Mary’s Monday Metazoan: The Too-Common Sludge Duck

This is a very special bird from Arkansas that will become much more common with more oil pipelines running through the middle of the country. Won’t it be great to be able to readily make an entry in your birding book, soon enough?



  1. markkernes says

    Oh, sure, you say that now… but what about when all the other species in Arkansas get their new coating? THEN try to tell them apart!

  2. culturesclashing says

    There really is no upside to using fossil fuels is there.

    I hesitate to say this, but the solution is (in combination with renewables) we need more nuclear power.

    Trouble is any time someone says this people always think of Uranium based fission plants or as yet unrealised fusion power… Like those are the only options.

  3. Ben P says

    This is actually about 10 minutes from where I went to college. (Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas).

    The shocking thing about this to me is how it’s been handled. As soon as news broke, there was an Exxon team there within a couple hours, and with the assistance of the local sheriff they evacuated everyone within the spill area.

    That part makes sense, from several accounts the diluted bitumen is nasty stuff.

    However, subsequently, Exxon and law enforcement cordoned off the entire spill site and hasn’t been letting anyone, including any media whatsoever, within a half mile of the spill. They also requested, and were granted by the FAA a low level flight restriction over the spill zone, meaning no aerial footage of the spill.

    thankfully this is rural Arkansas and there’s more than one way to get into just about anywhere if you’re willing to walk a little

    Incidentally, Exxon also royally pissed off the attorney general of Arkansas when he brought an investigation team and they kept trying to herd him onto a van for a “guided tour”
    rather than letting him view the site himself. (I know several people in the AG’s office and the look on his face is the look that makes people hide in their offices). While the AG was able to investigate the site, Exxon personnel insisted that no media be allowed to accompany him.

    Incidentally, the local Republican Rep. Tim Griffin on the other hand, apparently took the guided tour.

  4. eoleen says

    Sorry, culturesclashing, but there is absolutely NO WAY that so-called “renewable” power – solar, wind, etc., can make more than a very minor dent in our power requirements. This includes “efficient” lightbulbs, either CFLs or LEDs. The amount of power we use directly for lighting and home applicances is just too insignificant, in terms of a percentage of our total power requirements, to make any sort of difference. Example: a single NYC subway train at rush hour is an enormous draw: several thousand amps at 600 volts DC. That is just to run at a constant speed. Acceleration and deceleration leaving and entering a station is something else. Climbing a slope – the tracks aren’t all at one level – is another major jump in load.

    Heating and cooling an office building is another major power load. There are a whole lot of buildings in Manhattan. It is nice to say that we will make them more energy efficient, but it just in the cards – rebuilding Manhattan would be required and there isn’t enough money to even start on the project.

    We need nuclear – lots of it – and RIGHT NOW.

    Unfortunately, it is much too late. The Arctic is thawing – the tundra is mostly frozen swamp or bog or marsh – take your pick, and when it thaws all those cold-adapted anaerobes have already started doing their thing – which is quite simply making methane. Lots of it, all over the thawing areas. Methane is 13 times as efficient global warming gas as Carbon Dioxide.

    The tipping point has been reached and passed.

    We’ve had it.

  5. says

    So, the only efficiency measures that you’re aware of are CFLs? You’ve never heard of improved insulation, daylighting, ground source heat pumps, or dozens of other technologies that can be added to new construction and/or retrofitted on existing buildings? You’re totally unaware of the actual figures for how much energy can be generated with renewables? You really should educate yourself a bit more before you spout off.

  6. Suido says

    @Eoleen #5

    Sorry, culturesclashing, but there is absolutely NO WAY that so-called “renewable” power – solar, wind, etc., can make more than a very minor dent in our power requirements.

    Citation needed.

    I haven’t seen one done for North America, but there’s an advocacy group in Australia that used expert knowledge (original blueprint written by electrical engineering professor) to create a 100% renewable energy plan for the continent.

    Obviously, the US has much higher population and energy requirement, but you’re engaging in hyperbole to say that renewables can’t even “make more than a very minor dent”. The US has similarly abundant renewable resources to Australia, and denying that they can help is disingenous and damaging to the environmental cause. First generation solar thermal plants that can provide baseload power are in construction all over the world, and each new generation will be more efficient.

    Every city, region and country has a unique energy profile, so I also view blanket statements like your comment about lighting and appliances with suspicion. Likely true for some areas, just as likely untrue for other areas. I work for a rail company, and I can guarantee you that if you replaced the coal fired power stations that feed our overhead traction systems with solar thermal power stations of the same power output (possible with current technology), there would be no change to the train operations and the carbon footprint would be nerfed.

    As for heating and cooling – research shallow geothermal energy. Suitable in all climates, and skyscrapers can have the entire system contained within their foundations. Yes, it’s expensive to retrofit (but essentially free heating/cooling once installed), but I also disagree with your statement that there isn’t the money available – sure there is, but we have to create the business case for its use by correctly pricing fossil fuel sourced energy to take into account the environmental costs. Tough ask, but more realistic than saying Wall Street doesn’t have any money to invest.

    I’m not saying that nuclear power should be vetoed, but your “absolutely NO WAY” denialism of other options seems narrow minded and misinformed.

    The final thing I don’t agree with is your defeatism. Yes, we’ve probably passed a few tipping points, but any improvement in our actions now could prevent further, more catastrophic tipping points being reached.

  7. culturesclashing says

    I think my post has been misinterpreted.

    Renewables can indeed make a large part of our energy budget, in some places they can even make 100% contribution.

    However they can’t everywhere, and even if they could you wouldn’t want them to.

    With the exception of Geothermal (which is only semi renewable) pretty much all renewables take up large to huge areas of land.

    Vast wind arrays, vast solar arrays, huge lakes behind hydroelectric dams, giant tidal generators, ect.

    And as most/all of those are variable output (even hydro is reliant on enough rain falling to fill up the lake) you need more than 100% capacity installed to cover downtimes and you also need lots of power storage… which is hard and expensive.

    And if we are going to run cars and planes of the electricity grid (if you’re going to make them battery or hydrogen powered your getting both from the electricity grid) and if you want to have a fair and equal society where everyone has the same resources access then both of those significantly increase the required electricity generation capacity.

    Nuclear on the other hand does not take up huge amounts of land and can produce large amounts of power very reliably.
    Which makes it great for generating the base load power needed to keep our electricity grid stable and reliable.

    It can also be generated near to where it’s used and thus not requiring long (potentially international) power distribution networks that are vulnerable to attack or abuse (Russia turning off the gas to countries in Europe as leverage being an example that comes to mind). Whereas the locations where you can (for example) build significant numbers of efficient solar thermal arrays (say the Sahara, or Nevada) are not near the people who will use this power.

    Also these renewables are not without their own environmental impacts.
    Hydro electric dams (or the lakes behind them) belch out methane. As the lakes go down plant life colonises the edges and then when they refill that plant-life dies and then rots releasing methane.

    Wind farms (apart from being considered an eyesore by many) sap energy out of the wind and alter the weather.

    Solar farms alter the surface albedo and heat absorption of the planet, which can also alter the weather.

    Geothermal cools the rocks you are extracting heat from, and unless you’re tapping heat directly from a volcano, that heat will take a long time to replace, hence only being semi renewable.

    Biofuels tend to use large areas of land, often at the expense of food crops or preserving what’s left of the ecosystem.
    And they still emit CO2.

    Nuclear doesn’t have any of those problems… It has some of it’s own but most of those go away if you use fusion… which we haven’t got working yet… or Liquid Thorium Reactors.

    Pretty much the only reason we are using Uranium based reactors right now is that they produce plutonium for making nuclear weapons… And we really don’t need any more plutonium for making nuclear weapons, we’ve got enough to re-build the entire worlds stockpiles several times over.

    Liquid Thorium Reactors were briefly (and successfully) tried by the USA but then abandoned because it’s hard to use them to make materials that you can use to make nuclear bombs. (among some other reasons that made sense then and not now)

    There are other options, like using a fusion fission reactor, in which radioactive materiel (can be nuclear waste) is placed around a fusion reactor (tokamak) and the fusion reactor generates neutrons which cause fission in the sub-critical fissionable materiel surrounding it which make heat that generates steam…..

    This allows more research into making pure fusion reactors, while also finding a use for, and diminishing, the amount of radioactive waste we have, while also being safer than current reactors as it uses sub-critical amounts of fissionable materiel and only runs when the fusion reactor is running, which means it starts up and shuts down quickly.

    And I do agree that while we may well have passed some tipping points… there are more out there that it’s still more than worthwhile to avoid.

  8. Ben P says

    Geothermal cools the rocks you are extracting heat from, and unless you’re tapping heat directly from a volcano, that heat will take a long time to replace, hence only being semi renewable.

    I think there are crossed wires here.

    Geothermal power generation is only cost effective in areas with “hot rocks” so to speak. You have to drill too deep otherwise.

    What Suido referenced is shallow geothermal heat exchange, exploiting the temperature difference between the surface and say, six or eight feet down (deeper if you need a small footprint). Even a relatively small gradient provides an ample thermal sink to heat and cool a house or small commercial building. My college built these systems for its dorms in the late 90’s. I don’t know about its feasability for really large commercial buildings, but I assume it would just need a larger footprint (horizontal or vertical).

  9. culturesclashing says

    Oh yes I was talking about Geothermal power generation not small scale heat pumps…

    Although as the ground is a relatively poor thermal conductor if you constantly extract or dump heat into the ground you will loose your gradient eventually.

    This is a problem that the London Underground is suffering from.

    All the excess heat used to be soaked up by all the cool clay surrounding it and back in the day it was advertised as a cool place you could go during the heat of the summer.

    Now the clays have heated up and they are having to do massive engineering works to install lots of extra cooling.

    Now if you are going to dump heat in the summer and then use that heat in the winter you might avoid this problem, but if you do one exclusively, or simply one more than the other, then you are going to eventually loose the temperature gradient needed.

  10. nightshadequeen says

    Slightly off-topic:

    US reactors flawed?

    I’ve skimmed this article but haven’t really dug into it (and as usual I trust the Tech about as far as I can throw it) but IMO this is rather of interest

    My bets, of course, are on Craig Venter and algal biofuels. Mostly because Craig Venter rocks.

  11. Useless says

    It’s so heartening to find out that the petroleum industry is doing all it can to preserve this endangered species. The sludge duck could have disappeared completely without their help.