Tag Archives: Greenpeace

Clepsydra Elegy

Standard

It should come as no surprise that one of the earliest tools humans used to tell time was water. After all, it’s what we are, what we need to live.

A clepsydra is an ancient clock system that, at its most basic, uses two bowls, one nested inside another. The outer bowl is filled with water; the empty inner bowl has a hole at the bottom which allows a controlled flow of water to seep in.

Ancient Persian clock in Qanats of Gonabad Zibad. Source: Maahmaah/Wikipedia

Ancient Persian clock in qanats of Gonabad, Zibad.
Source: Maahmaah/Wikipedia

Once the inner bowl has filled with water, it is emptied and placed on the surface of the water again until it sinks.

Timekeepers as early as 500 BC kept an eye on the water flowing from one bowl to another to determine fair distribution of irrigation resources between farmers (in ancient Persia, by using water channels known as qanats). Needless to say, the position of timekeeper was important, and subject to oversight by other village elders to ensure parity.

Ancient water clock used in qanat of gonabad 2500 years ago. Source: Maahmaah/Wikipedia

Ancient water clock used in qanat of Gonabad 2500 years ago.
Source: Maahmaah/Wikipedia

We’ve had a water clock of sorts on a planetary scale for as long as long as humans have recorded history, and beyond.

We call them glaciers. They rise, they retreat. The bowls are biggest at the two poles, and for the duration of what we know as human civilization, the Arctic and the Antarctic have been keeping time over the procession of the seasons and climate that have allowed our species to farm and flourish.

It’s only recently, over the past century or so, that we have realized these clocks are not static. They are what water always is: in a state of flux. We’ve known for decades that the melting of the ice at the two poles could spell a new era, one in which the inner bowl of the clepsydra stays submerged and our measure of time is changed.

The level of Arctic sea ice is, once again this year, at its lowest recorded level.

What we need, maybe, are more vigilant timekeepers.

Here’s one of my current playlist videos, performed against the backdrop of calving Arctic ice. An elegy is a lament for something that has already passed away – let’s do everything we can to work against that scenario for the Arctic.
Listen for the crash at the beginning:

 

Oil Koan

Standard
Jensen wheat field, Tesoro oil spill, North Dakota Photo/Credit: Neil Lauron / Greenpeace

Jensen wheat field, Tesoro oil spill, North Dakota
Photo/Credit: Neal Lauron / Greenpeace

Looks small, doesn’t it? Just a black patch in a vast sea of brown soil.

A couple of days ago, a Greenpeace photographer flew over the site of one of the largest onshore oil spills in United States history. It had taken over a week for the Tesoro spill near Tioga, North Dakota, to be reported to the press. And that was only after the farmer who discovered the spill on his land, Steve Jensen, had reported it to the local authorities. Jensen discovered the oil merrily spurting six inches high out of a “perfectly round, quarter-inch hole” with “about 100 pounds pressure,” and “it had been leaking for awhile.”

How long? Long enough for a quarter-inch hole to spout over 800,000 gallons of oil into what used to be a wheat field. Long enough for Jensen to have smelled the scent of oil on the air ‘for days’ ahead of his tour of that particular back field.

Closer view of the Tesoro spill, which covers 7 acres. Photo/Credit: Neil Lauron / Greenpeace

Closer view of the Tesoro spill, which covers 7 acres.
Photo/Credit: Neal Lauron / Greenpeace

I spent quite a bit of time looking at the pictures of this spill before I realized what I wasn’t seeing: The usual pod of television camera set-ups. Thus far, more than two weeks after the spill, the only photos you are likely to find are from Greenpeace.

So, why the lack of interest? Is it because this spill seems to be out in the middle of nowhere, and Tesoro insists that no groundwater has been contaminated, no wildlife harmed? Jensen has said he expects that he will not “be able to farm that land for a few years and there’ll be compensation for sure.” Negotiations with the company have not yet begun. “That is going to come later. We’re looking at a two to three-year cleanup.”

For the moment, the cause of the leak is being blamed on the corrosion of the 20-year-old pipeline. The delay in reporting the incident was first blamed on the government shutdown, but I think blame is more clearly on the fact that in North Dakota, state authorities are not required to report oil spills to the press.

In the United States, the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) manages pipeline safety through its aptly named Office of Pipeline Safety. There are 100 inspectors for 2.5 million miles of pipeline, and 1.5 full-time employees to oversee the 450 emergency response plans for 450 facilities nationwide.

Here’s a map of oil and gas pipelines in the United States.

Oil and gas pipelines Source: ProPublica Click here for the interactive version

Oil and gas pipelines
Source: ProPublica
Click here for the interactive version

And here’s an interactive map of major spill or leak events from 1986-2012.

Pipeline events labeled 'significant' by US regulators, 1986-2012 Source: ProPublica Click here for the interactive version

Pipeline events labeled ‘significant’ by US regulators, 1986-2012
Source: ProPublica
Click here for the interactive version

A similar amount of oil to that of the Tesoro spill leaked into the Enbridge Kalamazoo River spill of 2010. That clean-up has been estimated to cost over $1 billion, plus a $3.7 million fine for Enbridge. For some perspective on those amounts, consider that Enbridge filed a revenue of $1.67 billion – for the second quarter of 2013 alone.

What puzzles me is that this energy source is still referred to as good, cheap energy. Cheap for who?

So far, it looks like Tesoro got lucky. This time.

If environmental disaster falls on deaf ears, is it still a disaster?