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Book Review “Blowout” by Rachel Maddow

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Published by Crown 2019

ISBN 978-0-525-57547-4

Ebook ISBN 978-0-525-57549-8

I am very fortunate to have a neighbour who likes to buy hardback books and then rather than keep them looks for someone who might like to read them. Even though $40 Canadian is, I suppose, not out of reach, it is still a delight to get my hands on an almost new book, for free. In this case, covering the history of the oil and gas industry is mostly familiar territory, although there is quite a lot here that I seem to have managed to miss at the time, or had perhaps just forgotten. And just because it is three years old does not mean it is out of date since nothing much has changed since it was published.

For any kind of life to continue on earth, the oil and gas industry must, as a matter of urgency, be brought under control. Its trajectory is still to expand the production of the fossil fuels that have now produced the unprecedented threat of the climate crisis.

“The oil and gas industry, as ever, is wholly incapable of any real self-examination, or of policing or reforming itself. Might as well ask the lions to take up a plant based diet. If we want the most powerful and consequential industry on our planet to operate safely, and rationally, and with actual accountability, well make it. It’s not mission-to-Mars complicated either, but it works”.

Maddow’s book is mainly concerned with the United States, of course. Not that matters in Canada are any different. We too pour subsidies at both federal and provincial level into oil companies whose profits have been growing exponentially. We used to get considerable revenues from the royalties levied on these companies. Now that is next to nothing and, at the same time, the favorable tax treatments and supports are in the billions on dollars. Yes billions with a B. Maddow does not mention how Norway has been treating the oil and gas industry – it is not even listed in the index – but that might have been a welcome sign that reform is possible. But probably not very likely as long as Republicans still dominate Congress. Though there was one shining moment that she does mention when both parties and both houses got together to ensure that Trump could not unilaterally cancel sanctions on Russia. Which was a very definite objective of Putin’s campaign to get him elected.

There is much detail of the recent activities of the industry, including of course the Deepwater Horizon – which got so much coverage at the time – as well as a second Gulf drilling rig leak which went on for much longer and was even worse but got hardly any attention. The Taylor oil spill started in 2004 when Hurricane Ivan struck. It remained a secret until 2010, and by 2018 was still leaking seven hundred barrels of oil into the Gulf every single day. The industry still has little more than paper towels and dish liquid to clean up spills and very little oversight to ensure that spills don’t happen. “For every 1,000 wells in state and federal waters, there’s an average of 20 uncontrolled releases – or blowouts – every year.” (US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement)

Then there is the tale of fracking and the damage to water resources, homes, farms and businesses from a vast earthquake “swarm”. Again Maddow has plenty on this but misses the way that the industry has been very much aware that it loses vast amounts of methane (a far worse greenhouse gas than CO2) but simply regards that as a cost of doing business – and not something that it highlights as in many cases the methane gas they do manage to capture is simply flared, as liquid fuel for motor vehicles is by far the greatest source of demand for the industry’s output. Outright lying, and obfuscation, is naturally the industry’s preferred method of dealing with this issue. Though they do have a commitment to increase the use of methane – “natural gas” – which is claimed to be the cleanest fuel when in reality it is anything but. It is only recently that I have seen mainstream media picking up the story that gas appliances in the home – mostly stoves – are responsible for indoor air quality to be worse than anything that would be permitted industrially. And in this region Terasen (which used to be BC Gas) is proposing a large LNG export terminal in the Fraser estuary at Tilbury. There is already a smaller terminal there and it is also the case that in the US, where ports get more oversight from local authorities than in Canada, would be very unlikely to be permitted due to the proximity of many other businesses and even residential development. LNG production and transportation in general is also bedevilled by methane leaks that are underreported and difficult to control.

Maddow has a very engaging style and the book reads very easily. There is a substantial (nearly 20 pages) of Notes on Sources. With, of course, copious links to information available online. And there is also a very careful analysis of the mind set and ambitions of Russian dictator Putin, including exactly why he has such a vast and successful social media presence and which has done so much damage to democracy and public discourse. It well worth the read. Both the book and the audiobook are currently available at the Vancouver Public Library but there is a short wait list for the ebook.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 2, 2022 at 12:20 pm

Here’s the thing with your software

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So I have actually already whitelisted Wired – as the screenshot shows – but instead of showing me the page I get the appeal. Again. Which I have already answered.

Yes you are whitelisted. I will put up with your ads. Show me the content, dammit!

Written by Stephen Rees

January 9, 2017 at 8:06 pm

Posted in media, off topic

Tagged with ,

Old growth logging vs the carbon tax

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There is a Canadian Press story this morning which got covered by the CBC, where it caught my attention.

One year of logging old-growth forests in southwestern British Columbia blows away a year of carbon reductions accomplished by initiatives like the carbon tax.

That’s the finding of a Sierra Club report released today, entitled Carbon at Risk: B.C.’s Unprotected Old-growth Rainforest.

That’s the top of the CP/CBC story – and you can find the same thing elsewhere. In fact I think you should. For a start, missing from the CBC story is any substantive content that they have added – and, even worse in my opinion but common to most news web sites, there isn’t a link to the report. For a better example go to Huffington Post  which has the same CP story but at much greater length, and with an interesting back and forth between Rick Jeffery, Coast Forest Products Association president and Sierra Club spokesman Jens Wieting.  But also no link to the report.

In fact I actually talked to Jens Wieting myself this morning. First of all I did not even know that there is more than one Sierra Club – but I guessed that Sierra Club Canada was probably the source. Wrong, it’s actually the Sierra Club BC. Their web page is actually much more active and has the press release – but that doesn’t link to the report either. Jens sent it to me by email, but you can download it from the publications section. Its a six page pdf but worth a look.

I am not at all an expert in this field, but I have some connection to it. I would have had a job at the Forests Ministry had not the BCGEU “bumping” practices snatched it away from me. I did do quite a bit of research before the interview – and he who did the bumping didn’t have to – so I have been a bit more aware of the issues since.  I have been in BC’s old-growth forests – there’s small patches on the North Shore, but more impressive are Cathedral Grove and Meare’s Island.

The old growth

Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve

Cathedral Grove

Cathedral Grove

Hug a tree

Meare’s Island

The latter was the famous site of the Clayoquot Sound protests. And I was also caught by a carbon offset scam which took my money so it could cut down old growth then plant new trees using the same justification that Rick Jeffery trots out. And which has been pretty much debunked. I do feel that the Sierra Club are a bit more reliable here as their report actually is backed by research and data, with useful links. That really is the point I am trying to make here. When you hear something on the radio or tv these days, they will often say “go to our web site for more information” but mostly it isn’t there. But there is Google. We watch tv news now with our tablets at hand. And when you read this

“They don’t want us to log,” said Jeffery. “That is the raison d’etre of the environmental groups. For them to tell you anything else is an outright lie.”

It is a matter of a moment to determine (by going to the report) that what they are calling for is

Increased conservation of the remaining old growth temperate rainforest, phasing out logging of old-growth and transitioning logging fully to second growth is urgent from a climate adaptation and mitigation perspective.


Improved forest management, in particular longer rotation, eliminating waste and selective logging, is equally important to reduce carbon loss. Forestry can be an important sector of the low carbon economy of the future, but not without increased forest conservation and improved forest management.

Perhaps if Jeffery had stuck to what he knows about – what his members are doing or proposing to do – and providing some source material to back that up, he might have some credibility. But by first claiming that he knows what the Sierra Club wants – and then calling them liars for their much more nuanced approach – it is not an end to logging that they are calling for – he discredits himself and his employers.  Of course if you are a business you want to maximize your return on investment – that’s what business does. But businesses that want to be around for a while, that do not want to be treated as social pariahs and have some understanding of the concept of sustainability, rather than simple greed for short term profits – do better in the long run.

“They’re basically telling you that once you cut that old-growth tree, that carbon all gets released into the environment,” said Jeffery. “It goes to other uses. It gets recycled. It goes into buildings and it gets stored.”

No they’re not. What they are actually saying is that clear cutting releases a lot but not all the carbon – and the report uses the rather generous assumption that about a quarter of the carbon is stored.  And there is a picture of slash burning to illustrate what actually happens in the woods when they cut the trees down.

There is a also in the CP story as printed by HuffPo some policy issues with quotes from BC Ministers – again something the CBC misses altogether. But rather than get into that, I do think that what is being demonstrated is that the BC carbon tax is an increasingly flimsy pretence at doing something about greenhouse gas emissions, that is more than offset by all the other activities of the present administration. Perhaps it is indeed the right way to do accounting, to log the burning of our exported coal, oil and natural gas against the nations that burn it. But if we weren’t subsidizing the extraction processing and transport of these fossil fuels, they would cost a great deal more, would be less attractive and those nations would look to other sources of energy. Renewables would be much more attractive to them.

The whole world would be better off if we left more of the oil, gas and coal in the ground. We would also be much better off if we stopped logging old growth forests (especially by actually being honest about how much carbon is released when they are cut and how poorly second growth compares at carbon sequestration). And when we do cut down the trees, we do a great deal more than simply ship off the raw logs elsewhere.

Why Kai Nagata quit his job

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I was simply going to retweet a link to Kai Nagata’s blog post . But I think it deserves more attention than that. I will admit I had never heard of him before – he was a journalist at CTV in Quebec, covering the National Assembly. I do not even know why I clicked on the link to read it at first. Just that it grabbed me and held me captive. He is – there is no doubt at all – very brave. And also very honest. And he gives a very clear, succinct and credible analysis of what is wrong with tv news in Canada.  Which, by extension, tells us a lot about ourselves.

I strongly recommend to my readership  that they set aside  a few moments to read it from beginning to end.

I have no idea where Kai Nagata’s quest will take him but I suspect this is not the last we shall hear from him. And I suspect we will all benefit from his decision to leave CTV News and go and do something more worthwhile. I wish him the best of good fortune.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 9, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Posted in media

TransLink board cautioned on risks of secrecy

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Jeff Nagel, BC Local News

A longish piece, but worth reading and apposite, given what I have already posted today. Kevin Falcon’s imposed structure on Translink was always going to be a bit awkward to handle. Because the only reason it was created was that Kevin did not like a decision the previous Board had taken some time to consider. They were not too keen on the Canada Line and had some very real questions to ask. I would like to be able to write that they had their doubts about the Gateway too, but if they did we did not hear about it. And what we have now is more like the Port and the Airport which were formerly federal institutions and are now supposed to be local but are completely unaccountable, and operate more like companies than public authorities. Except there are not even the equivalent of shareholder’s meetings.

Jeff has been using the FOI process to get hold of the sort of stuff that the previous board used to put on its web page. Now the previous board did not go out of their way to make it easy to find stuff. There were pdf files of board reports, and they were filed by the date of the meeting. And I could never find anything I wanted by using search engines – but usually somebody knew which day the relevant meeting had been held. Of course, minutes of meetings and decisions were somewhere else, but there was a “Board in brief” that was not the official minutes but was reliable and accurate. And of course the old Board wasn’t directly elected so I am not claiming it was adequate – but it was better than what we have now.

But the point Jeff is making is that this Board is not listening to its own staff. And what must also be remembered was that this Board was not selected for its expertise in transportation, or planning, or public accountability.

The FOI request generated 223 pages of material from the January and February board meetings.

Most of the reports would have been routinely released by the former TransLink board of mayors and councillors, who had counselled continued openness.

The information obtained details numerous decisions made secretly in recent weeks but shielded from public view – including the recent adoption of a whistleblower policy that sets rules for TransLink employees who report misconduct.

Much of the material has been blanked out and it is often impossible to tell what recommendations were made or actions taken.

What is thoroughly unsatisfactory about all this is the inevitable conclusion that since they are hiding, there must be stuff they do not want us to see. Why not? It is not as if this stuff has huge privacy or security concerns. The old Board used to meet in camera, when it had to. It also used to have premeetings, that were not official but “briefings”. So did the old Vancouver Regional Transit Commission. There were no public records of those meetings either.

The instinct of most officials is to keep things quiet and keep their heads down and avoid scrutiny as much as possible. It is not hard to find politicians who get caught up in that ethos. It is profoundly unhealthy. It is not about trying to embarrass people, or make them look any sillier than they are. It is about understanding how our money is being spent. It is about accountability and process. We deserve to kept informed and consulted. We elect governments – they are not appointed by kings or dictators. They serve at the will of the people, who can remove them if they fail to perform.

This is an important principle that has been lost sight of in the rush for efficiency and business like decision making. But public authorities – ports, airports, ferries, transit, road builders and maintainers – are not just about the bottom line, like most companies. They deal with huge issues of public significance, and most of them are more important than the financial rate of return on capital employed, which is all most PLCs care about.

Oh and one other thing before I forget – who are these “whistle blowers”? I never met one in the seven years I worked there. I was aware of people who had been got rid off , who every so often popped in public and pointed out some of the sillier things they were aware of, but they were generally ignored as eccentrics with a personal axe to grind. I do know that the people I worked for were terrified about some things that I knew about would become public. When I was terminated I was made to sign a contract which comprehensively prevented me from talking about anything, with all kinds of dire consequences. It seems that it was standard boiler plate and not specially created for me. But I have never had to keep quiet about stupid decisions because they were plain for all to see. I have never repeated gossip, and I kept no private records, so I do not need to behave like Deep Throat.

But I suspect that if this Board keeps going in this direction there will be people who will find it necessary to give unattributable information to people who can get it out. Or even publish it themselves. Many secretive organisations have found anonymous bloggers in their midst in recent years. I hope so anyway.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 6, 2008 at 10:35 am

The Tyee

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I know that regular readers of this blog will know of my affection for this publication.

They have now produced a video, which I originally got by email, and I urge my readers to look at it and send it along to those who may not yet have discovered this source of information.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 30, 2007 at 3:27 pm

Posted in alternative news, media