August 2012 Archives

Davey Johnson's Long Exposure Fireworks

Never seen anything like this before. Really cool stuff. Via Colossal. See more of his long-exposure photographs here.

More NPR Tar Sands Coverage

NPR’s got some great coverage of Tar Sands (and energy issues in general). In particular, there is a great, recent interview with a Texan whose land the Keystone XL pipeline will be traversing.

What Daniel wants most from TransCanada is answers. He actually drew up a list of 54 questions.

“One of my many questions was: If there’s a spill and we have to leave, are you going to take care of us?” Daniel says.

He also wanted to know things like: What kind of damage could a spill cause? And what chemicals would flow in the pipeline?

TransCanada told Daniel in writing that questions about spills were hypothetical because their pipeline would be designed not to spill. But in a document for the State Department, TransCanada predicted two spills every 10 years over the entire length of its Keystone XL pipeline, from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Some scientists argue that the company underestimates that risk. Another pipeline it put into service two years ago has had 14 spills in the United States, although most were small, according to TransCanada.

2 spills every ten years doesn’t seem like great numbers - or numbers that should be permissible at all. And the ease at which the spills are cleaned up, according to the article - and unsurprisingly - is oversold. In Michigan,

Early on, the EPA gave the company a couple of months. Two years and $800 million later, the cleanup is still going on. The cost eclipses every other onshore oil cleanup in U.S. history.

… Cleanup crews didn’t know what they were dealing with. They expected it to act like oil usually does and float on water. So they focused on vacuuming oil and skimming it from the surface.

But about a month into the cleanup, some fish researchers got a surprise. One of them jumped from a boat into the river. With each step he took, little globs of black oil popped up.

That kicked off a search for sunken oil.

“And everywhere they looked, they found it,” Hamilton recalls.

And, finally, perhaps the most rational appeal people who oppose Keystone XL and tar sands writ large can make:

“For me, as a father, I have a duty and responsibility to protect my family. What I know about this project is they can break laws and put my family at risk. I’m not OK with any of that. If that means I’ll have to stand in front of a bulldozer, I’ll stand in front of a bulldozer.”

Tar Sands Madness, Depicted

Nice, simplified infographic from NPR about the production of Tar Sands.

The oil product extracted from Canada’s tar sands isn’t like conventional crude. Known as bitumen, it’s sticky and so thick, it can’t flow down a pipeline without extensive processing. There are two methods for getting bitumen out of the ground and turning it into usable products. Both are complex, energy-intensive and expensive processes - but high oil prices are finally making tar sands profitable.

Q: What do a broken fuel injector, a helicopter evacuation, a plague of diarrhea, a minor tornado, and Rohtang Pass all have in common?

A: The 2012 Himalayan Health Exchange Kargiakh expedition.

More on all that later, though. We made it through the whole trip relatively intact. The trip was long and productive.

Around 600 people came through the public health and medical camps, with complaints ranging from simple osteoarthritis to worms to primary syphilis (yup!). We were able to sample indoor air quality in six villages across the Zanskar valley - a minor miracle. Remarkably, the levels of pollution during this time of year seem to be a bit lower than expected, though we won’t be able to say anything definitive until we do some more thorough data analysis.

The team arrived post-trek in Manali late on August 24th after a harrowing drive down Rohtang pass. The sky was thick with cotton-gauze fog, sharply contrasted by sticky, dense brown mud smothering the road. Our bus met them both, sliding around corners, sometimes narrowly avoiding steep drops, all the while pummeling through pea soup. The driver performed admirably, exhibiting nerves of steel save occasional bouts of hyperactive profanity. The passengers did alright, as well, though they were clearly many frayed, over-stimulated synapses at the end of the bus ride. Manali is a kitschy oasis of hot showers, beer, and wandering Druids. Our motley crew fits in well and is re-finding their footing among the modern.

We head to Delhi by bus in a few minutes, another long sojourn before we all disperse to our separate homes around the world. It’s been a great trip - and one I look forward to describing more in the coming days.

Leh

I arrived in Leh yesterday morning after an exceptionally early start. My taxi arrived at Noida at 2:40a and we began the longish drive to the airport. Typical of all taxi experiences, we made a couple of round-about navigational decisions, had to go a permit renewed, and got stuck in traffic at 3:30a behind large, large trucks struggling up an overpass.

The entire process at Delhi airport was far better than in previous years; the domestic and international airports merged into a single location. Checking in was easy and getting to the gate relatively painless. No re-identification of bags required, either. The flight to Leh was typically beautiful, with the sun rising over the Himalaya, mountains extending in one direction forever, peeking through dense fog. On the other side, the plains of India. The crowd on the plane was interesting — primarily Europeans and Indians, both older than I would have expected.

Development in Leh seems to have slowed a bit over the past four years; there are fewer new hotels and construction than in the past. A good thing, in my opinion. The main strips are still crowded, full of trucks, and a little grungy — but the outskirts of town remain as they have for quite some time. Beautiful, quiet, nice.

Catching up with Hem and the HHE staff was a delight. Much has improved from a logistical / organizational standpoint — and much is still the same. Looking forward to the trip.

Some tragedy — a driver, who had been with HHE for many years, died a few weeks after his marriage. A truck rolled backwards and over him in his home-town, not 50 meters from his house. Truly sad. He was a gentle, kind, and funny man.

Yesterday was a day of rest and acclimatization. Not much to report. Sleep last night was fitful; interrupted at 3:30a by a mournful prayer from the local mosque. The packs of stray dogs that control Leh added a chorus of howls and barks to the lilting dirge. Odd, a bit annoying, and captivating.

Today, I got up early — around 5 — and climbed up to the monastery and palace that overlooks Leh. The views were typically beautiful and the space was blessedly empty. A nice morning.

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