walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

once upon a time: a tale of nat gas and algae

Once upon a time, let's call it some time in the 1980s, I went to visit my grandmother and her last husband, who also happened to be my great-uncle (brother of first husband). They lived (both have since died) near the town of Olds, which is closest to what was then still a small city, Calgary. The biggest thing happening (other than religious squabbles, farming, berry picking and the Roundup) in the area was oil extraction. That part of Alberta is a huge, high, sloping plain. When you go up the Canadian Cascades, they merge into the Rockies, and when you go over the Rockies, you don't go down very much. And you can see a single tree from miles away. Weird place. When I went to visit my grandmother and great-uncle, the Albertan night was lit by flares, where the natural gas was burned off as useless and dangerous, carbon added to the atmosphere unthought of, and pipelines to send that gas to a power plant somewhere a distant dream.

When I returned, sometime after 2000, but before I married and had my two children, I had a chance to find out what happened to those natural gas flares, which had, to be honest, never left my memory or imagination. Even in the 1980s it struck me as wasteful; by the time 200x rolled around, I _really_ wanted to know if they were still doing that. Well, they weren't (duh), Calgary was a _lot_ bigger, and water was so scarce on my mother's cousin's farm that they were using graywater to flush toilets and we had to teach my cousin's kid not to let the faucet run when he washed dishes. I asked C. and I., when did the flares go away? And they just looked at me. I described what I remembered and they got this dumbstruck look on their face. They knew what I was talking about, but they'd been gone so long they'd entirely forgotten they'd ever been there. In something less than 20 years, completely eradicated from their memory. A string of relatives visited the out-of-town family, gingerly navigating the religious divide between C., I. and the visitors (as never-been-Mennonite, we were all in the clear). I. got some of her own back by conspicuously serving some berry pie which the visitors could not justify to themselves sharing -- that would be too close a relationship to C. and I. and Not Acceptable. (I wasn't kidding when I said crazy religions ran in my family.) The pie was fantastic. My cousin's wife, born and raised in Mexico, and I spent some time attempting to figure out what the creamy dairy product of her youth was, and how to say it in English (we decided it was probably heavy cream, but we're not entirely sure -- R. had this fantastic description of the unpasteurized, unhomogenized, whole milk delivered by dairy farmers to her house. It reminded me of the goat's milk I used to drink at my (other side) grandparents' farm). And one of the visitors eventually said what we all knew had to be the case: they went away some time in the late 1980s, when they started to capture the natural gas and sell it. At least, what they didn't use locally to produce electricity for Calgary and its environs.

Sometime in high school, in some sort of current events or history class, one of my ex-hippie teachers used to talk about how some day, we were all going to be wiped out, possibly by an algal bloom. An algal bloom? Yes. Scary stuff.

I've been trying, on and off, to read _Earth: the Sequel_. And I just reached a section describing the Arizona Redhawk power plant, which has a pipe running from the stop of the natural gas smokestack, collecting CO2 to run down to the greenhouses at the base, where they grow algae, with the intention of collecting biofuels from it.

It's making me a little dizzy.
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