A letter from Jay Spark of Victoria:
About a decade ago I wrote to a few people about the issues of methane hydrate development and southwestern US water-shortages. I can’t remember if you were one of them.
I know the tar sands pipelines, coastal trans-shipment of hydrocarbons, and BC Hydro’s dismantling are all vitally important and at a critical stage in terms of political synergies right now; but I feel methane and water-rights are very quickly becoming front-and-centre matters. In fact they may soon be used to divert public attention from the looming public confrontations with Enbridge and the so-called “North American” powergrids. More than anything, this is just a “heads-up” on methane and water.
As a long-retired low-profile journalist I’ve been following the methane hydrate story since it started at the turn of the 21st century. Even knowing a little about the oil-patch, etc. I’ve been fascinated by the industry’s uncanny ability to squelch public debate about it. As the narrative goes, “frozen methane” is found in copious amounts beneath the sea-beds, held in strata under very high pressure. Generally, release of this “fire-ice” yields something like 1:60-160 of methane gas. Canada has been blessed with enormous reserves beneath the Arctic: enough to give us Saudi-like status in the future. There is plenty of it beneath the Gulf of Mexico and a number of other locations. I believe that’s one of the hidden contributing factors in the BP blowout. The Chinese are far ahead of the west on this paradigm-changer and I believe this is the real source of the current South China Sea tension, quite part from the greed. Interestingly, Chinese high-school children have been learning about it for more than a decade. Engineers there have been quietly studying the issues for even longer.
I was (probably unwisely) critical of the environmentalists` exclusive focus on petroleum in the lead-up to the Kyoto talks and so was unable to gain any purchase in raising consciousness about methane. There are a number of specific issues related to exploration and extraction: horizontal drilling is required; there are huge risks of massive bubble releases which could endanger work crews as well as the potential for global atmospheric contamination and saturation, to say nothing of massive underwater subsidence collapses along the continental shelves. At the time, I told certain environmental advocates that I feared developers would use environmental dangers as justification for fast-tracking massive capture schemes.
I have been surprised by the sudden emergence of methane as the hot topic this week, with many stories on the internet following release of a Nederlands study about a proliferation of methane seeps in the Siberian Arctic slope. I’m convinced that we are now moving into the development phase for methane. By inference, the collapsing Greenland ice-sheet becomes a current horror story which will ramp up public concern and minimize tolerance for “pesky” delays over lengthy environmental hearings. Given uncertainty over energy security in the Persian Gulf, and Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea, as well as the collapse of the greenback and global economy, this is a wild-card that’s being played now. If the Syria-Iran debacle turns into a colossal game of 52-card pickup militarily, methane could save someone’s political bacon.
The second thing I wanted to mention is my suspicion that, by bundling pipelines, run-of-the river privatization, transportation, BC Hydro failure, etc. we run the risk of losing control of public waterways. Once Americans gain legal control of these energy corridors through NAFTA fiat (that may already be a fait accompli) I doubt that any constituted tribunal could find in favour of truncating water from hydro-power. Also, this week, global water security and privatisation have become the issues du jour at the UN and elsewhere. It’s no coincidence that it is happening during the worst American drought in climatological history. Canada is now almost totally dependent on US/Mexico for its food security: the most egregious example of political incompetence I’m aware of. If we want to continue eating, we’ll quickly and quietly accede to any American pressures for water delivery.
Anyhow, that’s my two-bits worth of speculation and concerns. I hope you can shake out some of the confusion in this gestalt and understand what I`m talking about. At 71 I`m getting a bit fuzzy in my focus but my heart`s still OK. I appreciate your efforts in holding today`s political hacks to their responsibilities in the public interest, and your nose for “crap-detection”.