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Monday, November 24, 2008

the carbon capture pipe dream. alberta should abandon the public relations facades and plan for the future.

"Alberta's engine drives Canada" is the title of an opinion-editorial attributed to Premier Ed Stelmach in today's Toronto Star. The op-ed suggests that Alberta is in a position to drive Canada’s economic engine and is part of Stelmach’s oilsands rebranding campaign, which includes a visit to the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships today in Toronto. I fully agree that Alberta should take this unique opportunity to drive the direction of Canada’s economy, but I disagree with the direction the op-ed suggests.

The op-ed suggests that the $2 billion Government of Alberta investment in carbon capture and sequestration technology is "the best way for Canada to meet its emissions reduction targets." Untimely for the article is a confidential Ministerial report obtained by CBC which advised that “[l]ittle of the oilsands' carbon dioxide can be captured because most emissions aren't concentrated enough.

The lead scientist on this report, David Keith, is a professor of petroleum and chemical engineering with the Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy at the University of Calgary. Keith was also named Environmental Scientist of the Year by Canadian Geographic in 2006. CBC reported that a frustrated Keith believes that because of the low concentration levels, 'rational people shouldn't focus on reducing emissions in the oilsands through carbon capture and storage.'

As the oilsands are the fastest-growing source of CO2 in Canada (set to increase from 5% to 16% of total emissions by 2020 under current expansion plans), a shift towards responsible stewardship of the oilsands could not only cut emissions, but also help address both the environmental and public health challenges facing the people who call northern Alberta home.

Downstream from the Athabasca oilsands is the community of Fort Chipewyan, which has been feeling the dramatic effects of the oilsands and tailing ponds on its water.

Canadians and Albertans shouldn’t have to choose between our economy and environment. By centralizing our economy around a non-renewable resource, we are creating an economy that is completely unsustainable in the long-term. Rather than celebrating mediocrity and resting laurels on public relations facades like carbon capture & sequestration, Alberta could be driving Canada’s economy in a sustainable direction, moving towards the development of human capital and a world-class renewable energy sector. Alberta has the financial resources and know-how to be a world leader, but as long as we continue to look to non-renewable resources as our future, we will just be digging our heads in the (oil)sands.

Additional: Mike Soron, AGRDT, Four Strong Winds, Straight Outta Edmonton, The Galloping Beaver, Far and Wide, Climate Progress, jpro86.

Editor's Note/Correction: I have removed the section of this post referring to Dr. John Connor's situation with Alberta Health & Wellness, due to inaccurate sources. You can read more here. Thank you to the reader who pointed out the inaccuracy of the linked article.

11 comments:

Avnish said...

"Canadians and Albertans shouldn’t have to choose between our economy and environment"

- In the Fort Chip example, it's more like "Canadians and Albertans shouldn’t have to choose between our economy and health"

Theresa said...

The choice between economy and environment is a false one anyway - if the environment is destroyed there can be no economy. For some reason, most people see these things as separate, when they are actually completely interrelated. Without clean air and water, and enough healthy food to eat, nothing else matters.

tjk said...

I find this timing hilarious. Especially considering the public report has been out since January.

Blog-timing didn't look too good with this being Mr. Taft's lead question in QP today either.

Calling CCS a "public relations facade" is factually incorrect and dismissive; considering the fact that successful companies who are not in any way stupid with money are either strongly considering or implementing this despite its sizable detriment to their bottom line.

Anonymous said...

Very well written, Dave. As someone who's job depends on the oil sector I couldn't agree with you more. Albertans need to get ahead of the curve on energy issues and CCS is so deep in R&D phase that no one has a clue whether it will be viable or not.

Ian said...

First I have to say with regard to your comments on the economy on a non-renewable source, I think our province is starting to remember why people printed bumper stickers in the 70s of "please let there be another boom so I don't piss it all away." The big advantage of getting off oil is we're not dependent on a commodity that can rapidly fluctuate (of course all industries can fluctuate too).

Also:
"Calling CCS a "public relations facade" is factually incorrect and dismissive; considering the fact that successful companies who are not in any way stupid with money are either strongly considering or implementing this despite its sizable detriment to their bottom line."

I would hazard a guess that many companies are interested in this because of $2 billion of public money and the fact it means they can mainly continue at a "business as usual" pace.

Anonymous said...

Just curious, since I followed your link(s), where is it said that Alberta Health and Wellness laid any complaints against the Fort Chip doctor? You say that's their attempt to shut him up, yet there's nothing nowhere that says Alberta Health ever did such a thing. Can you clarify?

tjk said...

Re:Ian

I'm not guessing; and its not because of the $2bil.

daveberta said...

Anon Monday, November 24, 2008 8:42:00 PM,

Thanks for the note, I mis-linked (correct word?) the article that I was alluding to from the National Review of Medicine which stated that:

"In a conference call with his lawyer and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta (CPSA), the CPSA announced he'd been cleared of three of the four professional misconduct charges Alberta Health and Wellness and Health Canada had brought against him after he warned of a link between dangerously high levels of carcinogens and rare forms of human cancers in a community down-river of Alberta's oilsands mining project."

daveberta said...

Correction: Seems that there has been come confusion around Dr. John O'Connor's situation with Alberta Health and Wellnes. The following was a correction and Editor's Response from the National Medical Review from January 20, 2008:

"OILSANDS MD
There is a significant error in your "Oilsands whistleblower MD cleared" (January 15, 2008, Vol 5 No 1) article. Alberta Health and Wellness did not take part in filing any complaint against Dr O'Connor, nor did we try to stop him from coming forward. To the contrary, we have been trying for nearly two years (numerous phone calls, emails and letters) to get him to come forward with his clinical evidence to substantiate his claims of five cases of cholangiocarcinoma in Ft Chipewyan. To date, he still has not.

Howard May, Alberta Health and Wellness

Editor's response
Although Alberta Health and Wellness is not officially listed on the complaint filed against Dr O'Connor, their employees continue to assist Health Canada in pursuing action against him.

Contrary to the ministry's claims, Dr O'Connor says he has never received emails, letters or phone calls and the charge of "blocking access to files" has been thrown out. The manager of the nursing station where his patient's files are held has said she is the one blocking file access."


It continues to be a somewhat bizarre situation. Apologies if I misled anyone.

Connie said...

"By centralizing our economy around a non-renewable resource, we are creating an economy that is completely unsustainable in the long-term. Rather than celebrating mediocrity and resting laurels on public relations facades like carbon capture & sequestration, Alberta could be driving Canada’s economy in a sustainable direction, moving towards the development of human capital and a world-class renewable energy sector." AMEN, AMEN AND AMEN. Why don't they get it? Thank you so much, Dave

Anonymous said...

The lack of basic understanding of economics - or willful dismissal - among some of the replies to this post and others is absolutely astonishing.

Carbon dioxide capture and sequestration is regularly called a public relations facade, yet I have never seen any similar critique of this nebulous "sustainability movement". If you want to encourage a move away from hydrocarbons as a source of fuel, at least do some work to educate people on the incremental cost of doing so. Hint: it is higher - no question. People don't use oil, natural gas and coal for any other reason than it is (a) efficient, (b) economical, (c) currently irreplaceable, or (d) all of the above.

If you want to replace X% of our power requirements by eliminating coal, let us know the incremental additional cost per MWh. Is it $10/MWh? $50? $100?

If you want to abandon gasoline and diesel as sources of transportation fuel, then give us an economical alternative. [Note: economical alternative does not mean taxing the crap out of what people are currently using]. If it is the electric car, then where does the power come from? If it is fuel-cell, where does the hydrogen come from (natural gas is the most likely source).

But no, far easier to alternatively jeer CCS and/or nuclear power as two unattractive options without costing out the others. You can't operate your car on peace and love, dude.