1. 10 mins A Dilbit Primer (June 26, 2012)

While it’s a few years old, Mullfret really liked this article because it takes a detailed look at the composition of bitumen that comes out of the oil sands in Alberta. In 2010 there was a million gallon spill of bitumen in the Kalamazoo River at Marshall, Michigan which has become the most expensive spill in US history. This article is of great interest to anyone living downstream from Ft. McMurray (or any other place where oil is mined, processed or transported) and we should all know this information:

  • There is a range of oils from light to heavy, bitumen is considered extra heavy.
  • Bitumen has to be mixed with a cocktail of natural gas liquids, called diluents, to make it light enough to flow through pipelines. The composition of the toxic cocktail is considered proprietary and therefore secret, like fracking fluids. Bitumen becomes dilute bitumen or dilbit.
  • Unlike conventional oil, bitumen doesn’t float on water. In a spill once the diluents evaporate the bitumen sinks to the bottom, like on the Kalamazoo river.
  • Oil spill cleanup is designed for conventional oil that floats, not for bitumen that sinks. This makes cleanup well nigh impossible, with enormous environmental damage.
  • Then there is the cost. The average cost per barrel for conventional oil is $2000, for bitumen per barrel it is over $29,000.

The range of oil products is reminiscent of alcohol and the range of wines and spirits from the finest to rotgut, filled with often unknown additives. Bitumen is much worse, and with planetary impacts. If there is a spill of this nature into the Athabasca River, it will head north, devastating the Mackenzie River Basin in the process. As this very important article indicates, it’s almost impossible to clean up what you can’t see, and even if you can, you destroy the river bottom in the process.

2. 3 mins (depending on the links followed) Antarctic Ice Sheet  (Dec. 22, 2016)

Our attention has been riveted by the extraordinarily warm temperatures in the Arctic. This article, with plenty of good links, draws our attention back to the Antarctic, home to half the world’s fresh water, where the warming and melting of the ice is also speeding up. So what’s new you may ask? What is new, if you look at both poles as a reference, is the speed of the change, the desperate efforts of science to find out why, how and to project the impacts and timelines. When it comes to the dramatic effects of climate change and global warming, thousands of years of variation, shrunk to hundreds of years, to within this century, to now mere decades or less are playing out in real time. And, thanks to modern technology, it is happening literally before our eyes. Already, it seems that 2017 will be a year of extreme events like we have never seen before.

3. 10 mins Mini-Grids in Africa  (Dec. 22, 2016)

We call them hybrid micro-grids, in Africa, Asia and the small island states they are call mini-grids. In the north the intent is to get remote, off grid communities on to renewables and batteries and off diesel to the greatest extent possible. This article on the World Bank blog explains that in Africa, Asia and the small island states the situation is more dire, many of the remote, off-grid communities there have no electricity at all and they want to remedy that fact in affordable, environmentally friendly ways with mini grids. See this document which shows how the World Bank is working with the countries in the regions setting up funds to assist in setting up mini grids in all communities by 2030. We have common interests, the technology exists and the political will and resources are coming to bear. This should be a good news story around the world (we can always use more of those).

4. 10 mins What Rex Tillerson’s Exxon Mobil track record tells us (Jan. 03, 2017)

Mullfret recommends this article because it, quite starkly, show the different directions the world is being pulled in when it comes to energy, and how the next four years look to be an attempt by Russia and the US to revitalize the terminally ill fossil fuel industry – regardless of the negative impact on the Earth. We anticipate 2017 is going to be a year of extreme events, both political and weather wise. Mother Nature is righting the balance of the Earth and it seems it will be harsh. At times like these, “Ozymandias”, by Percy Bysshe Shelley, reminds us that while we will survive the hubris of misguided world leaders (as we always have) it promises to be tough sledding.