Sunday, October 22, 2006
Re: Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs – Water in the West: Under Pressure
Dear Senator Banks,
Thank you very much for your presentation on our water resources to the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs on Thursday, October 12. I particularly appreciated your position that environmental conditions which affect water supply are changing, while you tried to avoid speculation as to the cause.
I also picked up a copy of the Fourth Interim Report of your Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources. The report is not quite so careful to avoid naming a cause for water supply issues. Many of the potential influences on water arising from the current modeling of climate change based on increased atmospheric greenhouse gases are identified in the section on climate change. The report thus places a very heavy emphasis on water supply issues linked to debatable predictions of anthropogenic climate change.
During the question period, I heard some statements which I have heard and read several times before. Your response to a questioner’s assertion that “incredible amounts of water” are used for tar sands oil extraction reinforced some emotional hyperbole.
You said it takes four barrels of water to retrieve a barrel of oil and that that is an “egregious misuse of our most precious natural resource”. Recently there has been a lot of enthusiasm for the production of diesel fuel from vegetable oil. Some deem that friendlier to the environment than the use of petroleum products. I wondered how much water it would take to grow canola seed to produce a barrel of oil. I found the answer to be 4500 barrels of water per barrel of oil. How egregious is that? Details of the analysis are on my website.
You indicated that fresh water injected into the ground for oil recovery is lost forever. That is likely true. It is also irrelevant. The amount of water used for oil recovery is less than the proverbial drop in the bucket when compared with the water flow through Alberta to the ocean. Fresh water is continually replenished from the ocean. When the oil is gone that fresh water use will stop. More details are provided in a letter to Alberta Views Magazine.
You also implied a shortage of water in northern Alberta, with a comment that flows of the Athabasca River had declined 40% because of reduced glacier run-off. My wife and I just drove from Lethbridge to Yellowknife. We crossed numerous large rivers including the Athabasca, Peace, Hay and MacKenzie. We saw a lot of water flowing to the Arctic Ocean. A map from Alberta Environment shows the magnitude of Alberta’s river flows to reinforce our anecdotal impression.
I can’t speak for others, but exaggerated statements without much relevance to the problem at hand, lead me to wonder if other aspects of a discussion or report are similarly distorted.
In closing, I note that the report does not make very clear why it was done. Is it an educational exercise for the Committee? Is there a specific end goal for the disposition of the report? Is the committee investigating the level of research on water supplies? To whom will the committee report results? I see it was concluded that more effort and expenditure to better understand our water supply is urgently needed. That is understandable as the bulk of witnesses consulted are in the business of water research.
Since the report is preliminary, I can understand the shortcomings noted. Perhaps they can be rectified as the Committee’s work progresses. The report does not pay much attention to the uses to which Alberta’s water is put or the benefits which accrue to Albertans. Calling witnesses to represent agriculture, irrigation, and the oil industry as major users of water in our thriving economy might be prudent. Their evidence could result in a report which puts the need for more research in better context and sharper focus.
Should you have any questions or comments, they could be posted to the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs website (www.sacpa.ca) or sent to me. Thank you again for coming to Lethbridge with Senator Fairbairn and Senator Hays to inform us of Senate activities and your Committees work on water in the west.
Duane Pendergast, Ph.D., P. Eng.
Cc: Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs WWW site. (www.sacpa.ca)