Tag Archives: global warming

Heaven and Earth may pass away but will we care?


No I am not trying to be overbearing on the environmental front, but more and more I see a trend towards the self in our world. Western society has enjoyed a life that it is unwilling to give up. We know that fossil fuels and our consumption based lifestyle are damaging the planet. We should do more to be better stewards of the planet; however the additive nature of consumption is something we cannot seem to break. Now the world wants what we have, so what will we do? It reminds me of the movie ‘Avatar’ or even ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’. In a sense we are like a virus that destroys and consumes. Maybe humanity will come up with a solution? I think we will, however the question is what will that solution be? In the movie Avatar humanity had consumed to a point beyond measure. Yes, we had all of the technical know-how, but to what extent? On the opposite end, in the latest incarnation of “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, it was determined that in order for the earth to survive we had to be removed. We were like a Cancer that needed invasive surgery. Now, I do not want to sound so negative. I think humanity is better than that; however it is up to us to determine what we will do. Some feel that we will innovate to solve our problems. Maybe that is part of our evolution? Who really knows? Have we passed the point of no return, or will be return to the point of our past?

 

Will Canada’s oil boom be an environmental bust? The new global wasteland?


Alberta the new oil wasteland

Alberta the new oil wasteland

FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta (AP) — The largest dump truck in the world is parked under a massive mechanical shovel waiting to transport 400 tons of oily sand at an open pit mine in the northern reaches of Alberta. Each Caterpillar 797B heavy hauler — three-stories high, with tires twice as tall as the average man — carries the equivalent of 200 barrels.

Shell, which has 35 of the massive loaders working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, has ordered 16 more — at $5 million each — as it expands its open pit mines. And it is not alone among major oil companies rushing to exploit Alberta’s oil sands, which make Canada one of the few countries that can significantly ramp up oil production amid the decline in conventional reserves.

Shell, Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, Canada’s Imperial and other companies plan to strip an area here the size of New York state that could yield as much as 175 billion barrels of oil. Daily production of 1.2 million barrels from the oil sands is expected to nearly triple to 3.5 million barrels in 2020. Overall, Alberta has more oil than Venezuela, Russia or Iran. Only Saudi Arabia has more.

High prices — a barrel reached almost $150 last month and is around $115 now — are fueling the province’s oil boom. Since it’s costly to extract oil from the sands, using the process on a widespread basis began to make sense only when crude prices started skyrocketing earlier this century.

But the enormous amount of energy and water needed in the extraction process has raised fears among scientists, environmentalists and officials in an aboriginal town 170 miles downstream from Fort McMurray. The critics say the growing operations by major oil companies will increase greenhouse gas emissions and threaten Alberta’s rivers and forests.

“Their projected rates of expansion are so fast that we don’t have a hope in hell of reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Dr. David Schindler, an environmental scientist at the University of Alberta.

Oil sands operations, including extraction and processing, are responsible for 4 percent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, and that’s expected to triple to 12 percent by 2020. Oil sand mining is Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gases and is one reason it reneged on its Kyoto Protocol commitments. Experts say producing a barrel of oil from sands results in emissions three times greater than a conventional barrel of oil.

Worries about environmental damage have gotten enough attention that even the oil industry realizes it must tread softly on the issue. “Industry has to improve its environmental performance,” Brian Maynard, a vice president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said recently.

Questions about developing Alberta’s oil sands have seeped into the U.S. presidential campaign and the debate in Canada and the U.S. over keeping down the price of gasoline while still protecting the environment.

The Bush administration sees Alberta as a reliable source of energy that will help reduce reliance on Middle East oil. U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins said the oil sands will define the relationship between the two countries for the next 10 years.

“We are blessed by the fact that our friend and neighbor is also our number one supplier of foreign oil,” Wilkins told The Associated Press.

However, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s top energy adviser said oil sands emissions are “unacceptably high” and may run counter to Obama’s plan to shift the U.S. away from carbon-intensive fossil fuels.

“The amount of energy that you have to use to get that oil out of the ground is such that it actually creates a much greater impact on climate change, as well as using much more energy than even traditional petroleum,” Obama adviser Jason Grumet said.

Mining oil sands also was criticized by American mayors in a resolution adopted at their annual conference in June urging a ban on using oil sands-derived gasoline in municipal vehicles. They alleged the oil sands mines damage Canada’s boreal forest — boreal refers to the earth’s northern zone — and slows the transition to cleaner energy sources in the U.S.

John Baird, Canada’s environment minister, warned that Washington would lose energy security if it doesn’t take Alberta’s oil.

“If American mayors want to send their money to unstable, undemocratic countries in the Middle East instead of to Canada, that will be their call. If they want to pay a premium for Iranian, Saudi, Iraqi oil that will be their call,” Baird told the AP.

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Can baking soda curb global warming?


A start-up in Texas says it can turn the carbon dioxide emitted by power plants into baking soda. Some scientists have proposed compressing carbon dioxide and sticking it in underground caves as a way to cut down on greenhouse gases. Joe David Jones wants to make baking soda out of it.

Jones, the founder and CEO of Skyonic, has come up with an industrial process called SkyMine that captures 90 percent of the carbon dioxide coming out of smoke stacks and mixes it with sodium hydroxide to make sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda. The energy required for the reaction to turn the chemicals into baking soda comes from the waste heat from the factory.

“It is cleaner than food-grade (baking soda),” he said.

The system also removes 97 percent of the heavy metals, as well as most of the sulfur and nitrogen compounds, Jones said.

Luminant, a utility formerly known as TXU, installed a pilot version of the system at its Big Brown Steam Electric Station in Fairfield, Texas, last year. Skyonic, meanwhile, hopes to install a system that will consume the greenhouse gas output of a large–500 megawatts or so–power plant around 2009. Skyonic is currently designing one of these large systems.

“It has been working pretty well. It does present a potential solution to emissions,” said a representative for Luminant. “But right now there is still a lot of work to be done.”

If the concept works on a grand scale, it could help change some of the pernicious economics and daunting engineering challenges surrounding carbon capture and sequestration.

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Gas-fuelled power plant on agenda for Toronto and Mississauga


Buried in the release of Ontario Power Generation’s 2006 financial results last Friday was an intriguing paragraph: “OPG is exploring the potential development of a gas-fuelled electricity generation station at its Lakeview site and is continuing with the decommissioning and demolition of the Lakeview coal-fired generating station.”

There is, as you might expect, a story behind this story and it sheds some light on how dysfunctional our electricity system has become over the past few years.

First, some background:

Ontario Power Generation, or OPG, is one of the successor companies that emerged when Ontario Hydro was broken into pieces in 1997. Still government owned, it runs all the old Ontario Hydro power plants, including the coal-fired facilities, which contribute to our air pollution and global warming and which the governing Liberals have promised to close.

In 2005, OPG’s Lakeview site, along Mississauga’s waterfront, became the first of the coal-fired plants to be closed.

But the Ontario Power Authority – an agency set up by the Liberals to plan for future electricity needs – says a replacement power source will be needed in the Mississauga area by the year 2011.

Hence, OPG’s interest in building a gas-fired plant on the old Lakeview site.

OPG has lined up a partner for the project – Enersource, the local electricity distributor, which is 90 per cent owned by the City of Mississauga and 10 per cent by Borealis, the infrastructure investment arm of OMERS (the municipal employees pension fund).

Also reportedly backing the project is Hazel McCallion, Mississauga’s formidable mayor (although, uncharacteristically, she did not respond to requests for an interview for this column).

With such an array of backers and a province thirsty for more power, the Lakeview project would seem to be a sure thing.

But not so fast. The power authority wants a competitive process before making a decision on a new plant. In this respect, the authority insists it is just following government policy, although insiders suggest the authority harbours a bias against OPG and in favour of private-sector suppliers.

As it happens, there is at least one private-sector firm interested in building a new gas-fired power plant in south Mississauga – Sithe Global, which already has regulatory approval for a site called Southdown (on the east side of Winston Churchill Blvd., between Royal Windsor Dr. and Lakeshore Rd.)

And more private-sector suppliers might come forward if they were allowed to make bids based on the OPG-owned Lakeview site, as the power authority has apparently suggested – to vociferous objections from OPG.

In any event, the power authority says the competitive process won’t begin until next year. That will create a tight timetable, however, as the electricity is said to be needed by 2011, and it takes three years to build a new gas-fired facility.

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