Thanksgiving is a multipurpose holiday. It is a chance to see how much food can be inhaled in a single sitting, and to see how much of it can be turned to fat by watching football for the rest of the day. At some point though, it’s always nice to take a walk in the fall air, see the fall scenery (or wade through knee-deep snow if in Calgary), and mull over the things we should be grateful for.
We all take a lot for granted, but this year BC provided a few crystal-clear examples of some important ones that deserve more respect – proper emergency response planning, and our most predominant heat source. This isn’t to single out BC; every single jurisdiction in the world should be grateful for the petroleum infrastructure that fuels our way of life and keeps us alive in winter. But BC had two experiences recently that are helpful to bring home a few stark realities. Ironically, one event was truly excellent but was ignored, and the other was a bombshell that 700,000 people narrowly dodged, and that should be a massive wake-up call.
The emergency response example – a Trans Mountain incident, sort of – is paradoxically a fantastic story and yet one that almost no one has heard about, and they really should. I would never have heard of it either, except for a kind reader who passed it along (thanks, Danny Mascaluk). In Surrey, BC, over the Thanksgiving weekend, a petroleum substance was found in a ditch. Normally, this is the sort of event that has the media and haters lined up to gleefully speculate about how dangerous pipelines are. However, only one media source covered the story, which, given the environment we’re in, seems unbelievable.
And, of course, the rest of the media didn’t let us down; there was a reason they ignored the story – the spill had nothing to do with Trans Mountain. If it’s not evil and contentious, the general media simply says, meh. What should have made the news though was Trans Mountain’s exemplary response.
The errant petroleum did not come from a pipeline of any sort, but most likely either from an old-school scofflaw or a decrepit home storage shack. Authorities suspect someone dumped used automotive motor oil in a ditch; other reports indicated that some private citizen had a release from a rickety storage shed. Regardless, as soon as Trans Mountain was notified of the presence of the spill, the entire Trans Mountain pipeline was shut in, and emergency response plans activated.
Think about the magnitude of what the pipeline company did, immediately upon being made aware that a petroleum substance of unknown origin was on the lam. Trans Mountain, even though its instrumentation indicated nothing was wrong, shut in a 300 thousand barrel per day pipeline instantly just in case the pipeline was possibly involved. To make things even more impressive, even once the spill was determined to be small and from an unrelated source, Trans Mountain still sent four spill clean-up trucks to take care of the mini-mess. From the first notice sent out by Trans Mountain at 9:45 am, Trans Mountain was also monitoring air quality in the area.
That is what you get when you have a pipeline operating nearby, something that is never mentioned publicly – an unsung form of neighbourhood watch. A story like this one, which is as good as it gets from an environmental stewardship perspective, was summarily ignored by the media save for the one story linked above, which shamefully offered this bit of garbage for a headline: “Trans Mountain pipeline resumes operations after a suspected spill.” Another useless headline, designed to produce doubt in the public’s mind through pure innuendo. Trans Mountain did not reply and is hardly to blame for the deafening silence; they would have been vilified if they had issued press releases and conducted interviews on site. They couldn’t, and can’t, win.
Meanwhile, way up north, an explosion of undetermined origin blew up a natural gas pipeline that serves BC’s lower mainland. The impacts were significant; gasoline prices rose in southern BC and Washington state (because refineries require natural gas) and some institutions such as the BC Institute of Technology were forced to lower the heat in their buildings, instructing students to show up for class in hats, mitts and jackets.
This pipeline incident made the news mainly because of the bright orange fireball, which is understandable; any decent explosion is a friend of the media. But as with the non-Trans Mountain spill, the media showed little interest in the actual significance of this event. What would have happened to the lower mainland if this explosion had occurred in the dead of winter, even a feeble Vancouver-type winter? An estimated 700,000 people would possibly have been without heat, and many industries and large buildings would have been impacted in a massive way.
These incidents bring a few points of interest to mind. First, the faux-Trans Mountain incident is an indication of how seriously the company takes spills. Shutting down a 300,000 b/d pipeline to investigate a few litres of oil in a ditch, which would have been quickly obvious had nothing to do with the pipeline, is a pretty strong statement. On top of that, monitoring air quality and dispatching four trucks to clean up something they had nothing to do with is a pretty strong statement too.
Second, it should be crystal clear how reliant BC, and anywhere for that matter, is on our existing petroleum infrastructure and supply. Imagine if a similar pipeline break deprived Edmonton of an equally significant heat source in winter. Or Toronto, or Ottawa, any of which places have winters that are more deadly than damp.
And remember how this extends to the world. China and India can’t survive without coal, not even close, and that won’t change for decades. NYC can’t survive without natural gas. Chicago would be uninhabitable in winter. And what was that about having to get rid of fossil fuels for the survival of humankind?
Gratitude is attitude. You can look at the world like Naomi Klein does, through mud-coloured glasses, and lament that the world is a depressing shop of horrors populated by nothing but virtuous protesters and evil everyone-else. Out of this grim world-view springs the hatred for fossil fuels. There is no other way to make sense of that attitude. How can people protest to eliminate a fuel that allows them to live in regions that have winters, that brings them endless arrays of food and goods from around the world, and allows travel similarly?
In North America’s Thanksgiving season, the good side of humanity shows respect for that which provides them life, liberty and happiness. Gratitude and humility are the proper attitudes, not whining and fear-mongering about, for example, how fossil fuels are killing us. They unequivocally keep us alive. If you fear for the planet and the climate, seize the opportunity and stop consuming so much, and work to convince others to do so too. Find solutions rather than wanton destruction. Individuals consume fossil fuels, directly or through businesses and institutions they support, and reducing usage of fossil fuels is 100 percent up to the people that consume them, and no one else.