My proposed presentation to the Trans Mountain Expansion Ministerial Panel

As I wrote in my previous post, on July 27th I will be attending the Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMX) Ministerial Panel Public Open House in Langley. If I get a chance this is what I intend to say.

My name is Blair King. I have a Ph.D in Chemistry and Environmental Studies, am a Professional Chemist, a Professional Biologist, a Contaminated Sites Approved Professional and have spent the last 16 years remediating industrial and commercial properties contaminated by our modern society. The majority of my work involves cleaning up spilled hydrocarbons. I am a family man but in my spare time I write a blog about evidence-based environmental decision-making called “A Chemist in Langley“. For those interested everything I say today is fully referenced at my blog .

First I have a quick conflict-of-interest disclosure. While I clean up contaminated sites for a living, I have no financial interest in the TMX nor, to the best of my knowledge, does my employer. I am not being paid to be here and have never received a cent from any of my blogging. My strong personal interest in the TMX project comes both as someone deeply interested in making sure we keep our province prosperous and clean and also as a neighbour to the pipeline. You see I live less than 50 m from the existing Trans Mountain pipeline and cross the pipeline daily on my walk to work. Unlike most of my neighbours, I bought my house fully aware of the existence and location of the Trans Mountain pipeline. I knew it was there and still felt safe raising my young family immediately nearby.

I am here today not to speak directly in support of the TMX project but rather to clear up a lot of misconceptions and talking points you have heard, and will hear, at this open house.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room: Climate Change. Let’s be frank, climate change is real, it is dangerous and we, as a country, have to do more to fight climate change. That being said climate change is a red herring in this discussion. Why? Because up to 80% of the emissions associated with fossil fuels are generated in their combustion. Pipelines represent a negligible part of that equation and the upstream numbers for Canadian producers are entirely comparable to our American counterparts.

So why is climate change a red herring? Because climate change is a result of the demand side of the ledger, the burning of fossil fuels, not their generation. As we know, the world is awash in oil, if it is not supplied from Alberta, it will be supplied by Algeria or Nigeria. If you really want to fight climate change don’t fight pipelines, fight for market-based mechanisms like carbon pricing. History has shown the only way to reduce fossil fuel use (and resultant carbon emissions) is to address the demand side of the ledger.

So where is the demand coming from? Well almost all (95%) of the world’s transportation energy comes from petroleum-based fuels, largely gasoline and diesel. Transportation use represents about 33% of all the energy used in British Columbia. The technology does not exist to get our planes, trains, ferries and transport trucks off fossil fuels and electrical vehicles for personal transportation are still in their infancy. Even with a herculean effort we are not going fossil fuel-free in our transportation system for decades to come. The technology has not even been invented that would allow us to do so. Only by making fossil fuels more expensive (through market-based mechanisms) will the world have the incentive to develop the technologies necessary to get our transportation system off fossil fuels.

Moreover, even if we were to somehow magically convert our transportation system to electric power, we would not come close to having the electrical generating capacity needed to meet the demand. In British Columbia transportation uses the equivalent of 9 to 15 Site C Dams worth of energy per year and we do not have that kind of electricity oversupply just lying around.

Renewables will certainly help but ramping up our renewable energy capacity represents another multi-decade long struggle and our existing electrical grid is not compatible with large-scale renewable energy. Going to renewable will mean completely re-designing our electrical grid which also will take time and money.

What this means is that we are going to have a demand for fossil fuels for at least three and likely five to seven decades into our future. So the question we have to ask ourselves is how are we going to get access to that fuel?

In most of BC our liquid fuel is supplied by imports. We get it from Alberta (by truck, rail and pipeline) and from the Puget Sound (by barge and tanker). Our supply network is stretched extremely thin and as the folks in the interior know, a short shut-down in Edmonton can mean empty gas stations in Kamloops and Kelowna.

Now the Puget Sound has historically received the vast majority of its crude oil from Alaska via tanker. You know that West Coast Tanker ban? Well Americans have been shipping up to 600,000 barrel/day of crude from Alaska to the Puget Sound via the Salish Sea for the last 20 years. That Alaskan oil is drying up and besides Canadian oil (via the existing Trans Mountain) the Puget Sound is going to be getting its future oil by rail.

How will they do that? Well the infrastructure is almost in place to supply up to 725,000 barrels/day to the US West Coast by rail. Much of that oil will travel along the headwaters of the Kootenay River and alongside the Columbia River to the Puget Sound.

So today’s discussion is not about climate change nor is it about renewable energy, it is about how, for the next 40 to 50 years, we are going to get liquid hydrocarbons to market while we work to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. Because the truth is that it is going to take us 40 to 50 years and in that time we will continue to need liquid fuels. So the only debate, today, is how do we transport that oil as safely as possible?

Well the answer to that question is definitive: pipelines have 4.5 times fewer accidents/spills than oil-by-rail and while every oil spills represents a catastrophe, spills from pipelines do not hold a candle to the apocalyptic aftermath of rail accidents. People like me can clean up the Kalamazoo River, but we can’t do anything to restore all those lives lost in Lac Megantic.

I will close with this: I am a pragmatic environmentalist. I want to leave my kids a world where fossil fuels are not used for transportation or energy, but we are not there yet. Until we reach that point we will need to move fossil fuels and the safest and most environmentally sensitive way to move those fuels over land is via pipeline and not oil-by-rail. Because let’s be honest here, the alternative to TMX is not some fossil fuel-free Shangri-La, it is oil-by-rail.

This entry was posted in Canadian Politics, Climate Change, Climate Change Politics, Pipelines, Trans Mountain, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to My proposed presentation to the Trans Mountain Expansion Ministerial Panel

  1. howb says:

    Your logic is irrefutable and I hope that you’re listened to at the TMX hearing. Thanks for the effort at the TMX hearing and for the blogging.



  2. Doug mackenzie says:

    Blair , I worked out the energy of equivalent BC gasoline and diesel consumption a while back, and only got 4 site C’s as compared to your 15. I’ll copy you tomorrow, after I check my math 😜….hope you make it to the microphone on the 27th


    • Blair says:

      Doug, did you look at my math in my previous post?


      • Douglas MacKenzie says:

        Did you get my calcs ? they were up for a minute and then disappeared. You’ve got my email, if I had yours I could send you the Excel file…I assume you mean your previous site C calc of 15 required. I actually used it as a “Pop Quiz” around the engineering office. Others came up with around 4 as well.


  3. Douglas MacKenzie says:

    Here is the info that says Site C will produce 5100 GWh of electricity annually.
    The Site C dam will generate 30% more electricity than the Hoover Dam in the Grand Canyon.

    Here is a website that says what the gasoline and diesel fuel consumption of British Columbia has been in the fairly recent past.

    Assumption: ignore idling time and other energy wasting activities….
    So lets assume that gasoline and diesel engines are 25% efficient in propelling vehicles (about internal combustion engine and drive train efficiency) , and lets assume electric vehicles are 75 % efficient in propelling vehicles (this would be about the efficiency of a Li/Ion battery including 0.86 battery charge efficiency, 0.92 grid delivery efficiency, and 0.95 electric vehicle drive motor efficiency. This neglects regenerative braking battery recharging of 10 -15% possible with some electric vehicles.

    BC gasoline consumption 4,687,564,000 Litres 33.7 MJ/Litre 158.0E+9 MJ
    BC road diesel consumption 1,922,523,000 Litres 36.9 MJ/Litre 70.9E+9 MJ
    Total Heat Content 228.9E+9 MJ
    assume 25% combustion engine/drive train net “propulsion energy” efficiency 57.2E+9 MJ

    at 75% efficiency for electric cars, to produce the same net “propulsion energy” 76.3E+9 MJ

    Conversion , 1 MJ= 0.278 kWHr = 0.278 e-6 GwHr 21213 GwHr
    Site C expected generation capacity=5100 GwHr = 4.16 Site C Dams


    • Blair says:

      Doug, I would argue that your numbers make way too many secondary assumptions.

      As I describe in my previous post we have an actual value for how much fuel is used yearly (from Statscan) so have a gross energy number. We also have a detailed assessment from the 100% WWS paper of what efficiency gains are made by changing vehicles to electrical power. This provides an effective method of converting that does not discount idling etc… and doesn’t require that we account for differences in efficiency between diesel engines and autos etc…

      Ultimately, whether we use my number of 9 or your of 4, the result is still the same. BC does not have that much oversupply of excess electricity hanging around unused. Absent that electricity the idea of going to 100% electrical power for transportation is simply a non-starter.


      • Douglas MacKenzie says:

        Blair, I came up with a different angle on my numbers. I know an engineer’s estimates of mechanical and electrical efficiency strike fear into a chemist’s heart 🙂
        But here (and many other places on the net for other vehicles):

        is a typical EPA rating for the same vehicle in electric or gas drives showing 105 MPGe for electric and 35 MPG for gas drive, which sustantiates pretty well my efficiency numbers of 75% electric and 25% internal combustion (which I pulled out of mental RAM after 40 years of doing such calculations)….other than that, assuming the Statscan numbers are correct, energy is energy….same result really, for BC, total electric isn’t going to get very far before running into very difficult hydro supply issues, and BC is rich in hyrdo resources compared to most of the world.


      • Blair says:

        Doug, thanks for that, I will include your new estimates in my future discussions. You are correct that my math, while good for a chemist, is below average for an engineer 🙂


  4. Douglas MacKenzie says:

    Sorry Blair, was not my intent to disparage your numbers. Just didn’t want your presentation to be criticized unduly by some zealot declaring your calc incorrect. (since you pre-published someone could easily do that). I agree with your message. Best of Luck. I don’t recommend using Jacobson as a source of realistic numbers though…but Kudos for using them to make your point.


  5. Blair says:

    No problem, I very much appreciate your insight as it adds a layer to my understanding of the uncertainties in this case.


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