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Energy Is Ugly: Tar Sands Make Their Mark

For years, “not in my backyard” has been the battle cry of residents in Cape Cod who stand opposed to an offshore wind farm in Nantucket Sound. The giant turbines will forever mar the great thing about the panorama, they are saying.

Energy is ugly. Some kinds extra so than others, as nuclear close to-meltdowns in Japan, the BP disaster within the Gulf of Mexico, and deaths in a West Virginia Coal Mine explosion have driven house in the last 12 months. Vitality kills plants, plankton, and other people. It imperils the atmosphere, poisons the oceans, and is threatening to show part of Japan, one of the advanced nations on the planet, right into a contaminated zone for decades to come.

David Daniel is aware of this all too well. He built his dream home on 20 acres of lush wilderness, alive with panthers, wild boar, and deer, in Winnsboro, East Texas. Then a nightmare referred to as tar sands appeared on his doorstep.

Tar sands are sandy soils laden with a tar-like substance called bitumen. Getting oil out of them is a dirty, harmful, and deadly process. Daniel knew none of this when a neighbor phoned in the fall of 2008 to say that he’d seen trespassers on the property. “I went again [from work] and I discovered survey stakes that cut my property in half,” he recalls. Several months later, an eminent area letter arrived, telling him that a pipeline carrying oil from Canada’s “oil sands” would minimize through his pristine property. When he complained to TransCanada, the company in charge, its lawyer responded with a veiled risk: &ld
quo;Should I put the letter in the ‘cooperative’ or the ‘uncooperative pile ’”

So started the Daniel family’s struggles with TransCanada, whose powerful U.S. backers embody Koch Industries (finest recognized for its stealth attacks on the federal authorities, and large spending on local weather-change-denial campaigns). By the time TransCanada’s surveyors entered the Daniels’ lives, the company was already exhausting at work pushing a pipeline that will run from the Canadian border to Texas’ Gulf Coast, alongside the way in which slicing by means of the Daniels’ land and the properties of numerous other People.

At no time did TransCanada’s representatives volunteer information about tar sands, leaving Daniel to do his personal research. When he asked how tar sands oil would have an effect on the pipeline, TransCanada responded only that the effects could be determined after the pipeline was put in place. “They made us really feel like lab rats on our personal property,” he says.

Behind his painful schooling in corporate arrogance lies a startling truth: Canada is the leading oil-provider of the United States. Let me repeat that: the U.S. imports more oil from Canada than (yes) Mexico, which ranks second, and (believe it or not) Saudi Arabia, which ranks only third. Tar sands are largely liable for Canada’s new petro-status. Almost a million barrels of tar sands oil arrive within the U.S. daily. By 2025, Canada is expected to be producing 3.5 million barrels of tar sands oil every day. Most of that, says Ryan Salmon of the National Wildlife Federation, will likely be imported to the U.S. And consider me, in terms of ugly energy, tar sands might take the cake.

Not Tar, Not Oil
The truth is, “tar sands” is a colloquialism for 54,000 sq. miles of bitumen that veins sand and clay beneath the boreal forests of Alberta, one in every of Canada’s western provinces. Black as it is, bitumen isn’t truly tar, although it seems to be and smells like tar, and has its consistency on a very cold day — therefore, that time period “tar sands.” (The corporations that produce the stuff prefer “oil sands.”.

Unlike oil, bitumen does not flow. Gouged and steamed out from below the forest, it’s wrenched from the soil, barreled, after which refined into synthetic crude oil — at shattering environmental prices. The tar sands business has ravaged Alberta’s forests, poisoned its air and water, and wrecked the livelihoods of its indigenous peoples. Moreover, producing synthetic crude from a barrel of bitumen generates not less than twice as a lot greenhouse gasoline as producing a barrel of normal crude oil. At 1.5 million barrels of tar sands oil a day, that’s too much of world warming.

But for firms intent on earnings in a world rocked by Middle East and North African uprisings which may threaten global oil supplies, and by declining reserves of regular crude, environmental catastrophe is trivial collateral damage. The tar sands’ nice promoting level within the U.S. is that it comes from a friendly neighbor. Russ Girling, president and CEO of TransCanada, sometimes touts tar sands as improving “U.S. energy security and reduc[ing] dependence on foreign oil from the Middle East and Venezuela,” At a White Home assembly in early February, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper assured President Obama that “Canada is the most important, essentially the most secure, the most stable, and the friendliest supplier of that most vital of all America’s purchases: energy.”

A posh alchemy turns bitumen into artificial crude. Canadian journalist and tar sands skilled Andrew Nikiforuk calls this remaining product “the world’s dirtiest hydrocarbon oil.” Canada used to remodel bitumen from its rawest into its final kind, sending artificial crude by way of pipelines to the U.S. Now, however, with Canada’s refineries maxing out, U.S. refineries are increasingly taking on the task of turning bitumen
into the mock crude that makes even my Prius environmentally unfriendly. Which means what’s coming to Individuals in ever growing portions is a really raw form of diluted bitumen known as DilBit, whose transport will make lab rats of us all.

Below jaunty names like “Lakehead,” “Alberta Clipper,” and “Keystone,” a vast pipeline network is already pumping this diluted bitumen to the Midwest and into the American heartland. The 1,900-mile-lengthy Lakehead pipeline, owned by Canada’s Enbridge Inc. skirts one of many world’s largest stretches of recent water, the great Lakes.

Final June, Enbridge’s primary competitor, TransCanada, opened a $5 billion, 2,147-mile pipeline it dubbed Keystone I, which plunges from Canada straight by way of the jap new energy 73 components of the Dakotas and Kansas to the Gulf Coast. Now, TransCanada is pushing hard for an extension, the Keystone XL, the one that will run by means of David Daniel’s land on its approach to the Gulf coast.

In February, 2011, a landmark report by the National Assets Protection Council (NRDC) famous that diluted bitumen is “the major product” carried by the Keystone I. The proposed Keystone XL, write the report’s authors, will be devoted only to DilBit whose “combination of chemical corrosion and bodily abrasion can dramatically improve the rate of pipeline deterioration.” So think about this recipe for pipelines from hell: take thick, uncooked, corrosive, acid-ridden bitumen new energy 73 and add risky pure gasoline to propel it because the bitumen doesn’t stream by itself; next, crank up the temperatures and pressures far larger than those wanted to move bizarre crude oil (once more, to help the stuff on its approach). It would not take a rocket scientist to understand a few of the possible dangers of shifting tar sands oil on this state by means of our communities.

The Tar Sands Come to Kellogg’s
Last July, as BP’s catastrophe within the Gulf was making information across the clock, the U.S. skilled its first large DilBit moment. A part of Enbridge’s Lakehead line broke, oozing black gunk right into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River near Battle Creek, Michigan, iconic dwelling to cereal-maker Kellogg’s. Twelve hours passed before staff responded to the surge of sludge, which by then had handed from the tributary into the river itself. The dark slop could possibly be seen from financial institution to financial institution within the Kalamazoo, making its way to Lake Michigan.

High levels of benzene crammed the air and native residents needed to be evacuated from their homes. When the sludge handed by Battle Creek, the Kellogg’s factory even stopped making cornflakes. The spill was arrested earlier than it may reach Lake Michigan, but not earlier than 1,000,000 gallons of DilBit had fouled a 30-mile-long stretch of the Kalamazoo, one among the most important spills in Midwest history.

This was, however, no “ordinary” oil spill, as DilBit spills are a lot more durable to wash up. As soon as DilBit hits water, the bitumen in it doesn’t float; it shortly sinks into river sediment. Exposed to sunlight, it forms a dense, sticky substance exhausting to take away from rock and soil.

Particular dredging and different gear is needed for any efficient cleanup. The booms you noticed skimming the Gulf last summer season are insufficient, and the U.S. doesn’t but have DilBit cleanup expertise. So while cleanup crews labored on the Kalamazoo and its banks after the spill was discovered, they left a complete lot of DilBit behind. Satisfactory cleanup isn’t anticipated till not less than late 2011, in accordance with the NRDC’s Susan Casey-Lefkowitz.

At the time of the Kalamazoo spill, Enbridge’s CEO, Patrick Daniels, claimed that there had by no means been a leak “of this consequence” within the company’s history. According to Enbridge’s personal stories, nevertheless, between 2000 and 2009 the corporate was
accountable for 610 pipeline spills in Canada, totaling 5.5 million gallons. (Not all had been DilBit, which makes the picture worse, not higher, since abnormal crude is less corrosive and volatile than DilBit.) In Michigan, 12 spills from Enbridge’s pipelines preceded the bigger one in the Kalamazoo.