These boxes of core show millions of years of sedimentation, from being at the bottom of an ocean. It’s literally a record of climate change on a continual basis over a half billion years. Every geologist knows this.  Photo by Brian Zinchuk

Editor’s note: For many years, most geologists Pipeline Online has spoken to question the “anthropogenic” part in “anthropogenic (man-made)” climate change. They do this behind closed doors, but are loathe to say it publicly. It could be career limiting if they question anthropogenic climate change openly.

This is because the absolute fundamental nature of the very science of sedimentary geology is that the climate is always changing, and has been for the half billion years making up the Phanerozoic sedimentary column. In southeast Saskatchewan, for instance, about 97 per cent of the 3,400 metre-thick sedimentary column was deposited by being the bottom of multiple oceans over the last 501 million years, according to the Saskatchewan Stratigraphic Correlation Chart. Being ocean bottom is a substantially different climate compared to today.

Professional geologist Bob Shirkie has had enough of this. Reaching out to Pipeline Online, he wrote, “I am a Saskatchewan petroleum geologist, with a B. Sc. in Geology from the University of Regina, and have been interested in climate change for at least 30 years, and energy supply for my entire career. I started doing wellsite work interspersed with mapping and petroleum lands evaluations for D. L. Surjik & Associates of Regina in 1975, and as an independent consultant since 1979. I was the wellsite geologist on several discoveries, including Minton, Gainsborough, Elswick and Tableland. I am a member of SGS, AAPG, and APEGS. 

“I started thinking about writing something about the downside of Net Zero policy after reviewing the APEGS code of ethics for an exercise in continuing professional development. The code of ethics exhorts professional engineers and geoscientists to (a) hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public and the protection of the environment and promote health and safety within the workplace; and also to (h) be aware of, and ensure that clients and employers are made aware of, societal and environmental consequences of actions or projects, and endeavour to interpret professional issues to the public in an objective and truthful manner. 

“I think that Net Zero policy is very costly, so costly that it will be detrimental to utilities customers, and badly affect transportation and goods delivery, because much of it is government subsidized, taxes and inflation will rise. It could potentially endanger many people with winter power failures or other serious problems. So I am obliged to speak up about it.”

 

Here is his first piece on that front:

 

By Bob Shirkie

Canada, along with all western countries in pursuit of net zero CO2 emissions, is committed to replacing relatively cheap, reliable fossil fuels with weather-dependent, hence unreliable, wind and solar electricity generation to power our electric grids, as well as phasing out internal combustion vehicles. Transportation and industry are also supposed to be decarbonized, either through electrification or through carbon capture and sequestration.

So far, the transition has been heavily subsidized by government, which masks the actual cost, plus the intermittent nature of wind and solar require back-up generating capacity that needs to be available instantly. This can only be supplied economically by gas generation, which can be brought on stream quickly and has relatively low standby costs. Battery back-up can be switched on and off instantly, but has not been built anywhere to sufficient capacity to provide more than a few minutes or hours of back-up, and so far is very expensive. Nuclear generation, which produces electricity reliably and could consistently meet demand, is at least being considered in Canada. Nuclear power is likely the way to go, but needs a long lead time of regulation at present, construction of nuclear power plants is a long process, and has traditionally faced a lot of opposition by environmental activists, which is not going to quietly go away.

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In addition, Canada is a special case because of our unique geography; the country has a widely distributed, relatively low population in a vast northern setting with colder and longer winters than almost everywhere else on the planet. Canadians must use a lot of energy just to survive and to go about their business. Home and business heating is an imperative for more than half the year, and air conditioning in the summer is necessary in many locales. For most of the country, mass transit systems are not a viable option, and transportation is essential to a modern economy. Canada should not be in the Net Zero vanguard.

Our present government is committed to policies that make energy more expensive for everyone, and has done much to discourage development of our hydrocarbon and carbon energy resources, which is a large part of the economy. The proposed emissions cap mandates less fossil fuel production in the future, which will further weaken Canada’s economic position. I suggest there must be compensation to provinces and producers that have to forgo developing their fossil fuel assets. If Saskatchewan and Alberta and other provinces have to convert electric generation by gas and coal to nuclear or “renewables,” they should be able to offset replacement plant costs and present value of existing facilities and reserves against equalization calculations.

Incidentally, the Social Cost of Greenhouse Gas calculations used by Environment and Climate Change Canada are largely based on the American EPA’s calculations that calculate their projections of climate damages. The ECCC uses a very low discount factor of ~2 per cent, which makes future climate damages seem larger. They say the low discount factor is to avoid putting too great a burden on future generations. This is exceedingly rich and hypocritical coming from a government that has racked up debt like no other before. The Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases literature mentions cost benefit analysis, but there doesn’t appear to be any acknowledgement or attempt to evaluate that hydrocarbons largely sustain our society and economy. Elimination of hydrocarbon use is the objective.

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Too great a reliance on wind and solar, which are intermittent sources of energy, and dependent on the vagaries of the weather, makes us vulnerable to a deadly energy supply catastrophe as bad or worse than what happened in Texas a couple of winters ago. Last winter’s extreme cold snap had both Alberta and Texas utilities asking customers to reduce consumption to preserve grid integrity, indicating that regulators are slow to deal with the fundamental flaws in over-reliance on renewable energy. Europe, especially Germany, has at least temporarily, walked back from completely adopting wind power and has resumed coal generation to keep things going. Overall, Europe has reduced its industrial output due to lack of energy supply, driving industries to Asia, where coal-fired electricity generation is burgeoning.

The strategic importance of energy reserves for security is beginning to be recognized again after having been forgotten by many in this century, despite it being a proximate cause of both world wars and many local wars in the last hundred years. The Energy East Pipeline was an opportunity to be able to supply all of Canada with Canadian oil, insulating Canadians from oil trading interruptions which seem more likely now considering the recent developments in the Middle East and possible escalation in the Russia-Ukraine conflict than when that pipeline was being debated. Still, the opposing voices were quite short-sighted, concentrating on political points against Alberta and the oil industry, and Eastern Canada may yet suffer because of that opposition.

The material requirement of the transition; copper, lithium, cobalt, rare earth elements, steel and concrete needed to build windmills, solar panels, electric vehicles and upgrade the grid, will all be in such high demand due to the urgent targets mandated by adopting Net Zero targets of 2030, 2035 and 2050 that high prices and shortages will be inevitable. That is good news for engineers, geologists, construction and resource companies, but not many others. There are not enough of these raw materials being produced presently to supply the mandated demand, and this demand will spur exploration, but still a long lead time is required for new mines, especially in North America and Europe. Construction costs will rise, and the price of commodities in demand will become more higher and more volatile. A lot of mining is impossible without the horsepower derived from fossil fuels, and concentration and refining is generally energy intensive. Will mining be off-shored to countries that permit it? And will those countries be compromised by corrupt practices that allow environmental devastation so oligarchs can make lots of money? This would be altogether very costly and potentially environmentally disastrous.

There is a need to have a great wind and solar production overcapacity and some kind of adequate storage to prevent brownouts and blackouts or usage restrictions when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. At present, generation with gas turbines is on permanent standby to fill the breach when that happens, with this needed redundancy rarely acknowledged by promoters of wind and solar in their claims of decreasing cost of electricity from the intermittent and unpredictable weather-dependent “renewables.”

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Battery storage is the generally proposed back up medium to replace gas fueled back up, but present storage capacity in every jurisdiction is a matter of hours, while there are periods when the wind does not blow for days. The cost of gigawatt-hours of battery storage and the need to have much more generation capacity to maintain charged batteries as well as supplying the grid will be enormous.

Mandating electric vehicle adoption and electrifying home heating will increase electricity demand, as will burgeoning digital storage and adoption of AI technologies. Wind and solar are also distributed technologies, unlike fossil fuel generation, nuclear and some hydro, so more transmission lines will be required, increasing demand for copper, transformers, and other electric infrastructure. Green hydrogen production would make additional demands on the wind and solar fleet, including energy losses converting electricity to hydrogen. If hydrogen is adopted at scale, additional costly storage and transmission infrastructure, new or upgraded technologies would have to be deployed, plus the relatively low energy density of hydrogen compared with natural gas would lower efficiencies of any technology using it.

The time frame mandated to adopt Net Zero, from now to 2035, even 2050 is a very short time, not enough for everything to happen everywhere, almost all at once. Building the vast “renewable” generation nets and/or nuclear plants, getting enough lithium, cobalt, copper, and REEs to provide electricity generation and transmission to keep the lights on in all the jurisdictions that have mandated Net Zero, plus batteries for backup when the wind and sun fail and the mandated electric vehicle fleet is frankly impossible. Regulatory hurdles on mining in countries that have reasonably responsible governments and environmental disaster in ones that don’t (clean energy it is not); price escalation; construction and logistics costs for mining and drilling; and skilled personnel and equipment requirements will just not meet the mandated demand.

Windmills, solar farms and batteries will require immense buildout due to the need for overcapacity to compensate for the intermittent energy sources, and they will require constant replacement after a few years as the components age. Costs of the transition will be astronomical and most likely, the “existential” deadlines will be adjusted, indicating how artificial they really are… The world will continue using fossil fuels, postponing the Net Zero targets, except by then most of us will be a lot poorer.

The claim that there will be abundant well-paying green jobs associated with the energy transition is not credible, the energy transition depends on mandates and subsidies, paid for by borrowing or increased utility rates, plus higher taxes to pay for the subsidies. Many projects and jobs will likely be subsidized by the government, and if a lithium and rare earths rush does occur, with the resulting costs escalations, taxpayers and consumers would be tapped for much of the bill. Think Trans Mountain Pipeline-scale cost escalation.

The Trudeau government has from the beginning impeded efforts by the oil and gas industry to be able to produce and export our products (which would enhance Canadian prosperity, have a stabilizing effect on the global economy, and help support our allies in time of need). Europe inexcusably became dependent on Russian gas instead of developing their own by investing in fracking. The Government of Canada and interests in the USA, including the president, have largely landlocked Canada’s capacity for export of gas or oil.

The carbon tax ratchets up every April 1st, making most energy and goods more expensive. This is inflationary, and has a ripple effect through the entire economy, cutting into people’s budgets and wringing the last of any savings out of many pensioners’ accounts. Although people get a carbon tax rebate, it is taxpayer’s money, administered and distributed by the growing bureaucratic burden that Canadian taxpayers are required to support. Net Zero mandates will make the cost of energy and everything downstream necessarily skyrocket, and because subsidies and mandates are imposed by the government, the cost is borne by taxpayers or consumers. More money than an energy constrained economy will be able to produce.

The existential threat is not from climate change, but from the requirements of Net Zero, which will stifle the economy, impoverish the people through taxes and inflation, with unintended consequences that will have flocks of black swans coming home to roost.

 

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