Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Choices We Make, Part 2

Another Mega-project has been approved by the Government of Canada. The Northern Gateway is a proposed 1,200 kilometer twin pipeline that would carry bitumen from the oil sands in Alberta to the coast of British Columbia. From there, the crude would be shipped to Asian markets.

The $7-billion pipeline would be developed by Enbridge, a major Canadian energy delivery company based in Calgary. The application to the National Energy Board was submitted in 2010. Since then, a review panel hosted consultations and heard from residents of the affected communities. The panel eventually approved the project, but with 209 conditions to be met. It is not a surprise that many still disagree to say the least.

Former Conservative MP Stockwell Day says: There are already thousands of pipelines running across North America, and the Northern Gateway pipeline, if approved, will be one of the "safest and most sophisticated.

Dear Mr. Day. Perhaps you remember we met with you some time ago and I told you about my aerospace background. As someone who spent more than 30 years building complex systems in various areas I know not only in theory but in practice as well, that any technical system, as "safe" as it might seem, will fail sooner or later. And in most cases the reason for it would be not a natural disaster or even a terrorist attack, which are always a possibility, but a basic human error. (Just remember Lac-Megantic derailment, or the South Korean ferry accident). When failure happens, we would look back and ask ourselves: "Why?"  
Why all the discussion is around how to move oil - one way or another? Why do we need to move it at all? Why not consider refining it on-site (or as close as possible)? Selling oil to the Asian market has very  questionable economic prospects - Russia will easily undercut Canadian prices. And because Europe is transitioning to alternative sources, in 20 years (this is probably an optimistic time frame for the Northern Gateway to start its operation) Russia will flood all the oversupply to China pushing Canadian oil out.
There are different alternatives completely. If the government's argument is exclusively about money, why not compare the pipeline with other possible ways of investing $7 billion and see what return can be obtained from investing in technical innovation, energy conservation, renewable energy, distributed systems etc. On the scale 20 years many alternatives will show at least the same, but likely a bigger economic potential than pipeline ,with much less environmental risks and they would have much more public support. On a global scale, it would show our commitment to contributing into resolving global pollution problem rather than contributing into the problem. Most importantly, instead of remaining a backward resource-based economy, it would create a path for Canada to become a nation with a modern future-oriented economy, which we all would be proud of and our children and grand-grandchildren would be grateful for.   

There are choices we make, but there is at least one choice - between Future and No Future - we should not be making...

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