“Canadian oil sands pollute nearby lakes. Report is blow to Keystone pipeline.” (Or Not)

The only “blow to the Keystone pipeline” is in the exaggerated reporting of the science…

The “report” (Kurek et al., 2013) did find slight elevations (relative to 1950) of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) in five lakes in the vicinity of the Fort McMurray, near oil sand mining and upgrading operations in NE Alberta. The PAH flux trends in four of the lakes were unremarkable compared to the control (Namur Lake). One lake (NE20) exhibited PAH levels similar to urban and agricultural areas. The other four lakes were very similar to remote lakes in the Canadian Rockies and boreal forests.

This is Figure 1 from Kurek et al., 2013…

The lakes around Fort McMurray clearly do exhibit some increase in PAH flux since 1950. The winds in the area are generally southerly. So, it makes sense that SW22 and SE22 exhibit the least increase in PAH flux; while NE13 and NE20 exhibit the greatest increase. However, apart from NE20, the PAH fluxes aren’t remarkable when compared to Lake Namur. There does seem to be some evidence of minor wind-driven pollution in the lakes to the north of site AR6.

The supplemental information included a comparison table of PAH levels in the study area and in distant urban and remote settings. I transcribed those data to Excel in order to put the oil sands pollution into perspective.

Three of the four oil sands sites had lower PAH concentrations than Namur Lake. Only one of the sites (NE20) was comparable to lakes in urban and agriculturally developed areas.

I noticed that two of the remote, boreal forest sites (PAD 18) had maximum PAH fluxes in 1758 and 1810. So I plotted the PAH concentrations and fluxes against the year in which the maximum flux occurred.

This clearly demonstrates that the PAH “pollution” associated with oil sands development is insignificant. The PAH concentrations in most of lakes in the study area are unremarkable when compared to remote lakes in the boreal forest in the 18th and 19th century and are more similar to modern remote lakes than they are to urban and agriculturally developed areas.

Reference

Joshua Kurek, Jane L. Kirk, Derek C. G. Muir, Xiaowa Wang, Marlene S. Evans, and John P. Smol. Legacy of a half century of Athabasca oil sands development recorded by lake ecosystems. PNAS 2013 ; published ahead of print January 7, 2013, doi:10.1073/pnas.1217675110

109 thoughts on ““Canadian oil sands pollute nearby lakes. Report is blow to Keystone pipeline.” (Or Not)

  1. So is there a latin term for the logical fallacy of attributing far too much importance to trace quantities of materials? If it isn’t trace amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere it’s trace amounts of hydrocarbons. As I understand it the “aromatic” part is an indication of the volatility of these substances.

    Again I mention: as someone who has flown over that region many, many times, I can assure you that the whole area is filled with lakes and streams that glisten with the characteristic rainbow sheen that indicates oil, and that is the NATURAL state of the entire area. Humans are cleaning it up, not creating a disaster. I want my grandchildren and their descendants to be able to enjoy hunting, fishing and camping there, something that is highly unlikely with the area’s natural state.

    Earlier today there was also a report stating that because British Columbia has earthquakes, any pipeline built across it will be unsafe… this is still more of the concerted effort to shut down or cripple Oilsands development.

  2. @ E.M.Smith January 11, 2013 at 12:12 am

    Funny, as I read, my first thought was that’s what you get when you grill steaks.

    I’d love to see the amount of aromatics in the lakes around Dallas, considering all the powerboats on them. A fishermen here wouldn’t be seen dead in his bass-boat if he couldn’t give a cigarette boat a run for the money.

  3. When you have the world’s largest oil/tar deposit outcropping on surface, everywhere nearby is going to be polluted with hydrocarbons. There is absolutely nothing you can do about it.

    The ecoloons might try curing the ‘problem’ by legislating against nature and giving it a large fine, that might help.

    As with so much in the environment and climate, it is the degree of the scare which matters, facts are only there to be manipulated/distorted. Such is the inevitable result of the grant addiction of second and third rate ‘scientists’.

  4. The report states that the PAH levels are increasing, but still mostly less than the levels found in urban areas.

    Ft Mac has a population of near 100,000. How much of the increased PAH is due to autos and home heating, especially home heating with wood?

  5. Smith must be referring to dioxins which are normally formed during combustion between 400 to 700 C such as forest fires and of course barbecues. Talking about poisons in food there has been a recent article on a 280 kg tuna that was sold in Japan for 1.8 million dollars or roughly $6,000 per kilo. For tuna of this size I am just wondering on the mercury concentration in the fish tissue. It is the same story with PAH. A large number of organic chemicals were originally synthesized from coal tar PAH and sprayed with gusto as perfume. Gasoline contains high concentration of PAH and in fact in some countries gasoline is called benzene because benzene has a very high octane number and was a desirable component in the fuel. although aromatics in fuels are now controlled there is a limit to the extent that the PAH could be cracked to simpler compounds and removed from the fuel. Fugitive PAH from evaporation in fuel tank breathers, service stations and partial fuel combustion would account for some of the urban PAH.

  6. Anyone might think that CSM had some motivation to put a particular slant on the evidence. They weren’t present at 28gate were they?

  7. I like this from the article:
    “”If burned, tar sands spells ‘game over’ for a livable climate and would harm community drinking water and farmers’ livelihoods across the region,” reads the website of Tar Sands Blockade, the group behind Monday’s protests.”

    So – not only would the burning of the Tar sand hydrocarbons make the climate (of the Earth) “unlivable” (meaning we would all die) – but even worse, it would harm the livelihoods of the farmers “across the region”?

    That’s shocking. I mean, I could live with a wholesale end of the world, but a diminished income for some Canadian farmers, Oh Noes. /sarc

  8. Production from the north slope was delayed for 3-4 years by the opposition of environmental groups, which hindered the completion of the Alyeska Pipeline (the discovery was in 1968 and production was delayed until 1978). When production reached full stream in 1981 at 2MM bbl/day, the price of oil started to slide and the US enjoyed a run of prosperity until the end of the century.

    Estimates of the amount of crude oil contained in the Athabasca Tar Sands reach as high as two trillion (trillion!) bbl. The Greens recognize the importance of this to the prosperity of North America, and can be expected to mount a huge campaign to prevent its development. Obama understands all of this, but he is naturally loath to alienate his supporters.
    mpainter

  9. One of the left wing writers pointed out a few months ago in an article complaining about a purported lie by a right wing writer that the right winger just made something up. It was pointed out that the left always has at least some fact, some where, no matter how distant, to base their positions. And when there are simply no fact, then caution is used (the old precautionary principle).

    This report is exactly what the left wing writer described. This study has actual published data. Experts disagree. Precaution will prevail. Obama will almost certainly not act on the pipeline but use this study to toss it back to the EPA for further scientific analysis before he makes his decision. The EPA will then kill the pipeline project for him. Thus, he votes “present”, escapes making his own decision and has others do the heavy lifting along with him making another speech about protecting the environment as the experts recommend, etc.

    Anyone not familar with politics should now recognize the delay means “go find some thing that scares people”. As the left wing writer pointed out, just a shard, no matter how distant.

  10. Stephen Rasey says:

    January 11, 2013 at 12:42 am

    Bar charts should never be plotted against logarithmic axes! It is a visual deception.
    ============================
    And should be rejected at first sight because of that. To do so is to fish for suckers.
    David Middleton take note, please.

  11. Smith is broadly correct.
    In organic (carbon) chemistry “aromaticity” has a well defined meaning associated with benzene-type ring compounds (historically named so because of the smell). And the poly- simply means more than one ring fused together like a sub-structure of a honeycomb. Naphthalene is one of the simplest PAH’s.

    Just because a PAH can be detected in the environment, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is harmful or that it’s presence is due to human influence.

  12. Seems to be a random selection of lakes to get a time line. That would suggest that they don’t have a lot of data for the tar sands lakes, but felt pressed to draw a conclusion. I have to admit, I’m not smart enough to understand the bar charts. I always thought that when you made your presentations so they weren’t readily understandable, you very likely didn’t have a good argument.

  13. What Alfred said, If there was no practical use for the oil sands, David Suzuki would campaign to have the contaminated soil removed cleaned, perhaps by incineration.

  14. michael hart says:
    January 11, 2013 at 4:05 am

    Smith is broadly correct….

    Just because a PAH can be detected in the environment, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is harmful or that it’s presence is due to human influence.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    Hydro-carbons and Aromatic-hydro-carbons all occur in nature, heck you can find styrene (precursor of polystyrene) in cinnamon!

    …Styrene is named after the styrax trees from whose sap a related resin (benzoin) can be extracted. Styrene also occurs naturally in a variety of foods including fruits, vegetables, nuts, beverages and meats; cinnamon is particularly rich in styrene. Its molecular formula is C8H8, meaning that it consists entirely of the elements carbon and hydrogen….
    By itself, styrene will react to air (oxygen) over a period of time to form polystyrene, which is a solid…..

    http://www.styrene.org/faq.html

    So what is that benzoin found in the styrax trees? Sounds interesting.

    Benzoin … is an organic compound with the formula PhCH(OH)C(O)Ph. It is a hydroxy ketone attached to two phenyl groups. It appears as off-white crystals, with a light camphor-like odor….
    WIKI

    So Benzoin is technically a naturally occurring PAH (poly-Aromatic-hydrocarbon) since it has two benzene rings.

    Lets follow Benzoin (oil) a bit further.

    ORGANIC FACTS: Health Benefits of Benzoin Essential Oil

    The health benefits of Benzoin Essential Oil can be attributed to its properties like anti depressant, carminative, cordial, deodorant, disinfectant, relaxant, diuretic, expectorant, anti septic, vulnerary, astringent, anti inflammatory, anti rheumatic and sedative.

    * Anti depressant & Cordial: Benzoin Oil raises spirit and uplifts mood. That is why it was and is still widely used in religious ceremonies in many parts of the world. This is used in incense sticks and other such substances which when burnt, gives out smoke with the characteristic aroma of Benzoin Oil…..

    * Relaxant & Sedative: Benzoin Oil, besides being a stimulant and anti depressant on the one hand, is a relaxant and sedative on the other. It relieves anxiety, tension, nervousness and stress. Actually it brings the nervous system and neurotic system to normal.

    *Anti septic & Disinfectant:….

    * Diuretic:….

    * Carminative & Anti flatulent:….

    * Deodorant:

    * Astringent:

    * Expectorant:

    * Vulnerary: It means a property which protects open wounds from infections. …

    * Anti inflammatory:

    * Anti rheumatic & Anti Arthritic:

    * Other Benefits: Prevents and heals cracking of skin, sores etc. and stimulates secretions of enzymes and hormones like insulin from endocrinal glands like pancreas, thus lowering the blood sugar level and regulating other metabolic functions….

    Amazing stuff isn’t it? But that is just as long as it is ‘natural’ and not a ‘chemical’

    As a chemist, I consider the only thing not a chemical to be a vacuum or energy, but just try to tell the vacuum-heads that.

  15. Bob says
    January 11, 2013 at 4:14 am
    ” tar sands…………….”
    Please Bob, they are “oil” sands not ‘tar’ sands.
    The word “tar” to describe these natural bitumen deposits is really a misnomer, since, chemically speaking, tar is a human-made substance produced by the destructive distillation of organic material, usually coal, or earlier from pine. Pine tar was used to waterproof the wooden ships hence the sailors were called Tars.
    Thanks.
    The CAGW crowd likes to call them “tar” sands because it sounds bad and dirty.

  16. Fantastic news if you both recognize the need for energy and like beautiful Candian lakes. Maybe in the long run, removing all those nasty hydrocarbons should be considered an improvement on excellence?

  17. The oil sands are an oil reservoir EXPOSED at the SURFACE! There has been all kinds of stuff about protecting the delicate ecology of the Athabaska tar sands region (to block development) – yes nature seems to be able to deal with petroleum in its environment. I think they should sell the projects as an natural oil spill clean-up program.

  18. The term “Tar Sands” is considered derogatory. Even the CBC and The Vancouver Sun uses “”Oil Sands”. I will stop reading any article or comment that uses Tar Sands, as this is an immediate clue that the author is a biased greenie or lefty usually.
    Note that Willis used Tar Sands in an recent article. Obviously he is not as well informed on this specific topic of word usage.

  19. Reblogged this on gottadobetterthanthis and commented:
    More evidence that the greenies care nothing for anything except scaring people and advancing a gaia-first–humans-last mentality. The greenies will not be happy until every last human is wiped from existence, just like the “Mr. Smith” character in the Matrix movies.

  20. ***
    CodeTech says:
    January 11, 2013 at 12:17 am

    So is there a latin term for the logical fallacy of attributing far too much importance to trace quantities of materials? If it isn’t trace amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere it’s trace amounts of hydrocarbons. As I understand it the “aromatic” part is an indication of the volatility of these substances.
    ***

    Don’t know nothin ’bout Latin, but in English it’s obsessive-compulsive disorder.

  21. In re logarithmic bar charts; Edward r. Tufte, in The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, calls them “chart junk.” It is a favorite ploy of The Mendicant Order, the ancient order of liars.

  22. mpainter, you comment at 3:21 was spot until until the last sentence, where you presume that President Obama would prefer to see a prosperous North America if not for alienating his supporters. I contend that he opposes the Keystone pipeline not just to sooth the econuts, but to ensure America doesn’t become more prosperous.

  23. They talk about micro grams and nano grams in their report. So basically they found: nothing, really nothing. But they could at least make a scary chart, that’s enough for the sellers of fear

  24. @CodeTech

    >So is there a latin term for the logical fallacy of attributing far too much importance to trace quantities of materials? If it isn’t trace amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere it’s trace amounts of hydrocarbons.

    As someone who builds labs to measure things, I would like to know for sure what was measured and when. “It is not quite as simple as that,” my brother used to say. If they measured sediments all sorts of considerations must be made when checking for something that is known to be volatile (they are called ‘volatiles’ for a reason) and if it is from old measurements using difference instrumentation some proper calibration effort is needed. The old readings may be high or low depending on the technology. Just askin’…

    The use of two-stroke engines, popular on boats for a long time and less popular now, and the number of trips made on the lakes could create historic spikes. What is clear is that there are detectable amounts of contaminants and the level seems to be rising though not as high as in urban areas which is exactly what one would expect in an industrialising region.

    This result does not support extremist positions and does not support those saying there is no impact (are there any left?) and as several above have pointed out, cannot be a big surprise when the source is an exposed surface feature.

    One of the ways to clean up a gigantic area of (natural) oil pollution is to dig it out, remove it from the sand by heating it and turn it into a useful product, sell it and have the whole thing be financially self-sustaining as long as the (natural) contamination of the environment persists. Seems like the oil companies beat the clean-up crews to the punch.

  25. The EPA on PAHs:

    http://www.epa.gov/ogwdw/pdfs/factsheets/soc/tech/pahs.pdf

    “They [PAHs] are not produced or used commercially but are ubiquitous in that they are formed as a result of incomplete combustion of organic materials.”

    “PAHs are found in exhaust from motor vehicles and other gasoline and diesel engines, emission from coal-, oil-, and wood-burning stoves and furnaces, cigarette smoke; general soot and smoke of industrial, municipal, and domestic origin, and cooked foods, especially charcoal-broiled; in incinerators, coke ovens, and asphalt processing and use.”

    “There is some evidence that benzo(a)pyrene has the potential to cause cancer from a lifetime exposure at levels above the MCL.”

    So, the precautionary principle demands we stop incompletely burning organics. All combustion must be 100% efficient from here on out. /sarc

    My research suggests that a lifetime of living is fatal.

  26. I’m amazed at so little pollution in Canadian lakes as stateside some individuals/companies will do anything to save a buck, including illegal dumping of drilling fluids (or anything else regulated) into ground water or shallow wells (maybe where some of the fracking damage to ground water comes from). Unfortunately such incidents only harm the very industries they are in because of the negative political fallout. Typically when (right wing) politicians says industry needs fewer regulations, they really mean less oversight (aka Greenspan/Do away with Glass-Steagall/Big Banking derivative gambling/2008 meltdown). Few bother to analyze how or why regulations (and complex specifications/buying rules) got put into place to begin with (usually an attempt control abuses and cheating), and then those rapidly grow in size because the banks of retainered lawyers come out to find loopholes which then need closing (goes a long way toward explaining much of the oh so complex tax code). Trading moral sensitivity for profit is one of the expensive downsides of a “Free Market System”.

  27. Stephen Rasey says:
    January 11, 2013 at 12:42 am
    Bar charts should never be plotted against logarithmic axes! It is a visual deception.

    Would you have also found this to be visually deceptive?

  28. Stephen Rasey says:
    January 11, 2013 at 12:42 am
    Bar charts should never be plotted against logarithmic axes! It is a visual deception.

    Would you have also found this to be visually deceptive?
    Linear Scale

  29. mpainter says:
    January 11, 2013 at 3:32 am
    Stephen Rasey says:

    January 11, 2013 at 12:42 am

    Bar charts should never be plotted against logarithmic axes! It is a visual deception.
    ============================
    And should be rejected at first sight because of that. To do so is to fish for suckers.
    David Middleton take note, please.

    You guys crack me up!

    Linear Scale

  30. Dave, your hobby is debunking junk science. You said it, hobby.
    Because you have an axe to grind and a prejudice, your work is suspect.
    You’re not an objective scientist presenting his work in an established journal for peer review.
    The junk science is yours, Dave.

  31. Alberta Slim says:
    January 11, 2013 at 5:25 am
    Bob says
    January 11, 2013 at 4:14 am
    ” tar sands…………….”
    Please Bob, they are “oil” sands not ‘tar’ sands.
    The word “tar” to describe these natural bitumen deposits is really a misnomer, since, chemically speaking, tar is a human-made substance produced by the destructive distillation of organic material, usually coal, or earlier from pine. Pine tar was used to waterproof the wooden ships hence the sailors were called Tars.
    Thanks.
    The CAGW crowd likes to call them “tar” sands because it sounds bad and dirty.

    They were the Athabasca Tar Sands back when I was in college (Late Pleistocene). But, that was back before tar was a four-letter word and Al Gore invented GAGW… ;)

  32. Peter Miller says:
    January 11, 2013 at 1:18 am
    When you have the world’s largest oil/tar deposit outcropping on surface, everywhere nearby is going to be polluted with hydrocarbons. There is absolutely nothing you can do about it.
    ============
    Two strategies are available to clean up the oil sands:

    method 1 – regulation:
    Slap a big hefty fine on god for having placed it there in the first place. US currency says “in god we trust” for a reason.

    method 2 – business:
    Dig it out of the ground and and sell it to the highest bidder.

    The cash strapped americans are playing “those grapes are likely sour anyways”, so it may well be the Chinese that end up with the oil.

    While the US will continue to be firmly in the pockets of the house of Saud and OPEC, ensuring 100 more years of arab-israeli conflict and global terrorism, financed by US oil purchases.

    Al Gorzeera TV makes perfect sense as a stepping stone along the way, to promote continued US reliance on middle east oil, leaving the middle east to dominate US foreign policy for the next century.

  33. Gail Combs says:
    January 11, 2013 at 5:24 am

    All true about styrene and benzoin – but the EPA managed to call CO2 a pollutant

  34. Speaking of Al Gorizma, I guess we all know where the anti-science and anti-technology funding is coming from.

  35. David Middleton says:

    January 11, 2013 at 6:49 am
    ============================

    Seriously, no joking; presentation is crucial. The alternative you offered is a much better presentation, imo. It puts everything into perspective, visually. It makes your point at a glance, and the presentation you used did not. I suggest the broken bar method for presenting data that runs off the scale, as the urban data. Such treatment would have allowed a larger scale for the other plots.
    mpainter

  36. Don’tTrust’M/ says:
    January 11, 2013 at 6:36 am
    Big Banking derivative gambling/2008 meltdown
    =========
    It was not a banking meltdown. The banking system got two presidential candidates bidding to see who would give them the most money to cover their potential real-estate losses. It was all very smart business.

    All that was required was to withhold credit and the candidates were tripping over themselves trying to “solve the problem” by throwing cash at it, all under the spotlight of television.

    Goldman Sach’s has a long history of manipulation of the US financial system from the inside for the advantage of a privileged few. Look at the number of high ranking Treasury officials that started as Goldman executives. Look at their connection with Gore and CCX.

    These folks are very well connected and pull the purse strings. When they say jump, the politicians say “how high”. Why else would politicians spend hundreds of millions of dollars to get a job that pays hundreds of thousands?

    The Federal Reserve was brought into existence as a privately held company with the power to control the governments ability to create credit for just this reason. So that in return the government would not have to bail out the banks using taxpayer money. All this went out the window in the panic. Largely because the US taxpayer has been led to believe the Federal Reserve is owned by the people. It is not.

  37. CodeTech says:January 11, 2013 at 12:17 am

    So is there a latin term for the logical fallacy of attributing far too much importance to trace quantities of materials?
    I would guess something like ‘homeopathy’. /sarc

  38. http://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/sis/search/a?dbs+hsdb:@term+@DOCNO+7092

    Polycyclic Aromatic hydrocarbons (PCA) are well known carcinogens. However, most data we have come from cancers due to occupational exposure. 

    So, let’s say that the amount of PCAs in that one lake roughly doubled. This in itself is not a meaningful number. The question is: does it fall outside of the range that humans are usually exposed to? How high is the exposure through air or through food in that area? 

    Human intake of PCA is approximately 1-5 ug/day from food, 0.16 ug/day from ambient air, 0.006 ug/day from water. Active smoking of 1 pack per day adds another 2-5 ug/day. The data have to be evaluated against this background. If human exposure in that area is outside these normal ranges (or shows a clear trend towards going outside of these ranges) I start worrying.

    I am not sure that I would want to use urban lakes as a yardstick, because some of the urban lakes are so badly polluted that you are not allowed to swim in them and they cannot be used for drinking water (I used to live in Syracuse, NY for along time… They have one of the most polluted lakes in the USA).

  39. Mike says:
    January 11, 2013 at 6:50 am
    Dave, your hobby is debunking junk science. You said it, hobby.
    Because you have an axe to grind and a prejudice, your work is suspect.
    You’re not an objective scientist presenting his work in an established journal for peer review.
    The junk science is yours, Dave.

    I believe this is the first time I’ve seen a greenie/warmist employ a quadruple ad hominem argument.

  40. I lived in Fort McMurray for 20 years. Every year during the height of summer, on the hottest days you could drive on the bridge over the Athabasca river and see the oil dripping out of the sides of the hills. This has nothing to do with the oil sands plants.

    It happened before Syncrude, when Suncor was still G.C.O.S.

    In other words, finding Oil Sands in the waters is completely natural for the area.

  41. mpainter says:
    January 11, 2013 at 7:51 am
    David Middleton says:

    January 11, 2013 at 6:49 am
    ============================

    Seriously, no joking; presentation is crucial. The alternative you offered is a much better presentation, imo. It puts everything into perspective, visually. It makes your point at a glance, and the presentation you used did not. I suggest the broken bar method for presenting data that runs off the scale, as the urban data. Such treatment would have allowed a larger scale for the other plots.
    mpainter

    I may just be used to looking a log plots. It never occurred to me to use a broken bar… And I’m not sure I know how to do that in Excel. However, that probably would have worked better.
    This is just a “hobby” after all.

  42. As others point out, the tar sands are natures biggest oil spill.
    Oil or Tar the name does not matter, your emotional reaction is your problem, old timers called them tar sands and for greeny propaganda, common sense is moot.
    Canada has a huge surface oil deposit mixed into sand. A major river runs through this sand.
    The spring melts used to tear great chunks of the river bank down and spread the oil therein all the way to the arctic ocean.
    Using eco-speak, I can argue we Canadians are doing Gods(good) work here, cleaning the oil out of the sands, and disposing of that contamination in an environmentally way.(Selling the oil)
    To the opponents, “What You don’t want this ghastly environmental disaster cleaned up?”
    “You want to prevent us cleaning up an oil spill, measured in square miles?”
    Must save Mother Earth.
    Same twisty logic applies to the dams and irrigation systems on the Peace and Athabasca Rivers, by limiting the flood surges we are saving the watershed, from Fort McMurray to the Beaufort Sea.
    The comedy of environmental monitoring this area continues, seems the same activist standards of science are applied, history disappeared and massive illogic expressed.
    Where the river flows over an asphalt outcrop the water contamination is high, including up-stream of the projects.Govt monitors have reported up-stream levels higher than down-stream for years.But by eco-logic rivers must flow uphill.

  43. @David Middleton; Great debunking! The linear chart is far more revealing. It seems to say, stay out of the cities and move to remote N.E. Alberta if you want to avoid PAH’s.

  44. David:
    I notice you use Pb as a ‘parts per billion’ in Figure 3; (or did the research authors use Pb?) I was stuck on the graph for a few minutes trying to figure out where the metal lead came into the paper. Perhap using ‘ppb’ would be suffice and be clearer?

    I wasn’t able to link to the paper; but the first thing that crosses my mind when folks are comparing trace chemicals/elements from two different time periods, “What quantitative chemistry process are they using and is there any attempt to establish a common base for analysis?”

    Organic chemistry has literally exploded in both knowledge and process since the 1950s when chemists were just beginning to seriously explore organics. This ‘report’ sounds very much like “We can measure it better, so now we can declare it a problem.” Yeah, they had a ‘control’ lake; say what?. Why didn’t they test lakes across a wide region and establish a map of ‘claimed’ traces of organics described in chemical terms so everyone knows it’s bad.

    Mike says: January 11, 2013 at 6:50 am

    Amusing drive by troll fecal post Mike. You smacked yourself right in the kisser with it. You used absolutely no science, just potty mouth ad hominem. I am curious about why your pitiful attempt to degrade David as it smacks of petty jealousy and envy. Perhaps your vitriolic is because you yourself are impotent and unable to converse when topics such as physics, math, chemistry, analysis, tree rings… are brought up? Give it up Mike and return to the PAH slimed rock bottom you wriggled out from.

  45. Polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) has a specific meaning. Gail Coombs is correct in nominating naphthalene as one, although the term is usually reserved for higher Molecular Weight types with multiple fused rings, e.g. anthracene, tetracene, chrysene etc. Only some are carcinogenic, but the term is used to try and scare people.
    The higher MW means that they are not very volatile and they aren’t very water soluble either.

    Note also the use of nanograms. In that area the analyst has to be very careful about contaminants. I recall an early environmental scare with coal fired power stations supposedly emitting large quantities of cadmium and selenium. So large that it was pointed out that humans wouldn’t be alive within 30 kilometres of them. The faulty results came from the use of coloured plastic stoppers containing a low level of a normally insoluble pigment.

  46. A third consideration in all of this is it might be interesting to set up a national park, to preseve the vegetation in-tact in a part of the oil sands area, especially where there are natural oil seeps. It would be good to do further scientific studies to see how nature has adapted or been affected by areas where there are natural releases of petroleum hydrocarbons. This has implications on seeing how environments where there are not normally hydrocarbon seeps or releases, may be affected by the release of hydrocarbons (i.e. contaminated soil, oil spills, etc). This may lead to isolating vegetation or microorganisms that are tolerant of, or even consume, petroleum hydrocarbons, and they could be used to help treat oil spill areas elsewhere.

  47. Seriously, logarithm charts are taught in high school, at least they were when I went. Breaking is not advised as you lose scientific data or information that is a crucial component of what you are trying to convey. One of my professional specialties was a draftsman and breaking a long item is common, but no loss of information takes place in these scenarios as visual representation of data is not the objective, just information so a component can be constructed to the desired specification.
    Maybe a series of background lines separating in spacing in a logarithmic fashion just like good old fashioned log paper does.
    Or maybe I’m over thinking all this.
    Still, seriously logarithm charts are Childs play. Or maybe my recent 2,000 hours of pure calculus studies have made me think it is.

  48. atheok says:
    January 11, 2013 at 8:44 am
    David:
    I notice you use Pb as a ‘parts per billion’ in Figure 3; (or did the research authors use Pb?) I was stuck on the graph for a few minutes trying to figure out where the metal lead came into the paper. Perhap using ‘ppb’ would be suffice and be clearer?

    […]

    The “Pb” refers to lead. The cores were dated using lead isotopes. The PAH max. flux year is estimated from 210-Pb.

  49. @David Middleton: Would you have also found this to be visually deceptive? Linear Scale

    The linear scale it better with bar charts. The bars are a visual integration. Relative sizes should mean something and on a log scale they don’t. On a linear scale, it is much easier to see “big”, “small”, and “tiny”

    Since you bring it up, I do question putting “Flux (mass / area-year)” side by side with Concentration (ppb) in side by side bars. Side by side bars should be in the same units.

    Comparing Flux with Concentration is better done in a scatter x,y chart. While I use log scales on scatter points all the time, this example does make we wonder if the visual correlation on a log-log chart is meaningful. Is the implied relationship
    a) Concentration = f(Flux) ? or
    b) Ln(Concentration) = g(Ln(Flux))?
    If the latter, it should be plotted of as log-log. End of story.
    If the former, then while a log-log scatter might be visually pretty, spreading out the tiny values, does it show the right relationship? A Cartesian plot will be visually poor with one point at the upper left, another point at the upper center, and 19 points clumped in the 5% lower left —- but that is the data, isn’t it?

    One more thing…. plotting Max flux against Max concentration? Plotting outlier vs. outlier? WUWT? Is that how the original data was delivered, max without mean and range? If your point is that the even the maximums are too small to be of concern, well I can’t disagree there.

    The third plot, Flux & Concentration vs time, gives the visceral feeling that the oil sand lakes are 1/3 to 1/2 the value of the Urban/Ag lakes. You have the consciously look at the axis and mentally do the arithmetic — oil sand lakes are really 1/10 to 1/50 of Urban lakes. Plotting flux and concentration on the same graph further muddles this message.

  50. Arteekay says:
    January 11, 2013 at 8:30 am
    I lived in Fort McMurray for 20 years. Every year during the height of summer, on the hottest days you could drive on the bridge over the Athabasca river and see the oil dripping out of the sides of the hills. This has nothing to do with the oil sands plants.

    It happened before Syncrude, when Suncor was still G.C.O.S.

    In other words, finding Oil Sands in the waters is completely natural for the area.

    I think they did find some evidence that the oil sand upgrading has led to a slight increase in PAH flux in the lakes down-wind of the AR6 site.

    But… Yeah… The oil sands are exposed by fluvial erosion. The Tar River got its name long before GCOS started mining.

  51. They are produced by the incomplete combustion of compounds containing C and H, and diagenesis.

    http://www.mendeley.com/catalog/polycyclic-aromatic-hydrocarbons-pahs-soil-review-5/

    Diagenesis definition:
    When animal or plant matter is buried during sedimentation, the constituent organic molecules (lipids, proteins, carbohydrates and lignin-humic compounds) break down due to the increase in temperature and pressure. This transformation occurs in the first few hundred meters of burial and results in the creation of two primary products: kerogens and bitumens.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diagenesis

    Erosion of overburden allows translocation of PAHs.

  52. Stephen Rasey says:
    January 11, 2013 at 8:58 am
    […]

    One more thing…. plotting Max flux against Max concentration? Plotting outlier vs. outlier? WUWT? Is that how the original data was delivered, max without mean and range? If your point is that the even the maximums are too small to be of concern, well I can’t disagree there.

    The third plot, Flux & Concentration vs time, gives the visceral feeling that the oil sand lakes are 1/3 to 1/2 the value of the Urban/Ag lakes. You have the consciously look at the axis and mentally do the arithmetic — oil sand lakes are really 1/10 to 1/50 of Urban lakes. Plotting flux and concentration on the same graph further muddles this message.

    I can only plot what they published. Table S3 only listed the catchment description, region, lake name, collection year, number of PAH analytes, maximum concentration, maximum flux and the year of the maximum flux (210-Pb).

    The concentrations (ng•g−1) and fluxes (μg•m−2•y−1) “fit” well on the same graph. So I plotted them together.

  53. Interesting that the (I think) PHD student working under the author of the report disagreed with the conclusions drawn.

  54. “David Middleton says:
    January 11, 2013 at 8:56 am
    atheok says:…”

    Aah! I skimmed to fast and missed that. It should’ve dawned on me. Though I wonder about the value of lead isotopes for dating cores…

    Thanks for correcting me!
    Now I need to go find a reference on thermal fluid migration of lead compunds to understand how it’s used for dating cores.

  55. All you guys whining about Log Bar charts, don’t know what you are talking about. One uses bar charts for PH and dB. The same thing applies here. If you are to slow to understand why this is, then you are too slow to have a valid opinion on any subject.

  56. “Mike says Dave, your hobby is debunking junk science. ”
    Tr: Wah wah wah.

    Come up with some substantive argument in rebuttal because all you’re doing is making a bigger fool of yourself than you already are.

    Oh wait. THERE ARE NONE. Go ahead and cry, then, Crybaby Mike.

  57. But speaking of “visually deceptive”: has no-one else commented on this, or did I miss it, the ghastly headline about oil in the lakes, and the picture below of a paper drinking cup full of oil? Although the picture is explained, I cannot the juxtaposition with the headline is anything but intentionally deceptive.

  58. Penny Robinson Fan Club says:
    January 11, 2013 at 10:20 am
    But speaking of “visually deceptive”: has no-one else commented on this, or did I miss it, the ghastly headline about oil in the lakes, and the picture below of a paper drinking cup full of oil? Although the picture is explained, I cannot the juxtaposition with the headline is anything but intentionally deceptive.

    Someone just scanning headlines would see “Canadian oil sands pollute nearby lakes. Report is blow to Keystone pipeline” and a coffee cup filled with heavy crude oil. I’m sure this was unintentional (/SARC).

  59. @DesertYote 10:13 am
    pH (as in acid/base) and dB (as in loudness) are “linear in log” common measurements. I don’t have a problem with those. But that doesn’t mean you should plot city populations on log bar chart.

  60. @David: I can only plot what they published. Table S3 only listed the …., maximum concentration, maximum flux….
    A red flag in the source right there. “Why cherry pick when lemon pick tells a bigger story?”

  61. Well the answer is obvious; 4-H club stuff.

    If those oil sands are polluting the Canadian lakes, then we should get the stuff out of there pronto.

    It’s a win win situation; remove a pollutant, and get energy as well.

  62. “””””…..Stephen Rasey says:

    January 11, 2013 at 12:42 am

    Bar charts should never be plotted against logarithmic axes! It is a visual deception……”””””

    Well beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I don’t have a problem with log bar charts; so long as the measurement technology is accurate enough to ensure the significance of those way down in the mud values. As usual, a chart like this is les informative, when it doesn’t contain any error range bars.

    If this same data were to be plotted on a linear scale, then it would be truly deceptive, showing most of the observed measurements as essentially zero.

    It is up to the experts, as to whether any of these leve;ls is a hazard. It seems to have become fashionable to treat any measureable value as being unacceptibly toxic.

    It seems like everything is toxic except Oxygen and Calcium; and even Oxygen is toxic at about five times atmospheric levels. I really don’t know how life ever got started on this planet in the face of all these insurmountable obstacles.

  63. The Athabasca River flows from the Rocky Mountains to the Arctic. Fort McMurray is the hub of the Oil Sands development and is on the banks of the River. Everything between Fort McMurray and the Rockies is considered upriver.

    If you put an aluminum boat or canoe in the Athabasca upriver from Fort McMurray and paddle along for 20 minutes, then haul it up on the bank and turn the boat over, the underside of the boat is coated in oil. It’s in the water. It oozes out of the banks. The Jesuits who wrote the early history of the area (1700s/1800s) told of the Indians who used the heavy pitch to waterproof their boats.

  64. Peter van Driel says:
    January 11, 2013 at 8:50 am

    A third consideration in all of this is it might be interesting to set up a national park, to preseve the vegetation in-tact in a part of the oil sands area, especially where there are natural oil seeps. It would be good to do further scientific studies to see how nature has adapted or been affected by areas where there are natural releases of petroleum hydrocarbons. This has implications on seeing how environments where there are not normally hydrocarbon seeps or releases, may be affected by the release of hydrocarbons (i.e. contaminated soil, oil spills, etc). This may lead to isolating vegetation or microorganisms that are tolerant of, or even consume, petroleum hydrocarbons, and they could be used to help treat oil spill areas elsewhere.

    The oil companies already do that in Alberta. They have to by law, or they can’t drill and they are fined big-time (millions). There is also a jail sentence if you fail to do this.

    When Oil was discovered in Leduc, AB in1949, Premier Manning said c’mon up, drill all you want to, but there are three rules, which I am going to turn into provincial laws:
    (1) the province gets a royalty from every barrel you pull out
    (2) you have to build all roads into, out of, and around, the site according to DoT standards, which we will verify
    (3) you must leave the ground in the same or better condition in which you found it.

    The latter became the basis for something called the Land Reclamation Laws. The Alberta Premier (a conservative, btw) tightened the laws in 1970 after the Oil Sands exploration started. Oil companies had to preserve all flora, all trees (boreal forest trees in particular are crooked looking, almost moonscapey because of the oil in the ground), top soil, significant grasses, the works, in a separate region and pay biologists to protect them for as long as it takes. Birds and wildlife monitoring was essential. The tailing ponds have to be managed. The first ‘mine’ was restored two decades later (1990) after everything was returned to the original site and additional flora added to improve the area. The oil company got its Land Reclamation Certificate and avoided the fines. (Suncor did a video of a tailing pond and how they managed it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbmIFiM9lCY&feature=plcp You won’t see anything like it in any other oil region in the world.)

    The Reclamation Laws have been tightened several times since Peter Loughheed (spelling?) tightened them in 1970, most recently 2009 (I think). They apply to anything you take out of the ground in Alberta: uranium, coal, gold, water in your backyard. Gas company employees have to do it if they rip up your property to lay pipe. You cannot do strip-mining in Alberta without restoring what you did to the environment. You cannot lop off tops of mountains or hills. This is something that the hysteric Bill McKibben knows nothing about; ditto the Eastern Canadian environmentalists who have never set foot in the province and make fanciful claims from Toronto about damaging the environment. They have no clue.

    The specific Athabasca Tar Sands area they decided on before the oil exploration began was a barren region of charcoal gray sand (Mother Nature’s Oil Spill) with small twisty trees that looked like blackened cactus. The bitumen-soaked sand was right at the surface. They just scooped it up and steamed it.

    The recent change in reclamation laws are even stricter. Reclamation plans can take anywhere from a few months to a year before oil companies get government approval to start mining (you don’t drill in the Oil Sands, you mine the sand with steam to extract it, now usually in situ deep underground).

    Alberta has the strictest reclamation laws in Canada, and they did it decades before the environment became an issue. They have decades of knowledge about how to handle your concerns, Peter.

  65. The Athabasca River flows from the Rocky Mountains to the Arctic. Fort McMurray is the hub of the Oil Sands development and is on the banks of the River. Everything between Fort McMurray and the Rockies is considered upriver.

    If you put an aluminum boat or canoe in the Athabasca upriver from Fort McMurray and paddle along for 20 minutes, then haul it up on the bank and turn the boat over, the underside of the boat is coated in oil. It’s in the water. It oozes out of the banks. From the Royal Society of Canada’s “Environmental and Health Impacts of Canada’s Oil Sands Industry” 440-page Dec 2010 report, page 16.

    http://rsc-src.ca/en/expert-panels/rsc-reports/environmental-and-health-impacts-canadas-oil-sands-industry

    The First Nations of the northern boreal forest had for centuries apparently used bitumen exposed along the banks of rivers in the Athabasca region to patch canoes. The first recorded mention of bitumen is attributed to English explorer Henry Kelsey who was serving as Hudson’s Bay Company manager at York Factory in 1719 when a Cree Aboriginal gave him a sample “of that Gum or pitch that flows out of the Banks of the River.” Peter Pond was the first European explorer to visit the Athabasca region in 1778 and he noted the occurrence of bitumen oozing from the ground. In 1789, Alexander Mackenzie wrote about bitumen outcrops that he described as bituminous fountains.

  66. John West says:
    January 11, 2013 at 6:34 am

    …..My research suggests that a lifetime of living is fatal.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    Life is Lethal.

    (But don’t tell the EPA that or they will ban life)

  67. Stephen Rasey says:
    January 11, 2013 at 11:31 am

    pH (as in acid/base) and dB (as in loudness) are “linear in log” common measurements. I don’t have a problem with those. But that doesn’t mean you should plot city populations on log bar chart.
    ###

    WOW you really don’t understand much do you. You sure as hell know nothing about data visualization nor do you know anything about water testing, either that or your deliberately lying. I either case, anything you have to say is worthless. I have been involved with both professionally so I know you are full of BS. I just hope no-one here is taken in by your idiotic distractions.

    There is no point talking to you anyways because all you really care about is denigrating the article, and I feel no need to prove myself to a fool. BTW, I just showed your comments to some co-workers and they are laughing their off.

    To everyone else:
    The use of a log scale is valid for exactly the same reason that PH is a log measurement. The only difference is that it was useful to have a Log Metric scale for PH but more importantly, it was possible to HAVE a Log Metric because PH has a natural reference point, which is needed to architect such a metric metric. Stephen is just blowing smoke. His attempt to equate this with a linear metric that is useful for most tasks (but not all!) involving populations, is complete stupidity.

  68. Graeme No.3 says:
    January 11, 2013 at 8:47 am

    …..Note also the use of nanograms. In that area the analyst has to be very careful about contaminants…..
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    Yes, when you get down to ppb and nanograms you use the glassware once and toss it (or give it to the production lab) and even then you have to be careful of contamination.

    FWIW in the 1970’s we considered it very good just to get down to 3 to 5 ppm. At that point the EPA was using “None Detected” as the cut off. then the analytical chemistry equipment improved and the fecal material really hit the rotating blade as “None Detected” continued to be enforced but the engineering needed to meet ppb instead of ppm had not been invented.

  69. Peter van Driel says:
    January 11, 2013 at 8:50 am
    …. This may lead to isolating vegetation or microorganisms that are tolerant of, or even consume, petroleum hydrocarbons, and they could be used to help treat oil spill areas elsewhere.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    From what I have seen vegetation could care less about oil spills. Boiling water will kill a lot faster than oil will.

  70. Folks, lets keep it real. The numerous comments in this thread trivializing the environmental challenges associated with extraction of bitumen from the bituminous sands of northern Alberta may be cute, but having spent 25 years of my life tackling those challenges I can assure you they are real.

    And can be managed.

    This study is typical of environmental impact assessment in that region. Fifty years down the path of large scale production, billions of barrels of upgraded synthetic crude oil shipped, and a study of this nature typically finds just enough of a chemical change in the environment to warrant confidence in the sampling and analytical techniques employed. Yes, I could be accused of over-generalization, but certainly for this particular study that is a valid characterization: it appears PAH levels have increased in certain lakes, in a pattern that correlates with location and wind direction relative to the heavy oil upgraders. So perhaps causation?

    In this case, the data can be contrasted to other areas, and the appropriate degree of alarm can be assessed by any numerate person. As has been done by the author of this post and the more serious commenters on this thread.

  71. Nobody does lies, deception and fearmongering like the Eco Greenie Hairy Scary Kool Aide chuggers.

    Because their careers and economic future depends on keeping the scam alive, keeping the grift going, finding new marks to film-flam.

    History will not be kind to the perpetrators of the Great Global Warming scam.

  72. @policycritic: Hooray for Canada! What you describe seems to be a marriage of good business and well thought-out regulations. Why don’t we hear more about this, here (USA)?

  73. @eo:

    Nope. NOT talking dioxin at all.

    http://www.cfs.gov.hk/english/programme/programme_rafs/programme_rafs_fc_01_06_pah.html

    Risk Assessment Studies
    Report No. 14

    Chemical Hazard Evaluation
    POLYCYCLIC AROMATIC HYDROCARBONS IN BARBECUED MEAT

    As a random sample first to come up in the search (why is it from Hong Kong?) pick…

    PAH is what makes BBQ taste like BBQ, IMHO… Yum!

    So they found BBQ sauce in the dirt, eh? ;-) (Yeah, I know, different PAH…)

    @Caleb:

    You say Christian Science Monitor then you “link” a CBS story. Totally un connected.

    Why?

    @Garymount:

    I use “tar” and “oil” slightly interchangeably for the tar-oil sands with the only real distinction being the average molecular weight of the hydrocarbon. I typically (but not always) use “oil sands” for Canada, “oil shale” for the lower content stuff in the USA and “Tar Sands” for the Orinoco deposits that have higher weight molecules.

    I’m 100% “pro” use of them.

    So, am I just not being PC enough for you? (IMHO, the answer to pc-word-crap from anti-oil folks is to deliberately use the term they are trying to demonize and with a positive and uplifting tone of voice if possible ;-)

    Properly, it’s often bituminous sand, but everyone looks at you funny when you use the right name…

    @Gail:

    Have to get me some of that oil juice… sounds useful…

    @Garymount:

    I’m with you on the Log Chart. Log, linear, whatever. I was taught to look at the scales…

    Some things best shown on one, some on others. I LIKE the Log chart more as it lets me see just how small the small stuff is AND variations between them (not just ‘gosh, they all disappear into the bottom’…) and as soon as I see the log scale on the bottom I know the ‘little stuff’ is entirely non-relevant.

    Probably best to use both log and linear, though, so folks with biases who don’t read scales can be mollified…

    (Then again, I grew up using a slide rule so ‘log’ is built into the brain… wonder if the ‘linear’ folks are the post slide rule generation?…)

    @Dave:

    That coffee cup wasn’t coffee? Gee, it sure looked just like mine… ;-)

    Wonder how much PAH is in coffee… (Most plant tannins and all qualify to some extent).

    http://www.idph.state.il.us/cancer/factsheets/polycyclicaromatichydrocarbons.htm

    In the home, PAHs are present in tobacco smoke, smoke from wood burning stoves and fireplaces, creosote-treated wood products, and some foods. Barbecuing, smoking, or charring food over a fire greatly increases the amount of PAHs in the food. Other foods that may contain low levels of PAHs include roasted coffee, roasted peanuts, refined vegetable oil, grains, vegetables, and fruits. A variety of cosmetics and shampoos are made with coal tar and therefore contain PAHs. The PAH compound naphthalene is present in some mothballs.

    Are you SURE that wasn’t coffee?… (don’t toss those old coffee grounds out for the worms, Joe, it’s gonna raise the PAH level in the meter downstream…) /sarc;>

  74. Bruce Friesen says:

    January 11, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    Folks, lets keep it real. The numerous comments in this thread trivializing the environmental challenges associated with extraction of bitumen from the bituminous sands of northern Alberta may be cute, but having spent 25 years of my life tackling those challenges I can assure you they are real.

    And can be managed.

    This study is typical of environmental impact assessment in that region. Fifty years down the path of large scale production, billions of barrels of upgraded synthetic crude oil shipped, and a study of this nature typically finds just enough of a chemical change in the environment to warrant confidence in the sampling and analytical techniques employed.
    ==============================
    So what is the environmental impact, Mr. Consultant?

  75. DesertYote says:

    January 11, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    WOW you really don’t understand much do you. You sure as hell know nothing
    ============================
    thus DesertYote

  76. In the early years of evaluation of the oil sands, now half a century ago, I spent a very cold winter as a young geologist supervising a coring program to develop an understanding of the extent and the reserves of the deposit. At that time chemical studies of the water of the Athabasca River were also carried out by the Alberta Government and others.

    Two things were clear at the time:
    * The oil sands, exposed at the river banks, produced a sheen on the water; and the eroding poorly consolidated sandstone banks contributed sand to the river bed downstream.

    * The Lower Cetaceous sands of the McMurray formation are derived from the early Paleozoic Athabasca formation which in turn finds its sediment source in the erosion of the granites, gneisses and quartzites of the pre-Cambrian Canadian Shield.
    As a result the outwash of these arenaceous deposits contains a number of minerals and heavy metals, which today would be called ‘pollutants’.

    Much of this was already clear in those early years and a key publication is the “Proceedings of the Athabasca Oil Sands Conference” September 1951, Board of Trustees, Oil Sands Project, Gov’t of Alberta, – King’s Printer, Edmonton.

    I am not saying that oil sands exploitation should not be watched closely as a potential contributor to pollution, but – as in many of this sort of studies – a proper base line should be established when interpreting current conditions. In the heat of the oil sand argument, this is often ignored.
    Meanwhile, both the Alberta Government and the operators are effectively monitoring and regulating the processes and most criticizing visitors are impressed by what has been achieved.

  77. mpainter says “So what is the environmental impact, Mr. Consultant?”

    I will give you the benefit of doubt, and not label your post in the “cute” category. Having said that, it is not reasonable to expect a summary of environmental impact assessments running to thousands of pages in one blog comment. Therefore, I will not try. The documents are available from the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board web site.

    Instead, I will repeat my contention the impacts, which are not zero, can be managed. It isn’t easy, and won’t be easy going forward. It will require continuing serious effort by scientists to describe the hazards. regulators to craft effective controls, companies to spend the resources to meet the regulations (and exceed the regulations if, as ethical operators, they conclude the regulations are too lax), and citizens to keep a close watch on both.

    It can be done. “Policycritic” at 1:26 p.m. provided useful background on one aspect, that of land reclamation. Land reclamation can be done. It is not easy. It requires serious investment of science, serious money, serious commitment on the part of the organization that chewed up the land.

    Relevance to the head post: since this is all such serious work, it is all the more important environmental assessment data is understood. In this case, putting in context PAH levels and trends relative to comparators can lead to appropriate regulatory action. Much more useful than “Look they have gone up! We have proven bitumen upgrading is evil”, or “nothing bad in that data!”.

    As a small part of that, in my first comment I encouraged WUWT commentors to “keep it real” rather than taking “cute” shots from one side or the other. mpainter, can we agree on that?

  78. @ Bruce Friesen 10:40 Thanks for a voice of reason, part of the sarcasm on my part is the void between what we Canadians are actually doing, as you can attest, and the overblown claims of terrible harm to the environment by the propagandists.
    Quite often by people who have not been to Canada, let alone Ft Mac.

  79. Bruce Friesen says:
    January 12, 2013 at 10:40 am
    ===========================
    I refer you to the comment above at Albert Jacobs. Is this what you mean by “trivializing the environmental challenges”?

    I note that you do not address the question of whether you are a consultant.

    Now my point is this: if you are an environmental consultant (“having spent 25 years of my life tackling those challenges I can assure you they are real.”) then your comments are to be taken in a certain light. Albert Jacobs above makes it clear that the tar sands have ever been a source of what are classified today as pollutants, as one would expect from such an extensive surface deposit of “tar”. The issue is is whether anything has changed for the worse since exploitation began. That is the point of my question “So what is the environmental impact, Mr Consultant?”

    Now Mr. Jacobs is a scientist, and he made some very pertinent observations in a forthcoming manner. Your comments are of a different quality.

    I asked you a direct question which you excused yourself from addressing because of “impact assessments running thousands of pages” on another website. Then you proceeded with some general remarks which seemed to show your familiarity with the issues.

    This sort of response does not serve you very well. You might think that it does, but if I were interviewing you for work, lights and buzzers would go off at such evasiveness.
    mpainter

  80. mpainter, in both my posts my intent was to encourage folks to take serious matters seriously; to forgo the temptation to trivialize things.

    For such a complex industrial activity, a thumbnail version of “the environmental impact”, I would argue, is not useful. For me to respond to your question with a few glib sentences would be exactly the sort of non-serious dialogue I had in mind in my first comment.

    I agree the aspect Albert Jacobs spoke to – a baseline against which to understand changes – is important. I agree his was a substantive post.

    With respect to PAHs, the specific environmental change that is the subject of this post, I stated my opinion clearly in my first comment.

  81. Thank you Bruce Friesen for your reasoned comments. We can spend our time weeping over spilt milk, or mop it up before it stinks the place out. One of the philosophies regularly expressed here at WUWT, is that instead of wasting money reducing CO2 output, we accept that warming is largely beyond human control and apply those resources to adaptation instead. That’s exactly what you’re suggesting re oil exploitation, but some commenters are getting frazzled around the edges. Strange.

    We could prevent all road deaths by digging up all the roads and scrapping every car. Not a realistic solution. Your pragmatic approach is how we deal with problems in the real world.

  82. Oldfossil
    In fact, the CO2 is entirely beneficial, no adaptation needed, and the last warming trend ended before the turn of the century. Concerning exploitation of the tar sands, see the well-informed comment of Albert Jacobs above, which gives a much clearer picture of the situation than any comment by Friesen. Friesen seems reluctant to admit that tar sand exploitation has not harmed the environment.

  83. mpainter says:
    “Friesen seems reluctant to admit that tar sand exploitation has not harmed the environment.”

    In his first post above, Bruce Friesen says:
    “In this case, the data can be contrasted to other areas, and the appropriate degree of alarm can be assessed by any numerate person. As has been done by the author of this post and the more serious commenters on this thread.”

    The author of this post says in his concluding paragraph:
    “This clearly demonstrates that the PAH “pollution” associated with oil sands development is insignificant. The PAH concentrations in most of lakes in the study area are unremarkable when compared to remote lakes in the boreal forest in the 18th and 19th century and are more similar to modern remote lakes than they are to urban and agriculturally developed areas.”

    I suggest that Mr. Friesen’s position is sufficiently clear.

    _____________________

    I personally object, as I stated above, to the high level of alarm portrayed in the Abstract in this paper. Regrettably, this is typical of the alarmist rhetoric that is commonplace when discussing the Athabasca oilsands industry.

    A more realistic environmental viewpoint is, I believe, portrayed in my website at http://www.oilsandsexpert.com/faqs

    “Many oilsands environmental concerns are wildly overstated by special-interest groups. The facts do not support their hypotheses. A few concerns, however, are real and must be solved.

    For example, in 1990 I wrote, on the subject of Oilsands Fine Tailings Management:
    “Sludge management is an obvious area for sharing of information and expertise between the players in the oilsands industry…
    … My expectation is that ultimately, solid landscapes will be required and we should be working diligently to this end.”

    Despite decades of sincere and costly effort by the oilsands industry, fine tailings management remains a significant issue that is yet to be fully resolved.”

    _____________________

    Background:
    I have been involved, off and on, in the Athabasca oilsands industry since 1977. I chaired the owners Syncrude Technical Committee circa 1990.
    More information at http://www.oilsandsexpert.com/

  84. Allan MacRae says: January 13, 2013 at 8:52 am

    I suggest that Mr. Friesen’s position is sufficiently clear.
    =========================
    And I suggest that I have sufficient experience and expertise to evaluate Mr. Friesen on my own.
    What is not clear is why you have interjected your interests in this fashion.

  85. Hi, Allen. Enjoy your posts.

    mpainter, I am really taken aback. You say “Friesen seems reluctant to admit that tar sand exploitation has not harmed the environment”. Is there an accidental double negative in there? Or is it your belief, your contention, that extraction of bitumen from the oil sands “has not harmed the environment”?

    Forgive me a literal reading of your comment. Of course oil sands mining changes the environment, in dozens of ways, many of which most people would consider “harm”. To use as an example the most obvious, a quick check of Google Maps will display huge holes in the ground, completely barren of vegetation. My opinion, stated in a previous comment, is that land reclamation, while hard, can be done, such that the environmental impacts of land disturbance can be managed. Residual concerns are two-fold: temporary loss of all vegetation and wildlife, and permanent changes in the particular assemblages of plants and animals on a specific patch of ground. For those people who consider any change unacceptable, mining has huge environmental impact. For those who can be comfortable with restoration of a thriving, diverse ecosystem, not so much. One person’s opinion – mine – is only that. Society as a whole must judge all the tradeoffs we make.

    Allan MacRae uses a particular challenge – the challenge of incorporating in an acceptable final landscape the tailings fines – as his way of characterizing the situation and his personal opinion. It is a good example.

    Oil sands operations affect the environment by fluffing up the ground, by washing stuff out of the dirt during the fluffing up, and by burning stuff. I will repeat my first comment: this is serious so should not be trivialized in comments threads; it can be managed; the net effect is not zero. Is it a “4”, mpainter, or a “2”? My personal opinion is not important. What matters is the overall assessment by society of costs and benefits, which is why I pointed you to the ERCB website.

    Paul’s top post is about burning stuff, and about one kind of stuff that gets spread around when you do that. Let’s focus on that.

    As per my first comment, the study which Paul has brought to our attention yielded data which in my opinion “finds just enough of a chemical change in the environment to warrant confidence in the sampling and analytical techniques employed.” and is cause for reassurance not concern.

    Let’s go to the next level of detail. The study found increased levels of PAHs in the sediments of Namur Lake. For those who don’t know, Namur Lake is about 100km uphill (and upwind) from the long-standing bitumen upgraders near Fort McMurray. It has been used as a key resource by the local people for many years: they went up there in the fall, netted large quantities of fish, and stored the fish as a cache of dog food in support of fur trapping through the next winter. Dr. Schindler, when interviewed about this study, noted the Namur Lake data suggests PAH distribution about twice as far from the plants as did his work to date. Correlation? Causation? Did the study authors compare their deposition timeline to the timing of construction of fly-in fishing camps on Namur Lake?

    This is all hard, all serious, all requiring careful consideration and management.

    Things that do not help include: an Abstract that is more alarmist than the paper contents, and blog comments that trivialize the implications of major industrial activity.

    p.s. Who am I? Google is your friend. Let’s just say Allan MacRae and I have spent considerable time in the same room, and in a roundabout way he probably thought of himself as my boss.

  86. Bruce Friesen says: January 13, 2013 at 10:45 am
    Or is it your belief, your contention, that extraction of bitumen from the oil sands “has not harmed the environment”?
    ========================
    For my contention I refer to my post above, which I quote:

    This sort of response does not serve you very well. You might think that it does, but if I were interviewing you for work, lights and buzzers would go off at such evasiveness.

    Allan Macrae: Shale gas is said to have changed the economics of oil and gas exploration in North America. I have heard that shale gas is a big unknown hanging over the profitability of tar sand exploitation. Would investors looking at a start-up project for extracting, say 100,000 bbl/day from tar sands be well-advised to proceed with the project?

  87. An excellent series of posts, thank you Bruce.

    It is nice to connect with you again after all these years.

    To be clear though, I always thought of myself as your colleague, never your boss.

    We accomplished much in those early days of Syncrude, and it was the dedicated teamwork of thousands of capable, hardworking individuals that enabled the outstanding success of the Athabasca oilsands, now the mainstay of the Canadian economy.

    Best wishes to you and yours for the New Year!

  88. In response to your question, mpainter, below is my brief analysis of some of the challenges facing the oilsands.

    In the near term, inexpensive natural gas from fracked shales has been a boon to the in-situ oilsands industry, since it makes thermal extraction of bitumen much less expensive and even masks poor energy fundamentals in some in-situ projects. In the longer term, the situation becomes less clear, as fuel substitution of natural gas for oil could reduce oil demand in North America.

    Perhaps a greater challenge to the oilsands is if cheap oil from fracked shales becomes a reality, as some analysts believe it will.

    Historically, the oilsands have been an economically marginal resource, and they may become so again if certain evens prevail, as further discussed below.

    Regards, Allan

    Situation Analysis – The Canadian Oilsands

    http://www.oilsandsexpert.com/about

    After almost two decades of relative stagnation in the 1980’s and 1990’s, the Alberta oilsands industry has grown rapidly, so that Canada is now the 6th largest oil producing country in the world, and the largest foreign supplier of oil to the USA.

    However, the oilsands industry is now encountering difficulties, including:
    1. Inappropriate changes to oilsands royalties and taxes by the Alberta and federal governments.
    2. The high Canadian dollar.
    3. Ever-increasing capital and operating costs.
    4. Deterioration in global economies, and uncertainties about future oil prices.

    Due to transportation (pipeline) limitations, the price differential of crude oil in Western Canada has increased to historic highs compared to oil sold in the USA and Europe. For example, at certain times in 2012, similar quality crude oil was selling in Europe at approximately $120 per barrel (Brent), $100 per barrel in the USA (WTI) and $80 in Western Canada (Edmonton Light). Eastern Canadian refineries import expensive crude oil at Brent prices, whereas Western Canadian refineries pay much lower prices.

    This situation will be partially alleviated as pipelines are reversed, moving Western Canadian crude oil from Sarnia to refineries in Nanticoke, Ontario and Montreal, Quebec. Further eastward pipeline expansion to refineries at Quebec City and St. John, New Brunswick are contemplated, which should further reduce fuel prices to consumers in Eastern Canada.

    Inappropriate opposition to an oil export pipeline to the Pacific Coast continues, at considerable cost and risk to the Canadian economy.

    If the remarkable technical and economic success in natural gas fracking in gassy shales is extended into the oil shales, some analysts project much lower oil prices in the future, which could cause many oilsands projects to become uneconomic.

    Very low natural gas prices, currently much less than the energy-equivalent of oil, are also masking the poor fundamentals of some in-situ oilsands projects.

  89. Allan MacRae:

    Many thanks for your response. Seems like a lot hinges on a pipeline to markets. Surely that will happen.

  90. You are welcome mpainter, and I applaud your optimism regarding the West Coast pipeline.

    However, I am concerned that this pipeline will be interminably delayed by radical groups that wear the environmental cloak, but actually oppose development in order to achieve their covert economic and political objectives.

    The Tides Foundation and others are reportedly spending and distributing huge sums to oppose this pipeline.

    Much of the opposition to the pipeline is not well-founded in fact, but fact seldom intrudes upon the polarized enviro-politics of our times.

    Patrick Moore, a co-founder of Greenpeace, has written a credible assessment of the radicalization of the environmental movement, excerpted below:

    http://www.greenspirit.com/key_issues/the_log.cfm?booknum=12&page=3

    The Rise of Eco-Extremism

    Two profound events triggered the split between those advocating a pragmatic or “liberal” approach to ecology and the new “zero-tolerance” attitude of the extremists. The first event, mentioned previously, was the widespread adoption of the environmental agenda by the mainstream of business and government. This left environmentalists with the choice of either being drawn into collaboration with their former “enemies” or of taking ever more extreme positions. Many environmentalists chose the latter route. They rejected the concept of “sustainable development” and took a strong “anti-development” stance.

    Surprisingly enough the second event that caused the environmental movement to veer to the left was the fall of the Berlin Wall. Suddenly the international peace movement had a lot less to do. Pro-Soviet groups in the West were discredited. Many of their members moved into the environmental movement bringing with them their eco-Marxism and pro-Sandinista sentiments.

  91. Allan McRae:
    Thanks for your further response. Most interesting statement from Patrick Moore. The Greens constitute a menace to humanity, no question. The gravest danger, in my view, is through our educational system.

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