Jun 19 2013

And once it’s fracked, vomit it over the landscape

I know you’re all busy fracking that poll, but this is relevant. It’s all about the oil, and Charles Pierce always puts it so well.

As we await the decision on whether or not TransCanada will get to complete the northern leg of our old friend, the Keystone XL pipeline, the continent-spanning death-funnel aimed at transporting the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel from the poisoned moonscape of Alberta down the spine of North America to Texas, where what already hasn’t spilled out and killed ducks and bunny rabbits — and the agricultural economy of half the country — will be put on ships and sent out to the rest of the world, we should check to see how the pipeline system is working elsewhere.

It’s not working so well.

A Northern Alberta pipeline sprung a little leak. A leak that spewed 9.5 million liters of waste water into Canadian wetlands. A spokesman for the company running the pipeline, Texas-based Apache Corp. (do you Canadians know you’ve got fucking Texas oilmen running loose in your backyard, with boldly named racist companies?), said it was just “salty water” with “trace amounts” of oil. Right. Do you believe him?

The substance is the inky black colour of oil, and the treetops are brown. Across a broad expanse of northern Alberta muskeg, the landscape is dead. It has been poisoned by a huge spill of 9.5 million litres of toxic waste from an oil and gas operation in northern Alberta, the third major leak in a region whose residents are now questioning whether enough is being done to maintain aging energy infrastructure.

“Trace amounts”. OK.

“Every plant and tree died” in the area touched by the spill, said James Ahnassay, chief of the Dene Tha First Nation, whose members run traplines in an area that has seen oil and gas development since the 1950s.

Oh. Well that sounds…innocuous.

This is where capitalism fails, among many other places. Look to the future: as gas and oil prices steadily climb, there will be more and more incentive to unscrupulous people to profit at the land’s expense, and there’s nothing to stop them. Furthermore, there will always be lots of short-sighted people who will see only dollar signs and easy comfort, who will chant “drill baby drill” and enable the looters. And then someday we get to live in the wreckage.

Somebody has to actually reckon the cost and say simply, “no.” Even if it discomfits a few Texans.


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  1. 1
    A Hermit

    …just “salty water” with “trace amounts” of oil. Right. Do you believe him?

    Well, yes, I’m willing to believe that. Of course, it’s the saltiness of that water that’s causing damage to the freshwater wetlands…

  2. 2

    Well, apparently oil is homeopathic.

  3. 3
    Reginald Selkirk

    You might ask yourself: “Self, why pipe this oil all the way across the USA? Why not just pipe it to Canada’s nearest coast?” Well, because it is too environmentally threatening for the Canadian province of British Columbia. So they want to pipe it to us instead.

  4. 4
    Reginald Selkirk

    Keystone XL pipeline shuns high-tech oil spill detectors

    TransCanada Corp., which says Keystone XL will be the safest pipeline ever built, isn’t planning to use infrared sensors or fiber-optic cables to detect spills along the system’s 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) path to Texas refineries from fields in Alberta…

  5. 5
    Reginald Selkirk

    So famous it has its own page at Wikipedia:
    Enbridge oil spill

    In July 2010, a six-foot break in a pipeline crossing Talmadge Creek, a tributary of the Kalamazoo (MI) River, resulted in the largest on-land oil spill, and one of the costliest oil spills, in the nation’s history. The pipeline carried bituminous sands oil from Canada into the United States in a diluted bitumen (dilbit) formulation which separated upon spilling…

    One realization from this spill is that tar sands oil is nastier than regular crude oil. It is both more toxic and more corrosive.

  6. 6

    Not surprised about the “Texas oilmen”. Albertans are wannabe Texans any way. Our Prime Minister was a U of T dropout (after 3 months) whose father got him a job in the mail room of Imperial Oil in Alberta. Next thing you know , he’s going to the University of Calgary, studying Game theory (Just because his Masters says “Economics” doesn’t make him an “economist” ) and hanging out with a bunch of white racists and Straussians known as the “Calgary School”.

  7. 7

    Texas Ol bidness-men? Never knowed them to lie before.

    Who you gonna believe? Them, or your lyin’ eyes.

  8. 8

    just “salty water” with “trace amounts” of oil

    Y’all know that salting the earth was a popular historical way of leaving an enemy’s homelands unsuitable for growing crops (etc), right? There’s no such thing as “just” salty water – it kills all plant life that are not adapted to brackish environments. Sure, rain water will eventually wash the salt away, but it could take years.

    And that’s on top of whatever “trace amounts of oil” means.

  9. 9

    And #1 got it out first. Sorry for the repeat.

  10. 10
    Tabby Lavalamp

    You should see the lovely pro-oil sands commercials the Harper government is running up here. I’ll sum them up for you – “JOBS! JOBS! JOBS!”

    Because short-term economic gain is always the best decision.

  11. 11

    And while the USA invests in drill baby drill, Saudi Arabia is building the biggest solar energy project on the planet in their dessert.

    And the largest coal producing company on the planet, owned by the nation of India, is putting solar on all their buildings.

    I can remember the day when the USA was at the forefront of brand new technology. Rather than at the forefront of protecting entrenched industry.

  12. 12
    Rob Grigjanis

    Even without any spills, there are still the toxic tailings ponds to deal with.

    Alberta Environment approved new guidelines for constructing large artificial lakes in the northeast to store toxic tailings and close off old oilsands mine sites, though the technology remains “contentious.”

    About 30 artificial lakes are planned as an alternative to reforesting some of thousands of hectares of boreal forest dug up to get at the oilsands — as well as to store tailings or waste from the open-pit mines. Called “end pit lakes,” they are constructed in the last pit of a mine.

    Syncrude last fall disagreed with the CEMA report which called for caution when dealing with tailings in the proposed lakes, as it could take decades to find out if artificial lakes will actually clean the water. If they don’t, the landscape would be dotted with polluted lakes.

  13. 13

    What are the odds of Fox News or right wing radio even mentioning this. You guessed it – exactly zero. Doesn’t fit the narrative.

  14. 14
    Jacob Schmidt

    (do you Canadians know you’ve got fucking Texas oilmen running loose in your backyard, with boldly named racist companies?)

    I was not. Unfortunatly, living in Ontario, I have little voting influence in Alberta.

    One good thing is Canada’s push for “green mining”; you can’t get a mining permit until you build a plan for environmental rehabilitation, justify the plan’s accuracy and viability, and pay the costs up front. I dunno how well enforced that regulation is, though.

  15. 15
    Dave, ex-Kwisatz Haderach

    Oh, we know the Texans are here. And some of us are screaming our heads off. Its amazing just how deafening truckloads of oil money are.

  16. 16

    Or maybe it’s an admission that their oil is so toxic that even trace amounts will kill all plant life?

  17. 17

    There’s already several dozen pipelines all over the country and, as PZ correctly points out, many of them are not in great shape.

    Shutting down the Keystone pipeline is not going to stop tar sands oil from being shipped to Texas and Louisiana for processing. It just means that the oil will be shipped in older less reliable pipelines over longer longer distances.

    The alternative to the Keystone pipeline is worse than the keystone pipeline.

  18. 18

    I was thinking, liters? Who measures such a big thing in liters? But that’s still like 80,000 barrels. That’s like four hundred overturned tanker trucks.

    My county gets all it’s fossil fuels – including natural gas and propane – delivered daily to its quarter-million people via trucks. It’s quite the process if you think about it. We have overturned trucks every month.

    But it would take centuries for us to spill that much oil.

  19. 19

    And no, erichoug, the alternative is not older, less reliable pipelines. The point of this pipeline is that it goes crosswise to the older ones, along a path the pipelines currently do not take.

  20. 20

    #11 Mark
    Although your sentiments are nice, we have never been leaders in technology that did not make money. Study Edisons attempt to squelch AC power. The robber barons crushing new technology that threatened their monopolies. AT&T controlling the telecom industry and feathering it’s own nest at the expense of the public they were trusted to make decisions for.
    Don’t fall for the rosy yesterday delusions.

  21. 21

    I’ve put this suggestion on another thread.
    Look up Arthur Kill on google earth.
    zoom in on the coastlines of Sewaren, Port Reading, Carteret, Linden, Elizabeth.
    See the stewardship of the petro chemical industry.
    Much of that land is so contaminated that it needs to capped off similar to the concrete cap on Chernobyl.

  22. 22

    this “Somebody has to actually reckon the cost and say simply, “no.”
    We do not ever calculate the actual full cost of much of anything at all ever we push it out to someone else later.
    no one is even remotely considering real restoration of the mine sight here only the bare minimum required by law a law which they helped through lobbyists to write. not the full cost of the cleanup when a pipeline breaks which they always assure us will not happen this time nor even the reprocessing of the tailings and other assorted waste products of production.
    if they did the project might not be that profitable.

    uncle frogy

  23. 23

    …just “salty water” with “trace amounts” of oil
    Perhaps someone would be so kind as to perhaps douse this spokes person with oh I don’t know…urine… it’s only salty water with trace amount of minerals right?

  24. 24
    John Horstman

    Somebody has to actually reckon the cost and say simply, “no.” Even if it discomfits a few Texans.

    Some of us already have been doing so. To be fair concerning my usage of “us”, I haven’t personally participated in any of the actions, but we’ve been working with some of the same people to block problematic mining expansions here in WI (and labeled “environmental terrorists” for our trouble – I’m not actually sure who we’re supposedly terrorizing or why a sustainable environment capable of supporting human life is terrifying, but there you go), and I’ve provided peripheral support to these groups. Also, wave to the NSA, everyone!

  25. 25


    You should see the lovely pro-oil sands commercials the Harper government is running up here. I’ll sum them up for you – “JOBS! JOBS! JOBS!”

    Because short-term economic gain is always the best decision.

    And there just isn’t any other way to invest money that would create jobs besides that there oil, now is there?

  26. 26

    Oh eric, if you wern’t alway such a wrong headed trigger happy nut you just wouldn’t be you.

    Never change.

    No wait, scratch that. Change quickly. Cause you suck

  27. 27

    I can remember the day when the USA was at the forefront of brand new technology.

    AFAIK remember the only time that happened was during the Space Race; so if you want to have that back, you’ll have to devise a way of making the struggle for clean energy into a pissing contests.

  28. 28

    Jadehawk. I was thinking of the TVA and Hoover dam but the space race would also count. Plus, building the interstate highway system from scratch did a lot to boost our overall economy. Whereas now we cannot even keep those bridges up. And the TVA and Hoover dam were part of the electrification of nearly the every nook and cranny of the entire USA. Again, massive government investment that paid off handsomely for the economy.

  29. 29
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    And there just isn’t any other way to invest money that would create jobs besides that there oil, now is there?

    Like, oh, infrastructure, energy efficiency improvements, Solar, wind…

  30. 30

    …water, fire, earth, heart, captian planet

  31. 31

    Ing:Intellectual Terrorist “Starting Tonight, People will Whine” wrote:

    …water, fire, earth, heart, captian planet

    Well, now I have to post this: Don Cheadle as Captain Planet

  32. 32

    Somebody has to actually reckon the cost and say simply, “no.” Even if it discomfits a few Texans.

    That won’t happen this century. The lobby system is designed to encourage politicians to say “yes” without the fear of being accused of accepting a bribe.

  33. 33

    PZ, let me tell you, you’re really talking about Albert and not Canada, per se. I’ve lived and worked in Alberta for the last 10 years all with the hope and dream of getting out of this god-forsaken wasteland. I can thus speak with a bit of authority and tell you that generally Albertans don’t like the rest of Canada (as the other provinces tend to be less right-wing and dislike the general ignorant arrogance Alberta displays). They especially hate, and I mean despise Quebec and the French, even though most Albertans have never left their own province. As for oil companies running rampant here: I have never seen a people so intent on the destruction of their own land. It’s absolutely incredible who blindly willing and inviting they are for oil companies to rape and poison their own earth and how vehemently they will oppose any and all regulation or oversight. They are a completely fucked people, and not representative of the face of Canada as a whole. In fact, I wish the work weren’t in a place with such ignorant fuck-up, racist illiterate. (Think this is mean exaggeration? Just come here an see for yourself; I’d rather be anywhere but here, except that here is where the work is.) Here are some interesting facts about Alberta with respect to the rest of the country: Alberta is number on in alcohol consumption; Alberta is number one in divorce rate; Alberta is number on in domestic and spousal abuse. What a paradise! It wouldn’t surprise me either if Alberta were number one in religious belief and dead last in education, but these are just my own assumption based on my interactions between the people here and people from other parts of the country. Anyway, Alberta wants to be poisoned, fights for it, demands it. What a fucked place this is.

  34. 34

    Oops, sorry for all the missing Ais and Esses in the above. My laptop is old and the keyboard has absorbed huge amounts of coffees and sodas, so my keys stick most of the time. Next time I’ll preview my post. Thanks

  35. 35
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @Mark McKee

    And while the USA invests in drill baby drill, Saudi Arabia is building the biggest solar energy project on the planet in their dessert.

    Those ‘Merka hatin’ bastards! It’s not enough that they’re indulging in the Devil’s Energy, they have to ruin apple pie into the bargain?

  36. 36
    Reptile Dysfunction

    Y’all don’t understand. Nothing can be allowed
    to stand in the way of PROGERSS!!

  37. 37


    I am a born and raised Alberta boy and I couldn’t agree with you more. There is a real culture of ignorance, avarice, and entitlement here in Alberta and those who are willing to work in the oil and gas sector are rewarded for it greatly. I have worked labor jobs with average redneck Albertans and can assure you that the statements you made about Alberta culture are succinct. Racism, sexism, lack of respect for any living animal (human or non-human), these are the features of Alberta society. They are parasitic individuals who have no regard for anything but themselves and their hockey team. I would try to start conversations about real social or environmental issues only to be told, “Shut the fuck up you fucking tree-hugger.” There is no penetrating the ignorance. They cast the votes that perpetuate the system that gives them their entitlements. Big trucks, quads, boats, guns, skidoos, strip clubs, booze and drugs, gambling, MMA pay-per-views, and hockey tickets; these are the aspects of the economy that are getting bolstered by these idiots. Meanwhile the government somehow squanders all the royalties they extract from the big oil firms, running a deficit budget, and education and healthcare are hit hard. What a disgrace.

    I also want to get out of this province. I have managed to find a small bastion of sensibility in Old Strathcona in Edmonton. It’s the only NDP riding in the entire province. It also happens to boast the highest educated populace in the province per capita too. I have managed to make enlightened friends (like Anthony K) and try to avoid the stark reality of Albertan culture. Maybe if more of the good ones like us stayed we could vote in a good responsible government and change this province for the better. I’m not holding my breath.

  38. 38

    fongzi and eveningchaos, Alberta seems much like a US “red state”. For all their bragging about their moral superiority, most US red states are behind most US blue states in various indices of social development. This includes being ahead in things that they consider moral evils.

  39. 39

    Texas oilmen. Chinese oilmen. We have oil companies from all over the world here, and and very few Canadian companies. Of the few that are left, I know at least one is in the process of being taken over by a Chinese government-owned conglomerate.

    Funny that we won’t allow government owned oil companies in Canada, but it’s okay for the Chinese government to own an oil company in Canada.

    Fuck I hate this world sometimes.

  40. 40

    Plus, building the interstate highway system from scratch did a lot to boost our overall economy.

    true, but that doesn’t count as being at the forefront of anything, since the interstates are an autobahn-clone

  41. 41

    Hey Eveningchaos,

    Good to hear another voice in the wilderness here in the east. It’s not so much that the government squanders the royalties as it is that they value isn’t worth a whole lot to begin with, as I understand it. Man, it’s not easy living here sometimes. I’ll give you your due: at least you’ve tried to broach the issue. It’s a lost cause to me. Plus there seems to always be an undercurrent of ‘keep you mouth shut and you’ll stay healthy’ threat when dealing with redneck morons. And @lpetrich, it actually is much liike the red states. A decidedly unfriendly lot here, very xenophobic, not just to people of colour but anyone not from here. I’ve been here quite a while and still barely know more than three people as friends; one can feel very isolated in not sharing the same politics or thinking. It’s a depressing place for me; I have to leave. I’m an older fellow, and I’ve considered going back to school, but i don’t know. I have two degrees already. I’m actually feeling a bit trapped. At least you’ve found a decent place to reside. I’m in Calgary: there’s no getting away from it, ha ha!

  42. 42
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    Latest figures :

    Thanks for your vote.

    Response Percent Votes

    I’m concerned about its effects on water and the environment. 87% 3,490

    I’m concerned that overregulation of it will kill jobs. 5% 211

    I have little or no concern about it. 5% 200

    I’m concerned about a possible link to earthquakes. 2% 88

    total votes: 3,989


    Voted concerned about the environment & H20.

    Thanks for letting us know ’bout this PZ Myers & Chris Clarke.

  43. 43
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    Good somewhat related item here :


    on the impact of Global Overheating on Alberta and some of the consequences of fossil fuel.

    Via someone on the ‘Global Warming Fact of the Day’ facebook page.

    Further north the Bad Astronomer has this :


    on how Global Overheating has been affecting Alaska & you can follow the Arctic sea ice fall here :


    Via the National Snow & Ice Data Centre’s regularly updated website too.

  44. 44
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    PS. Always assumed “frack” as used in Battlestar Galactica was a euphemism for fuck – but now I’m wondering if they were prescient and the other f-word really will become the future obscenity of choice.

  45. 45
    Rob Grigjanis

    fongzi @41:

    I’m in Calgary: there’s no getting away from it, ha ha!

    From what I’ve seen and heard (and not just since the flooding), your Mayor Naheed Nenshi is a pretty progressive guy.

    In 2011, Nenshi was grand marshal of Calgary Pride, the city’s gay pride parade. He was the first mayor of Calgary to do so. In 2013 Nenshi proclaimed a day of “Trans Day of Visibility” as an awareness day for the challenges transgender and transsexual Calgarians face.

    As a Torontonian, I’d do a trade any time.

  46. 46

    Hi Rob@45. You’re right, actually: Nenshi isn’t bad at all. I should have been clearer and said that the only green in Calgary is money. I’m actually living right in the centre of the flooding (I’m dry as a bone though, living on higher ground). Went out on my bike earlier and had a look: there’s gonna be some wrestling with insurance companies for a lot of people; there are some entire roads flooded out, but the water isn’t waist deep. Still, there’s a lot of damage done.

  47. 47

    I just saw on the that there is ‘no overland coverage’ by insurance in Canada. There’s no insurance money for people due to the flood, just provincial or federal compensation. I didn’t realize it, but three people died and one is still missing due to flooding in Calgary. High River is flooded much worse, and Medicine Hat to the south are starting evacuation notices. Crazy.

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