By macleans.ca - Thursday, December 23, 2010 - 13 Comments
Canadian students have come a long way
The end of the year is a hopeful and generous time for Canadians, a time when we indulge our better instincts and tend to look on the bright side of things. How strange then, that recent good news about Canada’s education system has prompted a sudden bout of pessimism.
Last week saw the release of a massive comparison of school systems around the world. The Programme for International School Assessment (PISA) is run every three years by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and tests 470,000 15-year-old students across 65 countries and regions in reading, math and science. Canada, once again, found itself among the world’s leaders in educational performance.
By Patricia Treble - Thursday, December 9, 2010 at 11:20 AM - 0 Comments
Death grip, Gleek, Liberation procedure
Death grip: Holding an iPhone 4 by its edge resulted in signal interference and dropped calls, because that’s where Apple placed its antenna. Steve Jobs initially pooh-poohed complaints, ordering customers to hold the phone differently.
Gleek: A fan of Glee, the wildly popular TV show about a high school glee club.
Liberation procedure: An experimental technique developed by Dr. Paolo Zamboni to open up narrowed veins in the neck and chest of multiple sclerosis sufferers.
Flash crash: In May, American stock markets lost more than 1,000 points in an hour, and some stocks, like Procter & Gamble, lost virtually all of their value before recovering. Blame was pinned on high-frequency trading—supercomputers automatically sniff out bargains a fraction of a second before most investors see them.
By Tom Henheffer - Thursday, August 26, 2010 at 2:20 PM - 0 Comments
Canadian birds are about to fly south for the winter, thousands won’t be returning
Canadian birds are about to fly south for the winter, but thanks to the oil slick contaminating their temporary home along the Gulf of Mexico, thousands won’t be returning.
Although oil has stopped leaking from BP’s underwater Gulf pipeline, more than 1,000 km of coast and almost 20,000 acres of inland marsh have been contaminated with toxic hydrocarbons, and those numbers are expected to increase as hurricane season churns up submerged crude and spreads the greasy sheen covering wetlands. It’s a mess that’s already decimated local wildlife populations, and is now lying in wait for tens of millions of unwitting Canadian ducks, geese and other birds—including endangered white pelicans and piping plovers.
By Colby Cosh - Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 9:35 AM - 0 Comments
From the courts to Capitol Hill, America is turning on Alberta oil
Karl Marx said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. The April 20 explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico was certainly an epic tragedy, from the all-but-forgotten deaths of 11 workers on the platform to the eventual fall of CEO Tony Hayward—a man handpicked for the job when his mentor John Browne succumbed to the political after-effects of a refinery explosion. By comparison, the July 26 rupture of line 6B in Enbridge’s Lakehead pipeline system seems a trivial matter. The total volume of crude oil dumped into the Michigan countryside before isolation valves closed the pipe is estimated by Calgary-based Enbridge at 19,500 barrels—somewhere between seven and 13 hours worth of flow from the Horizon wellhead.
By Joseph Boyden, Amanda Boyden and David Parker Jr. - Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 39 Comments
Joseph and Amanda Boyden report from the front lines
We walk on the sands of Pensacola Beach tonight. We’ve strolled here before, in the past, but it’s different now. Really different. The sky has turned from lavender to purple to black, and what we see comes straight from a science fiction movie. Our darkest imaginings of some mishandled future have sprung to life. For stretches longer than football fields, dozens of white-skinned, red-eyed aliens plod like zombies across the beach where the water meets the sand.
And then we see: the white-skinned aliens are really hazmat-clad humans wearing single infrared lights affixed to their heads. They shuffle and bend in teams of two, one holding a plastic bag while the other digs at black gelatinous blobs in the white sand. They wear white masks, and the waxing moon lists in the sky. Suddenly understanding that the beings are human is no less frightening.
By Jason Kirby - Monday, June 14, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
Can corporate social responsibility help clean up a PR disaster like the one caused by BP’s oil spill?
Judging from events of the past year or so, it may seem like the best response to a corporate crisis these days is to retreat to the boardroom and pray like hell that someone else gets walloped worse.
Back in the spring, the story of Toyota’s runaway cars looked like it would drag on for months. Then Goldman Sachs conveniently landed in the crosshairs of legislators and securities regulators, taking the heat off the automaker. In turn, the bankers on Wall Street got a reprieve at the expense of the pelicans, fish and residents of the Gulf of Mexico, courtesy of BP.
By Colby Cosh - Monday, June 14, 2010 at 1:11 AM - 15 Comments
British politicians should certainly be standing up for Britain’s largest corporation in the face of xenophobic attacks on British Petroleum’s management by the President of the United States! This is nothing more or less than an attack on British pensioners whose comfortable retirements depend on shares of good old British Petroleum! BP’s dividends are our lifeblood! Now is not the time for our leaders to be timid in defending a great British CEO and British corporate interests! Mrs. Thatcher didn’t play these sorts of games when the American-owned Piper Alpha blew up! I ask you, what happened to the so-called “special relationship”?
On the other hand, it would be totally outrageous to suggest that Britain bears any collective responsibility for the management of the rig! Are we going to point the finger of blame at British pensioners just because they stood to receive the profits if everything went well, but now that it hasn’t, it’s the Gulf Coast that must suffer? Isn’t President Obama aware of the rudimentary fact that BP is no longer “British Petroleum”, but a global brand? Plus, hello, the owner of the rig was Transocean Ltd.—pretty much an American company, although they’re technically based in Switzerland! But, remember, “BP” is not in any sense British, even though its head office is still in the City!
Look, let’s not get caught up in technicalities! The point is, we don’t necessarily like the tone of these anti-British attacks on a company that, by the way, isn’t even British! The oil was destined for your market! If you want it, maybe you should clean up the mess! But, uh, that’s not to say you should nationalize BP’s resources in the Gulf of Mexico or anything like that! We in Britain would regard that as an act of xenophobic belligerence! Although, again, there’s no necessary connection left between “BP” and Great Britain! That’s just a vestige of history! Pretty much a coincidence! Can’t we just blame the Koreans and move on?
By Jason Kirby - Thursday, June 10, 2010 at 1:00 PM - 0 Comments
As oil continues to spill into the Gulf, the company is facing tens of billions of dollars in penalties
If the damage from BP’s massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico was just about lost oil production, the $60 million of crude that’s oozed into the ocean—based on official estimates of the rate of the leak—would barely register as a rounding error on the company’s financial statements. Instead, the staggering bill BP faces for cleanup costs, lawsuits and fines will run well into the billions.
By Andrew Potter - Sunday, June 6, 2010 at 8:51 PM - 81 Comments
What other ticking time bombs await?
The only substance possibly more toxic than the thousands of barrels of oil that continue to gush daily into the Gulf of Mexico from BP’s broken Macondo well is the flood of commentary spewing from the mouths and pens of U.S. Republicans and their allies in the partisan press. The right-wing talking point of the moment is that this spill has turned into “Obama’s Katrina,” marking the moment when the President’s fundamental inadequacies as a leader are laid bare for all to see. But that’s only when they aren’t blaming “government” itself, or at least the quaintly misguided left-wing conceit that government can do anything usefully at all.
There’s been no small amount of revenge-seeking by Republicans who have always felt Bush was treated unfairly over Katrina. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Dubya’s long-serving hit man Karl Rove pointed out that while Bush had to work through and with local authorities in Louisiana, the Gulf is an area of undisputed federal authority. He took great pleasure in turning Obama’s own words against him, suggesting the President might rue his complaint about Bush’s response to Katrina: “I wish that the federal government had been up to the task.”
By Jason Kirby - Thursday, May 27, 2010 at 8:20 AM - 5 Comments
Green groups are trying to link oil sands to the Gulf spill
Until the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in April and a massive slick oozed across the Gulf of Mexico, environmentalists had managed to dramatically shift public opinion in the U.S. against the Alberta oil sands. Now, as crude-soaked birds wash up on Louisiana shores, Canadian officials are seizing the opportunity to brand Fort McMurray crude as the clean, safe alternative to offshore drilling. It’s a message environmental groups are desperate to undermine.
By Michael Barclay - Friday, May 21, 2010 at 3:00 PM - 3 Comments
Seafarers’ legends vary in their descriptions of mysterious sea creatures
Sea serpents are surfacing all over the world. Though seafarers’ legends vary in their descriptions of mysterious sea creatures, it’s long been believed that the oarfish is one of them; also know as the ribbonfish or the king of herrings, it’s the ocean’s longest bony fish, running up to 15 m in length and sporting a red dorsal fin the length of its body. They are a deep-sea fish, usually only seen by humans when they wash up dead on shore, which is what happened last week in Sweden—the first time an oarfish, which prefers more temperate waters, has been seen in Sweden in 130 years.
In February 2009, two oarfish turned up on North Sea beaches in the U.K. This past February, 10 oarfish washed up on the north coast of Japan, where the oarfish is also known as “the messenger from the sea god’s palace.” Oarfish sightings are thought to be harbingers of earthquakes in Japan, both in traditional lore and among scientists who believe deep-sea fish behave differently following movements in seismic fault lines. Also in February, scientists working on an offshore drilling project in the Gulf of Mexico got the first known video footage of a live, healthy oarfish at its natural depth—though no one in that troubled area is holding their breath for a repeat sighting these days.
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Saturday, May 15, 2010 at 11:20 AM - 4 Comments
BP’s efforts to plug its undersea oil spill take on a MacGyver feel
This past September, the Deepwater Horizon tapped the world’s deepest-ever oil, boring a well 35,050 feet—or 10.7 km—below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. The size of two football fields (the standard measurement for describing really big things at sea for some reason), the $350-million drill rig was a state-of-the-art marvel. Able to maintain its free-floating position, regardless of the weather, with the aid of computers and GPS, it was also self-propelling, simply picking up and chugging to the next site when the job was done. On board the high platform, there was a gym, a movie theatre, poker tables in the lounge, and queen-sized beds and satellite TV in the cabins. Its 126-strong crew referred to it as a “floatel.”
Today, what’s left of the Deepwater Horizon lies 5,000 feet (1,500 m) down on the sea floor, a short distance from the well that blew out on Apr. 20, touching off an inferno that killed 11, injured 17, and caused the rig’s sinking two days later. As much as 750,000 litres a day of crude oil continues to spill into the waters of the Gulf, threatening marine life, and it is only a matter of time until the slick—6,500 sq. km and growing—coats some of America’s most ecologically sensitive shores. The inability of British Petroleum (BP), who leased the platform for $500,000 a day from Swiss company Transocean, to stop the flow after almost three weeks has raised the ire of the Obama administration and brought the oil giant’s own survival into question.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, May 13, 2010 at 3:40 PM - 3 Comments
Conflict over who should pay the bill for the oil slick disaster seems inevitable
Several unsuccessful attempts at capping the broken Deepwater Horizon oil well in the Gulf of Mexico have revealed some grave disadvantages to drilling at 5,000 feet below sea level.
And yet, this situation has provided a few advantages as well. For one, the depth and distance from shore have given authorities significant lead time in preparing for impact, if and when the oil slick reaches the Gulf Coast. It also provides plenty of time for political posturing over who’s going to pay for it all.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, May 11, 2010 at 5:17 PM - 32 Comments
The Scene. It was a full 25 questions today before anyone referred to Helena Guergis, before any of Pat Martin or John Baird or, sometime later, Marlene Jennings got involved. And then, yes, there was a reference, from the aforementioned Mr. Martin, to crucifixion. But that there had been a full 25 questions before we came to this point, surely counts for something.
This was indeed, in various small ways, a remarkable day. Daniel Paille and Jim Flaherty entertainingly sparred over securities regulation. Mr. Flaherty and John McCallum very nearly yelled each other hoarse over taxation policy. There were two questions about the potential for train traffic through downtown Toronto.
That it all began with David McGuinty, the booming Liberal backbencher, might not have particularly bode well. But then he seemed to have a question of some relevance. Continue…
By Rachel Mendleson - Friday, April 30, 2010 at 12:00 PM - 21 Comments
There’s no tried-and-true way to limit the damage
In the days since a BP oil rig exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico, vast amounts of oil have been pouring into the water. The damage is worse than originally thought: the U.S. Coast Guard has revised its earlier estimate, indicating that some 5,000 barrels of oil are spilling into the water off the coast of Louisiana each day. As the slick moves toward the fragile coastline ecosystems, the race to contain it is underway. On Thursday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano declared the spill “of national significance,” pledging to devote “every available asset” to stopping it.
In the meantime, BP is trying to contain it any way it can: in addition to using skimmers to remove the thickest substance, 76,000 tons of dispersant to break up the oil, and setting up miles of barriers to protect the coast, the company is experimenting with controlled burns—a last-ditch effort that carries environmental consequences. (Though burning oil changes its consistency, making less likely to coat marine life, according to the U.S. Coast Guard’s Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry, it creates a “black plume” of smoke.) Despite past experience with oil spills, there’s no tried-and-true way to contain them. Here’s a look at how the world’s top five marine oil spills were (or weren’t) contained:
5. ABT Summer: On May 28, 1991, there was an explosion aboard the ABT Summer, an oil tanker en route from Iran to Rotterdam. The ship, which was carrying 260,000 tons of oil, caught fire. After three days, it sank 1,300 km off the coast of Angola.* Because it was so far off-shore, there was no rush to clean up the damage; it was assumed that high seas would break up the large slick.
4. Nowruz Oil Field: On February 10, 1983, in the midst of the Iran-Iraq war, an oil tanker slammed into a platform at the Nowruz Oil Field in the Persian Gulf. The conflict delayed efforts to cap the ensuing spill, and an estimated 1,500 barrels drained into the water each day. In March, Iraqi planes attacked the platform, setting the oil slick ablaze. By the time the well was finally capped in September—an Iranian operation that killed 11 people—it had released some 260,000 tons of oil into the sea. The clean-up effort largely centered around the use of skimmers and pumps by Norpol, a Norwegian company.
3. Atlantic Empress/Aegean Captain: On July 19, 1979, two oil tankers, the Atlantic Empress and the Aegean Captain collided off the coast of Trinidad and Tobago during a tropical storm. The ships, which contained nearly 500,000 tons of crude oil between them, burst into flames on impact. Crews successfully extinguished the fire aboard the Aegean and it was towed to shore, but the blaze continued to rage on the Atlantic. After more than two weeks of firefighting efforts, an explosion sunk the ship, which had by then been dragged further out to sea. Dispersants were used to treat the spilled oil, curbing pollutants. In the end, an estimated 280,000 tons poured into the Caribbean—the record for a ship-source spill.
2. Ixtoc I: On June 3, 1979, Pemex, Mexico’s government-owned oil company, was drilling a 3.2 km deep oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, when the Ixtoc I exploded. The blow out, which occurred when the drill ran into high pressure, soon caught fire and caused the platform to collapse. A team of experts arrived quickly at the site, about 970 km south of Texas, but because of poor visibility and seafloor debris, it took divers until the following March to cap the well. In the meantime, between 10,000 and 30,000 barrels of oil poured into the water each day, totaling an estimated 454,000 tons. To slow the flow, mud (and later, steel balls) were dropped into the well. According to Pemex, half the oil burned when it reached the surface, and a third evaporated. Norwegian experts contained the spill using skimming equipment and booms.
1. Gulf War: In the first days of the Gulf War, Iraqi military forces opened the valves at the Sea Island oil terminal in Kuwait, releasing vast amounts of crude oil into the Persian Gulf. The spill, which began on January 21, consisted of up to eight million barrels (between 1,360,000 and 1,500,000 tons), making it the largest in history. Because of the war, clean-up was delayed, but an international effort did eventually get underway. Using smart bombs, Coalition forces were able to seal the open pipelines at the Al Ahmadi facility, and American and Dutch workers built ponds in the desert to store the oil they pumped from the water. Booms and skimmers were used to keep the oil away from the desalination plants, which provided drinking water to residents in the area. In the end, the spill was not as catastrophic as initially feared: roughly half the oil evaporated, two to three million barrels washed ashore and a million barrels were recovered.
(*Corrected from an earlier version, which erroneously stated that the ABT Summer sank 130,000 km off the coast of Angola.)