Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Posts Tagged ‘Canada

Book Review “The Patch”

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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

Transit Report Card released

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Nathan Pachal has posted his annual Transit Report Card on the South Fraser blog. This report compares information from the major transit authorities that is derived from the Canada Transit Fact Book published by the Canadian Urban Transit Association.

I am not going to say very much about the report itself because I think you should follow the link and go read it for yourself. It does show that Translink is doing pretty well. Or perhaps I need to rephrase that. It shows that in 2015 Translink did pretty well. Because despite this being 2017 and all of us having the equivalent of the data processing capacity of the Apollo space missions in our hip pocket, it still takes a bunch of publicly funded and regulated agencies that long to get their act together on comparative data. In the United States APTA and FTA seem to be able to do things better in the sense of “easy to get hold of” if not actually faster. Go to the CUTA web site and you will read “Please note that these publications are not available for distribution to non-CUTA members.” In other words you, the people who pay for and use public transportation cannot access this sort of information easily in Canada. So thanks to Nathan Pachal for performing a very necessary public service – and smack upside the head to the people who think this data needs to be locked away somewhere.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 14, 2017 at 11:16 am

Posted in transit, Transportation

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How Industry is Constraining Canadian Climate Action on Methane

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methane

Flares burn off excess methane at oil and gas refineries, landfills, and other industrial plants. Flares are used to control release of methane into the atmosphere but recovery options are also available that capture methane for use as fuel. source: http://www.pnnl.gov/

This is a guest post by John Jeglum. He is a retired peatland scientist who worked at the Great Lakes Forestry Centre, Natural Resources Canada, Sault Ste. Marie, ON, until 1994, and then at the Swedish University of Agricultural Science, Department of Forest Ecology and Management. He retired from Sweden in 2005, and returned to BC, first in Victoria, now in Duncan.

Much of the material in this post comes from a webinar run by the Climate Action Network in May of this year. It was originally sent to Fraser Voices as an email that included attachments. When these came from internet sources, I have substituted links.


 

You will recall the recent decision by the federal government to delay the institution of new procedures and regulations to reduce methane emissions in fracked natural gas and oil operations by 2 to 3 years. Part of this delay was owing to objections by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) to high extra costs for methane reductions (see Oilpatch accused of using ‘myth’ to delay Canada’s Climate Action  Carl Meyer 2017), and part owing to the new Trump administration, especially with new EPA head Scott Pruitt, which may delay the application of procedures and regulations in the USA.

Recently (18 May 2017), the Climate Action Network sponsored a webinar “How industry is constraining Canadian Climate Action on Methane.” Attached are three powerpoint presentations, and two sets of notes taken from oral presentations. The presenters are five knowledgeable persons with first hand information about the progress the industry/government’s program of constraining release of methane in the gas industry.

Andrew Read (Pembina)

Drew Nelson (EDF)

Keith Stewart (Greenpeace)

Dale Marshall (ED Natl. Prog. Manager) ‘Addressing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.’ Notes–audio presentation

John Werring (Suzuki Foundation). 3 summers of field work on methane, Montney Play, NE BC. Notes — audio presentation

Read’s presentation gives information on methane gas leakages from a number of pieces of equipment / structures / practices —fugitives (33%), venting (23%), pneumatics (20%), compressor systems (9%), well completions (1%), other (13%). The other presentations give their interpretations for the delay. Especially interesting was the final presentation by John Werring, which noted an absence of in-the-field inspection and monitoring. Monitoring of methane release has had rather little serious attention in NE BC.

In the listing of known methane leaks, what is missing is an assessment of the methane leakage owing to leakage from the vertical and horizontal well bores. The vertical well bores consist of one or several nested steel pipes, sealed on the outside surfaces with cement. The cement surrounds each pipe, including the outermost pipe, and is meant to keep the fracking water, and returning water and contained liquids, inside the pipe. The horizontal steel pipe has holes exploded through it to allow for the water containing fracking fluids to be forced under tremendous pressures out into adjacent shale layers. When the forced injection of fracking fluid and sand (or other propping material) is stopped, the fracking water, containing methane and other carbonaceous liquids from the surrounding shale parent material, moves into the bore and travels up to the surface. It is not clear how far the the cement casing extends from the vertical along the horizontal bore. So probably not all the fracking water plus dissolved organics gets back into the horizontal bore pipe. Some may escape through discontinuities in the parent material or by travelling along the outside of the bore pipe to the surface. This results in loss of desired methane and other gas and liquid materials, which may bubble to the surface at the well, or at distance from the well into aquifers, surface waters and water wells. Fracking wells have demonstrated this kind of uncontrolled loss of methane, increasing for several years after fracking well abandonment  (Ingraffia et al. 2013 and others, e.g. Cherry, Dusseault, Jackson).

After well abandonment, the cement casements can develop cracks owing to natural ground movements, probably caused by earthquakes which are stimulated by fracking (Ingraffia et al. 2014). The degree of cracking increases over time after well abandonment, such that 40% or more of the wells develop leakages of produced water with methane other gases, carbonaceous materials, and fracking chemicals. These compounds can rise upwards and are the ones often reported as spilling over at the well sites, and contaminating groundwater aquifers, wells used for animal and human consumption, and surface waters. As part of the environmental assessment, methane and other compounds escaping from the drilled wells need to be assessed to get a complete picture of fugitive methane and potential groundwater contamination. Very few human and livestock groundwater wells are being monitored in NE BC for methane and other fracking contaminants, before, during and after fracking and gas production. The release of methane and other materials from the drilled well, increasing with time, is a major characteristic of fracked wells (ibid.). As fracking is presently conducted, the fugitive methane leaking from the gas wells, as well as the rest of the sequence of gas capture, processing, and pipeline transportation, wipes out any benefits that may be obtained by low emissions at final burning of the gas (Romm 2014). Many authors have noted that owing to large gas leakage, it is highly doubtful that natural gas can act as an effective bridge fuel (Magill 2014).

With the rate of rising temperature associated with rising GHGs, can humankind really afford to put off serious and immediate action to minimize fugitive emissions of methane, a serious global warming gas? I don’t think we can afford to put off even by three years serious action on reducing fugitive emissions, establishing reasonable rates of carbon pricing, and lowering or removing subsidies to industries for fracking.  The temperature curve is rising steeply, and knowledgeable climate scientists indicate that we need to start immediately a wartime level effort to reduce emissions. Dr. James Hansen declares that we need to start reducing the emissions by 2-3% yearly, immediately, to have any chance of keeping temperatures below 2 degrees (see new temperature chart by James Hansen).

 

David Suzuki Foundation: New Science Reveals Unreported Methane from B.C.’s oil and gas industry threatens Canada’s international climate commitments.

Ingraffea, Anthony. 2013. Lethal Gas-Oil Wells in Pennsylvania, Seminar in NY State Seminar with illustrations. , 13Dec2013– “Lethal Gas/Oil Wells in Pennsylvania” (TEDx Albany 2013 via YouTube)

 

Written by Stephen Rees

August 2, 2017 at 4:41 pm

Federal NDP promises 15-year national transit strategy

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The Georgia Straight covers an NDP announcement today

Fin Donnelly, the MP for New Westminster-Coquitlam, told reporters that if New Democrats form the government after the 2015 federal election, they will bring in a national transit strategy…

“What we’re committing to is a 15-to-20-year window of predictable, accountable funding that municipalities, provinces, and First Nations can access, so that they can do the planning they need in their cities, in the provinces, in the territories to make the certainty of moving goods and people in their region,” Donnelly said today (September 8) during the news conference in Vancouver.

Which is certainly an improvement over the present arrangements. But it is not nearly enough.

First of all, what is needed is a permanent commitment. This is not a temporary problem that is going to be solved in a fifteen or twenty year time frame. Given the present imbalance between roads and transit, and the fact that federal funding has only been available for – usually major – capital investments (i.e ribbon cutting opportunities for politicians of the ruling party) a different approach needs to be established that provides certainty not just for now but into the future. And which has to support transit operations as well as expansion.

Secondly the assistance is to be tied to the gas tax, which is a dreadful policy. Predicated taxation ought to be anathema to elected officials. While it may buy political support from the right wing, which distrusts most government spending and wants to hog tie future government as much as possible, representative and responsible government must be able to look at all spending and revenue needs equally and make continual adjustments between them. A consolidated fund is the only way to do that, and is why budget debates and votes ought to be the centre of the democratic process. The federal Conservatives have, of course, been utterly and openly contemptuous of the parliamentary process with their sneaky omnibus bills.

The tax on cigarettes helps fund healthcare, but its revenues are not dedicated solely to the treatment of lung cancer or coronary artery disease. Nor should they be. The tax on alcohol is not regulated to being just enough to generate the revenue to treat alcoholism.

The gas tax is not a good and reliable source of revenue into the future.  As driving miles fell and engine efficiencies improved in recent years, so gas tax revenues fell at the same time as the need for transit spending increased.

Transit ought not to be regarded as a free standing object. It has to be considered as part of a wider strategy to deal with growing urbanism and its impact on the environment in general. It has to be part of making the places we live happier, healthier and more efficient. Reducing the need for vehicular movement has to be part of this process. There is no point at all in funding only those rapid transit projects that promote ever more urban sprawl, which was well under way long before the first automobiles appeared on the scene.

(Added as an afterword – Jeff Speck tweeted “Why good transit isn’t enough” citing Arlington VA, a suburb of Washington BC which has good transit but is a sad and soulless place. The author of that piece could be writing about much of the urbanized Lower Mainland outside of Vancouver. )  

It is not going to be just about “getting people out of their cars” either. If those cars are much better utilized, carry more people, require less parking space, produce much less or no pollution – all of which can be achieved by technologies now appearing in the marketplace – then we have to recognize that in suburban areas (which will continue to have their current form long into the future) where conventional transit has so much difficulty penetrating, cars are going to be part of the solution. They will probably be electric, self driving and shared. And they will be just as important as bike share programs and improved pedestrian accessibility and greater decentralisation of service provision of both public and private services. One way to reduce the need for HandyDART is to decentralise healthcare services. Some people will need door to door service, others will be happy with better services that they can reach by walking or cycling. Most will be even happier if there is a shorter journey involved. Location of workplaces and post secondary education both need to be revised significantly. If the university is not at the top of a mountain or the end of a peninsula – or includes affordable on campus student accommodation –  then much of the recent increase in transit demand stimulated by UPass would evaporate.

This a good announcement from the perspective of a party getting ready to fight a federal election next year. It is not nearly Good Enough as a formal policy statement tackling some of our most pressing problems and needs. But it is better than anything we are likely to hear from the Conservatives.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 8, 2014 at 1:05 pm

Making the wrong choices

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“No matter what they say, no country is going to take actions that are going to deliberately destroy jobs and growth in their country.”

Stephen Harper (source: CBC)

This post is inspired by an email from David Suzuki “Here’s to a radical Canada Day!”

Stephen Harper’s statement is willfully misleading.

Many countries are taking actions to tackle climate change. The record to date is that they are performing better in terms of jobs and growth than the very few (like Canada and Australia) who have decided to destroy the environment on which all life depends. Countries like Germany, that have far less sunshine than we do but make half of their electricity from it now. Solar power is now cheaper than electricity made from fossil fuels.

The tar sands have long presented a possible source of energy, but for a very long time they remained untapped simply because there were so many other sources which were easier to extract. Usable fuel from tar sands was simply too expensive to make. What changed that was the willingness of the Canadian government to pour billions of tax dollars into its extraction and processing. The subsidies to the fossil fuel industries are unconscionable. If these were cut – in the same way that so many other public expenditures that Canadians actually need and care about have been cut – then other sources would have been much more competitive much sooner. We have been burning money mining a nonrenewable resource that is causing widespread carnage in terms of its impact on local water and air quality as well the long term effect of increasing carbon and methane emissions at a time when all sorts of tipping points in climate change were passing. The only reaction to the melting of the polar ice cap seems to be a willingness to immediately seize this as an opportunity to open up yet more oil and gas exploration.

Canada has huge untapped reserves of energy – sunlight, wind, waves, tides, geothermal – which are not going to be utilized in time to save life as we know it, because our governments are obsessed with oil and gas. Yet we get very little from oil and gas in terms of jobs, or revenues or even economic activity. Unless you are the sort of economist who seriously advances the notion that cleaning up oil spills is good for economic growth.

Norway continues to  extract oil from underneath the North Sea. This was also regarded as a very expensive, risky option at one time. Yet Norway did not respond with tax breaks and subsidies. On the contrary it has some of the highest royalty revenue stream per barrel of any oil economy. And the money did not go to income tax reductions for the rich but into a wealth building fund  that will continue to serve the best interests of Norwegians in general long after their oil reserves are exhausted. BC, of course, is currently pursuing a highly risky fracking and LNG export path based on reducing royalty payments that are already low.

The other day I was in Squamish. I once again heard that the name comes from the First Nations term for “place of the winds”. It is apparently a world class sailboarding destination due to the strength and reliability of the winds. I could just about hear what the guide was saying over the roar of the diesel generator. He was telling us about how the new Sea to Sky Gondola is taking care of the environment.

Of course, wind and solar are not “reliable” in the sense that power is not available all the time. But this energy storage problem is close to being resolved. There always has been the option of pumped hydraulic storage (used in North Wales to store otherwise useless electricity produced by a nuclear power station which cannot be shut off at times of low demand). Now there are promising new battery storage technologies like vanadium and sulphuric acid, readily scalable and with very long life, and ideal for solar and wind power storage.

We sit on huge reserves of geothermal energy – but the only use we make of them is for a few hot baths, here and there.

We could have already replaced thousands of gasoline powered passenger trips by existing electric transport technologies – trams, trolleybuses, trains – but we chose instead to invest in highways, despite evidence of declining car use! There are many more potential jobs operating public transport than there are in freeway maintenance!

When I first got into greenhouse gas action plans, I decided that we should not be concerned about climate change as a selling point. There was already a cognitive dissonance in the message: the planet is heating up, so you should check your tire pressures more often. We simply concentrated on the economic/financial message. Twenty years ago, when hydro was still cheap and even gas prices looked reasonable, basic energy efficiency measures were still attractive with two to three years payback on projects which had potentially much longer lives. I still adhere to the notion that it is utterly pointless to argue with climate change deniers. But even they cannot argue that something isn’t happening that is – increasing wildfires, floods, tornadoes – and that remediation and essential protection for the future is costing us a fortune. The basic cost benefit calculations can be assessed in real dollars – without getting into any arguments about the value of life or time. The economy and job effect of energy efficiency by itself is worth having. Switching to renewable energy is even better in terms of rate of return on capital employed.

The carbon tax is working. It would have worked even better if it had not been frittered away on being “revenue neutral” but invested in sensible activities like increasing transit supply where there is already excess demand. Better still if the amounts had continued to increase and not been foolishly frozen.

Canada’s Economic Action Plan, on the other hand, manifestly is NOT working. Throwing money at billionaires is a very silly idea indeed. It does not trickle down nor are they any more willing to pay low taxes than they were to pay high taxes. Employing people to chase fugitive income and capital gains is a lot more productive than attacking the poor for trivial sums.

The actions we need to take will not destroy jobs or growth. What they will do is heavily impact the fortunes of the fossil fuel companies and those who remain invested in them. Stephen Harper does not actually care very much about Canada, or Canadian values. He does care very much indeed about holding on to power. And to do that he needs a steady flow of cash from the oil companies. And he is very unlikely indeed to insist that they leave their reserves in the ground. But if we are to stay below the 2℃ target that is what has to happen. The costs of missing that target are horrendous, no matter how you count them.

Footnotes

In a comment below I am (quite properly) chided for the lack of data in this opinion piece. Here are some routes where those who are curious can follow up on my assertions

http://www.desmog.ca/2013/05/10/just-how-much-exactly-are-you-paying-subsidize-fossil-fuels – points to an IMF study

Tackling Climate Change while growing the economy http://www.oecd.org/environment/cc/44287948.pdf

http://www.europeanceo.com/business-and-management/2014/06/germany-breaks-solar-power-records/ – “Over 50 percent of the country’s energy was generated from photovoltaic panels” for a short period recently

But the there is also this: http://inhabitat.com/german-state-to-reach-100-renewable-power-this-year/

investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency would create more jobs than the same amount of investment in fossil fuels. source: http://bluegreencanada.ca/node/175

https://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/petro-path-not-taken – compares Norway to Canada and Alberta

See also http://www.progressivepress.net/us-fiscal-debate-could-learn-from-norway/

http://nextbigfuture.com/2014/06/vanadium-redox-batteries-could-balance.html

http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2014/03/12/BCs-Carbon-Tax-Shift/

Written by Stephen Rees

June 27, 2014 at 10:04 am

Travel comparison

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I have just booked online a train journey between Rome and Florence – and back. That’s 284km and will take about 90 minutes each way, on one of these.

And just to compare I asked Google how long the trip from Vancouver to Seattle would take. That’s 227km and it says 3 hours and 10 minutes “in traffic” midday and ignores the line up at the border. By train the Amtrak Cascades schedule says 4 hours and 25 minutes.  Or 3:45 on the bus!

 

Written by Stephen Rees

February 13, 2014 at 1:22 pm

Harper breaks first election promise

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Feds end sewage prosecution despite claim to be ‘tough on environmental crime’

VANCOUVER – Just one month after re-election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has already broken an election promise, as his government today shut down a sewage prosecution in the same city where he vowed to crack down on environmental crime. The prosecution had alleged that the Iona sewage plant in Richmond, operated by Metro Vancouver and sanctioned by the Province of BC, was violating the federal Fisheries Act by sending toxic sewage into salmon-bearing coastal waters.

In 2006, environmental investigator Douglas Chapman, represented by Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund), tried to put an end to the pollution by launching a private prosecution against the Province of BC and Metro Vancouver on behalf of three environmental groups: T-Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation, United Fishermen and Allied Workers’ Union and Georgia Strait Alliance.

But today, the federal government ordered the Provincial Court to end the prosecution. The federal lawyer declined to give any reasons for the order. The government’s order stands in stark contrast to Prime Minister Harper’s election campaign promise to crack down on environmental offenders, which he declared in Vancouver on September 24, 2008. At that time, Harper said “If you want a government that is tough on environmental crime, then you should re-elect a government that is tough on crime generally.”

Environmental groups say the federal government is being hypocritical. “I am disgusted that the federal government has ended this prosecution. What’s the point of the law? Polluters get off scot-free,” said Chapman.

Ecojustice staff lawyer Lara Tessaro explained that “the federal government should justify why it is shielding these big polluters from the Court.  Instead, it has refused to give the public any reasons.”

The primary treatment used at the Iona sewage treatment plant removes only 30 to 40 per cent of suspended solids and oxygen-depleting substances, and fails to remove the majority of heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants – like PCBs.  These heavy metals and chemicals bioaccumulate as they move up the food chain, harming salmon, killer whales and a myriad of other vulnerable coastal species.

“At a time when we’ve lost seven more of our Southern resident orcas, I’m appalled that the federal government isn’t willing to stop the pollution of their habitat” said Christianne Wilhelmson of Georgia Strait Alliance. “Sewage is one source of toxic contamination we can fix, but governments aren’t doing enough.”

“The Iona sewage plant spews toxins straight into the path of a billion juvenile salmon heading out to sea,” said David Lane, executive director of T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation. “Metro Vancouver must implement advanced, modern sewage treatment at Iona immediately.”

The four organizations now plan to focus their efforts on the upcoming public consultation on Metro Vancouver’s new Liquid Waste Management Plan, and continue to urge that it be strengthened.

And, of course, the sewage works at the south end of Lulu Island is also tipping only partially treated sewage into the South Arm of the Fraser, which is seeing record low salmon returns this year. And I still have to point out the “beach unsafe for swimming” signs to people who persist in wanting to paddle and swim at Garry Point.

Astronauts get given a piece of equipment that allows them to recycle their own urine as drinking water. Why we still think that dilution is the solution to pollution here defeats me

Written by Stephen Rees

November 20, 2008 at 11:36 am