Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘tarsands


with 3 comments

I am seriously contemplating leaving the Green Party of BC because of this tweet from our beloved leader

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And because that link won’t work here is one that will

Now here are three images I have downloaded this weekend

Daily Arctic TempIce extentSea Ice bering

Now I am not a climate scientist like Andrew Weaver. But I did watch that video on the NP link. I thought the estimates of the world’s potential refinery capacity for heavy oil was very informative. The calculations of how much oil is in the tar sands – and how long it will last – terrifying. And the idea that there will still be gas stations, but there won’t be any arctic ice appalling.

And I have one question for Andrew Weaver. What part of “keep it in the ground” did you not understand?

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This from the Washington Post via Clean Energy Review – the Post is, of course, behind a paywall; sorry about that.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 25, 2018 at 7:13 pm

Rail versus pipeline is the wrong question

The following article arrived in my in box this morning from David Suzuki . I am copying it in its entirety since it expresses exactly what I would write.

I have not used the image that accompanied the text since it does not actually depict the dangerous DOT111 cars that are one of the causes of the present problems. DSF chose a picture from flickr (good) that comes from Europe, where they use a quite different car (oops!). The picture below is from one of my flickr contacts in Quebec and shows “a loaded tank car on CN 710, stopped for a crew change at Turcot West in Montreal. Train is destined for Ultramar refinery at St-Romuald, QC (near Quebec City)”.

DOT111 rail car with crude oil placard

DOT111 rail car with crude oil placard
© Photo by Michael Berry on flickr – used with permission

Debating the best way to do something we shouldn’t be doing in the first place is a sure way to end up in the wrong place. That’s what’s happening with the “rail versus pipeline” discussion. Some say recent rail accidents mean we should build more pipelines to transport fossil fuels. Others argue that leaks, high construction costs, opposition and red tape surrounding pipelines are arguments in favour of using trains.

But the recent spate of rail accidents and pipeline leaks and spills doesn’t provide arguments for one or the other; instead, it indicates that rapidly increasing oil and gas development and shipping ever greater amounts, by any method, will mean more accidents, spills, environmental damage – even death. The answer is to step back from this reckless plunder and consider ways to reduce our fossil fuel use.

If we were to slow down oil sands development, encourage conservation and invest in clean energy technology, we could save money, ecosystems and lives – and we’d still have valuable fossil fuel resources long into the future, perhaps until we’ve figured out ways to use them that aren’t so wasteful. We wouldn’t need to build more pipelines just to sell oil and gas as quickly as possible, mostly to foreign markets. We wouldn’t have to send so many unsafe rail tankers through wilderness areas and places people live.

We may forgo some of the short-term jobs and economic opportunities the fossil fuel industry provides, but surely we can find better ways to keep people employed and the economy humming. Gambling, selling guns and drugs and encouraging people to smoke all create jobs and economic benefits, too – but we rightly try to limit those activities when the harms outweigh the benefits.

Both transportation methods come with significant risks. Shipping by rail leads to more accidents and spills, but pipeline leaks usually involve much larger volumes. One of the reasons we’re seeing more train accidents involving fossil fuels is the incredible boom in moving these products by rail. According to the American Association of Railroads, train shipment of crude oil in the U.S. grew from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 234,000 in 2012 – almost 25 times as many in only four years! That’s expected to rise to 400,000 this year.

As with pipelines, risks are increased because many rail cars are older and not built to standards that would reduce the chances of leaks and explosions when accidents occur. Some in the rail industry argue it would cost too much to replace all the tank cars as quickly as is needed to move the ever-increasing volumes of oil. We must improve rail safety and pipeline infrastructure for the oil and gas that we’ll continue to ship for the foreseeable future, but we must also find ways to transport less.

The economic arguments for massive oil sands and liquefied natural gas development and expansion aren’t great to begin with – at least with the way our federal and provincial governments are going about it. Despite a boom in oil sands growth and production, “Alberta has run consecutive budget deficits since 2008 and since then has burned through $15 billion of its sustainability fund,” according to an article on the Tyee website. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation says Alberta’s debt is now $7 billion and growing by $11 million daily.

As for jobs, a 2012 report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows less than one per cent of Canadian workers are employed in extraction and production of oil, coal and natural gas. Pipelines and fossil fuel development are not great long-term job creators, and pale in comparison to employment generated by the renewable energy sector.

Beyond the danger to the environment and human health, the worst risk from rapid expansion of oil sands, coal mines and gas fields and the infrastructure needed to transport the fuels is the carbon emissions from burning their products – regardless of whether that happens here, in China or elsewhere. Many climate scientists and energy experts, including the International Energy Agency, agree that to have any chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change, we must leave at least two-thirds of our remaining fossil fuels in the ground.

The question isn’t about whether to use rail or pipelines. It’s about how to reduce our need for both.

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington

Written by Stephen Rees

January 24, 2014 at 8:21 am

Northern Gateway Pipeline

with one comment

It is of no surprise to me that the Joint Review Panel concluded that the project should proceed – with many conditions. Let us not forget that the JRP is a creature of the proponent – and the National Energy Board is a regulator that is entirely captive to the industry it is meant to regulate. The federal government has already made it very clear that is supports the pipeline and the expansion of the Alberta tarsands, and has gutted the environmental rules and regulations that would once have ensured a more scientific analysis. The JRP is also not a popularity contest so the number of opponents appearing before it at public hearings has no influence on the outcome. Of course opponents greatly outnumbered those in favour. That is because the people who are going to ensure that this project is pushed through no matter what do not need to concern themselves about this process. The oligarchy that now rules this country – and this province – only maintains processes like this as a public relations exercise. A bit like elections.

Watching the coverage on the CBC News last night I thought it was interesting that as the program progressed, so the coverage added a bit more balance. First time up at 5:00 there was no mention at all of climate change – by 6:00 that has been corrected. Enbridge’s mendacious map which eliminated the islands between Kitimat and the open sea was in evidence again – but by 6:00 retiring news anchor Tony Parsons at least mentioned the islands in his voice over.

I have not read the panel report – and last night the twitter feed was full of complaints about how slow the web site was.  I do not see much point, since the panel is not at all concerned about the major issue for me. The bitumen should remain in the ground. Rushing to develop the tar sands is a very foolish strategy indeed since it is dumping far too much oil on a market that is already saturated thanks to the discoveries of much lighter crudes under the Bakken field. This is the crude which exploded so fatally in Lac Megantic. Moreover, the Chinese are switching their attention to other fuels – not least due to their dreadful local air pollution. Even the oil companies themselves are beginning to anticipate that international rules are going to have to be introduced which will add to the price of carbon fuels. And the EU is being pressured to pass a law that will label fuels according to how much carbon they emit over their entire wells-to-wheels lifecycle – which could make Alberta tar sands output unsaleable.

The Green Party position set out by Andrew Weaver and Adam Olsen does not, in my view, give sufficient prominence to climate change. I regard it as the number one issue facing all of us.  Yes I understand the political necessity of focussing on the economy and jobs, and the shortcomings of the way the JRP treats dilbit spills. No-one knows what will happen to the dilbit if there is a spill. It is not even agreed on whether or not the stuff will float! But we also know for an absolute certainty that we cannot hope to keep the current rate of increase in carbon emissions going any longer. The idea that a 2℃ limit on global warming is now possible has been recognized  as unattainable! I oppose the Enbridge expansion for the same reason I oppose coal terminal expansions in our port. Local environmental impacts – which are likely severe – are actually the least problematic aspect of both cases.
Global Climate Change NSA graph

Andrew Weaver leaves the following as his parting shot. If the idea of living on  a planet that is going to be hotter than at any time in the past when life was present does not scare you, then perhaps you will take comfort from this

 building a future economy based solely on the exploitation of a depleting resource will not steer us towards the low-carbon pathway that so many other nations are choosing to follow. That’s why British Columbia should seize the opportunity of promoting the expansion of our clean technology (cleantech) industry.



Written by Stephen Rees

December 20, 2013 at 11:38 am