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The true cost of Fracking

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This Eye-Opening Infographic May Surprise You
There are significant pros and cons, making fracking a highly controversial issue.
By Reynard Loki / AlterNet May 23, 2016,


Written by Stephen Rees

February 26, 2018 at 6:18 pm

Posted in energy, Environment

Tagged with

BC Budget 2018

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You can read the whole thing on the BC Gov website or Justin McElroy on the CBC ‘s summary. Basically a commitment to increase necessary spending in the right areas which is being funded by increases in taxes on the corporations and the wealthy. So I am generally in favour.

But what is missing is a much needed correction of former BC Liberal policies which saw a giveaway of our natural resources. Once upon a time oil and gas revenues from leases and royalties made a significant contribution to our provincial budget. That is no longer the case, and ought to have been corrected by the new NDP (+ Green) government.

Two reasons leap out. Horgan retains Christy’s silly obsession with LNG, as well as Site C (which will increase GHG emissions) and, quite possibly, given the federal Liberals commitment the potential TMX pipeline expansion too. Our emissions are not going down even though it is quite clear from the state of the Arctic ice alone that this is a problem we are not tackling. Melting permafrost, with consequent releases of methane and mercury, are immediate threats, not something in the future.

But secondly the whole budget rests on a somewhat hopeful outcome of the ICBC debacle. I think the idea that somehow economic growth and a reasonable approach from personal injury lawyers is going to be enough is overly optimistic. We are going to need the revenues from oil and gas royalties and leases sooner rather than later.

But also, the whole fight with Alberta over the pipeline starts to look a bit different  when you consider how much diluting bitumen for pumping down the pipe depends on BC natural gas and its condensate. (For that thought I acknowledge the twitter feed of Eric Doherty.) The entire project is based on a falsehood, that there will be a market in Asia for dilbit at a higher price than the US refiners are currently willing to pay. It becomes less attractive to the US market (where nearly all of the exports go now) if the BC fuels it depends on have to pay some fairer share of the costs on our local environment and the fact that the resource is not renewable. There is a real reason to fear the loss of jobs at the Burnaby refinery if TMX is all about exports. We need to make sure that we are getting money for value. That isn’t case at the giveaway prices set by Clark.


Yeah, well there was something else that wasn’t in the budget. It would have been really welcome if the NDP had reversed some of Christy Clark cuts to the Public Service Pension. Of course, when these were announced they came with the message “these changes protect your pension” but what they actually meant was that the government was going to stop picking up the tab for some essential health services – so the pension paid out now has to pay for the things that are no longer covered. First up was MSP, of course, but at least that will be going if not immediately. Then there was extended health care, where coverage is now distinctly chintzy. A couple of fillings today cost me $200. And I will need either a denture (over $2,000 – some coverage) or an implant (near $7,000  – no coverage at all) soon. More of that would have been covered under the old plan.

And of course many Canadians have no dental coverage at all.

“As announced in September, starting on April 1 the carbon tax will rise by $5 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions. It will be the first of four annual increases and will bring the price on carbon to $50 per tonne of emissions in 2021.”

source: The Tyee

Written by Stephen Rees

February 21, 2018 at 3:58 pm

Study confirms B.C. oil and gas industry, government underreport fugitive methane emissions

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methane dsf

Photo credit: Flux Lab, St. Francis Xavier University

This is one of those announcements that did not surprise me at all. I have long suspected that BC was not counting all the methane that got released here. Now the work of the David Suzuki Foundation confirms my suspicions. The rest of this post is simply copied from their email today.

Allowing methane to go into the air is one of the worst things we can do if we want to stop climate change.

Methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide and is responsible for 25 per cent of the already observed changes to Earth’s climate.

That’s why we’ve shed light on one of the biggest sources of methane emissions in B.C.: fugitive emissions from the province’s fracking industry.

Yesterday, we released Fugitives in our midst: Investigating fugitive emissions from abandoned, suspended and active oil and gas wells in the Montney Basin in northeastern British Columbia.

The report shows of 178 oil and gas sites investigated:

  • 35 per cent of inactive wells had measurable and, in some cases, significant methane leakage; and,
  • More than 85 per cent of active gas wells vent methane gas directly into the environment daily

The new research corroborates findings from a spring 2017 study by the Foundation and St. Francis Xavier University, which found that methane emissions from B.C.’s oil and gas industry are at least 2.5 times higher than industry and government report.

This work has already helped show Canadians that fugitive methane emissions in the oil and gas industry are much higher than anyone previously anticipated.

The report makes additional recommendations to reduce and eliminate fugitive emissions, including asking government to:

  • Mandate that all oil and gas companies immediately undertake leak detection and repair, starting with the sites we identified
  • Immediately develop and implement recommendations for leak detection, infrastructure replacement and repair, and transparent reporting
  • Make industry provide resources for on-the-ground monitoring and enforcement
  • Move forward with the government’s commitment in the Confidence and Supply Agreement to apply the carbon tax to the oil and gas industry’s methane pollution

The federal government’s draft methane regulations are currently out for public consultation. Final regulations are expected this year.

What you can do and how you can help:

Written by Stephen Rees

February 1, 2018 at 12:03 pm

Guest Post: John Jeglum’s Letter to John Horgan re: Site C

with 3 comments

Site C Construction July 2017 2

Dear Premier Horgan:

 Your explanation for continuing Site C was quite inadequate. How can terminating a project that has cost 2.1 billion plus remediation at 1.8 billion be more costly than completing it for a total of 10.7 billion?  The 2.1 billion has already been spent. Your ability to carry out social programs should be aided by not needing to spend another 8 billion (or more) to complete another mega dam that is not needed.

 You argue that cancelling construction would immediately add to the provincial debt. Jan Slomp (2017) of the National Farmer’s Union writes: “BC Hydro is a provincially owned Crown Corporation, with net earnings that contribute to the annual provincial budget. If the Horgan government wanted to shut down Site C, BC Hydro’s net earnings, debt and equity would allow for an internal schedule to recover the costs already incurred on Site C. These payments would affect BC’s budget very marginally and it would definitely save BC residents in the long term, whether in taxes or hydro rates. From a strict financial perspective, cancelling a project with a $2.1 billion sunk cost would be more prudent than locking BC residents into an open-ended juggernaut, with a budget exceeding $10 billion and more unforeseen construction costs down the road.”

 Continuing the project, even though it is not fully justified, requires a certain degree of stubbornness and inability to recognize when continuing is irrational. It’s a phenomenon in which people stick with something because they’ve already invested so much time, money or energy, even if it’s not the best decision. “Just because you’ve lost money on something or spent some money on something doesn’t mean you should keep doing it.” The financial term for this is the ‘sunk cost fallacy’ (Azpiri 2017).

 The estimated debt of 1.8 billion for remediation is an estimate in the mid-range of a wide range of guesses. There is no existing remediation plan, so the reasonable thing to do would be to form a land planning group consisting of Peace Valley residents, First Nations, and government. There would be basic remediation  such as bank stabilization, trees, shrubs and ground cover. A certain amount of fill in would be accomplished by natural regeneration.   The cost would certainly be less than 1.8 billion, perhaps between 0.3 to 0.5 billion. This could be covered by the same internal schedule as the sunk costs.

 Unfortunately, you ignored all the good economic advice you got, and you followed Christy Clark’s decision, based primarily on BC Hydro recommendations with no second expert review by BCUC. You ignored the recent BCUC review and Deloitte’s review, and expert opinions by Harry Swain, Marc Eliesen, Robert McCullouch, and others, and you gave greatest weight to economic elites, business and labor organizations, entrenched civil servants, and a Crown Corporation whose main objective is maintenance of its authority and control of BC electricity.

 You did not take account of other economic factors, environmental impacts and social impacts by the dam: loss of thousands of hectares of highly productive agricultural land and economic potential for increased agriculture and food supply; loss of land and livelihoods of landowners and farmers; loss of ecosystem services from the Peace River watershed, vegetation and wildlife diversity; lost Carbon Capture and Sequestration by destroyed vegetation; migrations of mammals and birds with international implications, and fish movements in the river; impacts on the downstream water supply for wetlands in Wood Buffalo Park in Alberta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Nikiforuk 2017); and critically, infringement on the Treaty 8 rights of the First Nations on the Peace River–hunting, fishing, trapping, protection of grave and sacred sites, etc.

 How are you going to establish good relations, nation-to-nation, and an accord on Indigenous Rights, if you and developers keep unilaterally taking away or degrading the land and water? And more philosophically, is it morally right to destroy a river passage that is like none other in western Canada, cutting deeply through low mountains and plains, with unique microclimates and innumerable ecosystems and species such as exist nowhere else. This land and water is the birth-right of the FN who have lived here for millennia. When are we going to develop an honest Land Ethic in which we honor and respect the Rights of Nature? (Leopold 1949; David Boyd 2017).

 The most important thing you forgot, in my view, is the impact this mega-dam will have on Climate Change. The news now regularly contains items on climate change, and we know the big changes in climate and weather patterns–temperature, glacier and ice cap melting, ocean rise, increasing ocean acidity, increases in storm strengths (hurricanes, typhoons), extreme precipitation and drought, increasing incidence of wildfires —  the impacts go on and on. This means that in all our development actions, we must consider the impacts of each action on climate. And we need to save ecosystems for their carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) abilities, and forest and agricultural production.

 Why did you not consider what climate impacts the damming of a large river and creation of a large reservoir would have on the environment and climate? What would its carbon footprint be? Several decades of study have shown that mega-dams are not clean energy—they release both CO2 and methane(CH4)  from soil disturbance and flooded decomposing vegetation. Further, a high amount of CO2 is produced in the manufacture of cement, steel and other components (Schindler 2017). And the scores of excavators and trucks give rise to tonnes of CO2, NOx, and black carbon. In the present crisis of climate change, any development activity must take into account the carbon footprint (impact of GHGs causing heating of the atmosphere).

 I understand that you will soon travel to the far east to visit Japan, Korea and China. A major topic will be LNG. So again you follow the path of Christy Clark. I suspect that extracting LNG and fracked natural gas was a big factor in your decision to complete Site C, and also those who influenced you. Perhaps you were thinking to complete the dam to give the possibility for supplying more water and electricity to support fracking and LNG plants?

 Fracked natural gas and LNG  is the wrong path for BC, and for the world. Fracked natural gas, predominantly composed of methane (CH4) is not a bridge to a cleaner atmosphere. CH4 is a full-fledge fossil fuel! Experts peg fracked natural gas with a Global Warming Potential higher than oil or petrol, and similar to that of coal, sometimes depending on coal grade even greater (Howarth 2014). Fracked natural gas loses considerable CH4 during its extraction, processing, pipeline transportation, LNG liquefaction, shipping, regasification, distribution, and final burning. Christy and her ‘clean energy’ was only talking about the final burning of the gas at the end of the life cycle. LNG liquefaction also has significant emissions. Liquefaction is usually done by burning incoming natural gas; electricity can be used in combination with gas.

In fracking, huge volumes of water containing a wide range of possible chemicals, sand and other agents are forced under great pressure down vertical then horizontal bore pipes, emerge from exploded holes in the horizontal pipe, and are forced into a system of cracks in adjacent geologic layers. After a period of time fracking is stopped and gases and wet organics flow back into the pipe and upwards to the surface, where the gases and organics are collected and separated, and wastewater held  in containment ponds.

 It is well documented that not all of the ‘slickwater’ containing the gases moves back into the bore pipes. Some escapes and travels outside of the pipes, some reaching the ground surface. Cement caps and encasements around the vertical bores are supposed to stop this upward flow, but cracks develop over time in the cement, maybe from earthquakes. Some of the fracked gas-liquid  may even move considerable distances away from the drilling site in natural faults, and pollute aquifers and surface waters. It is documented that escape of gasses and organics have tainted water wells of houses and farmsteads, rendering the water undrinkable. The most spectacular effect is tap water that can be ignited! As well, studies in the US have shown that proximity to fracking operations, has influenced adult health and birth defects in infants.

 The Pembina Institute and Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions published a report in 2014 on the use of  LNG in B.C (Horne & MacNab 2014). The Clark government’s claim that LNG exports offer the “greatest single step British Columbia can take to fight climate change” is inaccurate [actually wrong!] in the absence of stronger global climate policies. The Report states that “Natural gas does have a role to play in a world that avoids two degrees Celsius in global warming, but only if strong emissions reduction policies are put in place in the jurisdictions that produce and consume the gas.”[my emphasis]

 By going the natural gas route we simply slow down the rate of adoption of truly clean alternative energies. Even if we manage to get CAPP and oil companies to act responsibly to reduce the fugitive losses of CH4 (they say by 2025, but this is doubtful; they will not do this until the US-EPA mandates it, which is highly unlikely under Trump and Pruitt) we may only achieve a reduction of 40 to 45% of the present losses of CH4.  CH4 is 108 times more powerful in Global Warming Potential than CO2 over a time-frame of 10 yrs; 86 times over 20 yrs; and 34 times over 100 yrs (Howarth 2014). We are so far along in climate change, with air temperature increase over 1.0 0C (since ca. 1900), that we must work for much faster reductions of green house gas (GHG) emissions, and much sooner.

 The UN climate program and the world’s top climate scientists and activists urge levelling off and reduction of GHG emissions in the next 3 years (Figueres et al. 2017). In my reading, fracked natural gas will not provide a bridge to zero-carbon clean energy before we reach 2 0C. Canadian and provincial government actions to reduce fugitive emissions are dreadfully slow.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a possibility, but so far no fully effective techniques have been developed (Hawken 2017). The only fully effective CCS so far seems to be the natural CO2 capture by green plants, especially forests and grasslands, transfer and storage as underground carbon. Agricultural land if managed correctly can be quite effective for CCS in soil.

 If you have dreams for natural gas and LNG, I think you should abandon them, and leave the gas in the ground. If we can stabilize at 2.0 0C or less, we can always come back to natural gas, it will still be there. It seems to me that the Asian countries will be buying LNG and natural gas cheaper from producers closer to them than Canada. Besides, China and India are moving rapidly along paths of alternative clean energies, and other countries know they should move away from fossil fuels, including natural gas. If you try to play the LNG export game, you will be hindered by the tax- and subsidy-favorable deals that Clark cut with Petronas, which is embedded in B.C. legislation for years. So we would end up selling the LNG at bargain basement prices. (This would be comparable to selling electricity from Site C at far less than its cost to generate.) And we will be wasting our time and money on the fossil fuel energies of the previous industrial revolution, when we should be transitioning rapidly into the clean energies industrial revolution.

 We should be moving toward a sustainable economy based on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) enunciated by the UN. It is essential to rapidly switch off the fossil fuels with high GHG emissions, and move to affordable clean energy, SDG 7. This can be done developing local grids and distributed energy, which can be linked to the existing hydro grid of BC Hydro. First Nations and local communities have much interest in local clean energy systems (mostly run-of-river, solar, wind). Several have already have built or are interested in community energy systems, and these could be promoted.

 BC already has plenty of electricity to last for decades. Any shortfalls can be supplemented by several sources we already own—Columbia River entitlement, Burrard Inlet natural gas plant, adding generation capacity to dams already in the BC system, and actually using existing run of river facilities. Wind and solar prices are falling rapidly, and are comparable to hydro, even cheaper. Geothermal, although more expensive, could readily be geared up, drawing on existing expertise in fracking. Low periods of production by solar and wind can be augmented by storage in our hydro reservoirs, pumped storage, and developing big battery storage technology (e.g. Elon Musk, European battery systems). There are numerous potential jobs in clean renewable energy, as well as immediate jobs in energy conservation programs, new housing and energy retrofits.

 I urge you to abandon the LNG idea, and to focus on Clean Energy. I hate the idea that my children and grandchildren, and BC citizens, will be paying for un-needed hydro from Site C for generations, especially since we don’t need it AND because hydro is not the cleanest of energies. You should stop Site C now, it was Christy Clark’s project and you and your party should not have to assume the blame for it. You should get with the new age of Sustainable Development, first by whole-heartedly adopting Clean Energy alternatives, then working on your progressive, socially-orientated programs that would make Tommy Douglas, and David Lewis and Jack Layton proud.

 Please reverse your decision on Site C, it will drag you and the NDP down. But worse, it will unnecessarily burden all of us, the rate and tax payers, the Greens, and the Liberals, and slow up the inevitable conversion to Clean Energy and Sustainable Development. Adopt sustainable development and establish yourself as a champion of climate action and clean energy! Then of course, work on critically needed social and sustainability programs – indigenous rights, housing, efficient mass transportation, electric vehicles, child care, health care, poverty and living wages, bikes-ridesharing, education, and so on. Lots of jobs will be produced by clean energies, new housing, energy conservation in new and retrofit building, sustainable forestry and agriculture, etc.

 I believe the majority of people of BC are ready and anxious for these changes. Your government should help to make these changes happen!


 1) Op Ed_Renegades Rewarded at Public Expense in Site C Dam Decision—Jan Slomp, Natl. Farmer’s Union, 24Dec2017;

2) Site C didn’t need to be approved just because money was already spent_ critics–  Jon Azpiri  Global News 12Dec2017

3)A Sand County Almanac–Aldo Leopold, Oxford 1949;

4) The Rights of Nature–David Boyd, ECW Press 2017; 

5) A bridge to nowhere–methane emissions and the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas–Robert Howarth-Energy Science & Engineering (Society of Chemical Industry and JohnWiley&SonsLtd.) 15May2014;

6) Drawdown: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming–Paul Hawken Penguin Books 2017;

7) LNG and Climate Change: The Global Context— Matt Horne & Josha MacNab, Pembina Inst and Pacific Inst Climate Solutions;

8) United Nations Says Canada’s Largest Park Under Threat, Calls for Site C Review–Andrew Nikiforuk, 13 Mar 2017;

9) Opinion_ Decision to approve Site C undermines reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and long-term action on climate change–David Schindler & Faisal Moola, Van Sun 20Dec2017; 10) Three years to safeguard our climate–Christiana Figueres et 28June2017;

11) Comment_ Reverse direction on Site C, or pay the price—Vicky Husband  Times Colonist 21Dec2017;

12) Past time to take First Nation consent on developments seriously–Judith Sayers, First Nations in BC Knowledge Network,  December 21, 2017.

Yours sincerely,

John K. Jeglum

Duncan BC

Written by Stephen Rees

December 31, 2017 at 4:51 pm

Posted in energy, Environment

Tagged with , ,

The Site C Decision

with 2 comments

Site C Construction July 2017 2

De Smog Canada image of Site C Construction

As I am sure most of you know, I think John Horgan has made a huge mistake. But this article in MacLeans comes to the opposite conclusion. So go read that then come back here, and I will tell you why Blake Shaffer is wrong.

OK he starts off on the right foot

Regardless of the decision, B.C. Hydro has spent $2.1 billion on the project that it cannot get back. It’s sunk. It’s irrelevant.

But then he conducts his analysis in terms of cost. And he picks the wrong conclusion from the right data. Cost overruns will quickly make this project uneconomic. That seems to me to be inevitable. It is well documented that transportation projects always seem to cost far more than anyone expected. And that applies to major infrastructure projects in general and very large hydro dams in particular.

If $10.7 billion becomes $12 billion, completing Site C becomes questionable.

It’s not “if” it is “when” – and based on the track record of this project so far, that will be sooner rather than later – although I also confidently expect that, also based on experience to date, that information will be obfuscated, withheld and even outright lied about.

There is only one brief paragraph about First Nations – and that seems to me to send a signal too. As though these concerns are somehow minor, just to be expected and easy to get around. I think he is wrong about that. It is one of those things where you cannot be relatively decent. You are either committed to improving relations or not. This is not something to be treated lightly. The track record of governments’ treatment of indigenous people in Canada is shameful. Sadly this simply continues in the same pattern and calling the dam “Reconciliation” instead of “Site C” is simply PR fluff. The BC government is going to find itself in court, once again, with the West Moberly First Nation. Nothing has changed. 3.5 million Google references to “west moberly first nations v. british columbia”.

the cost of alternative technologies will decrease – a reasonable stance, given history – then termination can be justified

No shit, Sherlock. The recent history of wind, solar and battery technology (just to name one of many storage options) has been declining cost. And it has always been true that investing more in conservation – better energy efficiency or “demand-side management” – was always cheaper than new build generation. That was true when I first came to BC to work in the Energy Efficiency Branch (of sacred memory) and is still true now.

But then the analysis stops. What, they ran out of space in the magazine? Because there is no mention of opportunity cost. Flooding the Peace River valley means you lose the ability to grow food there. There aren’t many in places in BC where you can grow fruit and vegetables. And with climate change we already know that we have lost the present source of much of those. California is where it came from up to now. In future, who knows. Not northern BC that’s for sure. And given that we know we have to adapt to climate change and become much more local in our focus if we are going to have a sustainable life style, that does not depend on air freight and trucking  – both heavily dependent on fossil fuels right now and having a hard time changing – losing the ability to grow our own food close to home might at least get a mention don’t you think?


Screen Shot 2017-12-13 at 1.09.02 PM

And here is a working version of that link for the doubters

ALSO read this article in De Smog blog about how the media failed to report this story all along the way.

And this piece in the Times Colonist by Marc Eliesen who is the former president and CEO of B.C. Hydro. He was an expert intervener in the BCUC Site C inquiry, and has served in executive positions throughout the energy sector in Canada, including chairman/CEO of Ontario Hydro and chairman of Manitoba Hydro. He says Horgan’s reasons are “utter nonsense”.

Furthermore, three experts state that the NDP can’t even do the basic math properly

Eoin Finn, a retired partner of KPMG, one of the world’s largest auditing firms, U.S. energy economist Robert McCullough and Harry Swain, a retired bank president with expertise in project financing,

and here are some choice quotes

“This is the stupidest capital decision ever made by a B.C. premier. I don’t know who is giving them accounting advice.” [Finn]

What’s appalling about this is that Cabinet has been advised by some people who simply don’t understand how the finance system works,” said Swain, the former CEO of Hambros Canada Inc. and a former board member of Hambros Bank Ltd. of London.

McCullough, whose testimony to a U.S. Senate Committee helped spark the criminal investigation into Enron, said recovery of an energy project’s termination cost is “a very common practice in the utility business and is addressed in every utility’s annual report.”

McCullough also pointed out that B.C.’s triple A credit rating has just been confirmed.

AND SOME MORE NEWS (January 11, 2018)

Manitoba Hydro is now not only facing cost overruns on its huge dam project but also a dramatic drop in demand for power due to the cancellation of the Energy East pipeline.

And here is Charlie Smith in the Straight: “it’s still irredeemably terrible public policy”.

And now Seth Klein from Policy Note (January 17, 2018)

It seems at this point that the prospects of an about-face are highly unlikely. So why bother rehashing the decision?

First, it is important that unconvincing economic justifications—and the fear-mongering of credit rating downgrades—be challenged, otherwise the precedent is set for more disheartening decisions down the road.

Second, understanding this decision matters so that the new government can be encouraged to approach future ones differently. Much progress is clearly still needed to truly implement and operationalize UNDRIP in BC policy-making. And this is an opportunity to change the frame, to shift whose expertise wields authority and to reconsider what priorities win out.

In the last election British Columbian voted for change. Rather than deferring to the same accountants and ministry officials, this still new-ish government can continue to bring in new voices, invite more creative solutions and engage more fully with civil society.


Written by Stephen Rees

December 12, 2017 at 5:56 pm

Posted in energy, Environment

Tagged with

Book Review “The Patch”

with 5 comments

Alex McLean Oilsands 11 Suncor site, Alberta, Canada 140407-0617_0

The People, Pipelines, and Politics of the Oil Sands

by Chris Turner

Written by Stephen Rees

September 10, 2017 at 4:27 pm

BC Natural Gas Revenues

with 2 comments

Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 10.52.29 AM

The graph comes from a tweet by Eric Neilson.

When you listen to Carole James present her interim budget in the fall this picture is what you need to bear in mind.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 22, 2017 at 10:59 am