Seeing the Big Picture as the Smoke Clears

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The Fort McMurray fire highlights how privileged most North Americans, Oil Sector workers, and oil industry support service providers are to live in a region where Emergency Response Plans and Services are so well organized and coordinated. It has also been a great showcase for our industry in the ability to so effectively handle evacuees trapped to the North of the fire and to shut-down operations in a controlled manner when the Enbridge Cheecham pumping station came under treat.

Fort McMurray fire raging out of control

Fort McMurray fire raging out of control

Obviously, there will be some lessons to be learned, especially the analysis of risks to limited infrastructure from large regional disasters of this type; as well as for even more efficient Emergency Assessment and Response Planning. But, we should take comfort from the few serious injuries there have been in the evacuation of 90,000 people and the efforts to control an extraordinarily severe wild fire.

The events of last week also illustrate the silver lining to having an abundance of (alternative) energy supplies. To my knowledge, there were no brown-outs in Alberta as the co-generation plants around Fort McMurray were taken-off line. Other gas and coal fired power plants stepped up to the plate and managed the demand with minimal impact on wholesale gas prices.

The temporary loss of over a million barrels per day (bpd) had very little impact on oil prices outside of the province, largely because inventories were so high and there was plenty of oil available to the spot market.

Canadians and our U.S. neighbors have been extremely generous in donating funds for those who were financially impacted by this disaster. But let’s also spare a thought for those who aren’t so lucky and privileged to have easy access to cheap, safe, clean energy, well-trained first responders, and good governance.

I was recently doing some research for an Industry Safety Moment, using the World Health Organization statistics on burns:

  • An estimated 265,000 deaths every year are caused by burns – the vast majority occur in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Non-fatal burn injuries are a leading cause of morbidity.
  • Burns occur mainly in the home and workplace.
  • Burns are preventable.
  • Burns are a global public health problem. Almost half the deaths occur in the World Health Organization South-East Asia Region.
  • In India, over 1,000,000 people are moderately or severely burnt every year.
  • In Bangladesh, Columbia, Egypt, and Pakistan, 17% of children with burns have a temporary disability and 18% have a permanent disability.
  • Burns are the second most common injury in rural Nepal, accounting for 5% of disabilities.
  • The rate of child deaths from burns is currently over 7 times higher in low- and middle-income countries than in high-income countries.
  • Non-fatal burns are a leading cause of morbidity, including prolonged hospitalization, disfigurement, and disability, often with resulting stigma and rejection.

It seems to me that one thing that we can do to help address this alarming public health issue, both as individuals and as good corporate citizens, is to actively advocate for the expansion of the North American pipeline infrastructure and for the development of oil and LNG export facilities along the Pacific Rim. This will not only help our industry and our career opportunities but will also allow our industry to offer our less fortunate neighbors the opportunities that we have enjoyed in moving to safer, more efficient, less polluting sources of fuel.

Proposed Alaska LNG Terminal

Proposed Alaska LNG Terminal

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Bob Pearson

Bob Pearson is an independent petroleum engineering consultant, working primarily in Canada and the Australia, Asia Pacific Region. He acts as an Advisor to RPS Energy on coal bed methane (CBM), Shale and Tight Gas, as well as on other conceptual engineering and evaluations for Unconventional Hydrocarbon Developments. Bob began his career in 1970 as a Production and Well Engineer with Shell International in Southeast Asia and the North Sea and later worked for Petro-Canada (now Suncor) in Western Canada and the Canadian Frontiers. In 1983, he began consulting with APA Petroleum Engineering Inc (now part of RPS Energy Canada Ltd). In 2007, Bob returned to Southeast Asia, first as the Operational Director of the RPS Energy consulting team in Singapore, and then for CBM/CSG services in Southeast Asia and Australia. In recent years, he has been heavily involved in sub-surface peer reviews and development plan audits for major Unconventional and Frontier Projects, on behalf of both Operators and Lenders. He has been a Distinguished lecturer for the SPE and facilitates several integrated development planning workshops every year for IHRDC. He is a registered professional engineer with APEGA in Alberta, Canada. He is on the Board of the Calgary Section of the SPE.

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