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B.C. oil pipeline: A threat to the whole Northwest?

With the assist of a friendly Conservative government in Canada, Big Energy wins a skirmish. How will it affect the larger battle over coal and oil exports?
The Port of Kitimat

The Port of Kitimat City of Kitimat

In Big Energy’s massive rush to export oil and coal from inland United States and Canadian mines and wells to the hungry power users of Asia, there’s a leader. First-past-the-post honors go to Northern Gateway.

The Canadian government has approved the plan to send Alberta tar sands oil to northern British Columbia for export.

It took Enbridge, a Calgary-based company, 12 years to get approval from the Canadian government, and approval comes with 209 conditions and promises of lawsuits, political retribution and perhaps civil disobedience on the part of opponents.

So, even the approval may provide a cautionary tale for other export contenders on both sides of the international border: It will take a long process to get that first permit and it may come with a lot of hard-to-manage baggage.

The Conservative cabinet of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave its conditional approval Tuesday to piping some 525,000 barrels a day of Alberta tar-sands oil to the tiny town of Kitimat. It lies at the head of narrow Douglas Channel, which leads to the open sea. First Nations leaders have protested the shipping route — as well as the pipeline route inland — as an intrusion on sensitive waters important to their culture and economy.

It is a familiar issue on this side of the border. Lummi Nation elders have adamantly opposed a coal-export terminal in Whatcom County north of Bellingham, on much the same grounds. In both countries, federal agencies must negotiate with native entities.

A big difference, however, is that the First Nations in northern British Columbia never signed treaties or agreements with their federal governments — as American Indians did, often under protest, in the 19th Century. This potentially gives the Canadian nations an even larger standing in court, and could be critical for Northern Gateway.

First Nation opposition, along with the many conditions in the approval, brought Vancouver’s veteran political columnist Vaughn Palmer to declare that the project will never be built. More upbeat, from Enbridge’s perspective, was the Financial Post, quoting advocates hoping for a 2018 start time on the massive project.

Northern Gateway is actually twin pipelines, a $7.9 billion project carrying 525,000 barrels of oil a day to the coast and 193,000 barrels a day eastward of condensate to dilute the heavy tar-sands oil for that journey. The lines would be buried beneath some of the wildest, most pristine country in Canada.

About 220 oil tankers per year would be involved; double that if you include the return trips. Many of those who live in the area say the weather conditions and currents there can create extreme challenges.

Map: ForestEthics

The potential impacts on the Salish Sea and Puget Sound will depend on the economics of the world energy market when and if Northern Gateway ultimately wins all the needed approvals. Northern Gateway exports are currently projected for Asian ports; Kitimat ships would use the narrow Unimak passage through the Aleutians, the shortest route to Asia. It is also used by West Coast cargo ships and will be used by coal ships if terminals are approved.

But market demands could push Canadian tar-sands oil into Puget Sound or California refineries. That would mean more tanker traffic in the already crowded waters to the south, with their own challenging conditions.

The economic and ecological dangers of pushing more huge ships through Unimak Passage, an area of turbulent seas and little capacity to deal with oil spills, has been one of the overlooked issues of the entire coal-and-oil export controversy. The Aleutians are critical to the Pacific Northwest’s commercial fishery as well as marine life in other forms.

Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation commissioned a study on risks in the Aleutians and the lack of rescue tugs in the area. Although based on 2006 data, now vastly understated, it was a sobering warning for an area with little regulation on shipping and less enforcement. (Easy access to the report is on Geologist Dan McShane’s blog, found here.) British Columbia is already on notice that, if a shipping catastrophe occurs, more than half the oil spilled in coastal waters would remain even after cleanup was completed. Tar-sands crude is particularly nasty because it is very heavy and difficult to clean up if it spills.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Jun 23, 7:52 a.m. Inappropriate

Big Energy? You know who big energy is? Anyone who drives, flies, turns on a light. You know, "us".

Good on the Canadians for letting us keep the lights on.

Simon

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 4:08 p.m. Inappropriate

Hate to be the one to break this to you Simon, but this isn't going to help keep anyone local's lights on. This oil when refined will be shipped off mostly to Asia.

seakat

Posted Mon, Jun 23, 8:16 a.m. Inappropriate

Once again Floyd continues to track the seismic changes that could occur in the Northwest if the various filthy fuel projects are permitted in WA and BC. The implications of Canada's Northern Gateway project on Kinder Morgan's proposed expansion of its Trans Mountain and tankers on Washington waters is something I often think about. I offer two minor corrections to clarify some potential confusion. First, the US extension of Kinder Morgan's crude line (Puget Sound Pipeline) that originates in the Alberta tar sand fields, only serves the State's 4 northern refineries. The US oil refinery in Tacoma receives that crude from barges originating in Vancouver BC, putting Washington waters already at risk of a spill of this particularly nasty oil. Second, there has been rumblings for some time of an expansion of the pipelines that lead to WA refineries (east-west)from the north-south Puget Sound Line. There is even some question as to whether the expansion of these pipeline spurs would be subject to the State's EFSEC permitting process or the fed's FERC review. It would be great if Floyd could continue his great efforts here. Finally, WA refineries could use their tanker terminals to export Alberta crude because it is not subject to the export ban that applies to some domestic crudes.

Posted Mon, Jun 23, 9:08 a.m. Inappropriate

So folks are against pipelines, against tankers and against oil trains. I presume none of them drive, fly in a airplane, cross water in anything but a rowboat or sailboat, and couldn't care less about our economy because, you know, products will just to have to get to markets in horse-drawn wagons or sit in warehouses.

Oil trains are going through this state every day. So are tankers. Yes we need to redouble efforts to ensure they are all safe, and piloted by only the most qualified people, and increase our ability to respond if there is an accident. Because the fact of the matter is we need the oil for our refineries, and the diesel, gasoline, jet fuel and other products to keep our economy going. Human beings built Grand Coulee Dam (and many others), built all kinds of infrastructure for cities and travel, and so much more. Surely we can figure out a way to get crude oil to refineries safely. In fact, it's already being done, all the time.

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 10:57 a.m. Inappropriate

What do you propose to do with our fossil fuel dependent infrastructure when the EROI of fossil fuels drops toward zero? Got a clue about peak oil?

louploup

Posted Fri, Jun 27, 9:45 p.m. Inappropriate

Ah yes, the "progressive" nutcases and peak oil!

NotFan

Posted Mon, Jun 23, 10:19 a.m. Inappropriate

Apparently the mantra of the Pac NW environmental loons is "no nukes, no gas, no fracking, no oil, no pipelines, no coal, no trains, no nuthin'"

Well, good luck powering a modern industrial economy with windmills.

Simon

Posted Mon, Jun 23, 8:48 p.m. Inappropriate

why not?

pragmatic

Posted Tue, Jun 24, 2:55 p.m. Inappropriate

Because of the Laws of physics.

Simon

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 10:58 a.m. Inappropriate

The laws of physics says we cannot continue on the current level of energy (and resource) consumption.

louploup

Posted Fri, Jun 27, 8:41 a.m. Inappropriate

The laws of physics counter-intuitively state:
The fuel-burning Plug-in Hybrid vehicle drivetrain actually reduces fuel/energy consumption combustion MORE than all-electric vehicle technology like the Nissan Leaf and Tesla.
Stuff that FACT in a pipe and smoke it.

Wells

Posted Tue, Jun 24, 2:58 p.m. Inappropriate

1.3 Billion Wind Turbines Needed
Now for a little back-of-the-envelope math. The McFadden Ridge project has 19 wind turbines producing 28.5 megawatts of electricity. Each wind generator therefore produces 1.5 megawatts. In the United States in 2007 coal was responsible for generating 2,016,456 gigawatts of power (see USA Electricity Generation 2007 Chart). As 1 gigawatt equals 1,000 megawatts you would need 1.3 billion (2,016,456,000 megawatts / 1.5) wind turbines to replace coal. And coal only accounts for 48% of electricity production.

651 Million More Wind Turbines
Petroleum liquids (49,505,000 megawatts), petroleum coke (16,234,000 megawatts), natural gas (896,590,000 megawatts), and other gases (13,453,000 megawatts) account for a total of 975,782,000 megawatts. To replace these sources of power you would need an additional 650,521,333 wind turbines. In these calculations we are not replacing the 21% of electricity generated from nuclear power. Even so, removing fossil fuels from the equation mandates the need for 2 billion wind turbines. And remember, wind power costs twice as much as electricity from coal.

Simon

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 11:02 a.m. Inappropriate

Sorry to tell you, but the party's over. http://www.amazon.com/The-Partys-Over-Industrial-Societies/dp/0865715297

louploup

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 12:05 p.m. Inappropriate

louploup: The party is not over. Idiots have been writing a version of that same theme every year for decades. We were supposed to reach "peak oil" years ago. Instead, the world produces more and more oil every year.

That is just stupidity. In the U.S. new gasoline motor vehicles will be getting twice as many mpg in a couple of decades as they do now. Electric vehicles, which get about 4 times as many mpg (equivalent) will become common place. We'll be able to produce the same amount of goods with half the energy.

What does need to happen is stopping population growth. Population growth is the problem. And that can be done very suddenly, especially if large wars break out, or there are huge famines or plagues. Even without tragedies like those, just free birth control and sterilization for anyone, anywhere, who wants it could stop population growth fairly quickly.

If we stop population growth, the "party" can continue indfefintely.

One thing is very certain: we are not going to "run out" of oil or natural gas in your lifetime.

Lincoln

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 7:17 p.m. Inappropriate

Lincoln:

Sorry to tell you (sort of), but I am not wrong. You appear to have not studied the status of global energy resources and its relationship to our civilization, including how cheap energy has facilitated the explosive growth in human population in the past century. Along with a number of profound “unintended” consequences such as global warming and loss of biodiversity.

When Hubbert came up with the concept of peak oil in the mid 1950s, he predicted U.S. production would peak in early 1970s. He was correct. The Bakken and other recently put into production sources (and any future discoveries) will never be enough to surpass the U.S. production peak of 40 years ago. The same is true globally; we are now at or near peak; despite rising demand, no (or very little) more oil will ever be produced per day/month/year. Unconventional sources are struggling to maintain supply as conventional fields enter the downside of their Hubbert depletion curves. We are near the top of the global curve.

Peak oil does not mean we are going to “run out” of oil. Peak means half. What that means is that every new field and every new barrel will cost more to produce than pre-peak barrels—in both ROI and EROI. The oil industry knows this; they are starting to invest less in new sources. New discoveries have lower EROI. The Ghawar (Saudi Arabia) and other very large fields are depleting such that they cannot ramp up production to any significant degree. Moreover, each new discovery is on average smaller and more expensive to bring to market and will not replace the flow or low cost of oil being burnt today.

We are in a unique place in human history, approaching the peak of cheap energy that has enabled humans to build a global civilization. The millions of years of solar energy stored in fossil fuels cannot be replaced in either density (quality) or quantity by any known alternative source likely to come on line in the next few decades. Electric cars are a technology, not an energy source.

I agree with you that population is a serious problem, compounded by our reliance on petroleum and natural gas (are you familiar with haber-bosch?) for a large percentage of our food supply. Some analysts argue that peak oil doesn’t necessarily mean billions will starve to death, but it does mean that production and supply will have to become much more localized, and probably eating lots less meat. Others suggest that we are well into population overshoot and it will be difficult to ramp down without lots of pain. Regardless, huge changes are inevitable over the next few decades.

Maintaining willful ignorance of our interdependence and dependence on fossil energy strikes me as pretty stupid, as does calling names when you don’t indicate that you know the subject in depth. A good basic book is Aleklett’s “Peaking at Peak Oil.” Or you could go to http://www.hubbertpeak.com/ or http://ourfiniteworld.com/ among other sites that explore these issues in great depth and breadth.

louploup

Posted Thu, Jun 26, 11:40 a.m. Inappropriate

louploup, you are wrong. "Peak oil" means the production of oil peaks and then declines from then on, forever. It has absolutely nothing to do with the price of that oil. The world has not yet reached "peak oil" and is probably decades away from reaching it. And when world oil production does peak and begin to decline, it won't matter much anyway, because the world is becoming much more energy-efficient.

At the same time, natural gas production continues to increase in the U.S. and worldwide, and natural gas is a good substitute for oil.

The "peak oil" alarmists are just fools or liars. We are decades away from peak oil, and when it occurs it won't even matter.

Lincoln

Posted Thu, Jun 26, 5:17 p.m. Inappropriate

Lincoln--The only point we seem to agree on is that oil supplies declines after peak. As for your substantive points, I'm not going to bother citing you to any of the myriad of contradicting publications since you clearly don't read any references I post. However, I'll gladly read any sources you can put up that support:

• Peak oil "has absolutely nothing to do with the price of that oil"

• We are "probably decades away from reaching" global peak oil

• Peak oil "won't matter much anyway, because the world is becoming much more energy-efficient"

• "natural gas is a good substitute for oil"

I believe they are all demonstrably wrong, but what the heck, I'll read what you come up with.

And as for "'peak oil' alarmists are just fools or liars," I'll descend a little toward your level of discourse: put up or shut up.

louploup

Posted Sat, Jun 28, 6:42 p.m. Inappropriate

And for anyone visiting this page with an interest in exploring these questions... An excellent discussion of the relationships of production costs, consumption, demand, etc., see http://ourfiniteworld.com/2014/02/25/beginning-of-the-end-oil-companies-cut-back-on-spending/

louploup

Posted Mon, Jun 23, 12:28 p.m. Inappropriate

Kudos to Floyd McKay for his continuing efforts to track these many energy export scenarios and their potential to impact the northwest. Alberta crude is the crudest of them all. It looks like we're gearing up for one last drunken bash, and it's going to be a doozy. I hope somebody remembered to bring the aspirin.

woofer

Posted Tue, Jun 24, 3:21 p.m. Inappropriate

The "progressives" want to cease energy production and transport everywhere. Good luck with that. Everyone else will brush you aside.

NotFan

Posted Fri, Jun 27, 8:51 a.m. Inappropriate

This 'progressive' believes progress is for everybody, therefore, I can't call myself progressive, Notfan. Meanwhile and equally counter-intuitively, the fuel-burning Plug-in Hybrid vehicle technology actually reduces fuel/energy consumption MORE than all-electric vehicles like the Nissan Leaf and Tesla.
What's up with that?

Wells

Posted Fri, Jun 27, 4:55 p.m. Inappropriate

That is what I would assume. Since heating with electricity is very expensive, why would driving be much different?

Posted Fri, Jun 27, 9:48 p.m. Inappropriate

It's so much fun to watch how "progressives" can be so stupid yet think they are so smart. Neither one of you knows a single thing about EVs or hybrids. It's laughable!

NotFan

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 11:24 a.m. Inappropriate

Cascadia is at the Crossroads.

Cascadia is a region shaped by our lived history and by the human imagination. Historically, Cascadia is a place where the native language some of Cascadia's First Nations use the same word for "human" and "nature." It is a place of cascading waterfalls of life, of The Cascades, of the fate of salmon to have to swim upstream against cascading forces to sustain life from one generation to the next.

Cascadia's modern history is identified with sustainability. Here, in Cascadia, modern humans also see humans and nature as indivisible. Here, modern humans get that human beings are "humus" beings, beings of the earth, the soil.

In the human imagination, Cascadia is an "Ecotopia," the site imagined as an ecological utopia by Ernest Callenbach in 1978. It is a region that other visionary storytellers have imagined as a place is where humans survive after the environmental apocalypse in fictional visions of Cascadia.

And now fiction and vision, and history and reality, uncannily meet.

McKIbben has said that the fate of the whole planet and all the humans we love has come down to us, the Cascadians. It is up to Cascadians to "terminate" the import of deadly coal and oil to Asia by not building "terminals." It is up to us, the Cascadians, to end the "cascading catastrophes" of climate change here, in Cascadia, to quote the recent IPCC report, or life on earth becomes irrevocable, inevitably "terminal."

What "gateway" do we allow to open, my fellow Cascadians: The gateway to hell on earth and more suffering than we can imagine? OR, do we finally open the great green gateway to a thriving future of a sustainable world that our visionaries and storytellers have already imagined happens here?

That is our Cascadian crossroads, people. In one direction, cascading catastrophes, life on earth being terminal, opening the gateway to tragic human suffering on a scale we have never seen in history.

In the other direction, the cascading catastrophes of climate change and all the other environmental tragedies we are heir to come to an end and are terminated in Cascadia, and the great green gateway to a sane and sound, joyful and just, sustainable world opens wide, and we fulfill the utopian visions already seeded in this place.

I ask myself, What do I make of this? How do I engage with these spontaneous double meanings of terminal and gateway and cascading catastrophes and Cascadia? What sense and meaning do I make from the living history and fictional visions and this crossroads moment of Cascadia?

So far, my only answer is: Be careful what you imagine and how you name things, for in the seeds of imagination and the human act of giving names is the history and story humans will live.

MimiK

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 8:15 p.m. Inappropriate

Stick to smoking weed.

Simon

Posted Fri, Jun 27, 8:58 a.m. Inappropriate

Beautiful oratory, Mimi. Go for it.

Wells

Posted Sat, Jun 28, 10:23 p.m. Inappropriate

You're a poet
And you don't even know it
But your feet show it
'Cause they're long
Fellow

NotFan

Posted Sun, Jun 29, 12:08 p.m. Inappropriate

Preliminary approval does not mean this will ever be built - there are 209 conditions, many significant, that have to be met for that to happen. It is not a given that this can be done while protecting salmon, orcas, and pristine coastlines.

There is also a proposed "Energy East" pipeline to the east coast of Canada. It also faces significant environmental challenges.

Both pipelines would transport bitumin with added dilutants, which presents singular cleanup problems in the case of a spill, with evidence indicating it could sink when spilled in water.

“Wherever it hits it’s going quickly in, and who knows how long it would foul that waterway,” he said. “If either a pipeline or ship suffered a leak of diluted bitumen, it would be irreversible, because within a short amount of time the stuff would go to the bottom. You don’t know what it could do to the fish under the surface.” See:

http://www.watertowndailytimes.com/article/20140626/NEWS03/140629211

Posted Mon, Jun 30, 7:55 p.m. Inappropriate

There are three ways to move oil over land: Train, truck, or pipeline. The "progressives" don't want the oil moved at all, so they attack each method. But the oil WILL be moved.

NotFan

Posted Sat, Jul 5, 8:57 a.m. Inappropriate

Pipelines are more economic than trains or trucks, but face greater environmental challenges in that pipeline spills can be much larger. With bitumin, contamination from spills could persist for decades.

Posted Sun, Jun 29, 10:45 p.m. Inappropriate

I dont usually get into dumb debates, but I have to let you all know not to believe Simon's numbers. His numbers about coal and the number of wind turbines is bs. Apparently the guy doesn't know the difference between watts and watt-hours. One is a unit of power (watts) and the other a unit of energy (watt-hours) and he seems to have the two things confused in his statement:

"in the United States in 2007 coal was responsible for generating 2,016,456 gigawatts of power". This is actually the watt-HOURS generated, so his silly comparison on wind turbines is off by a factor of about 10,000.

Wind and solar are clearly an essential part of the solutions for US energy.

rocky

rockdan

Posted Sun, Jun 29, 11:36 p.m. Inappropriate

Wind generates 4% of U.S. electricity, child.

NotFan

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