As Newfoundland continues to dig out from one of the worst blizzards to hit the Rock in living memory, I wonder, how many people would have died from this, if it were not for oil and gas?
How many people would have slowly frozen to death if they had to keep a fire going, but the firewood was under eight feet of snow, somewhere in the back yard?
How many people would be captive in their homes, were it not for the large front-end loads and graders clearing the streets?
How many heart attacks would occur if gas-powered snowblowers weren’t available, and all people had was shovels and brute strength? And that’s no joke. Back in 2012, the year I had my heart attack, we bought a big, electric-start snowblower so I wouldn’t shovel myself into a grave. Many people do, and I expect in Newfoundland, many people still will. But without snowblowers, the number of people needing defibrillators would be much worse.
How would people go get their food and all the other necessities of life without fuel for their vehicles?
If they had to rely on horses, what could those horses do in such a mess? Probably not much. You don’t push 10-foot drifts with horses.
I have to say I was more than a little perturbed this morning by seeing the headline of David Yager’s most recent column on EnergyNow.ca. It read: “Repeat after me: Canada is uninhabitable without fossil fuels.”
That’s because Yager, one of the finest writers in the Canadian oil and gas world, had stolen my thunder.
He led off by saying, “If you remained in Alberta during the first major cold snap of the year and are alive to read this article, you owe your continued existence to fossil fuels; coal, oil and natural gas.”
He could have included Saskatchewan, too.
This morning I drove the kids to school. I tend to do that on days where the wind chill exceeds -30 C, and especially when it gets to -40 C. Call me a softie, but I don’t want our offspring to become kidsicles.
By tomorrow it should have warmed enough that they can walk.
Now sure, our forebears did survive on the Canadian prairie long before every house had either natural gas, propane, fuel oil or electricity (mostly from coal and natural gas) connected to it for heating. They had coal chutes in their homes if they were lucky, piles of wood if they weren’t and, if they were on the open prairie where each tree was planted by hand, perhaps a pile of cow dung if they were extremely unlucky.
They also got around, with horses, or less. But they didn’t get around much. Winter was largely an exercise in keeping warm.
Those on the prairie would get mammoth blizzards, too, but nothing to the scale of having either the Atlantic picked up and dumped on you (in Atlantic Canada) or the Pacific (in British Columbia).
And this surely wasn’t the first major blizzard to bury Newfoundland, either, in its 500-year history since Cabot, and thousands of years before that with the First Nations.
But those were much hardier folk. They had to be. Our current generation of snowflakes could never handle this volume of snow without melting into a quivering mess.
The reality is, as Yager implied, we can’t live here, in the manner we do live, without fossil fuels.
And for those who think electrical is the solution, battery storage does not do well with -40 C temperatures, and I don’t just mean lead-acid car batteries. That includes lithium batteries. Every try to use your iPhone outside in that temperature longer than a few minutes?
Recently a Saskatoon Tesla driver posted a video online about how wonderfully well his vehicle started in those frigid -37 C temperatures. CBC interviewed that guy. His name is Tyler Krause, president of the Tesla Owners of Saskatchewan. He noted his range was diminished by 50 per cent. Only. If he were to drive to Regina, he’d basically be getting there with next to zero charge upon arrival. He’d have to recharge in Davidson.
How big would the battery have to be to operate the front-end loaders clearing the streets of St. John’s? Is it even possible?
In those horribly cold arctic nights, where parts of the Earth are colder than parts of Mars, we should be eternally thankful we have the blessing of fossil fuels. It means we can actually do things, and still be productive.
But most importantly, it means we can, quite literally, keep living, as opposed to curling up in a ball and dying.
If you were warm today, if you ate food today, if your family is safe today, if you didn’t freeze today, thank an oil and gas worker.
Brian Zinchuk is editor of Pipeline News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.