Energy and Human Impacts: Can we sustain our lifestyle and protect the environment?

July 16, 2015
Alberta in her magnificence. Gov. of Alberta photo

Alberta in her magnificence. Gov. of Alberta photo

Disclaimer: I have been employed in various aspects of the energy industry since 1977. The views expressed in this article are mine and mine alone.

Overview:

We humans need energy to power our lives and sustain our lifestyle. The challenge is to provide relatively cheap energy in an environmentally clean and a safe manner. Human population is increasing and so is the demand for energy. The Province of Alberta, Canada where I live is resource-rich. Human development of any type results in a footprint and impacts. Sustainable development means doing the utmost to minimize the impacts.

Energy in Alberta:
Oil (2013)
– Canada has the third largest oil reserves in the world, 97% of these are in the oil sands of Alberta.
– Alberta exports 2,000,000 barrels/day of crude oil to the United States.
– To the rest of Canada it exports 323,000 barrels/day.

Natural Gas (2013)
– Established reserves 32 trillion cubic feet.
– Alberta produces 10.1 billion cubic feet/day.

Coal (2013)
– Established reserves 33.4 billion tonnes.
– Alberta produces 27.9 million tonnes/year.

Where Does Alberta get its Electrical Generating Capacity? (2013)
– Total is 14,003 megawatts (MW).
– Coal power 42%.
– Natural Gas 41%.
– Renewable/Alternate 17% (wind, solar and hydro-electric)

Revenue to Government of Alberta (2014/15 Budget)
– Total government revenue from all sources $44.354 billion.
– Non-renewable Resource Revenue $9.209 billion or 20.76% of the total.

oil-sands-pic

Meeting the Challenges:

Greenhouse Gases (GHG)
-Federal and Provincial Governments and industry are working cooperatively to reduce these.
– Using natural gas in place of coal reduces GHG emissions by roughly 50%.
– Wind power is growing in Alberta and other jurisdictions. Alberta is blessed (or cursed) with strong steady winds, especially in the south.

Protecting the Environment
– The oil and gas industry in Alberta is the most highly regulated in the world.
-All mining operations including in the oil sands must be reclaimed to their natural states. This is a regulatory requirement, not an option. Reclamation is on-going as an area is mined.
– Environmental protection is a priority and a requirement for all projects in all industries within Alberta.

Wind turbine in SW Alberta. Photo by SB Davis

Wind turbine in SW Alberta. Photo by SB Davis

Consumers/Individual’s Role in Energy Sustainability
– As consumers of energy we can all work to reduce the impact by using energy more efficiently therefore reducing demand. Reduce, reuse, and recycle.
– We must educate ourselves about the energy industry and how we use energy in our everyday lives.
– Get involved in issues that affect you. Understand all sides of the problems.

Summary:

As an Albertan I’m proud of my province and the contributions it makes to Canada and the world. I don’t pretend the oil and gas industry is perfect, but further investigation will demonstrate they are concerned and making serious efforts to reduce the impacts.

Further Reading:
Alberta Energy (Government of Alberta)
http://www.energy.alberta.ca/

Alberta Energy Regulator (formerly the ERCB)
http://www.aer.ca

Clean Air Strategic Alliance (CASA)
http://casahome.org

National Energy Board of Canada (NEB)
http://www.neb-one.gc.ca/index-eng.html

Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP)
http://www.capp.ca

Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA)
http://www.cosia.ca

Canadian Energy Pipeline Association
http://www.cepa.com

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Alternatives to Fossil Fuels: An overview

June 24, 2015
Wind farm in central Montana. Photo SB Davis

Wind farm in central Montana. Photo SB Davis

Recently I discussed the G-7 pledge to decarbonize our economies by 2100. As a follow up let’s talk about energy sources and fuels able to take the place of carbon-based ones like coal, crude oil, and natural gas. Remember we have to find something that will power our automobiles and trucks, heat our homes and power our cities. Whatever it is must be non-polluting, not produce greenhouse gases, be abundant, cheap and easy to produce, transport and store.

Hydrogen:

The best candidate is hydrogen the most abundant element in the universe. Hydrogen fuel cells are already in use powering vehicles, cars, trucks and buses. There are rumours in the automotive world BMW is planning to introduce a hydrogen powered car in the near future.

The challenge is the ability to produce, transport and store hydrogen safely and cheaply. In the United States the Department of Energy (DOE) has been conducting feasibility studies for many years into the use of hydrogen as a fuel and energy source that could replace fossil fuels. In Canada, and British Columbia in particular, there are buses and cars being operated using hydrogen fuel cells as the power source.

The biggest drawback right now is the lack of infrastructure. There are only a few filling stations dispensing hydrogen for vehicles. Best of all vehicles powered by hydrogen are 100% non-polluting. The by-product is water. However it does take energy to obtain hydrogen.

Nuclear Energy:

Nuclear power generation supplies roughly 20% of the energy needs of the United States today. Energy produced by nuclear means is clean and non-polluting. The major disadvantage is the need for safe, secure long-term storage of the radioactive waste produced.

Solar Power:

Power from our sun has great potential, but technology needs to be developed further to make it a viable source as a replacement. Solar is being used to generate power at many locations around the world. Solar panels are used to heat water and supply power to remote locations.

If all the solar energy the sun bombards our Earth with could be captured it would exceed the world’s energy needs 10,000 times over. It is an inexhaustible supply of free energy, but it has to be captured and stored economically and efficiently.

Wind Power:

Power from the wind is at first glance a viable option, but it is restricted because it is intermittent. The number of wind turbines needed to generate massive amounts of energy is prohibitive. It’s definitely a power source that should be in the mix, but realistically not a great alternative to fossil fuel by itself. The wind turbines are considered unsightly by many and the blades kill many birds.

Others:

Hydro-electric, Tidal and Geo-thermal power are all site-specific meaning they can’t be generated everywhere. Also the sources of these types of power are limited. So although good clean, economic sources of energy their use is restricted to local areas.

I believe over the long-term fossil fuels can be largely replaced, but much work remains to be done. These research and feasibility studies must be continued. In parallel with the use of fossil fuels. Society must prepare for the day when we can decarbonize our economies. Our long term future depends on it. Meanwhile fossil fuels are here to stay. We need to use them wisely and reduce their footprint.


Hillcrest Mine Disaster: 100 Years

June 21, 2014
The site of mass grave in Hillcrest Cemetery. Coffins were laid side by side in the grave. Photo Steve B. Davis, 2012

The site of mass grave in Hillcrest Cemetery. Coffins were laid side by side in the grave. Photo Steve B. Davis, 2012

One hundred years ago on June 19, 1914 Canada’s worst mine disaster changed the Village of Hillcrest, Alberta forever. At about 9 a.m. a massive explosion thundered through the mine. Of the 235 men working the morning shift 189 were killed. In a few seconds wives became widows and children lost fathers. The Pass was rocked to its core.

The Crowsnest Pass in Southern Alberta was and is still coal mining country. In 1914 coal was king. Virtually everything ran on coal, trains, heating for houses and industry. Demand was high and the Pass had many mines employing thousands.

I visited the area recently and took in the history. I stood beside the massive grave site in Hillcrest Cemetery. It shocked me how many men were buried there. The entire Pass area reeks of history. Visit soon to take in this fascinating history and beautiful scenery.

Memorial in the cemetery erected to honour the miners. Photo Steve B. Davis, 2012

Memorial in the cemetery erected to honour the miners. Photo Steve B. Davis, 2012

Here are some links I recommend to learn more about this tragedy and the history of the times. I especially suggest the Crowsnest Pass Museum in Coleman. They have exhibits on coal mining and the disaster in Hillcrest. They are also stewarding the centennial remembrances.

Crowsnest Pass Museum, Coleman, Alberta
Centenary of Hillcrest Mine Disaster
Hillcrest Mine Disaster
Discover Crowsnest Pass Heritage

 


Alberta Birds of Prey Centre – Coaldale, Alberta

August 16, 2013
Image

My daughter handling a Great Horned Owl which is the Provincial bird of Alberta. His name was Gordon.

Located in Coaldale, 10 minutes east of Lethbridge, Alberta on Highway #3 is a gem of an attraction. It’s the Alberta Birds of Prey Nature Centre. This is a nationally recognized conservation centre.

When injured, orphaned or distressed wildlife need help the centre offers a place to go for help. Volunteers are on call every day of the year to respond. The centre makes every effort to rehabilitate and release to the wild, but if this is not possible then they have a home and are well cared for. The resident birds serve to educate the public and raise awareness of the value of these predator birds.

Visitors experience close-up encounters with hawks, falcons, eagles and owls. They get an opportunity to see first-hand the centre’s rescue, captive breeding and public education programs. Daily flight demonstrations will awe the visitor. Wait until you see one of these magnificent birds fly. Interactive experiences are available. You can hold one of these birds on your arm and marvel close-up eye-to-eye.

I recently visited the centre with my children and came away thrilled by the experience, more than that we gained a greater appreciation of these birds.  I invite you to visit and have this experience for yourself.  You’ll be enriched for it.

Admission Prices: (as per the latest brochure – August 2013)
Adults                   $8.50
Seniors 65+         $7.50
Students (6-18)   $5.50
Youth (3 – 5)        $4.50
Under 3                No charge

Note: The centre operates without subsidies. Donations are needed to ensure the good work continues.
(Charity BN/Registration # 896535895RR001)

Hours of Operation:        9:30 to 5:00 p.m.  May 10th to September 10th

Contact:
Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation
P.O. Box 1030
Coaldale, Alberta  T1M 1M8

403-345-4262
http://www.burrowingowl.com


Extreme speed + extreme stupidity

July 16, 2013
Image

No problem with speeding in these days.

Speeding at extreme speeds, more than 30 km/h over the limit, has become a serious problem in the Province of Alberta. These individuals not only put their own lives at risk, but those of others. A couple of examples will serve to illustrate this stupidity.

In the first example police stopped a black Mercedes SUV (sport utility vehicle) for speeding. Nothing unusual about that you say. Well in this case they ticketed the individual for driving more than 50 km/h (30 mph) over the posted speed limit. They clocked the SUV at 152 km/h (94 mph) in a 100 km/h (60 mph) zone.

The road in question is paved, but runs through a farming area with lots of intersections. At the time of the infraction police cited poor weather conditions, heavy fog and light rain with snow on the road.

Taking all this into account it seems to me this driver was being extremely foolish. Being foolish with their own life would be bad enough, but in this case even more so. Riding in the vehicle at the time was a father, his wife, with three children of theirs, and another child. The children were between the ages of four and 11. The driver was the father.

Next we have a man ticketed for driving his car at 180 km/h (112 mph) in a 100 km/h (60 mph) zone. Again it was on a paved secondary highway, but with lots of intersections and hills. In this case no one else was in the vehicle except the male driver. His excuse? He had just washed his car and was drying it off. Needless to say police weren’t sympathic. For this he received a $800 fine and a 45-day driving suspension.

What will it take to pound some sense into the brains of these drivers? Right now the penalty for driving more than 50 km/h (30 mph) over the posted limit is a heavy fine, driving suspension and demerit points. The ticketed drivers also must appear in court before a judge. They are not allowed to plead and mail the fine in as with an ordinary speeding ticket. Hopefully, it won’t take a horrific accident with multiple innocent lives loss before action is taken.


Alberta Lawman: Stephen Lawson – His Life and Times

July 9, 2012

Steve Lawson being laid to rest with full military honours. Photo A4826 Provincial Museum of Alberta

Ninety years ago this September, in fact on Monday September 25, 1922, a somber event took place at Macleod, Alberta. It was the funeral of Stephen O. Lawson. The town said goodbye to its former Chief of Police. His wife Maggie and their five young children Stephen, Peggy, Mary, Pearl and Kathleen said goodbye to their husband and father. Never again would his loving wife Maggie have her life partner to hold and confide in. Never again would his children have him to love and cherish.

Constable Steve Lawson of the Alberta Provincial Police was gunned down in cold-blood on the previous Thursday evening September 21, 1922 outside his home and office at Coleman, Alberta. His wife and children witnessed his murder. When he collapsed fatally wounded and bleeding his family saw it all. They watched in horror as the life left his body.

The so-called rum runners of the Crowsnest Pass killed him in their thirst for profit in the illegal liquor trade of the Prohibition Era.

That Monday at Macleod, where Steve had been on the police force from 1908 until 1920, and chief for most of those years, the town and his family buried him in Union Cemetery with full military honours. Flags were flown at half-staff, most businesses closed, and schools dismissed such was the respect they had for one of their own.

During his time in Macleod he met and married Maggie Rae McKenzie. There beginning in 1908 they had five children. The older children attended school in Macleod. Steve and Maggie took active roles in the community belonging to the Masons and other organizations.

In Alberta history Steve Lawson seems to be only a footnote, but there was much more to this man. He emigrated from England in 1903. Settling in Macleod he worked briefly for the RNWMP as a Special Constable, Teamster, then he joined the Macleod Police force as a night constable and later became its chief.

In 1916 he volunteered and went overseas with the CEF in World War I. He attained the rank of Sergeant, was wounded, and won the Military Medal for valor. He returned to Macleod as Chief of Police in 1919, but left to take the same position in Fernie, BC in May 1920. Then in March 1922 he was hired by the Alberta Provincial Police and posted to Coleman in the Crowsnest Pass. There he met his demise at the hands of the smugglers.

Steve B. Davis
Calgary, AB, June 2012
Synopsis from his soon to be published book,
“Alberta Lawman: Stephen Lawson – His Life and Times”


High Level Bridge at Lethbridge: longest-highest of its kind in the world

July 28, 2011

High Level Railway Bridge-Lethbridge

I’m in Lethbridge, Alberta this week while my wife attends university. My exploring has taken me to the Galt Museum and Archives (www.galtmuseum.com) which concentrates on the history of the area and it is fascinating.

Today I’ll tell you about the longest-highest railway bridge of its kind in the world, the CP Rail High Level Bridge. Completed in 1909 it was built to replace 20 wooden bridges and shortened an existing route from Fort McLeod to Lethbridge. It spans the Oldman River valley. The construction of the bridge was named a National Historic Event in 2005.

Length: 1 mile, 47 feet
Height: 314 feet
Cost in 1909: $1,334,525

Time to complete: 2-years (some delays due to flooding in 1908)

Unique feature: Railway track is nestled between two girder beams instead of running on top of them. This makes it practically impossible for derailed cars to leave the bridge deck.

This bridge is very much in use today and is inspected regularly.

Recommended reading:
Canadian Pacific Railway High Level Bridge at Lethbridge, Johnston, Dr. Alex, Occasional Paper #46 published by Lethbridge Historical Society, 2008


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