I may be slightly behind on the news of this project, but it wasn’t until a recent lecture at my university on the state of global hydrocarbon reserves and extraction techniques, that I learnt of the proposed, and I believe now accepted Mackenzie Valley Pipeline, a massive 1,200km long natural gas pipeline running from North Canada to Alberta. I just wanted to highlight a few details regarding the project and its goal, even though the expect completion date has been set at 2014 and may very possibly be old news on the green network.
Due to the huge natural gas resources locked up in the Mackenzie Delta region, 6 trillion cubic feet at best estimates, companies such as Shell, Esso and ExxonMobil have been flocking to the area ever since the discovery of such vast reserves in the early 1970s. A volume of gas this large would be able to comfortably heat every gas-heated Canadian household for 6 years, or every equivalent American abode for a year and half. That is a hell of a lot of gas.
This gas will be transported south in various forms, namely liquified for quicker mobilisation, or as a gas for the last section of the pipeline, and carries as estimated CAN$7 billion price-tag, which will inevitably be breached. Not only this, but the first section of the line runs through what is ostensibly First Nation’s land, where many of the original aboriginal peoples inhabit today, and whose land has been ravaged by the white-man fossil fuel industry for decades already.
Because of this, the pipeline was proposed alongside agreement from the Aboriginal Pipeline Group, with the foreign players focusing heavily on the fact that thousands of jobs and a stimulation of the local economy would be priority, of course in return for the ownership and rights to build a whacking great pipeline through (once) pristine Canada and mine the ground to dust. However, considering the pipeline is now going ahead, I would assume the deal was enticing enough for them, but likely just as much a result of bullying into accepting the deal as it was pure acceptance.
What sticks most in the throat for me though, and in fairness, when put in the context of Canada’s recent environmental movements (out of Kyoto, tar sand priority etc) doesn’t actually surprise me, is what all this gas is being used for. The final destination, is that of NE Alberta, and the Athabasca tar sands. Yep, tar sands. The natural gas is being mainly used to extract oil from the tar sands, I am guessing through the burning of the gas to create the heats necessary to loosen up bitumen oils in the ground, allowing them to flow more easily to the surface.
As we all know, or should now be aware of, tar sand oil is 2-4 times more damaging and carbon-emmitting than standard oil extraction, and yet using natural gas reserves this large for the same purpose just seems to be kicking the Earth whilst it’s down, like Canada and the participating companies are sticking a middle finger up to climate change. Where this oil goes I’m unsure of, but we can al make our own firm guesses at that, but natural gas for tar sand oil? Doesn’t sound like a fair trade to me.
That gas should either be left in the ground, along with the tar sand oil, or it should be gradually extracted by the First Nations people as and when they need it, not for Esso or ExxonMobil. Of course, money makes the world go round, and Canada has plenty of scope for that.