Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Conservation and Reclamation of our Land

Footprints: The Evolution of Land Conservation and Reclamation in Alberta by Robert Bott, Graham Chandler, and Peter McKenzie-Brown (Kingsley, 2016) was released on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, at the Canadian Land Reclamation Association (CLRA) conference in Red Deer, Alberta. The illustrated and extensively annotated e-book is available for free (23MB) download or, to view an abstract before deciding whether you want to download, click here.

The CLRA purchased a limited print run of the book, initially intended for the association’s members. Some copies may be available for purchase at a later date.

Footprints is the story of how Alberta’s land conservation and reclamation program came into being and how it has progressed over the past half century. The goal is to provide an objective description for current and future generations. The book will be of interest and value to practitioners actively engaged in the numerous conservation and reclamation components, to landowners whose land is being disturbed, to industrial users responsible for the disturbance, to elected and appointed officials having a moral duty to see to the land’s conservation and reclamation, and to college or university students considering a career in this or a related field.

The book project was initiated by several dozen retired or still-active land reclamation practitioners whose careers, in some instances, reach as far back as the 1960s. Some are still employed in public or private life, conserving and reclaiming our rich natural heritage. The publication will help to assess how effectively we have been and are conserving our land base and providing the stewardship required to pass our legacy on to our progeny.

Those participating in the book’s creation included professional writers, former and current government regulators, researchers, academics, and former to current industry reclamation managers or practitioners. Some contributed text, memories of their actions and observations, photographs, and documents to help piece together this history.

Every word, picture, and illustration in Footprints bears multiple “fingerprints.” Producing the book involved intense collaboration among the steering group volunteers and the team of contractors assembled by Charlene Dobmeier of Kingsley Publishing Services in early 2014. As project coordinator and co-editor, Dobmeier brought her own extensive experience as a publisher and editor of historical and technical books on Western Canada and its industries.

The three professional writers had a collective century of experience writing about energy, the environment, and history, but little previous exposure to the specifics of land conservation and reclamation. Steering group members provided invaluable guidance, arranged site visits, and pointed the writers to interview subjects and documents; the group members and other experts also reviewed multiple drafts and provided numerous suggestions, corrections, and additions to the text, including several sidebars.

Henry Thiessen’s memoir of the policy and regulatory evolution prior to 1983 was a key resource and forms the core of Chapter 3. Chandler and McKenzie-Brown focused on researching and writing chapters on the main industrial sectors, while Bott worked mainly on overview sections and editing, but there was a great deal of overlap, cross-referencing, and mutual assistance.

As the project progressed, Chris Powter added his encyclopedic knowledge and keen eye for detail to the editorial skills of Bott and Dobmeier, while John Luckhurst deftly handled design, photo selection, and layout. Looking back, the writers were impressed by the professionalism, dedication, and generosity of the people working in this field, the scope and scale of what they have achieved, and the immensity of the tasks that still lie ahead.


Robert Bott is a Calgary-based writer, editor, and communications consultant specializing in energy, forestry, and the environment; he is also a senior affiliate with Ian Murray & Co. (IMC Projects). His publications as author or co-author include Life after Oil (Hurtig, 1983), Mileposts (Interprovincial Pipeline, 1989), A Place of Vision (University of Calgary, 1990), Our Petroleum Challenge (Petroleum Communication Foundation, 4 editions, 1991-2013), Our Growing Resource (Alberta Forest Products Association, 1992), Learning from the Forest (Fifth House, 2003), A Decade of Excellence (Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries, 2003), Evolution of Canada’s Oil and Gas Industry (Canadian Centre for Energy Information, 2004), and more than 60 magazine articles. He worked on two major projects for the National Energy Board between 2007 and 2013 and has written corporate environmental reports for Amoco Canada, Weldwood Canada, and Alberta-Pacific. 

Earlier, he worked as a journalist with United Press International and the Calgary Herald, managing editor of Energy Magazine, writer-interviewer for the CBC-TV program Business Watch, editor of energy articles for The Canadian Encyclopedia, and columnist for the Calgary Herald and Oilweek Magazine. He served two terms as a public member on the Governing Council of the College of Alberta Professional Foresters (2003-2009) and is a member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada, the Calgary Association of Freelance Editors, the Petroleum History Society, and the Forest History Association. He is a recipient of the Petroleum History Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award, four National Journalism Awards, and one Western Magazine Award.
Graham Chandler is a Calgary-based writer specializing in heritage, aviation, energy, and the environment. His credits include more than 400 published articles in national and international magazines such as Saudi Aramco World, Air & Space/Smithsonian, National Geographic World, Equinox, Earth Explorer, Canadian Geographic, and several energy industry periodicals. He has won four national writing awards from publishing associations including the Canadian Business Press and the Society of National Association Publications. He holds an MBA from the University of Alberta and a PhD in archaeology from the University of London (England) and has done field research in Belize, the Canadian High Arctic, Greece, Turkey, and Pakistan, and a post-doctoral fellowship at the British School at Athens. His previous air force career included graduation from the US Naval Test Pilot School and 10 years of aerospace engineering and flight testing experience. He then worked in finance and marketing in the oil and gas industry in Calgary, Denver, and Houston. His corporate and educational writing clients have included the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the Petroleum Communication Foundation, Suncor Energy, Petro-Canada, Schlumberger, and Shell Canada Limited. Memberships include the Professional Writers Association of Canada, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Society of American Archaeology, the European Association of South Asian Archaeologists, and the Royal Asiatic Society.
Peter McKenzie-Brown is an author and historian specializing in oil and gas. He has written or contributed to five books in addition to Footprints; these include The Alberta Oil Sands: The technologies, leadership, politics, and passions behind them (to be published in in 2016); Barbecues, Booms and Blogs: Fifty years of public relations in Calgary (2008, co-editor and contributor); In Balance: An account of Alberta’s CA profession (2000,with Stacy Philips); The Richness of Discovery: Amoco’s first fifty years in Canada (1998); and The Great Oil Age: The petroleum industry in Canada (1993, with Gordon Jaremko and David Finch). In 2007, he contributed a five-part series on the history of Canada’s petroleum industry to Wikipedia. He has written many articles for energy-related magazines and was a coordinator and interviewer for the Petroleum History Society’s Oil Sands Oral History Project. Earlier in his career, he worked for the Reuters news agency in London, England. He has also worked for Gulf Oil Canada, the Canadian Petroleum Association, and Amoco Canada.

Co-Editors with Robert Bott

Chris Powter, BSc, MSc, is currently the owner of Enviro Q&A Services, a consulting firm providing environmental advice and guidance to the resource industry and government regulators.

From April 2010 to December 2014 Chris was the Executive Director of the Oil Sands Research and Information Network (OSRIN) in the School of Energy and the Environment at the University of Alberta. His work involved identifying research and information gaps related to environmental impacts of oil sands mining, filling those gaps through research and disseminating information to regulators, industry and the public.

Chris has a BSc in Ecology and a MSc in Plant Ecology from the University of Guelph. Chris worked for Alberta Environment for 29 years, including duties in land reclamation from 1981 to 2002, then in policy and legislation development from 2002 to 2007 and finally as the head of the provincial assessment program from 2007 to 2010.

Chris was the recipient of the Canadian Land Reclamation Association’s Edward M. Watkin Award in 1988, the Noranda Land Reclamation Award in 2001 and the Alberta Chamber of Resources 2004 Reclamation Citation for lifetime achievement.

Chris is also the author of the Curmudgeon’s Corner series in the Canadian Reclamation magazine.

Charlene Dobmeier of Kingsley Publishing Services Inc. has been in the book industry for more than thirty years and has edited and/or published more than 425 titles. She holds a B.Ed. and a B.A. Honours in History from the University of Saskatchewan and also has a background in volunteer international development work and not-for-profit board development. From 1985 to 2008, Charlene was managing editor then publisher at Fifth House Ltd. and led the company to Publisher of the Year Awards in 2006 and 2007 and numerous Best Book Awards, including the Governor-General Award shortlist.  She now owns and operates Kingsley Publishing Services with offices in Alberta and British Columbia offering consulting, project management, and professional publishing services to clients who have a commitment to quality.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Water Wisdom

Royal Society report reviewing how spilled oil reacts in water 

is helping enhance industry's water knowledge

This article appears in the March issue of Oilweek magazine.

By Peter McKenzie-Brown

The year 2010 was a watershed for industry people who specialize in oil spill prevention and recovery. BP oversaw management of the biggest blowout in history. Well control and cleanup cost BP US$54 billion, plus US$18.7 billion to settle other claims. These events coincided with an Enbridge pipeline spill. Though a far smaller catastrophe, that spill became history’s most expensive oil spill clean-up operation.

Also in that year, the National Energy Board gave conditional approval for Enbridge to construct its Northern Gateway pipeline. As one of its conditions, though, the regulator instructed the company to establish a research program into the behaviour and cleanup (including recovery) of oils spilled in watery environments.

This reflected the newsworthiness of the two big spills. However, it also recognized the fact that, although oil spills are rare, when y happen they become hot-button issues in the news. Coverage of these worst-on-record events made it clear that, no matter what precautions the industry takes, oil does spill into streams, lakes and the sea.

The NEB condition prompted CAPP and the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association to ask the Royal Society of Canada to supervise a peer-reviewed study into the accidental release of oil into water and wetlands. The seven panel members had world-class credentials, and represented universities and scientific organizations from Canada, America and Australia. The researchers completed and released the report – it bears the yawning title Behaviour and Environmental Impacts of Crude Oil Released into Aqueous Environments – in less than two years.

The chair: Kenneth Lee, the Canadian oil spill recovery expert who chaired the project, is director of Oceans and Atmosphere for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Perth, Australia. He left Canada four years ago after seeing his federal research lab in Dartmouth, N.S downsized in a budget cut – even though his experience was such that he played a role in mitigating the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

As a scientist involved in the development and application of oil spill counter-measures, US Government agencies had asked him to work with a science team monitoring  the effectiveness and potential environmental impacts of the clean-up of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. “I witnessed how the spill affected the region’s environment and the surrounding local communities,” he told his audience in Calgary.

“In the past, industry-research partnerships focused on improving production technologies and solutions,” he wrote by way of introducing himself to his CSIRO colleagues. However, that has changed. “Our focus for oil and gas research now includes environmental, economic and social factors, including risk assessments for regulatory approval, exploration, production, transportation, decommissioning, and emergency response to spills and mitigation.”

Even though Lee had pulled up stakes and moved to Australia, his peers asked him to chair Canada’s oil spill study. Last November he presided over the release of the extensive report (it’s available online) at a talk to industry specialists.

“Do we know enough about how crude oils behave when released into fresh waters, estuaries or oceans to develop effective strategies for spill preparedness, spill response and remediation?” he asked. “What are our gaps in knowledge, and how should research inform policy, regulation and practice?” he asked. Briefly, those were the questions the researchers set out to answer.

Cutting to the chase: “Leading experts on oil chemistry, behaviour, and toxicity reviewed the science relevant to potential oil spills into Canada’s lakes, waterways, wetlands, and offshore,” Lee said. The task force examined the impacts of spills and oil spill responses for everything from pentanes and light oil to bitumen and dilbit and other unconventional oils. It surveyed scientific literature and key reports and oil spill case studies. They consulted industry, government, and environmental stakeholders. While most of the spills they studied took place in Canada, some were out of the country – for example, the accidental release of dilbit into a tributary of Michigan’s Kalamazoo River from a two-metre rupture in an Enbridge pipeline. Cleanup took two years, and cost US$765 million.

Each crude oil type has its own chemical “fingerprints,” Lee said, and those fingerprints determine how readily spilled oil spreads, sinks and disperses, how it affects aquatic critters and wildlife, and how long it takes for biodegradation of the oil to start. For the most part, oil’s impact on water depends on weather and waves, and how quickly clean-up operations begin.

The result is technical coverage of saltwater straits, freshwater lakes, running rivers and dense wetlands. Each is home to distinctive geologic features, but also to microorganisms that can transform oil as it spills and spreads. Those microscopic bugs degrade different oil types in a variety of ways, and their impact is often an important part of oil spill cleanup strategies. “Sunlight, wind, waves, and weather conditions can physically and chemically transform a spill,” the report says. “These changes to the chemistry of oil are crucial factors affecting how spilled oil spreads, affects aquatic organisms and people, or lingers in the environment.”

Oil spills are  infrequent, according to the report, “and the probability of spills decreases with increasing spill size.

Despite the relative infrequency of crude oil spills into water, they can have big impacts economically, and from the perspectives of human health, safety and the environment. These realities raised many questions, and they demanded study.

Biodegradation: As technical as its title, the report set out to answer six questions, and uses 240,000 words to do so. Here is a summary of its first three conclusions.

To begin, the science is limited to a large degree because of the chemical degradation that takes place as oil in water weathers. However, “the initial and ultimate fate” of all oil types is strongly affected by season and weather. “The lighter the oil, the more it is affected by spreading and evaporation and the easier it is to treat effectively,” says the report. These processes slow down as the oil gets heavier. Heavy oil and bitumen-type oils, which have fewer water-soluble components, are more resistant to evaporation and biodegradation. Thus, “their potential long-term damage to the environment, waterfowl and fur-bearing animals is greater,” and cleanup is extremely difficult.

Another key question was how the different forms of oil affected different water ecosystems. Most of the creatures living in water are victims of some degree of habitat destruction from oil spills but the largest group of studies available had to do with the impact of spills on fish. Many of the studies available concerned fish, but in this case, spills of light oil are the cause. 

“Observed fish kills are typically brief and localized because of the rapid loss of [acutely lethal low molecular weight oil components] through dilution and weathering,” the authors wrote. They cautioned, however, about extensive fish mortalities “observed in rivers where a point source of oil was rapidly transported downstream before significant weathering occurred.”

The microbiologists on the team wanted to know how these ubiquitous creatures affect the properties of spilled oil, its persistence and its toxicity. Once again, they reported that light oils are more biodegradable than heavier oils and leave lighter residues. Smaller proportions of heavy crudes are readily biodegradable, and their residues persist in the environment even after cleanup. Ironically, they observe that, an area which has been the site of previous spills may begin biodegradation of a new spill quite quickly. The idea is that microbes in existing oil residues would rapidly begin to multiply, consuming the new oil. That said, the researchers worried about the impact of microbial processes on diluted bitumen. The alkalinity of dilbit could kill off some forms of microbe.

Oil spill response: Behind the endless science in this report, of course, is the technical information needed to contribute to oil spill containment and recovery practice, and the balance of the report focuses in that area. After urging further biodegradability studies, the report discusses the use of oil dispersants for spill response, and discusses the use of mathematical tools to optimize doses, logistics and operations used to apply them. It also argues for “more effective and eco-friendly” dispersants.

What’s more, the oil spill recovery techniques in use today – for example, the use of booms, in-situ burning, skimming, dispersion and bioremediation – have a lot of limitations. They aren’t easily adaptable for cold waters and Arctic environments, for example. Among a truckload of other recommendations, the researchers recommend more field trials to advance spill response practices – “especially for subsurface blowouts, Arctic oil spills and freshwater shorelines.”

And in the spirit of good science, of course, they call for new studies to fill in the gaps, identifying seven areas where industry, government and academic institutions need to do more work. New work is coming from many research teams and funding agencies. As importantly, it is leading to technologies and other approaches to watershed management that reduce water-body contamination.

Take the case of operations that develop resources through fracking. 

President of the Canadian Society for Unconventional Resources Kevin Heffernan describes many ways his industry – a big water user – is “greening” its use of water. “You can reduce water use by injecting the water where it’s needed only, and there are technologies like the ‘sliding sleeve’ which enables you to inject water, chemicals and other materials only where you will get maximum production.”

Eric Schmelz – a vice president of NCS Multistage, which deploys this technology –providing precise positioning in the horizontal wellbore can “reduce by up to 50 percent the amount of fluid needed for fracking using the old methods. More typically, it involves a 30 to 40 percent reduction.”

A smattering of advocates: Consider a study sponsored by WaterSmart, a Calgary-based not-for-profit focused on efficient water consumption, and CCEMC, an industry-funded corporation which helps finance environment-related science. “Alberta’s social, economic and environmental history and heritage is directly tied to its water resources.” Although powered by hydrocarbons, “Alberta’s economy runs on water,” it says. “Water availability constrains and challenges economic and population growth throughout the province.”

WaterSmart’s executive director, Kim Sturgess, says good water management is less about technology, more about cooperation among the people who work and live in a given area. “The watershed management plan, and cooperation among the communities that need the water and use it – those are the key concerns that I have.” Everyone in the province has a stake in clean water, and “we need to work together to sustain the resiliency of Alberta’s water supplies and the communities (including industry) that need them.” 

She also worries that the water used to produce the oilsands comes mostly from underground aquifers. “Groundwater aquifers are not well understood in this province,” she says. “There are pockets in Alberta where the groundwater is well known but overall that is not the case.” She is especially concerned about the management of the downhole aquifers tapped for SAGD operations.

According to Brett Purdy of Alberta Innovates, a provincial think-tank, one consortium is testing a zero-liquid-discharge water treatment system. Now under construction, the test unit will produce “solid salt rather than liquid brine” from contaminated or processed water at a SAGD facility. Compared to conventional treatment, “the pilot is likely to discharge less wastewater, and withdraw less freshwater from nearby reservoirs,” he says.