Keystone Math

At full capacity, the KXL pipeline will carry (see table p. 5) 830,000 barrels of sludge per day.

That is 9.6 barrels per second, which is 1527.3 liters. or 1.52 cubic meters.

The pipeline is 24 inches in diameter. Or 452.39 square inches. (This assumes 24 inches is the interior diameter. This calculation gets even nastier if it’s exterior diameter.) Or 0.2919 square meters.

This means that every second, a slug of fluid that is .29 square meters in cross section and 1.52 cubic meters in volume passes by, so that means the length is 1.52/.29 = 5.24 meters, so it is pumped at 18.86 kilometers per hour or 11.7 miles per hour. Not unbelievably fast, but notice that is an average that has to be maintained over the entire pipeline to attain full capacity.

I wonder how long it takes to shut down a two foot pipe of sludge going twelve miles an hour. The recent experience with a smaller pipeline running through Arkansas is hardly reassuring.

I had thought that the greenhouse emissions and the local environmental damage in Alberta were the real issue with this project, and that the environmental risks along the route were secondary. I don’t think that any more. This project is just a woefully stupid idea everywhere from the source to the destination.

If Alberta tar sands are profitable, that means the market is set up wrong and we should fix it. There should be no incentive for this kind of project.
(image is the Alaska pipeline from the North Slope to Valdez, taken by Luca Galuzzi shared under Creative Commons Share Alike 2.5 Generic via Wikipedia.)


  1. The sludge is very energy dense, making this a 50-thermal-GW pipeline at least. 20 electrical GW if it were feeding electricity plants (not that that is likely).

    On top of the above-noted 83 million dollars per day for the people feeding it, there are many additional daily millions for the governments approving it.

    Indeed there should be no incentive for this kind of project, but there is.

  2. I watched a video put out by these guys quite a while ago, and use the site regularly to reference the size and toxicity of the whole enterprise:

    People are dying and losing their livelihoods from the toxicity. I guess it depends on your socioeconomic background whether anybody cares about your lingering and nasty health effects.

  3. "The tar sands mining procedure releases at least three times the CO2 emissions as regular oil production" is a bit too spinny for my taste. The well-to-wheel emissions are about 30% higher than for conventional fuels. The mining procedure is very expensive but it doesn't dominate the whole emission picture (and at one point I had believed that it did, as a result of this sort of spin).

    Not that that extra 30% is a good thing. But we need to avoid misleading spin. Reality is harsh enough.

  4. I wasn't focusing on that part of it; too bad they overstated that aspect of the facts, which are bad enough. I mostly wanted their maps, and the videos of local natives and their health problems and poisoned fish are an eye opener.

    We microfocus on the shortcomings of people trying to get the news out, which is not a problem with the monolithic massive pro-fossil fuel propaganda machine which will say anything and do anything to spin. I'm getting a lot of blowback about Bill McKibben which I feel is misguided. Anyone having some success finding ways to protest and get publicity is a hero in my book.

    I was fascinated to find a particularly effective attack technique used on me personally in an attack on reviews of Mike Mann's Hockey Stick Wars book, which is a new focus since Marcott et al. ("Can you hear yourself?") More of the same.

  5. Michael,

    Lest you have already forgotten, let Horatio remind you

    Very Serious People
    Are unmoved by emotions
    'Bout tar spills in the river
    And other silly notions.

    With this post (and others), you are very seriously jeopardizing your chances at ever becoming a card-carrying member of the Very Serious People.

    You realize that, right?

    On a (much) less serious note, 9.6 barrels per second is only about 400 gallons per second or only 24,000 gallons per minute so in the case of a spill that lasted only about 10.5 minutes, that would mean only about a quarter million gallons spilled.

    Of course, 10.5 minutes would be the absolute upper limit and no one in his or her right mind actually believes it would take anywhere near that loooooooooooooong to shut down the Keystone pipeline, what with the sludge only moving 12 miles per hour through a two foot pipe and all, especially given that it only took 17 hours to shut down the Enbridge pipeline in the case of the Kalamazoo river spill.

    And the latter spill has only cost about a billion dollars for cleanup for roughly a million gallons spilled (so far, so it might be less if it lasts longer, you know)

    So, if we use that as a very rough gauge of cleanup cost, a ten minute Keystone spill might be expected to cost only about 1/4 billion. A mere drop in the proverbioil barrel.

    Seriously. Your concerns are very seriously overblown.

    Prolly qualifies you for membership in the "Society of Very Seriously Overblowing People" (SOVSOBP).

    Should check into that. They might have some perks.

  6. Susan, when somebody makes a consequential, factual claim that is incorrect in a consequential debate, an ethical scientist will not leave it unchallenged.

    This persnicketiness makes us unreliable as "team players", but hopefully it makes us more reliable as information sources. Without someone in this role, society is driving blind. Please do not expect otherwise from me or from members of the P3 community. Many of us consider it an obligation and a point of pride.

    To the contrary, the lack of such discourse on the naysayer side is the stigma of their irrationality and irresponsibility.

    What appears a short-run political weakness is the very alignment with truth which gives us the long-run strength we will need and which justifies our efforts in the first place.

    See also numbered paragraphs 69-74 in this remarkable speech by John Ashton, the UK's climate negotiator at Copenhagen, about which we'll have more to say.

  7. Worrying about the local effects of the proposed pipeline does bring up a larger issue. The bigest threat of pipeline spills doesn't really come from new pipelines, but rather from old ageing pipelines and there are a heck of a lot more miles of old pipelines than there are of new pipelines (or even of proposed pipelines). This suggests that much more effort be spent either retiring old pipelines or at the very least upgrading them before they fail.

    Of course if you happen to live near the proposed route of a new pipeline this is not very comforting as all fancy new pipelines eventually become old pipelines that pose a real risk to the local area.

    I am becoming quite convinced that the more we look into our current energy infrastructure the more we will find that is problematic about it. The main reason we have tolerated the status quo for so long is only because the problems were mostly hidden from the public.

  8. Thanks mt, you're right of course. In a terrible exemplar of my convoluted style, I was trying to point out that this error, which I will have to remember when I use that site elsewhere, does not discount the rest of what the site presents. I had already noted the error for caveats whenever I link to it, but have already neglected to do so at least once.

    Fear is a terrible driver. Preferential treatment is the opposite of what I want and need, but asymmetrical warfare is, well, asymmetrical.

    I would prefer to see the error corrected at the source. We already see SkepticalScience being promoted along with RealClimate and any other successful effort to point towards the truth dismissed as false because they provide clarity rather than falsehood.

    I would again draw your attention to their maps and other materials.

  9. My high school education was in a peculiar private school where they tried unsuccessfully to make an Englishman out of me. (It backfired terribly and eventually made a Texan out of me!) But they were very much Anglophiles of explicitly Tory sensibility. (Hang on, this is going somewhere.)

    One point they made was that the superiority of England (over its key competitors, implicitly America and France) was based in the fact that they had never had a successful revolution, but instead had entered modernity piecemeal, in incremental steps. This was, in a false-modest way, portrayed as "muddling through".

    But in fact "muddling through" is what the powers that be always do everywhere.

    Quoting John Ashton again:

    Reflecting on the threat posed by the belated arrival of modernity in the Mezzogiorno to Sicily‟s ossified aristocracy, Tancredi famously remarked: “things are going to have to change around here if we want them to stay the same”.

    The trouble is that as the scale of human activity increases, the risks of the muddle go up too.

    It's not just energy infrastructure, it's all infrastructure.

    The tragedy at West, Texas was about agricultural infrastructure. A fertilizer plant explosion killed 12, and gravely injured many more, because a badly run, unsafe plant was a few cents cheaper by the ton than a well-managed one would have been. But nobody sees this until the plant blows up. Call it the free market in action.

    And clearly having a retirement home near an ammonium nitrate plant will be discounted in the future. It's the perfection of the marketplace at work reaching a new equilibrium, and so regulation is utterly unnecessary.

  10. Stealing more from mt's wonderful source, John Ashton's

    here is a challenge that is Promethean. *We have stolen the secret of fire for our own use, unleashing punitive forces inherent in the system of which we are ourselves part.* Dealing with this is imperative, because if we don‟t the consequences could soon become unmanageable, perhaps even jeopardizing the system conditions within which civilization itself can flourish.

    And as we look more deeply into the picture, it urges us to summon a response that is transformational, because the entire modern economy is organized around the energy system. Making that system carbon neutral will reconfigure the economy, and the power relations embedded within it. Furthermore we must accomplish this urgently, in little more than a generation, while building resilience to the climate insecurity we can no longer avoid.
    politicians wanted to have their cake and eat it. They did what politicians usually do when they find themselves in a spot. They did their best. They improvised. They hoped that, if they couldn‟t quite do all that was needed immediately, something might turn up.

    It's hard to leave out any of this sterling prose.

  11. Pingback: Another Week in the Planetary Crisis, April 21, 2013 – A Few Things Ill Considered

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