Wednesday Night #1622

Written by  //  April 3, 2013  //  Wednesday Nights  //  2 Comments

Pipelines and oil spills were on everyone’s mind, thanks to the recent spills in Canada and the U.S. and several individuals were armed with facts and figures to bolster arguments for and against Keystone XL, many of which were countered  by those armed with different facts and figures. Despite fears of oil spills and the most recent disaster in the U.S. from leakage from the aged (65 years old) Pegasus pipeline, transporting petroleum through pipelines is widely believed to be significantly safer than shipping by truck or train. Gerald cites “a reliability record that’s 99.9995 percent” that was stated by Andrew Black of the Association of Oil Pipelines on Wednesday evening’s PBS Newshour. [See Comment from Sam Boshra below for another view]
Several points were made:
— Keystone is destined to carry oil to Galveston where it will be refined and exported at a higher price.
— Spills of dilbit are extremely difficult to clean up because it is sludge; thus the news that  EPA orders Enbridge to do additional dredging in Kalamazoo River to clean up oil from 2010 spill
— Alberta has no refining capacity
— Maintenance is key, but it appears that the industry is reluctant to invest in it, accepting that the cost of clean-up, including bad publicity is less than the cost of vigilant monitoring and maintenance.
Despite the negatives,  most Wednesday Nighters predict that the current Keystone project will be approved by President Obama.
No one denies that the diluted heavy bitumen crude (dilbit) that is exported from Alberta to the U.S. has enhanced the prosperity of the entire country.  However, there is increasing concern that in the rush to export a non-renewable resource, planning for the future is noticeably absent. At very least, a portion of our petroleum revenues should be set aside for investment in alternative and/or additional sources of national income when the Alberta petroleum resource is depleted or redundant, in addition to the current Alberta Heritage Fund. It was mentioned that the UAE [UAE and Saudi Arabia to lead renewable energy charge] has shown such foresight and the hope was expressed that Mr. Baird’s current visit to the UAE is not only to encourage investment, but also to learn something. Norway’s Pension Fund aka Petroleum Fund remains the outstanding example of responsible management of oil revenues.
Petroleum-fueled vehicles are ubiquitous, providing transportation for food, living things animal and human, as well as materials. By their nature, they require that petroleum be available wherever they travel and will do so until other reasonably priced, readily accessible energy sources are available. The same is true of heating fuel of all types; hazards exist with all forms of transportation. Since the decline of the use of horse drawn vehicles we have become addicted to petroleum and are likely to remain so until such time as a suitable, safe, affordable alternative can be provided.
Hurricane Katrina comes to mind when conversation turns to preventable disasters or those in which the adverse effects might have been attenuated if not completely eliminated if the profit motive and/or laissez faire attitudes had not prevailed. If we had introduced electric motor vehicles in the 1980`s, we would be ahead of the game in carbon now. It would appear that humans who have the intelligence to predict the future will opt for the immediate, with mathematics trumping logic. Interestingly, among the major traditional petroleum producing countries, it would appear that only the United Arab Emirates has had the foresight to research alternate energy sources, including solar. When oil was discovered in Western Canada, money was set aside for diversification. With so much of Canadian national well-being so dependent on Alberta`s birthright, we would do well to put more effort into maintaining and intensifying that initiative.
It is predicted that the proposed carbon tax designed to reduce carbon emissions, will not be approved.

The Scribe’s comment:
Wednesday Night 1622 was even more fascinating than usual, more because of our greater concern about short term issues than the long term effect of our current behaviour on the lives of our descendants. Our current blind dependency on the commercial value of the bones of our prehistoric ancestors without devoting at least part of that windfall to implement measures to develop the longevity of the good fortune currently bestowed on us by nature appears selfish and short sighted. For some reason, the children’s fable of the Three Little Pigs comes to mind.


Forty years ago this Wednesday, the first portable cell phone call was made in New York. Should this be cause for celebration or mourning for the days when everyone was not attached to the world by an electronic umbilical cord?
We wonder if anyone was aware that Cyprus celebrates Greek Cypriot National Day on April 1st ? In view of recent developments, that would appear ironic.
1622 was an eventful year; perhaps most importantly it marked the introduction of January 1st as the beginning of the Gregorian calendar year.
Also in 1622, King James I disbanded Parliament with which he had a difficult relationship, to put it mildly. As a great believer in the Divine Right of Kings, he had little use for any entity that curtailed his power. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?
And it offers a nice segue to the current state of governance in Ottawa … notably, the departure of Kevin Page and the failure to begin the search for a successor. Mr. Page writes eloquently about the implications in Kevin Page: Why being Canada’s first parliamentary budget officer ‘may have saved my life’ – we urge you to absorb his message. Not that the Harper government will revise the legislation that led to the demise of the PBO.
There have been several developments of the “natives are restless” variety recently. The most noted by the media has been the row over the Conservative ‘rogue’ backbenchers revolt against the iron-fisted control of the PMO and the Party of any interventions in Parliament, including SO-31s; Andrew Coyne has taken up the battle with vehemence: Restoring autonomy to the ordinary MP a battle worth fighting and Mob rule versus Mark Warawa.
Meanwhile it would appear that Federal Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault has found some serious backbone, having announced that her office will investigate how government communications rules on taxpayer-funded science impact public access to information. This is in response to a detailed complaint Muzzling Civil Servants: A Threat to Democracy? lodged by the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria and Democracy Watch that lays out repeated examples of taxpayer-funded science being suppressed or limited to pre-packaged media lines across six different government departments and agencies. No need to tell you that the initial reaction from government spokespersons has been dismissive.
And the debate continues over Canada’s withdrawal from the UN Convention on Desertification, with a cogent argument presented by Paul Heinbecker It’s not just the drought treaty. Canada is vanishing from the United Nations in which he reminds the reader that “because the locus of most of the devastation arising from desertification is in Africa, walking away from a treaty whose creation was led by the Mulroney and Chrétien governments reinforces the impression that Ottawa no longer cares about Africa. It is an impression that this government also went to some trouble and expense to try to reverse. Further, because the worst destruction from desertification is happening in the Sahara region, abandoning the treaty sends a mixed signal about the security issues at stake in Mali and the Sahel, and about Canadian mining interests there as well.”

Speaking of international ramifications, in Can the world trust Quebec? Beryl Wajsman argues forcefully (when does he not?) that the provisions of Bill 14 abrogate international human rights agreements and signal a warning to investors that Quebec could disavow international commercial agreements or fail to respect the rules of the GATT or decisions of the WTO.
Tony Deutsch is, with good reason, deeply concerned by recent developments in Hungary and points us to an opinion piece by George Kopits, a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Constitutional Mob Rule in Hungary published in the Wall Street Journal.
Last Wednesday we enjoyed an informative discussion of the Keystone pipeline and related pipeline issues, which appeared to convince most that Keystone is a) inevitable and b) not that bad, however the tone of public discourse has changed rapidly over the weekend with the news of the Arkansas Exxon pipeline spill and, as Bloomberg points out, Arkansas Oil Spill Raises Scrutiny of Pipeline Network There was much discussion of fracking, depletion, demand for water and oil pricing, however, no one raised the views expressed by Gail Tverberg of the Christian Science Monitor in How high oil prices lead to financial collapse – her thesis is that financial collapse is related to high oil prices and also to higher costs for other resources as we approach their limits. In her view: “The real danger is financial collapse, coming much earlier than a decline in oil supply. This collapse is related to high oil price, and also to higher costs for other resources as we approach limits (for example, desalination of water where water supply is a problem, and higher natural gas prices in much of the world).” Food for thought?
Education, as always, remains high on our list of topics and the need to encourage more students to pursue STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) studies and careers has often been discussed at WN. One of the more intriguing recommendations we have seen recently is a piece by Karthik Kanagasabapathy who advocates Competitive Robotics: Bringing Excitement Back to the Canadian Classroom – he holds that competitiveness is a skill that students need to hone is certainly valid. However, it is not the solution for all students, as evidenced by Monday’s news that CBC has identified the two Canadians among the terrorist attackers of the Algerian oil fields as high school friends from London, Ontario poses some disturbing questions about how our society – and our schools – are failing a number of young people. We can console ourselves that at least as far as we know, Canada does not have to cope with scandals like the pervasive test cheating in Atlanta apparently masterminded by former superintendent, Beverly Hall, who had been designated National Superintendent of the Year in 2009 (!).
Education and Literacy go hand-in-hand, but literacy is the basic and vital component to leading a productive life in an increasingly knowledge-based economy. It is essential that the federal government’s proposals for upgraded job skills training take into account the woefully low rates of literacy in this country. Matthew Pearson sets out the constraints in his admirable report Starting over – and stalling. While he examines the situation in Ontario, it is certainly no better – and possibly much worse – in other provinces. We would like to see an equivalent study of Quebec which ranks well below Ontario in terms of literacy. The most recent figures we could find were those cited byABC Life Literacy Canada, four out of 10 adult Canadians, age 16 to 65 – representing 9 million Canadians – struggle with low literacy. They fall below level 3 on the prose literacy scale (Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALL) Survey, Statistics Canada and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2005). Considering those adult Canadians with low literacy, 15 per cent have serious problems dealing with any printed materials; an additional 27 per cent can only deal with simple reading tasks (Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey, 2005).
That is a sad note to end on, so like our favorite literary character, Eyeore, we will look on the bright side – at least North Korea didn’t start a war over the weekend and spoil the holiday.
We have two invitations to flag to Wednesday Nighters.
The first, on Sunday, April 14, is for the Metastock Power to the Private Trader seminar from 9 to 11am at the Fairfield Inn & Suites, PET Airport. Among the new tools featured are MetaStock 12, MetaStock Pro 12 and MetaStock XENITH. The MetaStock product suite, developed by Equis, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Thomson Reuters, is targeted toward the individual investor includes both real-time and end-of-day variants of the software along with data subscriptions, add-ons and third party products.
The second, for Tuesday, April 16 from 5 pm to 8 pm, comes via Anita Nowak. It is the inaugural flagship event The Social Economy Initiative (SEI). Four pre-eminent Quebec-based social economy experts will participate in Strengths of the Social Economy on Tuesday, April 16 at 5:00 pm at the Centre Mont-Royal in downtown Montreal ( Hosted by the Desautels Faculty of Management’s Social Economy Initiative (SEI), this event will involve a lively and informed discussion about why Quebec is considered a global pioneer in this arena, trends in social finance, the role public policy can play in further developing the sector, and what kind of leaders are required for its ongoing success. Please note that you must act very quickly – the deadline for reservations is literally yesterday!

2 Comments on "Wednesday Night #1622"

  1. S. Boshra April 4, 2013 at 7:49 pm ·

    Several guests at the salon noted that pipeline transport of fuel is overwhelmingly safer than rail. This sounded like a plausible argument, although some of the figures thrown about seemed suspect (Mr. Meisels’ “90-10”, par exemple). While up-to-date figures for Canada have proven elusive (see Environment Canada ), more recent data from the US National Response Centre is available. While it’s neither complete nor cross-referenced (example: incident type X cause), the NRC data indicates that pipeline incident reports topped out at 1896 in ‘05, with railroad incidents reported that same year numbering 1532 (railroad non-release incidents 1685). While both incident types have decreased since, there were still more than a thousand pipeline incidents reported in each subsequent year. The basic NRC data does not breakdown the spill types by material content/volume, making it difficult to assess how many incidents involved oil and gas (railroad tanks transport a greater variety of materials than do pipelines).

  2. Diana Thebaud Nicholson April 5, 2013 at 12:31 am ·

    Federal Rules Don’t Control Pipeline Reversals Like Exxon’s Burst Pegasus
    Risks of using an aging pipeline network for Canadian heavy oil, well-known to industry and discussed over many years, have never been addressed.
    The Pegasus pipeline that ruptured and spilled thousands of gallons of tar sands crude in Mayflower was 65 years old, and was initially built to carry thinner oil at lower pressure in the opposite direction than today.
    But seven years ago, when Exxon, the pipeline’s operator, turned it into a higher-volume line for diluted bitumen from Canada flowing under greater pressure to refineries on the Gulf Coast, federal rules did not require a permit application or safety reviews, according to federal officials.
    Inside Climate News

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