Pipe Dreams and Foolish Experiments

Recently I attended a presentation and consultation meeting about a pipeline that is being proposed north of where I live.  The proposal is to connect the Alberta Tar Sands to the east coast of Canada in order to ship the bitumen away.

The presenters were independent experts who have been reviewing the application of the company, TransCanada, for the project.  A couple hundred people were in attendance at the meeting.  It was the second time the consultants had been to our town and one of 7 stops they were making in my province this time around.  I suspect that many in the audience may have felt similar to me given when and for what people clapped.   However, I can only speak for myself and in the end, I felt the meeting was ultimately a waste of everyone’s time.  Here are my reasons:

Incomplete info

The expert who has been hired to review the parts of the submission which addresses environmental concerns was, I thought, very diplomatic.  I say this because of the 30,000 pages of the submission he only had 2500 pages of environmental data to review.  It sounds like a lot but it was not.  In the presentation he covered the various areas of concern that the application should have information on and tactfully and repeatedly said “we don’t have that information yet.”  Apparently the company intends to make it available in the next two months because that is when the application is due.  An audience member stated that at the first meeting 10 months ago, the company learned the questions that people had about the environmental impacts because people raised the concerns at that first meeting.  She went on to ask rhetorically “if they couldn’t get the information to us for today, 10 months later, how are they going to manage it in two?”  The recommendation by many in the audience about whether the application should be allowed to proceed?  To the company:  don’t waste our time.  Come back when you have all the information.

Expand the Tar Sands in this economic climate?

The oil from the Tar Sands is one of the most expensive to extract and process.  I’ve heard it said that getting oil from the tar sands indicates we’re getting desperate for sources of oil because it’s such a poor source and requires so much energy to convert to oil that can generally be used.  But because of dwindling oil reserves and thus a price increase per barrel, it has actually proven extremely profitable to scrape from the ground….until recently:  the price of oil has dropped!  I personally don’t know why it’s dropped.  I understand that other oil producers have played a role in the price drop.  But for whatever reason, it’s come down so much that at least one company, Suncor, is cutting spending and laying off workers.  So, at the consultation meeting, one fellow asked: when this project threatens the natural environment so much (we did get that much from the environmental expert…oh and the news recently about so many oil spills and leaks from pipelines), why are we even considering this project when it doesn’t make sense in this economic climate?  Inquiring minds wanted to know.

Simple Chemistry

Speaking of climates, it was just reported that 2014 was the warmest year on recorded history and the 10 warmest years have occurred since 1997.  I think it’s really just simple chemistry.  I can say that because I didn’t do well in chemistry and even I get it:  add a chemical compound to something and the something is altered.  Continually add the compound, continue altering what it’s being added to.  By expelling so much CO2 into the atmosphere we’re altering its chemical composition which in turn is causing a disruption in our climate.  This has consequences.  Besides all the havoc that is starting to play out for people through bad storms and rising sea levels, even things like the Iditarod race is seeing lengthy snowless sections of the trail.  This famous race takes place in Alaska where it’s supposed to have lots of snow but competitors in the 2014 race spent hours dog sledding across rocks and dirt!

Besides the climate, have you heard about the oceans?  CO2 emissions don’t just affect climate, they are also causing the oceans to become exceedingly acidic.  This has negative consequences for marine life.  This also has negative consequences for human who depend on the ocean for their livelihoods and protein sources.  Entire fisheries have collapsed as a result.  One example is the oyster industry on the west coast of North America when oyster larvae began dying in alarming numbers between 2006 and 2008.  Losses of 70 to 80% occurred.  The cause?  The hatchery seawater had become severely acidic from “the ocean absorbing excessive amounts of CO2 from the air.”  This particular industry isn’t completely gone but it is limping along and so are others.

As an aside:  apparently the food we get from the ocean will also be less tasty.  A study about this was recently mentioned in Science Magazine.org in December 2014.  The researchers enlisted the aid of shrimp connoisseurs who reported that shrimp from “more acidic waters were 2.6 times as likely to be rated the worst tasting.”  Incidentally, they are also more likely to die off in acidic waters.  That was reported in the Journal of Shellfish Research.  So if you like seafood you may have to adjust your tasters!

My Conclusion about that meeting?

It was a bit of a waste of time to be out at that consultation meeting.  1. The expert doesn’t have all the information from the company even though the application is slated to go forward for submission in a very short time.  2. The Tar Sands, let alone a pipeline, are expensive and the price of oil is dropping like …leaked bitumen in a river.  3. And, the climate is warming and the oceans are changing.  Allowing a pipeline that will enable one of the world’s worst environmental projects ever, the Alberta Tar Sands, to expand seems like foolishness to me.

Furthermore, placing a pipeline across most of Canada and thus thousands of rivers and streams is foolhardy.  We know pipelines leak.  It’s not “if” but “when” and the news repeatedly supports this.  Report after report is coming out about leaks and spills. Here are a couple lists:  Reuters.  And in North Dakota alone, go here to learn about 300 spills that occurred in two years that the public did not get informed about.

The recommendation that I said that evening:  reject this application.  Sure we may still need oil to help us move to cleaner technologies but let’s start moving toward that direction.  It just comes down to chemistry and it’s time to stop this experiment.

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