Saturday, January 31, 2015

Pipelines. [EBP7]

The Alaskan Pipeline.  Source Ryan McFarland.

I tried to fiddle with my blog layout, so hopefully you'll see more photos in their original size.  As it turns out, the average computer monitor isn't quite so restricted as it was when Awesome, Inc. designed this template, and it's nice to be able to show pictures in their original size and splendour.

But yes, to the point.  The Keystone XL pipeline has been approved by the United States' Congress and President Obama has vowed to use his veto.  I'm also hearing a lot about the Energy East pipeline, which is currently slated to ship Alberta and Saskatchewan oil as far east as Cornwall, Ontario.  Specifically, it will deliver crude oil to refineries in the East.  Tom Mulcair has actually been a vocal proponent of upgrading our raw natural resources before exporting them, because it means more Canadian jobs and increases the value of our exports.  It seems much better than exporting our oil to be refined in other countries, so that we may buy it back at a higher price, anyway.

But still I digress.  Pipelines are all over the news, and there is a lot of resistance.  Tonnes of it, even.  In fact, there exists a pipeline known as "Line 9" that runs from Sarnia to Montreal.  In 1976, it carried oil eastward, I am assuming in the wake of the OPEC oil crisis.  In 1998, the flow was reversed to ship the cheap oil from across the Atlantic inward.  And now, again, the flow has been reversed to supply Western crude to the East.  The amount of resistance and complaints this faced was astounding given that the pipeline was already in place.

So pipelines are so unpopular that even those which exist are subject to intense scrutiny for simply reversing flow direction.  Pipelines which are to be constructed face even more intense criticism.  And I will grant that this is at least partially warranted.  Pipelines are subject to failures which can release non-trivial amounts of crude oil into potentially sensitive environmental areas.

But here's the thing: Canada is addicted to oil.  The world is addicted to oil.  Since the Industrial Revolution, we have been burning and using fossil fuels, and it has shaped our lives in ways most people don't realise.  All your plastics are petroleum products.  Polar fleece sweaters are made from petroleum.  Drugs and the solvents used to develop them are often based on petroleum products.  But the biggest use of oil is for energy, and energy is the biggest industry there is.  If liquid fuels are included, it is the biggest industry by several factors.  To quote Rick Mercer, that's alotta poutine.

So we're addicted, and it's big money.  Money so big that Canada's dollar is under 80 cents USD, down about twenty cents since the price of oil dropped precipitously.  Money so big that the oil will be shipped, regardless the approval of the pipelines people protest.  And what happens when pipelines get blocked?  Well, Lac-M├ęgantic happens because the oil needs to be shipped and, shockingly, CN and CP are more than happy to make money transporting things to port.

Intermodal Safety in the Transport of Oil, from the Fraser Institute.
So it seems pretty obvious that the money at stake ensures the extraction and transport of available oil.  Now consider the above figure.  Pipelines are at most half as risky as transportation by rail (when adjusted for the amount transported), and these numbers are from before the crop of recent derailments.  So if one truly wishes to stop pipelines, one must get humanity off of oil.  Stopping pipeline construction won't alleviate climate change, because the oil will get shipped by more dangerous means, only putting more lives and environmental areas at risk.

I don't think oil is in the far future for humanity, oil being an unsustainable resource, unlike nuclear and hydro.  But we are addicted.  When OPEC cut off the supply of oil to North America, things got really bad really quickly.  We need to find alternative sources of transportation fuel (or batteries), but it won't change overnight.  So as long as we need oil, we should ship it by pipeline.  It's cheaper and safer than the alternatives.  Well, except maybe for filling water bombers with oil.