and chemically process into something that can be pumped into the gas tank of an SUV and burned to drive a family to a shopping mall. But if we are so unimaginably fucking stupid as to continue on our course, we are committing ecological suicide
posted by crayz at 2:56 PM on May 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


dmayhood, I specifically stated that I wasn't talking about the fisheries provisions, which is what you've just gone on about, and you may be right. But streamlining the environmental approvals process is the right thing to do.

if humanity is willing to destroy an ecosystem on a scale such as this to get at a tiny amount of useable carbon

Tiny? Canada's oil reserves are the third-largest in the world.
posted by Dasein at 3:00 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Tiny? Canada's oil reserves are the third-largest in the world.

Yet you also write..

Yup. The oil sands produce a catastrophic 0.1% of global CO2 emissions. How will the planet ever survive with this industrial menace stalking humanity?

Right ;)
posted by Chuckles at 3:10 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, you're familiar with the distinction between emissions from production and emissions from use, right?
posted by Dasein at 3:19 PM on May 20, 2012


dmayhood, I specifically stated that I wasn't talking about the fisheries provisions, which is what you've just gone on about, and you may be right. But streamlining the environmental approvals process is the right thing to do.


Sorry, Dasein. I was under the impression that you understood fish and their habitats, as well as species at risk of all kinds, are a major part of the environment. These are inevitably (under the former, less desirable regime, in your view) a part of any environmental review of significant resource extraction projects.

I may well agree with you that the environmental review process in Canada needs to be made more efficient. The effect of the changes I mentioned, along with several more, makes the process less efficient, in that large parts of the affected ecosystems will not be part of the review. Definitely not an improvement, unless your position is in favour of resource development whatever the cost to the land and water.

I might also mention that the Harper Government is attempting to fob off on provinces responsibilities that are the sole jurisdiction of the federal government. The courts have already decided against previous federal governments in such cases. That, plus this government's egregious attempts to deny standing at hearings to people who undeniably have a legitimate interest in proposed projects, will keep this government in the courts pretty much in perpetuity, where they will frequently lose. That's not really very streamlined either.
posted by dmayhood at 3:27 PM on May 20, 2012


First: no one thinks the tar sands now are a huge culprit behind climate change. The worry is about the planet's long term future -- as other sources run out, it's possible that the tar sands will become the primary source of oil for the world.

Second, Canada is largely a very environmentally aware country, and it's getting better all the time. No one is saying that Canadians are pigs who need to consume less energy. But the oil is going to go to countries who are pigs and do need to consume less energy.

A few decades ago, there was an expectation that oil would get more and more expensive, and this would put a damper on the possible effects of climate change. But oil from tar sands is essentially inexhaustible.

Some people believe that the high energy investment required to produce tar sand oil will eventually make it too expensive to pursue, but I think they're wrong. There is no reason an oil company wouldn't spend 10 joules of coal-derived electricity to get 1 joule of oil, as long as the 10 joules of electricity costs less.

The scary thing about the tar sands is that there's no reason for it to ever stop. In 500 years, these companies could still be running massive extraction sites in the now-balmy Canadian north, as all of America has turned to desert and 80% of humanity has died of famine. No one thinks this is Canada's fault, because no country would voluntarily hold back a natural resource. But it is pretty inconvenient for the rest of the planet.
posted by miyabo at 3:31 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jim Morrison:
What have they done to the earth?
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn
And tied her with fences and dragged her down
posted by Xurando at 3:49 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hippybear wrote: Every time I hear "Canadian tar sands oil reduces American reliance on oil from the Middle East", I truly wonder what it means, since oil markets don't really work that way.

I thinkdoesn't refer to the markets, but the politics. At present the USA and Canada rely on the fact that OPEC members, particularly those in the Gulf (excluding Iran) are willing to sell oil to the USA. This is a strategic vulnerability and one that was exploited in the past, e.g. in 1973. If North America is self-sufficient in oil production then it is less vulnerable to direct threats by other oil-producing countries.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:04 PM on May 20, 2012


That should be "I think this doesn't refer to", sorry.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:04 PM on May 20, 2012


If North America is self-sufficient in oil production then it is less vulnerable to direct threats by other oil-producing countries.

It's worth noting, Joe, in reference to 1973, that oil imports to the United States went up during the oil crisis - because, even then, there were alternatives to OPEC. The reason that there were gas shortages is that Nixon's price controls made it uneconomic for refineries to refine crude into gasoline. Americans would still have had the price shock, but there was no need for shortages.

I agree, however, that Canada makes the U.S. less vulnerable to absolute shortages, should, say, a war with Iran close the Straight of Hormuz, in which case there might be a global lack of oil, rather than just a targeted boycott of the U.S.
posted by Dasein at 4:12 PM on May 20, 2012


“Do your children get a better education?”

“Good enough to work for the oil companies.”


Canada and the US aren't so different after all, now Canadians can visit Texas without leaving Canada.

I know the joke has been for years that Alberta is Texas, but this quote drove it home. I work with an educator that was told in her previous district not to bother teaching the kids anything. They'd just go into the oilfield, anyway.
posted by narcoleptic at 4:15 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think I was wrong about the family dying from the fumes. It's the picture that comes after the descriptions of all the sulfur and the production and then he says that Route 63 is deadly and that a family died but he doesn't specifically say from the production .
posted by gt2 at 4:28 PM on May 20, 2012


description of deadly route 63
posted by gt2 at 4:31 PM on May 20, 2012


Yeah, it's talking about this crash.
posted by Dasein at 4:31 PM on May 20, 2012


"People lament the death of industry in North America - well, here it is."

Actually, I think people lament the death of manufacturing in North America - i.e. making stuff. The tar sands - oops I mean ethical oil sands with butterflies and rainbows and liberty for all - is resource extraction. While it's pretty sophisticated resource extraction (because the resource in question needs about a bajillion steps of processing before it can go to market), it is still basically just digging holes in the ground and selling what is found. Meanwhile, everything from high-tech to heavy manufacturing continues to die off in North America.
posted by senor biggles at 4:32 PM on May 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


This is probably worth it's own FPP:

The Tar Sands have been in the news recently as the government was recently forced to create a new regime for monitoring pollution on the Athabasca River. They did so after David Schindler, long time environmental researcher and truth-to-power speaker, published a report in the National Academy of Sciences showing the mining and upgrading operations were polluting the watershed, despite what the previous, industry-funded monitoring group had been saying. Schindler has a track record of this sort of thing. In the 70s he set up a "whole lake" research station in northern Ontario to prove acid rain, phosphates and other pollutants were having a measurable affect on the ecosystem.

The backlash to the Tar Sands study has been swift. The agencies which funded Schindler's research have been the target of attacks by the Federal Government. Maniacally, the conservatives just announced they are withdrawing funding from the afformentioned whole-lake research facility too.

Right now, the Canadian government is hurting from the US' rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline. If you care about this issue, keep pushing. It's very likely that once Obama wins a second term, he'll quietly approve of the project, and production rates will soar.
posted by Popular Ethics at 4:42 PM on May 20, 2012 [14 favorites]


Yeah, you're familiar with the distinction between emissions from production and emissions from use, right?

You do understand that if oil is not extracted, it can't be used, right?

No extraction, no emissions.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:51 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


The South Park Cash for Gold Song seems like the appropriate sound track here.
posted by Chekhovian at 5:11 PM on May 20, 2012


You do understand that if oil is not extracted, it can't be used, right?

Well, by that logic, Ontario is responsible for the emissions from every car it builds. No car, no emissions.
posted by Dasein at 5:14 PM on May 20, 2012


I'd actually be okay with if somehow the cost of emissions for a car were built into the price of the vehicle somehow.

Much better than the current system, where nobody takes any responsibility for the emissions of a car, not the manufacturer or the owner or anyone.
posted by hippybear at 5:17 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, by that logic, Ontario is responsible for the emissions from every car it builds. No car, no emissions.

Indeed. Did I suggest otherwise?
posted by Sys Rq at 5:18 PM on May 20, 2012


It takes a barrel's worth of energy to produce just three barrels of oil

It's still better than Corn Ethanol, which takes one barrel of oil energy equivalent to produce 1.4 barrels equivalent output. While also making food more expensive, and depleting fresh water and topsoil. Hooray!
posted by Chekhovian at 5:18 PM on May 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Indeed. Did I suggest otherwise?

No, the proposition just seemed self-evidently crazy to me.
posted by Dasein at 5:22 PM on May 20, 2012


It's crazy to propose that if you leave oil in the ground, it can't be burned as fuel?

What's crazy about that?
posted by Sys Rq at 5:27 PM on May 20, 2012


You're asking Alberta to bear the responsibility for the fact that the world needs oil. That's really stupid. The problem, insofar is there is one, is demand for fossil fuels, not the fact that countries are willing to produce them. As I said, it's like blaming Ontario for Americans' driving because we happen to sell them cars made here.
posted by Dasein at 5:55 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I visited the Syncrude tarsands project in, I think 2004 or so. Back before it was considered the most evil thing on the planet. One of my father's friends worked there, and he invited us. He gave us hardhats and neon yellow safety vests to wear.

At the site, I don't remember feeling that we were destroying the planet. What I remember is awe at the size of the endeavour. The number of trucks trundling by, the massive size of the bucketwheels and dragline scoops (still in use at that time). We got to go onto one of the scoops. You enter this massive thing via a door just above the 6-ft high treads, walk past the tremendously hot diesel powerplant that feeds this beast, and climb up to the tiny control room where you can watch the single operator of the machine rip tons of material from the black gooey walls of the strip mine with each scoop.

The tarsand itself is terribly unpleasant to walk on. A slick layer of oily gunk sticks to your boots and it smells like road construction and gasoline. It's hard to believe it's a natural part of the Earth.

The cleaned tailings pond (one all the gunk is removed) was utterly bizarre. The sand was golden-white like an expensive resort beach.

The pyramids of raw sulfur do not smell. Once melted, and solidified into blocks, the stuff is inert.

There are a lot of sound economic and ethical reasons that the tarsands should not continue. That they contribute to the existing oil economy and prevent the development of renewable energy is bad enough. But to those who are making the argument that the sheer appearance of the site should warn us that it's bad should understand that it doesn't feel evil being there. It is what it is. There are much better arguments against it than looks.
posted by sixohsix at 6:14 PM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I grew up in Texas oil country. I can't sneer much at Big Oil because it's paid in/directly for most of my expenses for most of my life. But looking at those pictures I know that the jobs being created in Alberta are robbing Peter to pay Paul, because all those Albertans are going to wind up in the same boat as West Texans when the oil dries up: stuck in the bleak, inhospitable middle of nowhere with the dwindling natural resources already ravaged by drilling and few alternative job options. Because all the business development money has gone toward cashing in on the oil business, and when that's gone who wants to throw money on a grubby dying town? So as a worker you either stay and scrap over increasingly fewer, crappier oil jobs, or you brain-drain flee to the big cities and leave your family/connections in a town getting smaller and more ghostly.

Again, not saying GRR PETROLEUM IS THE GREAT SATAN, nor can I think of obvious better ideas. Albertans desperately need jobs; Texans do too. But oil boom money is an illusion to buy a little time, that's all. A while back a nuclear waste company made a deal to start a waste storage facility out here (now one of the biggest local employers), I guess because it's so isolated/godforsaken that leaks wouldn't have many flora/fauna to kill. The area jumped at the chance to store waste. Oil runs out, but people will always have more Dangerous Crap I Don't Want To Clean/Deal With to pawn off on other people out of sight.
posted by nicebookrack at 6:31 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yup. The oil sands produce a catastrophic 0.1% of global CO2 emissions. How will the planet ever survive with this industrial menace stalking humanity?
A couple of problems: 1) That's still a huge amount. If it were true, it would mean one out of every 1/1000 grams of CO2 on the entire planet is put out by tar sands mining in Canada. 2) It seems unlikely to be true. Doing a quick google search turns up this article "Oil Sands' CO2 Emissions Could be Higher Than Thought". It doesn't give figures. If the return on energy investment is really 3:1 it seem highly implausible.

But more importantly, the oil produced also gets burned resulting in more CO2 being released.

Lowering the price of oil results in more of it being burned, instead of people switching to natural gas, which puts out less CO2 per joule, or biodiesel or switching to electricity (possibly from solar, nuclear, hydro or wind), or even just not doing whatever it was they were going to do with the oil because it's no longer profitable to do so.
I have to agree with Dasein about the environmental impact. There are lots of worse ones in the world, including pretty much the entire industrial sector of the third world.
That's complete bullshit. The third world puts out far less pollution then does the west, certainly per-capita. Canada is one of the worst countries in the world as far as per capita CO2 emissions. The only countries above it are a bunch of middle eastern countries, then the US, Australia, and Luxemburg (as well as a handful of small island nations)

But really - when you look at the numbers, the third world just has far, far less pollution then the first world. Mainly due to having far less industry. They also have lower cancer rates.
Because people react to these photos the way people are reacting in this thread, whether it's called for or not.
That's a huge load of shit. Just because you feel like what you're doing is OK doesn't mean you have the right to keep it secret because you think making your case is too much work, or whatever.
Yeah, you're familiar with the distinction between emissions from production and emissions from use, right?
What difference? There is no practical, real world difference in terms of global warming. The only relevant factor is that some types (i.e. natural gas) have a far less output whereas others are way worse.
Well, by that logic, Ontario is responsible for the emissions from every car it builds. No car, no emissions.
Only if it was going to be driving by someone who didn't have access to any other vehicle. Likely, a car sold today will replace in older one, and actually be better for the environment.
It's still better than Corn Ethanol, which takes one barrel of oil energy equivalent to produce 1.4 barrels equivalent output. While also making food more expensive, and depleting fresh water and topsoil. Hooray!
Except, no 'new' CO2 emissions on the 1.4. Taking 1 barrel of oil, and turning it into 1.4 barrels of corn ethanol only puts CO2 from the original barrel into the atmosphere (or more specifically, all the carbon in the ethanol was pulled out of the atmosphere by the corn)

Secondly, if you reiterate the process, starting with one barrel of sugar ethanol, you can boost it over and over again, generating more and more fuel without adding any CO2 to the atmosphere. The only limitation is land, and the amount of time it takes for a 'generation'.

Anyway, all that matters is how much CO2 is released. If something isn't profitable to do, people won't do it.
posted by delmoi at 7:05 PM on May 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


We Canucks should be receiving 80% of the revenue from the tar sands, using it to fund remediation, R&D into alternative energy & extraction, and global Canadian peace-keeping/humanitarian aide.

The oil companies sure as hell aren't going to put the profits to good use.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:09 PM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


BTW, is "Business Insider" a real journal or bullshit?
posted by five fresh fish at 7:10 PM on May 20, 2012


The only limitation is land

Top soil is a finite resource. I don't know if the 1:1.4 factor accounts for fertilizer.
posted by Chekhovian at 7:10 PM on May 20, 2012


the rhetoric from the industry's critics is now guilty of the same sort of hysteria, hyperbole and obfuscation it loathes in the industry itself
No defense from me for Hanszen, or even for nickrussell's framing here, but it should be pointed out that you're probably not talking at all about Robert Johnson, the author of the linked article. He'd probably qualify as one of "the industry's critics", but the introduction and picture captions here are remarkably even-handed. I can't even be entirely sure whether he's secretly a raving radical who's self-moderating in order to avoid scaring the squares away from pictures of neon-liquid-filled waste pits, or a bloodsucking reactionary whose "concern" for the environment is feigned to prime moderates for pictures showing environmental protection and reclamation work in a positive economic context. I'm forced to consider the unlikely possibility that he's actually one of those weirdos who tries to fit a narrative to facts rather than the other way around.
posted by roystgnr at 7:11 PM on May 20, 2012


You're asking Alberta to bear the responsibility for the fact that the world needs oil. That's really stupid.

Nonsense. Alberta could easily follow the Norway model and responsibly develop; instead, both BC and Alberta are being sold on rapid development regardless of environmental cost. The primary beneficiaries are multinational corporations, not us.
posted by mek at 7:56 PM on May 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


Dasein:

Look up the numbers yourself if you're so interested - Canada's share of global CO2 emissions is 2%; the oil sands make up 5% of Canada's emissions. The math is easy.

But Canada is exporting much of this oil isn't it? So most of the emissions from oil extracted from oil sands won't be counted in part of that 5% since they aren't "Canada's emissions".
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 8:22 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hansen's point, which he clarified, was ...

crayz, could you post a link or direct us to Hansen's clarification of his views on the tar sands? I can't find anything on it.
posted by dmayhood at 8:23 PM on May 20, 2012


So most of the emissions from oil extracted from oil sands won't be counted in part of that 5% since they aren't "Canada's emissions".

That's right. Just like Australian coal sent to China isn't counted in Australia's emissions, and the coal burned in American power plants to produce electricity used by computers built in China isn't counted in China's emissions. I don't know why the basic principles of accountability for your actual energy use get totally thrown out the window when it comes to the oil sands. Oh, wait, yes I do - because the oil sands are BAD, and we need to come up with ways that they are BAD.
posted by Dasein at 9:02 PM on May 20, 2012


Dasein, it means that your claim that "The oil sands produce a catastrophic 0.1% of global CO2 emissions" is wrong by any reasonable interpretation. You weren't qualifying it as that portion of the oil produced from oil sands that is consumed domestically within Canada. If someone asks what percentage of global CO2 emissions are generated by Saudi Arabian oil, you wouldn't expect them to mean Saudi Arabian oil consumed within Saudi Arabia would you? It reads like a claim that all oil produced from the oil sands contributes to only 0.1% of global emissions, so it was misleading.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 9:19 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


If someone asks what percentage of global CO2 emissions are generated by Saudi Arabian oil, you wouldn't expect them to mean Saudi Arabian oil consumed within Saudi Arabia would you? It reads like a claim that all oil produced from the oil sands contributes to only 0.1% of global emissions, so it was misleading.

No, that was your reading of it - and you're either deliberately misreading what I said or not reading closely. If someone asks you, "what percentage of global CO2 does Saudi Arabia account for?" you do not answer taking into account all the oil that is burned everyhwere in the world. It is the undisputed standard of CO2 measurement that we measure CO2 emitted within a country, not by that country's products that are exported. Similarly, we don't apply a discount to, say, China's emissions of CO2 based on the fact that they import a bunch of coal.

I said, "The oil sands produce a catastrophic 0.1% of global CO2 emissions." I didn't say, "oil produced from the oil sands produce X." Because that's not the issue - or if it is, and people really want to blame Alberta for selling what they have, then I suggest that people who think Albertans should impoverish themselves in order to starve the world of oil may kindly go fuck themselves, because you can be sure that they don't apply the same standard to anything built near where they live. (If you disagree, I encourage you to blame South Korea for all the CO2 spewed by Hyundais and Kias around the world, and argue that they should be shut down.) The issue is the extraction of the oil itself - which is a vanishingly small contributor to global CO2.
posted by Dasein at 9:34 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


The issue is the extraction of the oil itself - which is a vanishingly small contributor to global CO2.

No it isn't, the issue is the extraction and consumption of the oil, regardless of where it is consumed. The CO2 that will be produced by consuming oil extracted from oil sands is the issue that was raised by the James Hansen article that you posted your stat in response to. Arguing about whether the CO2 belongs in the Canada column or the USA column of some kind of global CO2 balance sheet is missing the point.

Because that's not the issue - or if it is, and people really want to blame Alberta for selling what they have, then I suggest that people who think Albertans should impoverish themselves in order to starve the world of oil may kindly go fuck themselves, because you can be sure that they don't apply the same standard to anything built near where they live.

Right, because Albertans have a right to make 6 figures driving dump trucks full of sand and anyone who says otherwise is violating their rights, man! Realistically, if anything serious is going to be done about climate change some people are going to end up losing their current jobs, be they in Canada or South Korea or anywhere else.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 10:50 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


No one is saying that Canadians are pigs who need to consume less energy

Echoing delmoi, I'll say it: Canadians are pigs who need to consume less energy (I don't understand how Trinidad and Tobago beat us out).

I will offer a secondhand counterpoint to sixohsix's notion that it isn't such a bad place to hangout. As a friend of mine (not an environmentalist by any means) who went to "Fort Mac" (I've never heard anyone who is going to make money there calls it anything else) described it:

It was like actually being in hell. You drive up this broken road, and on the horizon, all you can see is a cloud of filthy brown air, which takes up more more area as you go. The road is littered with broken vehicles, because everyone has a pickup truck, and they are so happy to get out of there at the end of their rotation that they drive like maniacs. The way you repair a truck there is - you walk away, and go buy a new truck.

He also had extensive stories about the leaches who go up to sell cocaine at high prices to the workers there. So - not a nice place for everyone. Not even ok.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 10:51 PM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


This back and forth argument is ridiculous.

It's like a big time drug dealer claiming he's only responsible for a tiny proportion of drug use in the city, because he's only counting the 1-2 hits he allows himself.
posted by xdvesper at 11:16 PM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


That's right. Just like Australian coal sent to China isn't counted in Australia's emissions
You do realize that it all get's counted towards the earths total emissions, right? Global warming doesn't care about borders. Australian coalmining is bad for the world, and so is Canadian tar sands.

No, that was your reading of it - and you're either deliberately misreading what I said or not reading closely. If someone asks you, "what percentage of global CO2 does Saudi Arabia account for?" you do not answer taking into account all the oil that is burned everyhwere in the world. It is the undisputed standard of CO2 measurement that we measure CO2 emitted within a country, not by that country's products that are exported. Similarly, we don't apply a discount to, say, China's emissions of CO2 based on the fact that they import a bunch of coal.
Yes, "what % of the world's CO2 is Canada/Australia/Saudi responsible for" is a different question then "What % of the world's CO2 is Oil Sands/ Australian Coal/Saudi Oil responsible for"? Anyway, while I understood what you were saying (simply because of the low number, you couldn't possibly have meant total CO2 from burning all the oil) it's totally irrelevant when evaluating whether or not the tar sands are a bad thing for the world
Because that's not the issue - or if it is, and people really want to blame Alberta for selling what they have, then I suggest that people who think Albertans should impoverish themselves in order to starve the world of oil may kindly go fuck themselves, because you can be sure that they don't apply the same standard to anything built near where they live.
I'm sure there are plenty of people on the gulf coast who aren't happy about oil drilling. In fact, off the coast of California and near the coast of Florida, it's banned. Lots of people were outraged when Obama opened up deepwater drilling off the eastern seaboard. They were outraged because they lived there.

If this open-pit mining where going on in the middle of Wisconsin or Wyoming people would probably be outraged, actually.

Anyway, it's beside the point. Yeah, you know you can probably make good money as a human trafficker, kidnapping women and shipping them internationally as sex slaves. Does that mean we shouldn't try to crack down because it would "cost jobs"?

Just because someone can make money doing a particular thing is not at all a good argument for them actually being allowed to do it. It doesn't really make a lot of sense to me to say people have a god-given right to make $200,000 a year driving around in an enormous truck

(and btw, the pictures are actually fascinating. It's like an alien landscape or something - You see a scene with two trucks driving down the road, and your brain automatically scales things on the basis of the trucks being the size of a normal truck.

then you realize, no, it's actually the trucks are the size of buildings)
posted by delmoi at 1:00 AM on May 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Oil companies are required to return the land to its original condition..."

How can this be remotely true when what they're doing is changing the composition of the land by extracting bitumen?
posted by Dysk at 1:26 AM on May 21, 2012


mek: Nonsense. Alberta could easily follow the Norway model and responsibly develop; instead, both BC and Alberta are being sold on rapid development regardless of environmental cost. The primary beneficiaries are multinational corporations, not us.

Repeated for emphasis. This is my view exactly. As an Albertan voter, I'm extremely frustrated that I've got no say in a process who's only interest is short-term gain.
posted by sneebler at 6:59 AM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dysk: "Oil companies are required to return the land to its original condition..."

How can this be remotely true when what they're doing is changing the composition of the land by extracting bitumen


It's not. It's total bulljive. I live in an area with a lot of reclaimed coal strip mines. Sure, when you drive by it, it looks pretty much the same. But when you actually go into it and look around, you realize that it is not the same. The soil is different. The landform is different. The flora is different. Maybe it will recover to its original condition in a few hundred of years, but they certainly does not do it in the present.
posted by moonbiter at 8:11 AM on May 21, 2012


Dasein: The environmental standards aren't being changed - the process is just being made better.

There are fundamental changes being made to the Fisheries Act, probably the strongest pieces of legislation in Canada for environmental protection, to greatly reduce it's scope. It's applicability to the review process and use for enforcement of environmental quality has been very significantly reduced.

The major changes are the reduction of the Act to cover only commercial and other food-use species. It no longer covers "habitat"---the ecosystem on which the fishery depends. In other words, the Fisheries act will only apply if you directly affect a commercial fish species. It will no longer apply for damage to the marine environment in general. The Canadian Environmental Protection Act and The Species at Risk Acts are much more difficult to use for assessment and/or enforcement.

These are real reductions in environmental coverage that will result in abbreviated reviews and fewer successful prosecutions for environmental disasters in Canada. This legelative change will have direct effects on major projects at the Fort McMurray site (eg MacKenzie River usage) and for the various big transportation projects currently under review.
posted by Anonymous 5$ Sockpuppet at 8:12 AM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


BTW, is "Business Insider" a real journal or bullshit?

I work at Business Insider (didn't have anything to do with this slideshow getting posted to the Blue). I would say that this story is about as "real" as it gets in the age of aggregated, reblogged, infotainment. Robert rented a damn plane to report on this story because he was getting stonewalled by PR flaks. That, in my mind, is legit, and frankly something I wish we (and a whole lot of other online news sources) did more of.
posted by andromache at 8:46 AM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


delmoi: "Oil Sands' CO2 Emissions Could be Higher Than Thought". It doesn't give figures.

The original article (PDF quick auto download) does give figures. This paper is valuable in showing that there are many unrecognized and unresolved issues with tar sands mining that are overlooked or ignored by the industry.

dasein does not want to provide a source for his/her CO2 emissions data, so it is pointless even to discuss it unless you have an independent reliable source. It appears to come from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, which produced a handy pamphlet to present its side of the story. The pamphlet cites all sorts of sources in author and year format, but does not list the actual documents (titles and publications, where they can be found, etc.). Good luck tracking them down, and even if you do, who knows that those are the actual ones they used. One of CAPP's sources is Jacobs Consulting. Here is what Gary Mason of the Globe and Mail has to say about them and how their work has been used.

"Both the Alberta and federal governments have been furiously lobbying European officials to change [their anti-tar sands] policy on the grounds that it is based on flawed, unscientific assumptions and that emissions from the oil sands aren’t nearly as bad as they’re made out to be. Initially, it looked like the report by Jacobs Consulting backed up that claim. It appeared to show that oil sands crude has an emissions rating not much greater than many common crudes consumed in Europe, a far cry from the 23-per-cent higher value that the EU has been suggesting is the case. All that was fine until some bright minds at the Calgary-based Pembina Institute carried out a more in-depth examination of the Jacobs tract. What they found was a study that focuses on oil sands projects using extraction methods that emit fewer greenhouse gases but are not representative of the technologies most widely used in the province. Where the provincial government said the report shows that the carbon intensity of Alberta oil-sands-derived crude is within 12 per cent of gasoline and diesel from crude oils refined in Europe, the Pembina Institute reported that it actually says that the “emissions intensity of better-than-average oil sands falls within 12 per cent of the highest-carbon types of conventional crude refined in the EU.” [Words in square brackets are mine.]

It goes on, but you get the idea.

Like the climate change "debate" in general, the discussion of anything to do with Alberta's tar sands is best described as a veritable shitblizzard. There is relatively little reliable information available outside of the scientific literature. If you stick to that, you are on relatively firm ground. Beyond that lies Terra Incognita.
posted by dmayhood at 9:21 AM on May 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


>> "People lament the death of industry in North America - well, here it is."

senor biggles wrote, 'Actually, I think people lament the death of manufacturing in North America - i.e. making stuff. The tar sands - oops I mean ethical oil sands with butterflies and rainbows and liberty for all - is resource extraction. While it's pretty sophisticated resource extraction (because the resource in question needs about a bajillion steps of processing before it can go to market), it is still basically just digging holes in the ground and selling what is found. Meanwhile, everything from high-tech to heavy manufacturing continues to die off in North America.'

Actually, making stuff begins with resource extraction. Stuff is not made out of nothing. As long as resource extraction is cheaper, and in many cases takes less oil than recycling, manufacturing will be all about converting 'pristine' natural resources into a product.

Its what we do, its unavoidable at our current level of technology and population.

This is not sustainable but I have seen far worse. At least when it happens in canada it gets remediated. Your chinese imports leave hundreds of acres of destroyed and unremediated environmental damage. But, they are improving too.

Hopefully sustainability catches up with necessity at some point above stone age primitive regression. Fingers crossed. Just be happy you live now and not 200 years earlier or 200 years later.

I am personally very optimistic about this. We are barely scratching the surface with the damage we do. Sure the seas will rise and we will run out of oil, but I think life will continue and adjust to a new normal, it may be better than now, or worse but not complete destruction.
posted by darkfred at 4:52 PM on May 21, 2012


Also... First let me say, i'm an environmentalist, an outdoors person.

BUT... I enjoy my life and I can't get incredibly angry about something that keeps that lifestyle going for another few years.

Its a good thing really for a number of reasons.

But mostly because its incredibly expensive and slow. This gives us financial incentive and time to work on better systems after oil runs it. My biggest worry is the collapse of society. I believe society will collapse if we lose oil all at once. It will also collapse if the replacement for our previous system is an order of magnitude more expensive, the best changeover will be a multi-generational natural change as oil becomes too expensive for driving.
posted by darkfred at 5:02 PM on May 21, 2012


Echoing delmoi, I'll say it: Canadians are pigs who need to consume less energy (I don't understand how Trinidad and Tobago beat us out).

Air conditioning, without winter-ready insulation? I'm not sure how well Canada will ever compare though given the climate and density.
posted by maledictory at 9:37 PM on May 21, 2012


There was a slide that said the average worker gets paid $190k? What sort of effect has that had on the economy?
posted by drezdn at 10:08 AM on May 24, 2012


This is just speculation/heresay, but I wonder if, given the remote areas these workers live in, they end up spending a lot of their money at "company stores" which are generally the only places to shop in places like this (and can be very expensive).
posted by steamynachos at 2:28 PM on May 25, 2012


There was a slide that said the average worker gets paid $190k? What sort of effect has that had on the economy?

First and foremost, it means that the cost of living in oil towns is super gougey. Apartments in Fort McMurray -- the middle of nowhere -- seem to be priced like this: [number of bedrooms] × 1000 + $500.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:50 PM on May 25, 2012


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