Archive for ◊ August, 2010 ◊

• Sunday, August 29th, 2010

Tap Water Lights on Fire after Gas drillingUpdate Sept 15: Quebec won’t halt shale-gas work

If anyone has the slightest idea that drilling for natural gas trapped in shale rock 1,000+ meters below the Earth is safe or sustainable, please watch the documentary film Gasland, which premiered on HBO a few days ago.

From the film, you clearly see that drilling for shale gas destroys any livable space around it. Kills it. Pollutes it. Wastes it.

You can’t live there. You can’t farm there. And you certainly can’t drink the water as evidenced by the many cases of tap water being lit on fire. That’s right – tap water – that burns.

We Quebecers are right to stop this shale gas drilling. If the drilling is allowed to occur, it will destroy the land which has already occurred far too often south of the border.

The broader question, of course, which this article fails to address is: how will Quebec or anyone else get natural gas in the future? The challenging truth is that, like petroleum oil, the easy-to-find natural gas has been found and burned.

Now what? Will we destroy our natural resources (air, land and water) just to extract and burn the last available bubbles of natural gas? It’s insane and it looks like the road we’re on unless we stop it.

Source: Globe and Mail

Thousands of metres beneath Quebec’s fertile and heavily populated St. Lawrence River valley, geologists believe up to 50 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves may be locked in hard shale. The rough preliminary estimate would place the field on a short list of the largest of its kind in Canada.

Before Quebec has even drafted its first oil-and-gas law to regulate the industry, exploration companies have obtained 600 permits and are drilling a half dozen wells to test the viability of Quebec’s gas reserves.

Shale gas would be the first major foray into fossil fuels in a province where the industry mainly pierces public consciousness for high prices at the pump, pollution, greenhouse gases or some distant environmental disaster…

At Sunday’s unveiling of the province’s plan, Mr. Arcand and Ms. Normandeau were booed and shouted down by several dozen protesters. An aide was forced to plead for calm and respect.

“Citizens have expressed their concerns, and we’ve heard them,” Ms. Normandeau said over a chorus of catcalls. “We have the responsibility to exploit such potential wealth … but we will be putting primary emphasis on the environment and on ensuring the social acceptance of any development.”

Many of the protesters were residents of Saint-Marc-sur-Richelieu, a small town about a 40-minute drive south of Montreal, where a mix of recently landed commuters and farmers have successfully stalled an early attempt at exploration by an Australian company.

Pierre Batellier, a university lecturer and leader of the local anti-drilling movement, said the town’s 2,000 residents are divided between people who welcome lease payments from drilling companies and other potential economic development and those who say Quebec is rushing into the unknown.

“There’s not a lot of tension in town, but it’s starting to grow as houses become harder to sell,” said Mr. Batellier, who teaches sustainable development at HEC Montréal, a business school.

Any oil and gas exploration would likely cause controversy in Quebec, but the “unconventional” methods used to reach shale gas promise to fuel opposition.

Exploration companies reach the gas through a recent innovation in drilling known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Thousands of litres of water, sand and chemicals are blasted into the rock to break it up and release the gas.

Several communities in Pennsylvania, where drilling is running a frenetic pace, have complained of severe water contamination while New York state has put a hold on drilling. The industry insists the problems are isolated.

Quebec environmental groups and municipal associations have asked for a moratorium on drilling until more questions are answered.

The Quebec Oil and Gas Association – created just last year and led by former Hydro-Québec president André Caillé – has predicted the industry could create thousands of jobs and drive down the price of natural gas, which is nearly twice as expensive in Quebec as it is in Alberta.

The province and industry have promised a major public-relations campaign this fall to tout the benefits of gas exploration while environmental groups say they will mobilize opposition.

• Saturday, August 21st, 2010

A home-made documentary about one couple’s quest to live waste-free comes to Montreal on Monday at Concordia University’s de Sève Cinema, 1400 de Maisonneuve West, 7PM.  I hope to see you there!

Source: The Clean Bin Project

The Clean Bin Project is a feature documentary film about a regular couple and their quest to answer the question “is it possible to live completely waste free?”.  Partners Jen and Grant go head to head in a competition to see who can swear off consumerism and produce the least landfill garbage in an entire year. Their light-hearted competition is set against a darker examination of the sobering problem waste in North American society.  Even as Grant and Jen start to garner interest in their project, they struggle to find meaning in their seemingly minuscule influence on the large-scale environmental impacts of our “throw-away society”.

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• Monday, August 16th, 2010

Plateau Duplex by Francois PoirierIt is a frequent criticism of sustainability that it tries to make people feel guilty for moving to the suburbs. The critics point out that when people move to the suburbs, they are making a rational economic decision. After all, you can buy more house with more green space for less money in the suburbs.

However, what doesn’t get calculated in the city vs. suburbs decision is the long-term environmental cost of operating one or more cars so that you can live in the suburbs and drive to work, drive to the supermarket, drive to see your friends, etc.

If Montreal can offer residents green space that is very close to their front or back door, then the city can achieve its goal of becoming the “superior” place to live.

Source: The Canadian Press

And in Montreal’s trendy Plateau Mont-Royal borough, Mayor Luc Ferrandez is doing his best to bring a little more country into the city.

“We’re looking at streets and asking ourselves, ‘Is it really useful’,” he said in a recent interview. “We’ve identified about 20 streets that are not useful, that can be taken out and retransformed into green spaces.”

Concerns about the environment have topped opinion polls for the last five to 10 years, says Pascoal Gomes, a spokesman for Montreal’s Urban Ecology Centre.

But in ever-increasing numbers, people — and cities — are acting on those concerns.

“I think people are waking up to the fact that while we might still be OK, our children and grandchildren might not be,” said Beate Bowron, a consultant with the Canadian Institute of Planners.

Many measures probably don’t seem that radical.

Traffic calming — the rerouting of vehicles onto major arteries and away from neighbourhoods — is one. Narrowing streets to dissuade cars is another. More trees is yet another.

“Generally speaking, people have finally, from a planning point of view, started to look at a street as something beyond just moving traffic,” Bowron said.

And not just vehicle traffic but pedestrian and bicycle traffic as well.

“Everybody is thinking about streets as multi-use,” she explained.

“Smaller streets have a huge role to play in the neighbourhood, not as thoroughfares necessarily but as a place where people meet and where you push your baby carriage and you have your kid learn to ride a bicycle.”

The increased use of neighbourhood thoroughfares is something that’s furrowed Ferrandez’s brow for quite some time.

When he and his Projet Montreal team swept into power in the Plateau district in last fall’s municipal elections, he vowed to do something about it.

His full-court press for the environment has had its critics — including merchants who worry the repurposing of streets will deprive their customers of parking spaces, and residents who will have to walk farther from parking spaces to their destinations.

“Parking is very sensitive,” acknowledges Ferrandez, an avid cyclist who occasionally rents a car to go cross-country skiing.

But he suggests the end does justify the means.

“What we’re trying to give to the city is a quality of life that is not just on a par with the suburbs but superior,” he says.

He wants to eliminate the main excuse for moving to the suburbs — the city’s too noisy, it’s not safe and it’s not green enough.

Ferrandez says there has to be a big push in the Plateau because it has one of the highest population densities in Canada, possibly only beaten by east Vancouver because it has more high-rises.

Besides traffic-calming measures, back-alley gardens are also on the agenda and the Plateau administration is repurposing some streets into green spaces, extending parks into such places as some cul-de-sacs.

“We want every citizen to be in contact with green spaces, not just a park that they walk to,” Ferrandez says of the ultimate goal.