On automation and job loss in the tar sands

Alberta tar sands giant Suncor Energy confirmed it is buying autonomous vehicles from a Japanese manufacturer for its tar sands operations. Suncor plans to make its entire fleet autonomous by the end of the decade.

Barrie Kirk of the Canadian Automated Vehicles Centre:

Autonomous trucks have been in use in Australian mining operations for a year or two now. Really, what the industry is doing here is picking the low-hanging fruit. It’s a lot easier to design and operate an autonomous truck on private property like the oil sands than it is on a on a public road. And there are a number of motivations. Computers drive better and more safely and better than humans. Unfortunately, there will be jobs lost. But the work that Suncor has been doing with a prototype for the last couple years has proven to them that they can save money on fuel. They will save money on maintenance costs because there’s less wear and tear. Also, the huge mammoth tires will last longer. At fifty thousand dollars a pop, that’s very important.

Low oil prices have been disastrous for Canadian tar sands workers. Automation announcements by companies like Suncor only underscore the need for clean energy jobs.

This shows two important points about energy in Canada in the late-2010s:

  1. Fossil fuel producers are looking to cut costs or offload them to others so they can keep selling their product. Sometimes, there are genuine benefits to these measures, like improving safety and fuel efficiency, and sometimes real social damage, like job losses.
  2. Take claims of job creation from the fossil fuel industry and their political champions very skeptically. The most likely future for oil and gas in Canada is one with fewer jobs than the present, not more.

The trend for tar sands workers is not a promising one. Robotics, teleoperation, and software are fast improving in ways that promote automation in the fossil fuel industry. The industry also faces continuing cost pressures and growing attention on its underpriced carbon pollution.

So let’s turn attention to building a 100% renewable energy system and better supporting Canada’s many non-fossil based exports.


Alberta earthquakes linked to gas fracking

“We can’t take things out of the earth and expect things not to move”:

In Fox Creek, Alberta, where industry triggered a 4.4 magnitude earthquake, a company fracking in the Duvernay Formation has reported more tremors.

“On May 28, an operator in the Fox Creek area reported two seismic events, of a magnitude 2.2 and 2.1 respectively,” confirmed Ryan Bartlett, a spokesperson for the Alberta Energy Regulator.

“The events were associated with hydraulic fracturing operations,” said Bartlett, “and were reported to the [regulator] as required by Subsurface Order #2,” a new set of regulations to monitor seismicity set up last February.

In addition, a shallow 3.5 magnitude earthquake occurred near Rocky Mountain House in central Alberta where a history of quick and high-volume gas extraction from the Strachan gas pool has triggered swarms of tremors since 1976.

More at The Tyee.

Predicting Vancouver’s population in a warmer world

Vancouver in the anthropocene:

Bill Rees, a retired UBC professor of community and regional planning, calls Metro’s projection that another million people will live here by 2041 “a comedy” given the growing uncertainties and risks facing the world.

“Almost all population projections are meaningless,” says Rees, an ecological economist. “One of the most important things to keep in mind is that they are often very wrong.

“When they talk about adding another million people to this area … it’s not going to be that easy. It’s going to be a very different world than the one we’re in today.” […]

[Vancouver] could also get far more would-be migrants as the Earth’s climate changes, he says.

Geological records show that in the past the world’s sea levels have risen several metres in a matter of decades, he says.

“Because of changes that cause an environmental disaster elsewhere, we could be asked to take not a million people but tens of millions of climate refugees,” Rees says. “This is not a prediction but it is a plausible scenario.”


Hot and hungry: Canada could be a food superpower

Forget the tar sands, says economist Jeff Rubin. Global warming means a longer growing season and new crops for Canada’s Praries. Plus, heat waves and water shortages are battering traditional food suppliers.

Rubin sees Canada’s future in two commodities the country can exploit as the planet warms: water and food. Exporting water is a touchy subject and the source of endless controversy, but Rubin says Canada can export a “value-added” form of water that’s far less touchy: Food, which, after all, requires water to grow…

“Maybe Harper is in denial about climate change, but [these companies are] in the Prairies explaining to farmers how to grow [US] corn,” Rubin says.

He says it won’t even take that much to become a food superpower — “climate change will do the heavily lifting.” He suggests Canada could go from being a top-ten global food producer to a top-three food producer in the coming years.

“Maybe Harper is in denial about climate change, but [these companies are] in the Prairies explaining to farmers how to grow corn,” Rubin says.

He says it won’t even take that much to become a food superpower — “climate change will do the heavily lifting.” He suggests Canada could go from being a top-ten global food producer to a top-three food producer in the coming years.

Canadian farming in a changing climate

Unusually wet 2014 in Canada; an unusually dry year in India. Lentils impacted:

A year after record deluges damaged the lentil crops in Canada, vegetarians across India are getting sticker shock for legumes they eat at almost every meal.

Stockpiles in Canada, the world’s biggest exporter, are down by half from a year earlier, government data show. At the same time, shipments to India, the top buyer, are headed to an all-time high after a dry spell reduced its domestic output. That’s boosted prices for all kinds of similar crops, including chickpeas and dried beans.

“We’re going to be sold out this year,” with supply remaining tight at least until the Canadian harvest starts in August, said Murad Al-Katib, chief executive officer of Regina, Saskatchewan-based AGT Food & Ingredients Inc., the largest processor and exporter of dried peas and lentils.

Jamie XX on Mars

The new Jamie XX album In Colour is quite good.

The video for the opening track “Gosh” is excellent. With dramatic patience, the video rolls out a romantic vision of human impact on Mars.

Director Erik Wernquist also made “Wanderers”, a short film inspired by Carl Sagan that was released to much acclaim last year.

BC LNG is not the dream of the 2090s

A comprehensive new report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives challenges the manic LNG export strategy of the BC government.

Aside from offering nowhere near the economic benefits promised by boosters in industry and government, LNG is little better than coal:

From wellhead to final combustion, there are substantial leakages of methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. Given this, liquefied fracked gas from BC actually has GHG emission rates similar to coal.

Contrary to the notion that BC LNG would be “doing the world a favor” by displacing coal use in Asia, BC LNG exports to China would increase GHG emissions over at least the next fifty years, compared to building state-of-the-art coal plants. Considered on a 100-year basis, burning imported LNG would provide only a marginal improvement compared to best technology coal.