Monday, May 11, 2009

Sask. on board with Idaho National Laboratory’s Western Inland Energy Corridor; Wall government to “accelerate” uranium and nuclear opportunities

Western Inland Energy Corridor

Enterprise Saskatchewan at Alberta Economic Forum

Enterprise Saskatchewan as diamond sponsor

As news stories go it was a mere blip. On March 17 Energy and Resources Minister Bill Boyd and Enterprise and Innovation Minister Lyle Stewart signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the government and Idaho National Laboratory (INL), the U.S. Department of Energy’s lead nuclear energy research and development facility.

A government news release said the MOU provides a mechanism for the government and INL to consider research and demonstration projects on a variety of energy sources and resources, including uranium, nuclear energy, heavy oil, oil shale and oil sands. The agreement also provides for potential collaboration on carbon dioxide capture and storage projects.

“Our government is committed to advancing an innovation agenda for Saskatchewan, and this linkage with INL supports that commitment,” Stewart said. “The exchange of ideas and expertise between INL and our research facilities will foster new approaches and advances in energy development.”

Established in 1949, Idaho National Laboratory has 3,800 staff in a number of complexes and testing facilities in southeastern Idaho. It is operated for the U.S. Department of Energy by Battele Energy Alliance, a consortium of research institutes and universities.

The news release did not include a backgrounder or copy of the agreement. The announcement generated one news article by the Saskatchewan News Network that was published in The StarPhoenix and Leader-Post the following day.

On March 27 a request was made to the Ministry of Energy and Resources under the province’s freedom of information legislation for a copy of the MOU and any backgrounders, briefing notes or memorandums relating to the agreement or announcement.

On April 30 the ministry granted the request in full, a rare, but welcome, occurrence for the usually secretive Saskatchewan Party government. The records released reveal some interesting information that was not included in the government news release or subsequent newspaper article.

While the news release did describe in general terms the purpose of the agreement it did not provide any information on its objectives. These include:

– The Parties plan to work in the long term interests of energy development.

– The Parties plan to work to further energy security between Canada and the United States.

– The Parties plan to seek to accelerate and enhance Saskatchewan’s current strengths in uranium production through research, development, and demonstration of value-added opportunities in the uranium and nuclear energy cycles.

– The Parties plan to examine further opportunities in unconventional resource development such as oil sands and oil shales.

– The Parties plan to share knowledge with respect to carbon capture and sequestration and work to advance research and technology development in carbon management.

Of particular interest are the plans to “accelerate and enhance” the province’s uranium activities. The wording is eerily reminiscent of the Saskatchewan Party’s 2007 election platform which said, “Enterprise Saskatchewan will act as the lead agency for enhancing the value-added potential of Saskatchewan’s natural resources. Enterprise Saskatchewan will… Explore and identify uranium value-added opportunities.”

There was absolutely no mention of building nuclear reactors or storing nuclear waste in the province but once in power that’s exactly what the Brad Wall government began to pursue. The lesson learned is that words like ‘enhance,’ ‘strengths’ and ‘opportunities’ mean something more than what you might initially think.

The MOU indicates that the agreement “shall be in force for a period of four years from the date of the third signature of ratification.” This means until March 17, 2013.

The MOU also shows that a Coordinating Committee, consisting of 2 individuals from each party, will be established to advance the objectives and purposes of the agreement. The Wall government has not disclosed the names of the committee members.

Another document, a March 12 memorandum from energy and resources deputy minister, Kent Campbell, to Ministers Boyd and Stewart, shows that 20 government officials were invited to attend the signing ceremony at Government House in Regina. The list included Enterprise Saskatchewan deputy minister and CEO, Dale Botting, but more on him later.

An attachment to the memo prepared by Cam Pelzer, the ministry’s director of industrial policy with the resource and energy policy division, discloses for the first time that Energy and Resources officials “traveled to Idaho Falls in June 2008 to begin a relationship with the INL.” News of the junket or how much it cost has never been reported. Unfortunately, the memo provides no information on who went or what transpired.

On January 10 the Edmonton Journal reported on the cost of a similar trip that was taken by Alberta deputy premier Ron Stevens. Stevens and several other government officials visited the INL facilities in Idaho Falls on December 17-18, 2008. The trip cost taxpayers $16,500. [Globe-trotting Tory MLAs rack up $250,000 travel bill (Edmonton Journal, Jan. 10, 2009)]

The best is saved for last, though, when Pelzer notes: “INL officials encourage Saskatchewan to support a “Western Inland Energy Corridor” whereby INL would play a key role in research supporting commercial development of unconventional fuels such as oil shales, oils sands, coal to liquids, tight gas, heavy oil, and enhanced oil recovery.”

And what is the Western Inland Energy Corridor? The INL describes it one document as “a promising hub for energy resources in urgent demand…stretching from northern Canada to the southwestern U.S. and to the Pacific coast.”

“This corridor contains world-class fossil energy reserves of coal, oil shale, and oilsands – that are complemented by real and potential renewable energy resources – including wind, hydropower, and bioenergy. The corridor also hosts world class uranium resources necessary for nuclear power generation.”

The INL says, “Developing these energy-rich resources will require the resolution of critical environmental and water resource issues. Intermingled with and further complicating these issues, are the ongoing infrastructure investments being made in the area, including the expansion of electric transmission lines, oil and gas pipelines, and construction of new power plants.”

The organization states that it is looking to be “the region’s “go-to” powerhouse for energy security.” And it seems that Alberta and Saskatchewan are part of its long range plans.

In a presentation to the 4th International Topical Meeting on High Temperature Reactor (HTR) Technology on October 1, 2008, in Washington, D.C., Michael Hagood, the INL’s energy systems business lead, said “The United States faces an unprecedented threat to its energy security due to its dependence on foreign oil and gas, in particular transportation fuel derived from geopolitically unstable or “unfriendly” countries.

“This is a situation that diminishes our country’s strength, and given demand trends, will only worsen.

“In this context, carbon energy sources will continue to supply most of the world’s energy needs for the foreseeable future.”

Hagood said the Western Inland Energy Corridor can contribute significantly to U.S. energy security noting that it “contains world-class conventional and unconventional fossil energy reserves complemented by significant renewable resources and energy infrastructure.”

“The Canadian portion of corridor is of great importance to U.S. energy security,” he said, singling out Alberta’s oil sands and Saskatchewan’s rich concentration of uranium in particular.

“Innovative development, stewardship and environmental management approaches must be applied to secure these resources.”

Hagood also mentioned the two province’s “growing interest in nuclear energy integration.”

“There is growing interest in applying nuclear energy (heat) to the recovery and upgrading/conversion of critical unconventional fossil energy resources,” his said.

It’s been rumoured that this is perhaps the main reason why the Wall government is so eager to see up to two nuclear reactors built in Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan isn’t the only province the INL is looking to for support of the energy corridor. As mentioned earlier Alberta deputy premier Ron Stevens visited INL facilities in Idaho in December. A report on the trip’s outcome was later posted on the Alberta government website.

“The mission focused on reviewing the research priorities and expertise of the INL and understanding their efforts in the area of energy systems integration, including renewable, non-renewable and nuclear energy. Discussions centred on where Alberta and INL could work together to increase energy production in Alberta while mitigating environmental impacts,” the report states.

“The Inland Energy Corridor concept was explored. This is a region identified by the INL as stretching from Alberta and Saskatchewan to Colorado, forming one of the largest energy regions in the world in terms of oil, natural gas, oil sands, coal, oil shale, uranium, and renewable energy. Discussions focused on the region’s energy assets and their potential contribution to the energy security of the North American continent.”

In Edmonton, on March 28, 2008, came the announcement that the Alberta Research Council (ARC) and INL had signed a MOU to collaborate on a series of energy/environmental research and development initiatives.

An ARC news release said one of the “many concepts the organizations will be evaluating is the potential application of current and future nuclear energy technology within the context of Alberta’s specific conditions and industry applications.”

“INL and ARC will collaboratively develop an advisory report covering various aspects of potential introduction of nuclear energy into Alberta, for both electrical generation and also in relation to possible interaction in oil sands development. They will pay specific attention to environmental impact, industrial integration and holistic cost-effectiveness.”

A year later, on March 29, 2009, the Alberta government released the report of the Nuclear Power Expert Panel. The panel was appointed in 2008 with a mandate to gather information and present the facts on nuclear energy to Albertans.

According to the executive summary the report “is intended to be an unbiased compilation of the scientifically accepted information underpinning the issues associated with nuclear power. The information contained herein is based upon facts and data supplied by panel members and by the Alberta Research Council and the Idaho National Laboratory, who were commissioned by the panel to compile background information.”

The report neglects to mention that the INL is mandated to develop and promote nuclear options.

As luck would have it Alberta, Saskatchewan and the INL crossed paths recently in the most unlikely of places – Geneva, Switzerland.

The Alberta Economic Forum, billed as an investment conference, was held May 4-5 at the luxurious Grand Hotel Kempinski in Geneva.

The participants included senior managers of oil companies, international and local, private and national; bankers (investment bankers, trade finance, private bankers, financial analysts, portfolio managers, credit departments) from European and Canadian banks; investment funds; governments; senior managers of the infrastructure sector (oil & gas transportation, refineries, power generation); law firms and consultants.

The keynote speaker was Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach.

The event was organized by the Alberta Enterprise Group, an Edmonton-based right-wing lobby group established by Alberta business interests in June 2007. The group’s president is Tim Shipton, former Director of Finance with the PC Party of Alberta. The chairman is Cal Nichols, president of the Gasland Group of Companies in Edmonton.

The group says it promotes balanced economic growth, efficient government services and open and accountable government practices. The organization, however, remains secretive not releasing any financial statements or a list of its members.

The average citizen had no hope in hell of enjoying the access to power that the forum offered participants. The bronze package, which included the two days of conferences and gala dinner, cost 2500 CHF ($2,600 CAD). The gold package went for 4550 CHF ($4,700 CAD) and included the conference, dinner and 3 nights at the hotel. Just to attend the conference for one day would’ve set someone back 1250 CHF ($1,300 CAD).

According to the event programme also in attendance were INL’s Michael Hagood and Enterprise Saskatchewan CEO Dale Botting. In fact, Enterprise Saskatchewan is listed as a diamond sponsor. Both Botting and Hagood are listed as speakers. The subject of Hagood’s presentation was of course the Western Inland Energy Corridor, touted as “the new center of gravity of oil production in the XXIst century.” It appears Hagood’s presentation was sponsored by Enterprise Saskatchewan. The agency’s logo appears right next to the topic in the programme. This should erase any doubt whether Saskatchewan is on board with the INL and its goals. America needs energy and both the Wall and Stelmach governments seem more than willing to do whatever it takes to make sure they get it.


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