Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

The Dangers of Fracking

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And come to that the dangers of commenting on press articles on line. Recently I posted something using Disqus: it was in response to an article in a Squamish newspaper about the proposed LNG plant. Oddly, nothing in the article, or in the response to that time spoke to the source of the gas. That will come from an expansion of fracking – the practice of releasing hydrocarbons from “tight formations” which has been expanded very rapidly in North America in recent years. The process creates fractures in the oil and gas bearing rocks by injecting water and mix of chemicals under high pressure.

To be clear, I oppose any expansion of fossil fuel use. There is only one way that we are going to be able to slow down our current headlong rush to global catastrophe and that is to Leave It In The Ground. Most of the reserves of oil, gas and coil must not be extracted and burned. Fortunately, the alternative renewable resources are both economically and environmentally attractive – and are getting cheaper. There is much more employment potential in renewables too, so the previously perceived “choice” between the environment or the economy is now a false dichotomy.

Expansion of LNG export terminals in BC seems increasingly unlikely based on any realistic analysis of the finances but Christy Clark has yet to concede this, and is perfectly capable of continuing to increase the public subsidy of this folly. We are actually paying foreign corporations to exploit this resource, which would otherwise be unmarketable. So if the GHG use of fossil fuels is not persuasive enough, the record of fracking needs to be examined. There are two points I made – the first is that methane is released by fracking in a manner which makes it difficult to capture – or even measure. Since methane is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2 that is cause for caution in itself. But there is also the effect of putting injecting water into the ground. Poisoning wells is the least of it (though the youtube videos of setting kitchen faucets alight seem entertaining). We live in a seismically unstable region. There will be a huge earthquake out underneath the ocean, probably south of Haida Gwai. (I wrote that last sentence on April 23 at 10:45. This morning there was an M6.2 in exactly that location but without a tsunami.) With huge a tsunami and lots of damage. But there is plenty of risk of on shore activity too: it will be smaller but also destructive in nature.

Now of course as soon as my post appeared the on line trolls leapt on it. At least some of them are going to be in the pay of the gas drillers or the proponents of LNG expansion. They are spending a fortune on PR efforts around pipeline and terminal expansion – and no contrary opinions must be allowed to go unchallenged. A Google search for “fracking in bc” turns up nearly a million hits.

I want to draw your attention to Oklahoma. There have been a lot of earthquakes recently in Oklahoma, and the spin doctors have been doing their best to deflect responsibility away from fracking. The state government seemed to have been persuaded. Up until now. The state is now admitting that fracking causes the earthquakes. There is also more coverage of the wider impact from the New York Times.

If you do not want to admit that global warming is a problem that is caused by burning fossil fuels, then I think you are unreachable by reason or argument. But then that process of proof by belief in a political doctrine appears to have taken hold with the Conservative faithful here as it has in the US. You can probably also cheerfully ignore the impact of poisoning the water supply: after all it is unlikely to affect us here and we have been seemingly unconcerned about the state of the water on reserves – especially those impacted by the tar sands. But the risk of increasing earthquakes ought to be something you take seriously here. Even though our present government seems to be quite content to leave schools in Vancouver vulnerable to the inevitable.

POSTSCRIPT Bloomberg is now forecasting that Half of U.S. Fracking Companies Will Be Dead or Sold This Year

Written by Stephen Rees

April 23, 2015 at 10:56 am

James Moore Gets a Surprise Delivery

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A link to this video arrived in my email this morning.

I am not sure that the direct confrontation achieves very much, but the speech by the former commander of the Kitsilano Coast Guard station is telling.

Marathassa

Just to nitpick a bit more, the Marathassa was not a “grain tanker” (whatever that is) and the spill was Bunker C fuel oil, not diluted bitumen which is the most likely export from the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline. Dilbit sinks. There is also some doubt that 80% of the spill was recovered as there could well be oil residues that sank from the fuel spill – which is why fishing in the inlet has now been banned.

The email was intended to recruit more people to attend direct action training. I am not about to take on that myself, but click here if you would like more information

Written by Stephen Rees

April 23, 2015 at 10:17 am

Posted in Environment, politics

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Time for BC Geothermal Energy?

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I got some content today from the US Geological Service. It is intended as a “feature” and covers all their services, with a bent towards the upcoming Earth Day. Of course, on this blog every day is earth day, and my content needs to be local. One of the things I have been banging on about is geothermal energy. We have all sorts of hot springs around BC, and I have even spent time around Harrison Hot Springs. It occurred to me then that there must be more that can be done with this resource than just providing hot tubs. So here is the USGS piece on geothermal energy.

USGS geothermal

Deep within the Earth’s crust lies an extremely important but underutilized renewable energy resource: geothermal energy. In 2008, the USGS released a national assessment of geothermal power resources, showing more than 550,000 Megawatts–electric power–generating potential. Since then, the USGS has continued to research and assess geothermal power potential all over the country.

“Interest in geothermal energy has rapidly grown. Recent permitting activity has seen dozens of applications for geothermal leases. All of this is based on the fundamental resource assessment efforts of the USGS – without that basic research, the benefits of this renewable energy resource would be achieved much more slowly and at much greater expense.” — William Glassley, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of California, Davis

But of course what we need is information about BC – and that is provided by the BC Sustainable Energy Association though their page on the subject dates from 2005, which suggests to me that it probably needs updating. I did hear that there has been a great deal of drilling done in BC in recent years in pursuit of shale gas, and all that information was lodged with BC’s energy ministry. It contains, of course, lots of data about the availability of geothermal energy which was discovered when looking for something else.

This information is available as maps from the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association

Their conclusions are

Key Findings Summary

  • British Columbia has enormous potential to produce geothermal power.  There is a sufficient potential to meet the entire Provinces’ power demand.
  • There is significant room to improve both the Data Coverage and Confidence of the estimates of British Columbia’s geothermal potential.
  • Priority geothermal exploration areas are identified through the confluence of key surface and subsurface data.

So why aren’t geothermal resources a higher priority – here is a Smog Blog listicle

Meanwhile, our provincial government continues with its quixotic search for an export driven economic bonanza from LNG. And refuses to raise its carbon tax. BC and Alberta being the only two provinces that did not attend the recent provincial “climate change summit“.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 20, 2015 at 9:21 am

Divestment

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The Guardian is currently running a campaign to try to get the Bill Gates and Wellcome Foundations to divest from fossil fuels. This is running concurrently with other campaigns to try to get institutions to divest including Harvard University. Yesterday the Guardian’s campaign included a tweetstorm, and I got an email from Alan Rusbridger suggesting I write to one of the directors of the Wellcome Trust to explain why I thought divestment is a Good Idea. In fact this idea came from the people who had signed up to the Guardian’s petition who thought that individual letters might be more persuasive than just signatures.

The Guardian is, of course, owned by a Trust, which is why it can be independent. And they have already divested. As have I. Here is some of what I wrote to the Chair of the Wellcome Trust.

As a former non-executive member of the board of BP, I sure you recall when that organisation called itself “Beyond Petroleum”. I wonder if you share the great disappointment many of us felt when that approach was abandoned. In retirement, I have an investment portfolio, managed by professional brokers and owned by one of the big Canadian banks. I have been talking to them about the importance of divestment from fossil fuels. I was particularly concerned that my fund manager seemed completely unaware of the investment opportunities in renewable technologies such as wind and solar power generation. I have also been very much aware that many of the companies my funds were invested in were supporting climate change denial and through the activities of people like the Koch brothers, who are heavily invested in the Alberta tar sands, actively working to frustrate changes to cleaner technologies. I have divested my funds from pipelines and fossil fuel power generation  companies and instructed my brokers to buy stock in cleaner energy companies. I think that this has had the useful effect of changing my broker’s range of reading materials, and not focussing so closely on short term market fluctuations.

In Vancouver we are currently fighting against expansions of port facilities to allow for more export of diluted bitumen. Our provincial government is encouraging the expansion of LNG exports by reducing taxes and royalties in an attempt to make financially dubious investments look more attractive. A recent fuel oil spill in the harbour here has concentrated attention on how ill equipped we would be to deal with a dilbit spill on our coast, especially in view on ongoing cut backs by the Canadian government in our Coast Guard. I am sure your experience of the impact of the Deepwater Horizon disaster must make you concerned too about the threat that increased oil exploration and exploitation poses to all life on earth. 

I am sure by now you will have read the following paragraph many times. Please take the time to read it again. 

“Your organisations have made a huge contribution to human progress and equality by supporting scientific research and development projects. Yet your investments in fossil fuels are putting this progress at great risk, by undermining your long term ambitions. Climate change poses a real threat to all of us, and it is morally and financially misguided to invest in companies dedicated to finding and burning more oil, gas and coal. Many philanthropic organisations are divesting their endowments from fossil fuels. We ask you to do the same: to commit now to divesting from the top 200 fossil fuel companies within five years and to immediately freeze any new investments in those companies.”

Thank you for reading my note. I hope the Wellcome Trust will divest from fossil fuels, as so many other academic organisations are doing.

I do not expect that he will change his mind just because he reads my letter. In fact I already have had a response which you can read here. I think it probably reflects the fact that this is an organisation based in the UK, where there is not quite the same direct influence of corporate funding of politics as there is now in the United States thanks to Citizens United. I also do not believe that Shell, BP and Koch Industries (and so on) are run by “fair minded people”. Quite the contrary. I think that they are using the funds invested in their companies to defeat any serious efforts to change the current trajectory of increasing fossil fuel consumption. The possibility of there being some significant shift at the upcoming Paris conference must be alarming them as they hold huge amounts of what will become stranded assets – essentially valueless – if there is a determined move to limit fossil fuel extraction.

I hope that as a reader of this blog you too will consider what you can do to help towards reducing the use of fossil fuels – transit expansion and better land use being two of the most effective. If you are an alumnus, and you get the steady stream of begging emails that I do from your alma mata, perhaps you too can add your voice, or sign up to the Guardian’s campaign. Individually we probably will have an infinitesimal impact: but collectively it will be a mighty roar, that will be hard to ignore. I hope so, for all our sakes.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 17, 2015 at 2:21 pm

“Metro Vancouver air quality suffers as driving increases”

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The headline comes from a disturbing story in yesterday’s Vancouver Sun (paywalled)

I think many of us had been under the impression that driving was probably declining, since that was widely reported from US sources. It now seems that in this region we are not only driving more but in larger vehicles.

The proportion of small cars in Metro Vancouver has declined, to roughly 32 per cent of all vehicles in 2013 from 38 per cent in 2007. In contrast, the proportion of SUVs has risen to 22 per cent from 15 per cent over the same period and the share of large cars has increased to 20 per cent from 18 per cent.

At the same time, the study found the average number of kilometres driven by passenger vehicles fell by almost five per cent from 2007 to the first quarter of 2012, but that number has risen just over two per cent between 2012 and 2014.

Some of that might be attributable to the shifting around of transit service, which saw low ridership routes lose out to overcrowded routes – which also hit the outer, more car dependent suburbs harder than the region’s core.

The report can be found at autostat.ca which belongs to Pacific Analytics Inc.

The report is twenty three pages and is available as a pdf to download. There are some very notable omissions. No authors are credited. While there are plenty of graphs there are no tables, and no sources of data are cited other than Pacific Analytics model. For example, there is a very detailed analysis of vehicle types and some interesting, and quite remarkable data on vehicle kilometres travelled. But no source is cited for either. By implication the vehicle analysis would seem to come from ICBC, but I have no idea who has the data on vehicle kilometres travelled in the region by quarter, for every year.

So I called Jim Johnson, who is the sole proprietor of Pacific Analytics. He has given me permission to host the report here (link at bottom of article). The source of the vehicle data is a combination of data from AirCare (which of course will no longer be available) and the autorepair industry. A full description of the dataset is available at autostat.ca

Sinoski’s article tries to paint a relationship to the way Translink has been adjusting service. It does seem likely that in areas where transit was not a very good option (with the exception of the #555 bus along Highway #1 which enables people to avoid the Port Mann toll, and West Coast Express) and service has been cut, that driving would increase. The drop in gas prices would also have both reduced that disincentive to drive and the deterrent to buying a bigger vehicle. But while the auto manufacturing industry may have been turning its mind to more fuel efficient models, consumers seem to be buying the cars/trucks they want rather than the those that might burn less fossil fuel.

MetroVan GHG Emissions Report Feb 2015_0

Written by Stephen Rees

March 4, 2015 at 10:48 am

How to become a Climate Reality Leader

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This turned up in my email today.

I was intrigued enough to do a bit of follow up. Iowa, Florida or Canada? Well no surprise when Canada turns out to mean Toronto. At this point my interest flagged.

I must admit I enjoy being retired. When I was at work, I used to sleep well, because I was able to fantasize about a life that did not include work. Now I am living that dream, my actual dreams are often of being back at work. Closer to nightmares really. But then I read this story about Hazel McCallion getting a new job. At 94!

Anyway, they asked me to share this email with a friend or two. That would be you.

JOIN THE CLIMATE REALITY LEADERSHIP CORPS IN 2015 >>

APPLICATIONS FOR OUR NEXT
THREE TRAININGS ARE NOW OPEN!

Dear Stephen,

In late November, world leaders will gather in Paris at the UN’s COP21 meeting to create the first-ever global agreement on greenhouse gas emissions. It’s truly a historic opportunity — and now it’s up to us to build the crucial planet-wide support necessary to ensure the strongest agreement possible.

With only months to go, we have a lot of work ahead of us, and we need your help.

If ever there was a moment when people from all walks of life and all corners of the world — teachers and taxi drivers, farmers and family doctors, parents and pastors, New Yorkers and nature lovers, and many, many more — could make a real difference in stopping climate change, this is that moment. If there was ever a time you wanted to stand up and change the world, this is the time to do it.

How? By becoming a Climate Reality Leader and helping build global support for a strong agreement in Paris. We’re hosting three Climate Reality Leadership Corps trainings in North America for people like you who want a healthy and sustainable future for our planet — and registration is already open!

Already, nearly 7,000 Climate Reality Leaders are mobilizing communities everywhere to demand action from our leaders at this pivotal point in history. By joining this network of influencers, you can help build on this momentum and make our leaders act at COP21.

Training applications are now open and are reviewed as they are received – sodon’t wait. Your opportunity to make a difference in this crucial fight for a safe climate could be waiting in Cedar Rapids, Toronto, or Miami.

Thank you for your unwavering commitment to climate action, and joining us on this critical mission.

Sincerely,
Ken Berlin
President and CEO, The Climate Reality Project
www.ClimateRealityTraining.org
PS: If you’re unable to attend, will you share this email with a friend or two who might be interested? Thanks!

Written by Stephen Rees

February 23, 2015 at 4:13 pm

Posted in energy, Environment

Tagged with ,

Study: ‘It’s hard to beat gasoline’ on Air Quality

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I saw this on Planetizen and couldn’t resist the video

Now, we don’t have much ethanol around here, and the electricity we use is mostly  from existing hydro. So some of these results from the US don’t exactly translate here. So if you can afford a Tesla, go right ahead and don’t worry about those “electric cars are not so green” articles. The only time we use dirty, coal fired electricity is when our generating capacity is stretched at peak periods. Charge up your car overnight with a clear conscience.

The ethanol they refer to is E85 (85% of the fuel is ethanol): the most we use is 5 to 10%. At one time this was only true of so called premium fuels. Now it is not unusual to see ethanol in regular fuel and you may have to buy premium to avoid it. Most cars, of course, do not need premium fuel.

While hybrid cars do cut fuel consumption, this gets negated pretty quickly if you drive with a lead foot, or use a vehicle much bigger than you need. A smart car is going to use less gas than a giant SUV or truck, even if they are hybrids. And simple precautions like checking your tire pressures and not hauling a load of junk in your trunk will also cut your fuel consumption. Walking, cycling and transit (even if it is a diesel bus) are all better for the environment – and your own health.

Published on 15 Dec 2014

Life cycle air quality impacts of conventional and alternative light-duty transportation in the United States

Authors: Christopher W. Tessum, Jason D. Hill, and Julian D. Marshall

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A.

Full text is openly available at: www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.140685­3111

 

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