Wednesday, January 31, 2018

$2,000,000,000,000.00 - Now There's a Figure That Grabs Your Attention.

Two trillion dollars. I'm guessing that, even for you, that's a lot of money.

It's the estimated liability of Alberta's five largest energy producers according to the Parkland Institute, a think tank at the University of Alberta.

"The Big Five need to start publicly disclosing their emissions modelling for the sake of transparency and accountability," reads the report, released Wednesday by the Parkland Institute, an Alberta public policy research network based at the University of Alberta.

It says Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL), Suncor Energy, Cenovus Energy, Imperial Oil and Husky Energy have not fully disclosed how much carbon pollution they expect to create out of their own assets. This pollution now has a hefty price tag since governments around the world have committed under the 2015 Paris Agreement to slash greenhouse gases in order to prevent dangerous changes to the climate.

“Governments can’t properly regulate corporations when they don’t have all the facts at hand,” the report’s co-author, Ian Hussey, said in an interview.

“Those are disclosures that we’re not seeing yet, but we believe these companies are already making these calculations.”

The report says the carbon liabilities — that is, the social cost of the carbon pollution that will come from developing their fossil fuel reserves — of the “big five” firms, based on a conservative estimate of $50 per tonne, is $320 billion, outweighing the whole of Alberta’s GDP, which it pegs at $309 billion.

In a scenario where polluters were paying $200 per tonne of carbon emissions, that liability would add up to $1.99 trillion based on their proven and probable reserves of oil and gas, according to the study.

Once again we're left to grapple with spotty accounting from the Oil Patch where environmental costs are frequently treated as "externalities" that are kept off the books, allowing the economic case for the Tar Sands to appear viable.

The oil wars that pit Victoria against Edmonton and Ottawa are heating up. The crud that Alberta and the feds insist on pumping/leaking across British Columbia and our coast is just that, crud. It's full of heavy metals, acids, carcinogens and other toxins that are incredibly persistent and damaging. The Americans gave us a free demonstration of that from the Enbridge spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Yet Rachel and Justin and all their subordinate sphincters think pumping that same lethal crud across British Columbia's mountainous and seismically active territory is just dandy. 

And when - not 'if' but when - one of those tankers runs up on the rocks and pours a planetary gutload of that crud into our coastal waters, the Trudeau government has approved the use of Corexit as an oil spill "dispersent."  Corexit doesn't disperse anything. It buries the evidence, sending it to the seabed, out of sight/out of mind, where, in the case of a product as noxious and persistent as Tar Sands dilbit, it can contaminate the marine ecology for decades, generations. The Americans have given us another demonstration of that. Corexit was used with disastrous consequences in the Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, which, decades later is still not cleaned up, and to bury the evidence from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Thanks, Justin, for adding insult to injury or, perhaps, disaster to injury.

The BC government's latest, unpatriotic impertinence has been to restrict the amount of dilbit that can be transported across our province until "the behaviour of spilled bitumen can be better understood."

Now you would have thought, with so much at stake, that the feds and their counterparts in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and the big energy producers would have long ago tested how dilbit behaves when spilled into both fresh and salt water. Oh wait, the freshwater testing has already been done in Kalamazoo. That's not good. But there's still the critical saltwater testing. We haven't seen anything on that although when the government resorts to approving Corexit that's an indication that they have probably run their tests and don't want to talk about it. Besides they - the feds, Alberta and the Tar Sanders - would much prefer to offload that risk on the people of coastal British Columbia. 

Rachel managed to drop a shitload of righteous indignation on British Columbia for its audacity.

“Having run out of tools in the toolbox, the Government of British Columbia is now grasping at straws,” said Alberta Premier Rachel Notley in a statement. “The B.C. government has every right to consult on whatever it pleases with its citizens. It does not have the right to rewrite our Constitution and assume powers for itself that it does not have. If it did, our Confederation would be meaningless. Therefore, the action announced today by the B.C. government can only be seen for what it is: political game-playing.”

Of course there's one thing Notley, like her Conservative predecessors, does not want to discuss - why they think it's okay to ship that crud in the first place. Why not refine it on site? Why not keep those heavy metals, acids, carcinogens and myriad toxins right where they found them, in Athabasca?  At least minimize the environmental risks to British Columbia. Build a refinery or three, hire a bunch of Canadians to work the plants and ship full refined synthetic crude oil. There's a plan.

It's a plan but it costs money. And the Tar Sands can only pretend to be economically viable if actual costs are minimized, buried, or offloaded on someone else, free of charge. 

So, Rachel, up yours. All the way up.


  1. 2 trillion needs 3 more zeroes.

    Seems reasonable for BC to want to be satisfied that dilbit spills can be successfully cleaned up, before the pipeline is expanded.

  2. you have 2 billion in your title; trillion is 12 zeroes

  3. Thanks, K. I knew I was going to screw that up.


  4. Thanks, Hugh. Some years back I got into a lengthy discussion with a veteran Tory insider (from the Diefenbaker/Stanfield days) about dilbit. He couldn't understand BC's intransigence. When I explained the environmental risks of dilbit he replied, quite spontaneously, "that's easy, just refine it in Alberta." Bingo.

    It's that obvious. Yet neither Notley, or any Alberta premier before, nor Trudeau, or any former prime minister, will breathe a word of that option. They will never discuss it. They will ignore it if someone else raises the idea. And that reveals how painfully disingenuous they are.

    Bitumen remains the world's highest cost/highest carbon ersatz petroleum product. They claim it's break-even price is about $60-65 dollars a barrel. Yet it's like a size 9 woman squeezing into a size 2 dress. In order to get to that magical figure they resort to accounting tricks ranging from offloaded environmental risks (externalities), to forgone natural capital recoveries, royalty deferrals, outright subsidies, tax breaks and unrecoverable costs of mitigation and site remediation.

    We know, with some precision, what portion of the established fossil fuel reserves can be consumed if we're to have any hope of staying within the 2C target for warming. We know that dictates that high carbon options - i.e. coal and bitumen - must be left in the ground. Despite this our political leadership jumps headfirst into the pool of cognitive dissonance when it comes to flogging bitumen to world markets. That goes for Trudeau and Notley as much as it ever did for Klein and Harper.

  5. Mound, thanks again for emphasizing that diluted bitumen not oil! Part of the federal smokescreen seems to be to encourage the export of this dilbit to others so that Canada does not suffer the true climate “costs” of refining this crap. My understanding that refining the “dilbit” in Alberta would have massive environmental costs.

  6. .. the other day I was as usual, trying to keep up re news from BC and Alberta while also fighting off the flu in the flatlands of Ontario. The ludicrous spectacle of Jason Kenney takes up less than 2 minutes of every day. But I stsrted paying very close attention to stories of beach closures.. near Tofino. Stuff about receding water could drop deadhead logs on distracted folks.. What th ? OK.. 10 metre waves !I It took me about 2 seconds to start picturing the scene off the island or up near Haida Gwaai .. an exiting supertanker bound for Asia caught in that kind of waters. I think about wave heights like that.. or swells.. or troughs. That's snap in half stuff, a seafarers nightmare. As a shallow water snorkeler, I pay attention to boat wake.. ahort 2-3 foot series that could bang me into coral.. never a good thing. So 30 feet ? And probable rogues of 45 to 60 ? So the whines of ms Notely, the idiocy of Kenney get measured in context to the power of the sea, the wind & the related tides.. What happened & what did not happen off the coast of BC last week, deserves attention. Our serious attention. A dilbit superboat breaking up will stupefy the world. We should demand such ships are named after politicians. Thus we would have HMS Justin T or Dilbit Queen Kenney.. or well.. you get the picture... we need to get cracking on construction of the Hall of Shame.. we need to be ready for it.. our Exxon Valdez moment


  7. Sal, a few years ago I was in Port Hardy at the northeastern tip of the island. I walked down the docks to check out a new Coast Guard rescue boat of the type the USCG trains on so spectacularly on the treacherous waters at the mouth of the Columbia River.

    There was a sign warning adventurers of waves up to 100 feet in height recorded along the northwest coast. I asked some of the Coast Guard crew about it. Yes, they have recorded 100 foot waves. Yes, they have had to scour that area for bodies of paddlers who got caught in them. Some people, it seems, get pretty handy with a kayak and think they've mastered the open sea.

    The vast expanse of the Pacific allows the prevailing westerly winds to whip up some pretty amazing rogue waves.

  8. .. thanks.. and I did not want to venture too far off topic. But we have a vast spectrum relating to tar sands & fracking and the related political embedding. I'm quite certain peoples' eye glaze over just trying to comprehend tiny slivers of the spectrum. The afterworld of pollution you detailed is a pretty big slice and the impending & ongoing world of unregulated (or self-regulation) by Big Energy is another big slice. It overwhelms people.. hell.. it overwhelms me & I was gifted with astonishing reading and absorption capabilities. No wonder peeps take refuge in Fox TV or Facebook etc. There's a tolerance level.. and I get that. There's a token buffalo herd for photo ops.. and a tiny area with grass & graze.. all pimped by the good folks mentioned in your article.. kind of a Potemkin Buffalo Village..

    Where does this go? What to do? Hydraulic Fracturing is a mighty swinging sword.. yes, its rejuvenated certain specific depressed parts of the USA. Yes it brings huge benefits to BC and Alberta.. but but but.. Dilbit and LNG exports spell death to our environment.. just as over-population does. Maybe we need our very own Exxon Valdez.. ? As an altruistic and a realistic.. I know we are dreamers.. that a 'world class' spill management exists.. that's fantasy land for idiots 101 .. we cannot manage or respond to a leaking tugboat pushing an empty tanker. To pretend a broken supertanker in several pieces, thrashing ashore via a series of rogue waves is in any way 'manageable' is shiny pony fairy dust fantasy... worse its complete and utter horse shite. Its part of the fantasy spectrum you carved up and ridiculed.. Once upon a time a great friend and I wondered what 'that was out there' while standing on some rocks near Tofino.. Holy 'F' we shouted.. and ran for our lives. It was just a rogue 30 footer tucked into a set of 10 footers.. We survived.. chastened, humbled, awed..Mother Nature kicks ass .. The plaque on the lighthouse at Peggy's Cove warns of the same on our east coast.. We need a plaque in Alberta.. we surely do.


  9. I'm very pleased you and your friend were able to get out of the way of that wave, Sal. Not everyone is so lucky. You recognized what you were seeing.

    What do we need? Schellnhuber was pretty blunt at the Paris Climate Summit. Yes, he said, a 1.5C limit was feasible but not without an "induced implosion" of the global fossil energy industry. Yes, we could do it but not without governments courageous enough to shut down fossil fuel production, his "induced implosion." All we need is political will, an abundance of political will, to begin addressing all of these looming threats and challenges. However, so far that will and vision seems nowhere to be found.

  10. Geoffrey Pounder, AB10:21 AM, February 02, 2018

    So the AB NDP are fighting for the underdog: Kinder Morgan and Big Oil. How touching.
    In AB, pipeline cheerleaders masquerading as journalists stoke the fires of Albertans' resentment, already approaching hysteria in some quarters.

    Responsibility for this debacle lies squarely with Premier Notley, who made no attempt to win over local communities, ignored BC's concerns, and decided to ram her pet pipeline through over their heads. Her "social license" smokescreen has been a predictable failure.
    Enabled, regrettably, by AB progressives who remain silent, thus giving Notley carte blanche.
    Petro-politics by brute force. Not a pretty sight.

  11. Geoffrey Pounder, AB10:25 AM, February 02, 2018

    Govts and politicians cannot award themselves social licence. Social licence comes from affected citizens and communities.
    How could a tiny carbon tax, an oilsands cap far above current levels, and a climate change plan that boosts emissions buy social licence for pipelines in another province?

    Notley has used her "climate plan" to leverage approval for export pipelines, oilsands expansion, and rising emissions. A "climate plan" that will prevent Canada from remotely approaching its emissions targets.
    How does failure to reduce emissions in one province buy social licence for pipelines in another province?