Michigan Tar Sands Spill: A Billion Dollar “Different Animal”

January 27, 2014

24 Responses to “Michigan Tar Sands Spill: A Billion Dollar “Different Animal””

  1. MorinMoss Says:

    One of the pipelines owned by TransCanada, builders of the Keystone XL, went up in flames on Saturday.
    This one was carrying natural gas, not oil but it’s not going to endear them to worried residents near any of their projects.

  2. dumboldguy Says:

    A BILLION dollars and they’re not done cleaning up yet? After THREE years?

    The whole tar sands business is enough to make me get out the guns and shoot holes in (some non-living thing—-I am a gentle soul). First, it galls me to hear them speak of the stuff as “oil”—it is properly called “bitumen”, and in situ it has the consistency of peanut butter. After destroying the Alberta landscape to extract it and using unconscionable amounts of water to process it, it must still be diluted with more volatile petroleum-based liquids before it will flow in a pipe. Once it spills and those volatiles evaporate, we are left with the “peanut butter”, and how the %7@*& are you supposed to clean that up? This video shows how difficult it is (and the idiocy of a pipeline PR man implying that we are working towards “zero defects” in our pipeline network).

    Obama must not approve the Keystone XL, which would “enable” greater exploitation of the tar sands. If you haven’t signed the petitions or written the White House, it’s time to do so.


    • how the %7@*& are you supposed to clean that up?

      Nature has been removing the seeps for millions of years.  Alberta has to be full of strains of bacteria evolved to live on the stuff.  Bring them down to Marshall, grow them on suitable materials, and spread them all over.  Over time, whatever gets exposed to warmth, water and oxygen will become food for bugs.

      One of the virtues of electrons is that they can leak but they don’t leave much behind.  Electric cars, anyone?

      Obama must not approve the Keystone XL, which would “enable” greater exploitation of the tar sands.

      If the pipeline isn’t built, it will just get moved by rail instead.  Rail is prone to spills and much worse; Lac Megantic and Casselton were our wake-up calls for that.  You have to eliminate the demand, because it WILL be supplied.  Electric.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Over time the little bugs will clean it up? True enough, I suppose, IF you are willing to wait that long. I can see the signs now.

        “Little buggies cleaning up the nasty mess courtesy of TransCanada. Come back in ~20 years and see if they’re done. In the meantime, don’t drink the water”.

        Yes, rail transport of tar sands “oil” is prone to “much worse”. Perversely, that’s GOOD, because there is nothing like billowing mushroom clouds of flame on the TV to get people thinking—-perhaps even about why that nasty stuff needs to be transported anywhere in the first place?

        PS I AM glad to see that E-Pot is focusing on eliminating the demand for tar sands oil by suggesting electricity as an alternative WITHOUT specifying where that electricity must come from. It makes this post of his much more readable.


        • The alternatives are to bring the well-adapted strains down from Alberta, or wait for local ones to evolve.  I’m not a fan of waiting if I can pay a few biologists to move the schedule up.  As for the time scale afterward, if the stuff can’t be removed then it has to be treated in place.

          As for drinking water, put those biologists and some chemists on the job.  Maybe there’s some combination of materials with high affinity for the toxics and toxic-munching bacteria that can make a good filter.

          And since you’re complaining about my favorite source of carbon-free electricity, would you care to tell us how you’d guarantee that our electrified transport system would get the juice it needs, when it needs it?  Facts and figures are in order, like how a two-week lull in regional wind generation would be handled.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            It is a bit of serendipity that I am just now reading a book titled “Invasive Species: What Everyone Needs to Know” by Daniel Simberloff, the Nancy Gore Hunger Professor and Director of the Institute for Biological Invasions at the U of Tennessee. And if your mind is quick, and you made the Gore-Tennessee connection, yes, Nancy was Al Gore’s older sister and she died of lung cancer, which caused some controversy at the time because the Gores were in the tobacco business. But that’s another story.

            The book is better than Ambien because it is full of redundancies and cross-references and is drier than California, but it is a great book by a guy who has a trailer full of “credentials” on the subject.

            To be brief, a “well-adapted” strain from Alberta can be an invasive species if brought to Michigan. And it may not be able to survive in the first place just because it has “food” if other conditions are not favorable. There are a whole bunch of of “other” negative reasons that say “No” that are obvious to those of us with more background in ecology and biology. There is a long history of disasters resulting from misguided attempts to “transplant” organisms from the environments they evolved in. To say nothing of the general “iffiness” and wishful thinking of the venture.

            We would also have to add a sign saying “Local bugs perhaps now evolving to eat the mess. Come back in ~200 (maybe 2000) years and see if it happened. In the meantime, don’t drink the water”.

            Ah yes, pay a few biologists and chemists to “move the schedule up”. Rapidly applied and poorly thought out technology solves all! Did you not notice that they are DREDGING as a “treatment in place” method? Ever spend time on a trout stream? Do you think it benefits from dredging?

            I’m not complaining about your “favorite source of carbon-free electricity” If you recall, I’m one of the few on Crock that agrees with you and Hansen et al about “it”. I complained only about your ceaselessly bludgeoning us about “it”. (And I’m not going to mention “it” by name, and you know why.)


          • To be brief, a “well-adapted” strain from Alberta can be an invasive species if brought to Michigan.

            Bacteria swap genes between different types so often the concept of “species” doesn’t fit them well.  But North America is one continuous land mass, and bacterial and fungal spores can travel by a host of means including migratory birds and the wind.  These bugs are native; accelerating things is for our convenience.

            And it may not be able to survive in the first place just because it has “food” if other conditions are not favorable.

            Finding the oil-muncher genes and allowing other, local bacterial strains to take them up and express them might do the trick.  Bacteria often put genes for traits like antibiotic resistance on plasmids, which are easier to swap around.  We might also find worthwhile genes in bacteria living on cold water deep-sea oil seeps.  If they are chowing down on asphaltenes, they might have something for us.

            There are a whole bunch of of “other” negative reasons that say “No” that are obvious to those of us with more background in ecology and biology.

            Perhaps if your education comes from Hollywood.  A scientist adding a gene for an asphaltene-cleaving enzyme to a bacterium and creating The Blob is a B movie plot.

            I complained only about your ceaselessly bludgeoning us about “it”.

            You complain about every brief aside, and when I correct mis-statements made in key posts too.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Is there anything that E-Pot is not an expert on? Perhaps HIS education comes from “Bacterial Genetics For Dummies: Junior High School Edition”?

            Otherwise he would not say such things as:
            “….the concept of “species” doesn’t fit them well”
            “Bacteria often put genes for traits like antibiotic resistance on plasmids….which are easier to swap around”

            Please explain why we classify bacteria by species (perhaps billions of them) if the “concept of “species” doesn’t fit them well?
            Please explain the process whereby bacteria often “PUT” genes on plasmids? Plasmids are “easier to swap around” than what? What other means do they have for “swapping” genetic information that is more difficult than “swapping plasmids”?

            “You complain about every brief aside, and when I correct misstatements made in key posts too”. Yes, and in true narcissistic fashion, you of course take it upon yourself to say what is “misstated” by any and all of us, as well as transmute my “points of order” regarding your omniscience into “complaints”. SBAN, E-Pot!


          • Straw man. Show the two week lull, MISO or ERCOT. Combined solar and wind, please. Continuing to bash RE? Show a two week lull in biomass, hydro, geothermal combined. Without a multipart response. Just a link, please. Still pushing the extreme, all or nothing cookie? All real past, present, and future power systems contain multiple sources spread over a wide area…Arguing about one source is fantasy having nothing to do with a real power system. Its little boys arguing which marble is stronger, not a reasoned discussion of professionals solving an engineering problem. RE is only unreliable in some peoples brains. In the real world, power system professionals are using it every day.
            http://magazine.ieee-pes.org/novemberdecember-2013/
            Oh, I almost forgot. This is a post about Tar Sands spill in Michigan. Its not the first time. It probably won’t be the last. Given the current rate, we should expect some major FF spill or disaster a few times a year if we continue using oil.


          • Please explain why we classify bacteria by species (perhaps billions of them) if the “concept of “species” doesn’t fit them well?

            Habit from higher animals.  But pseudospecies is a well-established concept:

            1. Agamospecies
            Synonyms: Microspecies, paraspecies, pseudospecies, semispecies, quasipecies
            Principal authors: Cain 1954, Eigen 1993 (quasispecies)
            Specifications: Asexual lineages, uniparental organisms. May be secondarily uniparental from biparental ancestors

            My familiarity was with the term “pseudospecies”, but as you can see the science has since moved on (as the IAU did by creating the class of “dwarf planets” now including Pluto).  The characteristic of a species is reproductive/genetic isolation from others, but when bacteria often exchange genes via plasmids and even incorporate raw DNA from the environment, there is no such isolation.

            Is there anything that E-Pot is not an expert on?

            I’m an expert on exactly none of this.  I am just repeating information I got mostly through popular publications and on-line sources (I admit to undergrad coursework in intro biology).  What’s YOUR fucking excuse for being so damn ignorant?

            If you would quit wasting time and effort hyperventilating in your indignance over unfamiliar facts being presented to you, you might actually learn something.  You might even return some facts that are familiar to you but not to others, increasing general knowledge.  Or you can keep playing your hick game of “he thinks he’s better than us”.  Your choice.

            SBAN, E-Pot!

            Says the clown who thinks his ignorance should be catered to by everyone.  That’s true narcissism.  AND projection.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Where to begin? So much illogic and narcissism on display here, and so great a need for telepsychiatry (pro bono, no less). Let’s begin with the treasure trove of evidence in this statement:

            E-Pot says, “I’m an expert on exactly none of this. I am just repeating information I got mostly through popular publications and on-line sources (I admit to undergrad coursework in intro biology). What’s YOUR fucking excuse for being so damn ignorant?”

            E-pot confirms our suspicion that he is a “looker-upper” who just parrots back what he finds rather than one who has any real expertise. He yet again displays the anger that can be so easily provoked in narcissists and attempts to project his ignorance of the subject on me. My “excuse” for being so “ignorant” is a graduate degree in biology and experience teaching “intro biology” to fools like E-Pot. I am not a bacteriologist, biochemist or, geneticist—I have merely taken courses in all those areas and am a biology “generalist”. So GFY, E-Pot—I have forgotten more biology than you will ever learn in years of “looking biology up”. My only “ignorance” here seems to be that I am unable to recognize your brilliance.

            Rather than deal with his lack of knowledge and answer my simple question, “Please explain why we classify bacteria by species (perhaps billions of them) if the “concept of “species” doesn’t fit them well?”, E-Pot just googles some poorly chosen, meaningless and ill-defined “stuff” and throws it out there in an attempt to establish his superiority over ignorant old me.

            Here’s a nice discussion by a scientist-philosopher about the “concept of species” for anyone who wants to explore the idea, and do remember that the reality of a “scientist-philosopher” is a lot more believable than that of an “engineer-poet”.

            http://evolvingthoughts.net/2010/10/how-many-species-concepts-are-there/‎

            Is there any relevance to “(as the IAU did by creating the class of “dwarf planets” now including Pluto)”?. Or is it, as I suspect, an artifact of too rapid googling and inadequate editing of our “finds”?

            And I will ask another question. E-Pot states emphatically “The characteristic of a species is reproductive/genetic isolation from others, but when bacteria often exchange genes via plasmids and even incorporate raw DNA from the environment, there is no such isolation”. Could you explain that in detail, E-Pot? Did you even notice “often” and “even” in that sentence? You need to really read your crap, E-Pot. Same thing holds here as what you posted that prompted my questions about bacterial genetics (as yet UNANSWERED).

            Pardon my “indignance” over some arrogant narcissist who thinks he’s better than us, and haphazardly presents “looked up” facts to us that are unfamiliar to him as he allegedly seeks to direct the “increase of general knowledge” on Crock. I’ve spent too many years as a “sheep dog” to stop now. If E-Pot is NOT a narcissist, he will stop throwing crap against the wall and doubling down on it when it won’t stick. He will instead go back to commenting on the topics he has some expertise in.

            And finally, E-Pot closes with the patented E-Pot “zinger”—-the final crushing “put down”—-with “Says the clown who thinks his ignorance should be catered to by everyone. That’s true narcissism. AND projection”.

            LMAO there. One who has ADMITTED his ignorance and makes this comment that is nothing BUT a demand that his ignorance be catered to is again demonstrating that HE is a true narcissist. (AND projecting). SBAN, E-Pot!


          • Straw man. Show the two week lull, MISO or ERCOT

            Etc. etc.

            My reply to Arcus is here.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            It’s good that you are “replying to Arcus” and trying to discuss some things in areas where you perhaps do have some knowledge . Should you find a minute, you might want to look at my comments on this thread and reply to them also, specifically the parts directed to you with ??? marks after them.

            You know, my several unanswered questions to you about your comments on bacterial genetics and reproduction? Credibility is an easy thing to lose, and when one does lose a good deal of it, it might be wise to try to get some back.

            Look at my response to “What’s YOUR fucking excuse for being so damn ignorant?” for hints as to how it should be done.

  3. rayduray Says:

    And in related news, we have this Real News Network coverage of the 2013 oil tanker demolition derby results:


  4. Replying to Arcus above, #comment-44857:

    Straw man. Show the two week lull, MISO or ERCOT.

    Nice Catch-22.  The MISO link you gave a while back only gives data for the last 24 hours (I looked for longer time scales and didn’t find any).  Further, even if MISO and ERCOT never have such long outages, they are not the world.

    The Bonneville Power Administration had next to no wind generation from 10/12/2013 to 10/27/2013 (source).  Much less severe lulls would be enough to disrupt RE-centric systems.  Suppose you have a period of a couple of weeks when generation averages only 50% of the nominal RE share.  What do you do?  What sort of storage do you need to cover shortfalls lasting even days?

    How do you de-carbonize non-grid energy when you have so much trouble just covering electricity?

    Combined solar and wind, please.

    Neither ERCOT nor MISO even report solar.  You’re the one claiming that these things CAN replace fossil-fired generation and follow the demand curve; it’s up to you to prove it, not for me to disprove it.  It would be sufficient for you to show someplace where it’s being done, and that the cost is acceptable.

    Show a two week lull in biomass, hydro, geothermal combined.

    Goal-post shifting.  Biomass is severely limited by NPP and cannot scale.  Hydro has little or no expansion capability for actual storage reservoirs (useful for annual cycles, not daily).  And geothermal… please, give me a break.  Tell me where in Michigan you have a geothermal resource worth even 100 electrical megawatts.  Then tell me the same for the other 49 states (Hawaii is easy… maybe.  California averaged less than 2 GW in 2007).  Given that average US electric consumption is around 450 GW, tell me where the other 440-odd GW would come from.

    Biomass in particular is a very limited “renewable” resource.  Germany is essentially mining its old-growth beech forests to meet biomass mandates.  The study I know as “The Billion-Ton Annual Supply” (at feedstockreview.ornl.gov, can’t add any more links) didn’t give cause for optimism in the USA either:

    Included in its vision was the setting of a very challenging goal: biomass will supply 5 percent of the nation’s power, 20 percent of its transportation fuels, and 25 percent of its chemicals by 2030. The goal is equivalent to 30 percent of current petroleum consumption and will require more than approximately one billion dry tons of biomass feedstock annually — a fivefold increase over the current consumption (DOE, 2003).

    Even if you assume that wind can be brought up to 40% capacity factor, that leaves 60% of grid power demand that must be served by something else.  5% from biomass is a pathetic contribution to the remainder.  Remember, it was the 98+% capacity factor for solar in geosynchronous orbit that was the key attraction for solar power satellites (SPS).

    Still pushing the extreme, all or nothing cookie?

    You’re asking me to prove a negative.  Should I have to point out the fallacy there?  I have multiple existence proofs of positives, but you won’t accept them.  That’s an ideological stand, not a rational or moral one.

    Oh, I almost forgot. This is a post about Tar Sands spill in Michigan. Its not the first time. It probably won’t be the last.

    To be precise, it won’t be the last as long as Alberta bitumen remains economic to ship across Michigan to feed refineries eastward of Alberta to make motor fuel.  To make this stop, it is sufficient to make the alternatives less expensive and available on demand.  There are a host of alternatives, but our criteria should include carbon emissions between 0 and 20% of current values with a strong bias toward 0.  What’s left that you can get as needed?

    You see why my position is what it is.

    Given the current rate, we should expect some major FF spill or disaster a few times a year if we continue using oil.

    Yes.  This is why I like the idea of electricity as the main energy supply, with storable waste-derived fuels to serve the remaining demand.  Propane, methanol and DME degrade well enough to avoid most downsides of today’s system.

    RE is only unreliable in some peoples brains. In the real world, power system professionals are using it every day.

    Your citation is behind a paywall, is an entire issue of a magazine rather than a specific article on your point, and your second sentence does not support your first.  Because people are using something does not mean it is reliable.  They may be using it because they have nothing better, or they are required to (e.g. “portfolio standards”).

    The fact remains that of the world’s de-carbonized electric grids (> 10 GW average), none of them get so much as 50% of their energy from wind and solar.  You don’t want to talk about the successes.


    • Related to this, the Grauniad has a warning about looming grid outages (emphasis added):

      “Supply will become ever more precarious because of peak oil, political instability, infrastructural neglect, global warming and the shift to renewable energy resources.

      Only if electricity is low- or zero-carbon does it make sense to shift other demand to use electricity instead.  Only if electricity is reliable can you get people to make that shift.  Renewables (unreliables), by creating instability, make users resist that shift and maintain demand for fossil fuels.

      Do you think Goldman Sachs finds greater profit potential in trading volatile carbon credits, or financing nuclear plants?

      • dumboldguy Says:

        “Do you think Goldman Sachs finds greater profit potential in trading volatile carbon credits, or financing nuclear plants?”

        Good question. We can be sure that Goldman Sach’s pursuit of “greater profit potential” with their usual emphasis on greed and private gain rather than the greater good will show us the way NOT to go.


        • Then do a search for “Goldman Sachs” “cap and trade” and draw your own conclusions.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            No need to “search”—-I reached my “conclusions” about Goldman Sachs years ago, and they are displayed in my comment. If they think something is a “good idea”, it will likely be bad for the country—-conversely, if they think something is a “bad idea”, it will likely be good for the country. You are not the only one here with “prejudices” (but mine, of course, are better founded in reality).


          • You are not the only one here with “prejudices”

            It’s not prejudice if you’re willing to change your mind based on better information.  The problem I see with so many (e.g. Arcus) is that they refuse to discuss facts, think hand-waving refutes existence proofs, and so forth.

            (but mine, of course, are better founded in reality).

            If you do say so yourself (as the one who makes constant accusations of narcissism himself indulges in intellectual and moral preening for the crowd).

            Man.  Getting deep in here.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            I know you are a bit humor and irony impaired, E-Pot, but the quotation marks around “prejudices” should have given you a clue that I was being tongue-in-cheek. Unlike you, I am able to laugh at myself.

            The only “intellectual and moral preening for the crowd” here is being done by YOU. (And why the gratuitous shot at Arcus?—-has he stuck too many pins in you lately?)


  5. […] 2014/01/27: PSinclair: Michigan Tar Sands Spill: A Billion Dollar “Different Animal” […]


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: