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The Energy Sector: Climate change discussion


November 15, 2015  


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Earlier this year, the Alberta government launched a climate change advisory panel, as well as a related website www.alberta.ca/climate-leadership.cfm that encouraged Albertans to participate in a survey. I can only assume the survey was meant to solicit input from the public on direction from the province going forward as it related to industry and environment.

Yet while it proposed to accept responses up to and including Oct. 30. However when closing this column in advance of that date, the survey link stated the “Survey is now closed” (though the submit ideas link still works. Adding to the inconvenience were two open houses held Oct. 1 and 2 in Calgary and Edmonton respectively – just when everyone is getting back to school and not really convenient for the “average person” living in either the Wood Buffalo or Peace River/Grand Prairie region.

The basis for the climate change discussion is a glossy 62-page document, of which the first sentence is “Climate change is one of the greatest challenges to ever face our planet, our society and our economy” — thus setting the tone for what follows and leaving little doubt that this challenge is the most important thing the government must face. Interestingly, the 35,000-plus oil workers in this province might think that employment is comparable. And if this is the biggest challenge, why did the government conduct a royalty review at the same time?

With that start, the document then proceeds to a discussion about the effects of climate change, followed by, “Alberta’s vision is of a healthy and prosperous province that is a leader in environmental stewardship and enjoys sustained economic growth, steady job creation and a great quality of life.” From here, the challenges to meet the vision are identified, followed by emissions profiles of each of the province’s predominant industrial sectors, with statistics on emission levels and a high level look at what is presently being done in terms of regulations.

The report states the “typical proportion of total crude oil fuel life cycle emissions” is broken down as being 74 per cent vehicular combustion, 12 per cent production, 11 per cent refining and three per cent delivery, That would mean 74 per cent of 122 megatonnes is approximately 90 megatonnes. Yet later in the document, it suggests the vehicles we drive is allocated a total of 30 megatonnes of carbon-dioxide, only one-third the previously stated amount? Hopefully the panel’s final report will help reconcile these numbers.

Perhaps the recent announcement of $1.5 billion for public transit funding in Calgary will be part of the transportation pollution solution? Yet a recent survey on how well CTS ranks had nothing in it about ease of use or transit schedule/timing. Another option that would also help the bottom line of many companies might be to stop subsidizing parking because of folks had to pay the full cost of parking; the demand and likely prices would certainly go down.

Coal, meanwhile, is portrayed as the culprit of the power-generation sector; however, if we stop using coal for electricity, not only will new facilities need to be built at significant costs, but the coal industry will also be adversely affected – the dreaded ripple effect of unintended consequences, as happened during the last royalty review. Perhaps, rather than mothball our coal facilities, we should follow the proclaimed vision and become the world leader in emissions controls for coal-fired plants and sell that technology to the world?

This option is unlikely, however, since on Oct. 9 Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips, who commissioned this panel, told all of us the province is on track to have the worst air quality in Canada within as little as five years. The report suggests wind energy as an alternative, and indicates it is available approximately 40 per cent of the time and solar is at most 50 per cent of the time. I assume we have some elixir to provide electricity for the balance of every day?

One option, for some of the make-up, might be “run of river” installations like those being installed in B.C. While it is true that everyone can do a better job of protecting the environment, the hope is Leach and the panel members take a look at more than the numbers provided in the reports, many of which are over a decade old and use the economics knowledge of cause and effect to prepare their recommendations.

Ian Verhappen is a professional engineer, ISA Fellow, certified automation professional and a recognized authority on industrial communications and process analyzer technologies with 25-plus years’ experience in the hydrocarbon industry. Verhappen provides global consulting services specializing in industrial communications, SCADA, process analytics and heavy oil/oilsands automation. Reader feedback is always welcome. iverhappen@gmail.com