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"We don't understand what happened. Nobody really understands..."
September 20, 2013 3:09 PM   Subscribe

For several months, bitumen from the Athabasca oil sands has been leaching out of the ground near Cold Lake, Alberta, so far amounting to roughly half of the oil leaked in the Enbridge-caused disaster in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Nearby sites of high-pressure steam injection used to extract the bitumen (and which is already associated with violent seismic activity in natural gas fracking operations) are suspected to have caused fractures that push bitumen "sideways" and out to the surface. As Vice reporter Sarah Berman notes, "The oozing leaks will continue until the underground pressure subsides. How long that will take is anybody’s guess." While tons of contaminated vegetation and dead animals have been removed from the sites, access to the region and to government data by First Nation representatives has been repeatedly denied.
posted by Blazecock Pileon (23 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Please don't muddle the tar sands... Whoops... Ethical oil sands debate with facts. The Harper government hates facts and has routinely fired or muzzled scientists who speak them. Oil sands oil will save the world, solve the crisis in the Middle East and, unrefined, add a nutrition quotient to your breakfast cereal that will ensure healthy, regular bowel movements. Got that? Now get out there and spread the word. Dammit.
posted by Mike D at 3:20 PM on September 20, 2013 [8 favorites]


51 acres, 60 million in cleanup pshttt! That's nothing. Look at what happened in Colorado with the floods hitting one of the most active well sites in North America. Well actually you can't. Trust us everything is totally fine.
posted by humanfont at 3:28 PM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


This isn't far from where I live (about 230 kilometres, or a four hour drive if you've got a car), but I've heard almost nothing about it.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:30 PM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


51 acres is not a large area. I live on 51 acres and I can walk the perimeter of it at lunchtime.
posted by sweet mister at 3:42 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


(it's roughly 1100 x 2200 feet, the perimeter of which is 6600 feet, or about a mile and a quarter).
posted by sweet mister at 3:44 PM on September 20, 2013


I mean, there was a story in the paper and some coverage on TV, but it's been quiet since then. That Alberta Primetime piece and the Star article (and the Vice piece too, I guess) are the first reports that I've seen in a while. Thanks for finding this, Blazecock Pileon.

It looks like there must be some fractures bringing the oil to the surface, but whether those fractures are new or pre-existing (and previously missed) I don't know. It's bad for those four spots, but I'm not sure it makes the whole technology of in situ extraction questionable. Especially not when the alternative is strip mining.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:55 PM on September 20, 2013


So if I understand this correctly, they have been blasting steam under pressure into underground cavities, but no one understands why this is happening? I mean, I feel like I get it, and my background in science is...grade 11 or so. How is this not something they anticipated as a possible result of this activity?
posted by Hoopo at 3:57 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


The story is getting some coverage in the Edmonton Journal.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:58 PM on September 20, 2013


51 acres is not a large area.

Surface area is probably not as good an indicator for the scale of something which is taking up three-dimensional space.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:01 PM on September 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


Hoopo, I think it's like contaminating the ocean and doing nothing about CO2 emissions. Surely we can just push nature to the brink without costing lasting damage. Humans are far too insignificant to hurt the planet but if we find a way, we're plucky and gosh darn it, we will fix it.

I talked to an accountant who works for a fracking outfit awhile back. It was interesting talking to him and seeing the undercurrent of cognitive dissonance as I countered his various "arguments" amounting to what I just said.
posted by lordaych at 4:05 PM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


I realize I'm simplifying with "hurting nature" and what's really going on is a huge shit in a huge bed, as George Carlin said, it ain't the earth that needs saving, it's our own asses. The rock will be here for a long time but I'd like to keep the oceans fucking stocked with fish as long as possible TYVM.
posted by lordaych at 4:10 PM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


The company that runs the operation says it is effectively managing the cleanup.
posted by Fupped Duck at 4:10 PM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Kevin Street: "It's bad for those four spots, but I'm not sure it makes the whole technology of in situ extraction questionable. Especially not when the alternative is strip mining."

There is also the alternative of high pressure steam injection strip not mining those oil sands.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 4:19 PM on September 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


That train left the station a long time ago, Hairy Lobster. Back around 1985 it might have been possible to stop further exploitation of the oil sands. But it's a fully established industry now, with a long history.
posted by Kevin Street at 6:57 PM on September 20, 2013


just popping in to say, the "kalamazoo disaster" was actually on the kalamazoo river, about 35 miles upstream from here (here being kalamazoo)
posted by rebent at 7:45 PM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


The company that runs the operation says it is effectively managing the cleanup.

They certainly seem to be doing a good job of keeping the oil spill from contaminating the pages of the Calgary Herald.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:16 PM on September 20, 2013 [9 favorites]


We sure are getting good at REAPING IT. Keep it up, muhfuhs, your grandchildren will be forced to deny you.
posted by Twang at 8:50 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


it's a fully established industry now, with a long history.

Well, that settles that. Fuck the planet, we can't risk disturbing an established industry!
posted by Goofyy at 3:19 AM on September 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


Let's break this down:
Mr. Laut said that the amount of pressure needed to force bitumen through the protective rock layer “is significantly higher” than that used by the company. Instead, he argued that the oil was seeping up through inadequately sealed, abandoned oil wells in the area.

“You cannot have these failures without a well bore failure,” he told the analysts.
So, if your failure mode includes old terrain features you knew existed before you began doing the thing which created the problem, you're not responsible?
posted by Ironmouth at 4:23 AM on September 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


The environmental disaster which is the Athebasca Tar Sands is why I actually support natural gas fracking in relatively unpopulated parts of the US. It's the least horrible, least selfish choice, considering.

It's bad either way, but I'd rather not push my country's ugly addiction off on others, who would pay an environmental cost that's easily tenfold of what we might experience. The atmosphere, of course, would pay an even higher cost than that.
posted by markkraft at 7:43 AM on September 21, 2013


The environmental disaster which is the Athebasca Tar Sands is why I actually support natural gas fracking in relatively unpopulated parts of the US. It's the least horrible, least selfish choice, considering.

It's not an either/or. They can both fuck right off.

(But fracking is way, way worse.)
posted by Sys Rq at 8:31 AM on September 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Look at what happened in Colorado with the floods hitting one of the most active well sites in North America.

In wake of Colorado floods, officials start counting oil and gas spills
posted by homunculus at 4:09 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oil company CNRL ordered to partially drain lake and contain bitumen leak
EDMONTON - In an unusual move, oilsands company Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. has been ordered to partially drain a small lake on the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range to find a way to contain bitumen seeping up into the water.

The provincial environmental protection order, the first to require draining of, or “dewatering,” a body of water, calls for CNRL to partly empty the lake, locate the leaking fissure in the lake bottom, construct containment measures and restore the lake next March...
Of the four sites leaking bitumen, three have been contained by berms. This one is still uncontrolled, so they've been ordered to drain the lake and figure out how to keep the leaking in check.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:47 PM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


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