Friday, October 17, 2014

Best Ever or Worst Possible: The Canadian Oil Sands

My good friend, colleague and mentor, Wayne Dunn, originally from Big River, Saskatchewan has recently begun blogging about Corporate Social Responsibility.  His blog, Business Meets Society, can be found HERE. We have known each other for 15 years and worked on a number of CSR related projects over the years.

His personal profile (short version) reads thus:

Wayne Dunn is President & Founder of the CSR Training Institute and Professor of Practice in CSR at McGill.  He’s a Stanford Sloan Fellow with a M.Sc. in Management from Stanford Business School.  
He is a veteran of 20+ years of award winning global CSR and sustainability work spanning the globe and covering many industries and sectors including extensive work with Indigenous Peoples in Canada and globally.
He’s also worked oil rigs, prospecting, diamond drilling, logging, commercial fishing, heavy equipment operator, truck driver and underwater logging, done a couple of startups and too many other things to mention.  
Wayne has had big successes, and spectacular failures, and hopes he has learned equally from both.

His most recent blog is reproduced here by permission:

Best Ever or Worst Possible: The Canadian Oil Sands

This post might seem out of character for me but I have become so frustrated by such an important issue being communicated so badly.  

Development of the Canadian oil sands is the worst: unsound, unethical, anti-planet and pretty much everything else


Development of the Canadian oil sands is the absolute best alternative for our petroleum addicted world.

Let me start by saying three things.

1.      I really don’t know much about the development of the oil sands, at least not enough to claim any sort of expertise.
2.      I think that we are all addicted to petroleum and that is not a good thing.  But, have I haven’t seen anything from the stop the oil sands group that suggests that stopping the oil sands will help this issue.
3.      I don’t believe that stopping the development of the Canadian oil sands will curtail our global appetite for petroleum produced energy but would simply mean that we would get more of it from elsewhere.

For me this means that the central question in the oil sands debate is about should we consume petroleum energy from the oil sands, or from somewhere else.

Like many of you, or at least those of you from North America, I’ve been bombarded by terribly polarized opinions on the development of the oil sands.

It is frustrating.  This is important stuff.  Yet, neither side seems adult enough to present a well-reasoned argument, or at least they haven’t connected a well-reasoned argument to a communications plan which meant that you could actually hear it

·         We have some industry infomercial like ads on TV that make it seem like just the best thing ever.  No need to ever be concerned about anything.

·         We have a Canadian government who, in their clumsy attempts to assist the industry, have made it seem like they are willing to throw environmental regulations and safeguards out the window to support quick project approval.

·         And then there is the steady parade of over-paid movie stars and celebrities, prancing through the media telling us how absolutely earth and civilization ending terrible the industry is.

·         Can anyone tell me how being a famous celebrity makes you an expert on this subject?

Does anyone else wish that one or more of the key stakeholders was mature enough to trust that some comparative facts and objective (or even partially objective) information would be helpful?

Here are some things I wish that they would tell us

On Environment
Petroleum production has nasty, terrible even, impacts on the environment.  Not just in Canada but globally.  Sure, it is getting better, but not nearly fast enough. 

I wish we had a different way to power our planet and hope that we will soon get to one.  But, in the interim, let’s think about this rationally.

I want to know the comparative environmental impact of oil sands petroleum and that from elsewhere.

·         Carbon: What is the carbon cost per barrel of oil, delivered to where it will be used for oil sands petroleum?  How does that compare to petroleum from other major global oil fields
·         Carbon: How is the carbon cost per delivered barrel changing over time from the oil sands and other producers?  In other words, who is investing in reducing their carbon impact?
·         Water and other Natural Capital / Global Commons inputs: Similar to carbon.  How much is used per barrel (delivered to where it will be used) and how does that compare to other major global oil fields.  What are the trends?  Which fields are getting more efficient at using Natural Capital.

·         Overall impact: How can we quantifiably compare the overall environmental impact of energy from the oil sands with energy from alternative locations; including the cost of transporting it to the end user

And, while we are on the environment can anyone explain why nobody is assessing and monitoring the cumulative impact of oil sands development on the production areas and all the way downstream through the Athabasca, Slave and Mackenzie River systems.

On Human Rights
Much of our planets remaining petroleum reserves are in places that don’t win so many human rights awards. 

Syria, Iraq, Russia, Saudi Arabia and a host of other producing countries have some pretty dismal human rights records.  And, let’s be honest, our western companies and governments have cozied up to these regimes and their human rights track records to get access to their petroleum energy.

To me a key question is around whether we’d sooner use petroleum energy coming from countries and locations with better human rights records.

I think we need to figure out how we can quantifiably compare the human rights/petroleum energy issues so we can have a rational discussion about this dimension.

On Global Security
I’m probably in a bit over my head on this issue, but, on the simplistic side, when I hear that ISIS is funded by millions of dollars/day of petroleum revenue I think that isn't a good thing.

When I see the conflict all over Syria and Iraq that, as I understand it, is financed by if not fueled by petroleum, I think that is not a good thing.

There may be other relevant dimensions but these are three key ones.

Overall, I believe we are better off using petroleum energy that has less, rather than more environmental impact in its production and transport and that comes from more stable countries with better human rights records.

Intuitively I feel that this means developing the oil sands but I would really like to see some research and informed debate around it.

Surely it isn't asking too much of industry, government, NGOs and celebrities to be supportive, informed and conduct rational debate around such an important issue?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Trading Los Angeles for Narva

This is the blog post I have been trying to write for several weeks now but have not found the right words.  Still haven't but will try anyhow.

What does Putin want? The cottage industry of analysts, pundits, journalists and specialists have had a great time trying to figure that out.  Some say he is totally mad but insanity, real or feigned, is not a bad tactic in foreign affairs as it keeps the enemy off balance and afraid, because Lord only knows what they might actually DO. They all agree on one thing and that is he wants to stay in power indefinitely because any other alternative is too dangerous for him and his gang of "Crooks and Thieves".

To that end, he has turned Russia back into an almost Stalinist state with all the accouterments.  Stalin has been rehabilitated from the great butcher to the great manager.  The organization "Memorial" which has attempted to document the crimes against humanity committed during Soviet times and since (their mistake) has earned them the ire of the Kremlin which is in process of shutting them down country wide.  Furthermore, Putin is in process of rehabilitating Felix Dzerzhinsky. Even reading the linked article should give you nightmares.

Then there is the ideology necessary in any kind of totalitarian system.  Marxism (and iterations) is out; Nationalism is in.  Eurasianism, Russian World, National Boshevism, some kind of combination of Red and White, (keeping in mind the words National Socialism). While Putin is right about the "vaccination against Nazism" wearing off, it is in his own country where Nazism is strongest.

Russians opposition to Ukraine's independence began long ago, most recently including the support given to Yanukovych and "family" to drain the country dry and culminated in the events in 2014 leading to the current war in the Donbas can be interpreted two ways, possibly both right.  Putin cannot afford to have a successful liberal democratic country with economic ties to Europe on his western border serving as a reminder to Russians that they are missing out.  Putin also may well want to revive the Russian Empire to what ever previous borders he can get away with.

The "Putin Doctrine" is that Russia is honour bound to "Defend oppressed Russian (speaking) people where ever they may be".  (Especially in countries which used to be colonies of Russia/USSR, and whether they want it or not).  This was his cover for direct interference in Ukraine, both in Crimea and Donbas.  The tactics used in this asymetrical type of warfare have worked quite well and we can expect to see them repeated.

Recreating the Russian/USSR Empire and USA (NATO) and EU stand in his way. Russia blames all its problems and its aggressive actions on "The West" ("The Devil made me do it"). This of course is nonsense but rational logic rarely plays a role in politics, domestic or foreign.

So far none of the countries in which Russia has interfered militarily have belonged to NATO.  His next targets do belong to NATO, the three Baltic Republics, in particular Estonia and Latvia.  The same playbook is already being used, stirring up feelings already bitter among the ethnic Russian population as they have gone from being the ruling class to at best ordinary citizens or for many who arrived, after Stalin took over, as simple permanent residents.

But how, when or why would NATO come to their rescue?  Do not expect tanks to roll across the borders as in Czechoslovakia in 1968, but expect exactly the same creeping infiltration as occurred in Ukraine.  So what is the trigger mechanism and what is the response?  Putin expects NO response as he suggests that America will be unwilling to "trade Los Angeles for Narva" meaning if NATO interferes it will mean war.

Estonia, with Narva, an ethnic Russian enclave, in the upper right.

Latvia, with the % of ethnic Russians in red.
Putin is playing hardball.  He has warned USA/NATO not to interfere, and made no secret of his intent to use the nuclear option if Russia FEELS threatened. Russia has practiced nuking Warsaw and is willing to gamble that NATO will not launch nuclear retaliation in response to destruction of anything less than a national capital of the status of Berlin/Paris/London. He is confident that Moscow (the ONLY important part of the Russian Empire, the rest are colonies) is safe from a nuclear strike with its extensive protective anti-missile shield.

IF NATO does not respond, it is finished as is USA, as a guarantor of world peace, which is Putin's aim.  And if he can play the countries of the EU against each other and destroy it as a coherent decision making body (such as it is) then he will have achieved the ability to rebuild the Russian Empire and create Eurasia from Lisbon to Vladivostok under Russian control.

The sanctions, topped off with lower oil prices, are bringing the Russian economy to a grinding halt. But Putin cannot back down, nor does he want to.  He is taking the propaganda war to the world and putting pressure on European countries by reminding them that the sanctions imposed on Russia are hurting them far worse than they re hurting Americans.

This is true.  Russia is a European problem and Europe should be dealing with it BUT EU is indecisive at the best of times and Putin has driven wedges where ever he can, especially because he has economic and gas related leverage. Which means it is and will become more so an American problem.  Americans have been called in twice to clean up European problems.  A Eurasia under Putin, right out of 1984 is far more dangerous to the world than a bunch of cutthroats intent on taking over the Middle East and reestablishing a Caliphate because they believe going back to the 6th century will make Islam powerful again. Putin only wants to go back to the 19th century and he can and will destroy NATO to get there.

To quote Paul Gregory (article reference immediately above) if Obama did say: “Geopolitically…what happens in Ukraine does not pose a threat to us.”  (then) that remark may go down in history along with Chamberlain’s “peace in our time” statement.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Some good news for a change

In times of misfortune, one must learn to be thankful for small things.  There is peanut butter in Ukraine.  It is "Good Energy" brand and we ordered it on line, though it is carried in some shops according to their website.

It is not bad at all.  Paler than Kraft Smooth and dryer but still spreads well and tastes every bit as good.  And made in Ukraine.

We ordered four 250 gm jars to try it out and it cost $15.50 CAD or $13.85 USD including postage.  I forget what we paid for 2 kg at Costco but it cost $10 to ship it over here through MEEST, so we have to find a place to buy it locally.

And if there is one brand of peanut butter here there may be another and soon shops will carry it in stock on a regular basis and the price will come down.  Hurrah.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The War to Come

The "Truce" continues here in Ukraine. Both sides, fully realizing that the fat lady has not yet sung are using the lull to regroup, rearm and prepare for further combat when hostilities resume. Russian troops and equipment build on the Kherson border of occupied Crimea and to the east of Mariupol.  Donetsk airport, still held by the Ukraine Army, is under daily attack by the terrorists backed by Russian military. The importance of Donetsk airport to the breakaway region and to Ukraine is described in this article which compares it to the Grozny airport held by the Chechens during their war with Russia in the 90's.

In the meantime, the propaganda war continues with Russia seemingly winning that one.  There have been enough documented war crimes committed by the Russian side to haul the entire Kremlin to the Hague so Russia is determined to create a few they can blame on the Ukrainians.

The terrorists claim to have discovered three mass graves in areas previously controlled by the Ukrainian army. They contain something like 2, 4 and 9 bodies, likely of Russian fighters killed in action and initial information is that they were created AFTER the Terrorists regained the territory.  Russian TV is reporting 400 bodies, showing signs of torture and execution and using pictures of rows of bodies from the Malaysian airplane which was shot down over Russian occupied territory.

Russia is calling for creation of a forensic investigative commission to determine the truth, so they can have some Ukrainian war crimes to prosecute.  This is similar to the one Stalin used to determine that the Germans has massacred the 22,000 Polish officers at Katyn.  They stayed with that lie until Poland regained independence in 1989 when they were forced to admit the truth.

Mychailo Wynnyckyj, of the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, provides 10 reasons why he forecasts a full scale overt invasion of Ukraine by Russia before the Parliamentary election scheduled for October 26.
1) Putin needs to establish a land link between the Russian Federation and Crimea before the onset of winter
2) Occupying territory in Ukraine without the use of air power is now impossible.
3) Once air power is used, all pretense as to the supposed non-involvement of Russia in military action in Ukraine (as if anyone still believed the Kremlin’s official line) will be lost.
4) Once Putin makes the decision to overtly engage Ukraine’s army and volunteer battalions, limiting his own use of air power makes no tactical sense.
5) During the past few days, Putin has expressly denied his intent to disrupt the election in Ukraine on Oct 26. Whenever Putin has expressed positive feelings towards Ukraine publicly during the past months, Ukrainians (with good reason) become intensely nervous…
6) Opinion polls show that the two pro-Russian political forces running in the current election (Serhiy Tihipko’s “Strong Ukraine” and the “Opposition Bloc” headed by former energy minister Yuriy Boyko) may not gain enough support to cross the 5% barrier required to be represented among the 225 MP’s elected by proportional representation.
7) According to Ukraine’s constitution, if a state of war is declared in the country, all elections are cancelled. and all existing MP’s (including, in the current case, those who largely support Putin’s anti-EU/anti-NATO policy for Ukraine) remain in office.
8) The longer Putin delays his inevitable invasion, the better armed, trained and organized the Ukrainian forces will become.
9) The war with ISIS/ISIL in the Middle East has begun, and US forces are fully engaged; China is preoccupied by protests in Hong Kong; the US public is preoccupied with ebola, and the US elite is in the final stages of the mid-term election cycle; the European Council Presidency and the EU Foreign Policy Commissioner posts are both in transition; NATO has a brand new Secretary General (as of Oct 1).
10) Protests in Russia against the war in Ukraine have already begun, and will only intensify during the coming months, unless a crackdown in Russia (under the pretext of war) occurs.
I sincerely hope I’m wrong in this prediction.

The full article is here.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

About cats and stuff

For a week I have been trying to write a post about the situation here and how we seem to be inexorably headed to WWIII with nucs.  It is too depressing so I am going to write about cats and stuff.

At 5:00 am, Tigritsa meowed at me to let her out.  Whoever defined a door as something a cat is always on the wrong side of had it right.  I have been awake since then though I tried to grab a couple naps to no success.  Today has been a two pots of coffee kind of day.

We have a bread making machine now and it churns out a loaf a day.  (Family like their share too, you know). Bonya is the cooking supervisor.  Whatever Tanya is doing at the counter, he is right in there to see what it is and sticks his nose into anything that looks new or interesting.  Tanya uses fresh yeast not dry so it goes into the pan first. So when Tanya added the yeast to the bread machine, he stuck his head right to the bottom of the pan to see what it was.  Nothing doing but Tanya had to give him some yeast which he ate readily.  We are crazy cat people, I guess.

The cats were all in sleeping this afternoon so I let Volk go for a run on his own cognizance.  He is welcome to the neighbours' cats if they are dumb enough to get caught. he seems to be recovering from Bobik's death but needs more company than he gets.  We need another dog.

On Monday, I turned 67 so we had folks for a 3:00 pm dinner.  Tanya asked what I wanted her to cook.  I said SIMPLE, not fancy.  Plov (an Uzbek rice dish) and Salade Olivia (traditional Russian salad).  Oh, sure.  When 11 of us sat down to eat, there were pickled mushrooms, smoked salmon, cheddar cheese, black olives, three kinds of salad - Olivia , Vinigrette, and a broccoli and grape salad she learned in Canada.  There was Plov, true.  And two roasts - pork and beef.  Dessert was fruit salad, ice cream and cake.  This is my wife's idea of a simple meal.

 Tanya was up at 6:30 am that morning putting bread on to bake and when I came down at 7:00 she was mopping the floor.  Seems the hot water pipe to the sink had burst.  The "Happy Birthday" had just a tinge of sarcasm.  The plumber was in yesterday to fix the pipe and again today to fix the taps at the sink and put on a new filter mechanism.  When we were in Canada I bought him a couple wrenches that were better quality than he could get here so he is happy to do work for us.

The roof on our outbuilding was in bad shape so Tanya hired a man to replace some of the broken asbestos panels with not bad old ones from our house roof.  Our house sure looks good now with the new brown metal roof and real eaves-troughs.

I have some wood now to build a dog house for Volk which I will do this weekend.  This is rough cut true dimension lumber so the house should be solid enough.  But it is green wood (pine?) so who knows how much it will shrink.

Enough ramblings for now.  Scary blog another time.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Truce or Consequences

The "truce" continues to hold while everyone pretends to work out a permanent solution and the EU considers backing off some sanctions because Russia is acting as a responsible peacemaker.  Which is to say, terrorist attacks have been focused mainly around Donetsk airport and Ukraine says no troops will pull back unless the terrorists pull back.  But there is less shooting and fewer deaths.  A third white convoy of "aid" from Moscow was suddenly rerouted to Donetsk instead of Lughansk and reports claim it delivered military supplies while other reports claim it was empty and would take back military factory equipment.  Either way, neither Ukraine nor ICRC ever got a look at it though of course Russia "says" they were invited.

The ball will reopen most likely sooner than later with attacks on the Donetsk airport, possession of which will allow (unmarked) Russian military aircraft to be used in support of the terrorists.  The second attack will be on the port of Mariupol to allow Russia easier transportation of military equipment by sea and more important as the next step in creation of a land route to Crimea.  It is cheaper and faster to militarily create a land access than to bridge the Kerch Strait which may not even be technically possible.  The Germans apparently bridged it during WWII but ice washed it out over winter, according to one report.

The occupation of Crimea is rapidly becoming a major problem for Russia.  There is only enough fresh water left for 15 months (with NO irrigation). Rough seas threaten to cut off the Kerch ferry which is the only easy way to bring food to Crimea.  Winter storms on the Black Sea make it difficult to supply Crimea even by sea-going vessels. The peninsula is connected to Ukraine by a very narrow neck of land and depends on Ukraine for electricity, gas and water, and prior to Russian occupation on Ukraine for food supplies and markets for agricultural production. A bit of history on how Crimea found itself (and sensibly so, given the above dependency on Ukraine) as part of Ukraine SSR in 1954 can be found on two of my older blogs here and here.

Russia has been massing troops and hardware on the narrow border with Kherson. Russia, operating on the assumption that the West will do nothing anyhow, could launch an up-front full scale invasion to open a land route from the south, linking up with continued invasion from the east.  This is not likely to happen until AFTER the G20 in Australia in November as Putin is still on the invitee list and it is likely he is anxious to attend and rub people's noses in it.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Fall is Burning Time

Fall is traditionally clean up time in Ukrainian yards and gardens and there are fires going everywhere as folks try to get everything burned before the October rains start. It has been one of the driest summers on record around here.  Grass and weeds are tinder dry.  So is the marsh/river to the east of us.  Someone must have started a grass fire to the NE on the other side of the marsh from us.  The wind was strong enough to take it into the marsh where the tall reeds were dry enough to burn vigorously.  So Volk and I went to have a look.

Looking west, back across the marsh towards our home

Possibly close to where the fire started, looking SW

And where it spread towards the marsh, looking SW

Back on our side of the marsh, looking north east, towards the burned off area

Looking SE towards the road we initially were on

Loaded with rose hips, a sure sign of fall
We "took a shortcut" on a plank bridge across the marsh
Even Volk wasn't keen on crossing the rotten structure.
The sections only got worse from here

Tanya's roses still blooming like it was summer