06 June 2007
Oooh -- Enviro-news!
Massive plan would capture carbon
A 14-company group has a blueprint for making Canada a world leader in underground disposal of carbon-dioxide emissions blamed for global warming. "We could do it in five years if we started today," said Stephen Kaufman, a Suncor Energy executive who is chairman of Integrated Carbon Dioxide Network or ICO2N for short. The group proposes a national greenhouse-gas collection, pipeline and storage grid with roots in the Alberta oil industry and branches across the country from British Columbia to Nova Scotia. The technology -- known as carbon capture and storage, or CCS -- is proven to work. Since the 1970s, a 3,980-kilometre pipeline grid in Colorado, New Mexico and Texas has delivered millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide for injections into oil reservoirs to keep aging wells flowing. A 330-kilometre pipeline transports carbon dioxide from a coal plant in North Dakota to southern Saskatchewan for similar life-extending injections into EnCana's half-century-old Weyburn oilfield. Monitoring by an international scientific team since the Canadian project started operating in the late 1990s has confirmed the greenhouse gas stays underground in the geological formation after oil is pumped out. But prolonged studies and regional uses of the technology also taught its supporters an inconvenient truth. Going green on the large scale required to make a significant contribution to climate-change policy will be expensive.
Besides his Suncor, the group includes Agrium, Air Products Canada, Canadian Natural Resources, ConocoPhillips, Epcor, Husky Energy, Imperial Oil, Keyera, Nexen, Shell Canada, Sherritt International, Syncrude Canada and TransAlta. PM Stephen Harper made a down payment when he visited Edmonton in March to announce a $155.9-million federal grant and creation of a task force to study creation of a large carbon pipeline and storage network. But much more is sought. Building the national greenhouse-gas disposal grid would burn cash like an oilsands megaproject, say research council estimates. Federal and provincial governments would put in more than $5 billion if they agreed to split two-thirds of the network's costs and industry paid the remaining one-third, Gunter's teams estimated in a detailed 2005 study. Harper's contribution to date works out to about 3% of the proposed government share in costs of the carbon disposal network. Alberta has yet to make commitments beyond supporting Gunter's research.
The ICO2N plan calls for a web to gather carbon dioxide processed into concentrated form from industrial emissions sites across Canada such as oilsands, power, natural gas processing, petrochemical, metal, forest products and cement plants. The industry group and the research council envision the grid as making a modest start in central Alberta, helped by sales of carbon dioxide to oil companies for injections into aging wells. The carbon capture and storage web would expand by stages over a 10-year period across Alberta and into BC, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia. An international dimension would eventually be added, with pipeline branches delivering greenhouse-gas deposits from Central Canada into geological reservoirs in Michigan, Illinois and Ohio.
(Edmonton Journal 070606)
Cheap like we're used to? - not. Complicated, convoluted and expensive? - yes. We've never before in the history of economic expansion ever had to invest as much (or more) into disposing of our industrial outputs as we have investing in our profit-making inputs...typically it's been much, much less intentionally. There's a sea change in how things are done --culpability for the crap we spill out the backside -- the reckoning is nigh!
Where will all the sulphur go?
Along with the mid-20th-century explosion in world consumption of fossil fuels has come a burgeoning by-product, bright yellow elemental sulphur refined out of the hydrocarbons taken from the bowels of the Earth for fuel. There are blocks of it, trainloads of it, 50,000-tonne marine bulk carriers crammed with it. Millions of tonnes are stacked up in specially formed granules and pellets, or piped and hauled as a liquid. Sulphur is removed from oil, natural gas and bitumen to protect human, animal and plant health from the effects of sulphur dioxide and other compounds produced when fuel is burned. While those compounds are toxic, the sulphur itself is harmless when separated in its pure, elemental form. Alberta has about 12 million tonnes of sulphur stockpiled, according to market information experts PentaSul. Although production from gas plants is declining, it is growing exponentially from the oilsands. PentaSul calculates there was 1.45 million tonnes of sulphur produced from the oilsands in 2005. The Alberta Energy and Utilities Board pegs Alberta's 2015 output at 4.1 million tonnes per year. The Alberta Chamber of Resources predicts output could reach 10 to 12 million tonnes by 2030.
Upgrader plants remove about 90% of the sulphur in bitumen as they produce refinery-ready synthetic oil, and new processes are raising the percentage, the energy board says. Concern about where all the sulphur is going to go has been growing along with the number of applications to build upgraders between Fort McMurray and Edmonton. There's no infrastructure for moving it out. Although prices have improved this year, the cost of trucking it to Edmonton and shipping it to West Coast ports still exceeds its market value. If refinery owners can't ship the sulphur anywhere, it's pointless to build the upgrader. They could readily move their plans to US locations, taking jobs and revenue with them. Canada handles six million tonnes a year of solid sulphur safely, but residents of the Edmonton-area counties where upgraders are being planned are worried about the unknowns and have safety concerns. The problem might be about to go away, though, with the approval in May of a West Coast sulphur handling and storage facility slated for Ridley Island, the industrial port at Prince Rupert, BC As the closest North American port to Asia by up to 58 hours of sailing time, Prince Rupert is ideally situated to allow Canada -- the leading exporter of sulphur globally -- to satisfy fully half of the demand of the No. 1 importer, China. It already services coal exports to China. A high-capacity container terminal with an extensive rail yard is under construction at Prince Rupert. The port will readily accommodate CN tanker cars filled with molten sulphur. Construction of Phase 1 is to be completed late this year.
The Ridley Island terminal is the project of ICEC Terminals in collaboration with Crown corporation Ridley Terminals. ICECT is taking over a facility abandoned in mid-construction by Sulphur Corp. of Canada in 2001. The plan is to receive molten sulphur by railcar, unload it into a liquid sulphur storage pit, dry it into a soft solid, form it into prills (pellets) and load the dry bulk sulphur onto ocean vessels for export overseas. Capacity is to be 800,000 tonnes per year, potentially expanding to 1.4 million tonnes per year. ICECT and Ridley terminals' environmental assessment takes into account a multitude of considerations, including dust, sulphur compound vapour emissions and cross-contamination with other bulk products.
(Edmonton Journal 070606)
I think they should barge it all out to the North Pacific Gyre and use it as the base layer for our new floating resort! Once the layer of sulfur is down, we can lay the sand and voila! New vacation destination!
Green's call for carbon tax draws attacks
Elizabeth May's proposal of a $50-per-tonne carbon tax, which could drive up gasoline prices by 12¢ per litre, drove a wedge between her Green party and the other federal opposition parties. The proposed carbon tax, which could climb to $100 per tonne by 2020, is at the heart of a climate change plan unveiled by May that she called the only way to avert a climate catastrophe. Revenues from the new tax would be used to reduce income and payroll taxes, and to establish income supplements and other incentives to encourage deep reductions in the greenhouse gas pollution that is linked to global warming. "The fundamental key point is that we need carbon taxes," May told a news conference. "Right now, the Green Party of Canada is the only Canadian political party prepared to state this obvious reality. We will use those carbon taxes to reduce taxes elsewhere."
In Parliament, the Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois members agreed with the principle of May's plan, but distanced themselves from the idea of the carbon tax of $50 per tonne. "We support putting the charge, the financial charge, on to the back of the polluters," NDP leader Jack Layton said. "We're talking here about the big polluters that cause most of the pollution in Canada. That's the place to start." Even so, they stuck with their own joint proposal to create an investment fund to which companies could contribute at a rate of $20 to $30 per tonne in order to offset their pollution. Liberal leader Stephane Dion said the measure would not be a carbon tax because the money goes back to industry when they reduce their emissions. "We share the same goals but we have different means," Dion said. "What we propose, as you know, is a carbon budget -- a deposit that the industry would put in a green investment [fund] and the money would [go] back to the industry if they decrease their emissions. I think it would be much more effective than what she proposed, but we agree about the goal." The Conservative government has proposed to establish a technology fund that allows companies to offset their pollution at a cost starting at $15 per tonne over the next decade. It also sets limits that gradually decrease the amount they can contribute over time. A oil industry spokesman said May's plan was not realistic and would grind most of the economic activity in the country to a halt. (National Post 070606)
This is a great statement for a first step. We must wrest the control on this money from the polluters and bring it back to the people. The polluters need to pay a fair reflection of their true impact on the environment and society, which they have been able to avoid for decades.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. I think May and the Greens are on the right track, unfortunately they lack the clout to have a big voice in what the reality actually turns out to be. We probably need something more dramatic than even the Greens are proposing, however we will end up with something much less ballsy or effective.