The Research Project, Week Twenty, Maryland

According to its own web site, Maryland’s Johns Hopkins University is the leading U.S. academic institution in total research and development spending. In fiscal year 2013, the university performed $2.2 billion in medical, science, and engineering research. It has ranked No. 1 in spending for the 35th year in a row, according to the National Science Foundation.   The university also ranks first on the NSF’s list for federally funded research and development, spending $1.89 billion in fiscal year 2012 on research supported by the NSF, NASA, the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Defense.

So I had lots of choices when it came to blogging about research being done in Maryland. I decided to take a look at what the Johns Hopkins’ Canadian Studies program is up to. They have been researching the oil that is produced in Alberta Canada’s oil sands. The oil that is produced from the oil sands, also known as tar sands, is the oil that they want to ship through a new Keystone Pipeline from Canada to Texas.

After reading about the environmental impact of extracting oil from the oil sands from the Johns Hopkins Canada Studies progam, I’m not too sure that the Keystone Pipeline is a good idea.

Extraction of oil from the oil sand produces lakes of toxic sludge. As we all know that toxic sludge may be safely stored initially but accidents happen and if any of the oil sands toxic sludge was to be released it would have a catastrophic impact on the environment. In fact, the Canadian government has already determined that some of the contaminants from the tar sands’ oil production are leaking into Alberta’s groundwater.

In April, 2008, a flock of migrating ducks landed on a tar sands toxic lake and died. The owner of the lake, a company called Syncrude, was apparently supposed to prevent ducks from landing in the toxic lake. The company was fined $3 million for the incident. The lawyer for company admitted that the company must do much better when it comes to protecting wildlife.

The toxic lakes of tailings from the oil sands production are one of the largest human-made structures in the world. They are so large they can be seen from space.

Extracting a barrel of oil from the oil sands produces three times more greenhouse gas emissions than producing a barrel of oil the conventional way. The oil sands operations are the fastest growing source of heat-trapping greenhouse gas in Canada. Fully exploiting Canada’s oil sands could release more climate pollution than the USA and China combined have released in all their history.

Most of this information about the impact of the oil sands industry comes from a group called Environment Canada.

I realize transporting oil through a pipeline is much safer than shipping it over the rail lines. But after reading about the environmental cost of producing oil from the oil sands of Alberta Canada I’m not sure I want that oil coming to America no matter how it is being shipped here.

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