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?

The United States of Comcast

The same old revolving door is more polished, nowadays – and costs taxpayers more than it ever did in the old days of machine politics. Used to be local political hacks graduated to state level and eventually to Washington DC and Congress – especially if they were lawyers. Now, I think you’re better primed for a start in the endless loop of graft and personal corruption if you have an MBA. The flashy variety preferred – Harvard or the University of Chicago. Even if the actual business world would rather have someone from Stamford or Columbia.

But, the song remains the same. Whether you achieve appropriate compliance in Congress, as a bureaucrat, as a corporate flunky, you get to complete the loop as a lobbyist and you jump into one of the favored musical chairs easy as pie.

East Antarctic ice-melt could raise sea level nearly 13 feet

Antarctic ice melting in eastern areas of the frozen continent could raise sea levels worldwide by up to 13 feet…

The Wilkes Basin in Antarctica could be one of the areas of the landmass that could be especially susceptible to rising temperatures, based on a new study. A warmer climate could produce massive ice slides into the ocean, possibly raising sea levels for thousands of years.

The massive land form extends over 600 miles inland from the ocean. An ice wall holds much of the frozen water from reaching the ocean. If this “cork” holding back the ice melts, much of the frozen cover in Wilkes could travel to the warmer waters. Researchers calculated that if all the ice in the basin were to melt, it would raise global sea levels by up to 13 feet.

Matthias Mengel from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research led research into the basin. He and his team concluded that ice flows from the basin could be unstoppable once the process started…

The ice plug could take as long as two centuries to melt, given current levels of temperature rise, says the study. After the natural dam disappeared, it would take another 5,000 to 10,000 years for all of the ice from the basin to move to the water.

“If half of that ice loss occurred in the ice-cork region, then the discharge would begin. We have probably overestimated the stability of East Antarctica so far,” Anders Levermann, one of the co-authors of the study…

There’s enough confirmed knowledge about climate change to push el dementos who deny the phenomenon and its causes to spend the rest of their political lives babbling to each other in a very small corner of the educated world.

The two serious questions remaining to be resolved by human beings who actually care about life on this planet beyond quarterly results from Exxon-Mobil are [1] devising a broad array of responses to the physical decline of civilization and [2] getting any of this accomplished over the decaying husk of Republican government that is Congress.

Thanks, Mike

Are you one of the Americans who thinks space aliens made Flight 370 disappear

According to a new CNN poll, 9 percent of Americans believe “space aliens, time travelers, or beings from another dimension” are responsible for the disappearance of Malaysia Flight 370.

According to a 2012 National Geographic survey, 36 percent of Americans believe that aliens have already visited Earth.

If you are one of the 27 percent of Americans who believe that aliens have visited Earth but aren’t responsible for the disappearance of Malaysia Flight 370, please let me know. I’d love to pick your brain.

…The new CNN poll asks respondents where they think the plane is. Fifty-one percent of Americans believe the plane is in the Indian Ocean around where the search teams are looking, but 46 percent of Americans think it’s “somewhere else.” None of the people polled could possibly have any idea where the plane is…

The question is itself ridiculous, but maybe more ridiculous is the idea that almost half of America thinks the experts are wrong. “The search teams say it’s in that one bit of the Indian Ocean, but I think it’s in Canada. Or Hawaii. Or Scotland. Or the moon. Or Benghazi. Why? I’ve just got a feeling.”

Forty-six percent of Americans are living in a world of pure imagination.

These are the people that nod their bobbleheads in agreement when some bought-and-paid-for economist praises trickle-down economics. They believe we never landed a rocket on the moon and still think you can only survive a terrible disaster by the grace of some invisible old white guy in the clouds.

Teen pregnancy rates declined in every one of the United States

Since 1986 to 1991, when U.S. pregnancy, abortion and birth rates peaked; teen pregnancy rates dropped 51 percent by 2010 and the teen abortion rate declined 66 percent and the teen birthrate declined 44 decreased.

Kathryn Kost and Stanley Henshaw of the Guttmacher Institute in New York found in 2010, about 625,000 U.S. women younger than age 20 became pregnant — 614,000 pregnancies were among teens ages 15 to 19, and another 11,000 among those age 14 and younger. Most pregnancies were among women ages 18 to 19 — this age group constituted 69 percent of teen pregnancies…

The decline in the teen pregnancy rate is great news,” lead author Kathryn Kost said in a statement.

Teen pregnancy rates declined in all 50 states from 2008 to 2010, but in 2010, New Mexico had the highest teen pregnancy rate of 80 per 1,000 women, followed by Mississippi at 76 per 1,000 women and Texas at 73 per 1,000 women; while the lowest rate was in New Hampshire with 28 per 1,000 women, Vermont at 32 per 1,000 women and Minnesota at 36 per 1,000 women.

And the answer to this question has two parts: yes, ignorance is number one for those who get pregnant young enough to have little or no idea of how to build a family much less raise a child. Number two is the clownshow that promotes this kind of ignorance.

Whether it’s the pope or Rick Perry it surely would help if they’d try functioning like sensible educated men – instead of plastic ideologues. Fortunately, the fact that people retain information that actually works – continues to take precedence over sillyspeak.