Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Guardian Praises BC's Carbon Tax Initiative. Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch, or, Christy Clark's Giant Methane Fart

According to The Guardian, British Columbia's 5-year old experiment with carbon taxes has been a great success and stands as an example of to governments everywhere.

In 2008, British Columbia implemented a carbon tax, with the revenue returned to citizens through lowered income taxes. A new peer-reviewed study examines the data through 2012 to see how British Columbia's emissions and economy have fared, and the results are impressive. Consumption of taxed fuels per capita has fallen 19 percent in British Columbia relative to the rest of Canada.

As a result, British Columbia's greenhouse gas emissions fell 10 percent between 2008 and 2011, as compared to a 1.1 percent decline for the rest of Canada.

Polls also show that public support for the British Columbia carbon tax has grown to 64 percent, and 59 percent of Canadians say they would support a similar carbon tax system in their provinces. The popularity may be in part a result of the fact that by offsetting the carbon taxes, British Columbia has the lowest income taxes in Canada.

Gee, fellas, thanks for the pat on the back but you may be trumpeting British Columbia's virtues a bit prematurely.  The same government that implemented this carbon tax is now working furiously to develop another, far more powerful greenhouse gas - methane.

We know methane by another name, natural gas.  It's a common domestic fuel for furnaces, water heaters, stoves and faux fireplaces.

British Columbia is said to be sitting on massive reserves of natural gas just waiting to be fracked out of the ground that Christy Clark is determined to go after in the "out of sight, out of mind" remote tracts of northern B.C.

Unlike CO2, which tends to be a product of combustion, methane doesn't need any mechanical process to wreak havoc on the atmosphere.    Just release it, that's all it takes.   Get it out of the ground, let it escape into the air and - voila!  - you've got instant greenhouse gas of the worst kind.

The latest word on methane comes from the documentary, Gasland 2.  Methane fracking is all the rage across the United States.  There's so much to be had so easily that it depresses domestic prices for natural gas.   So what's a country to do with surplus gas?  Save it for future generations that might need it?  Hell no, bugger them.  There's big money to be made overseas where they'll pay several times the North American price.   And so you pipe it to ports, compress it into LNG or Liquid Natural Gas, load up specially designed tankers with it and sail it to waiting markets in Asia. Yippee.

Natural gas is being sold as the transitional wonder fuel, a low-emissions fuel to bridge the gap between coal and alternative, clean energy.   This narrative has taken hold in the media and in legislatures across North America.  That it's a premise based on complete lies goes virtually unmentioned.

In fairness, burning natural gas is better than burning coal but it's not the burning gas that matters.   It's the escaping gas that's the problem.  It is estimated that fracked natural gas extraction and transport loses between 3 and 11% of the product straight into the atmosphere.  That loss makes natural gas a more powerful greenhouse gas fuel than even coal itself.

The Tyee's Andrew Nikiforuk looked at fracked gas leakage in January:

...industry studies clearly show that five to seven per cent of all new oil and gas wells leak. As wells age, the percentage of leakers can increase to a startling 30 or 50 per cent. But the worst leakers remain "deviated" or horizontal wells commonly used for hydraulic fracturing. 
In fact leaking wellbores has been a persistent and chronic problem for decades. Even a 2003 article in Oil Field Review, a publication of Schlumberger, reported that, "Since the earliest gas wells, uncontrolled migration of hydrocarbons to the surface has challenged the oil and gas industry."

Now the pneumatic Ms. Clark likes to envision British Columbia as even wealthier in fracked gas than Alberta is from bitumen and fracked oil.   She can't wait to get an LNG plant up and running in Kitimat, the same spot her Alberta counterpart, Redford, is eyeing for a dilbit port.   And Clark wants to get those massive, LNG supertankers plying the Douglas Channel and Hecate Strait ASAP.

What happens if we have a LMG tanker mishap?   With any luck (crew and anyone within miles of the explosion excepted) it will explode.   If not, the high-pressure tanks may be vented deliberately or left to rupture naturally, releasing a big methane fart directly into the atmosphere.   At least the ocean won't be contaminated as it would from dilbit.

Another little worry that popped up in Gaslands 2 is what the effect of overseas sale of North American natural gas is going to have on your home utility bill.  The argument is that, once North American natural gas is sold overseas for several times our domestic price, the overseas price will gradually become our domestic price and so we'll wind up paying several times more for our own natural gas.

Christy Clark may be counting on the fact that BC's fracking will go on in the sparsely populated and often remote north and that methane leaks are odourless and invisible to the naked eye but Gaslands 2 shows an easy, inexpensive way to document the leakage.   All that's needed is an infrared camera that will clearly capture the gas plumes of leaking, high-pressure methane because of the temperature differential.

How will Christy Clark explain herself and her vaunted carbon tax programme once it's revealed that she has turned British Columbia into a greenhouse gas emitting pariah and her carbon tax into a dark farce?

Politicians in the States might have little to fear over fracked gas but this is British Columbia and I think it's pretty easy to imagine a corps of IR camera-amateurs suddenly taking to the unspoiled northern wilderness to track what's really going on with Christy Clark's dream.


Anonymous said...

Wondering how to get your excellent article sent to the author of the Guardian article?

kootcoot said...

I think that the claimed results for the carbon tax are an excellent example of "lying statistics," since the major industrial polluters aren't affected and other than those in parts of the lower mainland and the odd other metropolitan area most BC residents (like in the north) have no options to reduce their use of fossil fuels.

And then there is the whole absurd issue of hospitals and schools being forced to buy "carbon credits" from the actual big time polluters with money that should actually go to health care or education or even, perish the thought, upgrading of their buildings!