Tagged: Canada

Primrose oil sands spill generates renewed scrutiny of oil sand production


Click to enlargeEd Kaiser/Edmonton Journal

In the annals of oil well blowouts and pipeline disasters, the 7,400 barrels of oily slush that oozed out of the mossy bogs of the boreal forest in northeast Alberta last summer may seem like a trivial matter.

No one was hurt in the accident, which spread across at least 17 acres in the Primrose oil sands field, and the most damage to wildlife came from the killing of about 70 frogs in a lake contaminated by the leak. It has since been drained.

But while the accident has so far been overshadowed by the controversy over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline south of the border, it has nevertheless stirred nervous misgivings throughout the oil sands industry and drawn an unusually intense response from Alberta regulators, who have traditionally had a cozy relationship with the oil companies.

In a move that has raised eyebrows in the industry, officials of the Alberta Energy Regulator have refused to accept the explanations for the cause of the accident by Canadian Natural Resources, the field’s operator and one of the country’s largest oil companies. In March, the agency also rejected the company’s bid to restart its operation until a complete investigation had been completed.

“The circumstances surrounding Primrose are a test case for both the industry and the regulator,” said Andrew Leach, a business professor at the University of Alberta. “The public needs to have confidence in the regulator that it can prevent these kinds of incidents.”

The full implications of the Primrose accident are still unclear, as are the causes of the accident. But the regulators’ new interest in what caused it has raised questions, more broadly, about the way oil companies are planning to tap Alberta’s richest deposits.

The Primrose well uses high-pressure steam to free the oil from the sands deep underground, allowing it to rise to the top. The technique — known as “huff and puff” — is vaguely similar to fracking, which instead of steam uses a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals to unlock the trapped oil and has led to a surge in oil production in the United States.

At issue is whether the thick rock that traps the raw oil sands, keeping them from escaping to the surface, was fractured by high steam pressure applied during the production process — as environmentalists say was probable — or whether Canadian Natural Resources is correct in saying that the leak was simply a malfunction…

RTFA for the contradictory explanations of what caused the spill – and raises the potential for more of the same – or resolves questions in favor of the oil companies and their technology.

Most of the growth in Canadian oil output…is driven by projects that rely on steam pressure. Are spills the result of equipment failure – and therefore preventable with higher standards? Or are the spills a natural and inevitable result of huff-and-puffing steam pressure?

US elections are rigged — Canada knows how to fix that

When Americans voted for the House of Representatives in 2012, Democratic candidates won 1.4 million more votes than Republicans. Yet after the dust settled, the GOP ended up with a 234-201 majority in the chamber. And several recently-gerrymandered states had particularly odd results — for instance, in Pennsylvania, Republicans won 49 percent of the votes, but 69 percent of the seats.

Gerrymandering isn’t the only reason that election results only occasionally match vote totals…Several analyses find that simple geography matters more — many Democratic voters are packed closer together in urban areas…But gerrymandering infuriates voters because it feels so unfair. Letting partisan politicians — or their appointees — draw congressional districts reverses the normal order of politics. Voters are supposed to choose their politicians. Gerrymandering lets politicians choose their voters.

So is it possible to end gerrymandering? Well, the country just north of us managed to pull it off. “Canadian reapportionment was highly partisan from the beginning until the 1960s,” writes Charles Paul Hoffman in the Manitoba Law Journal. This “led to frequent denunciations by the media and opposition parties. Every ten years, editorial writers would condemn the crass gerrymanders that had resulted.” Sound familiar?

Eventually, in 1955, one province — Manitoba — decided to experiment, and handed over the redistricting process to an independent commission. Its members were the province’s chief justice, its chief electoral officer, and the University of Manitoba president. The new policy became popular, and within a decade, it was backed by both major national parties, and signed into law.

Independent commissions now handle the redistricting in every province. “Today, most Canadian ridings [districts] are simple and uncontroversial, chunky and geometric, and usually conform to the vague borders of some existing geographic / civic region knowable to the average citizen who lives there,” writes JJ McCullough. “Of the many matters Canadians have cause to grieve their government for, corrupt redistricting is not one of them.” Hoffman concurs, writing, “The commissions have been largely successful since their implementation.”

Canada changed this 50 years ago. Actually the majority of countries that accept democratic representation as their standard use independent commissions – taking control of districting for elections out of the hands of those running for office.

Might be worthwhile to pass this suggestion along to your Congress-critter. I’ll hold back my cynicism – for a moment.

Fundamentalist measles threat from Canada

TrueBeliever

Health officials in Canada’s westernmost province are battling a large measles outbreak that is now threatening to spill over the border into Washington state.

As many as 330 cases of the highly contagious disease have been reported since early March in British Columbia’s lower Fraser Valley, near Vancouver, according to Paul Van Buynder, MD, chief medical officer of Fraser Health.

All but two of those cases have occurred among members of an orthodox Protestant sect that doesn’t believe in vaccination…

Four ill members of the congregation live across the U.S. border in Washington and have been isolated, but Van Buynder said Whatcom County officials now think a fifth person — not part of the church — has been infected…

The report comes as New York City health officials are reporting additional cases in an outbreak there, bringing the total to 25, including 12 children and 13 adults. Most of the children were too young to have had their measles shots and only four of the adults had a verified vaccination.

All told, the CDC said, there have been 104 cases of measles reported so far this year in the U.S., although that total did not include the Washington cases and only 23 cases in New York City. Most states had no cases but California is reporting 50.

Measles is officially eliminated in both the U.S. and Canada, but imported cases [and stupid cases] continue to cause disease.

Van Buynder said the Fraser Valley outbreak is epidemiologically linked to a large continuing epidemic among orthodox Protestants in the Netherlands that has been raging since May 2013 and had caused more than 2,600 cases by the end of February 2014.

An earlier outbreak in Canada — 42 cases in Alberta in the fall of 2013 and winter of 2014 — was also linked to the Netherlands epidemic.

The religion defense against vaccination is such crap when you consider the numbers of unvaccinated children – still too young to vaccinate – put at risk by True Believers.

25 year-review finds no lives saved by annual mammography

Annual mammography failed to reduce breast cancer mortality in women, ages 40 to 59, compared with physical examination or routine care, according to 25-year follow-up data from a Canadian screening program.

Women screened annually by mammography for 5 years had had a breast cancer mortality hazard of 1.05 compared with the control group during the screening period. During follow-up for a mean of 22 years, the mammography group had a breast cancer mortality hazard of 0.99 versus the control group. Neither value was statistically significant…

The findings suggest a need to reassess the value of screening mammography…

The publication drew a quick and forceful response from the American College of Radiology (ACR) and the Society of Breast Imaging (SBI). In a joint statement, officials of the two organizations characterized the results as “an incredibly misleading analysis based on the deeply flawed and widely discredited Canadian National Breast Screening Study (CNBSS).”

Noting the 32% rate of cancer detection by mammography, the ACR and SBI said “this extremely low number is consistent with poor-quality mammography.” Mammography alone should detect twice that many cancers, they added. The organizations noted that a prior outside review of the CNBSS confirmed the poor quality of mammography in the study…

Dr. Anthony Miller and colleagues reported 25-year follow-up data from the CNBSS, which began in 1980. All women, ages 50 to 59, had annual clinical breast examinations, as did women 40 to 49 in the mammography arm. Younger women in the control arm had a clinical breast exam at enrollment, followed by usual care.

The study included 89,835 women enrolled at 15 centers in six Canadian provinces. During the 5-year mammographic-screening period, 666 invasive cancers were diagnosed in the mammography arm and 524 in the control group. During the 25-year follow-up period, 180 women randomized to mammography died of breast cancer, as did 171 in the control group.

The hazard ratio (HR) for breast cancer-specific mortality during the screening period was 1.05 for mammography versus control…

The authors of an accompanying editorial noted that some evidence suggests that improved treatment, rather than breast cancer screening, has fueled the decline in breast cancer mortality in recent years. Regardless of the rates found in different studies, overdiagnosis represents a larger problem…

Referring directly to the ACR and SBI, Miller said the study’s outcome “has to be unwelcome to this highly financially conflicted group, but which will be of substantial interest to policy makers in considering the future of screening for breast cancer.”

Been a spell since I’ve been involved with folks working in oncology. Just as long since I’ve dedicated sufficient reading and online investigation to have an opinion I’d risk someone’s life on.

Please, read the whole article. There are answers – and answers to questions raised by the answers.

Message from the past illustrates glacier’s melting

message-in-a-bottle
Click to enlargeI’ve digitally enhanced the image a wee bit

Canadian researchers said a message in a bottle revealed a rock cairn located 333 feet from a glacier was only 3.9 feet away in 1959.

Warwick Vincent, who led a team of scientists studying at Laval University’s remote research station in Ward Hunt Island, one of the most northerly pieces of Canadian land, said the team discovered a message in a bottle placed on a cairn of rocks that appeared to have been built by humans, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported Tuesday.

“It was really quite extraordinary to be holding that piece of paper in my hands,” Vincent was quoted as saying.

The note was written by U.S. geologist Paul T. Walker and dated July 10, 1959. It asked whoever discovered the message to measure the distance between a nearby cairn and a glacier, a distance of only 3.9 feet when the letter was written.

The distance between the cairn and glacier has since grown to 333 feet, the researchers said.

Walker died at the age of 27 only a few months after writing the note…

Vincent said he and his team added another note to the bottle in the hopes of hearing from future visitors.

You have to presume Walker was concerned about the glacier melting, retreating. If it had continued normal glaciation and expansion, the cairn wouldn’t be visible today.

Foresight in a society that still doesn’t value science or the predictive nature of scientific analysis.

Learn to differentiate between foolish – and stupid!

knocking
Who’s that knocking at my door? I’ll open it and look.

An Alberta man who stabbed a friend in the chest as a test for what turned out to be an ineffective stab-proof vest was sentenced to six months in jail.

Calvin Clackson, 21, of Edmonton, pleaded guilty Tuesday to criminal negligence causing bodily harm in the Oct. 15, 2012, incident that required friend Justin Harder, 18, to undergo emergency surgery for a bleeding chest wound…

The court heard Harder had been wearing a purportedly stab-proof vest and invited Clackson to test it out with a folding knife.

“Unfortunately, the vest didn’t work and the knife went through the vest and into the chest cavity and Mr. Harder was seriously injured,” prosecutor Mark Huyser-Wierenga said.

Provincial Court Judge Michael Allen said the stabbing was a serious incident that could have been worse.

It was foolish for the friend to offer the invitation,” Allen said. “It was criminally negligent for the accused to take up the invitation.

Ayuh!

Canada OKs production of GM salmon eggs on commercial scale

aquabounty

Canada has given the go-ahead to commercial production of genetically modified salmon eggs, bringing the world’s first GM food animal closer to supermarkets and dinner tables.

…Environment Canada said it had granted a US biotechnology firm, AquaBounty Technologies permission to export up to 100,000 GM fish eggs a year from a hatchery in Prince Edward Island to a site high in the Panamanian rainforest.

The decision marked the first time any government had given the go-ahead to commercial scale production involving a GM food animal.

The move clears the way for AquaBounty to scale up production of the salmon at its sites in PEI and Panama in anticipation of eventual approval by American authorities…

AquaBounty has been raising GM salmon for several years on an experimental basis, growing fish eggs at a lab in PEI and then flying them to a ramshackle test site at a secretive inland location in the Panamanian rainforest, where they were grown to full size, and then ultimately destroyed.

The GM fish splices growth genes from a Chinook salmon and a seal eel onto an Atlantic salmon – which AquaBounty claims enables the altered animal to grow twice as fast as a regular fish

The company has also fought to win over the public to the idea of GM fish. Within the last year, supermarket chains such as Whole Foods and Trader Joes, have said they will not stock GM salmon…

But Stotish said in the statement the company planned to go into commercial production once those other approvals are in place.

About as overdue as any science-based product facing irrational fear and superstition might be. Aside from folks never having been able to distinguish any difference between like-prepared samples of these salmon and other quality spec farm-raised varieties, there hasn’t been any peer-reviewed science that demonstrated differences – dangerous or otherwise – about these salmon.

Cripes, the Luddites probably wouldn’t eat any kind of eel on their own either.