Tim Binnema: Bitching about bitumen

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      Over 1,000 citizens made oral presentations to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project Joint Review Panel. My presentation can be boiled down to three numbers—1, 7, and 500.

      The number 500 is the number of hours it takes a person to do the same amount of work that can be done with one gallon of gasoline. Adam Smith, in his book The Wealth of Nations, says, “Labour therefore, is the real measure of the exchangeable value of all commodities.” In today’s English, what Smith was saying is that the value of labour is the most constant measure of the value of purchasable goods and services. The value of gasoline using Smith’s conclusion based on a $10 per hour value of labour is $5,000 per gallon. If we were extracting the last usable fossil fuels today, they could not be purchased for less than $5,000 per gallon.

      This leads me to the number 7. It is said that in some First Nations traditions, no decision would be made without review of the will of the seven generations previous and in consideration of the effects of the decision for the seven generations following. This perspective is remarkable for a culture which did not consume “non-renewable” resources. In a society such as ours, with the capacity to extract huge quantities of natural resources, the seven generation rule should be a minimum. Today, our decisions barely consider past the current generation.

      The number 1 is significant because one hour is the amount of time the sun needs to shine in order to radiate an equivalent amount of all the energy currently used by mankind in one year. The number one is a symbol of the possibilities that exist to have a flourishing society making use mainly of the energy coming at us from the sun. This energy can be harvested by passive solar homes, solar arrays, wind energy, and other ways we may not have even imagined. I urge you to remember the number 1 and its significance of possibilities and hope.

      We need change the way we value fossil fuels both in fairness to future generations and because it is the only path to reduce our use of those fuels. Pipelines will increase the worldwide supply of oil which would put downward pressure on world oil prices. This is likely why many countries are clamoring to get involved in developing our resources.

      Knowing that the availability of fossil fuels will continue to decrease, we need make decisions that allow us to stretch the life of this resource. We can be certain that its future value will be more in proportion to the value of labour it displaces, much more than the present value. This pipeline supports the increased rate of extraction of bitumen, which I do not support. I support getting real value for the resources under the stewardship of the people of Canada.

      Every one hour of sunlight provides enough energy for one year. Let’s just get on with harvesting a bit of that and leave the fossil fuels with the fossils. The next seven generations and beyond are counting on us. Don’t force them to work 500 hours so we can drive to the corner store.




      Mar 25, 2013 at 7:51pm

      So you say use manual labor not gasoline?.Tell me how we are going to cross over to Victoria ? paddle.
      If the first nations had gasline and could build cars do you think they would still ride horses? so why 7 generations ago,They barly had fire.
      And as far as solar,and wind power is concerned ,how many batteries would you need to store that power ,as it is not consistant.Also how many solarand wind mills would you need for all of Vancouver and area?.Impossible,even if you powered 100 homes with it the battries you would need would offset any carbon emmitions,as they all come from China on big ships that run on oil.
      As of now the only reliable constant cleaner power is nat.gas Water or nuclear,besides have you seen the dead birds under these windmills ? yes no one wants to talk about that.
      Reality for the Greens is immposible now,maybe the future but now we need oil and there is lots of it ,YES LOTS of it still under ground for hundreds of years ,another false statement by the greens,
      We can only do the bst with what we have now and work on the future.


      Mar 25, 2013 at 8:38pm

      A barrel of bitumen in Alberta is not worth very much. Doesnt leave much for environmental costs. With a pipeline, it is worth more. Regulations can then be enacted and enforced.
      Fracking is the problem. The quantity of the resource is unknown, if it keeps depressing oil prices then the whole oil sands operation may go belly up with nothing reaching closure.
      The pipeline needs built just to preserve the oil sands industry so environmental closure can be completed.

      I think a bigger problem with fracking is if it becomes a cheap seemingly infinite source of fossil fuel. I'm not sure mankind can survive that future, given our greed and short lifespans.


      Mar 26, 2013 at 3:10am

      I liked your article, good luck in the election as well the other candidates are all acting like Fossils, still thinking we can continue to wreck the planet and consume more crap to save the economy, and yes we all need to talk about reduction of Everything.

      Ali Said

      Mar 30, 2013 at 11:25pm

      Do you know at least that Bosch closed its solar panel business in Europe because it was losing 1billion euros a year while factories in China are also closing after selling off their stock? Is that your green employment future for BC? Think!

      Jerome Dickey

      Apr 7, 2013 at 2:25pm

      Visionary thinking takes leadership and that clearly is lacking with the "fossil" parties. Greens are the best choice to shift on our terms, while we still can, to a lower-carbon economy. In one generation, greed has done more damage to our planet than many generations before. It's time for us all to stop being selfish and think about future generations. Well said Tim!

      Tim Binnema

      Apr 7, 2013 at 9:06pm

      Thanks for everyone's comments.
      I am glad most people seemed to realize that getting good value for our fossil fuels is important. I believe that we need good long term planning so that we can use the wealth of engineering and construction talent that we have in BC to develop "green" businesses NOW so they will be mature businesses by the time that fossil fuel scarcity becomes an even more serious issue.
      Waiting for the "energy battery" to run dry before we decide to switch batteries does not seem like a wise path to me.


      May 3, 2013 at 9:35am

      Great article, Tim. I fully support your opinion that we are not getting the full value that we deserve for our precious natural resources. The only way to regenerate the push for higher value is to SLOW DOWN. A pipeline running Bitumen from Alberta through BC straight to Asia should be at the bottom of a long list of priorities we need to be considering. Contrary to what some misinformed readers may believe, alternative energy is not impossible - it's short term success will depend on our ability to prioritize it in a balanced way in conjunction with fossil fuels.

      Martin Halvorson

      Apr 16, 2014 at 7:55pm

      Really well written, Tim, succinct and powerful. Here's a related observation. We also vastly undervalue our Hydro Electric power. If we were to factor in just the market value of the land that is flooded to create this "green" energy, it would change the numbers dramatically, and make wind and solar options much more "economic." And this is without considering the non market costs of flooding tens of thousands of acres; ecosystems and species destroyed, etc.

      Martin Halvorson

      Apr 16, 2014 at 7:58pm

      And I'd just like to add for the benefit of those who feel that bitumen needs this pipeline to be worth anything - it's worth nearly $100 per barrel if it is sold at the peaks, and it costs only $27 to produce, including amortizing the infrastructure. The biggest problem is that the production levels are too high, and the market is being glutted, so it's often sold at a large discount. Part of the problem too is that the producers aren't committing to forward contracts at fixed prices; possibly in hopes of capitalizing on higher market prices in the future. So far this strategy hasn't worked out for them.