Future generations will regard the TMX pipeline as a curious monument

The Trans Mountain pipeline may be redundant. If it remains empty, future generations will wonder why it was built.

It’s a distinct possibility that the TMX pipeline, currently being built a short walk from my house in Kamloops, is unnecessary. At least, not in the near future according to a report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Existing pipelines, and expansion of Enbridge’s Mainline and Line 3, will create “more than enough pipeline export capacity” through to 2040. By then, renewable energy sources will be in place.

image: The Public Library

I’ve often wondered why the Egyptian pyramids were built when they serve no practical purpose. Sure, they were a technical marvel but they seem a bit much for a Pharaoh’s tomb when a simple gravestone would suffice.

It turns out that the pyramids were a vital symbol in Egyptian society. The Pharaoh, regarded as someone human yet divine, was responsible for maintaining prosperity. Therefore it was in everyone’s interest to keep the king’s majesty intact in the elaborate pyramids built after his death.

Generations, centuries from now, will marvel at the technical aspects of the TMX pipeline but wonder why an unused pipeline was built. Did the civilization that built it collapse before it was put to use?

Future generations will learn of the mythical properties oil in the past; how oil played an important role in the prosperity and good fortune of oil-producing provinces such as Alberta. Oil was so important to the national psyche that the federal government financed the pipeline construction. Seeing the talismanic importance of pipelines, future archaeologists will conclude that shamans directed the construction of empty pipelines to attract more oil and maintain prosperity and good fortune.

Even further into the future, archaeologists who live millennia from now will wonder what those curious lines are that span the countryside that once was Canada. Radar imagining will reveal pipes buried below the surface. Now, the burning of fossil fuels will be not only be illegal but unthinkable. Organic solar receptors will provide energy too cheap to meter. The Egyptian sun god, Ra, will be restored to veneration.

These future archaeologists will compare the curious pipe lines with others built long ago, the so-called Nazca Lines. They will see a similarity between the pipe lines and the lines and patterns of animals and plants made in Peru three millennia ago. Both the Nazca Lines and the pipe lines are best viewed from above. Both placed in arid locations, they must symbolize the irrigation system that was so vital to the regions. The gods, viewing them from on high, would be prompted to provide water for irrigation.

This would be a natural conclusion for generations living on a planet heated from the rise in CO2 to 1,000 parts per million; the polar caps now tropical and the oceans 200ft higher than millennial ago. The Prairies parched and lifeless.

And this is the likely destiny of the TMX pipeline. The mountain glaciers in Alberta, B.C. and Yukon that feed the rivers of the Prairies, will be reduced by 80 per cent in 50 years. Eventually the rivers will dwindle to a trickle.

In the not-too-distant future, water will become revered. In a futile effort to combat rising temperatures due to the build-up of CO2, water will flow from the West Coast to Alberta through the TMX pipeline.

Sand mining and fracking

Standing on a beach, the sand seems infinite but it’s being mined at an alarming rate to make concrete. Standing on the edge of an open pit sand mine used for fracking is hazardous and the pit is an ugly scar on the earth.

sand

Sand is necessary for fracking. Once the shale deposits are fractured under high pressure, sand holds the pores open to allow oil or natural gas to flow.

Fracking operations have been suspended as cheap oil floods the market. But fracking will be back and so will the need for frac sand. When that happens, the B.C. Liberals will once again be flogging international markets with our natural gas under the pretence that it’s a clean fuel.

As it is, B.C.’s frac sand must be brought in from other provinces at a cost of $250 to $300 a tonne. Since single fracked well can use 10,000 tonnes, it’s obvious that oil and gas companies would like to have frac sand closer to home.

Not any sand will do; not what you’d find on a beach says Sean Cockerham of McClatchy News:

“Rounded quartz sand is needed because it’s strong enough to handle the pressure and depths involved in fracking. Beach sand is too angular and full of impurities.”

Descriptions for frac sand take on the connoisseurs’ appreciation of the soil for fine wine: the terroir of a particular region’s climate and soils that affect the taste of wine. The “Northern White” sand of Wisconsin is excellent for fracking. The hickory, or brown, sand of Central Texas is less desirable but has the benefit of being close to the home of the best oil and gas fields in the U.S.

Unlike the making of fine wine, the landscape is destroyed in the extraction of fine frac sand. Not only have that, but the piles of sand present a health hazard that’s worsened as a result of the slowdown in fracking says Ryan Schuessler for Aljazeera. Victoria Trinko lives one-half kilometer away from one of these drifting piles of sand.

“’That particular mine started in July 2011,’ Trinko, 69, said. ‘By April of the next year, I had developed a raspy voice. I was wheezing. Sore throat.’ She said her doctor later diagnosed her with asthma resulting from her environment. Her cows have started coughing, too, she said.”

What’s blowing in the wind is c, released into the air during frac sand mining. The mining company is supposed to keep the sand piles damp to keep it from blowing away but with the slowdown, maintenance is not profitable. Silica is a carcinogen and can cause silicosis, an incurable lung disease that can lead to death.

Stikine Energy Corp. of Vancouver thinks it’s found a solution to B.C.’s frac sand problem. Stikine president Scott Broughton says his company has discovered very promising deposits, large enough to support open pit mining. Despite the slowdown, the deposits 90 kilometres north of Prince George are still listed in B.C.’s major project website, waiting to be mined.

The dangers of frac sand should be another nail in the coffin of fracking but once the price of oil soars, watch for a resurrection.