"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.


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


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Aren’t PAH the stuff that makes BBQ taste so good?
(That they keep warning us about being evil ’cause it’s cooked critters…)


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.

Aromatic means, roughly, benzene ring.
They are named for the fact that most of them have interesting smells. (Many flavor compounds are aromatics. Some aromatics are carcinogens.)

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

@ 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.

Peter Miller

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’.

Les Johnson

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?


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.

Bloke down the pub

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


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


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.


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.


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.

The Christian Science Montitor likely doesn’t want people to notice “Global Warming” is leading to a big chill in Russia and China, and snow in Jerusalum.
If one Ckicken-Little panic hasn’t worked out, start another.

If the oil in the sands is bad,would it not be better to remove
it and send it some where else?


The picture is a nice touch.

michael hart

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.

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.

Frank K.

This is typical MSM (in this case CSM) liberal garbage reporting…


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.

Gail Combs

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…..

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….

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.

Alberta Slim

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.
The CAGW crowd likes to call them “tar” sands because it sounds bad and dirty.

Coach Springer

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?

Gary Pearse

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.

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.

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.


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.

Doug Huffman

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.

James Ard

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.

Eric H.

There was a time that I used to read CSMonitor daily…I now wonder why.


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

Crispin in Waterloo

>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.

John West

The EPA on PAHs:
“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.


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”.


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.


Speaking of sludge-filled cups, AGW is set to destroy coffee!!!

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.

@Mike, the “axe to grind” version of Microsoft Excell is a hot seller to us skeptics.

Ian W

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

Richard Sharpe

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


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.

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.


From January 7/13
Schindler and Smol both mentioned in this article.
Alberta oilsands pollution ‘clearly evident’: scientists; Sending toxins into the atmosphere for decades
I see Schindler’s name mentioned several times in the references of the PNAS paper.
( http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/01/02/1217675110.full.pdf )

I agree it would be easy to describe the logarithmic scale as deceptive. Posting both graphs is more informative and would avoid the deception charge. Other than that thanks for the informative post.

Steve Keohane

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

S. Meyer

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).