Volkswagen Got Caught Cheating Emissions Reporting. Will B.C.?

Originally published at DeSmog Canada on October 7th, 2015.

Volkswagen has admitted to cheating on emissions tests of some of its diesel vehicles. The full story has not yet been made public, but Volkswagen seems not to be an isolated case. There are indications of widespread gaming of emissions testing in the European automobile industry, with regulators and governments turning a blind eye to cheats and being reluctant to introduce testing procedures that would measure actual emissions in real-world conditions.

There are some parallels with the estimation of emissions in the natural gas industry in British Columbia, where officially-sanctioned emissions rates are far lower than in other jurisdictions, compliance inspections are non-existent and methodologies do not include state-of-the art field measurements.

Volkswagen gamed the system

Anyone from North America driving a modern diesel car while on vacation in Europe must have wondered why these economical and high-performance vehicles were not more popular back home. Now we know. Volkswagen introduced a line of diesel vehicles to the U.S. and Canada, but the company only managed to meet nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions tests by cheating, using so-called defeat devices — software that changed the vehicle’s settings when it sensed that a test was underway. Low NOx emissions are technically feasible, but they entail trade-offs with higher vehicle costs, reduced performance and increased fuel consumption.

As the scandal unfolds, we are starting to learn how Volkswagen — and probably other manufacturers as well — has been gaming vehicle-testing procedures in Europe, not just with NOx emissions, but also with carbon-particle and carbon dioxide emissions. Tests done in unrealistic laboratory-type settings do not reflect real-world performance on the road. Continue reading

B.C. lowballing fugitive methane emissions from natural gas industry

This was first published at Corporate Knights. I have added in this re-post some footnotes with details of calculations along with comments and references below the main article. I have also done a rough estimation of the emissions associated with the addition of one 18 million tonne per year LNG project (excluding end-use emissions) and the effect that this will have on BC’s emissions targets.


Photo by Jesús Rodríguez Fernández (creative commons)

The push by British Columbia to develop a new liquefied natural gas (LNG) export industry raises questions about the impact such activities would have on greenhouse gas emissions, both within the province and globally.

One of the single most important factors relates to the amount of methane and carbon dioxide that gets released into the atmosphere, either deliberately through venting or by accident as so-called fugitive emissions. Fugitive emissions are the result of valves and meters that release, by design, small quantities of gas. But they can also come from faulty equipment and from operators that fail to follow regulations.

According to the B.C. Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report 2012, there were 78,000 tonnes of fugitive methane emissions [1] from the oil and natural gas industry that year. B.C. produced 41 billion cubic metres of gas in 2012 [2]. This means about 0.28 per cent of the gas produced was released into the atmosphere [3].

By North American standards, this is a very low estimate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses a figure of 1.5 per cent leakage [4], more than five times higher. Recent research led by the U.S. non-profit group, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), shows that even the EPA estimates may be too low by a factor of 1.5 [5]. B.C.’s estimate, in other words, would be about one-eighth of what has been estimated for the American gas industry.
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Fracking 3: Quantity has a quality all of its own

The essential characteristic of shale gas is that the resource volume is often huge and the magnitude and effort required to extract it is correspondingly enormous. What attracts the fossil fuel companies is the same thing that alarms people living near the shale gas resource. It worries those of us who are concerned about dangerous climate change, as well.

In 2013, the British Geological Survey (BGS) published an assessment on the gas resources of the Bowland Shale in northern England. They concluded that the median gas-in-place resource was 1329 trillion cubic feet. To put this in perspective, this is about 16 times the amount of gas produced  from the UK North Sea over 50 years. The BGS did not estimate the recoverable gas resource, because they considered that the recovery factors are too uncertain to quantify.

How much drilling would it take to exploit this resource?

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Andrew Weaver’s support for a big bitumen refinery on the BC coast angers Greens

Andrew Weaver, the climate scientist turned Green Party politician, has raised hackles among environmental activists by lending support to a proposal to build a huge oil refinery near Kitimat in northwestern British Columbia. Despite the headlines, his support for it is qualified, seeing it as a compromise position that will keep diluted bitumen—dilbit—out of coastal waters, even if it doesn’t keep the carbon in the bitumen out of the atmosphere. Quoted in the Prince George Citizen, Weaver says:

“I like to think [of] the Green Party as a science-based, evidence-based common sense party,” he said. “It’s a party that realizes that we need gasoline in our cars but we also need to have a strategy to wean ourselves off that.”

and

“Rail is bad news, dilbit in the water is bad news, dilbit on land over rivers and streams is potentially very bad news,” he said. “Obviously as the Green Party [MLA], I’d prefer to keep it in the ground as much as possible and start to invest sooner than later into the low-carbon economy of tomorrow, but I’m pragmatic and I recognize at some point one may need to develop a compromise and a compromise solution is one that would actually give jobs in B.C.”

On Twitter, Adam Olsen, the leader of the BC Green Party, distanced himself and the party from Weaver’s position:

11-Feb-14 11-42-10 AM

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Application to comment at the NEB Kinder Morgan enquiry

FrankejamesI have submitted an application to comment at a hearing of  the National Energy Board (Canada’s national energy regulator). The hearing  is about the proposal to greatly expand Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain pipeline, which runs from Alberta to Vancouver and will transport diluted bitumen to export markets in Asia. Once completed, the pipeline will carry more dilbit than either the better known Northern Gateway or the Keystone XL projects, some 890,000 barrels per day. In my opinion, the Northern Gateway project will probably get bogged down for years  in court challenges from aboriginal groups and  Kinder Morgan’s project is more likely to start construction first.

This was written on behalf of the Salt Spring Island Climate Action Council Society, of which I am the President. I have no illusions that this submission, which is just an application to be considered as a commenter, will be accepted. The terms of reference of the review panel have been narrowed to the extent that comments on the upstream and downstream environmental consequences of the project are deemed inadmissible. This is so arbitrary and obviously prejudicial that many people expect that the laws underlying these restrictions will be struck down by Canada’s courts. Challenges are already underway on the Northern Gateway review process. The NEB writes:

The Board does not intend to consider the environmental and socio-economic effects associated with upstream activities, the development of oil sands, or the downstream use of the oil transported by the pipeline.

As if the bitumen could be transported, without first being produced. As if the bitumen would be transported, if it were never to be consumed. It is like arguing that there’s no harm in falling off a cliff, just so long as you don’t hit the ground.

References, links  and more details can be found in my post Pipelines cause climate change, let’s talk about itHere’s what I wrote to the NEB.

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Protest the pipelines

Originally published in the Gulf Islands Driftwood on November 13th, 2013.

The version of the article below is fully referenced.

Faced with the prospect of hundreds of oil tankers every year passing through the waters off the Gulf Islands as a result of Kinder Morgan’s proposed expansion of their pipeline, concerned Salt Spring Islanders plan to rally at Centennial Park at 12:30 on Saturday November 16th as part of a nationwide protest “Defend Our Communities, Defend Our Climate”

A major oil spill in the waters of the Salish Sea would be unthinkable, with devastating and persistent effects on the coastlines and the marine wildlife that make the Gulf Islands a special place for residents and visitors alike. But just as bad will be the effects on the planet’s climate.

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Pipelines cause climate change, let’s talk about it

Stephen Harper’s government does not want Canadians to talk about climate change when considering the environmental impact of new pipelines to move bitumen from Alberta to foreign markets. Buried in the provisions of the Omnibus Bill C-38, the  Conservative government has placed clauses that restrict citizens’ rights to make submissions on climate change when testifying at environmental impact hearings.

We should contrast this with the consideration being given to climate change in the evaluation of the Keystone XL pipeline in the United States. In June 2013, President Barack Obama said:

“The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on the climate will be absolutely critical to deciding whether this project goes forward,”

It is astonishing that an environmental  impact considered “absolutely critical” in the US decision-making process, is not even allowed to be mentioned at hearings  within Canada.

Fortunately, this restriction is being challenged in the courts by the environmental advocacy group  ForestEthics and by author Donna Sinclair,  The legal team is being led by civil rights lawyer Clayton Ruby. He is quoted as saying:

“Through legislative changes snuck into last year’s Omnibus Budget Bill C-38, the Conservative government has undermined the democratic rights of all Canadians to speak to environmental issues that impact them,” explained Mr. Ruby. “We’re challenging the legislation because it violates fundamental free speech guarantees enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

The Government may argue that climate change impacts of oil transportation projects are not relevant to National Energy Board (NEB) hearings, because these effects are not the direct and local environmental effects of the pipelines and tankers themselves. However, as noted energy economist Mark Jaccard has pointed out, building new oil infrastructure does indeed have a direct effect on climate change. Pipelines facilitate and accelerate the production and consumption of petroleum, that’s the whole point of them; connecting producers to consumers, enabling both.

As Jaccard noted, global effects like climate change are just local effects that occur everywhere.

Jaccard has submitted a sworn affidavit on behalf of ForestEthics and Donna Sinclair, which details how further development of the  Alberta oil sands will contribute to climate change. He concludes:

I understand that the NEB [National Energy Board] has refused to hear submissions about “the environmental and socio-economic effects associated with upstream activities, the development of oil sands, or the downstream use of the oil transported by the pipeline.” It is my view that the exclusion of these issues skews its regulatory assessment in favour of pipeline approval and ignores the most important costs and non-costed impacts that every responsible and honest society should be considering on behalf of people living today and in future.

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