Revisiting 100% Wind, Water and Sunlight for Canada – an ill-advised approach to fight climate change

Dr. Marc Z. Jacobson, the lead scientist of the 100% Wind, Water and Sunlight (100% WWS) movement, was in Vancouver last week for a presentation. Dr. Jacobson is a proponent of relying solely on wind, water and sunlight to meet our future energy needs (although that is not strictly true since his model relies on hydroelectric facilities and lots of energy storage to make his math work). Dr. Jacobson can be something of a divisive character as he known, in some corners, for blocking people who ask him tough questions on Twitter and for suing his scientific criticsThe Tyee was on hand and prepared a summary of his presentation (his slide package is here).

I have written a lot about 100% WWS, especially as it applies to the Leap Manifesto and most of my analyses have not been positive. The repeated issue I have identified is that the model appears possible from a big-picture perspective, but it quickly becomes unglued when you look carefully at the details. This was demonstrated by Dr. Clack and his colleagues in their reply to one of his papers and more amusingly by a physicist from Finland who addressed specific instances where the model struggles.

Given the popularity of this model domestically, I want to re-look at the plan (my earlier analysis of the draft plan is here) now that a final version has been released. Specifically, I want to carefully unpack the numbers for Canada because I feel these numbers really speak for themselves. In my view, the reason the 100% WWS crew have been able to successfully promulgate their theories has been that few people have had the tenacity to crawl through the supplementary information and spreadsheets to see what the model actually entails. I’m confident when readers are exposed to the plan’s details they will see how impractical (and unnecessarily expensive) it would be.

Let’s be clear at the outset. I agree that we need to decarbonize our energy system to fight climate change. But I believe that 100% WWS is the wrong approach to achieve that goal. I believe 100% WWS’ requirement that we exclude numerous low-carbon alternatives (like nuclear and run-of-river hydro) adds significantly to the expense of the plan while providing few real benefits.

The 100% WWS worldwide plan is presented in a paper by Dr. Jacobson (and an extensive list of co-authors) titled 100% Clean and Renewable Wind, Water, and Sunlight All-Sector Energy Roadmaps for 139 Countries of the World. The paper provides a detailed break-out of what it would take for each country in the world to achieve 100% renewable energy (excluding nuclear power and any new hydro) by 2050. You note that big proviso. The Solutions Project is strongly anti-nuclear energy and argues against large reservoir or run-of-the-river hydro so they are excluded from the mix. In the web site associated with 100% WWS a breakdown of energy sources by 2050 in Canada is presented:

  • Onshore wind 27.5%
  • Offshore wind 22.9%
  • Solar PV plant 9.8%
  • Hydroelectric 14.5%
  • Wave energy 2.2%
  • Residential rooftop solar 5.3%
  • Commercial/govt rooftop solar 9.1%
  • Geothermal 1.7%
  • Tidal turbine 0.2%

At the outset the numbers look challenging, but not necessarily impossible. Being a practical guy, I dug a bit deeper to find the details. These are presented in an associated spreadsheet. In “Table for GATOR-GCMON” of that spreadsheet is the list of units necessary by 2050 to achieve the 100% WWS goal for Canada:

  • Onshore wind: 34,993 – 5 MW units ( 2240 units currently installed)
  • Offshore wind: 27,242 – 5 MW units (currently no units in Canada)
  • Solar PV plant: 1690 – 50 MW facilities (currently 13 similar facilities)
  • Solar CSP plants 450 – 100 MW facilities (currently 1 in operation)
  • Solar CSP plants for storage 275 – 100 MW facilities
  • Hydroelectric: Uses currently built facilities with efficiency gains
  • Wave energy: 26,227 – 0.75 MW installations (currently no unit in Canada)
  • Residential rooftop solar: 12,992,080 units (currently <2% of units installed)
  • Commercial/govt rooftop solar: 1,383,183 units (currently <2% of units installed)
  • Geothermal: 50 – 100 MW facilities (currently no such facility in Canada)
  • Tidal turbine: 2000 – 1 MW units (currently no units in Canada)

Looking at these requirements you can see why I am unsettled. That is a LOT of construction to be completed in the 32 years between 2018 and 2050. To make it clear how far we have to go to meet this challenge, consider that as of August 2018 British Columbia had 698 MW of installed onshore wind capacity consisting of 288 wind turbines. Since the 100% WWS model calls for about 62,235 MW of wind capacity by 2050, we are still 61,537 MW away from this goal. We would need to install 1923 MW/year to achieve that goal. This is twice the capacity we have installed to date and that would be required each and every year until 2050.

Lets look at the offshore wind platforms. As one of the two southern coasts, British Columbia would be responsible for close to half of the 27, 242 offshore units needed to achieve our national 100% WWS goal.  As of today, we have zero offshore wind facilities. According to BC Hydro they have up to 300 potential wind energy sites being investigated for project development. Of that group, offshore represents 43 project with an installed capacity of 14,688 MW. This represents about 10% of the 136,000 MW of nameplate capacity called for in 100% WWS by 2050. All the plans in the works only gets us to 10% of our 2050 goal. 

As a British Columbian, I recognize a pretty obvious concern about this offshore number and looking more deeply into the spreadsheet I see an oversight. The reason the model imagines we can put all these offshore facilities in place is that the model imagines Canada has over 200,000 km of useful coastline (presented in the “population density” tab) on which to place those facilities. Admittedly, Canada’s coastline is vast (over 200,00 km) but the majority of that coastline is in the north (mostly in the Arctic) where weather and ice preclude the construction of offshore wind turbines.

Thus, when the model calculated how much offshore wind potential was available it missed the fact that much of the area described is not practical for offshore wind turbines. Anyone familiar with BC geography also knows that the Pacific Continental Shelf abuts much of the West Coast of Canada. The sea floor drops precipitously very close to the coast and as such over most of our coast it would not be affordable to install offshore wind platforms (even tethered floating ones) as the foundation of such installations would need to be 100s of meters deep. Alternatively, this would mean trying to shoe-horn 13,500 of these units in the narrow area of relatively shallow water near Haida Gwaii which is both unlikely and eliminates the geographic dispersion necessary to provide balance to the system.

Moreover, according to the model, to meet our goal we will need 26,227 wave devices (covering a physical footprint of about 14 km2) and 2000 tidal turbines. Be aware,  we still do not have a design for a fully-functional industrial scale wave installation suitable for the stormy west coast. There are lots of pilot projects and one unit in Australia looks promising but before we can even start the planning processes, a design needs to be identified. Absent even a design for a unit it is unclear how we are going to meet our goal in the time frame provided.

The other consideration not readily mentioned is that all that new infrastructure is going to cost a lot of money. Using their numbers (from the draft report as I was unable to reconstruct the costs in the new document) it would cost Canada $1.8 trillion of investment by 2050 just for the basic energy generation installations. Assuming we spread the costs evenly between 2018 and 2050 (32 years) that comes out to $56 billion per year to build that infrastructure. Remember we haven’t considered the infrastructure necessary to build that infrastructure (roads etc…) or the costs to do the environmental assessments on all those projects, we are simply talking about the capital costs of the actual units themselves.

Talking about environmental assessments, given Canada’s history of welcoming large industrial power facilities, I am quite certain there will be no delays in initiating the construction of all these facilities…just look at how smoothly Site C and the Trans-Mountain have been progressing in BC.

As noted, even if we spent $1.8 trillion to build all those turbines etc.. we still wouldn’t have a way to get that power to the people who need it. To achieve 100% clean energy in 2050 virtually every community in Canada will need to be connected to a national grid since cities like Yellowknife will need to import a lot of power in order to continue to exist. Under 100% WWS the citizens of Inuvik won’t be allowed to use diesel generators during the 6 month winter, when the ice has blocked up the coast and the wind can disappear for days at a time. They will thus have to import electricity from the south. Now I admit to having picked a couple extreme cases to make my point, but recognize that Canada’s vast and challenging geography has limited our ability to create a nationally integrated power grid. Even the most optimistic view has a new grid costing $25 billion and taking a couple decades to build. A more realistic appraisal puts the cost of a national backbone of 735 kV transmission lines at around $104 billion and taking 20 years to complete.

Only after the national backbone has been built can we then start work on all the feeder lines that will have to go to every city, town and hamlet. Building transmission lines in Canada can be intensely expensive. Consider that the Northwest Transmission Line project in BC cost over $2 million a kilometer to build. Yet in order to work, the 100% WWS model requires that these lines be built. As for the costs? If your single main line is $104 billion and we will need 10’s of thousands of kms of feeder lines then even taking into account the existing infrastructure we are talking in the low trillions to connect all our communities.

Not only will this construction be ruinously expensive, it would be ecologically devastating. Let’s imagine that we somehow manage to get permits to fill every inlet and fjord on the west coast with some form of electricity generating device, you still need to cut down tens of thousands of acres of forests to create the transmission corridors to get that power to the people. The biologists out there continually warn about linear developments that cut openings into pristine habitats, now imagine the number of linear developments necessary to connect 26,227 tidal units to the power grid. I find it particularly amusing that the same groups who fight a hydroelectric dam in the Peace because of its footprint would demand we build a electricity generating system and grid that would decimate the last protected areas of our coast.

As I have said more times that I would care to admit in this blog, I am a pragmatist. As a pragmatist I tend to live by the credo “moderation in all things”. The 100% WWS model fails because it does not believe in moderation. It places tight, and questionable, restrictions on a number of important baseline clean energy technologies and in doing so results in a proposal that is ruinously expensive consuming over $100 billion per year. Can you imagine the legacy of debt we would place on our children, our grand-children and our great-grandchildren if we suggested borrowing $100 billion+ a year for the foreseeable future to fund this infrastructure? Admittedly we live in an era of low interest rates but they will not last forever. Adding several trillion dollars to our national debt is simply a non-starter.

To close this post let’s reiterate a few facts: fighting climate change is going to be a very expensive, electricity-intensive project that will take a huge political will; the expenditures of massive financial resources; and cooperation between the private and public sectors. I agree we should work hard to develop a power system with a strong renewable component, but I believe in regionally-appropriate renewables. The problem with the proposal pushed in 100% WWS is that it is hobbled by some of the personal views of its creators. It omits some pretty obvious energy solutions like further large-reservoir hydro in Quebec, Labrador, Ontario and BC, run-of-the-river hydro across Canada and, of course, further nuclear power in Ontario and on the prairies.

A country like Canada that is blessed with an abundance of hydropower and nuclear opportunities should not ignore those opportunities because a team of engineers from California don’t particularly like that technology. Put simply, we cannot ignore the potential of nuclear and hydro energy in a post-fossil fuel energy mix. Researchers have enumerated the costs savings to incorporating nuclear and other alternatives into our mix and they are substantial. It is already going to be a tough battle to achieve a low-carbon grid. Let’s not make it impossible just because 100% WWS sounds good as a catch-phrase.


Posted in Climate Change, Climate Change Politics, Fossil Fuel Free Future, Leap Manifesto, Renewable Energy, Uncategorized | 14 Comments

A primer on Professional Governance in the Natural Resources Sector

On October 22, 2018, George Heyman tabled Bill 49 – 2018: the Professional Governance Act (the PGA) which will establish the “Office of the Superintendent of Professional Governance” as well as change other elements of professional governance affecting how select professionals are governed in BC. On November 22 this bill completed third reading and is now awaiting Royal Assent.  The new legislation “will establish a single centralized statutory authority focused on governance which will cover professionals working in the Natural Resource sector.” The new “Office of the Superintendent of Professional Governance” will be administered by the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General.

As a Registered Professional Biologist and a Professional Chemist, this new legislation will have a significant effect on my professional life and I think it is important for the public to understand what it will mean for them. In this blog post I want to point out some important information about professionals in the natural resources sector in BC. For simplicity when referring to professionals I will rely on resources from the College of Applied Biology rather than jumping between organizations. 

What does it mean to be a “Professional” in the natural resources sector in BC

Professionals are highly-trained specialists who do the basic science in the natural resources sector. They design the investigations; collect and compile the data; write the reports; and make the recommendations to government. The first thing you need to understand is that a revocable professional designation is THE critical tool available to ensure that professionals behave in an appropriate and ethical manner. To explain, I earned a PhD from UVic and short of them determining I did something wrong during my studies they cannot revoke that PhD. No professional error is justification for them withdrawing my PhD. But my professional designations (I am a Registered Professional Biologist and a Professional Chemist) can be revoked for any number of reasons. As an example, if I act contrary to the College of Applied Biology’s ethical code I can lose my R.P. Bio. 

Most professional organizations provide their members with an individualized professional stamp. This allows professionals to indicate on official documents when they are acting in the role of a professional. Any critical document is stamped and signed by the professional as an attestation that the work has been completed in accordance with professional guidelines. The stamp is proof to a regulator, or an outside third party, that the professional is staking their reputation on that document. Misuse of the stamp is grounds for removal of the stamp.

The critical feature of a revocable professional designation is that it give regulators confidence that the identified professionals are appropriately qualified and monitored for their behaviour. This allows the government to appoint the individuals as Qualified Persons (QP) under various Acts and Regulations. From a professional perspective being a QP is a big thing in the natural resources sector and is something you definitely want to protect. 

How do you get a Professional Designation in BC?

To get a professional designation you need a combination of education and professional experience to satisfy the regulator of your professional body that you are qualified to be a member. The College of Applied Biology as an example requires you have an appropriate degree and professional experience and in addition you have to agree to be bound by a set of rules of Professional Ethics.

Not all organizations have professional designations and not all professional designations are equal. The PGA recognizes five Professional Governing bodies. These are:

  • The British Columbia Institute of Agrologists, 
  • The Applied Science Technologists and Technicians of British Columbia 
  • The College of Applied Biology
  • The Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists 
  • The Association of British Columbia Forest Professionals 

You will notice that some other groups are missing. The Association of the Chemical Profession of BC is not in that list because BC never passed a Chemists Act. Professional Chemists have a right to title (more on that later) under the Societies Act but will have to be eventually added to the list of professionals under the PGA.

Some groups of individuals with specific degrees (like geographers) don’t even have a professional organization. This leaves students with a geography degree out in the cold when it comes to working as professionals in the natural resources sector in BC. Absent recognition under an Act they can’t earn a revocable professional designation and find it very difficult (and sometimes impossible) to become a QP. This severely limits their ability to work in the field as they would need another professional to sign and stamp critical documents for submission to the regulator. Ultimately, they hit a glass ceiling and they can’t rise any higher. 

Role of the College

The College (some groups use different names) is the body that governs each professional organization and serves, and this is the important part, primarily to protect the public interest. They do so by making sure that their members are competent and act in accordance with the rules. They operate the discipline committees and the oversight committees and respond to, and investigate, complaints about members. To serve its roles correctly the College cannot be an advocate for its members but rather an advocate for the public. As presented by the College of Applied Biology

As a governance body, the College does not engage in issue-oriented advocacy, and maintains an apolitical stance, meeting the public interest requirement of the Act through holding its members accountable for their actions.

Serious problems arise when a College forgets its role and tries to be an advocate for its members instead of a protector of the public good. The B.C. College of Teachers can tell you what happens in that case. 

The entire impetus for the new Professional Reliance Review can actually be tracked back to a few instances where public confidence was shaken in the effectiveness of various governing bodies to protect the public interest. The new Office of the Superintendent of Professional Governance is specifically intended to restore the public’s faith in these professional bodies when it comes to the natural resources sector in Canada.

The college is tasked with ensuring that professionals act within professional standards; they don’t act outside their specific area of expertise; they don’t have undisclosed conflicts-of-interest and they act and operate independently of their client and/or government. You may be paid to do a task by your clients and/or you may work for the government but as a professional you have a responsibility to the public good and to behave ethically and the College has to be there to ensure that every professional measures up to that heady standard.

This entire concept is one outsiders often don’t understand. They imagine that environmental consultants act as advocates for their clients. Nothing could be further from the truth. A consultant who advocates solely for their client will soon cease to be able to operate as a consultant once their professionals lose their revocable professional designations and the government refuses to accept their submissions.  

Right to Title and Right to Practice

There are two critical features in the new PGA, the “right to title” and the “right to practice” although under the new PGA they refer to it as “exclusivity of reserved titles and right of practice of reserved practice”. What “reserved title” means for a biologist is that once the Act is in force in BC you won’t be allowed to wander around calling yourself an “Independent Biologist” unless you are Registered with the College of Applied Biology. Similarly, the practice of Biology, in a professional sense, will be restricted to those who are deemed qualified by the College to practice biology.

This exclusive right to title and practice is intended to restore faith in the public by preventing people from claiming expertise that they cannot back up. It has long been understood that you can’t wander around acting as a doctor or a lawyer without a license, but there are lots of individuals, often with few or no credentials, who actively go around calling themselves Biologists because they took a biology class or two in university. This Act will end that practice. 

As a Professional Biologist, I will be glad when these self-named “Biologists” are required to get registered to continue their activities. I will be glad that they will be held accountable to a code of ethics and must demonstrate that they are conflict-of-interest free. Finally, I won’t have to cringe when I see a “Biologist” on television making statements that are demonstrably false with no one is able to hold them professionally responsible for their misinformation.

Under the new rules all biologists will have to play by the same set of ethical rules. I know it will be a big shock for the free-lancers out there but it certainly serves the public interest to have fully trained and vetted biologists as the ones supplying biological inputs to environmental policy processes. For too long activists, on both sides, have been able to counter facts with rhetoric and hyperbole and it will be nice when we have an even playing field to work with.    

As you can probably tell, I am a fan of the new model because as the government press release points out

The B.C. government has introduced legislation aimed at making sure decisions affecting the province’s natural resources are science-based, transparent and protect B.C.’s unique environment for future generations.

The first step in effective evidence-based decision-making is obtaining defensible and reliable data. Transparent and conflict-of-interest free professionals should serve as the source of that data.

Posted in Canadian Politics, Environmentalism and Ecomodernism, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

On garbage politics about ocean plastics

This morning on my Twitter feed I came across a ridiculous Tweet by the Green Party of Canada about their #RefuseSingleUse campaign against single use plastics. 

As an environmental policy type, I was offended by this tweet because it is so insulting to the intelligence of Canadians. Honestly, what were they thinking when they wrote this tweet and what was Ms. May thinking when she retweeted it on her Titter feed? The rest of this blog post will discuss this tweet and how the good policy intentions of the #RefuseSingleUse program can be spoiled by linking it to a narrative that is easily disproved. This is important because this sort of misinformation undermines attempts to address real policy challenges in the environmental field and undermines the credibility of the people making a good case about single-use plastics. 

Let’s start with the obvious. There is simply no way that the tweet from the Green Party represents anything approaching the truth. Consider that there are 40 million Canadians and only about 25% of them live on a coastline. If the tweet is true that means the 75% of Canadians living inland somehow are still significantly polluting the oceans with their plastic. Doing the math let’s consider what this means for Ontario. 

Virtually the entire population of Ontario is separated from the oceans with the vast majority of Ontarians living in the south with all those rivers flowing towards the Great Lakes or the St. Lawrence River. If 14 million Canadians live in Ontario and, according to the Green Party, use 100 kg of plastic a year that represents 1.4 billion kg of plastic a year. Let’s assume the “much” in the tweet represents 20% – 40%. That would mean that if “much of that ends in the ocean” then over a million kg/day from Ontario alone would be expected to be flowing down the St. Lawrence River to the Atlantic Ocean. Add to that unobserved mound of Ontario plastic the plastic from the 8 million of so Quebecois who live near the St. Lawrence River and for that tweet to be correct we would need a daily float of plastic with a mass of over 1.5 million kg flowing down the St. Lawrence to the Atlantic.

I live in the lower mainland along with 2.76 million of my peers. I simply can’t see about 110 million kg of plastic flowing from the Lower Mainland into the Salish Sea every year either.  

So when the Green Party of Canada says “much of that ends in the ocean” what they really mean is an infinitesimal percentage of the plastic used by Canadians ends in the oceans. Admittedly, that line doesn’t make good copy, so they decided instead to say something they must know is not strictly true in order to create a buzz. This completely undermines their credibility among thinking Canadians. Do they honestly think an Albertan or reading that tweet will do anything but laugh at the idea that they are contributing significantly to ocean plastic by using a straw in Strathmore?

The reality of oceans plastic is that it is mostly an issue caused by developing nations. A recent study identified that 93% of the trash from 57 Rivers studied comes from only 10 rivers, with the biggest of those being the Yangtze. So if you really want to clean up ocean pollution, a reasonable way to do so would be to invest money in improving waste management programs in these identified watersheds. Another thing we understand is that a lot of that plastic comes from single-use water containers. The reason these communities use so many disposable water bottles is that they don’t have clean and safe potable water supplies. If you really want to reduce the number of single-use water bottles in Asia and Africa then helping supply safe, potable water to thirsty communities would be a great start. 

Now supplying Asia and Africa with clean water and improved waste management facilities might be a hard sell so what else could we do? Well 46% of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage patch is from fishing fleets abandoning old nets. If you want to protect sea turtles then setting up a program to prevent fishers from dumping their old nets at sea would make a huge change to our oceans as well.  

Let’s be absolutely clear here. Canadians can still do better. On World Cleanup Day clean-up crews found thousands of coffee cups and water bottles on Canadian beaches. That demonstrates that Canadians have to work harder to keep our own backyard clean. However, concerns about turtles should not be argued as a reason to ban plastic straws in Alberta. 

To go back to the #RefuseSingleUse program. There are lots of really good arguments against single-use plastics. A lot of the time they are unnecessary and wasteful. Personally, our family has bought a number of reusable straws to allow my kids to drink their fun drinks with less mess. We also bring our own reusable cups to the coffee shop and use reusable water bottles when we are out-and-about. The only single use water bottles in our house are in our earthquake readiness kit where I have enough bottles of water to keep my family alive for a week because I live in an earthquake zone. That being said, should we end up at Tim Horton’s on a sunny Sunday I don’t begrudge my kids a smoothie out of a one-use cup with a straw.

To summarize, no British Columbians aren’t killing our oceans with plastics, nor are Albertans, or other Canadians. Rather, Canadian solid waste practices are some of the best in the world and our single-use plastics issue is more of a solid waste and waste of resources challenge. If the Green Party wants to do a #RefuseSingleUse campaign, then that is a great idea. But do so because single-use plastics are a bad use of resources or an unacceptable stress on our waste management systems. They shouldn’t pretend that doing so in Canada will have a significant effect on protecting our shared oceans, because making that claim undermines their credibility and sets back their ability to make good environmental arguments.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Once again a group of health professionals gets the science wrong on diluted bitumen and the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion project

By now, my opinion of physicians and health care professionals wandering into the field of environmental policy are well known. As I have written previously:

While I trust MDs on matters relating to my health and wellness, I will stick with subject matter experts on topics that are not related to medicine.

Well another band of well-meaning, but ill-informed, health professionals are at it again. This time with a letter to the Prime Minister where they absolutely mangle the science behind the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion (TMX) project. While I could really go after their entire letter, I lack the time or the enthusiasm to do so. Therefore, this blog post will address the egregious errors from their sections on diluted bitumen. For simplicity here is the section of the letter I intend to debunk.

Specific to TMX, diluted bitumen is dangerous and considerably more toxic than crude oil. It behaves unpredictably in aquatic environments, sometimes floating, sometimes sinking. The marine spill scenario in the NEB review was very optimistic. It was set far away from any population center despite the clear hazards of a seven-fold increase in tankers through Vancouver’s busy harbour with three bridges and two dangerous narrows adjacent to downtown with over a million people, a population which includes Indigenous communities whose close connection to the land makes them particularly vulnerable to environmental contamination. We need to know the health impacts of a worst-case spill in the most populated area of the project, e.g. a large tanker spill, close to shore and under poor air quality and high temperature conditions prominent in the past several summers in British Columbia. We must additionally acknowledge that even best-case scenario clean-up of crude oil results in only 5-15% oil recovery, with spilled bitumen likely to have even lower levels of recovery.

Finally, the health impacts assessment did not adequately consider the extremely high risk from benzene, one of the most toxic components of the pipeline product diluted bitumen (dilbit). The increased risk of childhood leukemia was ignored by the review as was consideration of genetic and other special population vulnerabilities. 

Toxicity of Diluted Bitumen

The authors start the section by making a demonstrably false claim about the toxicity of diluted bitumen saying it is “considerably more toxic than crude oil”. They later take special notice of the benzene composition of diluted bitumen and the risk it poses to children and indigenous communities.

As most informed observers know, diluted bitumen, due to its chemical nature, is less toxic to humans than most refined fuels and most other crude oils. To explain, the most toxic components in petroleum hydrocarbon mixtures are their monoaromatic hydrocarbon constituents (like benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes or BTEX). One of the features of bitumen is that, like other heavy oils, it has relatively low BTEX concentrations. Geochemically, bitumen is a type of crude oil where virtually all of the most toxic volatiles have been biodegraded in the subsurface. That is why the material is so viscous and why they have to add condensate to make it flow.

Relatively speaking diluted bitumen has some of the lowest BTEX concentrations of all crude oils. As detailed by in the US National Academies of Science (NAS) report on the subject:

The average BTEX in diluted bitumen at 0.89 % vol [reported in % by volume] was similar to the heavy crude oils at 0.84 % vol, whereas light and medium crude oils were 2.56 and 2.80 % vol respectively.

With special regard to benzene, both bitumen and condensate have some benzene (the five year average for benzene concentration in Cold Lake Blend is 0.23% +/- 0.03 %) but West Texas Intermediate crude has twice the benzene while low-benzene gasoline has almost 4 times as much.

What this means is that while diluted bitumen is toxic so are gasoline, aviation fuel, light crudes, medium crudes and West Texas Intermediate crude. All of which are substantially more toxic to humans than diluted bitumen. So when the ill-informed health professionals make the claim that diluted bitumen is “considerably more toxic than crude oil” they are absolutely and categorically wrong. Similarly, when they warn of the risks of benzene in diluted bitumen, they are once again barking up the wrong tree because any replacement for diluted bitumen will have considerably higher benzene concentrations than diluted bitumen and would thus pose a higher risk to human and ecological health.

Marine Risks

The topic of marine risks is also raised by the health professionals. I have written extensively on the topic of the marine risks of the TMX and my research shows that once again the their arguments are not consistent with the current research.

Their tired argument about “seven-fold increase in tankers through Vancouver’s busy harbour with three bridges and two dangerous narrows” completely ignores the added precautions associated with the TMX project. The NEB required a detailed risk analysis of the TMX. The critical document on this topic is the report Termpol 3.15 – General Risk Analysis and intended methods of reducing risk which evaluated the risks of the project. It concluded that “with effective implementation of risk reducing measures most of the incremental risk resulting from the project can be eliminated”.

To put a number on it:

  • Without the project the risk of a credible worst case oil spill is estimated in 1 in every 3093 years….If all the risk reducing measures discussed in this report are implemented the frequency will be one in every 2366 years.
  • This means that after the Project is implemented, provided all current and future proposed risk control measures are implemented, the increased risk of a credible worst case oil spill in the study area from the Trans Mountain tanker traffic will be only 30% higher than the risk of such an occurrence if the Project did not take place.

By increasing the number of tankers by 7 times, but also implementing the changes that were ultimately mandated by the NEB, the risk of a spill is less than one event every 2000 years. So no, the risk does not increase by 7 times, it increases by barely 30%. Moreover, remember that 30% is multiplied by a near-zero number. 30% more of near-zero remains almost-zero. Essentially, the experts have established that the project provides no significant increase in risk over those risks we accept every day.

In exchange for that negligible increase in risk we get economic prosperity and the economic health and goodwill of our neighbouring provinces. The dollars generated by this project are what pay for our health care system, which coincidentally pays all these physicians, nurses and health professionals.

Moreover, as I have noted previously, any cold-eyed analysis of the relative risks shows that the TMX reduces our regional risks of oil spills. Blocking the TMX will increase the likelihood of a disastrous rail spill that could spell the end of a major fishery or result in the deaths of dozens of innocents. It also increases the likelihood of a marine spill from a foreign-flagged tanker.

Spill Recovery

The authors also repeat that worn out quote about diluted bitumen spill recovery “even best-case scenario clean-up of crude oil results in only 5-15% oil recovery“. That factoid is, not surprisingly, based on an out-of-date study.

The federal government has spent millions of dollars researching the behaviour of diluted bitumen in an oil spill and has summarized the results at Transport Canada. The conclusion of the research is that diluted bitumen is somewhat easier to clean than heavy crude and can be much easier to clean than a light oil spill. As for that 5%-15% number the health professionals trot out. The 5% -15% number involves open ocean spills far away from spill response facilities not spills in a well-managed port. In the one example of a marine spill, in the Burrard Inlet, they were able to recover 95% of the spilled material.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada modeled an oil spill in the Salish Sea and concluded that the majority of the oil would stay on the surface rather than dispersing into the water column. That would mean that the floating oil would be recoverable using current spill response technologies. As for the sinking scenario, that scenario only applies in a tiny bit of the Salish Sea, in what is the widest sea lanes in the entire route.


So once again we have well-intentioned health practitioners demonstrating my father’s adage quite effectively: “never trust an MD on any topic that is not related to medicine”. In that short 214 word snippet from their letter we were able to find appeals to sentiment, wild exaggerations and outright errors. It simply amazes me how a bunch of Emergency Room Physicians, Family Doctors and other non-specialists can get so much air play on their ill-founded concerns and that no one else appears to call them on it when they do.



Here is a breakdown of the BTEX in every significant blend of Canadian diluted bitumen

BTEX dilbit

Source: Federal Government Technical Report: Properties, Composition and Marine Spill  Behaviour, Fate and Transport of Two Diluted Bitumen Products from the Canadian Oil Sands – ISBN 978-1-100-23004-7 Cat. No.: En84-96/2013E-PDF


As for crude oils – from Characteristics of spilled oils, fuels, and petroleum products : 1. composition and properties of selected oils.

Benzene – µg/g BTEX – µg/g
Alaska North Slope Crude Oil (2002) 2866 16300
Alberta Sweet Mixed Blend (ASMB, Reference #5) 2261 18170
Arabian Light (2000) 979 10950
Sockeye (2000) 1343 8230
South Louisiana (2001) 1598 12210
West Texas Intermediate (2002) 4026 23370

If you want to look up the value for every major oil out there Environment Canada maintains an oil properties database


Posted in Oil Sands, Pipelines, Trans Mountain, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Looking at the science on cannabis, kids and addiction

Last week the Canadian government finally legalized and regulated the production, distribution, and use of cannabis. Like many of my peers, this change in the law didn’t have a serious effect on my life. I didn’t ingest cannabis before legalization and I have no strong desire to do so now. It is not that I have any moral qualms about the stuff, I have just always worked in fields where post-incident drug testing is a reality and knowing my analytical chemistry have been aware that casual use can stay in your system far longer than most recognize. I have also had a lifetime of lung problems and being around people smoking anything leaves me searching for my inhaler. That being said, I have read a lot of misinformation by “cannabis experts” and so wanted to write a brief blog post highlighting some research that some of the activists would prefer you not understand. Specifically, that cannabis can indeed be addictive and it is very much something that you want to keep well away from young people. Let’s start with the second point first.

Cannabis and youth.

I can’t count the number of cannabis activists I have seen in the last few weeks proclaiming that cannabis is harmless and there shouldn’t be any serious limitations on its distribution and use. The simple fact is that cannabis is a psychoactive substance. Put another way, if cannabis was not a psychoactive substance there would be no particular reason why so many people would be interested in using it. As described in a science dictionary, cannabis

affects both the cardiovascular and central nervous systems. The major psychoactive component in marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. After entering the bloodstream through blood-gas exchanges associated with smoking, THC combines with receptor sites in the human brain to cause drowsiness, increased appetite, giddiness, hallucinations, and other psychoactive effects.

One thing I was taught early in my study of toxicology is that the brains of adults and those of children react differently to the same compounds. That is why so many medicines that are fine for adults are not recommended for children. Cannabis fits into that class. While cannabis can, quite rightly, be recommended to children by doctors to treat specific maladies, it should be carefully avoided for most youth. The science is clear that cannabis use, and particularly heavy cannabis use:

All this makes it clear that cannabis is not the harmless substance for youth that some of its more ardent proponents claim and strongly supports the government’s decision to limit the use of the substance to adults.

Many activists have pointed to a recent Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) study on cannabis and cognition: Association of Cannabis With Cognitive Functioning in Adolescents and Young Adults, A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Let’s be clear that study did not deal with depression, schizophrenia or other anxiety disorders, but rather to cognitive function which involves things like reasoning, memory and attention. Moreover, the study didn’t actually say that cannabis was harmless. Rather, the JAMA study concluded:

Associations between cannabis use and cognitive functioning in cross-sectional studies of adolescents and young adults are small and may be of questionable clinical importance for most individuals. Furthermore, abstinence of longer than 72 hours diminishes cognitive deficits associated with cannabis use.

What do they say this means in plain English? That continued cannabis use may be associated with small reductions in your child’s cognitive ability but results suggest the cognitive deficits are substantially diminished with abstinence. Read that last line again carefully. They aren’t saying that kids won’t see a reduction of cognitive ability, only that following abstinence the loss won’t have a clinical effect on your kids. Put in a way parents will understand: if your kid uses cannabis regularly they likely won’t have cognitive deficits they just may lose a few IQ points over the long term. Not exactly a ringing endorsement in my mind.

An article in Scientific American put it best:

Repetitive or high doses of psychoactive drugs like cannabis, alcohol and hallucinogens interfere with the normal development of the brain. Not a good thing, and cause for controls on the access youth can have to substances.

Cannabis and addiction

As for addiction, the research is equally clear, cannabis is not as addictive as many other “drugs of abuse” but “it appears to conform to the general patterns of changes described in the Koob and Volkow model of addiction.  In non-science-speak what this means is that it creates a biochemical change in users’ brains…it is addictive. That is why cannabis use disorder is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Biochemically, the neurochemical basis of cannabis addiction is described:

The psychoactive compounds contained in cannabis induce their pharmacological effects by the activation of at least two different receptors, CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors. Multiple studies have demonstrated the specific involvement of CB1 cannabinoid receptors in the addictive properties of cannabinoids. Several neurotransmitter systems involved in the addictive effects of other prototypical drugs of abuse, such as the dopaminergic and the opioid system are also involved in cannabis addiction.

What does this mean for users? Well for most casual adult users there is little need for concern. Cannabis is less addictive than alcohol and a lot less addictive than nicotine or many other “drugs of abuse”. As for it being a “gateway drug” that is also not strongly supported. Rather, the research appears to indicate that those who are predisposed to drug addiction often start with pot rather than pot making you predisposed to other drugs. That being said if you are a heavy daily user of cannabis you can develop a neurochemical dependence, which is the clinical definition of addiction. So when the government says that regular users of cannabis can become addicted, they are neither lying nor are they wrong.


To conclude, cannabis is a psychoactive substance that the research appears to indicate can be enjoyed in private by consenting adults with little long-term harm as long as it is enjoyed in moderation. Like many other psychoactive compounds it causes neurological changes in the brains of users and when used regularly can result in addiction. Moreover, those neurological changes while minor and usually temporary in adults, can have long-term consequences in youth and children. Thus, like alcohol, cannabis use by youth should be avoided except when prescribed by a medical practitioner for a recognized medical condition.

Posted in Canadian Politics, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

An Open Letter to Fraser Health about a miserable visit to your ER made worse by a lack of communication, price-gouging, and lousy amenities

This blog post is a bit of a change of pace from my normal fare. On Sunday (Oct 14th) I spent over six hours in the waiting room of Langley Memorial Hospital with my 6-year-old daughter waiting to determine whether she had broken her arm. I tweeted about my experience during the odyssey and Fraser Health asked me to send an email to provide them with details. This blog post is intended to describe the miserable service at the facility and highlight some simple changes that could possibly help improve Langley Memorial ER’s horrible reputation in our community.

Let’s start with a qualifier, all three of my kids were born in Langley Memorial Hospital and the service we got in their maternity ward was first rate. This is a common sentiment in our community. It is the place to go to have a baby. That being said, every family I have talked to on the subject agrees that taking a child to the Langley ER is a virtual guarantee of a bad experience. One I plan on never voluntarily repeating.

The day started well, a fun Sunday birthday party attended by my six-year-old daughter. However, at the end of the party she had a bad fall and complained that her arm hurt a lot. An hour later, her hand was badly swollen, and her wrist and lower arm were very tender to the touch. Moreover, our normally happy girl was complaining of the pain. This is something our rough-and tumble youngest of three never does. It being a Sunday, with no walk-in clinics available with x-ray units, we made a decision that we had better make sure she had not broken her wrist/arm and so I packed her up and we headed to the hospital.

As a resident of Langley, we have three obvious choices for emergency rooms: Abbotsford (which has had a LOT of bad press in the last few months), Langley (our closest hospital) and Surrey (quite a bit longer drive). Before leaving the house my wife phoned Langley Memorial ER to ask if they had any issues or delays. The person on the other end informed my wife that they were not allowed to relay that type of information over the phone. A policy that makes exactly zero sense to me. Lacking any information to make an informed decision we headed down to Langley Memorial ER.

Arriving at the ER, I paid the $9 for two hours of parking, after all how long should it take to get an x-ray on a sunny Sunday?  Walking in the waiting room it didn’t look bad at all. There were a handful of people waiting and lots of available seats. They took my daughter’s information and asked us to sit to wait for the triage nurse. All pretty typical. The problem was, unbeknownst to us, a serious car accident had occurred earlier in the day that had turned the waiting room from a place where patients are seen and treated into a room where people would pile up, sitting for hours suffering in silence.

Shortly after we arrived a second family arrived with a daughter (eight years old) who had fallen the day before. Her parents were afraid of the lines at the hospital so decided to wait overnight to see if she felt better. I’m told this is a pretty common decision my fellow Langley parents make. We ended up being processed together so our stories are linked. The dad was at work so mom was there with her injured eight-year-old and a very bored four-year-old.

An hour after our arrival (clearly a bad sign) the triage nurse finally announced my daughter’s name. My daughter was whimpering (as she had not received any pain medication) and the triage nurse confirmed that she needed to see a doctor. So back to the chairs we went.

Almost two hours after we arrived the nurse called my daughter’s name and brought us back to “waiting area 3” inside the ER itself. There we mistakenly thought we might get some quick help. By this time the ER proper had filled up and my parking was about to expire so I left my daughter with the other child’s mom (they were also called in with us) while I went to re-up my parking. Recognizing that this was not going to be a quick trip after all, I moved my car to the longer-term lot (another $8.50 in parking fees).

Three hours into our wait, with still zero communication or further acknowledgement of our existence, my daughter needed a drink and a snack. Since we had seen no nurses or help of any sort, I went to the vending machine to buy a $2.50 bottle of water. You have to appreciate Fraser Health, charging double what every other machine charges for water in their ER. I suppose when you have a captive market you may as well milk them for all they are worth. Since my daughter was hungry and I hadn’t eaten since early in the day I decided to buy us snacks. Anyone want to guess what happened? Yes, I got my snack and then the machine took my money and my daughter’s snack got caught in the mechanism. While I really wanted to kick the machine into submission, instead I chose to pay for a second treat to get them both to fall. Honestly it is the little things that really infuriate. So three hours in and Fraser Health had soaked me for parking; over-charged us for water; and forced me to double-pay for their over-priced snacks while providing exactly zero help with for my deeply unhappy, whimpering daughter.

Remember how I said we thought we were going to get help when we moved out of the waiting room into the interior waiting area? Well it took another three hours in the back (five hours after our arrival) to finally SEE a doctor. Our daughter wasn’t taken to beds or anything like that, instead she (and the other girl) were both examined in the waiting room in area 3, where to no one’s surprise the doctor decided she needed an x-ray. Something either I or the triage nurse could have told them four+ hours earlier.

So after waiting five hours in chairs they finally sent us to the x-ray department. Needless to say, after all that time you can guess what happened. Yes, the one x-ray technician on duty was on a break. So, our two families (the other family joined us a few minutes after we arrived in the x-ray department) waited for a half-hour (once again without one single person telling us what was happening) for the x-ray that any cogent professional could have made clear was needed four hours earlier. Once the x-ray technician got back she quickly, and efficiently, took the pictures and we were sent back to area 3 where, in our absence, all the seats had been re-filled and we were left to stand to wait some more. Thankfully, a nice gentleman, desperately in need of stitches, gave us his seat as my daughter curled herself into the smallest ball she could, clinging onto the teddy bear she brought to comfort herself, on my lap.

45 minutes later the doctor came back to inform us that the arm wasn’t broken and that we should ice her arm and give her Advil for the pain and we were sent on our way. We had spent over 6 hours in the ER and our total face time was:

  • Less than 2 minutes with a triage nurse
  • Less than 5 minutes (in total) with an ER doctor
  • A couple x-rays

No food, no water, no nurses (except the nurses that rushed by careful to never meet our eyes), no pain killers but almost $20 in parking, plus over-priced water and a couple over-priced snacks. Most frustratingly there was not a spare word more than the absolute minimum needed to pass simple instructions to us.

As for that family that spent six of those hours with us? Their daughter did indeed have a broken arm and she was off for another wait, this time at the cast clinic. By this point the mom had switched with the dad as mom had to go to work. Thankfully, she was able to take their four-year-old with her as he had gone from bored to really angry and very tired. Six hours in an emergency room has that effect on very small children.

I finally got my daughter home just before 9 pm. For six hours I had held her curled up on my lap with no painkillers and no communication from the ER staff. As we left we could see the ER was absolutely full, with every seat filled and patients overflowing out the doorway. One particularly telling sight was a woman holding a hand that looked clearly broken in a wheelchair in the entrance-way.  Likely none had a clue, when they headed to their local Emergency Room, that the Langley ER was backed up and that they would likely spend the better part of their night waiting for treatment.

To be clear, during the minimal time we spent with a doctor, she was very kind, but it is simply ridiculous that a hospital in the modern age can’t supply families with a guesstimate about wait times. Vancouver Coastal Health operates a wait time app that helps their patients make informed choices. Even the blood donor clinic has a little sign that tells you that you will have to wait 45, 60, or 90 minutes to give a donation. But somehow Fraser Health doesn’t think that families should be allowed to make informed choices. Even in cases like ours where the person on the other end of the phone knew full well that that they were handling a major accident that would leave our little girl sitting untreated in pain for hours before being seen; they told us nothing. Had we known we could have re-directed to another, less busy, ER in the area.

The saddest part of our entire story (besides the fact an eight-yer-old girl spent 36 hours with a broken arm because her parents rightly feared the wait at the Langley ER) is the response I got from EVERY family I spoke with today at my kids’ school.

EVERY family that had used the facility had a nightmare story about Langley Memorial ER. All agreed that taking a child to the Langley Memorial ER is a virtual guarantee, a virtual guarantee, of a bad experience.

Think about that. It seems like our entire community agrees that they simply can’t trust their local hospital ER with their kids’ well-being. That is such an incredible indictment of your organization. An organization where patients are treated like mushrooms, with bottomless wallets, who are expected to sit quietly and not complain because the ER is literally plastered with signs warning that they can kick you out for raising a fuss. Frankly, if you want to build a connection with your community don’t play that ridiculous PR video (running on a loop) on the one television in the waiting room. Give us the information we need to make informed decisions about the health and treatment of our kids by posting wait times. Charge a fair price for parking and don’t soak us at the vending machines. Set up a water fountain where families who can’t afford it can get water for their sick kids. These are such simple things you can do. Other facilities and organizations seem able to make a bad experience a better one, why can’t yours?


Cover photo from Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository 

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

On the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ bad science about BC LNG emissions

Life is very busy right now so I don’t have a lot of time to blog. As such tonight’s installment is simply a quick-take to address a “Policy Note” from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) about the LNG Canada project. The “Policy Note” is titled: LNG Canada: Short-term politics trumps long-term climate responsibility and makes claims that are inconsistent with the current state of science but keeps popping up on my Twitter feed. I’ve written before about CCPA reports on gasoline prices and on 100% renewables) and in both cases I was not been impressed by the rigour of the analyses. This new analysis doesn’t improve my opinion of them whatsoever.

The analysis starts with inflammatory rhetoric including calling LNG Canada a “carbon bomb” and calling support for the project a “form of climate change denial“. This type of rhetoric is unnecessary; it is harmful; but most importantly it is wrong. It is based on the false assumption, the CCPA keeps peddling, that “natural gas is not a “clean” fuel—it is just as carbon-polluting as coal.” It takes some digging to figure out how the CCPA managed to come to this incorrect conclusion but it appears the basis of the CCPA argument is a “Reality Check” called A Clear Look at BC LNG Energy security, environmental implications and economic potential written by David Hughes.

Ultimately, I could end this blog pretty quickly by pointing out that the CCPA analysis has been overtaken by real researchers. Since the report was prepared, a team of actual experts in this discipline produced a comprehensive peer-reviewed article on the topic Country-Level Life Cycle Assessment of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Liquefied Natural Gas Trade for Electricity Generation. The article, by Kasumu et al., completely obliterates the CCPA argument and shows that BC LNG can help reduce global carbon emissions. But given the prestige of the CCPA, I think it is necessary to do the next step of explaining how the CCPA came to its incorrect conclusion.

The CCPA argument can be traced back to Part 8 (page 38) of the Reality Check titled Life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions. In this section the author takes the results of a US National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) study Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Perspective on Exporting Liquefied Natural Gas from the United States and adapts it for the Canadian context.

The issues with the CCPA report start right at the beginning of the section. The author apparently isn’t willing to invest the time to research Canadian data (like Kasumu et al. do). Instead he simply takes the numbers prepared by the NETL, for export from New Orleans (???) to Shanghai, and uses them, holus bolus, for a Canadian project from Prince Rupert to Shanghai. The only adaptation he makes is to adjust for tanker shipping distance. As presented in the supplementary information for Kasumu et al., the CCPA report overstates the emissions for LNG regasification, for power plant operations and for transportation. But even using all these overstated values the CCPA assessment comes up with the conclusion (in Table 11) that BC LNG has substantially lower emissions than Chinese coal. An inconvenient conclusion for a CCPA report, which explains why the author doesn’t stop there.

Failing to prove that LNG is worse than coal using slightly souped up data, the author makes a couple of truly interesting assumptions to create Table 12. Table 12 is the one the CCPA apparently uses as the basis for their argument that LNG is no better than coal. Since the Table 11 LNG emission numbers were so much lower than the coal, the author first addresses the coal numbers. Coal represents the lion’s share of primary electricity consumption in China (graphic from Dr. Wenran Jiang’s incredible presentation at @Resource_Works – link


and they burn a LOT of coal


In the last several years China has been building some ultra-modern, high-efficiency coal plants which produce substantially lower emissions than the vast majority of their facilities. In Table 12, the author compares LNG solely to these new plants. The unstated assumption is that the Chinese will eliminate those ultra-modern plants to replace them with LNG. Or put another way, the unstated assumption is that China will close its newest and most efficient plants while retaining the hundreds of old, low-efficiency plants they have in their system. By doing so he is able to cut the differential between Chinese coal and BC LNG down by 300 Kg CO2/MWh.

You would think that this ridiculous change would be enough to make BC LNG less clean than coal, but you would be wrong. Even comparing BC LNG (with his inflated New Orleans production values) versus best-in-class coal, the BC LNG is still 20% lower in CO2/MWh. What is a CCPA author to do? How about figure out some way to inflate the Canadian numbers even more.

The author’s second “adjustment” involves adding a fudge-factor for fugitive emissions. Understand that the original number in Table 11 included the standard NETL correction for fugitive emissions. For Table 12 the author decided to go to the classic anti-LNG activist playbook and pulls out a report by Robert Howarth of Cornell University.

Robert Howarth is legendary in the anti-LNG camp for his 2011 paper with Santoro and Ingraffea titled: Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations where they estimated fugitive emissions from natural gas production. As for the rest of the scientific community, they were much less impressed. His colleagues at Cornell published a scathing rebuttal of the Howarth paper then a follow-up. The Cornell group was not alone. Other commentators pointed out that paper incorrectly attributed to venting, gas that was actually burnt to run production equipment. While others had additional concerns. Here is a link to a well-written summary of the issues with the paper and the various information sources debunking most of its findings. Needless to say the only people who still believe the Howarth, Santoro and Ingraffea work are activists who are uninterested in the science.

Howarth subsequently prepared another paper: A bridge to nowhere: methane emissions and the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas. It acts as a sequel to his earlier work and like every horror sequel the original beast, once thought slain, is revived to attack again. The new Howarth study asserts that unconventional wells have a leakage rate of 3.3%. This is more than double the value used by NETL in their analysis. By adjusting the NETL values with a boost based on 3.3% leakage rate the CCPA author is able to raise the LNG number over the Chinese ultra-clean coal number.

Needless to say, the scientific community has very little time for Howarth’s assumptions especially in the context of the BC natural gas industry. Howarth assumes that all unconventional well are vented and flared during installation and development. This would be a human health disaster in North-Eastern BC where venting those concentrations of sour gas would kill off drill crews. Rather, modern wells are generally “green-completed”, (they are connected to a pipeline in the pre-initial phase) and routine flaring and venting goes against BC Oil and Gas Commission Guidelines. While statistics for Canadian venting are not easily available, in the US only 3% of studied wells vented methane into the atmosphere. Just a reminder Howarth assumes 100% are vented. A study by the US Department of Energy showed very low methane leakage (roughly 0.4% of production) while other studies found unconventional wells with numbers up to 1.65% with the general numbers being closer to 1.4%. Coincidentally, the number used by NETL in their studies. Thus, the CCPA “correction” is both unnecessary and not supported by the science.

Now a topic I won’t discuss in detail in this blog post is the additional consideration that LNG Canada intends to electrify some of the critical steps in their LNG production/supply chain. By electrifying some processing, pipeline transport and liquifaction steps LNG Canada will have the lowest GHG LNG on the planet. Had the CCPA author included the electrification of these steps even with all his other fudge-factors he couldn’t make the Chinese coal more efficient than BC LNG.

So let’s summarize. In order for the CCPA to create conditions where “natural gas is not a “clean” fuel—it is just as carbon-polluting as coal” they had to use numbers from the US that overstate basic operational conditions; they had to ignore the electrification of critical steps in the LNG production pathway; they had to use thoroughly discredited fugitive emission values; and then they had to make the assumption that the Chinese would only use BC LNG to replace their most modern state-of-the-art coal facilities, presumably while leaving decade-old inefficient facilities in operation. I ask is that the sand on which anyone wants to build an intellectual construct? For most policy types that would be a no, but when your goal is to fight LNG, come hell or high water, I suppose the answer is yes.

Posted in Canadian Politics, Uncategorized | 11 Comments