oil and gas

Canada inflating the carbon bubble

Progressives are people who advocate for change, improvement or reform. By that definition, governments elected by people in western Canada, provincial and federal, are anything but progressive when it comes to energy matters.

bubble 250Canada, British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan are today committed to pumping billions of dollars into the inevitable carbon bubble.

Delaying transition to renewables to extract additional wealth from fossil fuels is dangerous. Smarter people than Trudeau, Horgan, Notley and Moe prefer a different approach.

A few years ago, companies representing trillions of dollars of investors’ assets wrote letters asking non-renewable resource companies to reconsider plans to develop new capacity. Fast Company, an American business magazine, reported:

…the coalition of 70 investors has become convinced that fossil fuel companies might not even get to burn the reserves they already hold. Maybe not in five or 10 years, but perhaps in 20 or 30, the pure mathematics of the situation could eventually cause the sectors’ market value to plummet—at least if companies stay on the path that many are on today.

…reserves of untapped fossil fuel assets could be left “stranded” in the ground. Investment bank HSBC believes that some companies could lose 40% to 60% of their market value in this kind of situation…

Fossil-fuel companies won’t necessarily be doomed by climate change, however, the investors’ letter notes. The ones that plan their strategies well and make investments in emerging alternative energy sources, as some already have been, could be well positioned to emerge in an energy economy dominated by what are considered “alternative” sources of energy today.

Respected scientific journal Nature published an academic paper Macro economic impact of stranded fossil fuel assets that begins:

Several major economies rely heavily on fossil fuel production and exports, yet current low-carbon technology diffusion, energy efficiency and climate policy may be substantially reducing global demand for fossil fuels. This trend is inconsistent with observed investment in new fossil fuel ventures, which could become stranded as a result…

According to the researchers, a global financial crisis could result.

The Guardian discusses fossil fuel prospects:

The existence of a “carbon bubble” – assets in fossil fuels that are currently overvalued because, in the medium and long-term, the world will have to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions – has long been proposed by academics, activists and investors. …a sharp slump in the value of fossil fuels would cause this bubble to burst…

…detailed simulations found the demand drop would take place even if major nations undertake no new climate policies, or reverse some previous commitments.

That is because advances in technologies for energy efficiency and renewable power, and the accompanying drop in their price, have made low-carbon energy much more economically and technically attractive.

Dr Jean-François Mercure, the lead author, from Radboud and Cambridge universities, told the Guardian: “This is happening already – we have observed the data and made projections from there. With more policies from governments, this would happen faster. But without strong [climate] policies, it is already happening. To some degree at least you can’t stop it. But if people stop putting funds now in fossil fuels, they may at least limit their losses.”

Of course there is a different path for Canadians to follow. Instead of expanding tar sands production and investing billions in a pipeline with no strong business case, taxpayers could be financing clean renewables.

The Guardian reports Martin Green, director of the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics, won a valuable global energy prize from a shortlist that included Tesla’s Elon Musk. Said Professor Green:

…things have changed with solar and that it’s the best option out there. That’s an important message to get out.

If you look at the figures from the last few years, growth has consistently stayed at around 40% a year. If it keeps growing at that rate, we’re looking at hitting a terawatt of solar production in 2024.

Even if it slows to growth of 20% a year, we are on track to reach production levels of a TW a year in the late 2020s. And that’s the area where you can really start cutting greenhouse gases.

There’s a growing consensus that we’re going to get most of our energy out of solar down the track.

David Suzuki, The Guardian, Oil may be Canada’s past, but we cannot let it be our future:

There’s a lot of fear and insecurity around moving away from an industry that’s been an important economic driver for decades. Change, after all, is hard.

Yet the rest of the world is proving that now is the time to transition – fairly and justly, including all citizens – into a clean and sustainable renewable energy economy.

Governments are sometimes said to be investors “of last resort”. That is, if a government is the only willing investor in a project or product, its private sector viability is lacking.

The Canadian government’s decision to buy and take over Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline project may go down in history as a massive misstep, not just because of the questionable business case, but also for the inherent environmental risks and lack of consideration for the rights and title of indigenous peoples during this so-called “age of reconciliation” in Canada.

The project puts Canada’s climate and biodiversity goals, long-term economic prosperity and indigenous reconciliation efforts at risk. No matter who builds the pipeline, these risks remain unchanged…

Categories: oil and gas

4 replies »

  1. The struggle between those in the hydrocarbon business and those seeking to move into the 21st century and into renewables is only getting underway in earnest.
    You know of my request of two weeks ago for a meeting with Andrew and his fellow greens to discuss likely commercial sabotage by BC Hydro of anyone trying to establish serious “Green Electricity” investments in BC.
    At the small scale “Net Metering” is being withdrawn now.
    This request was a test of just how serious the Greens are about their view of our future and so far they are failing to convince me.
    No intelligent investor is likely to commit money if they sense that there is a good chance they may get singled out for financial penalties. We know it has happened in Arizona and the victim had to take the fight into court. That maybe affordable for Tesla but not for most others.
    Keep up the good work Norm


  2. Norm has demonstrated that the B.C. government has dammed the public’s revenue stream from fossil fuels. They pay almost nothing in royalties and next to nothing for rights. Additionally, producers are exempt from paying provincial sales taxes and GST on many of their purchases. We can’t know the amount of corporate taxes they pay but globalization ensures that is likely minimal.

    At the National Observer, financial expert and economist Robyn Allen explains the dollar costs carried by taxpayers so the oil & gas industry can flourish. Little public revenue and high public costs make this not a pretty picture.

    While there may be few financial benefits from expanded fossil fuel production, all credible climate scientists (and honest laypeople) know there is a significant environmental cost.

    Special interests are waging war against the rest of us and our governments, Liberal Conservative and NDP, are helping them.


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