Sunday, October 28, 2018

Controversial? Expand pipelines to help solve Climate Change

When I was at the Los Angeles Climate Reality training, an announcement came out that stated that the Trans Mountain (Kinder Morgan) Pipeline project had been stalled by the Canadian Supreme Court.  This announcement was met with cheers (less oil getting to market equals fewer global emissions, yes?).  Here are the details:

Allow me to spark a likely controversial discussion.  I am not sure that limiting pipeline capacity is in the best interests of reducing climate change.  In fact, it is my argument that the carrot of expanding pipeline capacity could provide regulatory agencies enough leverage to extract significant clean energy funding, and put substantial carbon-reduction policies in place, that would not otherwise be possible without this opportunity.  Now, in the case of Alberta, expanding the pipelines (both the Keystone XL, and the Trans Mountain) will allow for greater Canadian oil to get to market.  Both of these expansions have been heavily criticized.  So how could they *possibly* be good for climate change?

Allow me to explain my thinking.

First, a quick diversion - the Trans Mountain pipeline and the Keystone XL pipeline met the most resistance from First Nations groups, regarding the location of the pipeline and concerns over local environmental damage (ie, pipeline leaks).  I’m almost uncomfortable with the attachment of the phrase “Indigenous Groups” to the media articles - *all* property rights should be protected and I suspect that if these were white farmers unwilling to relinquish their land that the discussion would be very different — historically, marginalized groups with low political power have often borne the brunt of “progress”.  Local environmental spills are a concern, and may well be significant in their own right (the Supreme Court of Canada thinks so), but that won’t be part of my argument.

Now, back to Climate Change.

Here are my arguments (all figures in USD):

1) The amount of CO2 released to the atmosphere is a function of global oil consumption, which is a function of global oil demand, which is only weakly tied to oil prices.  Therefore, if Canadian oil were throttled, the oil burned globally will simply come from somewhere else.  The only question, then, is if the addition of the pipeline capacity would be enough to move global oil prices to increase global consumption.  My feeling is that it would not.

2) Canada has much more stringent worker safety and environmental regulations than many other nations.  Every drop of oil which doesn’t come from Canada may just as likely be produced from Angola.  Therefore, from an environmental protection concern, and from a global emission concern, if the carbon intensity of Canadian oil is less than that of other producing nations, then the CO2 emissions from a policy of throttling Canadian oil may well go UP.  Alberta and Canada are very serious about reducing methane emissions, with a goal of reducing methane emissions by 45% by 2025 - not a small goal, and not far away.

2a) This is a minor point, but worth mentioning.  An oil industry executive recently mentioned to me: “The only thing worse, from a potential leak perspective, than a new pipeline is a *really old* pipeline”.  My father worked as a welder’s assistant on the pipelines in Canada when he was in high-school — the Canadian pipelines are old, and represent increased environmental risk.  Furthermore, without pipeline capacity, the oil from Alberta is being sent to Texas via rail and trucks, which poses a greater risk of catastrophic failure, and much greater carbon intensity (those trucks aren’t running off of fuel cells).

3) The sad reality is that progress in the clean energy economy is driven by money, and here is where the opportunity lies.  Due to pipeline capacity restrictions, the price of oil in western Canada (the WCS - Western Canadian Select) price is trading a a 46% discount from WTI (West Texas Intermediate).  Earlier this year that was only a 15% spread.  There are some good figures here:

Roughly 2.8 million barrels a day of oil are produced in Alberta.  If Alberta could sell that oil at a 15% discount to WTI, that would be $33.5B/yr more revenue from oil sales, at the same quantity of oil.  Imagine if, say, 25% of that were pumped into clean energy development?  Imagine if the attraction of an increased $33B into the economy allowed the government to impose aggressive carbon reduction policies.  Humans are short-term thinkers, that’s always been to our peril.  Let’s use that to our advantage - provide a short-term carrot (increase pipeline capacity) with long-term policies that we need (aggressive carbon taxes or emission limits that restrict emissions quite quickly).

Now, my numbers might be a bit off.  This study (below) states that the Alberta government is losing $7.2B (CDN - $5.5B USD)/yr due to pipeline capacity limits, but seeing as the Alberta government only gets the oil royalties, I would expect that the $33B overall revenue number is correct.

So, that’s my proposal.  Find a way to increase pipeline capacity out of Alberta, respecting property rights of everyone (compensate all land-owners affected, and don’t target Indigenous Peoples' land), recognize that Canadian Oil has a lower carbon intensity than other producers, and that pipelines have a lower carbon intensity than other logistics methods such as rail and truck, and then use the revenue windfall as a multi-billion dollar investment program for clean energy deployment, and as a means of extracting the political will for aggressive carbon reduction policies.

This is a complicated problem, and I feel that it may be necessary to lose a few battles to win the war.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Our Time is Now

Here's a well laid out argument that encapsulates a lot of what I've been reading about and talking about for the past 20+ years.  This is our moonshot, our "Day After Tomorrow", our Cuban Missile Crisis.  Nothing is more important, on a short-term and long-term scale.

Monday, October 08, 2018

We have 12 years left to act on climate change, UN warns

A great article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

grim report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that if governments don’t act on climate change soon, more devastation is to be expected.

Denial vs Despair.

We have 12 years until we pass the carbon budget for 1.5C.

After 2C, we may never be able to solve this as the ball will start rolling down the hill.  This isn't a "chinese hoax" or "sunspots" or "volcanoes".  What I spend the rest of my life doing may be the last time we have to do anything.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Modern Day Willy Wonka!

Unbelievable!  We are witnessing a real-life golden ticket!

SpaceX and the #DearMoon project ( announced that in 2023 there will be the first private passengers to the moon - Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa and 6-8 artists that he will choose to go with him!

This is absolutely phenomenal.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Climate Reality training - Los Angeles - Aug 28-30

For anyone interested in attending the upcoming Climate Reality training in Los Angeles, here is the link.  It's a great collection of the latest science and impacts of climate change.  I attended the event in Pittsburgh last year, so if you are trying to be more knowledgeable as to the extent of the crisis, and to join a larger community looking to do something, then I recommend that you take the time to attend.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Win of Not-Losing

Mark Suster (Upfront Ventures) has a great blog post entitled, Be Careful Not to Lose Twice.

It's a really good read about when to fight, and when to walk away (cue The Gambler).

The whole thing is worth a read, but this line really struck me:
This also applies to internal company decisions. Let’s say a senior member of your team demanded a pay increase (cash or equity) and you didn’t like the way he or she approached you. Sometimes the right thing is to firmly but politely resist the increase. Sometimes the right thing to do is to give in completely. And sometimes the right thing to do is to compromise. If you do decide to compromise then don’t be snide or mean-spirited about it after the fact. If you’re going to give him a victory then lavish praise on him as you meet his request. There’s nothing worse than consenting to the increase and having him feel pissed off about it. You lose twice.
 (bold, italics mine).

Losing sucks, and I've watched some really unethical behavior go unpunished, and that sucks too.  However, at the end, it's the final prize that matters.  Mark's right, take the optimal path, and if that involves "losing", then don't lost twice.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Seeking Alpha - Tesla Model 3 Headline

Anton Wahlman wrote for Seeking Alpha an article with the headline:

Tesla Model 3 Costs More To Charge Than A Gasoline Car

Now, the bane of many authors is that they don't write their own headline.  Assuming the math in the article is genuine, then the headline might better say:

Tesla Model 3 Costs 1/3 As Much To Charge Than A Gasoline Car

My dad asked me to explain, so here's the email that I sent him:
Well, assuming the math in the article is right, the only problem is the headline.  Tesla Model 3 does not cost more than a “gasoline” car.  It costs more than a 50+mpg super efficient HYBRID.  ($.06/mile vs $.05/mile).

And that’s assuming that you charge at a supercharger at $.24/kWh electricity price.  My price at home is $.18/kWh and in most of the US it is less.  So, that’s dropping it to $.04/kwh right there (vs the $.05 for hybrids).

And, with a hybrid, you are exposed to fuel price risk (although, with EVs, you are exposed to electricity price risk).  None of this speaks to the fact that you can cap your electricity price risk with solar panels.

So…yeah, if you want to buy an EV, and only charge it at superchargers, it might cost more than getting a super efficient hybrid.  But, if you charge it from home, that doesn’t apply - although changing electricity or gas prices could flip the answer back and forth either way.

But, seeing as my Acura gets 25mpg (and is pretty efficient typical car), then a “gasoline” car really costs $.12/mi (by their math), and so a Tesla Model 3 charged from home costs $.04/mi, or a THIRD of the cost of a “gasoline” car.  So the headline should be:

Tesla Model 3 Costs 1/3 as Much Per Mile As Gasoline Car

(and we haven’t even factored in zero oil changes, wearable parts, etc).

(and all of this assumes the entire article’s methodology is correct - I just used the right numbers.  His whole analysis could be wrong, but I’m taking it on faith that it’s correct).