EDMONTON, Wednesday, November 30, 2011
The Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the
Environment and Natural Resources met this day at 8:30 a.m. to study the
current state and future of Canada’s energy sector (including alternative
Senator W. David Angus
(Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Good morning, colleagues. Good
morning, Professor Hrudey. Good morning everybody who is sharing these
deliberations with us. This is an official meeting of the Standing Senate
Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources.
Today we find ourselves in the capital of
Alberta, the great City of Edmonton, as we continue our trip around Western
Canada talking about energy. This is a study we have been engaged in since
June 2009, and we are nearing completion with a view to having a report some
time in June of 2012.
This morning, we welcome Dr. Steve Hrudey, who
is a professor emeritus at the University of Alberta and who received a
doctorate from the University of London in 1979. He is today in the Faculty
of Medicine and Dentistry, Division of Analytical and Environmental
Toxicology, Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology.
Dr. Hrudey has a D.Sc. in Environmental Health
Sciences and Technology from the University of London. He is a fellow of the
Royal Society of Canada and a fellow of the Society for Risk Analysis, and
has authored many works.
His biography is in extenso in our
binders, and as time is very tight this morning, I would urge everybody to
keep their questions crisp.
I see we are in a much tighter and more
intimate surrounding today, which is great. I cannot say how much we
appreciate your coming out so early in the morning, Dr. Hrudey, and I
apologize for a little bit of confusion. We did have a relatively surprise
visit from two ministers, so we got here after 12 o’clock this morning.
Anyway, we are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and
very engaged in our subject matter, and we believe we are going to hear from
a slightly different perspective what you have to tell us this morning, so
we are all ears. After you give us your opening statement, we will have
questions for you.
Perhaps just very quickly, I am David Angus
from Montreal, Quebec, and chair of this committee. Grant Mitchell is the
deputy chair. He is from Alberta. Tom Banks is an Alberta senator, the
predecessor as chair here. We also have Senator Massicotte from Quebec and
Senator Sibbeston from the Northwest Territories, Senator McCoy from
Alberta, probably well known to you, a former minister here, and Senator
The others at the table are very valued staff
and assistants from the Library of Parliament and the clerk of our
Steve E. Hrudey, Professor Emeritus, University
of Alberta, as an individual: Honourable senators, I greatly appreciate
this opportunity to share with you the findings of the Royal Society of
Canada Expert Panel on Environmental and Health Impacts of Canada's Oil
Sands Industry as you conduct public hearings across Canada.
Specifically, the report I will speak to bears
on the following two elements of your mandate: (b), environmental
challenges, and (c), sustainable development and management. I wish to focus
my evidence before you on three matters: one, the genesis of and conduct of
our expert panel; two, the distinctions between advocacy and evidence; and
three, introduction to some of the main findings of our expert panel
relevant to your mandate.
To the first point, the Royal Society of Canada
was founded in 1882 and serves as Canada's national academy of arts,
humanities and sciences. In 2009, the Royal Society launched a new
initiative whereby our Committee on Expert Panels selected four new
challenging, controversial topics at the initiative and sole discretion of
the Royal Society.
We were the first of the expert panels to
report on December 15, 2010. These new expert panels have been totally
funded from Royal Society of Canada resources, and all expert panel members
volunteered their time to these efforts as a public service.
Our panel took no position on the merits of the
oil sands industry and we did not seek to convince anyone of anything about
this industry. We sought only to assure that whatever views Canadians and
their leaders may reach about this major industrial development would be
based on an accurate understanding of the available evidence about
environmental and health impacts and to identify gaps in our knowledge that
need to be addressed.
The Royal Society of Canada panel was created
October 2009. It solicited input or identification of relevant evidence from
58 identified stakeholders, First Nations, environmental groups, industry,
and municipal, provincial and federal government departments, from
November 2009 to the end of January 2010.
We quickly realized on putting out the call for
submissions that many groups wished to meet with our panel or me as chair,
but we lacked the resources to provide a process that would allow equal
access for all interested stakeholders. Hence we denied direct access, phone
or in person, to any stakeholder, instead requiring all communications
concerning the panel to be with the chair via mail or email.
Second, the mandate we adopted for the expert
panel required us to draw a clear distinction between advocacy and evidence,
particularly given the contentious nature of recent public discourse about
the oil sands industry. We made it clear to stakeholders that we were only
interested in receiving evidence, not advocacy, and any submissions had to
be available to the public.
We received 27 responses to our 58 invitations
to stakeholders to provide evidence. Of course, we supplemented the
submitted evidence substantially with our own search for evidence in the
publicly accessible literature.
Our justice system has evolved a rigorous
distinction between advocacy and evidence, allowing only lawyers to advocate
regarding what the evidence should mean to the verdict of the judge or the
jury. Expert witnesses who resort to advocacy in such proceedings are
rightfully admonished or their "evidence" is discounted.
Administrative tribunals, including regulatory
panels, holding public hearings often allow blurring of the distinction
between advocacy and evidence. The media, which provides the window for the
public on such matters, apparently prefers advocacy over evidence, likely
because it provides much better copy.
The Chair: Advocacy is a gentle word.
Mr. Hrudey: Third, the substance. I have
provided you with the executive summary of our report in English and French.
Clearly, it is not possible for me to address all the contents of the
22-page summary, but I can assure you that it adequately reflects the
substance and contents of our 440-page report.
Given the time constraints, I will advise you
that the report addresses a valuable history and environmental context of
the oil sands, provides individual chapters on greenhouse gas emissions, air
quality, water quantity and quality, land reclamation, public health and
externalities, liabilities and impact assessment.
Finally, in an attempt to focus the complex and
diverse material spanning many disciplines into a form that would be useful
to Canadians, we developed 12 questions that we believe capture most of the
critical issues and debates surrounding the environmental and health impacts
of the oil sands industry. We do not claim to answer all of these questions,
only to provide a clear set of statements about the available evidence that
bears on each question, and that is contained in the executive summary that
you have been provided.
Because of the time constraints, I will deal
with only one issue in my presentation, but I am happy to answer questions
on any aspect of our report.
Question 8 was this: Does oil sands development
cause serious human health effects in regional communities? The driver for
this question was the considerable media attention given to claims of excess
cancers in the largely Aboriginal community of Fort Chipewyan being caused
by oil sands contaminants. We concluded that there is currently no credible
evidence of environmental contaminant exposures from oil sands reaching Fort
Chipewyan at levels expected to cause elevated human cancer rates. More
monitoring focused on human contaminant exposures is needed to address First
Nation and community concerns.
This conclusion stands in stark contrast to the
four attached slides illustrating the advocacy by Hollywood, a CBC
documentary and a research publication of the U.S. government’s National
Institutes of Health.
We made our finding on this controversial topic
because, in order for oil sands contaminants to be causing excess cancers in
Fort Chipewyan, over 100 kilometres from the nearest operating oil sands
plant, those contaminants would need to reach residents by some exposure
route, either air, water, food or direct contact.
There is ample evidence from which to conclude
that neither air nor water provide the required exposure route. There is
enough evidence on food to make the cancer causation claim for this
community of up to 1,200 residents implausible, but we recommended
additional contaminant exposure monitoring by all possible exposure routes
to deal with the obvious distress that the ongoing claims of excess cancers
are likely to cause in the community.
I have included four slides illustrating the
advocacy. The first one is from Hollywood. This is a documentary from a web
page. The documentary was nominated for an Academy Award. The synopsis says:
At the heart of the multi-billion
dollar oil sands industry in Alberta, Canada, a doctor's career is
jeopardized as he fights for the lives of the aboriginal people
living and dying of rare cancers downstream from one of the most
polluting oil operations in the world.
I will refer to bullet 3 from an investigation
conducted by the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta into the
crusading doctor, which concluded that he made a number of inaccurate or
untruthful claims with respect to the number of patients with confirmed
cancers and the ages of patients dying from cancer.
The college made it clear that the doctor's
advocacy for the people of Fort Chipewyan has never been and was not a
matter of concern for either the complainants or the college. They had no
problem with him advocating on behalf of his patients. It was a question of
the accuracy of the claims that he was making to the media.
The CBC documentary, Tipping Point: The Age
of the Oil Sands, which was played on The Nature of Things, is
described on the CBC website as:
. . . a two-hour visual tour de
force, taking viewers inside the David and Goliath struggle
playing out within one of the most compelling environmental issues
of our time.
. . . For years, residents of the
northern Alberta community of Fort Chipewyan, down the Athabasca
River from the oil sands, have been plagued by rare forms of cancer.
. . . By the end of 2010, Schindler's
alarming discovery of toxic pollution . . . was putting federal and
provincial environmental policy under serious pressure. Separate
reports by Canada's Auditor General, the Royal Society of Canada,
and a panel of experts . . .
I only point out that they mention our Royal
Society report on their website. Unfortunately, it is nowhere to be seen in
the documentary, which I found interesting.
In terms of evidence on this point, I quote
from a letter by David Schindler and the authors of the article that is
referred to in this lead-in:
Our study did not address the impacts
of contaminants on the health of fish or aboriginal consumers, which
we stated clearly in our paper, and have made clear in oral
presentations to several stakeholder groups . . .
Finally, the four slides on the U.S.
government-funded research institute are kind of interesting. After our
report was released, I was interviewed by a science journalist funded by
this journal, Environmental Health Perspectives, which is run by the
U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. It is the
top-cited journal publishing environmental health research. It produced the
paper that I have shown the slide of, "Alberta's Oil Sands: Hard Evidence,
Missing Data, New Promises."
There were numerous errors in this article. I
was given a copy to review before it went to publication. There was an error
on almost every line. I provided that feedback to the journal; it corrected
almost none of them.
The thing that I am drawing to your attention
was that, among the photographs they used, there was the usual picture of
the ugly landscape, which is accurate, but below that is the caption:
The RSC panel found that the available
evidence did not support a link between cancers in Fort Chipewyan .
Then at the bottom:
That leaves this Fort Chipewyan woman
still uncertain over what caused the lung cancer that killed her
mother, husband, and 27-year-old nephew between 2006 and 2008.
I wrote to the editor after this was published
and said, "This is crazy. Do you folks not know what causes lung cancer? The
best available evidence is 90-plus per cent of lung cancers are caused by
tobacco. The other 10 per cent are caused by air pollution, and if you are
going to claim that air pollutants from oil sands are causing these cancers,
should you not find some evidence of that?"
In any case, after months of emails back and
forth, they actually revised the caption to this photograph to say:
Residents of Fort Chipewyan have
expressed concerns that the higher-than-expected overall cancer rate
in their community may be a result of oil sands development . . .
On the website, there is a button that you can
push that will actually explain the fact that the caption is revised. You
would never know it unless you knew what I know, but the revision they put
This photo caption has been updated
from the version originally published March 1, 2011, to avoid any
unintentional suggestion that the oil sands activity has been
implicated in lung cancers in Fort Chipewyan.
To which I say, so what is the photo there for
anyway? What does it have to do with our report? Absolutely nothing.
In closing, I invite you to review our findings
and draw your own conclusions about these important matters. There are
clearly major impacts arising from the oil sands industry, and it is
essential that regulatory agencies are directed at assuring Canadians that
this industry operates in an environmentally responsible manner.
To make sure that we focus on achieving that
requirement, it is essential that misleading myths, no matter how widely
believed or repeated, do not distract us from doing what must be done to
protect our environment and public health.
The Chair: Before we go to questions, I
draw to the attention of my colleagues that some further biographical
material is attached to this presentation that is much more pertinent than
the one I read earlier.
Professor, I am a lawyer myself, and I like the
way you argue.
Professor Hrudey spent 13 years as a member of
the Alberta Environmental Appeals Board, the last four as its chair. He was
the first non-lawyer to hold this position. All three other chairs are or
have been judges, two of Court of Queen's Bench, one of provincial court.
During this period, Professor Hrudey served on
36 public hearing panels, 19 as chair of the panel. He also conducted seven
mediations with five successful, two of which involved more than 10
In addition, he has testified six times before
the Legislative Council of Western Australia or Senate committees in Canada,
so our witness this morning is not only highly educated in the matters that
he discusses, but also learned in the art of advocacy, of distinguishing the
wheat from the chaff and of setting the record straight when these people,
as he has very politely described them, other kinds of advocates, are
putting out the wrong message.
I am a Canadian first, not an Albertan, but
there are a lot of Albertans on this committee, and as Canadians first, we
have been horrified to find how badly maligned this resource in this
province has been.
I often mention my experience in Copenhagen in
December 2009. It was the worst week of my life. I was a lonely Canadian,
wearing my maple leaf, maligned everywhere I went. There was no defence put
up either by provincial or federal governments or by industry, and we were
25 good citizens that Jim Prentice put together. We were walking around lost
because we did not know how to put up a defence, so it is great to have you
share with us this material.
Senator Mitchell: Professor Hrudey, we
appreciate this greatly and your reputation precedes you. We certainly have
not been disappointed.
To follow up on what the chair has said, I saw
a headline in the Globe today saying that China decries Canada's bad
example on climate talks. Can you believe that? But it does underline the
We see very clearly the distinction you are
making between facts and advocacy, but at some level, somebody has to start
advocating for us, and it is not enough for Alberta to do it because the
world does not see Alberta as speaking for Canada. It is essential that
Canada does it.
I would ask you just to comment on that. How
does Canada make that case? Clearly we have not made it adequately. What can
we do to make it adequately?
Is it not the case that Canada must actually be
doing something nationally of consequence with measurable results before it
has credibility in making that case to the world?
Mr. Hrudey: Well, I think the first thing
to do is to put out there what has already been done. I think the image of
oil sands development of cowboys raping the environment is nonsense. We have
done a very poor job, both Alberta and Canada, in letting people know what
really has been happening.
Our report was very critical of both the
Alberta and the federal governments and of industry for any number of
specific issues, and our attention needs to be directed to resolving a
number of those environmental issues.
However, that is not the stuff that is grabbing
headlines. There is nothing uniquely horrendous about oil sands development
versus any other form of natural resources recovery.
I do a lot of work in Australia. Australians do
not reclaim their mines. In fact, I have a coffee table book that I brought
back, at some expense and weight, called Mining Landscapes of Australia.
It has these big, colourful pictures of all of these holes in the ground,
and that is essentially the way they leave them.
I was giving a presentation before a group of
U.S. visitors that came to Alberta yesterday, and one of them mentioned that
they do not reclaim their open-pit mines.
Canada's process of dealing with this kind of
resource extraction needs to be spelled out. We need to tell people what the
actions have been. However, governments and industry have been largely
asleep at the switch.
In my own view, the things that have driven
this media option for Greenpeace and similar organizations, not unlike the
baby seals, is the visuals. The spread in National Geographic in 2008
was a big player in that. National Geographic is a very credible
organization that people trust.
The pictures did not lie. It is not a pretty
sight; but no surface mining operation in the world is a pretty sight.
The claims about the cancers are still being
reiterated around the world. I just learned yesterday of an opinion piece
produced by the Commonwealth Advisory Bureau of the University College
London entitled Throwing Petrol on a Fire: The Human and Environmental
Cost of Tar Sands Production, and it starts off by saying:
Canada's tar sands are widely considered to be
the most destructive industrial project on earth . . .
This is from a learned institution, in fact the
one where I got my degrees. There will be a response.
The third thing that clearly played right into
the hands of how modern media is done was the duck oiling incident in 2008
on the Syncrude tailings pond. I think those three events catapulted oil
sands into an international media star for people who wanted to make an
issue of it.
In essence, I am not a media expert, but it
seems to me that you have to play the game the same way that the people who
are getting these kinds of stories out there are playing it, and if Alberta
and Canada are incapable of doing that, the industry has to do more than
just take out ads on television during "Hockey Night in Canada" to show me
how good a job they are doing. I would like to see substance out there.
Senator Mitchell: Not to be cynical about
this, but you almost get the feeling that there are those who could make
this case who say, "Who cares? They are going to buy our oil anyway. They
have to buy our oil."
What are the consequences if this reputational
risk continues to compound because we are not answering these attacks
In Copenhagen, Canada was nowhere, and Alberta
can do what it wants. It can yell and rant, but as I say, it is not Alberta
that speaks for Canada. It is Canada that speaks for Canada, and the world
wants to see a credible Canada.
What happens if we go to Durban and Canada does
not do anything? What happens if this continues to happen? What are the
consequences for Canada internationally? Maybe it does not matter. They are
going to buy our oil, so who cares?
Mr. Hrudey: You are going outside my area
of expertise, obviously, but as a citizen, I am certainly not happy with
being treated like I am some kind of environmental pariah.
It is outrageous for anyone to say this is the
most environmentally destructive project on the planet. That simply shows
that those people are either chronically stupid or they have never been
We actually included that as one of our 12
questions for which we got a little bit of negative feedback. Why would we
put such an outrageous statement in there? We put it there because it is a
title of a report put out by Environmental Defence Canada, which is where a
lot of this stuff comes from, and I have lost track of the number of times I
have heard reporters on the CBC repeat it.
I think it is unfair to Canadians to allow that
kind of misinformation to dominate. But how best to counter that is not my
area of expertise.
Senator Mitchell: One of the points I think
you made in your oral presentation was that there really is not an impact on
cancer, and one of the issues in that regard would be somehow something that
would cause cancer would have to be delivered, and that is just not
However, there is the concern with the tailings
ponds that if they are not dealt with quickly, they could burst, they could
leak, they could deliver in that way. What would the tailings ponds deliver,
and what is the risk of those tailings ponds rupturing?
Mr. Hrudey: Well, fortunately, and not a
moment too soon, the most vulnerable tailings pond has been reclaimed.
Suncor's Tailings Pond Number 1, the original Great Canadian Oil Sands
tailings pond, which was right on the Athabasca River with 300-foot high
dikes, was emptied of its mature fine tailings in I believe September 2010.
That content has been transferred to other
places, so it is not completely resolved, but it is no longer sitting along
the banks of the Athabasca River where a severe flood might pose a risk of
washing it out. It is basically a big pile of sand now, and that was the one
that we worried about the most.
The other tailings ponds are somewhat further
removed from the river. They do not pose the same kind of contamination
Clearly, if one of them were to be breached and
that content allowed into the river, it would be a major environmental
disaster. It would probably wipe out fisheries for a few years. It would
pose a serious problem in terms of water supply for downstream communities.
The likelihood of that is very, very low. Of
the things that we are concerned about in our report, it was below the
Senator Banks: Thank you again, Dr. Hrudey,
for being here again. I think this is the third time you have appeared
before this committee.
With the chair's hoped-for indulgence, I want
to leave the present matter but stay with a matter of much concern to this
You were a member of the environmental expert
panel that advised the government on the establishment of clean drinking
water for First Nations, which resulted in Bill S-11, which the government
has taken back, as I am sure you are aware.
I was among those who vehemently opposed that
bill, not because of the stated intent but because of the way it went about
it. That bill ignored several of the important recommendations that your
expert panel made to the government with respect to safe drinking water for
First Nations and how to go about it structurally and institutionally and in
terms of the governance over all.
Have you heard anything further with respect to
the government's intention to pursue not the bill but the matter of safe
drinking water for First Nations and, for that matter, for everybody? The
problem is exacerbated in many ways on First Nations, but clean drinking
water is a problem everywhere.
Mr. Hrudey: I testified, along with Grand
Chief Stan Louttit, on March 1 before the Senate Committee on Aboriginal
Affairs when Bill S-11 was still alive, and we made a strong appeal for a
Frankly, the key to providing safe drinking
water in Aboriginal communities, as it is in any community, is a focus on
competence of the people running the systems. It is not a question of just
buying more treatment equipment.
Unfortunately, because of reality, human
nature, whatever you want to call it, it is easier for bureaucracies to hand
out grants for building treatment plants than it is for them to tackle the
tough question of how do we raise the competence of the people who are going
to have to run those plants.
It strikes me as a tragedy that, particularly
in remote Aboriginal communities where unemployment rates are astoundingly
high, we have a need for trained people to run water treatment plants.
Unemployment — need for trained people. How hard is it to see the
That was the key case that we made. I do not
know if you deal with that by legislation or just by policy, but that is the
Senator Banks: The Circuit Rider Training
Program, on which the government has spent a lot of money, goes some
distance in that direction. But the other tool that was used in Bill S-11 to
ensure compliance and to ensure that there was competence in providing clean
drinking water to First Nations was a big hammer. It was, "If you do not do
this, we are going to put you in jail, and if you do not agree with the way
we want to do this, we are going to remove or trample upon your treaty
rights and never mind section 35 of the Constitution, et cetera," which we
thought was a back-handed way to go about it.
Just for our committee's record, would you
encapsulate the structural process that your expert panel recommended with
respect to safe drinking water for First Nations and the process that it
ought to use rather than saying here is how you are going to do it?
Mr. Hrudey: I need to point out that our
mandate was that we were expressly forbidden from making recommendations. We
were told that we had to list options.
Senator Banks: You made them nonetheless.
Mr. Hrudey: Yes, we did. We outlined
options, and essentially, the options were that you could develop existing
federal legislation to fit the need. You could opt for adoption of
provincial regulatory regimes, or you could strike out by developing a new
process, new legislation that would be done in consultation with First
Nations, including something called a First Nations water commission.
Senator Banks: Option 3 you thought was the
Mr. Hrudey: Exactly. In terms of our
analysis, that is the way it was evident. The down side of option 3 was
timelines. That would be the most challenging to implement, but it stood the
best chance of success.
Senator Banks: Why would we not simply
include water in the Food and Drugs Act and therefore ensure that the
purveyors of water, the same as the purveyors of ice or bottled water or
corn flakes or chocolate bars, put out a product that will not make us sick?
Most water is sold to us out of the end of a
tap by somebody, usually a municipality but not always. The reason that
Kellogg's does not make corn flakes that makes us sick and that Coke does
not make bottled water that makes us sick is partly because they are good
guys, but it is also partly because they know very well that if they do not
have in place the mechanisms to make sure they do not make us sick with
their product, they are going to be in big trouble and there are very
serious sanctions, including jail time and gigantic fines.
Water is the only consumable that is not
included under that kind of federal regulation under the Food and Drugs Act.
Why do we not just do that?
Mr. Hrudey: As you know, I testified before
your committee on that subject as well, and that will not work unless you
put in place the structural fix. It is the same as throwing people from
Kashechewan First Nation into jail for failing to meet regulations. You
would end up in the same place with First Nations and non-First Nations
communities to boot.
In Canada, we have, for whatever reason, by
evolution and not by design, downloaded responsibility for drinking water on
individual municipalities. If I am running the Hamlet of XYZ, with 20
people, and you tell me that I have to do this or you will put me in jail,
if I do not have the resources, the training, the support and whatever else,
it is not going to make any difference.
Senator McCoy: It is good to get that
testimony on the record regarding the oil sands report.
I have said publicly, and I will say it here as
well, that this is the cleanest and most objective report I have seen on the
oil sands. It is, without doubt, one of the most readable reports from a
non-scientist point of view, and I congratulate you and your expert panel
for putting this forward. I do think that the Royal Society, and
particularly yourselves, have done us all a very good service.
The Chair: I think the witness mentioned
earlier that it was originally at the initiative of Minister Prentice,
perhaps, that that was — it was not?
Senator McCoy: No, this was at the
initiative of the Royal Society of Canada, who saw that there is a raging
debate on the oil sands. The Government of Canada says this, the Government
of Alberta says that, the oil people say this, the environmentalists say
that. Whom do we believe?
As we were saying to ourselves the other night,
everybody has 15 per cent of the story. How do you get 100 per cent of the
story? Where do you go for credible information?
This report on the environmental and public
health impacts of oil sands development to date tells you where to go. It
says, here is what we are doing that is good. It summarizes that neatly and
says that we can just continue doing that. Here is what we are doing that is
bad, and here is what we have to do in order to correct that. Here is what
we are doing that we do not really know what we are doing, whether it is
good or bad. We have not got enough information, and this is how we go about
collecting that information.
In the mean time, it also says, well, just hold
on a minute here. There are a few things that we should not let go
unchallenged, for example, that it is the biggest disturbance of boreal
forest. As Dr. Hrudey's panel points out in the back of this report under
Question 12, only 602 square kilometres have been disturbed by the mining
operations, the open pits. Compare that to the James Bay hydroelectric
project, which flooded at least 9,700 square kilometres of boreal forest in
Northern Quebec several years ago.
There are some handy factoids in this report as
well that make it come alive for a non-scientist like myself. It is very
All of that is good. It still leaves open the
question, though, of how do you get this information out to the public,
including your colleagues from your alma mater, who are not taking your
report in hand. Instead, they are believing some advocacy work that has been
broadly disseminated by Environmental Defence.
Let me ask you this question: Howard Tennant,
the former president of the University of Lethbridge, and Hal Kvisle,
recently retired as the CEO of TransCanada Pipelines, have put together a
report at the Alberta Minister of Environment and Water's request on
monitoring, and they came out with a report some few months ago now
introducing an independent monitoring agency.
I am sure you are familiar with this, and I
would invite you first to describe it rather than having me describing it.
You would provide a more accurate description, and second, give us your
opinion of it.
Mr. Hrudey: Yes, that touches on a vitally
important aspect, because much of the criticism that has been directed at
the oil sands industry has concerned environmental monitoring, and in our
report, we also concluded that the regulatory capacity of Alberta and Canada
had not kept pace with the rapid pace of development.
That needs to be addressed. This is compounded
by the problem on which I have had a unique perspective, going all the way
back to when I worked for Environment Canada before I went to university in
1975, so I have seen regulatory agencies from the inside. My 13 years on the
Environmental Appeals Board gave me a window on the performance of Alberta
Environment up until 2009.
Unfortunately, governments in Canada, and I
think it is true of governments around the world, have engaged in a process
of dumbing down the civil service. Civil servants are encouraged to
anticipate what the minister wants to hear instead of focusing on building
their own expertise.
When Dr. Schindler released his second paper in
September 2010 that led to the Prentice panel and a whole bunch of other
things, there was no informed response from the Alberta government. It was
as if they could not read the paper. That has to get fixed.
The panel that I have been asked to comment on
was struck last February and given a mandate to ask how do we fix this
monitoring problem. It came out with a recommendation to set up an
independent, arm's-length monitoring agency that would start in the oil
sands and then migrate to include all environmental issues in Alberta, but
obviously the oil sands is where the action is right now.
This provides a critical opportunity that has
not been acted on yet. I understand that there has been some period of grace
with the new premier taking office and dealing with many fires, and I am
sure that it is on the agenda. How that report's recommendations are
implemented, if at all, will be a critical test of Alberta's response to
Such an agency has to be independent and it has
to be highly competent, neither of which is an accurate description of
Alberta Environment at the moment. The Energy Resources Conservation Board
started out in the early years as the best oil and gas regulator in the
world. People used to come to Alberta to see how things were done here.
Unfortunately, over the years, the independence of the ERCB has been reined
back in by successive governments.
I saw when I was chair of the Environmental
Appeals Board that the message seemed to be, "Tell the minister what he
wants to hear, do not tell him what the evidence says you should tell him."
That has got to stop, and that is why you have independent agencies. It is
to make sure you get the right expertise.
If you get clowns, if you get incompetent
people, fire them. You need to have independent expertise with people who
are responsible and give you advice.
Governments are elected. They are accountable.
They do not have to follow advice. I never had a problem with a minister not
following my advice. I do have a problem with a minister not wanting to hear
what we heard but to hear what the minister wanted to hear.
The Chair: Colleagues, I am going to have
to do something I have never done before as your chair and move the three
questioners that I have to the top of the list in the next panel. We are
going to have to move on to the next witness.
Dr. Hrudey, we have your documentation, your
very excellent materials, and especially the report that Senator McCoy has
just given you pretty high marks on. It certainly will become a Bible for us
and for those of us who want to defend what is going on here, not only in
Alberta but in Canada. They seem ganged up against us around the world.
Even with the best of intentions, Minister
McQueen and Minister Kent in their trip to Durban are going to be beset by
the media. The advocates will be telling a story so that you will not know
where they have been. It will be very frightening.
In any event, I thank you on behalf of our
colleagues for coming and for being here early this morning. Sorry if there
was a wee bit of confusion at the outset.
Mr. Hrudey: No worries. Thank you. You know
where I live if you have any more questions.
The Chair: Very good. We will be hiring
Colleagues, witnesses, we continue with our
special hearing here in Edmonton, Alberta, of the Standing Senate Committee
on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources, our study on the energy
sector in particular and our endeavour to engage with Canadians talking
about energy and about a framework for a strategic way forward for Canada's
We are very privileged to have another
professor emeritus with us this morning, Allan Offenberger of the University
of Alberta, and with him this morning is Axel Meisen, Chair of Foresight,
Alberta Innovates-Technology Futures, and from the Alberta Council of
Technologies, President Perry Kinkaide.
We do have their biographies in extenso
in the binders. I believe Professor Offenberger will be the principal
spokesperson, and he is a professor emeritus of electrical and computer
engineering at the University of Alberta, electing to take early retirement,
very wisely, in 1995 to concentrate on research.
He maintained an active laboratory at the
University of Alberta for many years, as well as connections with major
international centres in laser fusion R & D. This involvement has led to the
Alberta/Canada Fusion Energy Initiative to build a national capability in
this important future energy technology based on strong working linkages
with international centres.
Dr. Offenberger, I must say that I have been
made privy over the last 14 months by Senator Banks to the documents you
have sent him and the interest you have demonstrated in coming before our
committee. I do want to apologize that it has not happened before now, but
it looks like you have a very fascinating subject matter to share with us.
Finally you are before us and we are all ears, sir.
Allan Offenberger, Professor Emeritus,
University of Alberta, as an individual: We are very pleased to have the
chance to come and have this conversation with you on what I think is one of
the essential elements going forward in energy strategy, namely, what we
call inertial fusion energy. I will get into the technical pieces of it.
Perhaps we can respond to questions in the discussion period, but I wanted
to bring the bigger strategic arguments to you today.
In the appendices, I have listed some acronyms
for a bit of extra information that I think you will find quite interesting.
I am pleased that Dr. Kinkaide and Dr. Meisen
are here to help with this discussion. Let me start with the issue of where
energy strategy is and where it is going.
We have been in a carbon-based situation now,
worldwide, for some time, and this is changing. The world is changing, and
what I will get into will indicate perhaps how fast it is going to take
place and Canada's total unpreparedness for it. I think that is what we want
to leave with you as an ultimate message.
First of all, we recognize that with developing
countries, there is a tremendous increasing demand for energy, period. If
you look at electricity as a sub-component that is already 40 per cent of
all the energy consumption, that is increasing not only by virtue of the
stationary needs, powering all our buildings and so on in industry, but also
because more and more we are moving to mobile transport that is
electricity-based. This is going to put very large demands on the future.
There are two numbers, and I have given the
more conservative one here, but if you take what the last 25 years’ growth
of electricity has been, over 2.5 per cent, that would imply almost 100
terawatts. Now, if you think of a power plant as 1,000 megawatts, a typical
large installation, I will call it a gigawatt, 40 terawatts says I have to
build 40,000 of those plants in this century.
If I took the larger growth rate that
historically we have been on, it could be double that. That is not replacing
existing plants; that is just adding new capability. We are talking very
large amounts of energy and electricity to be generated.
The other important message to come with that
is that increasingly, it has to be done with non-carbon fuels. You know all
the environmental issues throughout. We have to get away from carbon fuels
in doing this.
The question is this: How do we do it? I will
turn to fusion, but let me say first of all, and this is important, fusion
is in fact coming much faster than people realize, and I will speak about
that in a minute or two.
Looking at the issue of non-carbon fuels, what
are our options? Well, there is fission. That is a working technology now.
There is a problem with that, however, and that is finite fuels.
We run on uranium-235, which is less than 1 per
cent of the world's natural uranium. If you want to sustain a fission-based
economy, you have to go to fuel breeding. You have no option.
As a little aside, if I were to take all of the
current electricity-generating plants in the world today and suddenly just
convert them all to fission fuel versus coal and everything else, we would
have uranium fuel to last us only 30 to 40 years. That is how limited in
effect it is, so you have to go to fuel breeding —
Senator Banks: Known reserves.
Mr. Offenberger: Known reserves, that is
right. It is an issue that we are facing. We have to go to fuel breeding
then, which leaves all the accompanying waste issues.
Fusion, as I will get into, is a sustainable
one. We have got very long lifetimes of fuel, so it really can be a
continuing primary source.
Renewables, we certainly want all we can get of
them wherever we can get them, but as you recognize in the world at large,
there are limits on variability, availability and time of day and season and
so on. While it will be important, it will never supply all of our base load
requirements for future energy.
This brings us down to fusion then, and I will
just leave you with my thought here. I put this vision of an integrated
energy future to you, and I would predict by mid-century and beyond, you are
going to see fusion coupled with electricity coupled with hydrogen fuel
cells to cover a lot of what we are going to want in the combination of the
sustainable electric stationary and mobile energy.
Fusion: What is it? I am not going to take you
into the technical aspects, but I have a picture on the second slide that
says fusion in fact is the source of energy in our sun and all the stars. In
fact, it is the basis of life as we know it, indeed of our body chemistry.
Fusion has made everything from hydrogen all
the way up to carbon, nitrogen, oxygen. We live in a carbon world; all our
body chemistry is carbohydrates. Fusion in fact is responsible for
everything that we know on the face of the earth.
Related to that is a new way of doing this,
referred to as inertial fusion energy, and that is coming very soon. In
fact, we will see even more of it.
Why do we want it? It has been the Holy Grail
for decades. It has just been very difficult to achieve. That is been the
Apart from sustainability, I would mention that
in terms —
The Chair: Professor, just one second,
because this is critical for your message about what it is. You have said it
has been the Holy Grail for such a long time and that is really the crux of
it all, but why is it so little known to people outside the scientific
world, to the lay folks like us? That to me is the key.
When Senator Banks brought this to me, we sat
down and said, well, what the heck is it? We had better look into it. We are
not totally unsophisticated.
Mr. Offenberger: I am coming to that as
soon as I hit the laser, but let me pick up on the high-energy density.
In fact, fusion is the highest-energy-density
fuel. What does that mean? It means the least amount of stuff you have to
transport to generate electricity and the least amount of waste that you
have to carry away.
If I compare a coal-fired plant versus a
fusion-fired plant, at the end of the day, we are talking about a few
million times less fuel to be transported into the plant and waste to be
taken away from the plant, so it really makes for very different options
where you can site things and not have all the attendant issues.
The Chair: What is it?
Mr. Offenberger: Hydrogen, isotopes of
hydrogen and lithium.
The Chair: Where do you get them?
Mr. Offenberger: In the ocean and on land,
and they are limited.
Well, I mention under here all the
applications. I will not go into the details there. It is everything —
The Chair: It helps if we get the main
Mr. Offenberger: Right. So let me turn now
then to inertial fusion energy, and what is happening in the world at large,
and this involves using lasers to achieve the objectives of getting
practical fusion energy.
I have highlighted a number of labs around the
world. This does not include a lot of smaller academic-based programs, but
let me pick up on one in particular, and that is NIF, the National Ignition
Facility in the U.S. The following slide shows a picture of that
installation that has just come on line in the last year and a bit.
The Chair: That is where?
Mr. Offenberger: That is in California, in
Livermore, which is just inland a bit from San Francisco.
The Chair: It is this picture you are
referring to, this slide, right?
Mr. Offenberger: Yes, right. I am using
that as the example because they are the furthest advanced in the
international historical activity, and I want to address what has been
On the next slide, I show just one technical
slide to point out two or three important things. First of all, for fusion,
you have to heat the fuel to very high temperatures, about 100 million
degrees. Then you have to confine it long enough so that reactions lead to
more energy out than you put in in the first place.
How do you do it? Historically, what has been
called magnetic fusion has been the longest game in town for the last 50 or
60 years, and you see some dots on that curve down at the bottom referring
to MFE for magnetic fusion.
You will notice now the superposition of data
with the National Ignition Facility. This is dated this year, 2011, and it
shows where they are starting and the march inexorably up to what we call
the promised land, burning plasma to get us to where we have significant
The important points are there, and in response
to your question, magnetic fusion has been the dominant way of proceeding
for decades. The laser was not invented until the 1960s, and programs really
did not get started till the mid 1970s, so it was a quarter of a century
later in getting started, and moreover, apart from academic programs all
over the world that said this is interesting and we should be researching
it, the big programs that needed the resources to do the very rapid
development emerged through defence appropriations in the United States and
France in two very big ways, one of them at Lawrence Livermore National
Laboratory, others at Los Alamos and so on, and what is now Laser Mégajoule
in Bordeaux in France.
It took a large investment to bring us up the
learning curve more rapidly to catch up with what had been the slow learning
curve on the magnetic fusion. In part because it was defence appropriation
and initially classified, this left the laser fusion below the viewing
horizon, and it still is very much below the viewing horizon.
Magnetic fusion has been open and all the media
for decades has been reporting on its progress. Laser started later, but
with this large input of money, plus some very stimulating science that
attracted a lot of first-class people to it, they have marched up the
learning curve much faster to the point where the argument obviously is they
have caught up and surpassed magnetic fusion as an approach to getting to
the promised land. That is a really important point.
Where are we then? The next slide summarizes
the status. NIF is in operation. They are engaged in the National Ignition
Campaign, so that in less than two years, we expect to see all the
proof-of-principle experiments. I will not go into the details, but more
importantly, the second bullet point on that status shows where we really
are today and its impact.
Two years ago, the U.S. Secretary of Energy
Steven Chu said do not wait for proof of principle, start planning for the
future of what you do with this inertial fusion. Livermore went to work with
the utilities in the U.S. and the chief executives of the companies that
generate 75 per cent of the electric power in the U.S. to map out a road map
to get from proof of principle into a demonstration power reactor.
Coupled with that, they went out to all of the
major manufacturing vendor groups and asked could you deliver the following
with the following costs and perspective and so on. They generated white
papers and asked, could you get the semiconductors, could you get the
optics, could you do the construction engineering, all of the elements you
would ever want to bring together a practical power generation capability.
They have done an outstanding job on that, and
they have come up with a very modular design where you would manufacture and
deliver everything to site. Instead of one off-site construction of power
plants, everything would be trucked in from what would be controlled
They refer to it as LIFE, for laser inertial
The Chair: What about building a prototype?
Mr. Offenberger: This has to be funded yet,
but they are in the planning phase right now with utilities and the vendor
groups, and there are discussions going on in the U.S. as we speak about
that money that —
The Chair: So this is a plan, not
Mr. Offenberger: This is a plan, a full
engineering scoped design plan.
What they are saying is they could have that
demo plant in place in 10 years and we could be looking at commercialization
Now, this is a very big change. Looking at
magnetic fusion, that was always a 40-year solution. Suddenly we have the
possibility of demonstration in a decade and commercialization in 20 years.
No other major energy solution has quick fixes on a shorter than 20-year
time frame, so this now could have a very large impact.
In the next slide, I show a model of the LIFE
facility, just to give you an idea. The following slide then just summarizes
where we are, the NIF experiment leading to this design and construction of
a demonstration unit to commercialization.
Now, let me turn to Canada. What is the
implication for us? Well, obviously, if this can be realized, and I can say
we have had this feedback from utilities themselves here in Alberta, if LIFE
can be delivered on, TransAlta has already told me this would already be
their fuel of choice for next generation electric power generation.
We are talking about something very profound
here, if indeed it comes off in a decade or so, and as I say, it is the
major utilities that are looking to replace their aging plants that have to
be replaced in the next few decades.
Perry Kinkaide, President, Alberta Council of
Technologies: Do you want to just reinforce that point, the replacement
of the current central power plants?
Mr. Offenberger: In fact, I have a slide.
In the appendices, I show a slide of the U.S. utility with coal and nuclear
and so on phasing out by the middle of the century and the demand that is
coming along with the replacement.
Livermore has said we would like to target for
perhaps 20 per cent of that power regeneration in that rebuild to be coming
from laser fusion plants. There is a very large impetus to get on with the
job and do it.
This clearly has implications for us, very
seriously, in terms of Canada having, for the moment, a total carbon
fixation. We do not have that additional strategy in place for renewables
and fusion in terms of where we might be in as little as a couple of
decades, and that is why we want to get this on your agenda.
The Chair: Is this true — it must be or you
would not have put it here — that we are the only OECD country that does not
have a program on this?
Mr. Offenberger: That is right, yes. NRCan
has a watching brief on fusion, but we have no national program in Canada.
The Chair: Every one of the other OECD —
Mr. Offenberger: All of the others do, and
in fact, let me point out that in the developing nations, China and India
and so on, China just in the last year in their 2020 Vision identified
fusion as one of the four or five top priorities for that plan leading to
Many of the developing countries, Korea, India,
China, are getting involved. Certainly for the OECD countries, we are the
only one that is not engaged, and this has to change.
I should say in terms of being able to make
that change, we have some excellent links internationally, which I provide
data on, that allow us to get a head start if we make the decision. Let us
get on with it and do it, and that is in Europe, Japan and the U.S.A.
As we started into this exercise about five
years ago, I immediately went to my colleagues internationally and said that
if we get a program started, we have got to get up the learning curve
quickly from where we used to be 20 years ago, retreading new people, and
they said, "Allan, we will work with you any way you want. Just send your
people and they can work collaboratively with us. We will get them up the
learning curve and build the long-term working linkages for the development
The opportunities are there. Livermore said we
would immediately take it to DOE to build a North American accord on fusion
energy development. We have got their total support, and we have already got
an MOU with Japan. We have the built-in links to get us moving if we make
Clearly we have an image opportunity. You have
just been talking about it with Professor Hrudey. Of the wealth being
generated today, what better way to help build an image than by saying that
not only are we doing the following with the oil sands but we are investing
in what will become inevitably a replacement energy source leading into
mid-century and beyond. That will probably leave a far more positive image
than almost anything else you could do.
The reason we need government is because it is
a decade away. Private sector gets involved when the opportunities are
there. In the U.S., all international programs are funded nationally, but
they engage industry in subcontract ways so they are building up the
technology capability as you do this R & D phase in order to be able to
implement it in due course.
Just a final slide to say that through the
Alberta/Canada Fusion Energy Initiative, in fact we have done an awful lot
of work over the last few years, including addressing various provincial and
We have built the links. We have done the
workshops. We have established forums, provincially and nationally. We have
built a very detailed scientific plan, followed that up with a white paper
and economic impact study. We have had several site visits to Livermore for
senior people from both the provincial and the federal side. We have had a
lot of briefings and we have established a very solid steering committee to
work with us.
I will stop now, having covered the highlights,
and maybe there will be questions and discussion.
The Chair: It is fascinating stuff, and I
am having trouble believing that Canada has been sitting on the sidelines,
but you have told us about it.
I have to absent myself for a few minutes, so I
have asked the deputy chair to take over for the question period, and I
hopefully will be back soon.
Senator Grant Mitchell (Deputy Chair)
in the chair.
The Deputy Chair: Dr. Offenberger, we
appreciate this greatly.
I know that it raises many interesting
questions, and it is this kind of testimony that can move us an extra step
in our Canadian energy strategy deliberations.
Senator Massicotte: That is honestly very
interesting. I have read a little bit about it but not very much, so your
being here forces one to read the materials and discuss the issue.
We often overuse the words "game changer" but
this could be really immense. This could commoditize, if you wish, energy,
which has been such a predominant part of our efforts, GDP, socially and
otherwise. It is phenomenal. I presume that is the message we are getting.
Do you have any idea what the commercial costs
of this energy would be? Is it competitive?
Second, when you look at the history of the
world, there are often very good ideas that never get implemented for
coincidence, habit, circumstance, superstition. What could go wrong so that
30 years from now, we say to ourselves that this has been put aside? What is
the risk of that? In any projection, things happen.
Mr. Offenberger: There are two sides to the
equation. First of all, it is not a question of the science. The science is
very thoroughly understood as to what it is you need to do in order to make
it work, so it is not a lack of scientific information. It really comes down
more to how do you engineer it.
What you are doing is taking fuel pellets and
irradiating them with very high-power laser beams, so there is everything
from getting the right energy in the laser systems, the pointing accuracy,
the timing, proper things happening in absorbing the energy to make it work.
That comes down to the engineering ways in which you deliver and absorb the
energy and induce the fusion reaction to take place. That is always subject
to vagaries, of course.
That is where you need the learning curve, and
in part, that is what the National Ignition Campaign is doing now. They are
varying the parameter space to find out which things work, do not work, so
you would know more reliably where you have to be when you come to build a
demonstration power plant.
Let me say it is in the engineering and it is
material science. We talk about nanotechnology. I prefer the generic term
"material science" in all forms, whether it is the optical coding, the
target fabrication, the materials in the reaction chamber and so on.
We have a lot of material science to do. There
are a lot of subcomponents that all have to work reliably, repeatably,
efficiently, economically and so on. So it is the engineering details of how
you bring it all to bear.
That is why we refer to 10 years of
development. It is really all the enabling technologies. We really have to
get into refining and making them work very well. That would be the biggest
question mark to me.
Senator Massicotte: Is there a prototype
that exists today, for instance?
Mr. Offenberger: No, there is no prototype.
This would be the single-shot prototype when NIF is up, but to make it
repetitive for the power handling, that is when everything has to be working
like an internal combustion engine over and over and over again.
Senator Banks: NIF is real. It is built. It
is running, and its objective is to come up to get to the tabletop, to get a
demonstrable working model.
Mr. Offenberger: That is right, that you
can actually get fusion energy out on a single-shot basis.
Senator Banks: That is due when, do you
Mr. Offenberger: Somewhere in the next
year, less than two years.
Axel Meisen, Chair, Foresight, Alberta
Innovates-Technology Futures: Dr. Offenberger gave you a perfectly good
scientific technical answer, but in response to your question, what could go
wrong, do not underestimate the importance of public opinion.
The first thing is, it is a nuclear initiative,
in the eyes of many, and we know what the public's disposition to nuclear
is. I am not shying away from it, I am just sharing with you very candidly
what could go wrong.
The second aspect is that if this is not
handled well from a public perception point of view, it could be, and it
must not be but it could be, equated with an experiment that is sort of akin
to a hydrogen bomb, because you put hydrogen and nuclear together.
That is not what it is, I can assure you about
that. However, you have to be realistic and you have to take that aspect
into consideration as you look at any new technology.
It could be delayed, it could be derailed, it
could be stymied by virtue of those considerations, and we really need to be
very careful to think about the public's reaction to this. That is not to
say we must not do the science. Of course we must do it, but we cannot leave
the other sides untouched at an early stage.
Dr. Offenberger, to his credit, understands
that very well and he gives very, very good presentations on it, but I just
wanted to round out that answer.
Senator Massicotte: Other than the optics
of nuclear, the major concern about nuclear is that it can be very
destructive if executed by the wrong people. Is there an issue here? Is that
Mr. Offenberger: No, it is not the same,
and it is largely because the amount of fuel that you inject that is inside
a power plant at any one time does not pose any hazard.
Senator Massicotte: No security issue?
Mr. Offenberger: No security issue, and
even if you had the worst-case situation, you would never have to evacuate
people outside the plant. That just would not happen.
Senator Massicotte: You said the science is
there. This should happen, but like you said earlier, the execution has
Mr. Offenberger: The execution, because we
needed big enough lasers to execute it. That is the point.
Senator Massicotte: Is there an issue
there? Does the working world today give you immense confidence that this
will be achieved, or is it still a major question mark?
Mr. Offenberger: My answer to that would be
no. Others might disagree, obviously, but my answer would be that if you
look at the track record of Lawrence Livermore National Lab and their
programs, coupled with the fact that France, through its Laser Mégajoule in
Bordeaux, is building a facility that is one or two years behind in being
finished but on the same track to do the same objective, those two countries
together in terms of what they have achieved in the R & D progress would
lead me to say yes, it is unequivocal. It is going to happen.
Senator Massicotte: Within five years, we
can demonstrate that these things will work?
Mr. Offenberger: Within a couple of years.
Senator Massicotte: So within five years,
we could see a stoppage to nuclear plants, coal plants?
Mr. Offenberger: No, that will not happen
that fast because once you have done the proof-of-principle experiment, you
then have to go on and build the world's first prototype demonstration. Can
you now extrapolate it into a power device and how long? That is the decade.
That is the 10 years.
Senator Massicotte: So 10 years from now,
we can see immense change in the whole energy environment of the world.
Mr. Offenberger: Yes, 10 years will be the
time frame to say that is when there could be the game changer.
Senator Massicotte: There are no
consequences like climate change? None of the repercussions, from what I
have read, will have any significance.
Mr. Offenberger: No. This is
greenhouse-gas-free, non-carbon. It is clean; it is sustainable; and it can
do all of the base load kinds of energy that are required on earth.
Mr. Kinkaide: Just to reinforce that point,
one of the risks this all faces is that utopian perspective, the
over-promising and the under-delivering.
While we are frustrated with the point that was
made earlier about the lack of general awareness and lack of participation
of Canada, we also need to be careful in how we orchestrate and communicate
about this technology so that we do not run into what could be a failure,
which is the over-promising and the under-delivering.
The issue that we face to this date is the
demonstration of the proof of concept, the fact that it has been viewed as a
military initiative, not a commercial initiative. However, progress has been
made in the last year. I think here in Alberta, one of the distinct
advantages is an appreciation that we need to look at this as not just a
source of power, which is the first thing we look at, and we get either
afraid of it or excited.
There are phenomenal business spinoffs
associated with the introduction of this technology. While Canada may not be
the inventor, it may not be the one to prove that proof of concept, there
are numerous things that Canada could do because it is prosperous, is nimble
and has access to knowledge.
Knowledge without relationships has no value. I
think the federal government is beginning to realize that what we do within
our universities —
The Deputy Chair: Do you have a list of the
numerous things that Canada could do? We need concrete specifics. It would
help us advance that.
Mr. Kinkaide: Yes.
Senator Massicotte: I am a businessperson.
What are the odds 10 years from now that we achieve success? Is it
90 percent, 95 percent?
Mr. Kinkaide: We being Livermore, or what
Canada can do?
Senator Massicotte: The world.
Mr. Offenberger: The world, so Livermore
representing it in the sense that it is moving furthest ahead. Give or take
the years, that comes down to the funding and everything else. Things can
slip, as you know, in terms of time frame, even on oil sands projects and so
Therefore, I would say 10 years plus or minus,
dependent only on the funding that is going into it.
Senator Massicotte: What probability would
you give to that, that this will be a fundamental energy source for the
world in 10 or 15 years?
Mr. Offenberger: Given that little slippage
there, I would say 80 or 90 percent.
Senator Massicotte: Do your confreres agree
with you? Listeners should sell their oil stocks right now, I guess.
Mr. Kinkaide: Remember, this is a value
proposition. It takes some years, which is one of the reasons businesses do
not get in so early and why government is the primary proponent at the
TransAlta and those whom we have built into
this initiative are sitting around the table; they are monitoring this. They
have been down to Livermore. We have been there three or four times now, so
we are not presenting this as an advocate. We are presenting this from an
empirical basis. We are watching research evolve.
The Deputy Chair: We have 10 minutes, so
let us keep the questions tight and the answers tight. This is very
informative, and I would like to come back to the first question that
Senator Massicotte asked, which I think was how much does it cost.
Mr. Offenberger: I did not answer that,
yes. I will pass that information on. Did I include it in the original
information to you?
If you take pure fusion, fusion-producing
neutrons to breed fission fuel, compare it with coal, with and without
sequestration, natural gas with and without, I have a bar graph that shows
the cost per kilowatt hour and how comparable they are, in fact. This has
been on the basis of the detailed science, because people who sit down and
design power plants know how to cost out all the details.
Senator Mitchell: You will get us that?
Mr. Offenberger: I will get that
comparative figure. It is essentially the same. It is the price of the fuel
coupled with whether you are doing sequestration, carbon capture and so on,
which is an expensive add-on, or not. It falls within that.
Senator Massicotte: It eliminates coal.
Mr. Offenberger: And with coal, yes.
Senator Brown: My understanding is that
lasers are the main driver to keep this thing going. What is the amount of
energy that these huge lasers are going to take from the process itself? Is
there a percentage or something?
Mr. Offenberger: The unit that we use is
megajoule, so 1-, 2-, 3-megajoule laser energies. What is impressive about
them is that they deliver that energy in very short bursts, less than a
billionth of a second.
If you ask how much is a megajoule, if I take
your coffee in the morning and I heat up a litre of water to the boiling
point from the freezing point, that is about a megajoule, so the amount of
energy of just heating that quantity of water. The impressive part is that
it is delivered in a coherent laser beam in very short timing and is able to
do far more work than just boiling your beaker of water on a tabletop stove.
Senator Brown: When would we actually be
able to see something like a prototype?
Mr. Offenberger: What we are saying is that
this NIF facility that has built the megajoule-class lasers will show us the
proof of principle that indeed you can do it, that you get far more energy
out than you put in, in the next year or two. Then if the funding emerges in
the short time, a decade beyond that, we could see a demonstration power
plant put together.
Senator Banks: It is not time to sell our
oil stocks yet, but it is time to get seriously involved in seeing how far
I have one quick question about what Dr. Meisen
raised, and I think Dr. Kinkaide too, and that is the public opinion piece.
How far behind are we because of the — I do not know if the word is
"failed," but the previous supposed false demonstrations of having achieved
In the PR battle, that surely puts what you are
talking about way below zero, does it not? Does that not give people pause
and reason to say, "Wait a minute, I'm from Missouri. The last guys tried
this. Don't ask me for any money."
Mr. Offenberger: I think the answer to that
is in part why you have not heard very much about this inertial fusion.
Places like Livermore with the big programs have not gone out of their way
to make a big hype story around it, knowing that you could get knocked over
the head in the long run, so let us just build it on credibility. Let us
just show people where we are going, and then when it is there, you can tell
Senator Banks: Is NIF now fully funded to
the point of getting it to the tabletop?
Mr. Offenberger: It is fully functional,
Mr. Kinkaide: With regard to your first
comment, which was said with tongue in cheek, I think it needs to be
discussed. That is, the selling of oil stocks implies that this is
necessarily something that the oil industry needs to be afraid of. That is
not necessarily the case in the short term.
Fusion generates heat. Heat is a fundamental
part of oil sands production. It is conceivable that a fusion energy plant
may find its way, as they investigated fission, using fusion as a source of
heat in first generation, not power.
I think we would be creating a public problem
by implying that this is the end of the oil and gas industry. This is a
supplement that may well in fact extend it until such time as fusion becomes
the dominant source of central power.
Senator Banks: It would also make the
processing of oil sands cheaper.
Mr. Kinkaide: We get a nice transition. I
am being a bit Pollyannaish, perhaps, but I see no reason strategically why
we cannot see this being introduced into Alberta almost first as a strategy
that Alberta has opted for because we do care about the environment, we do
care about sustaining the economy and we do care about the sources of energy
that the world uses.
Senator Banks: Surely people have talked to
the federal government about this before. Nobody has talked to us about it
before. This is the first opportunity. What has happened with previous
Mr. Kinkaide: What happened to previous
Senator Banks: Okay, I will not go there.
Mr. Meisen: I just wanted to comment on
what is really a longer-term implication of this. If this technology is
proven as introduced let us say by the middle of the century, Alberta and
Canada will still have large unused carbon and hydrocarbon reserves, and it
would make eminent sense to me for us to give consideration to what we
should do with those hydrocarbon and carbon reserves other than transforming
them into fuels.
Our oil sands, our petroleum goes about 80 per
cent into transportation fuels; 15 per cent goes into petrochemicals, and
then there are some smaller applications. However, if the transportation
sector changes and does not require oil any more, then we in Alberta and we
in Canada may end up with very large quantities of hydrocarbons that do not
have the markets that they currently have.
This is not going to happen in the next decade
or the decade beyond, but from the middle of the century, it could happen.
It seems eminently reasonable to me to start thinking about using our
hydrocarbons and our fossil carbons for purposes other than fuels, and there
are some possibilities.
Senator McCoy: We will have to have further
conversations about those possibilities. I have a very quick question on the
You say with CCS, carbon capture and storage,
it is comparable. What is the basis of your estimate for the CCS costs?
Mr. Offenberger: I will pass that
information on to you. It gets into the sources of all the numbers.
Senator McCoy: Keeping in mind that the
current industry costs are estimated very much higher than they were
initially, and that our experience with SO2 scrubbers in the
1970s, was it, or the 1980s came in very high, and then leveled off when
they were universally introduced, and the difference in depreciation paths
for coal plants as opposed to nuclear, there is just a lot —
Mr. Offenberger: All of those elements come
Senator McCoy: It seems to me there are
quite a few back-of-the-envelope things going on.
Mr. Offenberger: It is the operation of
capital and everything, yes.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you very much,
gentlemen. It has been very informative, provocative. We appreciate it.
Senator Massicotte: Before we let these
people leave, I want them to know that what they are talking about is so
immense that if it works, I will vote for them as president of the world.
The Deputy Chair: It does have that
I now have the distinct pleasure of welcoming
Dr. David Schindler. I should just note that I think this is at least the
third Order of Canada recipient sitting at the table this morning. Senator
Banks and Dr. Meisen are recipients, and of course you are as well.
I have known Dr. Schindler for many, many years
through environmental, water and northern Alberta issues and many other
issues as well. For those of you who are not aware of much of his
background, he is the Killam Memorial Chair and professor of ecology at the
University of Alberta. From 1968 to 1989, he founded and directed the
experimental lakes project of the Canadian Department of Fisheries and
Oceans near Kenora, Ontario, which involved a great deal of
interdisciplinary research on the effects of eutrophication, acid rain,
radioactive elements and climate change on boreal ecosystems.
Dr. Schindler has been widely renowned in
Canada, the U.S. and Europe for his work, and I remember very distinctly,
just after I was appointed, Dr. Schindler actually appeared before the bar
in the House of Commons, if I am not mistaken, which is a very rare and
distinct honour. I was proud to realize that you had been given that honour
and that I have known you and followed you for all these years.
David Schindler, Killam Memorial Chair and
Professor of Ecology, University of Alberta, as an individual: What I
have chosen to talk about today are some of the environmental issues that I
think still surround the oil sands, and all of the concern we hear about the
environmental image of the oil sands. I have a somewhat different impression
of the cause of the image, I think, than most of the people who are talking
to the media.
The first slide that I have put in the upper
left-hand corner is a list of some of the issues that I think need to be
solved, and in the short time we have, there are two indicated with arrows,
and they are the only two I will talk about this morning.
The second slide is just a reminder of some of
the relative areas of these things, to put the oil sands in context. I have
been hearing for 20 years about cleaning up the Sydney tar ponds, which have
a lot of similar compounds. If you look at the relative size, you can see
why we need to be concerned about clean-up in the oil sands.
We hear a lot from our politicians in this
province about how those nasty environmental groups have got it in for us
and how they are giving us this black image abroad that we do not deserve.
I do not think people pay much attention to
environmental groups. They expect them to come down strong on the side of
the environment. However, when you see individuals like the three that I
have quoted here, either ministers of the federal government or
ex-provincial premiers saying things that are in tune with the environmental
groups, I think that international leaders sit up and pay attention. I
really think that our government is kind of doing it to itself by causing
this black image.
The fourth slide is just a reminder that
industry is pretty good at giving itself a black image too. I think if I had
been CEO of Syncrude after 1,600 ducks were killed, I would have quietly
paid the fine and sneaked away. Instead they saw that we had dead ducks on
the front page of every national newspaper for a year along with ridiculous
and outrageous claims by their lawyer that I think just further antagonized
the public. This played widely. I could find this in newspapers in Norway
and Germany on two trips when I was there.
I think part of the problem is, as exemplified
in this fifth slide at the lower left, that we have such a rate of
development going on. If you look at the rate of development in the oil
sands, it works out to 7.5 per cent per year compounded, and that I think is
a rate that is dangerous in that the rate of the development very quickly
outstrips infrastructure and social needs of people.
You can see that all over Alberta. The roads
are crumbling. You cannot get into hospitals, you cannot get into schools.
Houses are falling apart right after they are built in Fort McMurray, and on
I really think some consideration needs to be
given to that outrageous rate of development, because unless is it
regulated, that is the rate of development that is planned until at least
2025 or 2030, depending on which energy organization you listen to.
The first thing I have chosen to talk about is
reclamation. That lowest figure on the first page is the government's own
figure for reclamation deficit, being the difference between what is
actually being reclaimed or being attempted to be reclaimed and the rate of
You can see the rate of digging is greatly
outstripping even the rate where reclamation is being attempted, and of the
whole thing, only a fraction of 1 per cent has been reclaimed well enough to
be certified, and the companies freely admit that that was an easy site to
reclaim. However, it cost 10 times as much money as the companies were
required to set aside per unit area at that time, and I understand there had
been some recent moves to correct that deficit somewhat, but it is still not
Of course, we are lulled to sleep by seeing all
of the beautiful images on TV every night of the Syncrude Gateway project
and the wetland that they have put on a former tailings pond, which my wife,
who is a wetland scientist who works in reclamation in the oil sands, tells
me will never last, because eventually, the saline water underneath is going
to kill the vegetation.
The panel on the right upper side is just two
maps, which I had hoped would turn out better. I can pass those along in
colour if they are interesting.
This is from a paper by Rebecca Rooney, who is
a recent graduate of the University of Alberta, and my wife and myself, just
taking the reclamation figures that the companies have in their
environmental impact assessments and comparing them to the original
Contrary to what they tell us on TV, they have
no intention of putting these systems back the way they were. What they have
written right in their environmental impact assessments is that they will
put back a series of hills. Any remaining wetlands will be little narrow
saline wetlands that will not be peat lands at all because peat lands will
not grow in the saline water.
Part of the reason why that is necessary is
that they are going to leave an enormous end-pit lake in the centre, which
is nothing but the final pit that they dig. It will be filled partly with
tailings. A layer of clean water is put over the top and it is hoped that
that clean water will remain clean enough to grow organisms. It is a process
that has been approved seven or eight times now by the EAUB, and yet there
is not a single working example.
According to the calculations based on these
two figures, which are for about 40 per cent of the wetlands that are being
dug up in these mines, it will be lacking about two thirds of the wetlands
that were there originally, so I think it is time that these companies
confessed that they are not going to put it back the way it was.
Tell people it is the best they can do and get
on with reclaiming, the same way we do with coal companies. You do not see
coal companies leaving 40 years of reclaimed pit behind. They do not claim
to restore the systems to what they were. They know it is impossible. The
public accepts that and gets on with it. I think it is time we got the oil
sands on a realistic footing.
The intermediate panel on the left is something
that I think needs to be done. We really need to figure out what the cost of
this realistic reclamation is going to be and what the changes are to the
ecosystem to protect the Canadian public.
As it is, if something happens to the oil
industry, and it looks like it will, according to our last speaker,
somewhere down the road and all the oil companies fold, we are going to have
an enormous pit up there, and guess who will be left to clean it up? I think
that what we are doing is a poor basis for a participatory democracy.
I want to go now to speak a little bit about
our monitoring program — I should not call it our monitoring program; it is
our 2008 study — and why we did it and what we found.
The government position has been what you see
on that intermediate right-hand slide, which is that this huge industry does
not pollute the environment at all. To someone who has worked his whole life
in air and water pollution, particularly in watershed and water
interactions, that just did not ring true. For one, no one has ever measured
airborne fallout from those plants, and they burn coke and they smelt
bitumen in huge quantities, and the reason I am mistrustful is that in the
1970s, I chaired a panel of scientists for the U.S. National Academy. There
were three Canadians on the panel plus a bunch of Europeans and Americans.
We produced the report, the title of which I have given you in the lower
right hand. If you read that report, you will realize that the plant that
burns fossil fuel or smelts ores and does not put out pollutants to the
environment does not exist, not anywhere in the world. This propaganda did
not ring true.
Second, earlier in this decade, the National
Pollutant Release Inventory was finally made public in 2003, and you can
just Google the letters NPRI and look at your favourite company and your
favourite pollutant and see what they are emitting, and the numbers for oil
sands are pretty disturbing.
I have given just three examples of many there
for the years in this decade, mercury, lead and arsenic, and the emissions
of these have all been going up at a very high rate, another reason to think
that something is being missed in this claim that nothing is being emitted.
The next panel on the right is some of my own
data from 20 years ago. At that point, one of Alberta Environment's senior
scientists, David Trew, and I ran a pilot project in the oil sands looking
at the pH depression that occurred in streams during spring snow melt. We
did this hoping that if we found something, it would get some companies to
give us some money to study it further.
The pH depressions that I show here for these
two streams that are in the oil sands area are comparable to the pH
depressions that are killing fish in eastern streams. One is over two units
and the other is about a pH unit and a half.
I could have shown the conductivity graphs too,
which show that these streams are being very diluted by runoff water as this
snow pack melts, usually about five months' accumulation going into these
streams in a couple of weeks.
We did not get any money to do the studies.
There were no roads to the area at the time, and the companies told us we
were asking for too much money. I think we were asking for about $200,000
for this study.
Those things together made me think that
airborne pollution was something that needed investigation.
The intermediate left panel there led me to
think the same thing about aquatic pollution. As I have indicated, watershed
science 101 says that if you strip the vegetation and soil off and expose
the underlying new geological substrate and then rain and snow fall on it,
the chemicals that run off that watershed all go up in concentration.
The water body at the foot of that picture is
the Athabasca River, and this is not as bad as some of the tributaries to
the Athabasca River.
I think there needs to be more concern about
the tributaries than there has been. These are more than just little
conduits for water. If you look at the early oil sands reports back before
governments ran the programs, when it was done by the Fisheries Research
Board of Canada, you find that those little streams each had 17 to 23
species of fish, and many of those fish migrated in and out of the Athabasca
River. They were probably using the streams for spawning and rearing
grounds. Without those streams, you can expect the fisheries of the
Athabasca to be impaired, regardless of the level of pollutants in the
Putting all of this together, three of us
planned a study in late 2007. Our plan included very detailed sampling of
the tributaries in the area, and at several sites on the Athabasca, much
more detail than either the federal or provincial governments or industry
was doing at the time, and here I am only going to present the airborne
Another tip-off in the lower left-hand corner
is that when you fly over that area, the snow is not white; it is grey. And
if you dig a profile in it, as I show here, you see episodic events,
probably deposited when the wind blew from a particular direction, and to
make a long story short, we looked at organic pollutants.
I have indicated PAHs here and I have given you
one example for metals. We have a number in our paper on it. The two
upgraders in the oil sands area are right at site AR6 where the highest
concentrations were found in snow. When we melted the snow and filtered it,
there was actually an oily scum on top of the water of the filtered snow
melt. That is pretty definite proof that industry was adding.
This is all that we showed. There are some
people who claim that we said this was affecting the health of people in
Fort Chipewyan. We have never said that. What we have said is that these
pollutants that can cause problems are getting into the river, and I think
that what it does is strips away the excuse not to do a detailed health
study of people in the area. The interpretation that this proves that the
health problems in Fort Chipewyan are caused by contaminants is not true,
and we have never claimed that it was.
We found low concentrations throughout, much
higher ones near industry than in remote areas, up to 40-fold and more. I
think the reason we need to be concerned about that goes back to the
lowermost left panel on page 1. That is if you look at this rate of
acceleration and the fact that a plant that comes on line and starts
polluting is actually approved in an average of about seven years before it
comes on line, and in that seven-year period, we are investing a couple of
billion dollars, or companies are in that plant, we need to detect
concentrations that are much lower than levels where they cause effect.
All of this fuss about guidelines is just
baloney. We can do much better than guidelines. We have the chemistry to do
We need to have chemistry that allows us to
anticipate when we get into trouble, not wait until whoops, we are into
trouble now — sorry, you $2-billion industry, you have got to do $1
billion’s worth of fixes or we are going to close you down. That just does
not make a lot of sense to me.
We published these results, one on the organic
pollutants and the other on the toxic trace metals, both in the proceedings
of the U.S. National Academy. Erin Kelly was the post-doctoral student who
ran these studies, and the reason that I am here to talk about it instead of
her and have throughout is that young post-docs do not deserve the sort of
character assassination that results from the reporting of these sorts of
The first reactions of ministers were very
predictable. I actually had lunch with the Alberta minister the summer
before mounting this study, voicing many of those same concerns, and he
assured me that they were all false concerns. The federal minister first
mimicked what he said because he said this is what Alberta had told him, but
he had second thoughts, as did Premier Stelmach.
Premier Stelmach actually voiced his concerns
first. He said, "Well, this guy has been right a few times before. Maybe we
should have other scientists look at these papers."
About a day after he said that, I wrote him and
said, "Yes, go to the Royal Society and get some experts on aquatic
monitoring and get them to look at our paper and see what they say." I did
not get a response, but the next day, federal minister Jim Prentice phoned
me, and he said, "My scientists tell me that I should pay attention to your
results. If I fly to Edmonton tonight, will you meet with me and go over
Erin Kelly and I met him at the airport and
spent two hours showing him our results, and it was obvious by the end of it
that he was convinced. He was actually the first to act.
I had thought it would be a reasonable thing to
have a federal-provincial panel to look at our data, but they chose to go
their separate ways, so we had two panels with only one member overlapping.
I have called this panel-itis. We have had no fewer than six panels
scrutinizing the oil sands this year. The first you have heard from this
morning, the Royal Society report, which as you know is very broadly based.
Environment Canada, the panel appointed by
Minister Prentice, reported in December and said yes, indeed, you need to
improve the monitoring, just as these papers have claimed.
The Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program, RAMP,
review panel reported in January. This was one unconnected with our paper,
but it said something that I already knew from participating in a 2004
review, that RAMP is totally inadequate to the task.
Alberta actually had two panels. They called
the one that reviewed our data the data review panel, and when they reported
that yes, indeed, monitoring needed to be improved, they appointed another
panel to design what was called a world-class environmental monitoring
That panel reported in July. The minister said
that he accepted the recommendations and they would be acted on very
quickly, and the recommendations were to improve the monitoring, but also
because of the obvious lack of trust in these industry- and government-run
programs, they recommended that an independent panel of stakeholders and
scientists be appointed to run it to make sure that the true results were
getting out to the public and that the science that was done was
peer-reviewed, which, outside of our papers, almost none has been for this
huge operation, which I find incredible.
At the bottom, I mention the Auditor General,
who essentially said the same thing from a different perspective.
Probably the least kind of all was Alberta
Environment's data review panel. The next three slides are direct quotes
from that, essentially saying that both their programs and the Regional
Aquatics Monitoring Program were inadequate and that our studies indicated
that they really needed new programs.
Now, I have given you one example of what we
found on the right upper panel, but there is one line that did not come
through. There should be a horizontal line right at the 20 nanogram per
litre mark, right at the tip of that arrow on the right side. That is the
limit of detection for the Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program's polycyclic
The bars are our actual numbers. They could
actually not see concentrations that we could because their methods were
100-fold less sensitive, and they just did not move with technology.
The technology for doing these measurements has
increased rapidly. The technology that we used was developed by the U.S.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and their chief chemist in
Juneau, Alaska, Jeff Short, was one of our co-authors who designed that
In fact, we borrowed their samplers because
under George Bush, they did not have enough money to use them. These were
the same techniques and samplers that were used to assess the Exxon
Valdez. The same chemicals are causing problems to sea otters and sea
ducks 20 years after that spill.
This is just one of many examples of how we
were seeing things, but the ministers were reporting correctly that they
could not see anything. The reason they could not see anything is that they
were using outdated and poor chemical methods. As the RAMP report shows, the
sampling program was inadequate. It violated almost every principle of
reasonable aquatic monitoring.
The message is that if you want to validly
claim that you cannot see industry polluting anything, get bad chemical
methods and a bad sampling program and you will not.
We need to get on to the logical next steps.
The minister promised this world-class monitoring program. Actually, the
federal environment department acted very quickly after getting that first
report last December. They immediately appointed a panel of their own
experts and outside people, including two of the people on their panel and
myself and a few other people, to design a proper monitoring program.
If you go to the federal environment
department's website, you will find these as Phase 1, which was made public
in March, and Phase 2, which was made public in June. So the plan is there.
So far, no one has indicated when it is going
to start. Both federal and provincial environment departments have had
budget cuts, and those are cuts on a succession of cuts going back for years
There is a report, and I have given you the
website here, by Ron Wallace, who is an Alberta businessman who had another
career as an environmental scientist when he ran the original Alberta Oil
Sands Environmental Research Program, AOSERP, monitoring program in the oil
sands for the Fisheries Research Board of Canada. He was also a member of
the Northern River Basins Study panel, and the Northern River Basins Study
panel is the model that essentially this world-class monitoring panel
recommended to the minister.
We have the model. We have the study plans in
place. No one is indicating a starting date, and I know from my own
experience that if there is going to be spring monitoring next year, and I
view the critical time of the year this spring snow melt period, as I
indicated earlier, unless that planning is started now, there will not be a
program next year.
I think a second thing, and this goes back to
the recommendations in 1996 of the Northern River Basins Study, it is high
time we had a detailed community health study. I do not know that the oil
sands are responsible for the health problems of that community. They are
borderline statistically, as I am sure you heard from Steve Hrudey.
He outraged the community by saying there was
no evidence that the pollutants were contributing to their problem. I think
a fairer wording would have been inadequate evidence, which I think if you
read the report is really what they meant to say. They did say that it had
not been well enough studied.
We also need a serious and well-funded
world-class reclamation program, and I think with that sort of thing and
real evidence, not just $25 million worth of propaganda, we could credibly
go international and say this is what we are doing in the oil sands and
report publicly what is actually happening and what our problems actually
I think the day is gone when we can hide an
industry that size away in the bush. You go into the remotest corners of
Siberia and you will find a boy who can operate Google Earth and check out
what is going on there for himself. I do not think some of our propagandists
realize that people today are that aware.
My final slide here simply builds on what was
said in the last presentation. We have just had a report on geothermal
potential in Canada. Alberta is to geothermal energy as we are to
petrochemicals, and yet I never hear anything about geothermals. It is all
about solar and wind and fossil fuels.
A lot of this technology, at least for
stationary power, is in place. A lot of it is used for dwellings right here
in Alberta, as near as Stony Plain and Spruce Grove, and of course, for
other larger power sources. Iceland and New Zealand and other places have
had this technology in place for years.
I will stop there. If you have questions, I
would be happy to try to answer them.
The Deputy Chair: We do have questions.
Thank you very much for that presentation.
Senator Massicotte: You can appreciate that
we listen to testimony from a lot of experts, including yourself, and we
always have difficulty separating the scientific fact from opinions.
I just want to summarize a little bit what your
thoughts are. In your first slide, you list all the concerns. Sometimes
people exaggerate their fears, but my understanding is that your list of
concerns is based upon real facts, real science. Am I correct?
In other words, you are saying that the
concerns are valid as applicable to those eight or nine items. Is that
Mr. Schindler: I would say so. I have
chosen to talk about the ones that I have some bona fide expertise in. Some
of the others I could have talked about, like acid rain or violation of
First Nations subsistence space.
I have worked in the Athabasca Delta area since
the mid-1970s. I know where the Treaty 8 boundaries are. I have seen that
they are leasing this land. I have seen what happens to the land they lease.
I cannot see how, with a straight face, we can
claim to these people that we are fulfilling our obligations under Treaty 8
to leave this land in a state that is going to support them.
Senator Massicotte: From my understanding,
the Royal Society of Canada expert panel basically agrees with you, I think.
They said two things: With regard to water use, there is no significant
empirical evidence to suggest there is a serious problem, but they do
recommend monitoring. They agree with you that on reclamation, we are not
keeping up with the use of land, and to the extent they buy into the need to
meet some world CO2 standards, we are not meeting those
standards. They do not raise other issues. Is that a good summary of what
your own expertise is compared to their own?
Mr. Schindler: I would say so. I have not
been critical of the Royal Society panel even though there are a number of
small errors in it and some things that I object to, like this language for
native people, simply because I think their base conclusions are on the
right track. I think one sure way to strip away the power of a report is to
nitpick for things that are secondary in importance.
Steve Hrudey and I know each other well. We
know where we agree and where we disagree. We agree on a lot of things. We
disagree on some, and that is the way scientists operate.
Senator Banks: Dr. Schindler, it is good of
you to come here again. I just want to make sure that I understand what you
said, and I guess I am asking you to confirm the removal of scales from my
In defence of the oil sands and the companies
who are investing enormous amounts of money and trying to do what I think is
in the end the right thing, but I have always assumed that while they are
way behind in reclamation, and this committee and others of us have visited
the oil sands many times, they seem to be ending up with, even in almost the
worst circumstance, something that is a little bit better than what was
there in the first place.
The land that is being stripped and mined is
not very attractive land. It is not nice, and sometimes, not just on the
pictures but when you walk around on it, some of the reclamation looks
pretty nice. You are saying it is not going to last, but we will see.
What you have said this morning I did not know,
which is that whereas I have said they are behind in catching up to
reclamation or reformation or whatever they want to call it, they have no
intention of doing that at all. I have never heard that before from anybody.
Mr. Schindler: Because it is buried away in
their own environmental impact assessments, and the first author of this
paper we put together, Dr. Rebecca Rooney, is the one who went through all
of those and picked out all of the things and did the GIS maps to plot what
they really meant and show what the landscape would look like after those
reclamation plans are carried out.
With respect to a nicer area now, I think from
the standpoint of a human being, I would have to agree with you. However,
from the standpoint of ecosystem function, they will not store as much
carbon. There is a lot of carbon stripped out of those systems in the peat
that is taken off, the part that is unpleasant to walk on, but that is an
important global carbon store.
What they put back not only does not have as
much carbon in it, but Dr. Rooney's and my wife's calculations indicate that
the sequestration of new atmospheric carbon will be impaired. Their annual
rate of adding carbon will not be the same as it was.
From an aquatic standpoint, the reason that
those rivers flow all year round is because of that big sponge of peat. That
is a very low precipitation area, and it is the snowfall and a few
rainstorms that are absorbed by that big sponge as it trickles out that keep
those rivers from being a flashy curve, so that they flow all year and
supply fish habitat all year.
I think there needs to be a limit to the amount
of that that we can do. Whether this in situ technique that we are now
moving to since 99 per cent of the surface mine area has been leased is any
better I think remains to be seen.
In general, if you put a road or a pipeline or
something through this sponge and disrupt the flow of water through it, you
have the same effect as just digging it up. Therefore, my guess is that it
will not be a lot better.
Senator Banks: I guess we will have to read
the small print more carefully.
Senator McCoy: There is much to be
discussed, so it is of course useful to know that there are different
reclamation targets. It is a functioning ecosystem, but what ecosystem will
function is the area of debate.
I am interested in looking forward, and when I
read the lower left-hand slide on page 5 of your presentation, I think there
are a lot of areas of agreement there, too. I look in particular at the
monitoring agency that Hal Kvisle and Howard Tennant recommended, and others
on their panel. I am sorry; you may have been on that panel, for all I know.
I am not familiar with the other panel members.
I asked this question of Dr. Hrudey so I would
like to put it to you as well. You have mentioned it with approval, I
When I read it, I imagined that it was going to
be an institution of its own, another Energy Resources Conservation Board.
It was going to be an establishment. It was not going to be just something
that you do off the side of your desk. It would be funded. It would have
scientific expertise, and enough of it, and enough money to run the
Is that a fantasy in my brain? What would you
see in your prognostication of this panel or this institution?
Mr. Schindler: I think it would be
fantastic if that could happen. I think that this does need to be funded off
the top, just like the ERCB is. It is a cost of doing business.
I think we could have better environmental
impact assessments if we had this good long-term data base that could be
used as a basis for evaluating new plants, rather than three or four samples
that a bunch of students go out and grab for a consulting company that never
looks back at what other companies have done.
I think the model that would work, whether it
was independent or set up in the way that the old Northern River Basins
Study was would be the Northern River Basins Study. There is some
disagreement between me and a lot of community leaders on this.
If you talk to the average Aboriginal
community, they will say, "Give us the money and we will do our own
monitoring." I think that would be worse than what the Regional Aquatics
Monitoring Program is doing. They do not have the expertise. They would be
getting different contractors and there would be no interface, different
The selling point that I found works with them
is I think Environment Canada actually did a master stroke in putting Fred
Wrona in charge of developing these Phase 1 and Phase 2 plans. He was the
scientific director of the Northern River Basins Study, and I think he
developed a tremendous reputation for being honest and forthright, not only
with companies but with Aboriginal people.
When I go to one of these communities that is
adamant that we cannot have any of these crooks or these government agencies
that just hide the data from us doing our monitoring any more, I say what if
Fred Wrona ran it? Well, that would be pretty good.
The other thing that I think is key to this,
and this is in this monitoring report, which I thought was really an
excellent job, is Aboriginal involvement. In that Northern River Basins
Study, there were two Aboriginal community leaders on the main board and
there were three traditional knowledge people on the science panel, and they
were not a hindrance to the science panel.
I was on the science panel, and there were six
so-called Western scientists and three of them. We agreed on almost
everything, and it was really a tremendous experience. I think there was a
tremendous amount of trust built among the communities to the point where
CEOs of companies on the board were voting with native leaders. That is the
kind of system that we need to have in place, with true representation.
The Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program right
now claims to have that representation, but when I looked last, exactly a
year ago, there were 13 companies, eight government agencies, one Aboriginal
band and no non-government agencies represented on the governing panel, and
the reason is that industry pays and industry and government call the shots.
All these other stakeholders just disappear.
Senator McCoy: If I have the time, I would
like to come back to this question, which I think is a puzzle.
You said just fund it off the top, and I have
not heard you specify, but I have heard some people suggest it should be a
levy on industry plus government contributions. I am curious about how that
is going to stand the credibility question, the sniff test, I guess.
Mr. Schindler: I think as long as it is put
in the hands of a credible group and the credible group will honestly report
their data with no constraints and has membership that is not all industry
and government, I think it will fly.
Again, using the Northern River Basins Study as
an example, another example is the old Fisheries Research Board of Canada,
which ran the original monitoring program. That was not a civil service
organization. It did not report to ministers. It reported to a panel of
senior scientists, and it was respected world-wide.
I first heard of it when I was a graduate
student in Europe. They were at arm's length so nobody was spinning the data
before they were publicly released, and I think that is an essential element
of developing public trust in a program.
The Deputy Chair: Let us not be afraid of
the facts. Let us get the facts out and then deal with them.
Dr. Schindler, unfortunately, I have to cut
this off. It has been very interesting and informative, as we all would have
expected it to be, and I want to thank you very much.
I am just going to hand this back to Senator
Angus, who is the chair, and welcome him back to the committee.
Senator W. David Angus
(Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Dr. Schindler, I want to
apologize. I had an urgent call from Montreal.
I remember so well, it was one of my first days
as a member of this committee, I think it was seven or eight years ago now,
when you came to Ottawa to a hearing on water and Senator Tommy Banks told
me I was going to love this committee, especially because the witness I was
going to hear first was you, and I became green overnight.
I have been talking about Dr. Schindler all
around Quebec, and I was so sorry to have to miss you this morning. Thank
you for coming out early this morning and sharing your thoughts with us. I
hope you think we are doing good work.
Mr. Schindler: Yes, I think you are, or I
would not have come back.
The Chair: Senators, we now have before us,
also from the University of Alberta, School of Business, Associate Professor
I apologize for the shortness of the
introduction, but feel free to tell us about some of the things you have
done, if you wish.
Andrew Leach, Associate Professor, Natural
Resources, Energy, and Environment, University of Alberta, as an individual:
Senators, my background is that I am an economist by training with also a
background in environmental science. Most of my academic research is in
global climate change agreements and climate change policy, more recently
moved towards energy policy, electricity policy and greenhouse gas policy
within Canada. I do some work on carbon capture and storage and some new
building work on oil sands tailings, research and development, et cetera.
I have got a broad range and I wrestled a
little with what to talk about this morning. I thought, given the setting of
the Durban negotiations and the 17th conference, that I would
talk about Canada and greenhouse gases and try to discuss a little bit my
thinking on where we are and where we should go and some of the context
around that. I hope to maybe give you a little bit of a different view of
the context for Canada's situation with respect to greenhouse gases.
The Chair: You did also mention those key
words, "energy policy."
Mr. Leach: I did.
The Chair: If you can tie it in somehow
with that, that is what we are about.
Mr. Leach: I will try to do that, so the
second half of my presentation actually ties back to oil sands and the way
we see oil sands fitting in with greenhouse gas policy.
On my first slide, I have shown what is now a
common point I think in the press and certainly in government speaking notes
which is to say where is Canada headed, where are our policies going to take
us with respect to greenhouse gas emissions and where is our target.
The story is very simple. With the policies we
have in place right now, we are not going to meet our target. In fact, we
are going to miss it by possibly 180 million tonnes per year. Our 17 per
cent below 2005 level is far out of reach with our current set of policies,
and I think the impression around that has been that therefore, we are not
doing enough to meet our targets and that our targets, as we have been told
over and over, are demonstrably weak.
That is the first angle that I want to start
at, so if I turn you to my second slide, I think one of the problems we have
is not just that we do not have the policies to meet our targets. There are
three or four greater points that make our challenge more daunting.
The first problem, and one that I expect will
be surprising to some people in the room, is that were we to meet our
target, we would have to impose the most stringent climate change policy in
the world by far, probably by an order of magnitude, so our targets are not
weak targets. They are very aggressive targets.
The second point I think is very important is
that even though our target nominally, 17 per cent below 2005, is the same
percentage reduction as the United States' target, to meet that target in
Canada is a very different ball game. The U.S. is likely to meet their
target without taking any GHG-specific policy actions. We are not going to
Senator Banks: Just for the record, we
should know, which target are you talking about?
Mr. Leach: I am talking about our target of
17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020.
The Chair: By any chance do you follow the
hearings of this committee at all and our study?
Mr. Leach: Not in great detail.
The Chair: Because you should know that we
have had bureaucrats and the minister from Environment Canada recently
telling us that we will be meeting these targets, and they have shown why.
Not to try to create controversy, there were
things that they were saying as to why we would meet them that may not be in
your model. I do not know how you measure it but —
Mr. Leach: The graph that I am showing you
on the second slide in my deck is from Environment Canada's publication this
year of Canada's emissions trends and issues. This slide was used in
Minister Kent's speaking notes for his first two public addresses, and this
is consistent with the statement that he made last week in Parliament to say
that we have policies currently in place to get 25 per cent of the way to
The question, then, is where are we going to go
from there, and the coal-fired power regulations are actually included in
this, even though they are still in hearings. The oil sands targets are not
and natural gas targets are not. No further policies that have not yet been
introduced or passed are included in this graph.
Again, it is important, even if you look at all
of the provincial commitments, and take them at their word that they meet
their target, we still do not meet our aggregate national approach. The
story that we are anything other than on track to not meet it is pretty hard
to make, I think, at this point.
I talked about the U.S. Back to my third slide.
I think the third problem we have is that the global discussion around
climate change targets has really put Canada at a disadvantage. It has
painted us into a corner by 1990 standards on Kyoto, the constant emphasis
towards baselining targets as opposed to rewarding aggressive action.
Domestically, I think we have seen a lot of
these circumstances as a roadblock to action, in particular the idea that
the growth in the oil sands industry is at odds with domestic greenhouse gas
policy and specifically with globally credible greenhouse gas policy. I
actually think we are not as far away from that as some would suggest, and I
think there are some ways around it, which I will talk about briefly.
Let us go to targets and to Senator Banks'
question just to put some detail on this. If I go to my fourth slide,
Canada's greenhouse gas targets, if you cobble together statements, 17 per
cent below 2005 is our updated Copenhagen pledge, and 60 to 70 per cent
below 2005 by 2050, while not signed into any specific agreement, has been
our government's talking point.
Alberta's target certainly notionally on this
measure is much weaker. It is 30 per cent above 2005 levels by 2020 and
14 per cent below 2005 by 2050. Again, relative to a baseline, these are
much lower reductions.
Contrast that with the EU's target. Twenty per
cent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 to 93 per cent below 1990 by 2050
sounds incredibly aggressive. They are taking very deep cuts. We are not
making very deep cuts. The EU and these type of 1990 targets look very
I want to take you two slides forward. The
perception out there from looking at these statements is that our targets
are weak. Go to slide 6. What these price graphs show is that if you wanted
to meet the EU's target, Canada's target or Alberta's target, what sort of
policies would you have to put in place? Everything is benchmarked back here
to a price on carbon.
It says if you eliminated all of the uses of
carbon in your economy that generate less than $50 a tonne worth of value,
so under a carbon tax cap-and-trade, whatever it might be, which one of
these curves would it take to meet Canada's policy, the Alberta policy and
the EU policy.
I think we have been trained to think the EU is
very aggressive, Canada is a little bit more aggressive and Alberta is very,
very weak. If you turn to the next slide, you will see that exactly the
opposite of that is true, that the price you would need domestically within
Alberta to meet Alberta's targets rises up to $200 a tonne by 2035.
These are not my numbers; these are David
Suzuki's numbers. The price that you would need to meet Canada's target,
which he described as weak, would be over $150 a tonne by 2035. The price
you would need, and this is from Point Carbon and Deutsche Bank, to meet the
EU's hyper-aggressive target is $50 a tonne in the same year.
When you compare the stringency, the type of
controls you would have to put on domestic corporations and individuals to
meet the targets, the EU's target is by a factor of two to three less
stringent than Canada's, but that message does not get across, and that
hamstrings us in terms of how we think about our greenhouse gas policy
I will jump to my next slide. Again, we come
back to that idea that targets are weak and that they do not represent
sufficient effort, given the magnitude of climate change. I think actually
that both of these are wrong.
I think I have shown you on the previous graph
that to meet Canada's targets and within that Alberta's targets, we would
need an incredibly stringent policy relative to anything else that is in
place in the world.
The second question to that is, well, would
that be enough. If we did what we say we are going to do and everybody else
did the same thing, would it be enough? And people are quick to tell you,
well, no, no, no. The world has to reduce by about 20 per cent relative to
1990, a convenient number for the EU, and if everybody did that, we would
meet the 2 degrees Celsius target.
Well, I do not actually think that is true, and
I will come back to that in a few slides and expand on that.
If I can jump to my ninth slide, and I am
skipping through this pretty quickly because I want to get to your
questions, I think the two take-aways from this are, one, that Canada's
targets are aggressive, but maybe more important, that because of the way
effort is framed globally, Canada is always going to be seen as being behind
We have this situation where even if we put in
a $100 per tonne carbon tax, and remember, the Green Shift policy was $15 a
tonne, to put that in perspective, we probably would not meet our targets by
2020, and those are the weak and modest targets that are not good enough.
Where is the constituency to get something done there?
Canada's reaction to that has been, well, since
the system does not work for us, we are not going to play in the system. I
think the long-run consequences of being an impediment to the negotiations
and being seen as a barrier to progress and climate change could be more
severe than the consequences of non-compliance.
I think Canada needs a different approach. I
have listed on my tenth slide three elements I think need to be in there.
One is a metric to measure that stringency, so to not ask what your
emissions were in 1990 and how much you have reduced them, but ask if you
are operating a refinery in the U.K. and you reduce carbon emissions by one
tonne, how much does that put in your pocket and how is that different from
operating a refinery in India, in China or in Fort Saskatchewan. If we can
get to that metric and formalize it and push it out on the world stage, that
will be crucial.
Two, we actually have to make a commitment to
impose policies domestically that either meet our targets or readjust our
targets. I think that is crucial.
Third, I think we need to be able to
demonstrate that with the policies we are prepared to impose in Canada, if
everybody else imposed those policies within the OECD or globally, we would
meet something akin to the Copenhagen pledge. Again, it is sounding very
aggressive, but I do not think it is there.
If you go to the next slide, I think you will
be very surprised. The next slide shows a graph of three prices. The lower
curve is from last week's World Energy Outlook from the International
Energy Agency, and that is the price that they prescribe for the entire OECD
to help them meet their 2 degrees Celsius scenario. This is slide 11.
The lower price curve on that graph is what the
IEA said the whole OECD needed to impose to meet the 2 degrees Celsius
target. The next line on the graph is again what it would take to meet our
current targets domestically, so if we actually impose something that did
not quite meet our targets, we would have the same stringency of policy in
place that it would take the world to meet the 2 degrees Celsius target, and
nobody is talking about that. I think it is important that we change the
language on this.
I promised I would change gears and go to oil
sands, so I want to do that very quickly and then I will come to your
With regard to slide 12, I think we often tend
to see the threats to the oil sands industry from greenhouse gas policy and
we ignore the threats from not having one. I think one of the key threats
that you see from not having a national greenhouse gas policy and from
non-attainment on Kyoto on our 17 per cent below 2005 is that it is going to
be very clear who is going to take the blame for that.
The blame is falling right now on the oil sands
industry, and we have a situation where Canada's greenhouse gas emissions
are 750-odd million tonnes per year, oil sands are 30 million tonnes and
everybody sees it as oil sands' fault. They are not prepared to look in the
We do have to recognize that as it currently
functions, Canada's oil sands industry is at risk to global greenhouse gas
policy, so a policy on carbon globally would affect the value of the oil
sands. That is obvious. It is a carbon-control policy, and we have a
However, since the global greenhouse gas
conversation has now turned to let us eliminate new sources, let us
eliminate growing sources and let us eliminate things we can eliminate
easily, and we saw some of that with the EU's Fuel Quality Directive, with
the Keystone XL decision, et cetera, oil sands are at greater risk from that
than they are at risk from a broad global policy.
On the next couple of slides, I put some
examples of that. This is what Canadians, and you will know this as well as
I do, are reading. It is oil sands' fault that we are not meeting targets.
Ontario is doing all sorts of great things. Alberta is not doing enough
because Alberta's emissions are growing and Ontario's are shrinking.
Certainly from Greenpeace, you see frequently
that stopping the oil sands is the answer to Canada's greenhouse gas
emissions problems, on slide 14. Certainly, on slide 15, you see these
mentions from, for example, NASA scientist James Hansen that somehow the oil
sands in and of themselves are game over for the climate, and if we simply
get into extracting oil sands, then all hope is lost.
None of these things is actually true, but
perception on these frames has become a reality.
I have two quick points about how we get to
2020 on slide 16. I think we need a national GHG policy approach, not just
looking at an oil sands sector approach, so we have to be able to have the
tough conversations about how stringent our targets are and that we are not
going to meet them without hitting consumption of fossil fuels and not just
production of fossil fuels.
We cannot blame somebody else. We have to look
at it as being all of our problem and all of our problem to solve.
We have to look at shifting the conversation to
what efforts countries are putting on board to reduce carbon emissions,
whether that be developing countries or developed countries, not trying to
divide the global pie and come up with fancy equity rules for who gets what
share. Let us just figure out who is doing what to reduce carbon emissions.
I think one of the interesting things for me is
that the oil sands actually provide us with some leverage that we have not
seen yet, which is that if we put a carbon policy on and oil sands can
function under our carbon policy, how can any other industry or any other
jurisdiction that has painted that as dirty oil suddenly say their
industries are unable to function under the same carbon policy that oil
sands can function under. I think we miss the fact that there is a lot of
leverage there we could use very well.
In my view, last slide, we need a policy that
concentrates on high-value uses of emissions, that penalizes low-value uses,
not new uses and growing uses. We need one that rewards early actions and
innovation, and we need one that concentrates on those value signals on
I do not care where you are in the country; I
do not care what you are doing. If you are using carbon in a low-value way,
we do not have room for you under 607. I am sorry, it is not there.
If you are using carbon in a high-value way,
absolutely we do have room for you and our policy should enhance that. That
is my view on where we have to go with carbon, and I am more than happy to
take your questions.
The Chair: At this stage, colleagues, we do
have some photographers here. I need a standard motion that you all agree
that we can have these pictures taken. Is everybody in favour? Thank you. It
Mr. Leach: I am also happy to take
questions in French. My first language is not French, but I am happy to.