Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Seduced By "Energy Girl"

I call her “Energy Girl.” We’ve all come to know her through her television commercials on behalf of the oil and gas industry. She first appears to us at some distance from the camera, dressed always in a black pants suit, and then she begins to walk toward us with her long slender legs and black high heel shoes partially hidden by the cuff of her black trousers, gliding in long elegant effortless strides, talking to us all the while in a reassuring voice about the abundance of energy in our own back yard. “Right here in North America, we have enough energy to power 50 million cars and 100 million homes for the next 80 years.” By the time she finishes this message, she’s close to the camera, and with her shoulder length blond hair and blue eyes she looks remarkably like the actress, Laura Linney. Energy Girl exudes reassuring innocence and integrity. Surely she wouldn’t lie to us. Would she?

There’s a problem. That North American energy is abundant, but lethal. Energy Girl is telling us a half truth. In Western Canada, on the border between Alberta and British Columbia, there is probably as much oil as in the Saudi Arabian peninsula. But whereas the Arabian oil is in subterranean pools of highly pure sweet crude, the Canadian oil is bound to rock and sand in something called the tar sands. To free the oil, the rock and sand is strip mined and then blasted with high pressure steam. It takes 200 gallons of pure water (steam) to make one gallon of oil. Amazingly, although pure water is the most precious commodity on earth, the supply of water isn’t any problem. Abundant glaciers cover British Columbian mountains at that high latitude, and the population of Canadians in that part of their country is quite sparse. One can debate about the morality of using the world’s most precious resource to extract oil, but in Canada there is plenty to go around. The problem is not with supply, but with disposal. For each gallon of oil, 200 gallons of contaminated water is created. What once was the liquid of life has become the liquid of death, for the water left over from the oil extraction process is some of the most toxic fluid on earth. British Petroleum (the company who first hired Energy Girl) initially started disposing of the contaminated water by storing it in a lake behind a thirty foot high earthen dam. Over the years, the dam has grown to 300 feet in height, and it is now the largest earthen dam on the planet. The huge and growing lake of lethal black water behind the dam is easily visible from space, and the nearby strip mine is even larger. Ducks that land on the lake die within a minute.

Energy Girl has seduced us into thinking we have a viable alternative to foreign oil. Speaking for myself, I say give me the old fashioned oil, and let the Muslims keep the profit. There are worse things in the world than rich Arabs.

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