07172018Tue
Last updateTue, 17 Jul 2018 6pm

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Aug03

When is Enough, Enough?

enbridgecroppedWhen President Obama said “no” to the Keystone XL Pipeline back in February, 2012, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper was quick to turn to Asia to make a deal to sell oil sands product to China. Citing the need for economic growth, the Conservative leader vowed to insure that Canada was not dependent on the U.S. alone to insure that energy was Canada’s insurance policy against world-wide economic woes.

The only way to do that, though, is to get the oil from Alberta, across British Columbia, to the West Coast where it can then be shipped by tanker across the Pacific. And the Northern Gateway pipeline, which is to be built by Calgary, Alberta’s Enbridge, is not a done deal by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, the feud between British Columbia and Alberta is so heated, B.C.’s Premier, Christy Clark, has refused to join the rest of provinces’ premiers in developing a national energy strategy.

At the heart of the governmental level tiff is the amount of compensation B.C. would get for allowing the pipeline to traverse the province. At the heart of the pipeline problem is Enbridge’s less-than-stellar safety record. The company is striving to convince the public that it can build and maintain a safe pipeline, but its responses to a recent spill in Wisconsin and the July, 2010 spill in Michigan that dumped 20,000 barrels of oil sands crude into the Kalamazoo River, are not helping its cause.

Because of the enormous cost of cleanups and the threat of permanent environmental damage, aboriginal groups, environmentalists and some government leaders in British Columbia say that even with a “fair share” of the economic benefits Alberta would receive from exporting the oil, it’s not enough to make the pipeline palatable.

The question is, what is enough compensation? And for whom? And if governments have to share compensation to even consider a pipeline going across B.C., what about the compensation for those who are in the path of the Keystone XL pipeline? Does that mean that the states through which it goes should also get compensated just for allowing the crossing?

And what does that mean to reliable supply and energy security?

Just wondering.

Kate Kunkel is senior editor of Valve Magazine. Contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Jul19

Assumptions

muddy windowLike so many areas of North America, we haven’t had much rain here this summer. If we don’t get decent rain shortly, there is going to be a real problem with the summer crops, especially corn.

So when it began raining here on Sunday I was very happy. Especially since it didn’t start until I had returned from an outdoor concert. While I sat sipping lemonade and watching what turned out to be a raging 30 minute downpour complete with lightning and thunder that set the dishes rattling, I rejoiced that I wouldn’t have to water the flowers and maybe the farmers would be happy. Ah, life is good. Until my significant other calls from the basement, “Get some towels!”

My happy reverie ended at the bottom of the stairs where the window well was more than half full of mud and a brackish waterfall cascaded from the sill. After throwing the towels in the general direction of the man trying desperately to stem the flow from inside, I jumped into my battered clogs and ran to the back of the house where years’ worth of debris had clogged what might have been a drain at the bottom of the window well and poor grading in the back yard combined to create the perfect conditions for the breach.

In one hand, with some pottery shards and a hand spade that somehow was close by, I tried to engineer a dam to stop the water from pouring into the well even as I bailed with the other hand. I’m sure if we’d been able to tape my little adventure, I could have made $10,000 on Americas Funniest Home Videos.

Alas, no videos, but I did manage to stem the tide of mud and now we wait for the contractors to come in and repair the damage. In the grand scheme of things, it’s no disaster except for my manicure, but it did get me to thinking.

We just moved into this condominium last summer. We live in a condo because we both travel a lot, and the little spare time we have is not to be spent shoveling snow in the winter and cutting grass in the summer. Here the maintenance people are supposed to look after things like window wells, drainage, eaves troughs and the like. Everything outside is their job, and since they’re always around the property doing something, we just figured things were maintained.

Never assume anything.

The same is true of the systems that make our lives “civilized”. We have electricity because people are doing their jobs generating power, whether it’s nuclear or fossil fuel powered or solar, and getting it delivered. We have gas in our tanks and oil in our engines because others are out there extracting and refining the stuff we need.

What happens if the miners don’t do their jobs or the maintenance people at a refinery don’t do theirs or the engineers at a power plant go on strike (Like they are here at Candu)? The lights go out, the food trucks don’t make deliveries, and we can’t take hot showers.

Just a thought.

Kate Kunkel is senior editor of Valve Magazine. Contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Jul13

Power and Politics

nuclearplantSince the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear incident in March, 2011, nuclear energy has gotten a black eye. While honest mistakes were certainly made during the crisis, an independent inquiry released this month by the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission places the blame for the disaster on the deeply rooted government-industry collusion in Japan. The commission’s chairman Kiyoshi Kurokawa said in the introduction to the report, “It was a profoundly man-made disaster — that could and should have been foreseen and prevented. And its effects could have been mitigated by a more effective human response.”

While the report does not call for prosecution of Tepco management, it did blame the tepid response to the disaster on collusion between the company, the government and regulators, saying that Tepco “manipulated its cozy relationship with regulators to take the teeth out of regulations.”

This is not the first, nor will it be the last time that the nuclear industry is accused of circumventing regulations and responsibility by utilizing its influence with politicians. The unfortunate result of this reputation is that nuclear plants in Japan and around the world are threatened with closure even though there is no evidence that they are in any way faulty or present any kind of imminent danger.

It has cost the industry billions, true, but the more troubling concern for this writer, at least, is what that means for the energy mix.  Living in Ontario, Canada, where nuclear power counts for nearly 50% of the electricity consumed in the province, I can’t help but wonder where we would be without it. Nuclear power is often judged not on its objective merits. Instead, fear and misconceptions hold it back.

Angela Merkel is probably the master at the “which way does the wind blow” game.  Back in May, 2011, her coalition endorsed a blueprint to shut Germany’s nuclear-power plants by 2022, repealing a law that she had pushed to extend the life of the reactors.

Of course, nuclear energy isn’t the only power source that gets people riled up.  Last year, the Liberal re-election campaign decided to to scrap a Mississauga gas-fired power plant, costing the taxpayers $180 million (CAD).  This was because a group of people in the city beside Toronto didn’t want the plant “in their back yard.”

It goes on and on around the world.  Nuclear’s good, coal is bad.  No, wait, nuclear’s bad, coal is, well, okay, as long as we regulate the operators into bankruptcy.  Gas is good, no, it’s bad because some of our constituents object to fracking.  Ethanol is good, no, it’s bad, voters are saying it’s a farm subsidy. In all of the posturing and placating, one thing is often forgotten.  What is the most efficient method of generation for the particular geographical area?

You know how church and state are supposed to be separate here in North America? Wonder if we could do that with power and politics.


Kate Kunkel is Senior Editor of Valve Magazine. Reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Jul05

Independence Day

BY KATE KUNKEL

fireworksdcWhile most Americans think of July 4th as the day to celebrate our independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain, my thoughts turned to different forms of freedom.

One of them comes from energy independence, and I don’t mean that which comes from converting food stock into fuel or trading carbon credits for airplane rides. I mean the freedom and independence that comes from responsibly developing the resources that we have in North America.

Development of the vast reserves of shale gas is one way to alleviate our dependence on foreign oil. Approving and building pipelines that will send Canadian crude from the oilsands to American refineries is another. Burning the mounds of trash that is the detritus of modern life and utilizing the methane produced from landfills for production of electricity are also realistic options. We have lots of coal, too, and there is no reason nuclear generation can’t be an integral part of our energy mix. Come on, people, get your act together!

Setting aside the fact that all of these technologies use many valves, actuators, and controls, it just makes sense that we as a nation should use whatever we have laying around. Why go to the ends of the earth when there is so much right here?

Another kind of freedom is that which we gain from putting our own people back to work. There is much opportunity in the petrochemical industry that is fed by natural gas, and states like Pennsylvania that suffered the most when manufacturing was taken offshore have a chance to rebuild if regulators get out of the way. Freedom can be measured as well in the number of jobs brought back to this continent as the cost of labor in China rises and our own workers make concessions to make America more competitive.

Of course this country, like all others in modern times, is but one cog in the international wheel of commerce. But there is still a patriotism that runs deep throughout the USA, and the intrepid residents of the land of the free and the home of the brave might do well to take a moment to remember and celebrate the freedom we have to create and innovate. America did not gain its political independence from Britain without a fight, and it is not going to regain its economic power and freedom overnight.

O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave?

Kate Kunkel is Senior Editor of Valve Magazine. Contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Jun20

Austerity: Not All It’s Made Out to Be

So all the financial experts were waiting for the Greeks to elect a pro-austerity government, and now that it has, there’s dancing in the streets. Yippee! Catastrophe averted.

Er, well, no, not really. A tiny little stock market rally on Monday fizzled out faster than you can say spanikopita because now we must worry about the “Spanish crisis”. And if Spain’s economy settles down, there will be another little rally that will last about as long as you can say paella before all the pundits choose the next indicator of prosperity or doom and everyone tailspins again. The sky is falling, the sky is falling! Stop spending! Make your people eat dirt!

Remember when Iceland’s economy tanked? Speculation ran rampant that it would spell worldwide financial disaster when that country chose to let the banks take the fall they created and let the people continue to enjoy a reasonable standard of living. Iceland didn’t succumb to international pressure to invoke “austerity measures” the sky didn’t fall and the earth kept spinning on its axis.

sewer overflowDuring the Great Depression the Public Works Administration was created to build large-scale public works such as dams, bridges, hospitals and schools. The idea was that by spending, the government would provide employment, stabilize purchasing power, and help revive the economy.

There is more than a little debate about its effectiveness as an economic driver, partly because the Second World War came along and created a weapons-based economy, but it did result in an infrastructure that remains today despite the fact that it is crumbling. There are those who will argue that government spending on infrastructure and other mega projects means that there will be more manufacturing, building, employment and purchasing by consumers, so the government makes most of its money back in everything from income taxes to sales tax to taxes on fuel, tobacco and anything else that people buy when they’re working. Investment in infrastructure is just that, because that money spent creates more money coming back to the public coffers.

There were a few tentative baby steps in that direction in the recent recession. A few billion was set aside for capital works projects and infrastructure repair. While that didn’t come close to the bailout bucks, it was a start. How much more could have been accomplished if the money that bailed out banks had been diverted to job creation in the form of public works?

Think of it. Water treatment plants, bridges, roadways – manufacturing, oil and gas jobs, power jobs. Valves, actuators, controls, seals, stainless steel, all in demand.

Imposing austerity measures that cut jobs and decrease manufacturing and building seems to be counter-intuitive to getting a country back on its feet. And lest anyone think it doesn’t affect us on this side of the pond, think again. If the Greeks and the Spanish and then other countries which accumulate debt are all forced to stop spending on projects and services, what does that mean to North American valve and assorted sundry manufacturers and the end users to whom they supply?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this from a manufacturer’s point of view.

Kate Kunkel is Senior Editor of Valve Magazine. Reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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