Take New York City and Multiply it by 6 Times – That’s the Size of the Tar Sands Disaster

Neil Young is fighting with the tar sands people about a music tour he gave with David Suzuki to draw attention to the mess near neil_young & David SuzukiFortMcMurray. The celebrities and the oil industry each accuse one another of misinformation. The photos below tell some of the story. At full capacity there will be about 40 or 50 mines near Fort McMurray, occupying an area about 6 times the size of New York. Except for the first two photos, each photo below generally shows operations at just one of these mines.

According to the Post Carbon Institute the tar sands produce 475 million gallons of toxic waste each day, (which is nine times as much oil as they produce). Unlined tailings ponds are said to leak 3 million gallons of toxic waste each and every day. An accident at Suncor on March 25, 2013, caused 350,000 litres in 10 hours of ‘process-affected’ water to leak into the Athabasca River. The company said its test showed a ‘negligible effect’ on the water.

The government didn’t buy it and conducted its own tests. According to FortMcMurray.com, during the experiment, rainbow trout are placed in a tank with the untreated solution. If 50% of the fish die, it is considered a failure. Although the province did not release how many rainbow trout died, a government blog post did confirm that the water had failed the test. The tests found traces of arsenic, chloride, ammonia and several other toxic chemicals at levels exceeding acceptable limits in Alberta’s Surface Water Guidelines. This led to the revelation that there are bigger problems in this regard. Suncor reportedly failed a government toxicity test 39 times since the 2011 and in 2013 was told to clean up its act with Athabaca leaks immediately.

Overview SyncrudeoverviewSuncor at AthabascaOverview with lake

The yellow stuff shown in these photos is sulphur, which creates acid rain. Syncrude piles it up into ‘mountains’ or plateaus as shown. Each plateau is about twice the size of a soccer field. One of Syncrude’s mines has four of these plateaus. A Syncrude sulphur mountain smaller2Tar sands deforestation2
Tailing pond tar sands2Tailings pond2Arkansas ruptureYoung and Suzuki pointed out that the tar sands violates native treaty rights and that cancer levels have zoomed up in the area. For a while the oil lobby brought in it’s own ‘medical experts’ to try to complicate the findings about cancer, until government undertook studies to clarify and verify.

One of the photos here is not of the tar sands, but instead, of a residential community in Arkansas where a pipeline ruptured last year causing the evacuation of 22 homes. It was carrying tar sands crude oil to the Texas coast.

I’m an environmentalist, but I’m also a pragmatist. It’s unhelpful to think oil will disappear overnight, but it’s way more unhelpful to pretend we don’t have a problem or even aggressively spread misinformation about it. Change is difficult and slow enough. Oil people should be willing to shut up when they are being legitimately attacked.

On the other hand, we’re all hypocrites. More than 90% of our homes and cars still run on fossil fuels. So if we’re not part of the solution, we’re part of the problem. Just because change is slow or the problem seems distant from our everyday world, does not make it someone else’s problem. More than ever, each of us needs to proactively focus on solutions and help bring our world into a new energy age. Please click here to see what you could be doing.

Clean Tech Matures

solar grauatesClint Wilder, writing in renewableenergyworld.com says:

Solar power’s maturation has clearly reached the “fight” stage; it’s big enough to be taken seriously. There’s a wealth of statistics to choose from to show solar’s growth in the boom year of 2013. In the first 10 months of the year, utility-scale solar accounted for 21 percent of all new generation capacity in the U.S.; in the month of October, it was 72 percent. And in an unprecedented court decision in the first week of 2014, a Minnesota judge ruled that utility-scale solar is a better investment for Xcel Energy’s expansion plan than new natural gas capacity.

Wind power, of course, has been big enough to be taken seriously for quite a while. The U.S. wind industry now finds itself in a new stage of its maturation: life without the federal production tax credit (PTC), which expired at the end of 2013. The industry has been there before, with disastrous results, but this time is different from the past boom-and-bust cycles of the 1990s and 2000s. I don’t think the PTC will ever return in its previous form; the industry will likely lobby for some type of tax subsidy as part of a more comprehensive federal tax reform package. Hopefully, that will include the long-overdue opening of master limited partnerships to investments in renewable energy projects, which would most likely be wind farms. Rather than its own PTC, that would allow wind power to enjoy at least some of the same treatment as fossil-fuel energy sources, which is just as it should be.