I spent ten years working in the pipeline industry and another ten in oil sands. I haven’t posted a single word about Kinder Morgan pipeline. Why? It is precisely because the issue surrounding how Canada could meet our Paris commitments and remain a net energy exporter is a very deep and complex discussion which requires a tad more effort than floating out a social media meme.
Up until today, I still held out a fool’s hope that somewhere behind our federal government there were leagues of energy advisors and experts diligently mulling over all the solutions, advising our parliamentarians on the nuances of the issue.
Every camel has that one straw. For me it is the Centennial Flame Committee.
There are no alternate fuels you can burn that will result in zero CO2 emissions. None. Combustion is combustion is combustion. All combustion results in CO2 as a by product. It doesn’t matter if you burn dead dinosaurs, dead trees, or that really nasty fast food fat they dispose of in the back alleys. You will get CO2 as a by product. Every. Single. Time.
Some materials have better combustion efficiency. That means they will produce less CO2 per unit of energy produced. Natural gas is just about the most combustion efficient fuel out there. For example, burning it results in roughly half the CO2 as coal, for each gigajoule produced.
Can you use LED lights instead? Yes, absolutely. In Ontario there are definitely emissions benefits. Ontario’s electricity is produced using a mix of nuclear, hydro, and natural gas with a smidge of wind and solar thrown in.
Can you hitch a solar panel to those LED lights? Better still. No emissions once you operate. But you do have to spend money on a retrofit.
What could be better?
Well, let me convene a committee in my brain for about a nanosecond. Ah, how about this: turn it off? Zero emissions, zero capital cost, zero dollars to a parliamentary committee to study it. Done.
Or, if you really insist on spending public money to study this issue, please do taxpayers the courtesy of tossing the coin at some first year Waterloo engineering students who will do the job correctly.
Why does this irritate me so much? It is a form of green-washing by our government that we should not accept. They are spending time chasing a symbol of greenhouse gas emissions instead of actually spending time figuring out how to meet our greenhouse gas commitments without bankrupting Alberta, or the country for that matter.
This is really hard stuff. It requires academics, and policy people, and energy experts, and economics consultants. It needs to be taken seriously. There isn’t a moment to be spared and there certainly isn’t a parliamentary hour that should be wasted for something with a simple solution.
As a Canadian, I would be quite happy to see, in front of my Parliament, a flame turned off – symbolizing my country’s commitment to preserving natural resources for critical uses, and re-directing my tax dollars to all those people who could really use it.
Alisa Caswell has a degree in chemical engineering. She spent ten years working in the natural gas pipeline industry and another ten in oil sands. She has held roles in operations, energy conservation, and previously held the position of Chair – Oil Sands, Canadian Industry Program for Energy Conservation (CIPEC). She lives in Fort McMurray, Alberta.