I hate to send this out on Christmas Eve! But it’s very important and I get too far behind if I don’t.
There is another aspect: The Christmas solstice marks the end of the long nights. Each day now, there is more light. The birth of a child marks the beginning of the incredible new potential that is the grace of our human existence, whether our “birth” or coming into consciousness happens on day 1 or at age 03, 13, 23, 33, 43, 53, 63, 73, 83, 93 or 103.
The original title of this was The party’s over, Saskatchewan. Yes, in Saskatchewan it would be VERY advantageous if we came to see the light,
RIGHT NOW! But the world is impacted, wherever you may live.
Biographical notes on Richard Heinberg are at http://www.richardheinberg.com/bio.
Richard is from California. I heard him speak at the NFU (National Farmers Union) Convention, end of November in Saskatoon. I will be reading one of his books during the holidays.
John/Jack Warnock attended Richard’s presentation in Regina. Many thanks to Jack for the following clear (as always) elaboration. (Jack Warnock has been in our network for a number of years, an accomplished, thoughtful and under–stated teacher, author, and community activist. http://www.johnwarnock.ca/)
May you, each and every one be blest in this season and onward.
I was thinking the other day how blest I am. … what causes the thought?
… it comes after I think about a connection with people like yourself. I am enriched by you, and that gives me the sense of being blessed. Which I truly am.
Richard Heinberg: “How Will You Heat Your Homes in Saskatchewan?”
by John W. Warnock
Thursday, 30 November 2006
Heinberg: The party’s over, Saskatchewan.
Last night 350 people braved the cold in Regina and went to hear Richard Heinberg, one of North America’s top experts on the oil and gas industry. He presented data showing the disappearance of oil and natural gas on a world wide basis and in particular in North America. He pointed out that the best geological research in Canada predicts a fairly rapid decline in natural gas production in the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin. He asked: “What are people in Saskatchewan going to do as the supply of natural gas declines and prices start to dramatically increase?” Click on ‘read more’ below for a full report on his talk.
He is dead right on this. In October Natural Resources Canada released its new study: Canada’s Energy Outlook: The Reference Case 2006. While predicting the demand for natural gas to steadily increase by around 1.2% per year, they expect that conventional natural gas production will peak in
2006 and then start to decline. The extraction of coal bed methane gas will increase, but it cannot begin to replace the loss of conventional natural gas.
Shipments of natural gas to Eastern Canada will have to decline, hopefully replaced by imports of liquified natural gas (LNG). The Mackenzie Valley Pipeline will be built and this gas will be available for customers on the prairies. But Natural Resources Canada ignores the fact that all of this gas is expected to be used to expand the extraction of tar sands oil, to be exported to the United States.
So what are Canadians going to do? Natural Resources Canada projects that net exports of natural gas to the United States will decline from 3,700 billion cubic feet in 2005 to 1,300 billion cubic feet by 2020. As Heinberg reminded us last night, there is the unpleasant fact of the proportionality sharing clause in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). This states that Canada cannot reduce its exports to the United States below the average of the most recent three years. We are dreamers, he suggested, if we believe that the U.S. government will be willing give this up.
The production treadmill
If you ask anyone in the NDP government, or the opposition parties, they will say that the oil and gas industries are booming in Saskatchewan. We have never had it better. We have good reserves of heavy oil. Bids for exploration and development are rising. Many more natural gas wells are being drilled. But what does this really mean?
Between 1995 and 2003 natural gas production in Saskatchewan reached a production plateau, averaging about 285 billion cubic feet per year. But over that period the number of new gas wells drilled rose from 268 in 1995 to 2314 in 2003.
This follows the pattern of peak oil and gas seen in the United States and elsewhere. As we run out of natural gas, many more wells have to be drilled just to maintain existing production. New wells produce for a much shorter period, now with 50% of total production occurring in the first year. In Saskatchewan regulations used to specify that only one well could be drilled on every section of land. Now in the Hatton district in the Southwest corner of the province, the norm is between four and eight wells per section, and in special cases permission is given to drill twelve.
This is not an oil and gas boom, it is a sign of a collapsing industry.
The rapid increase in the drilling of such marginal wells is only made possible by the existence of monopoly or excess profits, which have occurred over the past three years. Oil and gas corporations are awash in retained earnings and have relatively few places to invest to rebuild their reserves.
Of course we are all paying for this through the tripling of oil and gas prices over the past three years.
Heinberg stressed that we need to press hard on this issue. Around 80% of us have natural gas heating. Natural Resources Canada projects that between 2005 and 2020 the production of natural gas in Saskatchewan will decline by 75%. This fact seems to have escaped all of our local politicians as well as those people in charge of Sask Energy and Sask Power.
What are the alternatives?
There are good alternatives, which Heinberg outlined. We know them from the studies done by the Saskatchewan Energy Development and Conservation Authority, before it was abolished by the NDP government in 1995. It starts with serious conservation programs, the promotion of energy efficiency, and the introduction of demand management programs. We have excellent wind and solar potential. Biomass in the North can provide heat and electricity.
Burning coal for electricity can be reduced through the progressive introduction of switchgrass and fast growing trees, which are planted on marginal land and do not take away from the production of food. Geothermal heating can be greatly expanded. Electricity can be used to support transportation by public transit and trains. Automobiles can be built that are much more efficient. But all of these options take time to develop. When the crunch comes, as it certainly will, we can have rationing, as we had in World War II. But given the current political climate, most likely we will get rationing according to ability to pay.
Peak oil and gas is occurring right as we are beginning to experience the cost of fossil fuel development: greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Heinberg stressed that we will have to reduce our general consumption levels and start to produce food for local consumption. The looming crisis requires a decentralization of energy production to local communities, not new centralized “clean coal” megaprojects. North American integration, pushed hard by President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, is the wrong approach in a period of uncertain climate. What would happen in Saskatchewan if we had an ice storm in the winter and much of the province had no electricity for days?
As we found out in the last municipal election, there is little concern over these very important developing issues. Business as usual prevails in all the corridors of power. We continue to build larger houses for smaller families. Urban sprawl, dependent on automobiles, marches on. The giant box stores and chains, so admired by our local politicians, promise us that everything we need can be supplied from China or Vietnam. As Heinberg argued, it is time to start thinking about the future we are giving our children and grandchildren.
John W. Warnock is the author of Selling the Family Silver: Oil and Gas Royalties, Corporate Profits, and the Disregarded Public, available on line at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
“It is easier to perceive error than to find truth, for error lies on the surface while truth lies in the depths, where few are willing to search for it.” Goethe