Category Archives: Fracking

New Clothes- The generational rip-off of LNG

New Clothes: The generational rip-off of BC LNG

New Clothes- The generational rip-off of LNG
A culturally modified tree tagged by LNG contractors (Graeme Pole)

By Graeme Pole

Thoreau said, among other things, “…beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.” Aboard the BC Ferry Northern Adventure, departing Prince Rupert and bound for Haida Gwaii, I trained my camera on the southern tip of Digby Island, recording images through a liquid sky. Three months earlier, while our family had picked a route through hemlock, cedar, and beach logs on that island, we had encountered a team of “archaeologists,” meticulously scribbling notebook entries as they decorated ancient spirit trees with fluorescent yellow flagging tape. New clothes.

Madii-Lii Camp, a First Nations-led blockade of LNG pipelines (Chris Zazula)

Confronted with a red cedar far too massive to encircle open-armed, and draped with yellow plastic, our youngest daughter asked me that day why the flagged trees were so special. Her question was genuinely innocent. My impromptu reply surprised me for being as inspired as it was brief: “Every tree is special.” I withheld elaborating. I could not bear to unload on our then seven-year old, half a lifetime’s cynicism derived from matters environmental.

The bearers of that flagging tape, who had helicoptered to work from Seal Cove that morning, and who would helicopter home that afternoon, needed to document every instance of culturally modified tree on south Digby Island. This, so that Aurora LNG could comply with a tedious impediment to business, known as an environmental assessment process, before intending to proceed, with the blessings of governments, to utterly destroy the place.

Legions of “biostitutes”

As the Northern Adventure chugged along, I attempted to visualize Aurora LNG’s conceptual plans (three of them) for berthing facilities among the islets off the southeastern tip of Digby Island. Those berths would accommodate ocean-going vessels 345 metres long – ships that would load and transport a dangerous cargo closer to human settlement (Dodge Cove, Metllakatla, and Prince Rupert) than the LNG industry itself deems safe. How can anyone in Prince Rupert get a good night’s sleep anymore?

Lelu Island and Flora Bank (foreground) - site of controversial proposed LNG plant (Skeena Watershed Conservation Soc.)
Lelu Island and Flora Bank (foreground) – site of controversial proposed LNG plant (Skeena Watershed Conservation Society)

Some contractor on the company’s payroll had supposedly done the fieldwork; had checked the soundings and the substrate, had given a cursory nod to wild species and natural processes, had deep-sixed concerns over risks to human life and to the circulating atmosphere of the planet, and had nonetheless drafted the plans. How much money does it take, how much take-home pay, to utterly pervert a person’s connection to place, to fresh air, wild things, and clean water; to permit a person educated in environmental science to say: “This will work. Build it here. We can mitigate. We can get to ‘yes’.”

I now agree with a sentiment that I initially had found repulsive: These people, doubtless well-intentioned at the outset, and now with diplomas and degrees now in hand, have become biostitutes. And there are legions of them, ATV-ing and helicoptering their per-diemed ways across the wilds of BC.

A bald eagle wheeled by. I watched the wind pummel the bird as it turned a wing skyward and fought to hold its track.

North of Hazelton

The Kispiox River, north of Hazelton, BC (Graeme Pole)
The Kispiox River, north of Hazelton, BC (Graeme Pole)

As Digby Island fell away to stern, a woman interrupted my silent lament, joining me at the starboard railing where I sought shelter from the rain under one of the lifeboat davits. She asked where I was from. “North of Hazelton.” Brief rain-soaked silence. “Beautiful country,” she replied. “My son has been working there for two years with an environmental company. Finding the best place for the pipeline to go.”

When we made landfall at Skidegate, Premier Clark and Petronas were the top story on the CBC Radio news. The Petronas board of directors had given Pacific Northwest LNG conditional approval. TransCanada Pipelines was already saying that it would begin, within six months, construction of the fracked gas pipeline that would supply the LNG plant proposed for Lelu Island in the Skeena estuary and, perhaps inconsequentially, wreck the place some 300 kilometres upstream that my wife and I had chosen to make home, exactly sixteen years ago.

By late evening that day, newsfeeds were reporting that the BC Oil and Gas Commission had issued the first two construction permits for that pipeline.

No matter

No matter that the federal environmental assessment of Pacific Northwest LNG – the destination of that proposed pipeline – was still underway, with the principal concern being impacts to wild salmon. No matter that Madii ‘Lii Camp of the Gitxsan First Nation nobly shuts down a 32 km length of the proposed pipeline’s route on unceded territory. No matter that this one LNG plant would increase the province’s greenhouse gas emissions by 8.5 percent over 2012 levels, at a time when law states that the province must decrease those emissions by 20 percent from 2007 levels. No matter that the “clean” label of LNG is a lie – the lifecycle emissions of shale gas converted to LNG are 43 percent dirtier than burning coal to achieve the same BTUs.

BC approves Petronas LNG plant and 2 more gas pipelines
Ex-Petronas CEO Shamsul Abbas with BC Premier Christy Clark

No matter that two of BC’s LNG proponents have atrocious environmental and human rights records elsewhere in the world. Sukanto Tanoto, president of Woodfibre LNG (proposed for Howe Sound), has been called “Indonesia’s lead driver of rainforest destruction.” In 2012 he was found guilty of US tax evasion and agreed to pay over $200 million in fines. Petronas has been accused of participating in “environmental genocide” in Sudan. (During her Asian LNG junkets, Premier Clark posed for photo ops with Tanoto and with Shamsul Abbas, then CEO of Petronas.)

No matter that the Blueberry River First Nations, in part seeking to thwart the upturn in fracking that the LNG industry would require, have filed suit in the Supreme Court of British Columbia over the breach of Treaty 8 that the oil and gas industry has brought to bear on their traditional lands. No matter. No matter. No matter. A chaos of vain carts before a stampede of proud horses.

“Generational opportunity”

For northwestern BC, Premier Clark’s ”generational opportunity” of an LNG industry requires of locals – who have a storied history with the comings and goings of boom and bust industries – an acceptance of more new clothes. A plague of white pick-up trucks descends on the landscape while helicopters buzz overhead at the edges of human settlement, sometimes at rooftop level. People who live elsewhere deem what will be imposed on the landscape of home, and why, and that it will be good for all. Motels and truck rental companies have a brief field day. Communities grapple with the ethics of huge money being proffered them by the agents of corporations from afar, who, until the dossier was dropped on their desk, had no idea where Hazelton was, or Gingolx, or Lax Kw’alaams.

Environmental consultants pop up in empty second floor suites all over Smithers, Terrace, Kitimat, and Prince Rupert, sometimes above the vacuous, street-level presence of their corporate employers. Smalltown main street becomes a meet-and-greet, “we are listening” playground for the denim and plaid, dressed-down suits of oil and gas corporations, domestic and foreign. And everyone knows that all these people want to do is to sell enough snake oil to allow the serpent to slither westward to the coast, to deliver its venom and devour a landscape, before it moves on to its next meal.

What money?

The provincial government claims that a billion dollars of taxable commerce has already taken place in BC’s new LNG economy. That’s a lot of leased trucks, hotel rooms, and restaurant meals. The revenue to the province (perhaps 70 million tax dollars) will not even begin to compensate for the government’s absolute giveaway of the methane resource. No net export taxes will be paid by LNG proponents until the capital costs of their projects have been recouped. The rate of levy then due the government will be less than you and I pay on a bag of potato chips.

Chevron's Gorgon LNG plant in Australia (Chevron)
Chevron’s Gorgon LNG plant in Australia (Chevron)

Petronas and the government forecast the corporate investment in Pacific Northwest LNG, its pipeline, and its fracking fields at 36 Billion dollars. The government cannot estimate its own LNG expenses already incurred, but to anyone who has lent even a cursory ear to the media, to the parade of announced pay-offs to First Nations, and to the glut of government-sponsored open houses, it is evident that the sum already far exceeds 70 million dollars. It is well into the hundreds of millions of dollars, with pledges to First Nations of $1.6 billion more over the next 40 years.

If the experience of the LNG industry in Australia were to play out in BC, there could be project cost overruns that approach fifty percent. Thus it would be decades after the first LNG shovels were put in the ground before the taxpayers of BC might see a nickel of return. Yet governing politicians continue to utter lies about the economic benefits of the industry almost nightly on the news.

Fear, distrust and grief

Going broke and dealing with a poisoned land are potential long-term fallout of the proposed LNG economy. In the present, nothing of lasting value has been created by its supposed billion dollars of activity. To the contrary, much of lasting harm has come to pass. Fear, distrust and grief have been bred in the hearts and minds of those who live on the land and who love it the way that it is, along with a sense of betrayal that is profound.

Gitxsan members blockade Highway 16 last December (Photo submitted)
Gitxsan members blockade Highway 16 (Photo submitted)

How far will the people of northwestern BC bend before they break? How much crap are they willing to take from a governing party that they did not elect; from an industry that they did not ask to trespass in their home? How much longer can they live in a mythical land that is off-the-radar of those in other parts of the province, just enough of whom apparently thought that the BC Liberals were a good idea?

As I arrived in Queen Charlotte City and the radio news concluded, I could still feel the damp, the rain, and the wind of earlier that day, as Lelu Island had fallen to port. And I knew – damp or not – that the inherent condition of that intertidal realm would not be enough to prevent the ignition of northwestern BC in the coming social and environmental firestorm.

LNG as metaphor

From wellhead to waterline, and yes, even out to sea, LNG has become a metaphor for many things. Rendered to fundamentals, the proposed industry represents for BC and Canada a place of clear reckoning: Accept the industry, and nothing about how we care for the Earth will change at all, let alone for the better. Oppose the industry, and we buy time for the Earth, its people, and its wild species and natural processes while we (perhaps) collectively figure out less harmful ways and means to exist here.

Governments long ago, at the bidding of their corporate patrons, reached their sell-out decision points. Individuals from all walks are just now waking up to this. We will have to co-operate; will have to intend a different reality if a different reality is to come to pass.

Billions will drop at the slightest shaking from the money trees of industry and government. That’s nothing new. The takers, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, will take. Those opposed will fret and will hold their higher ground. The ocean will pulse twice daily on the shores of British Columbia, like a measuring heartbeat.

But beware. This will go on for but a while longer, until and if each of us takes on the new clothes that the Earth and the ticking times require.

Graeme Pole is a resident of the Kispiox Valley and the publisher of


BC govt hires accounting firm to give fracking a green stamp

A storage pond in northeast BC containing fracking fluids (Image: Two Island Films)
A storage pond in northeast BC containing fracking fluids (Image: Two Island Films)

Republished with permission from the ECOreport

There are credible experts who believe that, with proper regulation and enforcement, it is possible to have a trustworthy fracking industry. They also say this does not yet exist in North America. Personally, I think the industry is out of control and BC’s government is desperate to get in bed with it.

Last week the government released a report from Ernst & Young (EY), based upon which Minister of Natural Gas Development Rich Coleman says, “British Columbians can have confidence they are benefiting from a clean, well regulated natural gas industry.” Does Ernst & Young’s LNG report vindicate BC?

Report ignores climate impacts of fracking

This “Review of British Columbia’s Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Framework” failed to consider some of the most serious issues of this debate.

With LNG, BC will fail to meet greenhouse gas targets
LNG plants produce big emissions

The Review does not use the term “Climate Change” and only mentions greenhouse gas emissions as outside “the scope of their project.” The Oil and Gas Regulation “does not place limits on the fumes generated by hydraulic fracturing activities.” There is no discussion of the effect LNG development will have on the province’s emissions targets.

BC would have to build 5 LNG terminals would to achieve the scale Premier Christy Clark talks about. That could add 73 million tonnes of carbon pollution, which Sierra Club BC says is “almost 20% more than B.C.’s entire 2013 reported emissions” (i.e. more than a doubling of the province’s entire current carbon footprint).

Matt Horne, of the Pembina Institute says it might be possible to build one large terminal, or two small ones, and still keep our emissions in check – to which Jens Wieting, of the Sierra Club, responds, “Is it worth the gamble!”

The province’s emissions rose 2.4% in 2013. BC is not on track to reach its’ goal of cutting back to 33% below 2007 levels by 2020.

Yet Premier Clark joined the “Under2 MoU,” whose members agree to “reduce their greenhouse gas emissions 80% to 95% below the 1990 benchmark by 2050, or achieve a per capita annual emission target of less than 2 metric tons by 2050.”

Secret fracking chemicals not addressed

Another serious limitation of the Review is its failure to discuss the fact industry is allowed not to disclose some of the chemicals it uses by branding them a “trade secret.” This topic was dismissed as falling under Federal jurisdiction.

According to a 2014 study from the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Center, more than 100 billion gallons of waste water have been injected into the province:

[quote]Wastewater is not tracked after disposal” (and) the fate of this massive quantity of wastewater is unknown … We don’t really know what toxins were in the waste water, or how much may have leaked into ground water or surface water. … Wastewater from fracking operations can contain radioactive materials, toxic metals like lead and arsenic, carcinogens like benzene and hexavalent chromium, chemicals used in fracking and high concentrations of salts.[/quote]

Halliburton refuses to disclose fracking chemicalsAccording to a spokesperson for the ministry, companies must submit information about the chemicals they use on the FracFocus portal. This includes the “trade name, supplier, purpose, ingredients, Chemical Abstract Service Number, maximum ingredient concentration by additive (% by mass) and maximum ingredient concentration in fluid (% by mass).”

Companies face penalties if they do not use FracFocus, but can withhold information about their trade secrets.

The Review said BC’s process is “comparable or better than other jurisdictions in chemical fluid disclosure.” This is true – the trade secret loophole is used through-out North America.

Abuse of short-term water permits

The Review does not deal with alleged abuses of back to back short-term water approvals. This allows companies to obtain water without going through the level of oversight connected to a water license. According to Ecojustice lawyer Karen Campbell, more than half the water used for fracking in BC, is obtained this way. In many cases, gas companies are taking water from the same sources that communities rely upon. For example, “Encana draws millions of litres of water from the Kiskatinaw River” – a key source of water for Dawson Creek.

Eoin Madden of the Wilderness Committee says “no one is watching how much water is disappearing” and the losses are “in billions of litres.”

This could become even more of an issue as the West Coast’s drought spreads to BC, but Ernst & Young’s discussion is limited to mentioning that companies using short-term approvals must report their monthly usage.

Cumulative effects

One of the “opportunities” the Review identified is to “Consider cumulative effects by taking a broader view in planning future development.  This approach can better protect against potential cumulative impacts, including environmental outcomes that may not be visible when using a more granular, activity-based process.”

See no evil, hear no evil

Ernst & Young put a high priority on the “development of appropriate requirements related to baseline testing and ongoing monitoring of surface or groundwater quality around production zones.” This “would provide an additional data to support results-based regulatory requirements and to monitor compliance.”

A related recommendation called for “baseline testing and ongoing monitoring of domestic water well quality around production wells.”

Amanda Frank, from the Center for Effective Government, gave a much clearer explanation:

[quote]You might have seen the film Gasland, where folks will turn on their taps and light the water on fire because of methane contamination, but unless operators have actually done pretesting of this water you really can’t say fracking did it. You might be absolutely sure, but you don’t have the scientific evidence.[/quote]

Fracking water issues keep bubbling to surface
Texas landowner Steve Lipsky has sparked a battle over fracking and water contamination (image: Gasland II)

A spokesperson from the Oil and Gas Commission said he was only aware of one alleged water contamination incident, from the Hudson’s Hope area in 2012, and “the BC Oil and Gas Commission’s Compliance & Enforcement Branch which found no basis to indicate that hydraulic fracturing that had occurred in the area had any bearing on the water quality in the wells.” To which Calvin Sanborn, Legal Director the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Center, responded, “The politicians will tell you there are no confirmed cases of water contamination. That’s because they haven’t hired anyone to look.”

Shaking all over

One area where BC has done well is monitoring seismic activity.  The report “Investigation of Observed Seismicity in the Horn River Basin (2012) documents 272 “events” that “were caused by fluid injection during hydraulic fracturing in proximity to pre-existing faults” between April 2009 and December 2011. Though most were too small to feel, the biggest was 3.8 on the richter scale.  The report added that there were another 8,000 “high-volume hydraulic fracturing completions…with no associated anomalous seismicity.”

A second study, Investigation of Observed Seismicity in the Montney Trend(2014) reported 231 seismic events, ranging from 2.5 to 4.4, between August 2013 and October 2014. None of these activities resulted in injury or property damage.

Magnitudes increasing in Alberta

If this makes you nervous, consider that more than 400 oil and gas related tremors have been recorded in Alberta between 1985 and 2010, and fifteen of them had a magnitude greater than 3.5. There was a 4.4 seismic event at Fox Creek earlier this year.

Gail Atkinson, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Induced Seismicity Hazards at Ontario’s Western University, observed, “the magnitudes have been increasing every year.”

Oklahoma breaking seismic records

Damage from Oklahoma's 2011 fracking-related earthquake (Brian Sherrod, United States Geological Survey)
Damage from Oklahoma’s 2011 fracking-related earthquake (Brian Sherrod, United States Geological Survey)

Similar observations have been made in Oklahoma, where earthquakes were not common prior to 2009. A record of 222 quakes was set in 2013 and broken in the first four months of the next year. The tally was close to 500 by the time 2014 was over and now that record has been broken. There were 468 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater during the first four months of 2015. The state’s energy regulator called it a game changer when another 35 quakes of 3.0 or higher struck in the week of June 17 to 24. There were another 10 in the next three days.

The industry keeps telling us there is no cause for concern, these are are all minor events that cause no damage, but a study from the University of Oklahoma suggests otherwise. The state’s largest ever earthquake was a 5.6 “event” that struck Prague on November 6, 2011. Pavement buckled, 2 people were injured, and 14 homes were destroyed. Seismologist Katie Keranen believed it was caused by injection wells used by the oil and gas industry.

This was not a view shared by Oklahoma’s official seismologist, the Corporation Commission or the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association (a trade group that lobbies for the interests of oil and gas producers).

Ernst & Young gives BC fracking its stamp of approval

LNG & Fracking: Risky Business for BC
A fracking drill in BC’s Montney play

After reviewing British Columbia’s reports of seismic events, Ernst and Young recommended more data be collected so that the Commission could “better understand the behavior of hydraulic fracturing indifferent formations.”

“Overall, hydraulic fracturing is well regulated in BC,” Ernst and Young claim in their “Review of British Columbia’s Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Framework“. They 3 areas where the BC Oil & Gas Commission is “demonstrating leadership or particularly effective regulatory practice” and 23 “opportunities” for improvement.

Ernst & Young added, “None of the opportunities that we identified in the three categories constitute major failings of the regulatory framework, nor do we believe that there are any significant sources of risk that remain untouched by regulation.”

The report was published on March 3 and the provincial government waited until June 18 before releasing it to the public.

In the accompanying press release, Rich Coleman, Minister of Natural Gas Development, boasted:

[quote]This independent report confirms what we’ve been saying for years – British Columbia has a robust regulatory framework governing hydraulic fracturing. In fact, this is the second recent impartial review to find B.C. has a strong regulatory framework. British Columbians can have confidence they are benefiting from a clean, well regulated natural gas industry.[/quote]

I wonder how much the government paid Ernst & Young for this “independent” report?



Fracking industry stonewalled EPA on data for safety assessment

Chemical and water mixing for hydraulic fracturing (Joshua Doubek/Creative Commons)

Republished with permission from The ECOreport.

After five years of research, the EPA’s painfully inadequate fracking assessment has been released. “It’s a bit underwhelming,” said Amanda Frank, from the Center for Effective Government. Dr Allan Hoffman, a retired senior analyst with the Department of Energy, referred to the draft report as “disappointing.” They were referring to the extent that industry was allowed to thwart the EPA investigation.

Said Hoffman:

[quote]My general reaction is ‘why bother?’ I have a lot of compassion for EPA, they must have really struggled with this one, but I don’t feel like they produced a very useful report. There is nothing new. It is accurate as far as I could tell. They did review some records, but then they put in all these caveats about how limited the data really was. It is very clear they probably didn’t get co-operation from the industry. That’s a very bad sign in my opinion.[/quote]

The EPA tried to get companies to monitor their wells. For effective test results, they need to test the water before before, during and after drilling.

Industry won’t play ball

Marcellus shale gas drilling site in Pennsylvania (Nicholas A. Tonelli/Wikimedia Commons)
Shale gas drilling site in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus play (Nicholas A. Tonelli / Wikimedia Commons)

“Most companies flat-out refused to comply. So this report is more of a literature review. It is very thorough, in terms of looking at the available data, but limited because they still can’t say how widespread these impacts are when there so few companies that are willing to let the EPA study them,” said Amanda Frank.

She added, “They admit in the conclusion that, based on the number of wells that we know of and based on the number of incidents that we know of, water contamination is not a widespread issue. But the next sentence basically says there is so much data missing that it is hard to make that claim.”

Hoffman recently co-authored a report on the impact hydraulic fracturing has on water. He shares the impression that the number of incidents is small, but added, “We really don’t know.”

“If industry is not going to co-operate on this, then they are not to be trusted. They have plenty of incentive to hide accidents, spills and all that kind of stuff. That’s what people do, they protect their self interest.”

Halliburton refuses to disclose fracking chemicalsHe believes the number of incidents can be brought under control, but suspects that it may take a major accident for the United States to adopt strong enough regulations and enforcement.

In the meantime, there are reports of water contamination but it is difficult to prove the cause was fracking without proper testing. If company’s are allowed to withhold the identity of the chemicals they use, you don’t even know what to test for.

Some areas hit harder by water withdrawals

There have been large water withdrawals in areas with low water availability. Though the EPA reported the national average was only 1%, in some counties the number was actually 50%.

(Trent Orr, an attorney with Earthjustice, recently informed the ECOreport that much of California’s fracking takes place in Kern county, one of the area’s most affected by the drought.)

Industry takes over

In some states, the industry appears to have virtually taken over. In response to communities that have passed fracking bans, both Texas and Oklahoma have passed legislation overruling local control.

“Is fracking going to be safe? Nothing is. There are risks with everything. Getting into my car and driving to work is not ‘safe.’ Industry needs to recognize this and stop trying to say how safe and wonderful it is. They need to acknowledge there are risks. Then we need to ask ourselves, are these risks worth it?” said Frank.

Many hoped the EPA report would help clarify matters.

“The big disappointment is not so much in terms of the report’s scope, as that the conclusions are not widespread. To really fix the problems with fracking, you need to require baseline testing. If we were to require that in every well across the country, we would have a much better sense of how widespread this problem is,” said Frank.


Geologist: Minister inflating shale gas, LNG potential by 6 fold – threatening Canada’s energy security

BC Minister of Natural Gas Rich Coleman
BC Minister of Natural Gas Rich Coleman

The following rebuttal from geoscientist David Hughes to BC Minister of Natural Gas Rich Coleman is republished with permission from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. The minister has been vocal about Mr. Hughes’ recent report on LNG, published by the CCPA.

After a lot of media coverage on my Clear Look at BC LNG report, Rich Coleman, Minister of Natural Gas, weighed in saying “the report ignored the studies of B.C.’s own scientists” and “they don’t do their research”. In fact, if Mr. Coleman had bothered to read my report, he would have noted that my numbers are cited from BC Oil and Gas Commission reports – the scientists Mr. Coleman employs.

The BC Government states that “British Columbia’s natural gas supply is estimated at over 2,933 trillion cubic feet” and “British Columbia has more than an estimated 2,900 trillion cubic feet of marketable shale gas reserves”. These statements strongly imply that this is recoverable gas and therefore is part of future supply and is marketable. In contrast, here are the actual numbers from the BC Oil and Gas Commission (Table 4 from page 6 of the BC Oil and Gas Commission report that the BC Government claimed doubled BC gas reserves).


Instead of 2,933 tcf, the table lists an ultimate marketable potential resource for BC of just 400 tcf, of which 25 tcf has already been recovered leaving 376 tcf remaining. In my report I added an additional 42 tcf from other potential sources to make sure I was being generous, of which 416 tcf is remaining.

The BC Government’s claim of 2,933 tcf of “marketable shale gas reserves” is therefore preposterous in the light of information from its own scientists. It appears the BC Government has conflated “in-place” resources with “marketable” resources. “In-place” resource estimates are not recoverable – typically no more than 10-20% of the in-place resource is recoverable from shale gas plays. The National Energy Board and BC Oil and Gas Commission scientists have made a best guess at what might be recoverable and suggest it is 376 tcf, or one-eighth of the amount touted by the BC Government. I have been generous in suggesting the BC Government’s number is only overstated by a factor of six.

The BC Government has also been conflating “resources” with “reserves”. Proven reserves have a specific meaning in that they have been proven to exist with the drill bit and are recoverable with existing technology under foreseeable economic conditions. Reserves are numbers you can take to the bank. According to the BC Oil and Gas Commission, proven raw gas reserves in BC were just 42.3 tcf at yearend 2013, a mere 1/70th of what the BC Government is touting as “marketable shale gas reserves”.

If the BC Government knows the difference between “in-place resources” and “marketable shale gas reserves”, its touting of 2,933 tcf of BC gas is deliberate deception. If it does not it is extremely shocking given that Mr. Coleman and his government are the stewards of BC’s remaining finite, non-renewable, heritage of natural gas.

The BC LNG Alliance, an industry lobby group for seven LNG proponents, simply parroted BC Government statements. Its President, David Keane, “said 2,933 trillion cubic feet is a figure that the commission and energy board geologists “do believe we have.”’ Keane further accused me of “cherry picking some of the facts”. If Keane had read my report he would have seen it is based on National Energy Board projections, not mine, so if anyone is to be accused of cherry-picking it is the NEB.

The BC Government and the BC LNG Alliance have no credibility on the gas supply numbers they state for the reasons listed above. But my report was about much more than that. We are dealing with a finite non-renewable resource for which there are no substitutes at the scale we use it. It will be needed domestically in the long term and extraction necessitates environmental impacts. It demands a longer term plan for the sake of the environment and future generations.

Joe Oliver says fracking is safe, so it must be

Joe Oliver says fracking is safe, so it must be

Joe Oliver says fracking is safe, so it must be
Finance Minister Joe Oliver (Adrian Wyld/CP)

I must apologize for being an alarmist. I now discover there is no reason for concern about hydraulic fracturing, commonly called “fracking”. I have been alleging that this process of “mining” natural gas is dangerous not only to the atmosphere and the people around the process, but to the water used and the potential damage thereafter to the water table.

I now understand that there are no problems whatsoever with this process and that the scaredy-cats in places like New York and Quebec that have banned “fracking” – and the United Kingdom and the European Union that have limited it – are simply wrongheaded.

How do I arrive at my volte face?

I have examined the evidence carefully.

Harper govt gives seal of approval

First of all, we have our own fatuous Finance Minister, Joe Oliver, who insists that fracking is safe – chastising Nova Scotia for its recent ban – and then all you have to do is look up “safe fracking” on the Internet and you’ll see that he is right.

Further proof of my egregious error comes from the fact that the Prime Minister, in giving away bundles of cash to the LNG industry, mentions not a word about the “fracking” that would fuel it. And we know that if it were any concern at all for his beloved flock, he would say so and take steps to shelter them, just as he is doing with the threat from women who wear veils.

See no evil, hear no evil

The Fraser Institute, which is, they allege, a “think tank” says nothing on the subject. Neither does the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation, which normally can’t keep their mouth shut about anything. If these two honest, independent sources of the absolute truth are silent on “fracking”, we can be certain that all is well.

Rumours of LNG’s demise greatly exaggerated

There have been three very comforting reports in the press lately. We can start with the head of the BC LNG Alliance, one David Keane, who tells us that LNG is alive and well in BC and in a speech to Calgary energy barons (obviously a tough audience) makes no mention whatsoever of “fracking” – and you could be sure that he would have if it were a problem.

In the Toronto Globe & Mail, we are informed that the consortium led by Petronas assures us that LNG is alive and well in British Columbia and that it will proceed. This is enthusiastically seconded by Rich Coleman, the premier’s pet poodle on the project, although neither of them say just when this will happen. The encouraging news, though, is that not a word is mentioned about the massive increase in “fracking” required to power the industry – so we can assume from these unimpeachable sources that there is no problem there.

Exxon CEO bullish on fracking’s future

In the Vancouver Sun of March 5, there is an article containing an interview with Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil. In this interview, Mr. Tillerson is extravagant in his praise of shale mining and paints a very rosy future for this source of oil and gas. Again, encouraging to all, is that Mr. Tillerson doesn’t make any mention whatsoever about “fracking” so we know from the authority of ExxonMobil, that there’s no problem. (This is the same guy who infamously protested fracking-related infrastructure planned, literally, for his own back yard)

Fracking absent from BC LNG discussion

In our own province, the said Mr. Coleman makes no mention of “fracking” in any of his many statements, so knowing how trustworthy he is, we can assume that “fracking” is no problem in British Columbia.

Neither does Mr. John Horgan, Leader of the Opposition, and we surely know that if there were a problem with “fracking”, this talented opposer of wrong, would turn the full fury of his well-known temper on the government and the industry.

This evidence of the safety of “fracking” is fortified by the fact that our premier, known for her strict adherence to the facts, her candour and honesty, also doesn’t mention “fracking” – in fact calling BC LNG “the cleanest fossil fuel on the planet” – so we can assume by that omission that her credibility is behind the safety of this harmless process.

Science, Schmience!

It’s embarrassing to have to admit that I have relied upon scientific presentations from all over the world and actions taken by other jurisdictions. I cannot, for the life of me, understand how they can all be just as wrong and stupid as I have been.

It can be taken, then, that hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” for oil and natural gas is harmless to the people and to the environment.

It follows from this that suggestions I have made about the release of methane gas by this process are nonsense. So are suggestions that it pollutes water. It can also be assumed that statements from scientists to the effect that, taking everything into consideration, fracked natural gas is as harmful to the atmosphere and contributes as much to global warming as does oil or coal, are unprofessional rubbish.

Rest assured

The lesson I take from this is that we are fortunate indeed in this province and this country to have men and women of such integrity and honesty looking after our industries and our governments. It would be sad, indeed, to ever think that captains of industry or leaders of government would shade the truth, much last tell lies, in order to feather their own nests or advance their own political prospects.

We are, in truth, lucky people and we should think about that once in a while.

I must say that the Captains of Industry and our political masters and mistresses hope we don’t think about it too much or too often.

Rafe- Federal leaders out of touch on LNG, fracking

Rafe: Federal leaders out of touch on LNG, fracking

Rafe- Federal leaders out of touch on LNG, fracking
Thomas Mulcair, Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has thrown down the gauntlet with his promise of federal tax giveaways for LNG enterprises.

I expected this sort of nonsense – just one look at the smug sneer of power on the face of James Moore, Minister of Industry, over the last few months, indicated that this decision was coming and that the opinions of the people of British Columbia didn’t matter a tinker’s dam.

This I think is one of the central points.

When it comes to industry and the people with whom this government are philosophically aligned, the people lose every time.

It may well be, when one thinks about it, that Mr. Harper takes few if any risks with this policy.

Trudeau and Mulcair fuzzy on LNG

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau is extremely “wet” on this issue. He wants more science involved on the fracking issue and then cautions premier Christy Clark that she shouldn’t put all her eggs in the LNG basket.

Tom Mulcair, the leader of the NDP, has also been pretty fuzzy. He talks about better environmental assessment – and who could argue with that – but he’s obviously leery of opposing the provincial NDP’s support of LNG.
That leaves the Greens, and while I believe that they will get some seats in British Columbia, they will not be forming the federal government.

The elephant in the room

There is an elephant in the room, which the Tories want nothing to do with, the Liberals want something but not too much to do with, while the NDP seems happy to feed the pachyderm as long as he behaves. This is, of course, is the “fracking” issue.

On this question, the science is pretty clear. Not only is hydraulic fracturing, “fracking”, highly toxic to the atmosphere and unhealthy generally for human beings, it creates increased earthquakes where it is practised and it can poison the water system. Interestingly enough Andrew Nikiforuk, a true energy expert, has just written an interesting article in the on the stability issue in the Netherlands, where dangerous earthquakes, both in frequency and intensity, are occurring in the Groningen area where intensive fracking takes place.

Again, it would seem that Mr. Mulcair is handicapped by the position taken by his provincial colleague, John Horgan. Mr. Trudeau talks about science but doesn’t want to deal with the clear science that is already here and pretty definitive on the matter  – and, of course, Mr. Harper and his local marionette, James Moore, simply don’t give a good goddamn about the issue.

For British Columbia is this is a pretty sad scenario.

Economics are LNG’s Achilles’ Heel

It brings into focus the one tool we have at our disposal namely civil disobedience. Now it would seem that with Bill C 51, the anti-terrorism the bill, that the federal government will throw us all in jail as terrorists if we physically protest a project.

The saving grace is, of course, economic. Unless there is a miraculous return of prices, which would mean that somehow the glut of natural gas in the world disappears, LNG plants will be unfeasible.

It is sad, indeed, to contemplate that when it comes to the serious environmental and health concerns surrounding LNG, none of our elected representatives or those who wish to be elected – with the clear exception of the Green Party – care about us, the people.

Some day, some way, the people are going to have a say on this.


Clark govt, Science World selling LNG Kool-Aid to kids

BC Liberal ministers Rich Coleman and Shirley Bond look on at a recent demonstration about the "science of LNG" (BC Govt)
Ministers Rich Coleman and Shirley Bond watch a recent demonstration on the “science of LNG” (BC Govt)

The BC Liberal government’s all-out push to build an LNG industry is extending into the province’s classrooms and the minds of its students. The latest partner in this effort, Science World, is co-hosting a series of community seminars in rural communities to educate students “about the fundamentals of energy science.”

Alongside presentations by Science World, an October government media advisory promises:

[quote]…young people will be able to talk with government and industry representatives and take part in Find Your Fit, an interactive event where grades 6-to-10 students get hands on experience with the skills needed for in demand jobs throughout the province.[/quote]

Events have already taken place in Prince George, Fort St. John, Terrace and Prince Rupert – with upcoming dates in Squamish, Nanaimo, and Kamloops.

Science World CEO defends “neutral” program

On CBC radio’s Daybreak North last month, Science World CEO Bryan Tisdall deflected concerns about the controversy surrounding the LNG industry and its environmental and social impacts. Said Tisdall, “Our shows will be quite neutral and they will be based on the belief that order to be able to make those decisions, to address those very challenging questions that are in front of us, the residents of the province need to have a basic level of knowledge about what is energy – where does it come from?”

But the events Science World is partnering in can hardly be construed as “neutral” or strictly science-focused. They’re clearly designed to promote the industry to youth through big job promises – a message with which Tisdall appears to be fully on board, noting:

[quote]There will be the opportunity not only to learn more about the science of energy generally – and more specifically about LNG – but careers that might be involved in that…all the trades and professions that will be essential for the future energy industry in the province.[/quote]

LNG policy creeps into classrooms

This development is merely the latest example of the troubling creep of the government’s energy agenda and the oil and gas industry’s influence into BC’s classrooms.

From the massive shifting of post-secondary education funding away from academia towards “skills training” for the LNG industry to Chevron’s controversial attempt to donate $200,000 to the Vancouver School Board, BC’s youth are increasingly being targeted to advance oil and gas development.

Liberal MLAs attend BC Lions-endorsed "Skills for Life" session (Photo: MLA John Yap)
Liberal MLAs attend BC Lions-endorsed “Skills for Life” session (Photo: MLA John Yap website)

It’s not just post-secondary students who will be encouraged to abandon dreams of social work or nursing careers for LNG training. Clark has acknowledged this focus on trades must extend to high school students as well.

A recent example was the student delegation the government brought to its global LNG summit earlier this year, wooing high schoolers with promises of jobs in the trades.

Even the kid-friendly BC Lions have been roped into this sales pitch – partnering in the government’s “Skills for Life” program, along with Petronas’ Pacific Northwest LNG project.

These Science World community sessions are reaching even younger students with this pro-LNG message – some as young as elementary school.

Let’s talk about science…really

Mr. Tsidall’s Science World is supposed to be in the science business. So here’s some of the science that’s missing from their seminars.

How about estimates that suggest even a modest number of LNG plants could more than double the entire carbon footprint of the province? Or does Science World not concern itself with climate science?

How about the science of fugitive methane emissions – 86 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2 over a 20-year period – that stem from shale gas (a.k.a: fracking)? Or the geology that tells us BC’s LNG industry would be fed by a massive increase in fracking.

Or the science of tens of billions of litres of fresh water being removed from the hydrological cycle and contaminated with a cocktail of chemicals – some of them known carcinogens?

Or the science of earthquakes caused by fracking?

These are all fascinating topics, surely of interest to inquiring young minds. If Science World wanted to engage with youth on the subject, they could do it independently of the government and let our youth weigh the jobs they’re being promised against a full picture of the negative impacts of this industry. As it stands, Science World is allowing itself to be used as the lackey huckster of the government’s Kool-Aid.

What jobs?

Speaking of jobs, how many of these students will actually see employment in the industry while company after company backs out? While the very BC government making these promises signs deals with China and India to import foreign temporary workers to build LNG infrastructure at cheaper wages…

Meanwhile, Christy Clark, hardly a fan of education herself, is full of lessons for BC’s youth – and their parents, both beneficiaries of her recent lecture on protesting the Kinder Morgan pipeline.

Is this LNG program about providing kids with opportunities – or about using kids to get to their parents, the voters who elected this Liberal government on an LNG platform that is disintegrating beneath its feet?

If the Liberal government wishes to continue hawking the Kool-Aid of its failing LNG industry, that’s its prerogative – but to Mr. Tisdall and Ms. Clark, I say: Leave the kids out of it.

Govt scared it's losing messaging battle over fracking, LNG in social media - documents reveal

Govt fears losing LNG, fracking social licence to social media: Internal briefing note

Govt scared it's losing messaging battle over fracking, LNG in social media - documents reveal
Rich Coleman tries to conjure up some good LNG PR with this youtube video (BC govt youtube page)

The BC government is worried it can’t control the way fracking and liquefied natural gas (LNG) are being criticized through social media, documents obtained through a Freedom of Information request reveal.

As a result, the Liberal administration fears losing the “social licence” required to advance its LNG strategy – the core policy of its recent election platform and economic vision.

The June, 2014 briefing note (view full document here) was dug up by Propeller Strategy, a non-profit group with a focus on environmental and public interest issues in BC. Prepared by staff for Minister of Natural Gas Development Rich Coleman, it compares criticism of fracking with the kind of fake news and tweets that surrounded the Boston Marathon Bombing several years ago.

“Misinformation about hydraulic fracturing (fracking) technology, water usage and greenhouse gas emissions relating to natural gas extraction and LNG production facilities is rampant in the community, particularly in social media,” the briefing note states.

[quote]Allowing this kind of “framing” to occur is not in the public interest as social licence is eroded. [/quote]

“Cascade of misinformation”

Boston Marathon Bombing-figureThe document uses the Boston Marathon Bombing as an example of how quickly misinformation can spread through sites like twitter and facebook. In that particular incident, thousands of false tweets muddied the public’s initial understanding of the situation.

“Part of it is people wanting to be part of the story, but part of it is spammers and hoaxers trying to cash in on the fact that people are talking about this,” UBC media professor Alfred Hermida recently explained to The Georgia Straight’s Charlie Smith in a story on social media hoaxes. 

The Ministry of Natural Gas memo describes how quickly a single tweet, being picked up by twitter celebrities with large followings, can spread through “thousands of re-tweets” – creating a “cascade of misinformation.”

In the words of Winston Churchill…

Bringing it back to the government’s messaging challenges around fracking, the briefing note warns, “It’s rather difficult to win back the public once the misinformation is etched into the memory of British Columbians.”

[quote]As Winston Churchill pointed out: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”[/quote]

But is that a fair description of the social media discourse surrounding fracking and LNG in BC? The way the document reads, it’s as though the government takes for granted that any discouraging words said about these industries must inherently be construed as “misinformation.”

Why all the secrecy?

It’s difficult to know how much weight the government’s concerns hold, since much of the document supplied to Propeller Strategy was redacted. The entire second page, containing specific discussion and conclusions, was whited out, leaving not a single, tangible example of the kind of false claims the ministry alleges surround fracking and LNG.

Says Stan Proboszcz, who filed the FOI request, “I’m disconcerted about what the province may be planning to do to improve the industry’s failing image, given the redactions. Why all the secrecy?”

[quote]It’s clear the province is concerned with the industry’s evaporating social licence.[/quote]

Cleanest fossil fuel on the planet?

Meanwhile, The Common Sense Canadian has been tracking and publishing on social media the evolving, peer-reviewed science related to fracked shale gas, which increasingly contradicts the government’s branding of BC LNG as the “cleanest fossil fuel on the planet”. (This proposed LNG industry would be fed by a major increase in fracking in northeast BC.)

Fracked wells leak 6 times more methane-New Cornell study
Methane leaks are common with fracking operations

Cornell University climate scientist Dr. Robert Howarth – an acknowledged leader in the field of measuring the real climate impacts of fracking – scoffs at Premier Christy Clark’s “cleanest fossil fuel” claims. Based on his research into escaping methane gas, which is some 86 times more potent as a greenhouse gas over a 20-year period than CO2,“natural gas – and particularly shale gas – is the worst of the fossil fuels…Your premier has her facts wrong.”

That particular story was liked over 2,300 times on facebook and widely shared amongst BC users. Is this the kind of “misinformation” in social media that the ministry is referring to?

LNG would dramatically boost BC’s carbon footprint

In addition to the climate problems associated with fracked gas, “using it in LNG is probably the worst way to use it,” Dr. Howarth explains. “It takes a tremendous amount of energy to liquefy the gas to LNG, so a lot further methane emissions associated with transporting and storing the fuel.”

Studies from the Pembina Institute suggest that just the coastal LNG plants associated with the government’s plan could more than double BC’s entire carbon footprint – and that’s only factoring in a handful of the 15-plus terminals currently proposed for the province.

[quote]…even the lower end of that development scenario would produce a staggering 73 million tonnes of carbon pollution per year by 2020. For comparison, the oilsands are currently Canada’s fastest-growing source of climate pollution — but by 2020, B.C.’s LNG plans would produce three-quarters as much carbon pollution if development proceeds as hoped.[/quote]

Even the government’s own scientists have warned it about the climate consequences of its LNG vision – apparently to no avail.

Misinformation claims don’t hold water

The government is also clearly concerned about criticism of fracking’s impacts on water – criticism which, again, would seem to be prudent, based on the evidence.

In 2012, BC used close to 11 Billion litres of water for fracking – most of that drawn from the rivers, lakes and streams of northeast BC, a region already hard-hit by drought in recent years. And that’s just what was reported through government figures. Not all water extraction is properly measured or reported.

Shale gas expert David Hughes has run the numbers on what it would take to supply those LNG plants, and it means as many as 50,000 new fracked wells – close to double all the gas wells drilled in the 60-year history of the province’s gas industry.

In order to supply this LNG-driven ramp-up, he and Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives researcher Ben Parfitt figure “a very conservatively estimated 582 billion litres of water would then be polluted and removed from the hydrological cycle.”

On an annual basis, that’s equivalent to all the water used by the city of Calgary.

Drinking the LNG Kool-Aid: Gas Minister Coleman and Environment Minister Mary Polak drink water spiked with LNG in an effort to show how safe it is (BC govt youtube page)
Drinking the LNG Kool-Aid: Gas Minister Coleman and Environment Minister Mary Polak drink water spiked with LNG in an effort to show how safe it is (BC govt youtube page)

Coleman and Clark have also made bold claims as to the safety of BC’s fracking with regards to water, but cracks have begun to form in those arguments. In a 2013 Georgia Straight op-ed, Coleman made the following claim: “The net result of both our strong regulatory framework and our geology is that B.C.’s water supply is protected and safe. It has never been contaminated as a result of hydraulic fracturing.”

Talisman frackwater pit leaked for months, kept from public
Arrow indicates leaking Talisman tailing pond (Two Island Films)

Yet, one week earlier, The Globe and Mail had broken the story of a leaking tailing pond near the community of Hudson’s Hope – owned by Talisman at the time (now by Malaysia’s Petronas). As The Common Sense Canadian went on to unearth, this pond, containing 30 million litres of contaminated frack water, was leaking into the surrounding soil and groundwater for up to six months before the company went public about it.

The eventual cleanup operation required the removal of some 5,000 cubic metres of contaminated earth.

Minister Coleman may argue on a technicality that there is no evidence of that contamination reaching BC’s public drinking water supply – though that is not even what he specifically said.

We also learned in August that unnamed companies had been illegally dumping contaminated fracking wastewater into the Dawson Creek municipal water treatment system.

All of these stories received considerable sharing and commenting through social media. Each of them based on thorough research and the best available scientific knowledge. And this is on top of a growing body of evidence from across Canada, the United Sates and other fracking jurisdictions of the risks of water and air pollution from shale gas.

Does public have better BS-detector on social media?

With over 1 billion facebook users globally and half a billion tweets sent each day – spanning a broad demographic range – it is becoming increasingly difficult for government and industry to control the public discourse around issues strictly through conventional media.

To this end, the BC Liberal Government is making an effort to engage with the social media space – deploying twitter feeds, hashtags, flickr photo streams, and youtube videos of their own.

Minister Coleman actively uses Twitter, but doesn’t appear to be gaining the kind of “message” traction he’d like. Perhaps it’s because his tweets smack of the very propaganda he accuses his detractors of engaging in.

“In conventional media, it’s the big media companies which get to decide whether messages get circulated or not, and the audience doesn’t have a say,” explains Shane Gunster, Graduate Program Chair at the SFU School of Communication. “So there isn’t really any feedback mechanism (other than yelling at the television) for people to express their opinion.”

[quote]In social media, however, the success of a campaign depends upon that feedback: people are the gatekeepers in terms of deciding if and when messages are circulated through their social networks.  And in that context, PR – especially when it is recognized as PR – is just not going to have much traction because most people don’t want to be perceived as industry or government hacks…I think it’s fair to say there’s a fair bit of scepticism, and even hostility when people see government or industry spending millions of dollars to shape public opinion on issues like pipelines or fracking. [/quote]

A brief perusal of Minister Coleman’s twitter feed reveals a series of relatively one-dimensional PR statements and offhand dismissals of critics:

Coleman twitter screenshot-2

Coleman twitter screenshot-3

When legitimate questions began being raised about plans to outsource to India and China some of the jobs promised to British Columbians from the LNG industry – one of the key justifications for the whole program – Coleman fired back:

Coleman twitter screenshot-1

Social media driving social change?

Watershed Moment- How fracking, LNG, dams could reshape BC's future
Fracking operation in northeast BC (Two Island Films)

It’s clear from this briefing note that the government is worried about the impact social media are having on its LNG vision. And these fears may be well-justified. These media contribute to the erosion of social licence for the industry in several ways.

Not only do they furnish users with information and foster lively dialogue, but sites like facebook have become key tools for organizing public demonstrations, advertising town hall meetings and other forms of real-world protest of the government’s plans.

We have already seen where largely social media-driven campaigns for telecommunications reform and Internet privacy protection have forced policy changes from government. From viral petitions to facilitating public comment in environmental review processes, to calling out public officials, the range of powerful tools social media offers to citizens is only growing.

So while Rich Coleman and company appear to recognize the problem, solving it is very different matter, especially if the social media they dismiss as mere misinformation actually turn out to bear some truth – the inverse of Winston Churchill’s statement.

In other words, in this scenario, the truth gets halfway around the world before the government’s PR flacks get a chance to put their pants on.


Rafe: Shell promises “green” LNG…we can trust them, right?

Christy Clark and Marvin Odum, President Shell Oil Company at recent BC LNG conference
Christy Clark and Marvin Odum, President Shell Oil Company at recent BC LNG conference (BC govt flickr)

I’m sure, like me, you were excited to read in the Vancouver Sun for November 4 that LNG Canada (Shell and its Asian partners) will build a plant in Kitimat which will be very, very “green” and put even less greenhouse gases (GHG) into the atmosphere than the maximum prescribed by the BC government.

Oh, there will still be GHG escaping but just a teensy, weensy bit. And, of course, we all know that how strict BC government standards are. After all if you can’t trust Christy Clark and Mary Polak, the Environment Minister, whom can you trust?

Shell: your friendly, trustworthy oil and gas giant

Look, even the paint is green! (LNG Canada rendering)
Look, even the paint is green! (LNG Canada rendering)

It’s been suggested that Shell is not a very nice company, that amongst other things ruined Nigeria and the rivers therein. I don’t place much credence in this sort of whining from greenies! I’m told that wherever Shell goes it buys uniforms for the local Little League. Surely a company that does that is trustworthy!

I also was excited to realize that LNG Canada (Shell) would be carefully policed, and if necessary, be dealt with severely – just like fish farmers, private river power projects, or mines like Mount Polley mine have been.

Christy Clark: Always looking out for people of BC

In the same Sun issue, we learned that premier Christy Clark had a lovely meeting with the premier of Alberta and that all bits of unpleasantness were resolved. We know what a great bargainer our Christy is from her toughness with LNG companies and that, contrary to what those of little faith feared, BC will be getting lots of loot out of the Enbridge Northern Gateway and the procedure for a spill in the ocean will be “world-class”. Thank God!

Now here are two of Canada’s finest politicians, so we surely trust that all is well. After all, if you can’t trust people like Christy Clark, whom can you trust?

The Sun: Bastion of independent thought

I’m always grateful to the Vancouver Sun because it brings us independent thought – like The Fraser Institute, or the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, or the BC Fish Farmers, or the president of the BC Chamber of Commerce or the Vancouver Board of Trade. If you can’t believe independent thinkers like these unbiased folk, whom can you believe?

Doubling down on fossil fuels

I must confess, dear readers, that I have been a ninny. I thought that we decided, both in the United States and Canada, we would “wean ourselves” off fossil fuels. We had to, we were told.

How could I have been so wrong! “Weaning off” apparently means something quite different to politicians and oil barons. Or perhaps it was sometime in the future?

Since then, we’ve opened up new coal mines all over the continent, new oil wells are being drilled, especially where new techniques allow us to recapture left-over oil – and we are “fracking” everywhere we possibly can for oil and gas.

BC: the new oil and gas enabler

Horn River fracking
A BC fracking drill (Two Island Films)

In British Columbia, we’re fortunate to have hydroelectric power but our job in the new scheme of things, evidently, is not to be a user but an “enabler”. We are to transport bitumen from the Alberta Tar Sands, put it on 100s of tankers and send them down our narrow fjords off to the Far East. Since we don’t actually that much of this stuff ourselves, we leave it to others, who can blame us if others pump the crap into the atmosphere?

We’ll not only put LNG plants in BC to enable overseas customers to send our stuff into the atmosphere, we’re going to “frack” away to our hearts content to produce as much as we can and fuel those plants. No small-time enabling for us, by golly!

Now, here’s my most egregious sin. I rejected the assurances of our government and the companies that “fracking” is harmless. I took the word of scientists who talk about how “fracking” sends poisonous methane gas plus the usual GHGs aloft and that, when everything is considered, in the longer run, natural gas, “fracked” or otherwise, may be just as harmful as oil or coal. Silly me!

Rafe turns over new leaf

Readers can expect me to turn over a new leaf and accept that our wise and thoughtful premier is really an environmentalist at heart and that all her thoughts are to that end. I’ll pay rapt attention to what independent commentators like the Fraser Institute say in independent papers like the Sun and Province. After all, doesn’t big business always have our best interests at heart?

How could I have been so stupid as to accept the word of 97% of climate scientists in the world and the studies done, particularly very recently, by the White House and the United Nations, that GHGs are destroying our atmosphere? That we don’t have much time left?

Surely “experts” like environmental turncoat Patrick Moore are much more reliable. Moreover, I’ve overlooked the gut instincts of climate change deniers. Hell, what could be more accurate than that?

I promise to reform. I can only hope that our publisher, Damien Gillis, doesn’t stick to his tiresome, outdated theories that we really are in trouble on this planet, that fossil fuels make a huge contribution to GHGs which are destroying our atmosphere, that we must reform our way of life and find ways to get clean energy, and all that nonsense.

I am sure that all faithful readers of The Common Sense Canadian will apply the necessary pressure to make our publisher have faith in our betters and hereafter behave himself, and make this publication even-handed like The Fraser Institute and its ilk.

And the Vancouver Sun.

China war on coal means more renewable energy...and shale gas

China’s war on coal means lots more renewable energy…and fracking

China war on coal means more renewable energy...and shale gas
Shale gas is a big component of China’s future energy plans

China has declared war on coal and coal consumption is down as a result. But this coal war offers some good news, some not so good news for Canada, and some bad news, all at the same time.

China turns to clean tech, fracking

The good news pertains to: 1) China having become an unparalleled leader and investor in the global migration to a the green economy; and 2) China’s ongoing adoption of ambitious new policies and targets to accelerate this migration at a spellbinding rate.

Unfortunately, the aforementioned good news for China also has serious implications for Canada in that not only is Canada falling further and further behind China regarding the green economy, but Trudeau and Harper, via FIPA, are set on selling Canada’s resources to China while opening the doors for China to dump its clean technologies in Canada.

The bad news is that China’s war on coal has also given rise to ambitious, but environmentally reckless, development of shale gas, wrongly perceived to be a cleaner, or less environmentally harmful, alternative to coal.

The good news

I highlighted the incredible pace of China’s initiatives to go green in an article last year, China’s Chaotic Leap Forword to a Green Economy.

In a nutshell:

  • China has become world’s the largest investor in clean energy technologies, with $61.3B spent on renewable energy technologies in 2013 that resulted in 28 gigawatts (GW) of solar and wind capacity added in that year alone
  • It has awesome green job numbers, like 300,000 jobs in its solar PV sector and 800,000 jobs in the solar thermal sector
  • It has evolved from a domestic solar manufacturing sector that served 1% of global markets in 2004 to 50% by 2012
  • It has a plan for 7 pilots on cap and trade
  • Finally, China has laid the policy ground work for world leadership in the manufacturing and deployment of electric vehicles.

As result of these measures, the above-mentioned October 2013 Common Sense Canadian article projected that coal consumption in China would peak in 2015.

Coal use falling

China has become the global leader in clean tech
China has become the global leader in clean tech

But China is going green so quickly that projections about its energy future tend to prove too conservative. As a case in point, for the first time in this century, coal consumption and coal imports in China are down.

The prediction is that this trend will continue, translating into a 15% reduction in coal imports, to less than 300M metric tonnes imported by the end of 2014. Moreover, evidence that this trend is long-term comes from the Beijing government’s announcement that it will ban coal use in 6 city districts by 2020 replace it with clean energy.

Also worth noting, China’s war on coal includes the banning of sales and imports of coal containing high quantities of ash and sulfur.  The new regulation bans for sale and import coal with more than 40% ash content and 3% sulfur .  This ban would effectively eliminate low heating value coal from Indonesia and coal with arsenic from Australia.

Yet, notwithstanding the extraordinary progress China has made in such a short period, it is currently working on policies that will further accelerate its migration to a green economy.

China’s next leap forward

On that note, rumours abound as to what to expect from China’s five year plan for 2015-20. This includes the possibility of China introducing a cap and trade system in 2016.  China already has a pilot cap and trade system in Shenzhen, the first of seven pilots in the country.

Meanwhile, China is well-positioned to lead the world in electric vehicles (ev’s), not only now, but in the years to come. In particular:

Not-so-good-news for Canada

What does China’s exceptional progress and policy leadership mean for Canada, in the context of China having become the world’s largest energy consumer and, consequently, a major influence in global energy paradigms?  In crude terms, Canada will have an enormous green economy gap to close, beginning in 2015, after the upcoming federal election.

It also means that Canada will have to shed the mindset that says our future economic wellbeing lies with increasing exports of fossil fuels – a mindset shared by both Harper and Trudeau.

FIPA, the Canada-China trade agreement recently ratified by the Harper administration, will only compound these problems.

That is, the US and the EU have responded to China’s highly-subsidized dumping of clean tech on global markets with the imposition of steep tariffs.  But FIPA stipulates that there will be no commercial barriers associated with environmental technologies. This stipulation could seriously handicap the development of Canada’s clean tech sectors.

In short, a successful Canadian plan for a migration to a green economy must take into account China.  To do otherwise would be at Canada’s peril.

China gets fracking

China shale gas mapIn collaboration with US partners, China is setting the stage to develop what may be the largest shale gas resources in the world, 1.7 times the potential of the US. With fewer than 200 wells drilled to date, China is projected to produce 1058 billion cubic feet of natural gas annually by 2020.  And the environmental implications identified thus far of China’s pending shale gas boom are enormous.

First, fracking regulations in China are almost non-existent. Second fracking in China requires twice as much water than US shale gas operations because China’s gas lies deeper underground and in more complex geological formations.

This in a country with dangerously low water per capita and where land twice the size of New York City turns into desert every year.

This, in a country where fracking waste water often goes untreated.

Nevertheless, all is in place to speed up the tempo of shale gas development.  Already, foreign multinationals are investing heavily in China while companies like the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) – the same company that bought out Nexen in Alberta – have spent $8.7B buying shares in US shale gas operations. One can suspect that this will offer Chinese firms opportunities to obtain patents on technologies; ultimately manufacture these technologies in China; and then export these very same technologies to the US at a cheaper price.

All this is going on while the US experience has taught us that that methane leaks associated from shale gas development are grossly underestimated and the potential for regulations to control these emissions are overestimated. Drilling creates fractures in surrounding rock that cement cannot completely fill, thus opening paths for the escaping of gases and liquids.  Furthermore, as the cement ages, it pulls away from the surrounding rock, reducing the tightness of the seals, thereby generating greater danger for methane leaks and water and air pollution.

Will history repeat itself?

The good and bad news have been presented in this article to demonstrate the incredible ability for China to head in opposite directions – at a tremendous speed.

On one hand, China’s amazingly rapid migration to a green economy, accompanied by a reduction coal use, suggests that China will be a major vector in the global replacement of fossil fuels with clean technologies alternatives.

On the other hand, its fracking activities, while nowhere near the scale of what is happening on China’s clean technology side of the equation, raises the weakness for which China is so famous – first go full speed ahead, wait for the problems to accumulate and then engage with incredible zeal in gestures to solve the problems created by their previous mistakes.