16 November 2011

Nalcor’s own studies back NG as Muskrat alternative #nlpoli

According to Nalcor’s final submission to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency review panel, the company dismissed natural gas as an alternative source of electricity instead of Muskrat Falls.

This alternative is purely hypothetical, as the current offshore operators have looked into the technical and economic feasibility of transporting and marketing their natural gas reserves and none have identified a viable business case. (page 20)

A Nalcor consultant that was asked to review Nalcor’s decision-making for Muskrat Falls agreed that studying natural gas was a waste of time because there was no commercial natural gas development already in place in the province. 

Purely hypothetical.

Not worth the time to review?

Well, not exactly.

According to documents filed by Nalcor with the public utilities board, the company asked consultants in 2008 to prepare a cost estimate to build a natural gas plant with different capacities.  According to the consultant’s report, the largest of the variants – capable of replacing Holyrood by producing 550 megawatts – would cost between $617 and $633 million.

According to another document tabled by Nalcor with its PUB submission, the company was still reviewing cost options for natural gas generators.  The estimate for a 50 megawatt turbine obtained by Nalcor in 2010 shows that the prices remain comparable to the 2008 study.

In Nalcor’s submission to the PUB, the company acknowledges that it studied and then dismissed natural gas as an alternative based on what turn out to be misleading claims about offshore natural gas.

First, Nalcor states that:

To date, no proposal for natural gas development, either export or “landing”, has been submitted  by the offshore operators despite years of technical and economic study. (page 58)

That’s grossly misleading though.  Nalcor officials know that at least one offshore company has expressed an interest in studying the economic feasibility of natural gas development offshore. 

The problem is that in order to assess the economic potential, the company would need to know the provincial government’s natural gas royalty regime. And – despite studying a natural gas regime since the late 1990s and despite a 2007 commitment to finalise the draft natural gas royalty regime contained in the province’s energy plan, the provincial government still hasn’t produced that crucial piece of financial information.

Four years later.

The provincial government still can’t tell offshore companies who want to develop natural gas what it will cost them.

And then the provincial government’s energy company uses the lack of development as justification for Muskrat Falls.

Talk about circular reasoning.

With that convenient bit of information out of the way, Nalcor’s next reason for ignoring gas – the lack of a domestic market in the province – also falls by the wayside. 

Then Nalcor claims that development of the natural gas resource would have to involve all four fields and, well, all four fields have different natural gas strategies:

Natural gas is associated with the Hibernia, Terra Nova, and Whiterose [sic] developments, but each operator has its own strategies for the gas associated with their respective development. Natural gas associated with the Hibernia development is re-injected into the reservoir in order to increase the recovery of oil from the reservoir. This re-injection is a form of enhanced oil recovery, or EOR. In the case of the Terra Nova development, natural gas is re-injected and is also used to reduce the viscosity of produced crude oil, an EOR technique known as natural gas lift. Finally, natural gas from Whiterose [sic] is being stored in an adjacent reservoir for future use. Each operator has developed its own strategy for natural gas use, and to date, no concrete plan for domestic natural gas development exists.

Ultimately, that’s just a restatement of the same original misleading Nalcor claim, combined a bit of additional misleading information along the way.

Hibernia does re-inject natural gas as part of its oil extraction strategy.  The companies also use some of the gas to power the platform. But the plan has always been to preserve the gas so that the companies can exploit the gas for commercial sale eventually.  After all, estimated reserves are on the order of 2.6 trillion cubic feet.

Ditto Terra Nova.

And, as Nalcor notes, at White Rose – that’s how the name is spelled – the developers are hanging onto the gas so they can exploit it when and if they find a market.

Three things stand out about this most recent revelation:

First, Nalcor continues to rely on misleading statements  to justify its decision to ignore lower cost alternatives to Muskrat Falls.

Second, work completed for Nalcor confirms estimates done in 2005 that proposed  natural gas as a viable source of electricity for the province and for export.  Nalcor makes no reference to the NOIA study.

Third, Nalcor did not disclose this information before.  In fact, the PUB submission seems to be nothing more than an effort to rebut a series of substantive criticisms of the Muskrat Falls project that turned up during the CEAA review. 

And that’s what is most disturbing of all:  Nalcor didn’t disclose this information about natural gas before now.  In fact, the final submission to the environmental review made no mention at all of the fact that Nalcor had cost estimates for a natural gas plant.

Given that the most recent disclosures to the PUB further undermine Nalcor’s central claim – that Muskrat is the only viable choice – it’s no surprise Nalcor has tried to hide as much information as they could for as long as they could.

No surprise either that as the public learns more about the project, their support for the Muskrat Falls project is dropping like a stone. 

Nalcor has given them good reason to doubt the company’s claims.

We all can’t be wrong.

- srbp -