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fossil fuels are a dirty business

a briefing document


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Fossil fuels are a dirty business, a subsidiary document to Fossil fuels disasters and There she blows! striking oil, is one in a series of briefing documents on the problems of power consumption, posed by the steady depletion of fossil fuels and most particularly of pumpable oil.
One of a grouping of documents on global concerns at abelard.org.
on energy on global warming
On housing and making living systems ecological
sustainable futures briefing documents
Tectonics: tectonic plates - floating on the surface of a cauldron

historic oil extraction and storage
the greatest oil gusher in US history
struck by lightning - allegedly!
living with oil industry devastation
athabasca oil sands, alberta, canada
nigeria, particularly the niger delta
industrial pollution in china
german strip mining
mountaintop removal / valley fill coal mining -the appalachians
and when oil-transport or extraction at sea goes wrong
bibliography

“While there is no such thing as clean energy, fossil fuels are the dirtiest form of energy. It’s a given within the oil industry, for example, that if you see, touch, taste, or smell the product you are producing, you’re probably in trouble.” [Hofmeister, p.48]

From very early days, the oil industry grew up in an atmosphere of unregulated wild-west adventurism.

Main street of Newtown, Montana, 1915
Main street of Newtown, Montana, 1915

 

Historic oil extraction and storage

oil lake, Los Angeles, California
Oil lake, Los Angeles, California

Kern River, California oilfield sump
Kern River, California oilfield sump
The Simms gusher, Humble Texas, about 1906.
The Simms gusher, Humble Texas, about 1906.
It produced about 50 thousand gallons of crude per day

Burning oil storage tankers, USA 1907
Burning oil storage tankers, USA 1907

return to the Index on Extracts from papal encyclicals and Marxism

The greatest oil gusher in US history

Lakeview gusher, 14th day
Lakeview gusher, 14th day

“A torrent of oil that someone had named the "Trout Stream" was flowing away from the Lakeview gusher when Frank Hill took charge. The stream threatened not only to dissipate the oil so that it could never be recovered but also to flow into Buena Vista Lake, the source of irrigation water for Miller & Lux farming operations.

“Work began immediately on building huge earthen reservoirs to trap the oil in the sloping land between the wild well and the lake, eight miles away. All the teams and scrapers that could be hired in the Midway field and some from as far away as Suisun City, 300 miles to the north, worked around the clock to build 20 huge sumps, covering some 60 acres. Before the job was done it cost more than $350,000.

“Some 400 men labored to build a barricade around the well, lacing sand bags and sagebrush into a levee to hold back the flow of oil.

Barricade around the gusher's well

“Three pumps, including two 4-inch pumps and one 6-inch, worked to full capacity delivering oil to a pair of 55,000-barrel tanks on Producers Transportation Co. property at Maricopa. The tanks soon proved inadequate to handle the uncontrolled flow, which reached a peak estimated at 90,000 barrels per day.”

“Finally, on Sept. 9, 1911, 544 days after the well blew in, the Lakeview gusher caved at the bottom and died as suddenly as it was born. It had produced an estimated 9 million barrels of oil, a record for the time. More than 4 million barrels had been saved. The remainder was lost.” [Quoted from irwinator.com]

Lakeview oil well site, marked with stone monument
Lakeview oil well site, marked with stone monument Image: CLUI

“A bronze plaque reads: "America's most spectacular gusher 'blew in' here March 14, 1910. Initial flow was 18,000 barrels per day and later reached uncontrolled peak of 100,000 barrels per day, completely destroying the derrick. This Union Oil Company well between Taft and Maricopa produced nine million barrels of oil in 18 months."

“Most of the oil soaked into the soil or evaporated. Black mist fell for miles around. Only supreme vigilance kept it from catching fire. The price of crude plunged by nine-tenths. And when the flood ended, the well produced less than 30 barrels a day.

“Today a wide oil-soaked sand pavement is topped with desert scrub. Petroleum fumes waft from nearby wells, and haze hides the scene on many days.” [Quoted from geology.about.com]return to the Index on Extracts from papal encyclicals and Marxism

Struck by lightning - allegedly!

Oil tank struck by lightning, Rock City, NY, 1905
Oil tank struck by lightning, Rock City, NY, 1905
Oil tank struck by lightning, Bridgeport,Illinois, 1909
Oil tank struck by lightning, Bridgeport, Illinois, 1909
Oil tank struck by lightning, Tulsa, Oklahoma
Oil tank struck by lightning, Tulsa, Oklahoma
Oil tank struck by lightning, Bradford, PA
Oil tank struck by lightning, Bradford, PA

Marker at abelard.org

nature makes another filthy fossil fuel disaster

“This is the first time I've heard of [a lightning strike] happening in my 20 years," Baker said. "No one else can remember it. I'm just relieved that it's over and no one was hurt."

“A pipe with 20,000 gallons of gas was burning and two tanks with about 12,000 gallons of gas caught on fire, Douglas said.”

Since this report, another lightning-sparked oil fire has been reported by one of the ships helping clear up the Gulf spill.return to the Index on Extracts from papal encyclicals and Marxism

Living with oil industry devastation

So far, here we have been looking at single gushers and oil tanks. But now to give a better feel for the chaos.

The Governor's mansion, Oklahoma City

There were often forests of oil derricks, as thousands tried to join in the black gold rush. Were the locals scared? Were they crying about disaster? Were they worrying about cancer? Judge for yourself. Here is Huntington Beach, California in 1928.

Huntington Beach, California in 1928.

And you can read the excited messages on the postcards sent to girlfriends and families back East.

'Will have some pretty colored oils in a few days'
“Will have some pretty colored oils in a few days”

Now another view of Huntington Beach:

Huntington Beach derricks.
Huntington Beach derricks.
The dark block in the picture is a storage tank.

Athabasca oil sands, Alberta, Canada

Tar sands open pit mining, Alberta, Canada.
Tar sands open pit mining, Alberta, Canada. Image: osteis.anl.gov

World's second largest oil deposit - Athabasca Sands mining complex.
World’s second largest oil deposit - Athabasca Sands mining complex. Image: NASA / Earth Observatory.return to the Index on Extracts from papal encyclicals and Marxism

Nigeria, particularly the Niger delta


Image: trendsupdates.com

Nigerian oil scavengers. Image: AP WIDE WORLD
Nigerian oil scavengers. Image: AP WIDE WORLDreturn to the Index on Extracts from papal encyclicals and Marxism

Industrial pollution in China

“On a hot, muggy August afternoon during the summer of 1996, I was hard at work in a conference room of the Ministry of Aviation Industries of China (AVIC) in Beijing, discussing human resources for a potential joint venture between AlliedSignal, the company for which I was then international human resources vice president, and AVIC. When the meeting ended, one of my hosts from the ministry graciously accompanied me outside. As we waited for the car, he noticed that I was looking up and down the street and then skyward. Visibility was only about a hundred yards in any direction. I was shocked. The executive looked at me and said, "My children do not know the sky is blue."

“He said he had discovered this when he had taken his family on an outing to the Great Wall of China, some 45 miles north of Beijing. When the children got out of the car, they shrieked and began crying: they thought something was terribly wrong because the sky was a brilliant blue. He said it took him considerable time to calm them and to explain the difference between the polluted Beijing air and the blue sky.

“ A decade earlier, my wife had visited Beijing in winter. She recalls it as "like being inside a vacuum cleaner bag while vacuuming in a freezer." A decade later, when I visited in 2006, my lungs were so affected by the atmospheres in several China cities, I could not return to work for a week after the trip.” [Hofmeister, pp 61-2]return to the Index on Extracts from papal encyclicals and Marxism

German strip mining

Garzweiler strip mine in Germany.
Garzweiler strip mine in Germany. Image: global-energy-crisis.com

Opencast mining equipment at the Hambach operation, Rhineland
Opencast mining equipment at the Hambach operation, Rhineland. Image: mining-technology.comreturn to the Index on Extracts from papal encyclicals and Marxism

Mountaintop removal / valley fill coal mining (MTR) - Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia - the Appalachians

Mountaintop removal mine, Appalachians. Image: Jeremy Peters
Mountaintop removal mine, Appalachians. Image: Appalachian Voices

“Mountaintop removal is a relatively new type of coal mining that began in Appalachia in the 1970s as an extension of conventional strip mining techniques.”

“Mountaintop removal involves clear cutting native hardwood forests, using dynamite to blast away as much as 600 feet of mountaintop, and then dumping the waste into nearby valleys, often burying streams. While the environmental devastation caused by this practice is obvious, families and communities near these mining sites are forced to contend with continual blasting from mining operations that can take place up to 300 feet from their homes and operate 24 hours a day. Families and communities near mining sites may also suffer from airborne dust and debris, contamination of their drinking water supplies, and flooding from broken slurry impoundments such as the Buffalo Creek disaster which left more than 100 dead and thousands homeless.” [Quoted from appvoices.org ]

Satellite view of some mountaintop removal mines in West Virginia.
Satellite view of some mountaintop removal mines in West Virginia. Mines are the grey areas,deforested areas are brown.

Marker at abelard.org


5:18 mins. Video on how Mountaintop Removal mining works and its consequences.
One of the least emotional videos I have seen. (Made for a benefit concert.) return to the Index on Extracts from papal encyclicals and Marxism

And when oil-transport or extraction at sea goes wrong

the prestige disaster - heavy fuel oil strewn at sea [November 2002]

“The oil tanker “Prestige foundered off Cape Finisterre in 2002, leaking 80,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil on to Spanish beaches. It was his [the 76-year-old master, Captain Apostolos Mangouras] first SOS in 32 years and in a force 10 gale with 25-foot waves, he tried to rescue his ship after being refused safe haven in a Spanish port. Desperate for a scapegoat, the Spanish authorities threw him in jail for three months and then kept him under house arrest for a year pending trial. Numerous investigations blamed the pollution incident on the decision by Spanish authorities to refuse the Prestige access to a port.”

This ecological and social disaster was documented extensively from its beginnings by abelard.org. This is the original news item:
Another potential ecological oil mess (Nov. 2002).

Heavy crude oil washed up on a French beach
Heavy crude oil washed up on a French beach


Some heavy crude oil and tar being washed ashore in south-west France.
Remember that this shore was over 800 km, by sea, from the site of the Prestige spill off Cape Finisterre, northern Spain.

One of the local fishing boats that helped collect the tarry oil drifting on the coast returning to port
One of the local fishing boats, helping to collect the tarry oil drifting on the coast, returns to port.
In the fierce winter storms, the heavy fuel oil was thrown far inland.

A barrage being deployed to prevent heavy crude entering a marine lake.
A barrage being deployed to prevent heavy crude entering a marine lake.
This barrage, positioned soon after the disaster broke, was effective.

Marker at abelard.org

the gulf of mexico leak 2010

Gulf of Mexico leak, satellite photo from NASA, taken 19 June 2010
Gulf of Mexico leak, satellite photo from NASA, taken 19 June 2010.
NASA image courtesy the MODIS Rapid Response Team

“On Saturday, June 19, 2010, oil spread northeast from the leaking Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf of Mexico. The oil appears as a maze of silvery-gray ribbons in this photo-like image from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite.

“The location of the leaking well is marked with a white dot. North of the well, a spot of black may be smoke; reports from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say that oil and gas continue to be captured and burned as part of the emergency response efforts.”

It is not clear how much oil is escaping from the leak 5,000 metres below the water surface.

This widget from pbs.org calculates different possible amounts that may be leaking into the Gulf of Mexico, according to different estimations. Compare with other major oil spills.

  • Refresh the page to reset the calculator
  • move slider just below ADJUST LEAK RATE to change calculation rate.

    [Note: leakage is given here in US gallons.
    100 million US gallons =
    331,100 metric tonnes =
    2.4 million US barrels.]


[1,470,000 US gallons is about 35,000 US barrels.]

In my view, no-one yet knows how big this gusher is and very likely reports are exaggerated to make it more ‘interesting’. Present reports [22/06/10, Day 63] claim about 25,000 barrels a day are being collected.

Therefore, it is unlikely that this leak is, so far, greater than a very large tanker spill. So it hardly qualifies as the greatest ecological disaster in American history, as claimed by the Obama administration.

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bibliography

Why we hate the oil companies by John Hofmeister

Why We Hate the Oil Companies: Straight Talk
by John Hofmeister

10.78 [amazon.co.uk]
publishing 25 June 2010, but some copies already available

$17.82 [amazon.com]
Palgrave Macmillan, hbk, 1st edition (25 May, 2010)
ISBN-10: 0230102085
ISBN-13: 978-0230102088

This book is reviewed here. Four GoldenYak (tm) award

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