Making the Connections

I own a small woodlot in Cumberland County; it's a small island of forest in a sea of clearcuts. Most of the clearcut land around me is owned by the Irving forestry interests or the Crown, and other parts are owned by non-resident and dis-interested folk who probably have never visited their woodlot more than once in their lives.

There are two big pressures on the forests in my neighbourhood: one is government policy, and the other is energy prices.

This blog explores the intersection of those two pressures.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Looting our Crown Lands

Minister Tobin and the press
Have we learned nothing from the collapse of the northern cod stocks?

Everyone knows that the cod fishery of Canada's East Coast collapsed in the early 1990's, and while many are prepared to blame this on the warming of the oceans I think that they know in their hearts that the stock was overfished. In the 1990's there were several technological advances that allowed nations to increase their catches of cod. The use of the GPS system allowed trawlers to know exactly where they were on the Grand Banks, the use of fish-finding sonar allowed them to find the fish easily and locate them in the water column, and the development of factory-freezer-trawlers allowed a ship to stay on the fishing grounds for a month or more, processing the cod just as soon as it could be hauled in. And they just took everything. The honking great nets scooped up every living thing in its way, and whatever fish they did not need or weren't allowed to take were simply thrown back overboard, dead or dying.

The northern cod stocks were fished by many nations but the most determined seemed to be the Spanish and Portuguese fleets. They had been fishing the Grand Banks for 400 years and they were not prepared to let anyone or any international body tell them to stay away, and if the cod stocks were in decline they were darn sure that they were going to get their share before the fish were gone.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Our Natural Gas Curse (2)

From Encana Corp
Until very recently, the market for natural gas was pretty much the continent on which the gas was found. The market for crude oil is the whole world because the oil can be poured into tankers and shipped anywhere, but natural gas mostly travels by pipeline and so is much more restricted. Gas can be liquefied and shipped around the world but that becomes a whole different market.

The price for natural gas on continental North America is most often set at Henry, Louisiana - the Henry Hub. Many pipelines meet here, and many contracts for gas are settled here, either by taking delivery of the gas or rolling the contract over for another month. The price of gas has been settling lately between $2.50 and $3 per thousand cubic feet. Natural gas is considered fungible - one bit of gas is as good as another - so the gas that a producer puts into the pipeline system may not be the same molecules that the customer takes out at the other end. Of course, standards are maintained - the gas must be free of contaminants and must have a Btu content within a specified range.

Gas in North America is most often sold in quantities of 1,000 cu. ft. (Mcf), which contains approximately 1 million Btu's  (MMBtu's)     Another useful approximation is that 6,000 cu.ft. of gas has the same theoretical  energy  content as a barrel of crude oil. So, when natural gas is selling for $3 per Mcf it means that the gas is about equal to crude oil selling for $18. Crude oil has been selling in the $60 to $70 range this spring.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Our Natural Gas Problem

Nova Scotia's offshore natural gas fields have turned out to be a curse rather than a blessing. The promise of great volumes of cheap natural gas nearby has led to the buildout of a significant gas infrastructure within the province, and now that the offshore gas is nearly gone we are left with lots of buildings and industrial boilers fitted to consume more natural gas than we have access to, which means that in the dead of winter the price of gas spikes - not really spikes; more like skyrockets. That's never a good thing.

When the Sable Offshore gas finds were developed in the late 1990's there were no local markets for gas, as there had never been pipelines into the Maritimes to deliver the gas. Natural gas is ubiquitous in many other parts of the country - when my wife built a new home in Burlington, Ontario in the late 1990's there were three utilities laid down on her street as the subdivision was developed - water and sewer, electricity, and natural gas. The gas was used for space heating and cooling, hot water and a gas fireplace, and it was incredibly cheap. I expect that gas was mostly from western Canada, brought to Ontario by pipeline.

Five years later Beth had a new house built in a suburb of Dartmouth; no natural gas was available so the furnace burned oil, the fireplace burned propane and there was no air conditioning. There is still no gas in that neighbourhood.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Chipping Our Hardwood Forests for Newfoundland

Holyrood Thermal Generating Station (Google Earth)
Bob Bancroft has recently pointed out (Halifax Herald, 6 Feb) that the Point Tupper biomass generating station has quietly resumed full production, consuming 60 to 70 trailer loads of wood daily.

The Halifax newspaper has also reported that the Maritime Link is now in operation, working backwards from its design intention, and it now being used to ship power to Newfoundland. 

Newfoundland gets a lot of its power from smallish hydroelectric plants all around the island as well as a few oil-fired plants, but the largest and most important of their power plants is at Holyrood, just outside St John's.  This plant typically supplies 25% of the province's electricity, and sometimes as much as 40%. A few years ago one of the turbines went down in winter and customers were being forced to conserve power and reduce their demands until the repairs could be made.

This plant burns light oil, typically diesel fuel, although I seem to recall that at one time it was burning raw crude from one of their offshore wells.

Now, the plant has been idled because Newfoundland can import power from Nova Scotia across the Maritime link, the huge undersea cable that was to bring electricity from Muskrat Falls in Labrador to Nova Scotia. Muskrat Falls is not yet in operation so it appears that an equally good use of the Link is to provide electricity to Newfoundland, presumably at a lower cost than operating the oil plants at Holyrood.

Nova Scotia Power uses a mix of fuels to generate its electricity. They have a few small hydro plants, a tidal plant at Annapolis Royal, several coal burning plants, most notably at Trenton and Lingan, a natural gas/oil plant at Tuft's Cove in Dartmouth, and, of course, the biomass plant at Point Tupper. They tend to use the coal plants to service the base load - coal plants are slow to bring online and do best when they can just chug along day in and day out. Gas turbines are the most flexible, as they can be kept spinning (almost in idle) and can be brought on very quickly when the load spikes. (Even countries like Germany which get so much of their power from wind turbines have to keep gas turbines ticking over and ready to take up the load when the wind suddenly dies.)

The load managers at NS Power probably use sophisticated calculations to decide which power plants to use at any point in the day: factors might be current load, projected load, plant capital cost, plant availability, fuel costs, degree of utilisation (can we use each plant at peak efficiency?), geographic location, availability of power from the inter-provincial grid, and more. It does appear, though, that when all those calculations are done, it pays Nova Scotia Power to chip our old growth forests to fuel the biomass plant in order to sell power to Newfoundland. In purely dollar terms, it is cheaper to chip our forest than for Newfoundland to burn oil. I cannot imagine that there is a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from burning our forests instead of oil.

Bob Bancroft made an important point in his 6 February op-ed. He said that the decisions that are made about our forest are made by people, with names. Bancroft said he knew some of them. And some people in Nova Scotia have decided that it is acceptable to chip our hardwood forests and reduce the land to a moonscape in order to turn a dollar from Newfoundland. Natural gas is really expensive this month, but NS Power could sell coal or gas electricity to Newfoundland for a higher, fairer price, or Newfoundland could run their own oil plants. Is it really in Nova Scotia's best  interests to destroy our forests for Newfoundland's benefit?  

How do those people sleep at night?

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Frank Corbett Stayed-To-Do-Well Award

Just over forty years ago I worked in Frobisher Bay (as it was then known; Iqaluit now), a northern town of about 2500 people. About 1/3 of the residents were from South - we were mostly Hudson's Bay Company staff, school teachers, government employees, a few clergy. There were a number of small businesses around, and many were owned by folk who had come North to work for government at some level, and ended up in their own business. Their best customers were always the government. There was a phrase we heard often: Came to do good, stayed to do well.

It's a phrase that has stayed with me these four decades, and it almost perfectly describes the political career of Frank Corbett, recently retired MLA for Cape Breton Centre. According to his official biography he was a TV cameraman at the CTV station in Sydney, and more importantly, he was a good union man, rising in the union ranks. Eventually he became an MLA, and then - wonder of wonders - in 2009 the NDP formed government and our shop steward became Deputy Premier among other jobs. His real job, as revealed by Graham Steele in his political memoirs, was to be the guardian of ideological purity in meetings where Premier Dexter was absent.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The New Face of Entitlement

Gary G. Clarke
There is a class struggle coming to Nova Scotia, but it won't be between the 1% and the 99%, as is happening in the USA. Instead, it will be between the civil service elites (which includes our MLA's) and the private sector taxpayers who actually pay the bills.

This man, Mr Clarke, is the recently retired Superintendent of Schools and CEO of the Chignecto Central Regional School Board (CCRSB). He is the man most responsible for the closing of the schools in Wentworth, River John and Maitland, and he is the one who set the tone for the whole school review process.

It is important to understand the school review process from the point-of-view of the communities involved. There was a regulated process that was to be followed, with the Board staff making the case for closing the schools and the community making the case for keeping the schools open, and the elected Board would make the final decision. But the whole process is predicated upon both sides acting in good faith. The communities have no power in such a process so we have to rely on the Board staff acting in good faith. The Board staff are under no compunction to actually do so, and so they didn't.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Expropriations, for the "Greater Good"

This is an important Letter to the Editor, written by Cleve Higgins, a member of the family who had their working tree farm in Mooseland expropriated by the NDP government of Nova Scotia in order that it could be turned over to a penny-stock mining company out of Australia.

It appeared in the Chronicle Herald on Saturday 16 August 2014. Reproduced here without permission.

Organize now against industry land grabs

An open-pit gold mine in Moose River; a gravel quarry in Fogartys' Cove. The com­mon thread is that they involve government expropriations on behalf of industrial extrac­tion companies. This poses a serious threat to landowner rights in Nova Scotia and to the health of the land and water.

There are only three laws in Nova Scotia that allow a private company to request a government-issued expropriation: the Min­eral Resources Act, the Petroleum Resource Act and the Pipelines Act. In other words, these extractive industries have a special status in the Nova Scotia legal system, with privileges that are granted to no one else.

This is what makes expropriations of the Fogarty family, or the Higgins family, legally possible. A real respect for the land and landowners’ rights demands an end to these expropriations. Of course, advocates for the extractive industry (including those em­ployed by the Department of Natural Re­sources) will argue, as they have recently done in this paper, that these expropriations of private land are extremely rare.

This hides the ugly truth on the ground, which is that companies use the threat of expropriation to pressure landowners into selling. If they’re going to take it anyway —
why not sell?

These laws get used when principled landowners are completely unwilling to sell land to an extractive company that is going to leave it irreparably scarred.

Furthermore, advocates for industry will argue that their projects are for the “public good," that it will mean jobs closer to home, so we won’t need to travel out west for work.

We can’t help but wonder what “public good" they are talking about. Nova Scotians whom we know appreciate things growing on the land, clean water, and the sustainable industries and tourism that depend on them. Some of us might go out west for work when we have to, but when we see the legacy of extractive industry — the black pits of tar sand extending to the horizon or the vast fracking zones — then we’re glad to come back to Nova Scotia, to the beautiful pieces of land we grew up on.

When advocates for extractive industry talk about the “public good," they’re refer­ring to one thing only: money. And most of that ends up in their own pockets. For the rest of us, their expropriations of the land never have been for the public good and it never will be.

We need to think ahead to what expropri­ation
for extractive industry is going to mean in the years to come. If shale-gas fracking is ever permitted in this province, then the Petroleum Resource Act will allow fracking companies to request expropriation of private land for their numerous drill pads and other facilities.

In Moose River, we made the mistake of waiting until the expropriation request came before we started fighting it. For all of you who are concerned about fracking, and who don’t want to see your land expropriated for a fracking drill pad or other extractive pro­ject, you need to start organizing now. Find out what projects might become active in your area, and talk to your neighbours about how you’re going to collectively refuse to allow your land to be taken.

Finally, we should all look to the inspiring example of the Mi’kmaq people, who have been respecting and defending this land for a very long time. Barbara Low is a Mi’kmaq woman who spoke at one of the public meet­ings on fracking in Port Hawkesbury, and she got right to the point: “I want to make it clear that we want the land to be safe and secure for future generations, and we will not allow fracking to happen on Mi’kmaq territory."

Together, we can all protect the land from the extractive industries and their expropri­ations.
Cleve Higgins is a member of the Higgins family who had land expropri­ated in Moose River Gold Mines.