Wednesday, August 29, 2007
People are generally stupid or careless enough that they don't mind paying huge companies to kill them slowly and painfully. For example, I smoke either Camel or Marlborough cigarettes. Neither are very healthy. Both cost me about $7 per pack.
Humans are always screaming about how terrible these companies are for giving people what they want. They are afraid of becoming a race of weak, bloated, gouty, cancerous diabetics. Everywhere you look you see the sweaty-pale-sagging faces of the future: the ultra-consumer. But take their freedom to consume away, and they will scream and riot about that. We allow the corporations to provide people with what they want because that's what freedom is all about. Our great Capitalist Republics exist to provide a place where humans can be free to pursue happiness. Consumerism is meant for everyone; no race or class is exempt. However, the strongest population control measures are aimed at minorities. Exploitation is a major profitability driver; many corporations keep from crossing the line between profit and loss by some form of exploitation.
The above should be obvious. The idea that humans can rule their own destiny as a species goes against the natural order of the Universe. Simple minded optimists believe that eventually, something like democracy will provide a government that lasts forever. After all, the problem right now is that we just don't all have a say, right? Our votes don't really count! If only all our votes counted, We, as a whole, would make the right decisions.
Wrong. This is extremely naive. We may have some incredibly intelligent individuals, but combined we are less intelligent than some of the lowest lifeforms. As a whole, we function similarly to algae. As long as there is the right mix of radiation and nutrients, algae will continue to reproduce until it chokes itself and everything else near it to death.
Computers. Compared to our own brains, computers are primitive. However, they are evolving much faster than our own brains did. Since they are engineered by an intelligent creature, they can skip much of the extremely slow cycles of random mutation and natural selection.
So far we have not engineered anything that actually 'thinks' like higher functioning animals do.
Some people believe that computers could never think for themselves, never have a 'soul', never have desires or love or any kind of what we call 'feelings'. Almost nothing is completely improbable. Regardless, a computer can be considered to be much 'smarter' than the smartest human, even though they may need to be purpose built for specific tasks. No computer (yet) does everything better or faster than a human can.
Anyway, to get to the point: government can't be provided by human intelligence. No human is entirely impartial. No human can decide what is best for the human race. Currently the Earth and the Universe itself are the ultimate government. We exist at the mercy of the planet, which exists at the mercy of the universe. However improbable, some quantum phase shift could completely obliterate time and space as we know it in the next five minutes. Don't panic.
All probabilities aside, what is known is that we are responsible for destroying the surface of the planet on which we depend for our survival. Decisions regarding sustainability of the planet (including humans, birds, bees, fish, kangaroos, trees, flowers and all other things necessary for our survival) as influenced by the actions of humans should be calculated by computers. This includes pretty much everything we currently just kind of DO willy-nilly.
If you've ever read Orwell or Huxley, the following will be very familiar:
Computers should be responsible for reproduction. Yes, I know, it sounds awful. Only a man would say something like that. I'm not saying All reproduction, just most of human reproduction. There would always be contingency groups of naturally reproducing humans as a fail-safe. All but a few humans would have their reproductive cells extracted at birth, incubated, analyzed and separated and stored. Reproduction would be performed as needed, based on unbiased criteria which computers create and adapt continuously.
This sounds like a nightmare to a lot of people. I realize that most people wouldn't want that kind of thing to happen. Freedom, etc.
Monday, August 13, 2007
BP's response to outrage over its dumping permits was to create a Taskforce to explore new technologies for waste water treatment at its refineries. Throw some money at the University and people will STFU, right? Goes to show that politics won't alter big oil's business decisions at all.
They'll keep pumping at this rate until 2012, at which point they may re-evaluate their pollution controls. So in five years they might figure out how to get the waste water down up to 99.95% pure right? But they'll keep dumping it.
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
The new dumping allowance:
Ammonia: 1584 lbs per day (54% increase)
Total Suspended Solids: 4925 lbs per day (35% increase)
The Whiting refinery has been getting upgrades to its equipment to allow refining of sour crude oil into gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, asphalt etc. The plant expects the upgraded equipment to be operating at full capacity sometime in 2008. BP is making the upgrades because sour crude oil extracted from tar sands is becoming more abundant, while availability of light sweet crude is falling off.
Bituminous sands (oil sand) are a mixture of water, clay, sand and heavy crude oil. The mix can be around 90% water and mud from which a relatively small amount of low quality heavy crude can be extracted. Conventional oil wells can basically be drilled and tapped. The pressure in the oil fields itself provides the energy to push the oil to the surface for most of the lifetime of the well. Oil sands require much more energy and materials to process. The sands are either extracted by strip mining or processed in place with huge amounts of water and caustic chemicals to separate the hydrocarbons from inorganic wastes. Steam pipes can also be sunk into the oil sand ranges to liquefy the sands for easier pumping and separation, which requires massive steam generators and fresh water. Strip mined sands are loaded by the largest shovels ever made into the largest trucks ever made and moved to separator tanks and mixed with water and sodium hydroxide (lye). Crude oil is skimmed off the top of the separator tanks and the remaining sediments are allowed to settle. This consumes large amounts of energy and water, and produces tons of waste chemicals and sludge. I imagine some of the water and lye is reclaimed and reused in the separator tanks to save costs, but its probably easier and maybe cheaper to dump the wastes and sediments in mixing pools, where they are mixed and diluted with more fresh water and drained back into the water table via wetlands. Only about 80% of the water is currently reused.
Only about 20% of Canada's oil sands can be extracted by strip mining. The rest are too far below the surface and require alternate methods. Cold flow pumping uses progressive cavity pumps (a huge motorized screw in a elliptical cavity) to simply pump the oil up and through sand filters. This only works where the oil is viscous enough to flow through pumps and surrounding sediments. This allows ~5-8% of the oil in deep deposits to be recovered. Removing the sand filters allows the pumps to create 'wormholes' in the sand deposits, which allows slightly better extraction, but disposing of the sand is a problem. The Canadian government allowed oil companies to spread the oily sand on dirt roads for a while, but the road surfaces started getting so thick that this solution stopped being viable. You only have so many rural roads to pave. Various other methods combine pumping with steam injection, with higher recovery rates of around 20%, but eventually producing the amount of steam needed costs more than the oil being recovered. There is actually an ongoing project to use nuclear energy to produce steam for oil recovery in Canada. Ahh.. Er..
Surface Oil Extraction
Canada's oil sands are situated under boreal forests and peat bogs. The companies licensing this land for strip mining are required to implement recovery plans for these forests. Somehow the oil companies got away with the plan to let the boreal forests recover themselves. Their idea was that the forests would repopulate the recovered areas naturally. None of the 33,000 hectares that has been leveled has been certified as reclaimed.
Satellite image of the Syncrude oil sands processing facility in Northern Alberta. Zoom out to see the surrounding surface mining areas:
Syncrude facility, Alberta, Canada
Sour crude contains more carbon dioxide and sulphur/hydrogen compounds (mercaptans). This makes it more difficult to refine into what BP claims is 'cleaner fuel'. Some mercaptans (or thiols, compounds in the sulfhydryl group) are added to natural gas to make it smell bad for detectability. Most of the compounds in this group are waste products of refining crude.
Anyone in any of the south shore refinery cities knows the odor of refinery waste. Driving through the area is pretty bad, but imagine living across the street. Mercaptans smell powerfully like rotten eggs. The vapors will give you headaches, make you dizzy and sometimes cause vomiting. Long term exposure causes liver and kidney damage. Another property of mercaptans is that they like to bind tightly to the element mercury. The term mercaptan comes from the Latin mercurius captans, which means 'laying hold of mercury'. Water removed from crude oil contains hydrogen sulphides and ammonia impurities which need to be steam stripped and cooled before dumping back into the water table. Steam stripping sour water doesn't remove all of the ammonia, hydrogen sulphides or sulfhydryl-mercury compounds. The steam stripped water is mixed with fresh water from Lake Michigan in mixing pools, where it is allowed to cool before being released back into the lake.
In an internal email, BP's chief says that the waste water mixed back into Lake Michigan is 99.9% pure. So, one part per thousand is contaminated. When it comes to water quality, that is a huge amount of contamination. So ~5000 lbs of suspended solids (various mercaptans, etc) and ~1600 lbs of ammonia is 1/1000th of a bit more than half a million pounds, or 80,000 gallons of water per day.
80,000 gallons of warm, ammonia, nitrogen and sulfhydryl rich water per day, 30 million gallons per year. Along with it goes 2lbs of mercury and other heavy metals that can't be filtered out with current technology. Increased nitrogen leads to algae blooms and dead zones, which kills off fish and then birds and other wildlife that depend on clean, clear water. The USGS lists lakes Michigan, Erie, Huron and Ontario in mixed or deteriorating conditions.
BP's Whiting Facility. Located at the top on the shore is the cooling, mixing and waste water pumping station:
BP Petroleum, Whiting IN