Friday, May 16, 2014

Cross talk.

There has been a lot of media coverage, and facebook posts on a range of overlapping topics in the last few weeks.  The headlines include, the Site C dam, Fracking in BC, and the continued protests against both the Kinder morgan and Enbridge pipelines headed for this coast.  News coverage talks of the benefits and the risks, compartmentalizing the risks, and exaggerating the benefits of jobs and energy.  The proposals come from suits in boardrooms and the protests come from folks on the ground.  

Consider the push for fracking in BC for the purpose of selling liquefied methane to overseas markets.  Hydraulic fracturing 'Fracking' is from a purely technical and scientific view pretty cool. You are doing geology, you are breaking up rock to concentrating a resource because natural forces did not do it on their own. The problem is you are doing geology, or rather creating geologic processes.
Not the classic walking around sampling things with a hammer, but forcefully changing the rock strata.

It is reasonable to be skeptical of the claims made in the name of that industry.  The proposition amounts to piloting a remote controlled underground jackhammer into a strata you hope is where your survey said it is and that it is as consistent as well.  The author has experience associated with boring holes in the ground for the shareholders, gold, and sometimes science. The author will concede that core sampling is a different beast from tricone bits and direction drilling, and other high budget tools oil and gas enjoy, he believes a few things will often hold true.  Delays will happen, the hole will drift off the mark, the geology will not match the model, and equipment will break and malfunction.  Remember any drilling operation is about trying to shove a rotating steel tube into solid rock.

The author's skepticism of hydroelectric proposals is far deeper rooted as his home town has directly benefited from progress, in the form of; lost agricultural land, a waterfront that changes size with the seasons, reduced fish populations, and displaced people.  The author also acknowledges that hydroelectric has an excellent energy return on investment, he questions the value in placing the investment in monolithic mega projects that may lack the adaptability to retain their value in a changing climate.

On the pipeline subject there is so much being said against them that it hardly bares repeating.  The propaganda from the industry has all honesty of a Craigslist ad for models, its totally not a porn shoot I promise. The same propagandists are sure to exclude any real description of what the project really entails.  Glossing over the risks of pumping a thick chemical cocktail from the largest industrial project on the planet through a nearly pristine wilderness to a treturous coast occupied by many interesting and or cute marine animals.

In the context of the pipeline projects risk compartmentalization, is the name of the game.  To ask people if they welcome digging up a nation sized patch of central Alberta, pressure cooking it with enough fresh water to irrigate a large thing, then pump it across mountains, ship it, and ultimately burn it, they might question.  What is sold instead is jobs.  Jobs for a boom time that will pass, because if there is one certainty in natural resources the booms end. Before too long the jobs will have run out but the mess will remain, in the air, on the ground, and in the waters, but for a short while longer we had some energy.

Jobs and energy, two things that get endless press, usually in the form of their not being enough of either.  We are currently trapped with the 20th century idea that energy is it is something you pump out of the ground and burn.  For a few brief generations this was needed to pull us out of the energy starved eras gone by.  A legacy is now idea of energy has been conflated with burning stuff.  So in the name of energy we spend obscene resources to collect molecules we will burn once. A perpetual energy crisis that exists because every oxidized carbon chain needs to be replaced again and again.  The jobs plans appear be sending people scrambling the next molecule to burn.  

A way from the offices where the job plans are hatched, and oil fields are mapped, the public is also wondering about jobs and energy.  There is doubt that the continuing to dig for things to burn, is worth it.  They are not against jobs or energy, like the author they seek a stable supply of both, at a sane cost.  A protest against a pipeline to the west coast is not just a rally to defend the shore from an oil spill but also a default condemnation the tarsands that will supply the pipeline. The act of saying no is an ack of asking for something else.  We can do better than scraping single use molecules from the rotting remains of a seafloor.  

There are a lot of unanswered question, when it comes to jobs and energy, but what is needed is a break from the historical default assumptions.  For both those planning the projects in the boardrooms and those challenging them on the boardwalks we ask, challenge each others assumptions.  We may use the words, work, energy, labour, and resources, but are we defining things the same way.

The author believes that the current mess we are creating will start to consume more of the available labour, and spending unneeded manhours on collecting molecules to burn is a waste of time when Richmond is flooding.  The author also does not believe MORE, is a good thing and wishes to spend more time alive live in the sun. Or in his case moderately overcast on a not too cool day.  And on the subject of living with enough read the essay, Alive in the Sunshine.


  1. There are pros and cons to guaranteed incomes. People generally enjoy life more with a certain amount of necessity thrown in. My ideal would be to provide the bare basics, and access to means of production for the more fun things in life. Missing from the Jacobin article is the whole Peak Oil thing. The technological age may have been a blip. I hope not. But I recommend a reading of Andrew Nikiforuk's Energy Slaves.

  2. Peak oil is more of a mountain range. little peaks at the easy to get to resources, bigger peaks and bigger challenges for the hard stuff.