Living on Earth this week presented a piece about Keystone XL
which contained many serious errors and omissions, including:
1) that Alberta Canada has one of the largest "oil deposits" on earth, andBoth of these statements are demonstrably false.
2) Keystone XL will be transporting oil (or crude oil).
It is quite important to get these facts correct.
Moreover, these false statements hide other,
more unpleasant truths:
- KXL will be transporting a synthetic product (Dilbit, or Syncrude)
which is indicated as having a much higher rate of pipeline failures.
- The synthetic product KXL transports is more difficult to clean up
than natural crude.
- The industry plays it both ways!
They tell the people (through press releases)
that KXL is a "crude oil pipeline".
However, they also play it the other way too.
Since the product KXL transports is not classified as crude oil,
it is not subject to a cleanup fund tax.
- Tar Sands (and shale gas/shale oil) --
these are the DREGS of hydrocarbons.
It's really bottom of the barrel stuff.
It's not only low quality, high energy inputs, and
Once it's gone, that's it. No more.
- If we understand the TRUE nature of Alberta Tar Sands development,
we can see this is an act of utter desperation,
with extremely high environmental costs.
This indicates that we are truly at the END of the AGE of OIL.
We are at an inflection point,
having entered the back side of Hubbert's Peak
with continuing rising demand
yet ever diminishing supply.
It is quite clear to this observer
that if the American People understand
the scientific and observable facts about
where we are on the energy curve
that rapid social change in necessary
if we are to avoid global catastrophe.
TO: Steve Curwood, producer/host, Living on Earth
CC: Edward Schumacher-Matos, NPR Ombudsman
Brian Sickora, CEO, WSKG
Robert McNally, Rapidian Group
Dear Mr. Curwood:
I was dismayed by the false and misleading information presented on the Living On Earth
episode which aired on WSKG-FM Friday, Feb 7, 2014.
The segment was "Oil Addiction Boosts Odds for Keystone", about the KXL pipeline:
Due to the critical nature of issues like Peak Oil and Climate Change, it is
imperative that accurate information be presented to the public, so we can
be informed citizens in this democracy. Especially with material being presented
as so-called "public media".
False, pro-industry position presented without counterpoint
First, an industry analyst, Bob McNally from the Rapidan Group was featured
without counterpoint from the environmental community. Both he and you
as host/producer presented false and misleading information about the the
nature and necessity of the Keystone XL, as well as the product it will be carrying.
In this letter, I will focus on just one of many serious errors in this piece.
That there is "Oil" in Alberta tar sands.
CURWOOD: So there’s been so much tension and controversy over this pipeline project. You’re an energy analyst, why do we need this oil up there in the Alberta tar sands?
MCNALLY: Well, the oil sands in Alberta are the world’s third largest source of oil after Venezuela and South America, so this is an enormous amount of oil* and analysts and government officials who’ve looked at forecasts and generated forecasts predict that oil demand’s going to rise about a third globally, and about by well over two-thirds in the developing part of the world so we're about to see one of the largest booms in oil consumption ever in coming decades, and Canada has one of the world's largest supplies. So, it’s basic supply and demand. Those new consumers are going to want to get that Canadian oil, and one way or another, analysts agree, and State Department agrees, that oil is going to get produced and shipped to consumers.
(* the phrase "so this is an enormous amount of oil" was omitted from the transcript)
"THERE IS OIL IN ALBERTA"
This is false and misleading information. While there is some oil being produced in Alberta, most of what is being mined there is BITUMEN, a/k/a ASPHALT or PITCH, which is a semi-solid. It shatters when you hit it with a hammer. Most people would call bitumen a "rock" and not "oil", although technically it is a highly viscous liquid.
(cf. look for video of the "Pitch Drop Experiment". Warning: it is more dull than watching golf!)
What is meant by "oil" in this context?
The term "oil" has many possible meanings. Salad oil, lubricating oil, fuel oil, and many others. However, in the context of Keystone XL, "oil" refers to "crude oil". Keystone XL is often called a "crude oil pipeline" however THIS IS FALSE.
Bitumen is a component of crude oil, but it is not oil.
Some basic Hydrocarbon Chemistry:
Just as white light is composed of a broad spectrum, which can be split
into component parts with a prism, crude oil is also a broad spectrum
of hydrocarbon chains of differing lengths and number of carbon atoms
per molecule. Crude oil can be split into component parts of using
The high temperature element in the bottom of the tower labeled "Residual"
with a high number of carbon atoms is the stuff being mined in Alberta in
the Tar Sands.
Tar Sands = Bottom of the Barrel, & The End of the Line
Prior to now Bitumen has basically been considered a low quality product,
which is used to seal roads as a beneficial use for what would otherwise be
a form of waste.
Bitumen is literally the "bottom of the barrel" as hydrocarbons go.
However, due to the magic of organic chemistry, we've learned
how to transform heavy hydrocarbons into more useful products
like fuels through processes such as cracking and coking. However
these have high-energy-inputs, resulting in a very low EROEI* of
tar sands development. (* = Energy Returned on Energy Invested)
Bitumen must be transformed to move it in a pipeline
Heavy Bitumen cannot be transported in a pipeline such as Keystone unless
it is transformed. There are two ways of doing this.
The least expensive way is to add light petroleum distillates (a/k/a condensate,
or natural gas liquids, NGLs) as a diluent. This product is generally called
"DILBIT", or Diluted Bitumen.
This is the product which is being shipped in "tar sands pipelines".
Please note well that DILBIT IS NOT (crude) OIL.
It is a synthetic product with very special properties.
It is critical that everyone understand this.
The second way of shipping bitumen-based hydrocarbons is by transforming
it into synthetic crude oil ("Syncrude") by using cracking and coking technology
to smash the long-chain heavy hydrocarbons into lighter products.
Here is the Suncor Upgrader, in Fort McMurray, Alberta, which creates Syncrude:
Either method of transforming Bitumen into a shippable product
requires massive energy inputs, such as natural gas (being exported from the US into Canada)
for heat, and also Natural Gas Liquids (NGLs) also being exported from the US into Canada.
Another problem of Tar Sands development is the pollution being generated, and the destruction
of the ancient Boreal forest of Canada, one of the last remaining Wonders of the World.
The level of this destruction, the amount of pollution being generated is quite hard to grasp.
The Alberta Tar Sands development is a scar on the Earth so large it can be seen from space.
A byproduct of creating Syncrude are the Great Sulfur Pyramids of Alberta, which are the size
of the Great Pyramids in Egypt:
The Approaching Energy Cliff
Understanding the true nature of Tar Sands development is critical for
empowered citizens living in democratic nations to understand in order
to make correct political decisions.
Misleading information such as present by Living on Earth can cause
apathy and inaction against a problem which could be a harbinger of
climate catastrophe, and the collapse of industrial civilization, mass
extinction, including the human race.
As a byproduct of Peak Oil Phenomena first described by petroleum scientist
M. King Hubbert is that as we approach the back-side of the production
curve, there is nothing we can do to increase -- or even sustain production
-- which will not bring the "energy cliff" upon us faster.
A certain EROEI of our fuels is necessary to sustain industrial society
as we have it constructed, where our food has 10 calories of hydrocarbons
embedded in every food calorie, as this chart shows:
By developing these low-quality Tar Sands, it is a harbinger of doom.
This indicates that we are at the end of the line as hydrocarbons go.
This is a very big problem,
since the human population is still rising,
and as your industry consultant pointed out,
everyone wants to have the level of affluence
which Americans enjoy.
We need ALL CITIZENS OF PLANET EARTH engaged in
solving this approaching crisis.
However, Living on Earth seems to be promoting this
false and misleading information which supports an
unsustainable industrial agenda for a few pieces of silver
in the present moment for the benefit of 1% of the human population.
CRISIS at the end of the age of oil
We are at a crisis at the end of the age of oil.
This can be plainly seen if we understand the truth.
Industry spokesman McNally describes it as one of the
"largest supplies of oil" in Canada.
However this can plainly seen to be FALSE and misleading,
if we understand some basic hydrocarbon chemistry.
The truth is, Tar Sands are a low quality hydrocarbon
which IS NOT CRUDE OIL, and CANNOT BE SHIPPED in a pipeline
without extremely high energy and environmental costs.
Tar Sands Development is an extreme act of desperation,
which is being forced upon the aboriginal people of Alberta,
the Citizens of Canada and the Citizens of the United states
through the perpetration of a FRAUD on a massive scale.
I am saddened and disgusted to see Living on Earth,
Public Radio International, and also National Public Radio
and affiliates in participating in this fraud.
I do hope you spend some time in the next few weeks
bringing on guests who can speak to these facts
and correct these very serious errors and omissions
which are contained in this piece.
PO Box 2873
Binghamton NY 13902