Fire / Feu

                     

 

La dépendance
du Canada
sur les
combustibles
fossiles

"Des combustibles
fossiles abondants
et peu dispendieux
ont fourni l’énergie
pour l’épuisement
rapide des
ressources et pour
l’industrialisation
au Canada et à
travers la planète",
déclare l’auteure
Irene Novaczek.

Dans son article,
elle nous offre un
aperçu des
nombreux coûts
inhérents
(environnementaux,
sociaux,
économiques,
politiques), et elle
déclare que des
pertes sont
encourues à
chaque étape de
l’exploration, de
l’extraction, du
transport et de
l’utilisation des
combustibles
fossiles. 

Ce document
présente une
historique de
l’extraction et de
l’utilisation des
combustibles
fossiles au Canada,
jette un coup d’oeil
à la viabilité future
et offre plusieurs
autres solutions
utiles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Losses are incurred at every step of exploration, extraction, transportation and use of fossil fuels. Reducing our dependence on fossil fuels can provide not just the financial means but also the political and social space for development of more sustainable human communities.

===========

 

Canada's Fossil Fuel
Dependency

Dr. Irene Novaczek
Earth Action PEI
September 2000

 

bundant and cheap fossil fuels have provided the energy for rapid resource depletion and industrialization in Canada and across the globe, resulting in what many perceive 

====   Save Our Seas & Shores, Halifax NS  Oct. 3, 2000  ====


(photo: Roger Davies)

to be our "advanced' material civilization, replete with modern technologies, physical comforts and consumerism. What is often not properly acknowledged, or even recognized, are the many costs: environmental, social, economic and political. Losses are incurred at every step of exploration, extraction, transportation and use of fossil fuels. Reducing our dependence on fossil fuels can provide not just the financial means but also the political and social space for development of more sustainable human communities. This will in turn allow for the survival and prosperity of the many other species that enrich and enable our lives and livelihoods.

Fossil fuels : finite and non-renewable

Fossil fuels comprise coal, oil and natural gas.
All fossil fuels are literally "fossils", i.e., the remains of thick layers of either land vegetation or marine plankton that died millions of years ago and were then buried and folded into the earth, heated and compressed to be transformed into either a type of sedimentary rock (coal) or deposits of liquid hydrocarbons (oil and gas). Depending on the original vegetation type and the geological history, different deposits of coal, oil and gas end up with different chemical compositions and heating values. Thus, some deposits are relatively rich in sulfur, others are more or less endowed with heavy metals such as arsenic and mercury. 

The most desirable product, a low-sulfur, free flowing oil, is relatively rare because this develops only under a narrow range of pressure and temperature conditions. Because it has taken literally millions of years for most fossil fuel deposits to develop, and because they were formed during periods of intense vegetative development that differ from current conditions, these deposits, like metals, are finite and effectively non-renewable. There is a limited amount present in the earth’s crust and once that has been mined, there will be no more. However, running out of fossil fuels is actually not our most serious concern. Current science indicates that the impacts of climate change will be severe and probably irreversible if we burn more than one quarter of the known commercial reserves. So, we need to stop exploring for fossil fuels we can never hope to use, and start investing seriously in the alternatives.

History of fossil fuel extraction
and use in Canada

Coal has been mined in Canada since the first mine opened at Grand Lake, N.B. in 1639, but true commercial production in NB began in 1825. However, 97% of Canada's coal deposits are actually in the western provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, and this is currently the source of over 90% of the coal mined in the country. Up until the 1950's, when oil and gas squeezed coal out of many markets, coal was the primary source of fuel for home heating, industrial energy and transportation. Coal now supplies only 11% of Canada’s energy, and it is used mostly in coal-fired power plants. Because the major coal deposits are far from Ontario’s industrial heartland, almost half of the coal burned in Canada is imported from the United States, to save on transportation costs.

Oil replaced coal as Canada’s most important fuel after World War II. In addition to standard oil deposits, synthetic crude oil is also refined from bitumen, or tar sands deposits in Alberta. The tar sands represent a major fuel reserve, but generating oil from the bitumen is still prohibitively expensive. It is also environmentally unacceptable because of the large-scale habitat destruction and atmospheric emissions associated with extracting and refining the bitumen.

Since the 1970's, natural gas has gained importance. Prior to the rapid petroleum price increase of the 70's, natural gas had been treated as a waste product of oil wells and simply burned off. Since then, transportation pipelines and storage systems have been built, and this fuel is now replacing oil for industrial, residential and commercial heating, as well as for petrochemical production. Recently, large reserves of natural gas have been identified, first in the west, then offshore of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and in the Arctic.

Fossil fuels and future sustainability

Clearly, the exploration, development and use of fossil fuels conflicts in many ways with other, potentially sustainable economic activities that are based on renewable resources such as farming, fishing, forestry and tourism. Looking at Atlantic Canada in particular, serious concerns have already been raised by fishermen, First Nations, tourism operators and environmentalists about the proposed development of oil and gas in the sensitive fishing grounds of the southern Gulf of St Lawrence. The proposed petroleum development areas support roughly 20,000 fishery workers and include important migratory corridors for fishes and marine mammals as well as fish spawning and nursery habitats.

There are alternatives to fossil fuels and their associated petrochemicals that are more earth-friendly and that still allow for jobs and economic activity. Also, since fossil fuels are a finite resource it makes strategic sense to prepare for a world where they are no longer available. We should see this challenge as an opportunity. Once we free our minds to envision a future where personal development, health, good governance, regional self-sufficiency and biodiversity are the intentional goals, we can go about replacing our stressful, destructive, highly centralized and consumption-driven systems. There are wonderful opportunities to rethink and rebuild human communities and their transportation, waste management and heating systems, and to rehabilitate and conserve agricultural soil, fresh water, forests, oceans and wildlife habitats.


(photo: Roger Davies)

Various studies performed by the United States government show that the benefits of reducing fossil fuel consumption far outweigh the costs. Oil industry lobbyists insist that economic losses to the oil industry will damage our economy. However, even the most vocal admit that there will be growth in manufacturing and production of electricity as well as increased service sector employment once we begin a serious move to alternative energy. The move will have the added benefits of improved energy efficiency, cleaner air and water and food, and lower costs to many economic sectors.

The road to sustainability will not be easy and we will not reach our goals overnight. There is tremendous money and power in the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries. Corporations will continue to deny impacts, delay action, divide the opposition by pitting jobs against the environment, dump banned substances on developing countries and try to dupe us all using well-crafted layers of "greenwash". As pointed out in the recent report from Canada’s Commissioner on Sustainability, our federal government is failing miserably to address the issue of fossil fuel consumption. There are lots of promises and paper plans but precious little action. This is in spite of public opinion polls that show that Canadians do not want the reputation of shirking our responsibility of dealing with climate change and pollution. Many people assume that cars are becoming more efficient but the data proves that in the absence of regulation, this is not happening. Car fuel efficiency in Canada has remained unchanged for years because consumers have moved to higher performance vehicles like SUVs. To move this issue forward will take the concerted and determined efforts of ordinary citizens motivated by a common vision of a sustainable future.

We must change our consumer patterns by rejecting petroleum products in favour of available alternatives, by recycling glass, paper and aluminum to save energy and by reducing personal fuel consumption, but we must also demand government support and direct action at the federal policy level.