Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve complained about arguments and tactics forwarded by Muskrat Falls critics. It would be reasonable for someone to assume I’ve made up my mind in support of the project.
Reasonable, but not entirely correct. I am not dead set against it, true, but neither have I made up my mind — unlike most of those who dominate social media and opinion sections.
The government’s approach to Muskrat Falls has been ham-handed at best — particularly in the past few weeks, with its cynical and manipulative side-stepping of a proper debate in the legislature.
But I have noticed a similarly coloured approach by many critics, and I make no apologies for questioning it.
I’m not an expert — not even in the same universe as energy analyst Tom Adam — but I have to wonder where he’s coming from in making a statement like this in his blog earlier this month:
“The (Newfoundland) government’s case for Muskrat Falls is a loosely defined amalgam (of) justifications based on theories about peak oil, greenhouse gas emission hysteria, electricity export fantasies, and a load forecast that assumes that declining power sales will soon stage a robust recovery.”
First, his dismissal of peak oil “theories” and greenhouse gas “hysteria” plants him firmly in the fossil fuel camp. As well, Nalcor has no “fantasies” about exporting electricity — it’s not even included in core calculations. And Adam’s characterization of load forecasts ignores the difference between industrial and household trends, and describes as “robust” what is predicted to be only a marginal but steady incline.
Last week, a coalition of St. John’s lawyers called 2041 Group released another of its continuing salvos against the Muskrat Falls project.
Cabot Martin, longtime oil and gas analyst (and player), offered a 13-page rebuttal of the government-commissioned Ziff Energy Group report that played down the viability of natural gas as an alternative source of power.
Martin’s vision — like that of MUN engineering professor Stephen Bruneau — is to pipe in natural gas from the White Rose production site on the Grand Banks and use it to fuel a revamped Holyrood generator.
Martin slammed the Ziff report for a number of failings, but mainly for not considering the potential for exports of liquified natural gas (LNG) — an omission he blames on limited terms of reference.
Piping in natural gas just to fire Holyrood wouldn’t justify the infrastructure, he says. But getting involved in LNG exports would.
Husky Energy, which runs White Rose, has explicity stated it is not interested in the gas equation. But Martin says the government should essentially do some gentle arm-twisting.
Sounding a little like Danny Williams, he called on the province not to pander to oil companies, but rather to “recognize that the gas resources at White Rose are there to be used for our economic and social being (sic), as much, if not more, than to profit Husky.”
It all represents a radical departure from the typical anti-Muskrat sentiment of steering away from huge infrastructure investments. Martin says the total cost would be $3.6 billion, only half the price tag of Muskrat Falls, but still a lot of cash for what is at best an equally nebulous scheme.
Martin’s presentation came with much talk about experts.
He strongly emphasized his own credentials, and made Ziff’s experts sound like they were out of their league.
But he refused to name experts he said he consulted. And there’s little way of knowing how accurate Martin’s estimates are. You can say the same about Nalcor’s, of course, but that doesn’t put anyone further ahead.
Meanwhile, on Monday, the government issued an expert endorsement of the Ziff numbers to counter Martin’s rebuttal.
That’s a lot of hot air about natural gas.
Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s