Sunday, December 11, 2016

Pipeline (Hypocrisy)

Kinder Morgan pipeline protesters along Vancouver's Cambie Street
Watching the pipeline protesters walking down the street waving placards and chanting, I couldn't believe the ignorance, hypocrisy, and lack of logic they were really demonstrating when it came to debating the transport of oil. Hypocrisy, because most of them drive an SUV, ignorance because just about everything in their consumer driven lifestyle is dependant on the petrochemical industry, and their lack of logic when it comes to understanding the alternatives.
In addition to gasoline there are thousands of products we consume on a daily basis that are all made from refined oil. Unless we are willing to give these things up, which I doubt is possible even if we wanted to, we need to give our views of the oil and gas industry a bit of a reality check. Are we really prepared to give up our cars, stop buying processed foods and over packaged goods including bottled beverages, and wear clothing that is only made from natural fibres? In other words if we aren't prepared to reduce our own personal footprint we can't really blame companies for giving us what we seem to want.

One way out of this moral dilemma is to start taxing carbon (which is what the oil & gas industry is all about) and there are currently two models to choose from. The first is a simple per tonne price that is currently set at $30.00/tonne in B.C. or $0.07 cents per litre of gas and will soon to be copied by most of the other provinces. The second is a cap and trade plan that is dependant on a complicated emissions trading market full of regulations and loopholes. Not surprisingly this is the system favoured by Ontario and Quebec. In theory both could work but in practise nobody wants to pay and, regardless, oil from Alberta still needs to get to market which it will by either rail or pipeline.

Persistent (crude) oil vs non-persistent (refined) oil
By rejecting the Northern Gateway proposal and bringing in a moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic in B.C.'s north coast, part of the problem with oil tankers goes away. Crude oil is indeed a serious hazard if it spills because it will spread everywhere and cover everything in sight. But if it's refined then this becomes something much easier to deal with as it will rapidly dissipate. This is why David Black's proposal to build a refinery in Kitimat to process crude oil, before it is loaded onto tankers, makes so much more sense. It won't be affected by the crude oil tanker ban and it will also provide thousands of high paying jobs.

Chevron refinery in Burnaby
Why they aren't building a massive refinery somewhere in the Lower Mainland to process the oil from the Kinder Morgan pipeline and keeping jobs here instead of sending unprocessed crude oil somewhere else should be the real discussion. We used to have four of them but now we are down to just one 55,000 barrel per day facility in Burnaby that can only provide 30% of our gasoline and 40% of our jet fuel requirements. The rest is being purchased from a Washington State refinery and being transported back to us by truck. Somehow the illogic of this has gotten lost in all the banner waving, not to mention the fact crude oil is still being transported here by rail which is much riskier than pipelines.

There are those who would like to see a tanker ban along the entire north coast from the top of Vancouver Island to the Alaska border which would make it impossible for tankers to leave Prince Rupert or Kitimat. Not very practical for the various LNG proposals under discussion, as well as David Black's refinery plan, which then puts even more pressure on Vancouver. As anyone can see, the route from Vancouver to the open ocean is pretty straightforward (unlike the Douglas Channel route from Kitimat) and, when you combine that with a tug escort the entire way, it's basically impossible for anything to go wrong and why there won't ever be a tanker ban here.

Freighters in English Bay - photo by Junie Quiroga
Meanwhile sitting at anchor in English Bay are all the freighters and container ships carrying all sorts of things, other than oil, to fulfil our consumer requirements, and all the while quietly posing a considerable environmental hazard. If they have a bilge or fuel leak, like what happened a year ago, the whole bay is at risk and that means I can't go for my daily ocean swim. Also, according to Environment Canada, these oceangoing vessels are the largest contributors of sulphur oxides in the Lower Mainland, surpassing even that of all the cars. In the end it's all about compromise and, if we don't want to save our whales and ocean by building a refinery on our own doorstep, but we still want all our creature comforts, then we need to quit worrying about tankers and embrace the pipeline.