Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How to Convert an Ecosystem Into Synthetic Petroleum

I've blogged about the oil sands and posted pictures of the destruction, but never really explained how it all works. There's a detailed explanation at the Syncrude website, but here's the CliffsNotes® version:

(1) Remove 1-5 meters of muskeg ("topsoil"), where trees, mosses, lichen, arctic fox, muskrat, beaver, caribou, and moose live. Dump it in a big pile for later use ("reclamation").
(2) Scoop up the next 10-30 meters of bitumen ("asphalt") and dump it into a mixing container.
(3) Mix the bitumen with sodium hydroxide ("Drano") and water from a nearby river, and heat to near boiling using lots of natural gas or another hydrocarbon fuel.
(4) Add more chemicals to separate the synthetic petroleum from the sand and water, then send it on to the refinery.
(5) Dump the toxic sand and water mixture into a tailing pond and let it settle for 150 years. Scoop out the dead birds every so often.
(6) Take the previously-saved muskeg and spread it over the big hole you made. Maybe plant some grass for a golf course.

Congratulations! You've taken a thriving biome and converted it into fuel for automobiles. Next week, we'll show you how to completely decimate a fish population in less than half a century.

Updated (8/27/09): The Pembina Institute has posted some photos of the mining operation on Flickr.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

When Life Gives You Lemons

In yet another outstanding example of the ability of the energy industry to take advantage of other's misfortunes, Weststar Resources has announced plans for an open-pit coal mine on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic. This project is now feasible, according to their PowerPoint presentation, because "recent scientific evidence suggests a climate change taking place in the Arctic that could see continued annual loss of sea ice and an increased shipping window".

Huzzah! And here I was wringing my hands about drowning polar bears and rising sea levels. Soon we'll have access to vast amounts of coal literally lying out in the open. We just need to strip mine and ship it to China. BTUs for everyone!

Here's the proposed site of one of the open-pit mines

Monday, August 17, 2009

Good News!

The Canadian Oil Sands Trust announced a 90% decrease in net income (year-over-year) for the 2nd quarter of 2009. Cutting the price of oil in half did most of the damage, but production was also down by 10%.

Good news! Unless, of course, you're an investor in this abomination. In which case, I cry crocodile tears for your 401K.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Thanks, Jose

We had a memorial ride for Jose today. It was a beautiful day. Warm and sunny, with a light breeze to keep things interesting. I found myself thinking that if Jose were to pick a day for his memorial ride it would be pretty much like today. If I carry anything with me from his life, it's an appreciation for all the simple things we are blessed with. Crisp fall days with the crunch of leaves underfoot. Mornings when the coffee tastes especially good. Cold beer on a hot day. Holding hands.

Want to experience life as Jose did? Three simple rules:
Be kind.
Savor life.

Thanks for the ride, buddy. Wish you could have been there.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

I admit it: I was wrong

I was never a big fan of the "Cash for Clunkers", or C.A.R.S. program. The standards were either too lax (1 MPG increase for Class 2 trucks), or didn't target the right vehicles (more than 25 years old). And why tie it only to new car purchases? Why not give the bicycle industry a boost as well?

But in the end, results are what count, and the results look pretty good: (AP) Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the average mileage of new vehicles purchased through the program is 9.6 miles per gallon higher than for the vehicles traded in for scrap. Buyers of new cars and trucks that get 10 mpg better than their trade-ins get the $4,500 rebate. People whose cars get between 4 mpg and 10 mpg better fuel efficiency qualify for a smaller $3,500 rebate. LaHood said some 80 percent of the traded-in vehicles are pickups or SUVs, meaning many gas-guzzlers are being taken off the road.

It's not that big a surprise, actually. With gas prices poised to resume their upward trajectory, a lot of people were looking for an opportunity to dump their gas guzzlers. The C.A.R.S. program gave the trade-in value of pickups and SUVs a nice boost. Still, four grand would buy a lot of bike...