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This is What Extraction Looks Like
I keep seeing this term “Production” used to describe the process of extracting a natural material and sending it on its way to becoming pollution.  That’s wrong, and we should all commit to using the correct word, which is:

This is so basic.

What you extract something, it’s gone.  Like my left upper molar.  I can try to convince myself that the object now there is just as good as the real thing.  The good news is that it doesn’t hurt any more when exposed to a hot drink.  But I am reminded every time I floss under it (yes under it!), that it is not the same thing as that which was once a firmly attached part of me.  And the endontist was very clear on the range of bad outcomes (bone surgery, anyone?) if I do not maintain it.

Let’s apply this to an example out in the wider world.   There is a large piece of land, federal land by the way, and thus owned by all of us.  Once it had grazing land above the surface, and water and coal below.   A coal company came along and decided it was a good idea to “Produce” all that coal.  So they got the federal government lease at an “auction” where they were the only bidder.  Then they proceeded to destroy the range land, pollute the water, sell the coal, and pocket the money.

Let’s be clear that nothing was produced.  Material was extracted, and now it’s gone.  As is the grazing land and the water resource.

Setting aside for a moment the ridiculously long list of pollution impacts, let’s focus on the fact that the material is gone.

This particular spot was chosen for an open pit mine because it was the most “economic”.  That translates, one way or another, into having the highest available Energy Return on Investment (EROI).  By rule, the location with the highest EROI will generally be chosen first.  So when each resource is gone, the next one will have a lower EROI.  More cost and more pollution to get that next fix of energy.

This effect is dramatically visible in the move to extract unconventional liquid hydrocarbons.  “Unconventional” means hydrocarbons whose EROI is so bad, or whose location is so remote and dangerous, that they never would have been considered until the easier reserves were gone.  Don’t be fooled by descriptions of new technology that now makes it possible to extract the new sources – it is technology born of desperation.

Before and After Extraction
It is broadly true that the EROI of all carbon fuels extracted is going down, year after year.  So, to get a given amount of energy, it requires expending a steadily increasing amount of energy.  And that’s bad news, because, as the total global extraction rate stays the same or even increases, lower EROI means more and more pollution, including and especially of greenhouse gases.  Tars sands is the most visible poster child for this extra energy use and extra pollution per unit of useful energy, but the trend is clear across the board.

So please accept these worthy missions:

1)    Never use the term “Production” when referring to extraction of carbon fuels, or any other natural material.

2)    When you see or hear this term “Production” in this context, challenge it.

3)    Remember, and remind people, of the total cost of extraction.  The cost is not just pollution.  The full cost of any extracted fuel is: (Direct Cost) + (Pollution) + (Lowered EROI for the next batch of fuel).

4)    When you think of extraction, think of my former tooth.  Extraction, of anything that nature intended to be in a certain place, hurts.

Use any method you deem fit to challenge the use of misleading terms, such as “Production”.  Perhaps a visual.  

Perhaps a few choice words from your heart.  Here are a few from mine, recalling when I used to walk my dogs past the long abandoned open pits in the coal country of east Tennessee:
When they say Production
We know what that means
They peel back the skin
Of She who has given us so much
And leave her to die.

A few incisive words for our future from Citisven in the comments:

Ask not what you can extract from the planet. Ask what you can replenish.
Our Future - Worth  Saving
Any time you think that you don't have a choice, you actually do.

Any time you think you have to do something that's wrong, you don't.

Not Here
Not Today
Not Any More

We shall not participate in our own destruction.


Coal mine images by Paul K Anderson

Tar Sands Before and After image by Greenpeace via kossack Agathena

Tar Sands image from Tar Sands Blockade

Originally posted to James Wells on Fri Jun 14, 2013 at 08:47 AM PDT.

Also republished by Climate Change SOS and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Our whole economy is dependent (12+ / 0-)

    upon extraction of one type or another, be it natural resources or fiscal resources, and funneling the proceeds upward to a few wealthy individuals and corporations.  

    It is sad, isn't it to see what was once a piece of our commonwealth that had been used in a sustainable way, be plundered by a corporation for profit.

    Nice diary.  Tipped and recommended.

    "Growing up is for those who don't have the guts not to. Grow wise, grow loving, grow compassionate, but why grow up?" - Fiddlegirl

    by gulfgal98 on Fri Jun 14, 2013 at 09:26:39 AM PDT

    •  I had to stop myself! (9+ / 0-)

      There is such a striking parallel between extracting natural and fiscal resources.  Perhaps that's material for another diary.


    •  Fossil fuels especially belong to all peoples of (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lehman scott

      the earth. All species really. I think the only species that predates most fossil fuel deposits (about 400 million years) is the horseshoe crab. Here's what Jim Kunstler says about fossil fuels and our economy.

          What’s going on is as follows: America’s central bank is trying to compensate for a floundering economy that will never return to its prior state. The economy is floundering because its scale and mode of operation are no longer consistent with what reality offers in the way of available resources at the right price, especially oil. So, rather than change the scale and mode of operations in this economy — that is, do things differently — we try to keep doing things the same by flushing more “money” into the system, as though it were a captive beast receiving nutriment.

      Reaganomics noun pl: belief that government is bad, that it can increase revenue by decreasing revenue, and unregulated capitalism can provide unlimited goods for unlimited people on a planet with finite resources.

      by FrY10cK on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 04:55:07 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Exactly. And Kunstler nails it. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        IMO the root cause of the 2008 financial collapse was not greedy bankers or their employing institutions; the collapse was, rather, a symptom of a floundering financial system seeking any means necessary to stay viable in an environment where the debt-based growth which the system needed to survive was no longer possible in the aggregate.  Economic growth as they have come to define it is over; the steady-state economy approaches and there is nothing they can do to stop its inevitable arrival.  And the longer that they, and we, delay in facing that reality and retooling our financial systems accordingly, the more difficult and painful the transition is going to be.

        What traditional economists badly need to relearn is that the economy is not separate from the environment or even embedded within it.  The economy is the environment.

        Pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will. - - Antonio Gramsci

        by lehman scott on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 08:26:27 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  when pouring ever more fuel on the fire (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        lehman scott

        does not result in ignition, it is a sure bet the fire has gone out.
        The extractive/exploitative/expansionist model of economic activity is dead already. The quacks hovering over it are still in denial, but dead it is. Exhibit A is the increasing amount of cannibalism, chiefly things like hedge funds and the runaway financial sector. It never had a chance on a finite planet, anyway, and nature is here to collect the debt owed.

        Last full month in which the average daily temperature did not exceed twentieth-century norms: 2/1985 - Harper's Index, 2/2013

        by kamarvt on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 11:02:54 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Unlike our teeth (10+ / 0-)

    coal was "produced" over long periods of time, millions of years ago.

    Thanks for this great messaging piece reminding us to call things what they are and be pointed, accurate, and explicit in our language on this issue - and to stop grabbing the words that the coal and fossil fuel companies use to distract us from the impacts of their practices.

    Unfortunately, the media and many electeds have picked up fossil fuel language, so we have to be relentless in using the messaging outlined here.

  •  Powerful diary, James. (8+ / 0-)

    Thank you for the images, especially, that tell an ugly story. We all need to see the reality of it.

    "Let each unique song be sung and the spell of differentiation be broken" - Winter Rabbit

    by cotterperson on Fri Jun 14, 2013 at 09:47:17 AM PDT

  •  Extraction could be required by law to be.. (7+ / 0-)

    ..contingent on one simple law that all licensed building contractors are familiar with when bidding on jobs:

    To "Match existing" - which also falls into the requirement to comply with all zoned building codes.

    So as an extraction corporation operates they too must follow the "match existing" code and return all lands, rivers, etc to a functioning ecosystem.

    The Butchart Gardens is an example of a wife cleaning up after her extraction company husband tore through the land.

    Remember, and remind people, of the total cost of extraction.  The cost is not just pollution.  The full cost of any extracted fuel is: (Direct Cost) + (Pollution) + (Lowered EROI for the next batch of fuel).
    ..And the cost of returning the land to as good or better when left. That should figure into the cost of fossil fuels/non-renewable energy sources too.

    Then the obvious long term advantages of renewable energy becomes clear. Plus on top of that advantage is NO pollution from CO2 energy.  

    Thx James Wells

    •  Muskeg takes 1000's of year to develop (7+ / 0-)

      The Muskeg or peatbogs that get destroyed were 10,000 years old, they find complete Mammoths preserved in the peat.

      And reclamation transforms the land to grassland.

      .................expect us......................... FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

      by Roger Fox on Fri Jun 14, 2013 at 12:50:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes and rain forests too are self sustaining.. (10+ / 0-)

        ..self-regulating ecosystems as scientists have studied.

         I watched a program years ago studing the mystery of how could the sheer volume of the canopy in terms of actual mass be sustained by the amount of nutrients available in the relatively thin layer of top soil the canopy is growing up from.

         It was a fascinating science program.

        The scientists concluded that the canopy itself supplied the nutrients in an ecosystem that if/when is torn down would take millions of years and the same or very similar events that made rain forests possible in the first place.

         Iow's once destroyed the rain forests can't be replaced as they now are.

        So if energy corporations can't "match existing" by law as I was considering as a possible method of forcing the true costs born to be addressed then..

        •  Yes! We need a national movement to promote this (3+ / 0-)
          So if energy corporations can't "match existing" by law as I was considering as a possible method of forcing the true costs born to be addressed then..
          Carbon taxes, while still a small but increasingly politically acceptable option to climate change, are just one example of the general internalization of all external costs that we should be actively working towards, IMO.  A daunting prospect for sure, but one I think we must undertake if we are to have any hope of retaining the best of our current industrial civilization after we get through the coming transition to a global steady-state economy.

          Pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will. - - Antonio Gramsci

          by lehman scott on Fri Jun 14, 2013 at 02:01:32 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  I've read, I think it was in that book 1491 that (3+ / 0-)

          careful study of Amazonian rainforest shows ancient management across broad swaths. I've forgotten what they were aiming for, but it was reminiscent of the way native Americans burnt the plains with regularity to expand the area trees didn't grow so to support grazers to hunt. Likewise by killing lots of species to allow mostly chestnut and acorn to grow in the east. They harvested nuts and also deer ate the nuts.

          That said I've never seen as much plant diversity as in a semitropical forest that hadn't been cut in historic times. Something that took 500 or 1000 years to get to the stage it's at now, won't come back in a decade, or a lifetime.

          How big is your personal carbon footprint?

          by ban nock on Fri Jun 14, 2013 at 08:18:41 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  fascinating.. (4+ / 0-)

        Irelands Peat bogs

        Their are some things we just should not exploit when once they're gone - they're gone.

        ..thank you

    •  Excellent ideas, Mr. Nelson! (0+ / 0-)

      Are you aware of any legislative initiatives proposed or underway anywhere that are trying to implement such mechanisms?

      Pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will. - - Antonio Gramsci

      by lehman scott on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 08:41:15 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  flooding near Fort McMurray threatens to breach (6+ / 0-)

    tailing ponds and nearby rivers.

    Fort McMurray, Home to 176 Square km of Tar Sands Tailings Ponds, Overwhelmed by Floods
    On Friday the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), the Alberta government's industry regulator, released a report stating that tar sands companies have failed to comply with pre-existing agreements to limit the amount of water used in tar sands extraction and processing as well as the amount of polluted water that ends up in the region's growing toxic tailings ponds.

    The release of the report coincides with massive floods near Fort McMurray, wreaking havoc on the city's infrastructure. Since Friday the region has seen between 80 and 180mm of precipitation. Major highways have been closed, roads have been partially washed out, buildings flooded and homes evacuated. The city of Fort McMurray officially declared a state of emergency today, while unseasonably high temperatures prompt snow melt and rain is forecast to continue throughout the week.

    The immediate question is apparent: what threat does the flooding pose to the massive tailings ponds lining the Athabasca River and the millions of litres of toxic contaminants they contain?

    According to recent industry figures, tailings ponds, which hold the billions of litres of contaminated waste water used in bitumen extraction and processing, cover 176 square kilometres of the tar sands region.

    There are some good maps and photos of the affected area at the link above and it is a grim reminder of the climate crisis feeding into the danger from the tar sands.
    Jesse Cardinal from the Keepers of the Athabasca said today, "We are definitely concerned about the flooding..."

    "[These] are the highest ever recorded amounts [for water levels] and Fort McMurray is on a boil water advisory...What are the downstream effects?"

    A recent study released by Environment Canada states that pollution from the tar sands has affected the water in areas as far away as 100 km from Fort McMurray. Tar sands related toxins, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), are known to be fatal to young fish during the developmental stage.

    In February, internal government documents released through Access to Information legislation confirmed tailings ponds were leaking into local groundwater. Further concerns about contamination are growing with the rising river levels.

    This morning Suncor Energy, a major tar sands company, announced via facebook that a road near its MacKay River in situ project had suffered damage from the heavy rains, saying employees were being advised to ration water until transport plans could be addressed. Another of Suncor's facilities, pictured below, lies on the banks of the Athabasca River, with tailings ponds and other water-holding facilities separated from the rising river by narrow berms.

    Here's some info on the Mackenzie River...

    The Mackenzie is Canada's longest river, beginning in the Columbia Icefield in the Canadian Rockies and runs 1,800 km to the Arctic Ocean. Major tributary rivers, include the Peace, Athabasca, Liard, Hay, Peel, South Nahanni and Slave. Some 45,000 lakes are in the Mackenzie Basin including the Great Slave, Great Bear and Athabasca.(all emphasis mine)

    without the ants the rainforest dies

    by aliasalias on Fri Jun 14, 2013 at 12:45:45 PM PDT

  •  Outstanding diary, James. (6+ / 0-)
    This is so basic.
    One would like to think so.  Unfortunately, a very surprising number of otherwise very intelligent people are quite clueless about this idea.  It's quite frightening.

    Pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will. - - Antonio Gramsci

    by lehman scott on Fri Jun 14, 2013 at 12:55:34 PM PDT

  •  Imagine if President Obama said this: (3+ / 0-)
    "Ask not what you can extract from the planet. Ask what you can replenish."
    I hope some day soon people in position of power will say something along those lines. And I won't even extract intellectual property fees. ;-)

    Nice diary, James, you sure do speak my language. How do we get more people to understand...?

    Ecology is the new Economy

    by citisven on Fri Jun 14, 2013 at 05:13:29 PM PDT

  •  From Australia (3+ / 0-)
    Keep our coal in the ground

    Even though we have implemented a carbon price, Australia is not doing enough to halt climate change. Our leaders, and our fossil fuel companies, are addicted to coal, and in doing so are playing an oversized role in warming our planet. Waters agrees. She told me that we can't let most of the proposed developments go ahead:

    "If Wall Street paid a tax on every “game” they run, we would get enough revenue to run the government on." ~ Will Rogers

    by Lefty Coaster on Fri Jun 14, 2013 at 05:49:34 PM PDT

  •  I think most of our coal goes to electricity. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bigjacbigjacbigjac, lehman scott

    I think of that when I walk into buildings kept a uniform 68 degrees when it's 100 out. Building with very few people and very high ceilings.

    About the word production though.

    In oil it has a very specific meaning, and you could certainly substitute extraction and it would work, but not for the other phases, like the classic christmas tree of a drill rig. That's not production or extraction, that's exploration. Likewise post extraction on an open pit coal mine is called "reclamation" right?

    In Kentucky they've sowed the land with seeds containing grasses and forbes for the reintroduced elk.

    It's what goes into the air that worries me most.

    How big is your personal carbon footprint?

    by ban nock on Fri Jun 14, 2013 at 08:24:24 PM PDT

  •  Extra thanks for the point on EROEI, James. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    James Wells, bigjacbigjacbigjac, kurt

    This issue particularly grinds my gears when I read yet another of the seemingly endless glowing prognostications that the recent development of "non-conventional" fossil fuels via "new drilling technologies" is heralding in a new era of prosperity that spells the end of our energy woes and will render all fears about Peak Oil to the dustbin of history.


    A couple of points:

    Horizontal drilling and fracking technologies have been around for many decades; they are not new.  They only began to be put into use recently after oil hit $100 per barrel - - as a direct result of Peak Oil.

    The oil deposits put into play with these techniques deplete notoriously quickly.  Some of the earliest plays that were first tapped only ten years ago are already in decline.

    The obfuscation taking place on the part of the oil companies, their media mouthpieces, and the investment pundits managing portfolios with significant oil holdings infuriates me.  Either they are totally clueless about the implications of ever-decreasing EROEI or they are deliberately lying to the American people.

    From a recent comment at The Oil Drum:

    Early oilfields had EROIs in the 100s to 1000s. For example, the Lakeview Gusher had an EROI of at least 35,000 (calculation I did with Charlie Hall for the Discovery Channel but did not publish yet).

    The bottom line is this: the exponential economic growth of the last 150 years was based on cheap oil with an EROEI that never dropped much below 50.  When US oil deposits peaked in the 1970s (as predicted by M. King Hubbert, father of the Peak Oil Hubbert curve) and EROEI started dropping it was cheaper for us (and more profitable for the MIC) to start drilling in the Middle East where our oil was inconveniently located under their desert sands.  Now that political stability grows ever more unpredictable in that region and the global oil prices remain reliably high, the oil companies' return to US soil was writ in stone.  Or in shale and sand, rather.

    I do not know what the accepted EROEI is on the current non-conventional oil plays; I've seen numbers as high as 5 and as low as 1.5.  One thing is certain, however: the type of economic growth that this entire industrial civilization is based on, and that currently forms the structural backbone of so many of our social institutions, is at an end, never to return.  This is not to say that no forms of economic growth will be possible - - only those that are based on renewable energy resources and steady-state economic and financial principles have any viable future on this finite planet.


    Pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will. - - Antonio Gramsci

    by lehman scott on Fri Jun 14, 2013 at 10:01:07 PM PDT

    •  Aaand another case in point from just this morning (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      James Wells

      An article from David Smith's EconomicUK blog:

      Saturday, June 15, 2013
      The myth of peak oil
      Posted by David Smith at 02:30 PM
      Category: Thoughts and responses

      A few years ago, I was regularly ambushed by peak oil enthusiasts, who inisted that global oil production was either at or beyond its peak. That peak, it was said, either occurred in 2005 or in 2008-9. My response was that, while it might be possible to think of a peak in global oil production in 20-30 years' time, it was not imminent. Not only that but high oil prices would encourage more exploration, and make marginal oil provinces viable.

      That process is still continuing but the myth of the oil peak is proved by the data. The latest BP Statistical Review of World Energy shows that global oil production rose 2.2% to 86.15 million barrels a day in 2012, from 84.2 million barrels a day in 2011 and 83.27 million in 2010. Each of those represented a new high. Rising shale oil production in America was part of the story but non-OECD output also hit a new record in 2012. The relevant section of the Statistical Review is here. Peak oil in the 2000s was a much talked about myth

      Yes, non-conventional oil is flattening out the peak into an undulating plateau.  But the overall trend of the curve will be decline.  The glory days are over, David.  Stop with the denial and just deal with it.

      Of course, David Smith, Economics Editor at The Sunday Times in London, is author of the book Free Lunch.


      Pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will. - - Antonio Gramsci

      by lehman scott on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 09:10:04 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is the biggest topic. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lehman scott

    There will be,
    maybe before 2030,
    a shortage of diesel fuel
    that will result
    in a shortage of food.

    In America.

    America will starve and die,
    sometime around 2050 to 2100.

    The few survivors
    will be farming with horses and mules,
    eating eggs,
    drinking milk,
    eating meat and cheese.

    This is the biggest topic.

    I've been writing about this,
    and I'll keep writing about this.

    Bringing a child into the world at this point in history is a crime, the crime of child endangerment.

    by bigjacbigjacbigjac on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 04:27:41 AM PDT

  •  Perfect. Also helps explain the 'petroleum curse': (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lehman scott, melo

    ...the fact that nations that have had massive cash income from 'extractables' like petroleum and coal tend toward dictatorship, corruption, grotesque inequality and stagnant socioeconomic development.

    As long as billions of dollars can be extracted from the ground, there is no incentive to change to a more sustainable or egalitarian economy.

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