The Avatar Movie and the Mining of Oil Sands

This is one of a series of Sunday tech talks.

The movie Avatar gets the mining bit wrong. And not by just a little – but then us villains are rarely understood, so what should we expect? OK so what is a popular, nay perhaps even genre changing movie got to do with technical talks about fossil fuel production? Well, fairly early in the movie it is made clear that the sole purpose for the plot is to mine “unobtainium” which is a mineral with all sorts of value. Now I’m not going to give away much of what goes on in this movie (and I agree with most of that review by the way) but the fallacy over how they mine the deposits on the planet is one of the lessons learned from the mining of the oil sands in Alberta, which is actually what I want to discuss a little today. In the movie they use a variation on a bucket wheel excavator – which in today’s world looks like this:

Bucket wheel excavator on the move

Bucket wheel excavators were, at one time, used for mining up at Fort McMurray where the large oil sand deposits are found in Northern Alberta. However the reason that they were discontinued (and which formed part of the plot of the book “Athabasca” by Alistair MacLean) is that they are the single machine whose health totally controls production. When they are working the mine is producing, and when they aren’t it isn’t. (The plot of the movie was to disable the machine and thus stop oil production - possible where there was only one machine.)

The problem that really developed was that maintenance and repair of such a behemoth is such that it is more reliable and productive to rely on a multitude of smaller machines, with truck haulage, rather than the single large machine with conveyors. As the mines have learned these lessons they have pensioned off or sold most of those they had. Now, if some of the shovels have maintenance problems, with some dozen or more working at one time, then the drop in production is not nearly that significant. You can see one of the problems in this picture of the teeth on the buckets. (Since this is the one on display, I suspect that towards the end replacements weren't as frequent, but you can see how many teeth were missing, and these take significant time (and money) to replace).

Note the broken and missing teeth on the front of the buckets. (The bright spots are hardened buttons to reduce side wear on the buckets as they cut through the abrasive sand.)

I first wrote about the oil sands back in June of 2006 and back then, the production was just over a million barrels of crude a day. When Gail Tverberg wrote about her visit up there on The Oil Drum last August (Part 1 and Part 2), she noted that in 2008 production had risen to 1.2 mbd and that with current construction projects this would increase to 1.94 mbd. The current Alberta Provincial web site expects that these projects will raise production to 3 mbd by 2018--which is down a bit from earlier projections.

There is some controversy that exists with regard to crude production from these mines, and the area in general. There are basically three different processes that are currently being used for oil extraction, and it is only the first of these – the mining and processing of the sand, that I will discuss today. The use of steam to recover oil from underground wells (Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage – SAGD) and the partial combustion of some of the oil to recover some of the remainder (a process called THAI for Toe to Heel Air Injection) will be written about in subsequent posts.

Part of the reason that the topic is controversial is due to the need for natural gas to create the steam used in the SAGD process, but there are other concerns that have arisen because the sand does contain some natural gas that can be drawn off and sold commercially. Last October, the Energy Resources Conservation Board ruled that 158 wells that were producing natural gas from the sand should be shut-in (that means closed) since gas production from them might interfere with the SAGD process. In particular the drop in pressure as the gas is removed may negatively impact subsequent SAGD production. A hearing on this will be held early this year. It is also a target for additional taxes and regulations in order to “green” the industry.

So what is there to green? Let me run through the process. The oil sand lies below a relatively thin cover of vegetation, soil and rock, which is first removed and stockpiled so that it can be replaced, after mining is completed. Once that has been done (using the same large shovels and trucks that are used for mining the sand), the sand is mined using large shovels that can load a truck with 100 tons of material at a time.

Loading the truck, it will take 2 to 4 shovel loads to fill the truck bed, depending on its size

In the summer, when the temperatures are higher, the sand is easier to move, and thus dozers can be used to push down the material into the arc of the shovel, so that it does not have to reposition itself that often, and production from higher benches can be kept up.

Dozer loading shovel

The trucks are used to carry the material to the initial processing plant. The sand is abrasive as well as being heavy, so that there is considerable wear on not only the teeth of the shovel, but also on the tires (my head is about the height of the axle) and on the beds of the trucks so that these have to be periodically replaced.

Relining the bed of a truck

The trucks are used to carry the mined material to a central processing plant within the pit, and it is first dumped into a primary breaker.

Tipping into the breaker

The oil sand is relatively soft, but contains layers of rock that have little oil in them. These rocks are generally harder, so that they survive the crushing - which also means that they are bigger, and can be separated out and removed from the system, before the oil sand passes into a mixing tank. In the mixing tank, the oil sand is mixed with hot water and agitated, which breaks it down into particles, since the individual sand grains are coated with a thin layer of water, under the intervening oil that ties it all together.

Mixing the sand with water

The resulting slurry is then passed to a pump station, that pushes the slurry through a pipeline, which carries it to the initial separator at the refinery.

Pump station and delivery pipeline

The pipe is about a mile long, and in the time that the sand passes through it the oil and sand are separated. At the beginning of the refinery, the slurry is then pumped into a large tank. Simplistically the sand settles to the bottom of the tank, the water lies in the middle (where it can be drawn off for re-use) and the oil floats on the top and can be drawn off to feed into the refinery.

Initial sand:oil separator

The heavy crude is treated in this initial refinery so that the resulting liquid can be sent as a sweet crude down to other refineries further south.

Upgrading refinery

Making sweet crude requires, among other things, removing the sulfur from the oil. Sometimes sulfur can be marketed, but sometimes it must be stock-piled. Because of the stockpiling, there are the start of "sulfur pyramids" being constructed around the refinery.

Start of a sulfur pyramid

Once the oil sand has been removed down to the underlying bed rock, the sand can be replaced and the land reclaimed. Gail did a tour of some of the sites, and has posted pictures - unfortunately I did not have have that opportunity.

However, given the comments that this post has given rise to let me add one of those pictures to this post:

Reclaimed, but not yet approved land

As usual this has been an abbreviated explanation of a process. Comments and questions might indicate where I need to explain things in more detail.

Fantastic explanation. Thank you!

Well, who doesn't love hardware and big fat paycheques and find all of this very fascinating? Really, the best argument agaisnt the tar sands is the tar sands.

I wonder if those mountains of sulfur could someday be put to use in some of the geoengineering proposals to fight global warming by injecting sulfur into the stratosphere.

Not saying it's a good idea, but desperate times call for desperate measures - it may get attempted, with consequences.

As we move in the direction of electrifying things -- almost a certainty in an energy-constrained renewable-based future -- sulfur may be valuable in battery technology. Large sodium-sulfur batteries are already in use in stationary applications; non-rechargeable lithium-sulfur batteries have high energy density and long shelf life (the military seems fond of them); researchers working with various nano-tech seem to be making progress toward a rechargeable lithium-sulfur battery; aluminum-sulfur battery chemistry may be feasible, which would remove the dependency on lithium.

When I learned that lower-grade crude contains Vanadium in significant quantities (among other things), I thought of those large Vanadium-based flow batteries and how that extra Vanadium coming out of oil refineries could be put to good use.

Anti BAU project #237 paragraph B3.

Vanabins (also known as vanadium-associated proteins or vanadium chromagen) are a specific group of vanadium-binding metalloproteins. Found only in the blood of some ascidians and tunicates (sea squirts), these organisms are able to concentrate vanadium to a level more than 100 times higher than in the surrounding seawater. Vanabin proteins seem to be involved in collecting and accumulating this metal ion. At present there is no conclusive understanding of why these organisms collect vanadium, and it remains a biological mystery.

Ok, so the source in this case is actually Wikipedia but this is a well known phenomenon.

So why don't we create artificial reefs and farm Ascidians instead?

The oil sand lies below a relatively thin cover of vegetation, soil and rock, which is first removed and stockpiled so that it can be replaced, after mining is completed.

You stockpile the does that work? You then tera-form nature later. It's amazing that ecosystems thousands of years old can be restored so easily. Perhaps the Keebler elves are brought in.

In the mixing tank, the oil sand is mixed with hot water and agitated, which breaks it down into particles, since the individual sand grains are coated with a thin layer of water, under the intervening oil that ties it all together.

Tell me with a straight face what you're going to do with the dozens of square miles of toxic tailing ponds that are leaching into the water table.

"...but then us villains are rarely understood"

No...I think we get it.


I think the plan is new ecosystems will eventualy evolve. Ones where organisms are capable of feeding off the polluted soils. Of course it will take a few million years...

I think the plan is new ecosystems will eventualy evolve. Ones where organisms are capable of feeding off the polluted soils. Of course it will take a few million years...

They already have evolved. The oil sands have been in existence for millions of years, and the organisms have been growing there that whole time. The bacteria have already eaten up about half the resource, but the half that is remaining is about the size of the world's reserves of conventional oil. The forest is perfectly happy growing in oil-saturated ground.

Mother nature is way ahead of human invention on this process.

"The forest is perfectly happy growing in oil-saturated ground."

Is that right?

I worked as a petroleum operator in the British army. It was drummed into our heads not not make oil spills because civilian environmental agencies would make us dig out the spill and a meter of earth in every direction to make sure we had cleared up the last drop.

But I was also recently told that farmers in the North of England have known for years that fields that have coal seems close to or breaking the surface have much better crop yields than those that dont.

Yes, subsurface crude oil isn't as hard on plants as you might think. There is oil-eating bacteria in the soil that will munch on it and turn it into ordinary soil if it is close to the surface. If the soil doesn't have any oil-eating bacteria, you can buy some and put it in.

The real problem with oil operations is salt water. Many wells produce more salt water than oil. If you inadvertently dump salt water into a swamp or forest, you will kill all the plants and fish, and you will not be able to fix the problem because the salt will not dissipate. The soil is permanently destroyed, the swamp is permanently changed.

OTOH, if you inadvertently dump crude oil into a swamp or forest, the quick and dirty way to get rid of it is to light an oil-soaked rag, and toss it into the oil spill. PHOOM! The problem goes up in flames. It looks bad at the time, with the big cloud of black smoke and all the burned trees, but if you come back 10 years later, your swamp or forest will look as good as it did before your accident. Better, in fact, because there is no dead wood or plants cluttering up the landscape. It works particularly well in swamps because they only burn to the waterline, and the plants grow back from the roots.

If you try to clean up the problem with detergents or chemicals, they will do more damage and kill more plants and animals than the crude oil. Oil companies often do this because it looks like they are doing something useful, and the public doesn't know any better, but the detergents do more damage than the crude oil.

The touchy-feeling kind of environmentalists like the detergent solution, but the oil industry environmentalists we employed liked to set things on fire whenever possible. Fire is a normal part of the environment and Mother Nature knows how to deal with it. Detergents and chemicals create a man-made sort of disaster.

Oh, and another thing we used to do was dispose of drilling waste by plowing it into farmland.

The touchy-feely kind of environmentalists might have a fit over the concept, but it was a very scientific process. We used to analyze the soil and determine exactly what it was missing. Then we would add exactly the right kind of waste in exactly the right proportions, add oil-eating bacteria, turn it over every so often to let the bacteria get air, and finally fertilize, plant alfalfa, and give it back to the farmers.

Naturally they would get a bumper crop of grain the next year, much better than before, and after that the neighboring farmers would be lining up to help us dispose of drilling waste.

Evil and error are diffuse in our complex culture.

Villains-R-Us and Evildoers-R-Us.

Dick Cheney had it right -- not only in the USA but also around the world we demand more and more energy and raw materials to feed our lifestyles.

Carl Rove had it right as well -- pick a stooge to run who can manipulate the masses using religion mixed with political ideology, while the real work goes on behind the scenes.

Strange, but even so-called liberals and progressives enjoy so much of the very comforts that make the oil sands project necessary.

No, there is no way to enjoy cheap energy without destroying our environment. Yes, there are too many of us and we each have ever-expanding ecological footprints. there is the rub, eh?

Al Gore and others never talk about overpopulation and the need to reduce population relatively quickly or the need for actual sacrifice of personal comforts as the key and indispensable elements of creating a fairly sustainable culture.

So we continue along -- oil sands and all.

And we make sure to avoid talking about the real problems while we point fingers at "them" and "them" and "them".....

Hi beggar,

Well said. ++

Sorry, you're off on one point there Beggar.
Gore is always too Easy a Target..
Al Gore on stabilizing World Population
On Letterman, making the point that Education of Girls and Empowerment of Women shows the best hope for moderating family sizes towards stable Pop levels.

Good catch, man! Thanks for correcting me on that.

I know that Gore, Clinton, and Obama seem to tread lightly on topics that go against the grain of large established religious and cultural traditions.

The question is about whether going easy on that stuff will encourage enough change and soon enough.

So far it looks to me like too little too late.

As the next two decades unfold I am sure that there will be a number of surprises for us all.

Hi jokuhl,

I also appreciate what Al Gore has done to publicize GW and also don't like to criticize him. However, I also wish he would speak more forcefully about the need for global family planning.

In his movie Inconvenient Truth he showed the population graph and indicated it was the major driver but then just kind of dropped the topic (as I recall anyway). In the link you gave for Letterman, his basic message is that the population issue is self-correcting. I just don't see how 9B by 2050 gels with the resource depletion scenarios that are most likely in the next few decades.

Some of us would really appreciate Al talking more about supporting organizations and programs aimed at voluntary family planning. He mentioned the point you made about education and empowerment but I don't hear a strong voice for how to achieve that goal.

I appreciate your point, but I think he's picked a range of issues which is pretty huge. It doesn't seem like he would disagree, but I would have to guess that he's picked his battles, and trusts that there will be other folks willing to be the Bullseye Boys for the related, monumental challenges, like championing Population.

It isn't like he's been shy about attracting torpedoes with his main message, after all.


I read Al Gore's book, and the thing that astounded me about it was the sheer number of scientific errors in it. I've never seen so many technical errors in one small book. Apparently, his publisher didn't have a science editor to catch the bloopers, or if they did, Gore didn't pay any attention to him.

He's obviously a politician, not a scientist. Scientists will usually admit they are wrong if it is proven to them. A politician will never admit he is wrong, even when he makes an obvious error. This is why many people believe politicians are liars - they will never admit they are wrong even when they obviously are, no matter how trivial the issue. But from a politician's perspective, truth is a flexible concept and the real goal is to always be right.

I could go into detail on the issues, but this was covered by a British court case on the issue, in which the judge ruled that as a matter of fact, as distinct from a matter of law, there were errors in the book. Feel free to look up the court decision on Google. I'm too tired.

And we make sure to avoid talking about the real problems while we point fingers at "them" and "them" and "them".....


That is the insanity of it all right there. Forget about alternatives or even trying to figure out a comprimise, we can't even acknowlege or agree on what the real problem is!

Well no actually, I don't think that you do. Learning how to effectively and economically extract the fuel that is used in both Canada and the United States was a long and expensive process. The fact that the fuel is now economically extractable is an indication of the need that the industrialized world currently has for it. The restoration of land and the control of the quality of issues such as the air around the plant are supervised by Provincial and National government agencies. While I was visiting the area there was a relatively faint smell of "cat pee" coming from the refinery. That part of the plant was shut down for several months in consequence, until the problem had been solved. (At 100,000 bd it was not an inexpensive stoppage).

There are two additional thoughts I will add, recognizing that this is an emotional issue for some folk. Firstly they take the sand, wash out the oil, and put the sand back. Thus any toxins that are there were there before when the river ran through the formation. But more to the point, the land is then reclaimed. There is an issue with the length of time it takes to dewater the sand after it is put back - the fine particles make it take years- however there is ongoing research to significantly lower the time and reduce the risk of wild life coming into contact with the pond before it is dry.

And Gail has posted pictures of the reclaimed land, which must also get Provincial approval before it is released. Go take a look - because this is an emotional issue one rarely sees what the land looks like after reclamation, it is more effective, for those who argue against mining, to show the pictures in the middle of the process.

While I was visiting the area there was a relatively faint smell of "cat pee" coming from the refinery. That part of the plant was shut down for several months in consequence, until the problem had been solved.

I guess they are now using industrial quantities of this stuff, eh? Either that or they are exporting lots of cat pelts ;-)

You say "Thus any toxins that are there were there before when the river ran through the formation"

You are right, to a point. But there are lots MORE toxins downriver from the operations than there are upriver, or on waterways not directly associated with the operations but still in areas of tar sands.

A recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by David Schindler, one of Canada's leading scientists on waterways in Alberta, documents the degree to which the tar sands are polluting the river.

Oil sands development contributes polycyclic aromatic compounds to the Athabasca River and its tributaries.

Thus any toxins that are there were there before when the river ran through the formation.

I'm more than a bit uncomfortable with the implication that things were just as polluted before the mining began as they are now. This includes high rates of some cancers in folks living downstream, and poisons in the food chain. I've read a number of places that simply the massive disturbance of the poison containing 'ores' being mined brings about a sharp rise in the poisons released into the biosphere.

Are there data from before the mining began that would support this (things no worse than before)? Otherwise it is my conviction that the burden of proof rests with the tar sand industry to demonstrate that things are at worst, no worse than before.

Edit: see post right above this one. My point also.

I'm more than a bit uncomfortable with the implication that things were just as polluted before the mining began as they are now.

They were polluted to begin with. The oil sands continuously leak oil into the rivers, and have done so for millions of years. They will continue to do so until the oil is all gone, which will take millions more years at current rates. While most likely there is now more pollution because of the surface disruption caused by the mining, there has always been significant contamination of the rivers by the oil sands.

high rates of some cancers in folks living downstream, and poisons in the food chain.

There are not very people living downstream for the simple reason that there are no roads downstream. Fort McMurray is the end of the transportation network, and everything going north of there goes by river. There have been some arguments that the cancer levels in the more northerly communities are higher, but the authorities are unconvinced because the levels are not statistically significant. There are not enough people to provide a statistical basis.

There are also other sources of contamination in the Athabasca river. There apparently are natural sources of arsenic and mercury somewhere in the riverbed, although nobody knows where they are. This is a highly resource-rich part of the world, the natural resources are many and varied, and unfortunately some of the resources find their way into the water system. If I was living along the river, I would not drink the water, nor would I eat many of the fish. This would be the case even without any oil sands mining.

The point that no-one makes - pro or anti - is that whatever way this is done, however 'sensitively' things are 'restored', the whole process is just an incredibly violent one for the landscape. How many animals and insects die in the process? Can we really simply uproot and replace an ecology as subtle as this ancient one? Aren't we just deluding ourselves about all this? Anyone who can't see that this process is a huge violation of the landscape really is in some state of deep denial about the issue.

Can we really simply uproot and replace an ecology as subtle as this ancient one? Aren't we just deluding ourselves about all this? Anyone who can't see that this process is a huge violation of the landscape really is in some state of deep denial about the issue.

Yes absolutely! Even though I have been accused of boring people to tears with this video, only someone completely ignorant of biodiversity would suggest that any of these practices are even remotely acceptable.

"Can we really simply uproot and replace an ecology as subtle as this ancient one?"

10,000 years ago the glaciers from the last Ice Age still covered the area. This ecology is not ancient in the manner of the rain forests. It will (and already has, looking at the picture) recover quickly.

On the same topic in a different area, I was at an old placer mining site in Montana a few years ago. They had used dredges in the creek bed. You could tell where they had been as they left a path of little ponds as they moved up the stream. The ducks loved them. Beavers enhanced them. The ecology was not destroyed.

Glad to know that nature can always repair whatever damage human beings can dish out! I guess all the worries over pollution, extinctions and loss of biodiversity for the past 50 years is just a bunch of liberal hand-wringing. Thanks for setting the record straight --Happy motoring everyone!

[quote]Glad to know that nature can always repair whatever damage human beings can dish out![/quote]

Actually, this true. Personally, I'm not worried about whether "nature" will survive / repair itself. I'm worried whether we will survive.

Long after human beings are extinct or have fallen back into prehistoric levels of existence it will take mother nature a blink of an eye ( a few million years or so) on geologic times scale to repopulate the earth with new life / species to take our place. Life is extremely resilient and we can find life in the most unexpected places. As long as a glimmer of life survives our destruction of the ecosystem, life will quickly (geologically speaking :-) evolve and repopulate the earth.

The only question is, will we (the human race) be there to be a part of it or not.

I don't think that absolves us of the responsibility to take care of what we have now, whether we like the responsibility or not.

We have "intelligence" and self-awareness, and the ability to recognize that we are destroying our living habitat, along with that of other species. I think it is sheer abdication to say "nature will recover".

Would you be saying it's ok to trash the house you live in, and leave dog-poop (or similar) 3 inches deep in the yard, because someone else can come along after you move out and clean it up ?

No, most people take a basic pride in keeping their living place in some state of order and cleanliness. It's a matter of self-respect, and respect for one's neighbors.

It's unfathomable to me why we can't treat the planet as a whole with the same deference.

And is it OK to use all of this stuff up now? Our offspring may not remember us well if they need some of the things that we have rendered unavailable.

And as these words were spoken I swear I hear the old man laughing..

'What good is a used-up world, and how could it be worth having?'


Perhaps there are two basic types of humans: Those who are busy taking what they can get now, and those who give a damn about what kind of world they leave for the future.

I think it may be even more basic than that.
One type who see excitement in the big wheels turning, and the other, who just see a yawning, filthy great hole in the earth.

This ecology is not ancient in the manner of the rain forests.

No kidding it's not ancient. Most of the forests in the oil sands areas burned down around 40-50 years ago. People have an image of some kind of ancient mystical time beyond human imagination. This is all mythology. No, the forests up there are highly used to natural disasters. They get destroyed by fire about once or twice a century on average. They bounce back very fast and after a few years you would never know they had burned down.

The ducks loved them. Beavers enhanced them. The ecology was not destroyed.

I was in a camp in the oil sands, and it didn't seem to bother the animals in the slightest. One morning, I opened the door to go outside, and there were five bears sitting on the front step. As long as you don't shoot at them, they don't seem to care, but you have to take care to not leave food lying around, and avoid becoming food yourself.

When I was in Fort McMurray, they had a problem in that the wolves took advantage of the pipeline right-of-ways to come into town, and eat people's dogs. People would come out in the morning and find only a badly-chewed dog collar left. You have to realize that most animals are highly adaptable. They can cope with a lot of changes. They're not going to follow some environmentalists idea of how they should behave if their are better opportunities available.

I have wolves in the forest behind my house, too. They have freaked out cross-country skiers by following them down the trails. Personally, I don't think they're a big threat to me, but I wouldn't let a small dog wander around by itself. Bears are a bigger concern - I always carry bear spray in bear country.

Of course they don't 'mind'.. My mom didn't 'mind' her ovarian cancer until they caught it, a week or two before she suddenly died. We've destroyed enough habitat with such invasions that we've blocked the breeding of countless species at this point. Seeing some happy Kingfisher flitting over a semi-recovered brownfield does not tell us that 'Nature is Fine with our projects'

We're dredging up volumes of contaminants that have been deeply buried since 'Ancient' times. Sure, the forests burn and regrow, but their soil bases have not had this kind of concentrated liberation and packaging of toxins ever.

Environmentalists are not trying to tell Foxes how to behave. We've got enough to do trying to talk to humans that speak English, and whose behavior is actually causing the problems.

People who have a financial stake in ignoring the destruction tar sands mining represents will find it easy to ignore or minimize the damage. What the discussion has so far missed is the fact that mining all of these tar sands and burning the oil mined will absolutely doom our children to an uninhabitable world.

What the discussion has so far missed is the fact that mining all of these tar sands and burning the oil mined will absolutely doom our children to an uninhabitable world.

Oh, come on. After it's reclaimed, it's not going be nearly as uninhabitable as Los Angeles, speaking of uninhabitable worlds.

In the former oil sands, you'll be able to sit at a nice picnic table in the forest and watch the buffalo graze on the reclaimed land. When will you be able to do that in LA? Come on you die-hard Doomers, give me a date.

Okay, sit in the desert and watch the buzzards waiting for you to die of starvation. Let's go with the Doomer vision.

You missed my point, RMG. While I am dubious about the starry eyed predictions of that all or even most of this land will be recoverable to anything like their earlier condition, that was not what I was referring to here.

We have to stop un-sequestering carbon deposits before we turn the earth into a very different planet, something we are already well on the way toward. It is the whole planet that tar sands and dirty coal dooms, not just the immediate area where they are extracted.

On that point, though, we should keep in mind that it many place, regular old oil production wreaks enormous damage on the surrounding ecology and communities. Read Peter Maass's excellent recent "Crude World" for a well written survey of some of the worst cases.

Heading Out

I have little doubt that you're overall a pretty good guy. I don't imagine you wandering around with a swastika and a moniker, but at the end of the day you need to stand up with no irony and proclaim for all to hear:

"My name is (your name) and I am a plunderer of the earth."

I can guarantee you that Heading Out does have a moniker, and he is not afraid to use it.

We are all plundering the earth. Heading Out is just at a different point of the chain than you and I are.

Can you lose the "holier than though" attitude, please?

aangel - I borrowed the line "I am a plunderer of the earth" from a speech Ray Anderson, the CEO of Interface Carpet and Fabric, gave to an industry group and was included in the Movie The Corporation. In that speech Anderson asked fellow industrialists in the audience to internalize that statement as he had when he was tasked to assess the environmental responsibility of his company by the shareholders several years before. Was Ray Anderson being holier than thou?

I am of the firm opinion that offshore drilling, oil sands operations, cutting down forests in Indonesia and Brazil and growing corn in Nebraska for agri-fuels is kicking the Peak Oil can down the road at the price of biodiversity and environmental devastation.

Do you think it's worth it aangel?

On a personal level I don't consider myself holier than anyone but I have made it a mission to educate myself. But if it makes you happy how about this:

"I am a direct beneficiary of the plunderers of the earth" - Joe Michaels

My truck with Heading Out is his plea that he is "misunderstood" and that the current exploitation of the oil sands is somehow justified because "industrial societies" need it. I think he's wrong but that's my opinion.


"I am a plunderer of the earth" from a speech Ray Anderson

Forgive me, I did not know that reference and you didn't provide it until now.

Do you think it's worth it aangel?

Of course I don't. But I give people a lot of space so that I can continue the conversation with them. I want to bring people who think differently than I do to my way of thinking, not push them away.

I want to bring people who think differently than I do to my way of thinking, not push them away.

Your correct in that.

"It doesn't pay to alienate anyone." annonymous


Nasa (see link below)

The contaminated water cannot be returned to the Athabasca River, from which it was drawn, and it ends up in tailing ponds, visible in the image. The tailing ponds are one of the environmental risks of these mines. The ponds replace natural wetlands and because they contain toxic chemicals, they are a threat to wildlife.

We can even view the reclamation from space which is nice to know. Nasa has some nice images here

HO, while I appreciate the work and time you put into the posts the emotional issue for me is if you actually live there or knew someone who lives within the water table of this environmental disaster (admittedly my opinion).

The movie Avatar gets the mining bit wrong. And not by just a little – but then us villains are rarely understood, so what should we expect?

Not quite sure how tongue in cheek this comment is? The movie is simplistic in its message, but have many people got the time or inclination to watch a documentary about the actual disaster taking place in our real world.

For me it about what point do we consider the destruction of the natural environment to be ecocide?
The tarsands is just an example of how Homo Colossus thinks we're separate from our environment.

Because of the needs of the different processes, the water is reclaimed and re-used to as great an extent as possible. The water that floats on top of the tailings ponds (as I have explained in the post) is in part because it takes some time for the solids content to settle out. And with due respect to those that put up the image that you cite, what they are showing is not the reclaimed land but the areas of the working pit, and those lands that are in process of reclamation. I have added a picture from Gail's post (that I cite just above the picture) to show you the difference.

All of the native wildlife in the area, including beaver, mink, boreal birds, geese and ducks have an intimate relationship with the water there. What happens when they move into the tailing ponds and run-off during reclamation (which I'm sure they try to do almost immediately)? Does someone go out there and shoo them away until the water is pronounced safe?

Does someone go out there and shoo them away until the water is pronounced safe?

Yes they do. In fact, that's why the notorious 500 ducks died. The operators normally fire off blasts of noise to keep ducks off the tailings ponds, but the ducks showed up early on their annual migration, and the duck repellers were not in operation yet. The oil sands operators promised to get their noisemakers ready early next time.

500 ducks is not a lot of ducks. I know of cases where avian cholera got into a duck pond in the US during the annual migration, and they had 50,000 dead ducks lying around before they knew it. But, given the millions of ducks in the migration, it made little difference in the overall scheme of things. If we were really worried about ducks, we would stop shooting them.

"If we were really worried about ducks, we would stop shooting them." RMG

The Passenger Pigoen

Some estimate that there were three billion to five billion passenger pigeons in the United States when Europeans arrived in North America. Others argue that the species had not been common in the Pre-Columbian period, but their numbers grew when devastation of the American Indian population by European diseases led to reduced competition for food.

The species went from being one of the most abundant birds in the world during the 19th century to extinction early in the 20th century. At the time, passenger pigeons had one of the largest groups or flocks of any animal, second only to the Rocky Mountain locust.

Some reduction in numbers occurred because of habitat loss when the Europeans started settling further inland. The primary factor emerged when pigeon meat was commercialized as a cheap food for slaves and the poor in the 19th century, resulting in hunting on a massive scale. There was a slow decline in their numbers between about 1800 and 1870, followed by a catastrophic decline between 1870 and 1890. Martha, thought to be the world's last passenger pigeon, died on September 1, 1914, in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Rocky, we are currently in the middle of the most rapid mass extinction in the history of the earth commonly known as the Late Quarternary. According to E.O. Wilson we are losing 3 to 5 species per hour. That makes it 30,000 times the normal extinction rate.

Causes: Habitat destruction, Invasive species, human population growth, pollution and over-harvesting (of everything).


Not wishing to be too controversial, but you might want to think about the number you just cited.

24 hours a day x 365 days in last year x 4 = 35,000 species which, according to E.O. Wilson went extinct last year. Would you care to name say 100 of them?

Yangtze River dolphin was the largest one.


I saw a piece on the Science Channel recently about the Blue Fin Tuna soon going extinct (they called it population collapse)

I appreciate the article and the many ways you have shared your experience and knowledge with us, but the above is unhelpful.

I'm not going to look up the Latin term for whatever kind of False Argument that represents.. at this point, we have upset so many base ecosystems with large-scale surface disruptions that there are extinctions going on that never had a human name, and probably never will.

Would naming 100 for you mean that at least that many species were credibly lost?

I don't doubt that a great many brilliant and well-intentioned folk are doing their level best to make the Tar Sands Grounds as well-restored as possible.. but the effort itself, before we even find out decades later if there was a lasting problem that was unforseen in it all, that herculean process reveals the addict doing just anything to keep the fix going.


What I was trying to illustrate is that there is a tremendous difference between the hyped numbers on species extinction and the reality. There was one species named - out of the purported 35,000. I recently read an article that looked into the actual numbers and named species that had actually gone extinct - the numbers were not that large.

For example if you go to Mongabay they say that 800 species have gone extinct in the last 500 years. That number is a lot different from the 35,000 that we are supposed to believe went extinct last year, and are claimed to go extinct this year (for a total of 70,000).

I have serious concerns about the ways in which the oceans are over-fished but dramatically over-hyping numbers moves the argument out of the range of credibility.

Just because science has not cataloged and named them does not mean they do not exist. Quite the contrary.

OTOH, many of these extinct species have close analogs that can fill their ecological niche. Darwin noted two species of armadillo with overlapping ranges, but also areas where only one or the other lived. Extinct one of the two and the other can fill a good % of the lost niche (and in a few millennium evolve into the missing species).

The same is probably true of many species of fungi, insects and other invertebrates, etc.

Larger holes are left when a genus goes extinct. We lose the ivory billed and the pilleted woodpecker, the whooping and sandhill cranes.

The loss of the river dolphin leaves such a hole.

My largest concern is the functional loss of a genus in an ecological niche and shrinking ranges. So we have 200 whooping cranes ? They affect a small area on the Texas coast and another small area in northern Canada. Everywhere else they are gone.

There is no doubt that modern man is DRAMATICALLY reducing the diversity and robustness of our ecology. Using words to paint that picture is inadequate.

As the Na'vi said, "They are returning to a dying world".


I'm not going to look up the Latin term for whatever kind of False Argument that represents..

I think a non sequitur falls pretty close. You can't name 100 people killed by the Haitian earthquake therefore the figure of 70,000 casualties is overhyped. It does not follow.

I thought the argument worthy of a flag and gave it one.

They could have stopped shooting the passenger pigeons when they noticed they were becoming rare, but they suffered from a kind of denialism about population numbers. People don't want to believe that resources have limits. They just didn't want to believe that such a proliferate species could be overhunted to extinction. Any species can be overhunted to extinction.

You see similar kinds of denialism with respect to various species of fish that once were very common. The cod fishery on the east coast of Canada is a classic example. It once was the the largest industry in Newfoundland. By the time the government realized that there were hardly any cod left, it was too late. Although they closed the fishery years ago, the cod population has still not recovered. Other types of fish are at similar risk - someone cited the bluefish tuna as an example, but there are others.

However, the key factor is overhunting or overfishing. If you stop shooting or fishing them soon enough, they will probably do okay. On the duck frontier, Ducks Unlimited is doing a good job of keeping their numbers up.

However, I'm not a big believer in the "most rapid mass extinction in the history of the earth" theory. I think the numbers are completely whacked. I think much worse things have happened in the past.

Where I live, we haven't lost any species in the last 10,000 years. Well, except for one, a fish called the Banff longnose dace. It wasn't a case of overfishing. The Banff longnose dace only lived in a single marsh fed by by the Banff hot springs. Eastern longnose dace got into the marsh, interbred with the Banff longnose dace, and hybridized them out of existence. It was a case of extinction by sex, not violence.

Rocky, we are currently in the middle of the most rapid mass extinction in the history of the earth commonly known as the Late Quarternary. According to E.O. Wilson we are losing 3 to 5 species per hour. That makes it 30,000 times the normal extinction rate.

However, I'm not a big believer in the "most rapid mass extinction in the history of the earth" theory. I think the numbers are completely whacked. I think much worse things have happened in the past.

Thought juxtaposition of the two statements was in order. Looks to me like you two worship in different churches. Lots of faith involved in both statements. Total species estimates now and a century or two back are just that. But on the other hand the immensity and speed of change human activity has wrought globally with the aid of fossil fuel is truly staggering.

Of course what brought on and how quickly past extinctions proceeded is very debatable as well. Obviously if you live in a place that has lost only a single species in the last 10000 years you live in a very species poor environment which has been nearly static for that long and which has been studied in minutia so such statement can be made with unequivocal certainty , or its time to pull on the waders, cause it is getting deep here. Successful businessman bluff all the time, nature has been known to call a bluff or two though.

Obviously if you live in a place that has lost only a single species in the last 10000 years you live in a very species poor environment which has been nearly static for that long and which has been studied in minutia so such statement can be made with unequivocal certainty

Let me clarify the situation for you since you are making some broad assumptions about it. I live within walking distance of Banff National Park in Canada. You can't hunt animals in Banff National Park, and therefore they don't go extinct. They also don't stay in the park all the time, they wander through my back yard, which is actually pretty interesting to watch. We've got grizzly bears, we've got wolves, we've got cougars, we've got elk, we've got deer, we've got moose, etc. etc, and they've all been in my back yard. If you don't hunt animals, they get pretty calm and relaxed about hanging around people. If you get up really early in the morning, and don't make much noise, you can often look out the back window and see some pretty interesting things looking back at you.

Yes, they do study species in minutia here. If you walk through the woods here, every time you find an animal trail, you also find flags on the trees indicating what study zone you are in and what they are monitoring on that particular trail. The biologists have indexed and categorized all the animals, examined all the footprints and scat, done DNA testing to find out there exact genetic code, etc., etc. All the really interesting animals have collars with radio transmitters, and every so often you see someone driving down the road with a radio antenna, trying to find them. If you talk to these people, you can find out all kinds of interesting things about what animals are in the study area, and what they are doing at that point in time.

Now, to get back to the 10,000 years ago number I used, I chose it because shortly prior to that time, almost all of the large herbivores and most of the large carnivores in this area went extinct. Most people don't realize it, but things such as moose, bison, elk, deer, etc. etc. are not really native to North America, but animals that immigrated in from Eurasia shortly after the end of the last ice age. Prior to that time we had mammoths, mastodons, giant bison, stag moose, giant short-faced bears, sabre-toothed cats, etc. etc. They disappeared roughly around the time that humans appeared in North America.

However, in this area, which was settled rather late, Europeans didn't cause any further extinctions after they arrived. Maybe it is because they had learned from mistakes made elsewhere.

Whooping cranes and bison became locally extinct in the last 200 years in your area, although bison were re-introduced.

Black footed ferret as well (1937 in Canada) I think.


The word they use for a species which has been exterminated locally is "extirpated". Several species were extirpated in this region, but most have since been reintroduced. As long as they aren't wiped out everywhere, you can bring them back.

Whooping cranes were saved from extinction by the establishment of Wood Buffalo National Park, which is directly north of the Athabasca oil sands. Wood Buffalo used to be the largest park in the world, bigger than Switzerland, but I think that Canada has established some larger parks since then. It is also the home of the largest free-ranging herd of bison in the world (hence the name).

Black footed ferrets are back in the wild in Canada. A bunch of black-footed ferrets from the Wyoming population were reintroduced to Saskatchewan's Grasslands National Park last year. Locally, the swift fox was extirpated, but is back again.

When people talk about bison being "almost extinct", they're ignoring the hundreds of thousands on ranches. There are probably a quarter of a million bison nowadays, but most of them are being raised for meat. I enjoy a nice buffalo burger myself from time to time.

Interestingly, a lot of the western US is going back to the buffalo and the Indians these days. The white men are leaving and the Indians are increasing in number and raising buffalo for sale. When you look at it, you wonder why white men bothered taking the West from the Indians in the first place. It's too dry for crops but perfect for buffalo.

We have reintroduced some of our own surviving species elsewhere, notably wolves to Montana and Wyoming, much to the shock and horror of the cattlemen there. The wildlife people opened up a wolf migration corridor on the east side of the Rockies and let Canadian wolves make their way down to the US. The wolves have successfully reintroduced themselves and are now chowing down on the wildlife there. It was an interesting exercise, and I contributed a bit of money to it myself. Some Americans think the wolves reintroduced themselves, but they had a lot of help.

Speaking of whooping cranes, there's a lawsuit going against the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality by the International Crane Foundation. Apparently Texas allowed water to be diverted from the Guadalupe River for industrial use, and about 10% of the world's whooping crane population starved to death as a result. They spend the summers in Wood Buffalo and the winters in Texas. However, this was during the Bush administration, so you had to expect that kind of thing to happen.

Curious, just what % of the species in the park are observable by the naked eye? Do you think every microscopic and ultra microbial species that has existed for the last 10000 years in that area is now catalogued? This is possible, though a great deal of faith would be required to believe that true, it is a big area and some small isolated microenvironments, maybe just a small streamlet or two exiting unique mineral environments have yet to be discovered and have all their inhabitants right down to single celled organisms catalogued.

But say every species living in your area for the last 10000 years has been accounted for, and they are all still there, that is the definition of a static environment. If the small army of scientists and their assistants have actually managed to catalogue EVERY species in the rather large area you describe there must be a fairly small number of species which is what I meant by species poor.

If some intestinal parasite evolved locally and never expanded its range 9000 years ago and it was wiped out by a more robust species 1000 years ago what record would there be of that? Your blanket statement just seems unsupportable to me.

A little defensive bringing in the European angle don't you think. My a point didn't require human presence in your area except for the complete cataloguing required. There are indeed many 'pockets' large and small worldwide where human activity has had little effect, sadly a lot, possibly most, of the oceans' upper reaches don't seem to fall into that category, and if I recall the oceans make up 7/10 of the planets surface.

By the way, the IPCC has just said 'mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa' and that they really don't know where in hell the 2035 date for the disappearance of Himalayan ice given in their 2007 report came from. Possibly a Russian study's number for the glaciers all being gone, 2350, was transposed. Picked that up from MSNBC here. Awful shoddy little section, wonder how much more of the report was that badly vetted? I do hope the IPCC thoroughly revists this issue and gives us a proper set of numbers for this, it is important to a lot of people.

Disappearance of Himalayan glaciers by 2350 is still fast but will allow a reasonable amount of time for people in the region to adapt. That could at least diffuse one of the tinderboxes that appear to be stacked about that part of Asia for a little while.

Curious, just what % of the species in the park are observable by the naked eye? Do you think every microscopic and ultra microbial species that has existed for the last 10000 years in that area is now catalogued?

That brings up another point about mass extinctions: how do you know a species went extinct if you never knew it existed? That must have been the case with the vast majority of species over the eons - we never knew they ever existed, and we never will. Only if a species is very successful over a long period of time are you likely to find any fossilized remains of them. If they are small creatures, you are much less likely to find their remains than if they are large. There must have been millions of species of novel and different little creatures that have appeared and disappeared throughout geological time without leaving a mark on the geological record.

So, the question arises, if xxxx number of species have gone extinct in the last yyyy years, how do you know that the extinction rate differs from a similar period millions of years ago? Species go extinct all the time, there have been some pretty big mass extinction events in the past, and if there was a short, sharp extinction event that only wiped out, say, 25% of all species on earth a few hundred million years ago, it might not even show up in the fossil record. Only the really big extinction events stand out, and even they are controversial.

That's my main problem with the Holocene mass extinction theory. How do you really know that current extinction rates are any different than at various periods in the past? You're making a lot of assumptions to say so. I don't even think the scientists know what the current extinction rate is - they're just assuming it is high.

That is exactly why I mentioned you two guys were worshipping at different churches. You were careful to qualify what you said as a personal belief in one paragraph and then went on to state unequivocally no species had been lost in your area in the next. That is was the bluff part I was referring to. A statement with qualification there would not have been near as strong so you bluffed a bit. That is often a necessary tactic in management, things have to get done, but it undid you a little here.

I'm with you about science not having a real handle on what the current extinction rate is or for that matter not having a handle on past smaller species reduction events than the major ones science more or less agrees upon, it was Joel that gave specific rates as dogma not me. It requires a lot of faith in the extrapolations from incomplete knowledge to buy into that as dogma. takes major earth changing events to bring on mass extinctions and none here are denying they have occurred in the past. Modern humans have been a major earth changing event, in just a few millennia we have managed to put a portion of the earth about equal to the land mass of the continent of South American under cultivation. We have released a very large, though possibly not unprecedented, amount of stored carbon into the atmosphere in just a couple centuries....while doing all that we have also become the first species to become aware that other species have come and gone....that makes this is a little different kind of game than has occurred on this planet in the past....however, there is no denying we are very major players in it and that most all the rules that have governed the games in the past are still very much in play.

"Awful shoddy little section, wonder how much more of the report was that badly vetted?"

More information about the IPCC error at RealClimate.

Whether you "believe" it or not, there are people who keep plots on where these things are going, much like we keep Hubbert plots here at TOD.

I'm no expert, but you can read more at a site like the following:

As I recall, only a very small % (less than 1% ?) has been reclaimed. Pointing to one or two spots where extensive efforts were made may not be typical of what will happen the vast tracts of land. "Potemkin Villages" for visitors.

Given the political power of oil in Alberta, I wonder how long most areas will wait for reclamation (as in never as the world changes).

And reclaimed coal strip mining land almost never has the species diversity or fertility of the land before mining.



I want to add my thanks to those of the others who appreciate the work you put into these pieces.

A lot of the comments (I have read all so far posted) veer a little to close to personal attacks -even those who adamantly disagree with tar sands development should treat you courteously as a valued teacher and an ambassador is treated.

I am for flatout developing renewables as fast as possible in terms of research and actual buildout in the order of fastest payback first but we really need to be focusing on conservation and efficiency above all else in the short term.If we don't make it thru the bottleneck short term , the long term is academic.

Now I'm gonna get flamed, but I don't mind,sticks and stones can break my bones....

There is a very strong flavor of nature worship involved in a lot of the comments , and I sorta think the people who frequently condemn religion here are mostly unconscious nature worshipers.

Nature doesn't give a damn.

In any respect.

This does not mean of course that we should not seek to follow the path most consistent with our own ENLIGHTENED best interest.Of course we almost always collectively do what is in our short term best interest, as opposed to the middle or long term, which is of course the more enlightened metric.

My peeve concerning all the folks who have gotten thier panties in a bunch is that they are simply ignoring the real world fact that this old fossil fuel poker game has been going on for a long time now, and that we are in to deep to get up and walk away from the table-ALL OF OUR CHIPS , in a manner of speaking , are in the pot, and we've already lost the rent and grocery money.

So we simply must win the current hand- call this hand the current Middle East shakedown if you please, and the next hand , which might be referred to the oil sands, and maybe the one after that, which we may call unconventional ng,....until such time as ...well , just until....

Those who seem to be ready to embark on an energy and environment crusade are going to be waiting a long long time for the public to join them.

Now of course if we had been smarter and evolution had provided us with a collective brain instead of individual brains programmed to compete, we could have avoided this poker game altogether.

But that milk is long since split, and now we gotta do what we gotta do to survive.

Even if we could put in in really tough war time grade efficiency and conservation programs starting tomorrow, we still NEED that oil-desperately.Worse than desperately!

Assuming of course that the whole central idea of depletion and peak production is valid-and that that particular God has either made his appearance, or will shortly-the concept of peak oil in accepted here in this forum as INDISPUTABLE TRUTH.Of course the evidence is good, which is not the case with most religions.;)

If the folks who don't like it tar sands will take the time to acquaint themselves with the political realities as well as the biological and ecological realities of this world, they will see that a collapse of the bau economy may very well be the VERY last thing we should want-when the financial situation gets bad enough, all environmental considerations, which of course cost money, will be immediately sxxtcanned,and the likely result of approaching collapse will be WWIII.

If we are very lucky, and work really hard at renewables, efficiency, and conservation, we might just squeak thru and in a generation or two get our house in reasonable order.But getting it in order requires that bau not collapse.

I have met or corresponded with just a small handful of people in my entire life who really have the strength of thier convictions to go against our basic life programming-just about every body else is simply running thier mouth because they enjoy feeling holier than thier nieghbor.

Collapse ain't gonna be very funny folks, if it comes-and it may, and maybe sooner than you think.

Let me give you a graphic example to create a little perspective.

I'm an old fat deaf opinionated redneck who eats meat,murders Bambi,AND occasionally votes republican.But I also know how to survive, having mastered three or four trades and make myself a damn good jack of a dozen more,and own a share in a farm that will make a superb doomstead.

Now think about marrying your innocent lovely teenage daughter to somebody like me because that means she will likely at least have a fairly good shot at surviving(I can deliver a baby in a pinch, know about infection control, minor surgery,massaging a spongy bleeding womb,palpating to make sure the baby is properly positioned, how to turn it - I haven't ever done that) and that I might just take in Momma and Daddy too.

Collapse will be like that -for the LUCKY unprepared folks who happen to have an attractive teenage daughter.IF they get here FIRST. ;)

(Actually I would rather have a tough stocky farm girl around twenty five to thirty with a little boy and a little girl already-then I can be sure she is fertile and mature and capable of handling the future if we survive the mobs.If she has military experience that would be even better.There's nothing like little kids around to encourage the extended family to stick together in face of the odds and keep on fighting)

Now those who are outraged-go ahead and vent.Maybe I have done you a big favor and succeeded in pulling your heads out of your backsides for you in terms of visualizing one possible tiny little slice of reality up close and personal.

We gotta play the hand we hold in the game of life.Dying in protest will simply leave the other team in possession of the field.

You probably scared a lot of people with your post. No matter. I agree wholeheartedly with two things you mentioned:

1. Yeah, I'm no tar sands fan, but I don't know where a lot of people got off on flaming Heading Out. I enjoyed reading his post and look forward to descriptions of the other two methods of extraction he mentioned.

2. Sure, it's not too topical, but you raised one precious skill that is very rarely mentioned in what I read of the post-PO collapse-minded literature: midwifery. I don't have the skills you do, but you can sure bet I keep my local midwives' contact info handy.

Hi Minsyntax,

I don't want to SCARE anybody but I really would like for everybody to WAKE UP.

We took my Momma out to church to rest next to her own Momma just before Christmas after looking after her bed ridden for over ten years at home-I got almost halfway thru getting my RN ticket punched before things got too hectic and I had to drop out or else put her in a nursing home-NOBODY should ever have to spend thier last days dying of loneliness and heart break in a warehouse of that sort.

That's why I know something about deliveries.I watched and participated four times as an assistant.

(They let me hold the mothers hand and count contractions and give her ice chips, etc, plus empty the trash in addition to checking the position of the baby, palpating the womb after delivery, checking the newborn's pulse temperature respiration, etc-of course all the procedures were repeated by an experienced nurse to make sure of my results.)

So I reupped a couple of days ago and if things go well I will be the only gray haired male nursing graduate in spring 2012(there is a set classes schedule and waiting list or I could have made spring 2011) at the local community college.More than likely I will go back to work for a few months for the value of the hands on experience, but I don't anticipate working very much at my age-I don't have any money but on the other hand I have tons of free time and lots of interesting things to do.If tshtf I will be able to look after my family circle and a few friends and nieghbors in the event there is no doctor available.

Nurses are of course not taught surgical procedures but farmers can operate to thier heart's content on injured livestock so long as they don't get paid and I have successfully sewn up a couple of badly mauled dogs,castrated pigs and calves,and so forth.One of my uncles once sewed up a wound resulting fron an attempted murder with his handy dandy vet's kit and hauled the victim to the hospital in the back of his pickup truck-there were no phones in this nieghborhood at that time, and no rescue squad.The doctor said the victim would definitely have bled out otherwise and that if there was no infection it would be actually be ok to leave the wound as he found it but he opened it up again to check it and clean it.

School is fun and the professors were very suprised that I knew all the basics of public health theory and management -they taught it all in basic ansi (animal science)211/212/ 213 to undergrads back in the dark ages when I was an undergrad.

I just wish I could remember what it is that makes all those young women so interesting in an eyecatching sort of way! ;)

Well, farmermac, you write a good reality piece, but the little remark at the end with the smiley face brings it all crashing down.

Yes, "girls are pretty" and even gray-haired men like them. And that's why there are too many people, having babies and making their immediate families comfortable.

And that's why we harvest tar sands. To make momma comfortable because girls are pretty, and babies happen.

I'm not too sure what having babies has to do with a lack of reality-the babies will continue to come thru thick and thin.Most people aren't going to give up, especially young men and the girls who bond with them.

I'm a porch dog but if I were young and tough I'm not sure I would be bothered too much by eighty or ninety percent of the population dying off -I might decide that my ancestors had the right idea and that a crowd of young boys and girls around the old homestead might be just what mother nature wants,assuming I survive the dieoff myself of course.

I don't know exactly how to express the idea exactly but I think we are organized in such a way that we push the buttons in our own pleasure centers by seeing lots of copies of ourselves and lots of evidence that we control a generous patch of turf.

So far as I can see Mother Nature did not find it necessary to program any sense of restraint into our overall reproductive behavior-that function is taken care of adequately by other life forms such as flu and malaria as well as random accidents such as a particularly tough winter and by competition-if not with other predators and food gatherers then by intra species competition -us versus them.

We tend to confuse our value judgements with some sort of value system presumably created and endorsed by the living biological world.

But that world has no values, which are a human construct.It just is, and it operates on the very simple principle of , live, reproduce, and die.The reproduction lottery is loaded by the action of inherited evolutionary change of course, but no moral or philosophical values are implied ,let alone demonstrated.Survival and reproduction are demonstrated.

I don't think we have a clue as to why life even exists, or even why it SHOULD or should not exist.
I hope to live long enough to learn whether life exists in other places than on this planet, in particular on planets orbiting other suns.Of course it is unlikely that the question can be answered during the decade or two I might reasonably hope to live.
(This does not mean that I am incapable of appreciating it in all it's beauty and subtlety.)

If humans can't overcome their desire to worship something, I think nature worship is the least damaging way to express it.

Hiya oldfarmermac
For me this isn’t about Nature worship - Nature clearly can be dirty, messy and not kind to anyone or anything in human terms - people project their human values on to it though, including me!

I also agree that the chips are down, humanity isn’t going to turn away from FF anytime soon, but change is preceded by discussion. For me this isn’t debate – I’m right, you're wrong – the real world is the reality of what is now and what we’ll leave for future generations.

There is no Us and Them, at some level we’re all interconnected in this World.

[quote]I also agree that the chips are down, humanity isn’t going to turn away from FF anytime soon, but change is preceded by discussion.[/quote]

Is it? Or is discussion just a way of procrastrinating on actually making change happen?

Real action on global warming has been staved of by some clever people dleiberatly confounding the issues and "keeping the debate alive".

Change is not preceded by discission, I think it is preceded by disaster and catastrophe... Well, sooner or later we will have the catastrophe that we need to make the necessary changes...

Dream on, OFM.

If we are very lucky, and work really hard at renewables, efficiency, and conservation, we might just squeak thru and in a generation or two get our house in reasonable order.But getting it in order requires that bau not collapse.

You just put your finger on one reason I think we really, really need something like LFTR right now.  Our current system is too prone to break down in too many places, but a bunch of systems which crank out electricity (the sine qua non for our state of industrial civilization) and can have a lifetime supply of fuel on-site when they crank up would be one domino that's very hard to knock over in less than weeks, perhaps years.

I suggest everyone pick up "Lucifer's Hammer" for a notion of what nuclear power could mean to a society in shambles.

Adding 10 GW in small hydro and upgrades in the USA and 25 GW in Canada works better, lasts longer and requires less support. AND NO NEW UNPROVEN TECHNOLOGY.

The wind turbines we are adding today look better to me in a collapse scenario than LFTRs.


Does it?  If the world is re-localizing, are dams in Quebec and wind farms in the Dakotas going to be willing to trade with Georgia to keep the lights on in Atlanta and Augusta?  Would they even be able to?  It would only take one contrary zone in between to break their links; think Ukraine on the gas pipelines from Russia to Europe.

This stuff is complementary anyway.  Nuclear for base load, industrial process heat and re-heat for CAES, wind as the incremental energy source which gets fed to CAES when demand falls.  It's much easier to run the world on base load than wind, and also to keep the links short.

I do not see CAES as a viable technology (except in the abstract). Pumped hydro storage yes, pumped air storage no.

Zaire kept a 1,700 km HV DC line going during civil wars, massive corruption and the effective loss of central gov't authority/functioning over much of the country.


joemichaels, I know, I hear that sort of thing all the time after mountaintop removal blasting in the Kentucky mountains...they blast it all away, one of the most varied ecosystems in the WORLD (no one really even knows what plants, animals and insects are there!), and replace it with a monocrop golf course, take a pretty green picture and say "see, we restored it." It's an insult to a thinking person, but you would be amazed how many people buy's one of the reasons that I did not get into an emotional snit after seeing "Avatar" and why I take what is going on in the tar sands as pretty much more of what we have known in the Appalachian hills for decades...what we have lost will be gone before the greenie press even notices it was there.


There's almost no soil fertility up there - it's all peat bogs and swamp spruce on top of sand. And the sand is completely saturated with oil - it's the world's biggest natural oil spill. The forests historically have burned down once or twice per century - they last burned down in the 1960s.

They don't stockpile the vegetation. It's mostly muskeg, which can be dried and sold commercially as peat moss, and marginally productive forest. They harvest the trees, stockpile the topsoil, of which there is very little, and then start mining.

They remove the oil from the sand, return the sand to the mine, put the topsoil back on top, add fertilizer, plant alfalfa, and turn it into grazing land. Then they bring in buffalo to graze on it. At the end of the day they've turned it from marginally productive forest and peat bogs into moderately productive buffalo pasture.

Hi Joe

I think it is important for folks to understand what is going on in the Athabaska, & I would like to talk a little about one company, Suncor, as I know some ecologists who work for them (kindly note, I do not work for, and have no relationship w. Suncor).

Before any new mining area is opened up, a complete permit must be received from the AEUB (Alberta Energy & Utilities Board) & the ERCB (Energy Resources Conservation Board). These are not simple or brainless procedures. Basically, the area of the mine (and you can see from the photos that these are big things) are divided into a grid 1 meter square (yup, that's small), a complete fauna sample is detailed & compiled and an original contour map is made. The area is completely photo-documented, and then the cool stuff starts. Suncor basically 'sods' everything capable of being rolled up (much like a gardener rolling grass), and then trucks it to a storage area where it is properly monitored and maintained by the ecology staff.

So then the mining guys move in and do their thing. The oil sands exist, in some locations, to a depth of 200 metres, although 50-100 metres is more common.

For every barrel of bitumen (which is the raw stuff you have after you have cleaned the sand) there is an environmental remediation charge levied. This is not a nominal or a theoretical or accounting figure; actual cash is set aside and audited.

As the mining horizon moves on, the ecologists move back in behind the big gear, and then they do some pretty interesting things. Most folks are not aware that the Athabaska is a bog; it is technically muskeg, a poorly draining swamp. So the ecologist people at Suncor suggested that they improve things a bit. When the cleaned sand is placed back in the excavation, they grade it for runoff. They use the original contour lines for referents, but improve the drainage. The reason for doing this is to allow for a greater density of plant life. The sods that have been in storage are then brought back and placed (remember that 1 square meter grid). The next step is that the eco folks 'goose' the foliage. Essentially, they take the best academic environmental studies of what the North American prairies looked like in the raw, and they plant like hell. Mostly native wild grasses apparently, altho the folks I know also toss around a lot of plant latin. All of this is done on the Suncor remediation dime, and all of it is done every time, on all mined land.

So basically, we get the bitumen that we can create oil with, and the land is restored to better than new condition (campfire rule). The ecologist people I know are busting w. pride about their work, and are very, very well paid. It is a killer good story, and I can't for the life of me figure out why Suncor doesn't do more to tell their story.

Now before you think I am a shill for the oil sands guys, kindly understand that there are a lot of environmental problems associated w. this sort of extraction. However, these problems, including the tailing ponds mentioned, are associated with the upgraders. Upgraders are a sort of early stage oil refinery which takes the bitumen (which is a pretty thick and useless sludge) and upgrades it to the point where it becomes what is called synthetic oil suitable for pipelining to existing North American oil refineries. Upgraders are real expensive ($6 billion & up) and real complicated. Thus, companies are kind of cautious about not going bust when engaging in a mega-project like an upgrader. This means they don't put in all the bells and whistles we would want in a perfect world.

You can fix the air & water issues associated with upgraders, and the companies are becoming increasingly sensitive to their environmental responsibilities, but not for $80 oil, and not for $2.50-$3 per gallon gasoline. If you want tougher environmental rules, folks, your gonna' have to pay more. More-environmental-than- thou costs.

We are all adults, no one is a virgin, and oil is an essential part of our standard of living. We need to celebrate our victories and then do better on the weak bits.


Jim - thanks for the thoughtful comment but before we get teary-eyed over Suncor's benevolence let's examine a few facts:

Karl Clark, who perfected the hot-water process which separated the sticky bitumen from the sands in Fort McMurray, spent years of his life in the remote forests of Alberta. In 1965 he got to see Suncor's 1st operation, a 45,000 bbl a day operation. To create the mining operation required the bulldozing, slashing and burning of thousands upon thousands of acres of forest. He was horrified. Before he died of cancer in 1966 he said to his daughter that he could never visit such an operation again. I've little doubt that if he could see what his hard work has wrought he would live out his days in perpetual grief.

The government of Alberta has stated that the oil sands will destroy 1350 S.M. of forest. That doesn't include all of the collatorrel damage that the operation will entail. The real number will be multiplied by a factor of ten.

The vagueness of the governments prescription of what entails restoration is dangerous. The oil companies (with the govt's blessing) are prescribing "adaptive management" which means we'll figure it out on the fly. Restoring a forest isn't like rebuilding a V-8 engine. Ecosystems take thousands of years to evolve. The notion that we can simply tera-form an area after we tear it up is ignorant, misleading and child-like in it's assumptions. I would have to say that the ecologists working to restore the areas are focused on a paycheck. After all, "If I don't do it someone else will so why shouldn't I feed my family."

How much money is the govt of Alberta holding in Security deposit in the event the companies leave? A: $5,000 per acre. What is cost of restoration? A: $46,000 per acre on the small area that has been restored and that area had no tailing ponds.

What is the legacy of the government of Canada? Currently more than 100,000 abandoned mining sites now pose significant threats to groundwater and agriculture. Fact is no one has a real handle on what the actual costs for reclamation will be.

When you ask why Suncor is being quiet about their "good deeds" the question should be why are they maintaining such a low profile?


How much money is the govt of Alberta holding in Security deposit in the event the companies leave? A: $5,000 per acre. What is cost of restoration? A: $46,000 per acre on the small area that has been restored and that area had no tailing ponds.

Do you have decent sources for those numbers? The disparity is certainly something I would suspect, reclaiming industrial sites is never cheap. Of course, as Alan intimated above, if the economy really gets crunched environmental cleanup costs will be among the first axed in the push to keep industrial world fuel flowing. A permanent collapse of this economic system would not likely be sudden and the exponentially increasing environmental costs incurred during a sustained severe downturn are not a pretty thing to contemplate. The 'gleeful' doomer type ought be careful what they wish for.

NGM March 2009 'Canadian Oil Boom' article is certainly worth the read, and of course the photo gallery is not a disappointment either.

Do you have decent sources for those numbers?

The best...Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent by Andrew Nikiforuk, a Canadian Journalist who has taken on a Goliath.

...frenzied development have created the world’s largest energy project in Fort McMurray where, rather than shooting up like a fountain in the deserts of Saudi Arabia, the sticky bitumen is extracted from the earth. Providing almost 20 percent of America’s fuel and 50% of Canada's, much of this dirty oil is being processed in refineries in the Midwest. This out-of-control megaproject is polluting the air, poisoning the water, and destroying boreal forest at a rate almost too rapid to be imagined.


I read Nikiforuk's book. It's full of errors and misinformation. He really doesn't know what he's talking about and only repeats what he has read in the mainstream media, or hears from environmental activists and people with gripes against the Alberta government. None of them really know anything about the Alberta oil industry, but they all have opinions about how it should be run. Mostly, they think someone should be paying them more money than they are getting.

I know people who have had disagreements with Nikiforuk on other matters, and think he's a complete idiot on all subjects. But that's their opinion. I've never met him so I don't know. I only know he's an idiot on oil.

Gee Rocky your unfettered opinions about wraps er up then so we can all move on.

The information that Nikiforuk presented was vetted (otherwise he would have been in court with his publisher). Your free-wheeling rant...not so much.


Libel law doesn't work that way. A lot of what is printed in the mainstream media is completely erroneous, but not libelous, so they can get away with it.

If you say "Norman Dingbat cheats on his wife", Norman may sue you. However, if you say "Prominent scientists say tofu causes brain damage", who is going to sue you? Some prominent tofu manufacturer who you haven't named?

Even if a tofu manufacturer did, if you can find two prominent scientists who say tofu causes brain damage, the case doesn't have a chance in court. Both of those prominent scientists may have recently been committed to a mental institution, but that doesn't chance the truth of what you have said.

Heck, you can even claim tofu was the cause of their mental problems. It causes brain damage, you know.

Hi Joe:

If you go to pg.23 of the 2008 Suncor Annual Report (which is the most recent), you will see that they posted irrevocable letters of credit of $271 million w. the Alberta government covering reclamation liability for the year 2009. On top of this LOC, they are also required to post to the gov't. an additional $0.03/bbl. of crude oil produced as additional security against the company's reclamation activity. This additional LOC was $14 million in 2008 & will likely be more in 2009.

Kindly note, this is not capital allocated towards resolving their tailings liabilities, or their GHG initiatives; just land remediation.

These seem like largish sums of money to me, and I am absolutely certain that no responsible corporation would waste this size of dough or use it on silly PR campaigns.

Hope that adds some additional clarity to the discussion.

Best rgds.,


How many hectares does this cover ?

These sums seem to me to be extraordinarily smallish.

Remember inflation eats away every year at the value of these funds, making small even smaller.


Providing almost 20 percent of America’s fuel

Something way out of wack with this. "Canada’s oil production (including all liquids) was 3.35 million bbl/d in 2008" according to EIA and US consumption ran in the neighborhood of 20 million bbl/d. You do the math, and that is total liquids not tar sand liquids

Canada supplies about 20% of US oil IMPORTS and tar sands don't account for all of that. It looks to me that Nikiforuk is pretty cavalier with numbers and context if this paragraph is an indication of the rest of the work.

Providing almost 20 percent of America’s fuel

Nikiforuk is pretty cavalier with numbers and context if this paragraph is an indication of the rest of the work.

Having read his book and checked some of his numbers, I would have to say that yes, Nikiforuk is pretty cavalier with numbers and context, which is why I don't like him.

A couple of ballpark estimates I did put the real number closer to 6% than 20%. Somebody who had more exact numbers could do a more accurate estimate.

Thanks, I guessed the percent to be in the neighborhood you ballparked from the few figures I saw.

The jury certainly is out on whether our disturbance of the area will in the end be beneficial. The boreal forest is huge fairly homogenous area, disturbed and rebuilt islands of new habit within it may well in the long run make it a richer place. That's a best case scenario, plenty of abandoned toxic mine sites around the globe give as a good idea of what a worse case would turn out like.

Anecdotally, a few years back I was out moose hunting and came to what must have been a decades old dozer track through the black spruce covered permafrost. It was compass bearing straight but the rich tree free path of mostly wetlands it had become was much favored by many, many species of wildlife.

Fine night tonight, pumpkin colored crescent about to drop below the hills. An aurora fading over the strings of LEDs lighting my house and constellations of old, old lights shining through the crispy clear air. Lets hope we can keep it all together somehow.

Wetlands and bogs are usualy areas of high biodiversity. How is turning it into drained grassland improving the situation? Unless you mean some sort of commercial enterprise can now be undertaken like the buffallo?

Cheer up this can be a real opportunity. When they give you lemons make lemonade. All of the out of work developers in America can get busy turning reclaimed areas into hastily built suburbs (imagine Stockton, CA) with 3rd rate golf courses, super centers, Wal-marts, sports parks and Indian Casinos.

"The future is so bright we'll need to wear sunglasses".


All of the out of work developers in America can get busy turning reclaimed areas into hastily built suburbs (imagine Stockton, CA) with 3rd rate golf courses, super centers, Wal-marts, sports parks and Indian Casinos.

You know, the scary thing about that, is that to a certain extent it is true. When Stockton is just an abandoned wasteland full of rusting cars, Fort McMurray will have all those things, including jobs.

Of course, residents of Fort McMurray will also be able to go out and shoot a buffalo on the reclaimed mining land, and come home to find a pack of ravenous wolves has eaten their pet dog. It will continue to have certain advantages and disadvantages that Stockton never had.

"The current Alberta state web site expects that these projects will raise production to 3 mbd by 2018--which is down a bit from earlier projections."

Just a nitpick, but Alberta is a province, not a state. Canada has ten provinces and three territories.

"Because of the stockpiling, there are the start of "sulfur pyramids" being constructed around the refinery."

We have sulphur pyramids all over Alberta. The area around Calgary has lots of sour gas, so there is a lot of sulphur extraction going on. Much of it is used for fertilizer such as sulphur-coated urea. North of Calgary at Carstairs is a pyramid that has been there since the 1960s. I can always tell the state of the fertilizer market by how high the pyramid is when I drive by on Highway 2. If it is high, fertilizer prices are low, and vice versa.

The photos demonstrate how the Tar Sands are more like factories than throttle up/throttle down oil wells. It would be fun to drive one of those big trucks down the highway and make everyone else get out of the way or be run over like a gopher (in winter when the ground is frozen, otherwise it would sink through the asphalt to its axles because of the weight).

Sorry for the mistake, I have corrected it.

Thanks for filling in some of the questions I had regarding these mad max machines. I have used that top photo in presentations and always wondered the story of the photo itself. The excavator appears to be either in the middle of a road or at the end of a road. I'm hoping someone here may know more: where was the photo taken, was it being moved, etc.

I rememmber seeing this, or a similar, picture of a bucket wheel excavator over a decade ago. If my memory serves me right, it was shot in Germany when the excavator was being moved from one portion of a coal field to another. And, yes, it was be moved over an existing road.

What's all this about satanic cults and so on? I take it that is supposed to be tongue in cheek.

This a very nice, simple to understand article. Thanks for putting it up. We all use oil and we had better know what mining it (in this instance) does to the environment. It relieves us from using the "I didn't know" defense.

What's all this about satanic cults and so on? I take it that is supposed to be tongue in cheek.

Not tongue in cheek: HIA (cranial rectumitis).
If you visit the link that was posted you'll see that people really believe this stuff. This person just joined TOD this morning, dropped her load of crap, and ran away. It happens sometimes. Trolls come, trolls go. There was a short discussion on Nate's post last night about how these rapture/tribulation folks will affect things if TSHTF.

Edit: It seems our visitor got flagged off. C-Ya!

It is the worlds biggest trencher, being moved from its construction site to its ultimate destination.

I too remember reading about this, so I spent a little time searching. I could not find the original article I recall reading describing the move in detail.

Here is the best link I found describing Bagger 288 which appears to be the machines official name.

Here is a german language picture gallery with photos of the move not seen elsewhere.

This forum has some pictures and a description, but they have at least one picture of a different machine.

There is even a very silly music video about Bagger 288.

This is what can happen to these things!!

Thanks, I wanted to use those pix but couldn't remember where to find them - it was going to be along the lines of "and don't get one irritated!"

What does it cost to produce a barrel of oil from oil sands? Given the description of the process, it must exceed the cost of simply pumping crude out of the ground.

If as some suggest, our economy tanks when the price of oil reaches about $80/bbl., are the oil sands a viable source of oil, or just wishful thinking?

I think the cost of tar sand mining is $25-30 a barrel.
The outrage and general overreaction to these mines is frankly ridiculous.

Wishful thinking is imaging you can run an industrial society without things like the syncrude mines.
The various enviro-hypocrites should give up their cars, their homes and computers and go live in tepees.

Wishful thinking is imaging you can run an industrial society without things like the syncrude mines. The various enviro-hypocrites should give up their cars, their homes and computers and go live in tepees.

Wishful thinking, is that people like you and even the enviro-hypocrites, could start thinking outside the box with regards what exactly it is that constitutes an industrial society. There is nothing that precludes us from creating one that doesn't depend on things like syncrude mines.

Well, now that I think about it, there is one thing, too many people who think just like you do...
Ah, c'est la vie!

There is nothing that precludes us from creating one that doesn't depend on things like syncrude mines.

You're a fossil fuel denier(I would include limited uranium here) IMO, some think like a climate change denier.
Our civilization didn't exist before the Industrial Revolution, which made it possible for ~7 billion people to live on this planet.

Have we developed technologies so we can live without fossil fuels? No, IMO.
Renewables can only suppliment fossil fuel energy. We've been working on batteries for 2 centuries with only marginal improvements.

You sell solar panels in South Florida. Do you honestly believe you could run South Florida on noting put roof PV? Without a large dose of magical thinking it's absurd.
A barrel of oil has the equivalent amount of energy(1600 kwh)=$80 to 100 sf of PV cells=$13000 (1 KWp) operating for a year
and the US uses +7 billion barrels per year.

Instead we have a never-never-land
of a world without FF.

I have yet to hear a single logical plan for a world without fossil fuels, only slogans.

You sell solar panels in South Florida. Do you honestly believe you could run South Florida on noting put roof PV? Without a large dose of magical thinking it's absurd.

No majorian, I most certainly do not. I'm not a fossil fuel denier either and I still use my fair share of fossil fuel.

That doesn't in any way mean that I can't imagine a very different world than the one we have now. Is there a snowball's chance in hell of my views ever becoming mainstream? Probably not! I'm certainly not holding my breath.

The industrial society that we have now exists because we were able to exploit the energy in easily extractable fossil fuels. There is absolutely nothing that says it is the only model possible or that there will never be anything different.

There is absolutely nothing that says it is the only model possible or that there will never be anything different.

In that respect, my imagination completely fails me. I literally can't imagine such a future, but neither can those professional 'futurists'.

So rather than a mirage of a world free of FF, I suggest we focus on conserving the remaining FF which we need and eliminating CO2 pollution as we certainly must.

A MW of renewables built will save about a 1500 tons per year of coal(something precious, not to be wasted) and 3000 tons per year of CO2.

As the cliche goes, 'a journey of a thousand miles...'

As far as tar sands go, we definitely need these to reduce dangerous US energy dependence on a fragile world oil market.
Other people need oil besides americans.


Not to belabor the point, but your costs for PV are out of date. $3.00/watt is easy to find these days. Double that for total system costs. And your barrel of oil can only be used once. I do agree that we're stuck with fossil fuels for a long time.

In that respect, my imagination completely fails me. I literally can't imagine such a future, but neither can those professional 'futurists'.

Can you imagine growing your own house? Yes, I am talking a radically different paradigms than what we have now. Check out

I'm not for a moment suggesting that this book will tell anyone how to build the future, I'm only saying that just because we all think, for example, that say buildings have to be made of steel and concrete doesn't mean that it is so. To be very clear here, I'm not trying to sell bamboo as a panacea, I'm just using it as one example of something that could be different. BTW the book has a fascinating chapter on how the Zeri Pavillion was certified for construction in Germany which has about as non flexible a civil engineering code as can be imagined under any BAU nation.

I can probably come up with a dozen examples of similarly radical (when compared to BAU) ideas without trying too hard. If I put my mind to it I'm sure I could think of many dozens more. There are 7 billion of us on the planet now, I'm sure there are more than a few like Simon Velez who are already thinking outside the box. The only reason their ideas are not being implemented faster is because of resistance from the status quo who keep banging the drum of "There's no possible way it could be different."

You telling me you can't possibly imagine something different than what we have now is what I set me off in my comment to you. Please note I'm not trying to single you out, my comment is not intended to be personal.
I just happens to underscore my immense frustration with both lack of imagination and the rules and regulations of the current system which impede experimentation with new ideas.

Hi FMagyar,

When I worked in India, it always intrigued me to see the very elaborate scaffolding structures built up with bamboo. They seemed to be very safe and much less expensive than the steel scaffolding we use here. I'm not sure, but I doubt our commercial building codes would allow bamboo scaffolding when constructing a high rise building.

They seemed to be very safe and much less expensive than the steel scaffolding we use here. I'm not sure, but I doubt our commercial building codes would allow bamboo scaffolding when constructing a high rise building.

They are very safe and have been used extensively in China as well. You are right about the commercial building codes and that to me is a precisely the problem. Most people look at something like that and think it is primitive backward and unsafe. They would be wrong!

Somewhere in the KJB there is an admirably simple building code-if a man builds a house which collapses on it occupants, he is stoned to death.

If a buildng inspector or safety engineer were to find a piece of bamboo on an American job site he would have a heart attack right in his tracks.

Now out on the farm I know of a couple of guys who are giving some thought to constructing a bamboo shed or chicken coop as soon as thier bamboo patch is ready for harvest.


Somewhere in the KJB there is an admirably simple building code-if a man builds a house which collapses on it occupants, he is stoned to death.

Ironically enough I think to a very large extent it actually happened in Haiti as a consequence of the shoddy building practices probably as many of the builders as occupants were crushed to death in the rubble of the buildings they themselves built.

If a buildng inspector or safety engineer were to find a piece of bamboo on an American job site he would have a heart attack right in his tracks.

I have direct experience in the field with ignorant building inspectors and safety engineers who often haven't a clue about our solar panel installations. So if a few of them suddenly had a few heart attacks and retired from something they aren't qualified to do, I wouldn't shed too many tears... maybe I'll suggest mounting panels on bamboo octet trusses or something ;)

As far as building with bamboo this is an interesting paper about a bamboo project done in Italy.

Abstract – Although the possibilities of using bamboo as a structural material are really amazing, bamboo is still largely ignored by building codes and legislations across many countries. Some of the implications for using bamboo as a building material are highlighted in this paper and are based on the construction process of the first permanent bamboo structure for public use in Vergiate (Varese, northern Italy) built by the Italian non-profit EMISSIONIZERO Association and completed in the summer of 2003.
Among all the aspects of this ambitious initiative, that consisted in a seires of learning-by-doing workshops that took place in Vergiate from September 2002 to June 2003, this paper focusses on the static performances of the bamboo pavilion.
In particular, the authors highlight the process followed to obtain the static suitability certification of the first permanent structure in Europe for public use made in bamboo and the related technical and scientific implications.

Hi Majorian,

You seem to research your facts and debate well - and, I assume you think of yourself as a realist. I normally read your comments because your perspective should be considered IMHO.

But, there seems to be something odd about your overall POV. On one hand you state that we definitely need tar sands and on the other hand you seem to promote conservation of resources. You seem to suggest that 7B people is not a problem (maybe I misunderstand this point). What seems odd to me is how we are going to continue with FF use (at a level that needs tar sands) and not suffer really serious consequences regardless of how much we advocate conservation.

To me, real conservation means not using a resource at all or using it in the most minimal fashion. The best way to not use natural resources is to stop producing more babies because every new human puts demand on the planet that is very hard to escape. FMagyar has creative ideas for using less resources for the people already here - in my imagination, I look for creative ways to encourage people to understand the very real threat of population growth and take voluntary measures to have smaller families.

What seems odd to me about your POV is the fact that you don't seem to acknowledge the actual degree of conservation that is needed to avoid very serious consequences - maybe I've just missed this in your other comments.

Majorian is a major-contrarian. Get it?

Majorian hates to see someone make a good technical argument. I don't recall seeing any positive comments on anything I have written fir instance. I use that just as an example since my dog ears are sensitive on such matters.

At work we call these people devil's advocates. The best ones are invaluable because they make your arguments stronger. The ones not up to snuff are just annoying. I put up with them only because any criticism is better than none.

I do agree that 7 billion people is a driver but you know very well nobody is going to mess with THAT. I don't think our society can function without fossil fuels and particularly oil so move forward we need tar sands.
Imagine you (and your family) are driving along the expressway and you look down to notice that you are running out of fuel and you say to yourself 'I wish we had bicycles'.
Thing is at 70 mph, things are very calm and quiet inside the car giving the illusion of stability.

FWIW I agree that we can never replace FF. But that is not the problem, or even the issue. The issue is population. It seem our ability to extract energy is finite (and we at limits now); but we do have significant room to use less energy while maintaining existing standards. Jevons paradox and our debt based financial system will ensure such savings are squandered through further growth. Only when the crisis is actually on top of us will we act. Think about the immediate aftermath of Katrina. That probably best decribes how we will act.

In the longest-term most broad possible view of the situation, any intelligent race must strive to industrialize and colonize space. Needless to say, we fired our shot at that goal in the dark (without even knowing we were pulling the trigger), and it is unlikely that we will hit it. In the long view, a human race that lives sustainably and goes extinct eventually is no more successful than a human race which killed itself through industrialization.

This view may be unpopular here, and (don't call me a cornucopian, I know that the hour is late) but I think that the experiment of industrialization or at least technological civilization must continue in some form. I will be glad to see the end of personal autos and suburbs and cheap air travel, but eventually we must aim for the stars.

If technological civilization survives the coming challenges (unlikely at this point), the crucible it will have passed through will form a much saner, wiser civilization. I realize that if we want to give ourselves the maximum odds of a long stay on earth, we must power down (and voluntarily kill most of ourselves as a result), but I know that that path will not be chosen by many people and I am not one of them. I do not see any value in giving humans a perpetual Dark Age to live in until we go extinct.

It is like Pascal's wager; the rewards of success in interplanetary colonization are so great that any sum should be gambled on them, no matter the odds. A prudent race would have tipped the odds more in their favor before throwing the dice, but we have already cast ours and they are about to settle.

May TOD be tolerant of unpopular speech.

In the long view, a human race that lives sustainably and goes extinct eventually is no more successful than a human race which killed itself through industrialization.

That is a weird statement of values ! A humanity that stabilizes and grows it's culture for a few million years is worth a HE!! of a lot more than one that creates the 6th Great Extinction Event and disappears in a couple of hundred years (dragging most other species with it).

A sustainable civilization has the best chance to actually go somewhere else (this will be a multi-century effort, so starting 30,000 years from now is no big deal) so the highest priority is to not replace the Shuttle, gracefully age out the ISS and abandon manned space flight and devote those energies and efforts to sustainability. That is the path to the stars (amongst other goals).


Alan - thank-you for bringing this up. If we are to survive as a species we need to modify our relationship with the earth. There is a web-site/movement in Canada that is serious about indoctrinating people to a caretaker relationship with the planet:

Earth Caretaker

"Help" or "Interference"?

Just how much do we help (or some would say, "interfere") with the natural processes of the Earth? At what point does "help" become interference? Do we just let nature take its course, or do we step in and lend it a helping hand?

On one hand, nature is quite able to take care of itself, and has done so for millions of years. We see that when it is left to itself, a damaged area will eventually heal, although it may take a very long time in some cases. There are those who would argue that we should step back entirely and allow nature to take its course, no matter how long it takes.

On the other hand, perhaps we can, with the right knowledge, skills, and attitude, help nature along with its healing. Maybe we can shorten the healing period from two thousand years to two hundred. As well, if humans are truly a part of the Earth and belong here, then it is an inherent part of our nature to help the Earth, to caretake it.


"which made it possible for ~7 billion people to live on this planet."

At least temporarily.

Plan? Get the four horsemen to kill off most of the people. It really has to happen you know. When?, where?, how?, is too grim discuss here. Think Haiti with no one to help.

Lynford -- you summed it up well.

We are no longer a species that is sensitively tuned to our habitat.

We no longer love our habitat, or at least try to deny that we do.

We also have lost the ability to see that we have essentially declared war on our own habitat, and so ultimately upon ourselves.

We are numb and disbelieving regarding science and truth, but are tuned into a Disinfotainment culture that is like crack cocaine to us.

Species likely to survive are those that are highly aware of their habitat and especially of changes in that habitat.

The second essential ability for species survival is the willingness and capability to adapt along with changes in the environment.

Intensifying our habitat crisis is eco-cidal and homicidal and suicidal all at once.

We see no need for us to change.

We do not really want to know if there is a need for change.

We make up stories that mostly exaggerate and glorify the the most absurd, destructive things about ourselves.

We need to be highly aware of our habitat.

We need to seek out the changes around us, and carefully adapting our behavior to bring about as much stability in environment as we can.

We also need to change our behavior to adapt to those habitat changes we cannot control.

That is, if we have any interest in helping the next generation or so along.

What do we want? What is true about us and our habitat? How must we behave to get what we want, to the degree that we can?

Mostly we want personal comfort and at least the illusions of security and righteousness if we can get them. We behave accordingly.

Thank you for this . . . prose poem.

This thread has been more rancorous than usual for TOD, and more filled with half-notions and pseudo-truths. But your post pulls back from the distractions and returns us to the point.

You're a fossil fuel denier(I would include limited uranium here) IMO, some think like a climate change denier.
Our civilization didn't exist before the Industrial Revolution, which made it possible for ~7 billion people to live on this planet.


Instead we have a never-never-land
of a world without FF.

I have yet to hear a single logical plan for a world without fossil fuels, only slogans.

I guess that makes you one of the biggest doomers here

I nearly always read your posts

majorian -

I have no argument with the notion that if we (mainly the US) want to continue our current energy-intensive lifestyle in its present form and scope, then we probably WILL have to do things like remove mountain tops in West Virginia to get at the coal and to make large areas of Alberta a mess to get at the tar sands.

However, what really irks me is when people (not you per se) promoting more coal mining and more tar sands development attempt to portray these activities as benign and environmentally neutral. I also don't buy the argument heard here on several occasions that because the tar sands production areas are in the middle of nowhere with few people around, that environmental concerns are not to be taken seriously.

We can't have it both ways. If we want more coal and more tar sands, then we are going to have to accept some serious environmental problems; if we want to keep those areas unspoiled and environmentally healthy, then we are going to have to do without some amount of coal and tar sands. That is where our collective value system comes in, and I think I have a pretty good idea as to which side it will come down on.

Reclamation? So how do we put the mountain back?


majorian? Anyone?

How to put the mountain back? Explosives, and d-10 dozers. What would you like it to look like? It's probably not possible to put it back exactly like it was, but you can resculpt it to something gentler.

But, how much CO2 is it worth to you to do that? You need fossil fuels to make the explosives, the D-10, the fuel for the D-10, and so on. How large of an increment in global warming is a prettier view worth?

Oh, and those shear cliffs are great bird nesting habitat. Under your plan they would have to dispossessed. Oh dear, another complication.

'Prettier View'?

Rebuilding decimated ecosystems is not about the view, and the burden of fixing what was destroyed does not hang on the people saying "You broke it, go fix it!" It hangs on the industries and states that let this process happen.

"Under your plan they would have to dispossessed."

You assume that, at this point, I have a plan. It's too late for that. I'm sure the view was just fine before we did this. Maybe we should flatten the whole thing out and grow switch grass.

Reclamation? So how do we put the mountain back?

I think the critical issue that distinguishes the oil sands from West Virginia is that there are no mountains in the oil sands. The critical issue that distinguishes them from the coal fields in the western US is that there are huge amounts of water with no other use, and reclamation is not as difficult. Strip the topsoil, mine the sands, put the clean sand back, replace the topsoil, plant alfalfa. Bring in buffalo and make it look more natural that it was before you started. It's much simpler.

A lot of people who have been talking about this area have no idea what the natural conditions in the oil sands are like, and seem to view it as something out of the Lord of the Rings or of course this latest movie Avatar. It makes for a rather surreal discussion for those of us who have actually been there.

Always the same crude, threatening crap from people like marjorian. Their stupidity is an insult to the generally high level of intelligence on display on this site.

I assume the haul trucks are diesel-electric. But what about the shovels? Are they all electric with umbilical cords providing the juice they need to operate? Is some of the oil produced burned on-site to create the huge amounts of electricity used at each of these mines? Or is it coming from hydro-electric or others plants? How many BTUs are being used to create each barrel of oil, ship it to the refineries, process it, and then further transport it to the final destination?

I saw a giant Bucyrus electric shovel years ago in Alabama that had its own hydro plant, purpose built to power it. It dragged a huge "extention cord" for miles. I recall them telling me it had a scoop capacity of 104 tons. It took a group of dozers just to manage the electric cable.

The established plants make money at 14 projects double that. However, when oil was at $35 last year projects were mothballed and are just now starting design and construction. Ensured supply was set back a year.

Since the current market is the US consumer, it is like the war on drugs to condemn tar sand development. No market = no tar sands. Furthermore, it should be remembered that Canada is the United States' largest supplier of energy, (not Saudi Arabia), and the developing companies are publicly traded.

For those who do not like the tar sands....park your car, buy local, only heat with wood or sunshine, and watch that packaging! We are still a petroleum based economy and since the easy stuff is gone, and the world producers don't want to give up their last cheap barrel for the American blue haired Lincoln drivers, then get used to Canadian tar sands. And it is expensive. Yes, gas will be $4.00 then $5.00 and on and on. Feedback loops may slow this, but the inexorable rise is inevitable.

Not good enough? The Chinese are now involved at the Sands and a new LNG plant is going in at Kitimat. All ships need for a destination is water, and a market.

As an ex American, (42 years ago we moved back to Canada), I get sick of the hypocrisy around resource development angst. The US supports a corrupt Saud regime and has invaded the mid-east world to protect supplies, while locals are treated like the peasants they are condemned by circumstance to be and remain. (The pique is in response to the "Oh lord help us", post.) When I used to fly tourists and hunters up north I met Americans who wondered why we hadn't yet damned up the Liard River and diverted it down the Rocky Mtn trench to US consumers. We had to pass laws to stop bulk water exports before they began because under NAFTA such sales cannot be rescinded. When we make too many dollars selling lumber, American producers put up trade barriers. When we sell surplus hydro electricity to California, California goes to court and tries to sue their money back saying they were gouged.

The oil will be there, it is available, but it will be developed, marketed, transported, and sold on the market....subsidized though it might be. And all of us know those companies have no loyalty to any country, creed, or particular consumer. "Lord help us."


"Lord help our childrens' children"

Yes- But they won't miss what they haven't experienced and old books and films etc will just be another way to spend an hour.

Some of them will live happy productive lives.Some won't.

The more things change the more they stay the same, if you step back far enough to see the whole elephant.

Personally I think that if we can avoid outright collapse that in three generations renewable energy tech and build out will have progressed far enough to shoulder the load-this assuming that the population stabilizes and lifestyles are adjusted dramatically.

Education will be nearly universal, excepting a few random spots where some mullah or preacher or warlord is in total control.

A single radio station, a single printed primer,a charcoal pencil, a five dollar hand crank powered radio, and a wooden slate for each listener is all that is truly necessary for million people to learn to read and write.

At that point with assured food in her stomach and a few new bucks in her pocket the typical woman world wide will opt for one or two kids nearly every time rather than a life of unremitting toil and hardship.

Of course the world will have lost major chunks of biodiversity and climate change may wipe out a large part of us.Large scale war will wipe out another major chunk somewhere along the way and localized war will severely reduce local populations in numerous places..

Call me a dreamer but it can happen.Of course a lot of things can go wrong.

Lots of folks seem to be under the impression hat one should have definite fixed opinions about the future course of history.Nobody has a crystal ball and I would remind them of a classic defintion of intelligence-the ability to clearly hold two mutually contradictory ideas in the head silmantaneously and understand both.

As they say in baseball , on any given day any given team might beat any other team.

A single unexpected game changer can set the course of the river of history in a new channel.

Barring collapse there will be some sort of techno-miracle at least once a decade.The next one might bring about a three fold reduction in the cost of manufacturing solar cells or be a cheap super insulation or a life time take it once male birth control drug.

In that case maybe the Chinese and Indian air forces might be tasked to convert some bombers into crop dusters and solve thier population growth problem in a real hurry.

My only fixed opinion in regard to te long term is that we are in for some rough going for a long time.Black Swans, White Swans ,and plain old chance play too big a role for the future to be predicted.

We can only understand the past in a rough and approximate fashion, and that is with the benefit of well informed hindsight.

Those are good points you make Paulo.

I concur that the oil sands are unfairly attacked by MSM, aided and abetted by various Enviro groups with agendas to shut down all oil sands operations.

For perspective, it appears that recent examinations of Well-to-Wheel CO2 emissions are not much worse than conventional crude.

Upwards of 60 to 75% of GWP emissions are from what you and I do when we fillup our ICE vehicles and burn the oil sand or conventional products.

As many have stated (including Exxon CEO), we are the enemy and driver for the demand for Fossil fuels.

Well to Tank to Wheel (WTTW) report is available here

Lots of good detail about energy production chain and the inputs etc.

A shorter Conference Board of Canada doc is a quicker read that makes the point about the CO2e output from oil sands is just not that much worse than refinery feedstock from elsewhere.

Now we need to cleanup or greenup the extraction methodology.

Shell underground upgrading process (IUP) would be a good start.

So would ET Energy at

and this new separation technology from Encapsol

If Shell and ET used renewable energy from excess wind in BC then it would seem that such an oil sand refinery product would have almost significantly CO2 emissions and much lower land impact.

If it was shipped via electric Pipeline on Rails to the refinery, even better.

Put another way, in terms of who is tagged with the GHG liability, Canada would be passing on most of the actual carbon footprint liablity to the end user.

That would put eastern Canadian politicians in a tough spot as Ontario and Quebec might have to start purchasing the "evil" western Canadian oil (or "tar sand) output to feed their refineries because it is actually greener than the crude feedstock from Algeria, United Kingdom, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Iraq,
Venezuela, Mexico, Nigeria, United States, and Russia.

Food for thought

Quite frankly, I do not believe it.

Industry "directed" propaganda that goes against common sense. Justification for economic reasons.

For example, "it is assumed" that all natural gas burned is used for co-generation and this co-gen displaces 80% coal fired generation.

Made up out of thin air (this is NOT reality) to make the number look better.

Any NG NOT used by tar sands will have other uses (many displacing coal & oil, both worse sources of CO2 than NG). This obvious fact was ignored in the "analysis".

They then added "venting and flaring GHG" to conventional oil and zero to tar sands (that smell adds zero GHG ?). I know that Saudi Aramco does not flare NG, etc. but they added a heavy carbon burden to all these oils. AFAIK, massive amounts of CO2 are not vented with production so where did those numbers come from ?

The pockets of Alberta tar sands companies seems a likely source.

Even with skewed #s, tar sands are still dirty and just about the worst way to get oil.

Food for the compost pile.


I know that Saudi Aramco does not flare NG

They stopped, did they?

I know the gas flares from the Saudi oil fields used to be the brightest lights on earth as seen from orbiting spacecraft. They used to flare all the associated gas in their oil fields. It used to take 20 flare stacks to burn all the gas from one oil well.

So, if they've stopped flaring all the gas, why are they short of gas and having to burn oil in their power plants to generate electricity. Is this some kind of conceptual disconnect in the process?

Supposedly, one can see the border between Iran & Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf by looking for gas flares. Iran still does, Aramco not.

Gas use has expanded past the Saudi ability to produce NG.

Note the comment about diesel being cheaper than electricity for the proposed rail line (top of Drumbeat comments today).

Only Qatar has a surplus of NG.


"$4.00 then $5.00 and on and on."

It has already been at this price for years in Canada and it doesn't stop people from driving. Gasoline prices in Calgary are currently about 95 cents per litre (about US$4.30/gal), and higher in eastern Canada. In Europe, prices are far higher yet.

Looks like Ft McMurray uses CAT 797 haul trucks, which are mechanical drive rather than diesel-electric drive.

Thanks to everyone for "the rest of the story." The video was amazing.

So, among other issues, the tar sands mining & processing industry has decided to increase their carbon emissions and direct oil use by going from electric drive bucket wheels and conveyor belts to diesel powered shovels and heavy trucks.

New news to me.


Alan, I believe that if you look at the picture of the shovel loading the truck that you can see the power cable coming out of the back. If it doesn't look that big, remember that these are big machines.

The power shovels are all electric. They're supplied by the oil sands plants own power plants.

Diesel for the trucks comes from the refineries in Edmonton, which refine it from oil sands from the plants.

Powering the trucks with electricity has the difficulty that you would always be driving over the extension cord. It's so annoying, like an electric lawnmower. You're always damaging the cord and having to replace it.

To big to fail?
Maybe our highly intelligent, self righteous("doing God's work"), financial leaders need to be run over by this wheel digger.....
How interesting, the oil sanders can't have "to big to fail" because it can and does.
Better to have smaller failures that don't stop production.

What I find somewhat amusing is the tacit "belief" that market mechanisms will allow the tar sands development to continue.

It would appear that any time oil prices have risen above about 3% of GDP in the USA we have seen recession. Now that oil prices are permanently at or above the inflation adjusted price for this magic maximum to be exceeded....then how pray tell does the economy "afford" said prices?

Bullish commentators will probably point to the eastern Dragon as a source of revenue.....trying to avoid the fact that they are completely and utterly tied to an export driven economy feeding the collapsing western one.

Snake swallowing its tail stuff...

I fear that both sides are missing the fundamental and rather ominous point....we are on the descent now of the energetic curve and all the prayer and money printing will not save us now.

Thank you Heading out for your effort . One of the commenters asked the cost to produce a barrel of Tar sands oil and over the years I have read many figures on the oil price necessary to sustain the whole operation but I have never read a comprehensive credible and detailed estimate. Such an estimate would depend on many factors such as accessibility of the resource, quality of the tar, cost of NG and so forth. There are subsidy costs, pipeline costs, maintenance costs, reclamation costs, amortization of equipment costs, labor costs and so forth. To get a true cost per bbl, you have to include every single dollar of cost and relate that to the URR of the sands and that will be hard to do. I hope that someone somewhere could put together such a picture of EROEI of the operation but realistically I suppose that when the return on investment by these companies gets too low, they will stop.

Finally after reading many of the posts here, something I can agree with.;-) Alas it is only about Avatar. I found myself constantly peering over the glasses not believing the effect.

As far as this method of oil extraction, it ranks right up there with mountain top removal in coal mining. But what else are we going to do? As much as many of us would want them to be, alternatives are not viable for more than the privileged few of the world.

@majorian - Yes 7 billion now, but we are quickly headed to 10 billion at which point most "experts" predict a slow, long term decline in population. There are many though, that feel we will be culled to a more manageable number well before we hit 10 billion.

The culling has already begun.....many populational dynamics are only really appreciable in the review mirror. When the world essentially hit peak oil in 2005 (more of less) that was the effective cap on human population....oil is is people...simple dynamic...

It just takes a certain time frame to become manifest....

It is now 2010 and we might actually have started down the downslope of the modified Hubbert peak.....rapidly rising infant mortality (in both 1st and 3rd world) will now occur. The rapid rise in disease vectors will target weakened populations and of course war is soon to follow.

We will never see 8 billion people on this world.
It only takes a surface appreciation of emergent systems to understand what will now happen inevitably.

But what else are we going to do? As much as many of us would want them to be, alternatives are not viable for more than the privileged few of the world.

Will, see my exchange with majorian above.

I will try and refrain from covering this comment space with 100,000 expletives...

Thanks for the article.
I want to purify bitumen in order to experiment with making carbon fiber.
Those pesky sulphur atoms.
How do I get them out of the gloop?

I get it.. I get it!!
Avatar....Ava tar..
Tar sands.
Har Har Har.

I Google earthed Fort McMurray.
It is a long walk to the beach.
The mine site is about 35kms long. It does not seem to be big in the scheme of things.
Canada is a lot bigger.
How large is the deposit?
I want to see the future, not just the present.

Perhaps we need to measure our passions against reality.

I love your post AR. It epitomizes the BAU at any cost mentality of modern civilization. When it comes right down to it, society as a whole is not willing to change course. When needed there is always justification for whatever process is required to bring the stuff to market, and tar sands are no different. But it also doesn't matter if hilltops need to be scraped off to get to the coal - society justifies it over arguments against that practice. Mankind is a money first driven specie. We only know what we can get with money and energy for our economic well being. There is no direct connection with nature. Humankind's jungle is an economic one and all decsions revolve around the economy. But at some point the human economic jungle will butt heads with the natural jungle and guess who will win?

Just for clarity. Before and after from NatGeo:


Out of sight, out of mind.

Thank for your comment Perk.
Business as usual? If only.
On the other hand I have a suspicion that there is gold on the other side. We lack the length of vision necessary. (high discount rates)
I resist the temptation to go off topic.

hello Arthur,

The mine site is much much bigger than 35 km. There are many mine sites, many under development, and the deposits actually go into Sask. The deposits are supposed to be bigger the farther east you go. BC boys began working in Fort Mac in the 70s. I didn't have to go, but my son works in a camp of 4500 people, 1 hour drive from Fort Mac. He has a five year plan to max earnings and then get out, because like all boom developments, once the infrastructure is done, the gravy thins.

I taught trades at high school and many boys headed east for apprenticeships. Journeyman millwrights received $100,000.00 dollar signing bonuses with a 1 year commitment. (I kid you not). If you don't live in camp, a trailer pad is 1500.00 per month. Shit box pre fabs start at 750,000 dollars. It is crazy. The money is big because the costs of all things associated with the development is astronomical. The estimated cost to keep a man in camp is $4500 per month.

To put it in perspective, when the temps last month hit minus 40+....wind chill of minus 54C ....they still worked and ran things.

No one can afford it. That is one reason why our gas on Vancouver Island is 1.05 per litre.

It is illegal to video and take pictures of the sites due to security. However, if you go to Youtube there are several cell phone videos of different sites. My best friend flew helicopters up there and said you cannot begin to comprehend the sheer size of the developments. The go on and on.......(just like me)


Hydrotreatment--you add hydrogen to sulfurous hydrocarbons producing H2S(lethel gas) which is burnt to produce pure sulfur(Claus process) which is stacked up in pyramids;

Hydrocarbon-S +H2 -->Hydrocarbon + H2S + 1/2O2
--> H20(steam) and S(solid sulfur).

Thanks majoram.
Lethal gas?? I feel my mojo deflating.

There may be another process on the horizon:

H2S + Cu -> CuS + H2 Hydrogen recycled.

CuS + 3/2 O2 -> Cu + SO3

SO3 + CaCO3 -> CO2 + CaSO4

WOW! the coolest and most intense comments i have seen on the oil conundrum. i am surrounded by the trappings of fossil fuel driven high technology. but today i did not start my ICE transportation.
i stayed home and burned wood to heat the home. futile? yes. one person's actions mean nothing.
i did surf the web all day on my 65 watt "high powered" laptop.

in my state, nj, we have condo developments that destroy more habitat.

i am for mining titan, a moon of saturn, for it's hydrocarbons. hey, we raped this world, let's do another. no reports to date of blue people on titan. a closer target? mars. rumors have it that mars had life and that means oil. and if it's aboitic, who cares? let's go get it.

die off. just say that as a mantra over and over. have you reduced your lifestyle today? and the boffins at gold man sacks? will they reduce their lifestyles? let's fatten them up. when TSHTF
let's eat them.

so i say the same things over and over again. such as, watch haiti, it's another black swan. another dress rehearsal for PO. anyone else notice the world wide earth quake swarm?

and what of reports of the north magnetic pole drifting ever faster and the field decreasing?

BAU, "it's all good".

Heading Out: Thank you for another one of your posts on technical matters everyone should understand. There may be a lot of silly people who read it and don't understand much, but do not despair, there are also a quorum of people who appreciate your efforts. I look forward to your posts.

Anyone who objects to the remediation tactics used in gathering up the Earth's fossil fuels should go get a biology, engineering or related degree, and get to work on fixing the problem. Those who only want to whine, please whine elsewhere other than on one of the best tech commentators on the WWW. It really wastes the time of those who care about such problems.

I also want to thank HO for another inciteful post. How it polarized TOD posters is also interesting. Something about the operations being visible above ground hits people in a visceral way that an underground field can't.

I was up in that part of Canada more than a decade ago and it is a fragile land. It doesn't recover in a year or so after putting top soil back on. Subartic vegetation grows slowly always, even without disturbance. No reason to expect it to replace an ecosystem quickly after many of the foodweb connections have been severed. The earth always recovers. Even volcanos get new soil. That doesn't mean we aren't being very destructive.

At the same time I comprehend why people are there disturbing the land. And not just for oil sands. Copper mines are also huge and destructive in Canada. Money and livelyhood are a powerful incentive. We are still tied to a mid 20th century industrial model. That takes energy and materials to maintain. Even if change is on the way it won't happen instantaneously.

I am struck by the lack of amazement by most people of the sheer scale of the tar sands operations. Pictures don't do them justice. Everything is ENORMOUS. Imagine investing that much energy, steel, copper, aluminum, etc, in renewable projects. If renewables (wind & solar) were built on that scale we wouldn't be stating they only produce a barrel of oil equivalent per year.

To me this is the crux of the peak oil problem. The existing fossil fuel infrastructure is so unbelievably large that nothing can quickly replace it. My impression is that most people who are not in the oil industry do not really understand the economies of scale that are operating. It took decades just to build the factories, that takes a decade in some cases to build the equipment, that captures fossile fuel in an efficient way. You aren't going to equal that energy capture with something you can assemble in a couple of months, like a wind or solar array.

Well said, NC. Thanks!

HO did a great job of explaining the state of oil sands mining. A full, honest discussion of the subject requires more. I'm sure Heading Out understands this.

My take is that many here feel that there is nothing to be gained from exploring and making clear the full consequences of the things that we do. I submit that this is precisly the attitude that has allowed all of the predicaments we now face. Get real, folks! What is it that allows us to take what we want/need while rationalizing the true impacts? Greed? Fear? Guilt? Ambition? Sloth? This is why, despite all of our hubris, we humans are technological infants, unlikely to survive to maturity.

I'll second those comments. A very good write, and if you don't like the oil sands, please stop shooting the messenger.

Someone had asked how much more energy it takes to produce oilsands oil? - the average number is that for a gallon of gasoline from oilsands, you have used 1/3 of a gallon to produce it (mining, separation, upgrading to crude and refining). For a gallon from conventional oil, it is about 10%, which is mostly refining.

The two main surface mines, Suncor and Syncrude, have been in operation for decades, Suncor since 68 and Syncrude since 78, and both have expanded repeatedly, so they clearly have been profitable at the prevailing prices. Subsurface mines are a different story, and we'll leave that for Heading Out's second article to explain.

Believe it or not, there are a few advantages of oilsands oil over conventional:

- There is minimal effort in exploration required. There are no dry holes, seismic lines, etc adds up to a lot of resources and land.

-They are located in a friendly, democratic country, which has high environmental and safety standards

- The operating environment is much, much safer than any offshore rig

- The size of the resource is fairly well defined = predictable, controllablle production, not rapid decline

- AND, a minor, but rarely mentioned point - All of the products are remain on land, shipped via pipeline... An Exxon Valdeez simply cannot happen with oilsands oil, as long as it is used in Can/US.

On the environmental side, the mining operation is fairly similar to any other surface mine, as are the rehabilitation techniques, which are much better than in times past. There are plenty of Superfund and abandoned mine sites in the US that were managed far worse than the oilsands.

But for the talk about massive areas of unrehabilitated land and displaced wildlife, consider the amount of land devoted to agriculture - all of it has been cleared, wildlife displaced, and as long as it remains farmland, by definition it is not rehabilitated. Fly over California's central valley, where the irrigation diversions have completely dried up parts of the San Joaquin River, and you will see an impacted area far larger than the oilsands. If you want to see a waterbody that has really been polluted by human activities, check out the Salton Sea. There are much worse examples than the oilsands.

I live down the road from the largest open pit gravel mine in north america, and it's a huge scar on my local landscape, but it has supplied all the gravel for concrete for the new Bay Bridge in San Francisco - I wonder if the daily drivers will think about the degradation caused elsewhere in the name of maintaining their ability to to be stuck in traffic on a daily basis (while burning oilsands derived gasoline).

I've got nothing against farmers - I grew up on a farm, or against California, (I go there regularly) I'm just saying that people, collectively, have huge impacts on the land. Most of us live in cities that are on completely disturbed land, eat food supplied by farms on cleared land, and drive along roads that are on cleared and paved land, made out of metals from a mine somewhere. To then single out the oilsands that supply almost 10% of our fuel, because they disturb their land seems to be the pot calling the kettle black.

Our modern lifestyles have many impacts on the land and ecosystems, of which the oilsands are but one. Doesn't mean we can't minimise their impact further, but as long as we all use oil, we can't blame oil companies for wanting to dig it up - and neither for wanting to do so in Canada in preference to Iraq, etc.

There are only a few surface mines as most of the oilsands are buried further down, so the majority of new production will be from underground methods - I look forward to reading the rest of this trilogy.

Hi paul, You have done an admirable job of putting this issue into perspective.

Most of us seem more inclined to indulge our feelings than to think about the facts.

I agree.

Many enjoy sausage, but few enjoy seeing it made. Tar sands are the logical next step to keep BAU going as long as possible.

Personally, I would like to see no further expansion of tar sands (a gradual decline instead) and force the eventual transition a couple of years sooner. For that is all the tar sands will buy, a slower decline of BAU.


Hi lnocsifan
My guess is that if you read the post written on TOD over the last few years, certainly as long as I've be reading, many of the whiners you may be pointing to probably have got degrees in other diciplines and are working to fix the problem.

One of the main points in the post by HO is about the ability of large companies to reclaim and restore land. There is clearly a lot of doubt about the extent that this can be done, just a quick reference here. Large and small companies have a very dubious record in reclaiming and restoring land, often leaving the public purse to pick up costs towards the end of life of projects as they go bankrupt, ie, it doesn't get done or very limited. Jared Diamond does a good job of explaining this in his book Collapse.

Well, I'll admit it. I'd like to plug my ponytail into a pterodactyl and shoot arrows at that bucket wheel thingy.

Hi Greenish,

You do have a way with words sometimes.LOL!

I get it -from both sides of the argument, and being a cantankerous old hillbilly am apt to jion in on either side of an argument, depending on who is making the most boneheaded and ignorant claims.

I believe everybody here actually wants the best for the human race and the world we live on, and the other creatures that inhabit it.

We can disagree on the best means of actually getting what we want.

I trust you are feeling ok.

Hi Greenish,

Hope you saw it in 3D. I guess a quilty pleasure - but I really, really liked the movie.

Yep, first time I've gone to an actual movie theater in 8 years. I went for the 3D, stayed for the militant pantheism. Kind of a nostalgia film for me.

Two big blue thumbs up for the movie, and yes, it has to be seen in 3D. I only wish I'd seen it in Imax 3D. Guess that means I'm not a Luddite.

Down with the Sky People!

Just stand in front of it and do The Funky Chicken.

Thanks HO for the informative article. I really enjoy learning more about these processes. Over time on TOD, I have become more appreciative of how complex and vast the energy extraction and production sector is. It continues to boggle my mind, as does our dilemma.

The emotional responses to this technology are inevitable I suppose. Clearly there are too many of us using too much energy, and while we could possibly change our collective behavior to avoid the level of environmental impact we are all causing, I doubt we will do so. Humans might be smart as individuals, but collectively we are a dumb malevolent herd heading for the cliff with a full head of steam.

Articles like this remind me of the scene in the movie Rapa Nui where the starving inhabitants chop down the very last tree on the Island. I know we need the oil and will continue to dig it out. It just makes me sad that we are doing what we are to the planet.

Written by HeadingOut:
The movie Avatar gets the mining bit wrong.

When they are working the mine is producing, and when they aren’t it isn’t.

The supply chain in Avatar is 4.37 light years long, RDA has 10 interstellar star ships and the round trip travel time is ~11.6 years. Consequently a Venture Star would arrive at Pandora to pick up a load of refined unobtanium at intervals greater than one year. There is plenty of time to repair a bucket wheel excavator while refining a pile of raw ore and stockpiling the refined product. Unobtanium Mine

The energy needed to deliver this magical room temperature superconductor to Earth is unbelievable. Just to accelerate 1 kg of unobtanium to ~.8c requires a relativistic kinetic energy at 100% efficiency of 6 x 1016 J. This has to be doubled to decelerate requiring a total of 12 x 1016 J or 33 billion kW·hr. RDA needs some cheap energy to make this profitable with unobtanium only worth $20 million / kg.

Delays in the processing steps are routine in reality as well. Its funny that it takes a science fiction movie to mak it obvious that a data flow representation such as the oil shock model needs to be used.
Fiction tends to reflect reality in insightful ways.


Yeah. But one of the byproducts of refining Unobtanium using the Fishing-Troll process are Dilithium crystals. They automatically precipitate out of solution during the intermediate reduction step.

As everyone knows, Dilithium crystals can be used to power your warp drives and cut turn around time significantly. That's what makes project Pandora a profitable operation.

The Navi are too naive to understand multi-dimensional wormhole tunneling physics; which is why it was never brought up in the movie. The Navi merely need to believe that the most intelligent thing on their planet is a talking tree network. A grass roots organization, so to speak.

As everyone knows, Dilithium crystals can be used to power your warp drives and cut turn around time significantly. That's what makes project Pandora a profitable operation.

Yes but since intergalactic trade depends on cheap unlimited access to dilithium crystals which seem to be getting more difficult to find and with the Ferengi economists having destroyed the Federation's economy by creating all that virtual wealth based on credit that's now dissapeared down the worm hole. I strongly suggest its time to start hoarding Latinum and Phasers... and make sure they're set to kill!

"I never trust Humans.....They make ther females wear clothes!"

Rumors have it that the Borg subversively funded the Navi freedom fighter's uprising on Pandora so that the Borg can assimilate RDA operations into its ever growing conglomerate.

p.s. Re the side Image, Shouldn't that be: "Resistance are Footile"?

Heading Out,

Do you have any information, what process steps are currently electrified or will eventually be electrified?

At the moment the trucks are I think diesel, rather than Diesel-electric, though I did not think to ask, and do not know for sure. The shovels and equipment downstream are largely run from electric power. When they have to consider either mining into the underground as the deposit deepens, I am not sure what they might use. While there has been some discussion it has been a while since I heard anything.

One of the advantages of the mining process is that it gets virtually all the oil from the sand, whereas if you go to well technology you lose significant amounts. On the other hand if you are going to an underground mining scenario, then you will lose the material that you leave in pillars (unless you go to a process that allows you to generate pillars from the cleaned sand - a technique that is used in some other mining operations, with different waste materials.)

The trucks I saw were diesel. It seems like they were talking about possibly changing the process so they floated the mixture further. That would reduce diesel use.

They use electricity for as much as they can, as it is relatively cheap up there. The underground operations, using steam assisted gravity drainage, burn natural gas in cogeneration plants, and then use the steam in the wells. Same for the steam separation process - steam comes from turbine exhaust. So there is lots of electricity produced, and the transmission line to Fort Mac actually sends power back to Edmonton, and is at capacity - there is talk about duplicating it.

See the post earlier by Rockymtnguy about the mobile equipment, but they want to use as little diesel as possible, as that is their final product.

Great posting.
Just a quick hint to a recent article, which says that the oil sands might turn out uneconomic:

Some investors are getting riled that the prospect of Shell’s investment in expensive oil sands production could run foul of both the moral and economic costs of the high-emissions fuel source...

Surely growing oil palms in irrigated deserts or algae ponds makes MORE sense than this thinly-disguised Great White North REMEDIATION project. Any generation biodiesel is way beyond THIS.


My name is Matthew Eisentraut. My interest in peak oil began sometime in 2003 when I read Hubbert's Peak by Ken Deffeyes. I have been reading on the topic regularly since then.

I have been reading the Oil Drum for several years. Today I obtained an account.

There are many well-informed people who contribute to the discussions on the Oil Drum. I have not bothered to contribute (until now) because usually I have nothing to say that has not already been said. Also, I just do not have the time to write.

There are many very stupid people who write on the Oil Drum. It is their right. I wish that they would show some self restraint. Instead of writing, perhaps they should spend more time reading and thinking or just asking questions. When they do write, they should read what they have written and ask themselves if what they have written really needs to be put on public display.

I mostly read and think. This post may be my first and last. I will spare you my thoughts unless I happen to know something important that no one else seems to know. Since that rarely happens, this will likely be my last post.

I moved to Fort McMurray in 1984 to take a teaching position at Keyano College. I taught Math and Physics there until 1997. Then, I switched to engineering. I have an M.Sc. in Mechanical Engineering. I now split my time between homes/offices in Fort McMurray and Calgary.

It would take a long time from me to describe the relationship between myself and the various oil sands plants during the past 26 years. So, I won't.

Over the years I have read many authoritative articles about the place where I have been living for 26 years. I wish that the authors of these authoritative articles would spend some time here or perhaps do some basic fact checking before presenting their views to the public.

I just used google maps and found a little place call Salto. It appears to be in Uruguay a few hundred kilometers north of Buenos Aires. I do not write authoritative articles about the conditions in Salto. I have never been there. I have never been in South America. I refrain from writing about things about which I know nothing. More people should follow my example.

I am sitting in my office in my home that sits on 65 acres of land lying on the south side of Highway 881 about 6 km west of Anzac. I am about 32 km southeast of Fort McMurray.

The Southeast Regional Water Supply Line that supplies water to Anzac from Fort McMurray passes through the northern part of my property. This line was put in just a few years ago. During its installation, bulldozers cut a wide swath through my property. The land was devastated. Thousands upon thousands of insects died. Mice lost their homes. The grass? Well, it was just absolutely destroyed. I should have taken pictures. I should have taken pictures because the following spring the grass returned, the mice returned, the mosquitoes are breeding by the thousands and you cannot tell that the land was subjected to bulldozers unless you are told because the difference between that land and the rest of my land is nothing.

NC writes that "I was up in that part of Canada more than a decade ago and it is a fragile land. It doesn't recover in a year or so after putting top soil back on." What are you talking about? Leave the damn top soil off and you will still have knee-high grass the next summer. I know! I have to cut the stuff down when it gets in my way.

RockyMtnGuy tells us that "Fort McMurray is the end of the transportation network, and everything going north of there goes by river." Tell me, is the four-lane divided highway that continues north to Suncor just a figment of my imagination and the imaginations of the thousands of workers who commute on it each day. The highway then goes down to just two lanes but continues to Syncrude (right through the old mine), goes by Fort McKay, passes by the access to Albian Sands and Suncor Firebag, passes by the access to CNRL, passes by the access to Syncrude Aurora, and then, during the winter when the river and lake ice is thick enough to support vehicles, continues another 200 km to Fort Chipewyan on the shore of Lake Athabasca. From there you can continue to Fort Smith and eventually Yellowknife. I have driven from Yellowknife to Fort McMurray on the this road. I did not dream about doing it. I actually did it. I know it is there.

RockyMtnGuy is just making stuff up. He knows as much about the roads and highways up here as I know about the roads in Salto, Uruguay. The difference between RockyMtnGuy and I is that I do not pretend to know about the roads in Salto and then try to spread my ignorance to everyone else on the planet.

To be fair, I agree with most of what RockyMtnGuy wrote. There was just no need for him to describe transportation systems about which he knows almost nothing. I also agree with much of what NC writes. But to describe this area as fragile is pure nonsense in my opinion.

Heading Out, you have written quite an excellent post. I was impressed. Several months ago Gail the Actuary also did a post on the Oil Sands that was good. Congratulations to her.

Thank you to those of you who try to present facts when you write and do not just make up anything you feel like making up. Thank you to those of you who try to construct valid arguments based on facts. Thank you to those who ask good questions.

I do not mind reading stuff with which I disagree. What drives me crazy is those of you who know nothing about what you are talking about but insist on displaying your ignorance in public. Write your nonsense on piece of paper that only you can see. Show some self restraint and stop posting it on the internet.

If any of you would like to pass major posts on the oilsands region under my nose before publishing them or have questions that I might be able to answer, please feel free to contact me. My email is and my cell number is 780 881 7263.

Looking at some photos of the construction of the Southeast Regional Water Supply Line, it looks like a path was cleared, a trench dug, a pipe laid and the topsoil returned to fill the trench. I rather doubt the trees would grow back within a year, and they will likely be kept clear to allow access to the pipeline. The environmental damage done in constructing the pipeline is not comparable to that of a strip mine extending for kilometers in every direction. Your comment about leaving the top soil off is off-the-wall. Are you suggesting that grass would grow from an exposed tar sands pit or that water runoff would be free of contamination, if the topsoil is left off?

What drives me crazy is those of you who know nothing about what you are talking about but insist on displaying your ignorance in public.

Muskeg Matt,


It's our ignorance. We can display it as we see fit. Besides, how do we know how ignorant we are unless we hang it out there and let folks like you explain things to us? Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

Whew! Matthew! For a minute there I thought the Alberta government had built an all season road to Fort Chipewyan without my knowledge.

However looking on the web, it appears that it is still only a winter road, open December through March, with ice bridges that must be negotiated at 5 km/h. In summer, cargo must still go down river by boat.

The Alberta government may at some point build an all-year paved highway to Fort Chip, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for it given their current budget situation.

I oversimplified the situation by saying the roads ended at Fort McMurry. The roads do continue north of Fort McMurray to the oil sands sites, and many of them are even paved. One time I smashed the oil pan and knocked the transmission out of gear driving on one of these paved roads. I've never been to Salto, Uruguay, but it's quite possible the roads are better there. I have been in South America, and their roads don't have the frost heaves that Northern Alberta does, nor do they have such massive trucks driving on them. The drivers are just as suicidal, though.

I have to admit that I'm not very familiar with the roads in the Fort McMurray area. I only drove there once, and that was because of an air traffic controllers strike. I feel no urge to repeat the experience. The rest of the time I flew, usually on a company plane. Usually the plane flew directly to the oil sands site and parked in front of the company office, so there was no need for driving.

Our old oil sands research site (ex-Amoco Canada) was on an Indian reservation near Gregoire Lake, and the nearest town was Anzac, which is near where you live. It has likely been abandoned and reclaimed since then. Why don't you go and see if you can find it? Let me know how it's doing.

nice pictorial explanation. Thanks for article having me the good show.

gotta love the Bagger 288


yes that Bagger 288 really has eaten a bulldozer by mistake.. driver was probably texting on the way to work or somefink!

Ha! Is that a D-9? D-12? Looks like a Matchbox toy. I hope the operator had gone to lunch somewhere.

According to the video link by Francois above, it is a D8R.