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Sept. 26, 2013 11:28 a.m.



Spending a couple of days in the wonderful city of Vancouver at a conference. 

Vancouver is surrounded by mountains and water, so the city fathers and mothers decided in the 1950s to build up, not out. The downtown is full of skyscrapers, a la Hong Kong, and because of the population density, the streets are lively and full of people, a la New York. Due to Canada's membership in the Commonwealth, immigration from former British colonies is relatively easy into Canada and Vancouver is a cosmopolitan mix of accents and languages. 

I am on the 31st floor of a hotel overlooking the busy harbor. All night long they load container ships. Oil tankers come in and out of the harbor. During the day, helicopters and airplanes take off from the harbor every few minutes. It is bustling. 

The conference was a one-day affair on oil and gas. I was offered a ticket, so I went. Fascinating. Various companies presented on their plans for the next few years. 

What is going on that has people buzzing is a huge new discovery of natural gas in northern Alberta which isn't so far from the Pacific coast. Japan, China, Korea and Taiwan see it as a possible source. Right now, there is no way to get the gas over the hump to the coast, but there are no fewer than six pipelines, perhaps more, in the works. When the gas gets to the Pacific, it will be lowered in temperature to -160 F, put on ships, and taken to Asia. It appears as thought $80 billion is about to be spent in the area. It is called the British Columbia LNG (Liquid Natural Gas) buildout. 

In seven hours, I got quite an education. Here are some interesting bits of trivia: 

•It costs $400,000 to use the Panama canal for one ship. 

•A Hong Kong outfit has been contracted to build a second canal through Nicaragua. 

•Australia did a huge buildout to get gas to Asia, but contrary to what you might think, Australia is farther from Japan and China than BC. That extra day-and-a-half of shipping adds enough expense to the gas to give BC gas a competitive edge. 

•The massive amounts of natural gas found in Texas have no cost-effective way to get to the Asian market. 

Many companies presented, from drillers for gas, to pipeline builders, to crane operators, to tunnel drillers, to makers of fracking chemicals. Each company president had his schtick well-organized. They are story-tellers, too. The education came in the contradictions between their stories, or in the differing philosophies of business. These were sharp cookies, the sharpest of which was Ray Smith, CEO of Bellatrix Exploration, the fastest growing company in Western Canada. He had a gold watch on his wrist the size of a donut. Before and after his speech, which was a rapid-fire, no-notes, no-holds-barred explication of his own brilliance, the woman next to me said, "I am going to buy his stock, but I won't be having him over for dinner!" 

These guys aren't interested in becoming millionaires. They are after their first billion. To get there, however, they have to be the best in their fields. 

Other discoveries: 

•Pipelines develop leaks often. Repairing them is routine. Cleaning up the contaminated soil happens every day. 

•When oil and gas are removed from three miles down the hole, the empty space fills with salt water. I never figured out if that comes from the ocean or what. But that water corrodes the pipes rapidly, requiring maintainance, more maintainance (and chemicals) as the well ages. 

•Gas and oil pumped from three miles down comes out hot. The heat causes the pipeline to expand in length one meter per kilometer. That is a lot. A huge problem for pipeline builders is allowing for that expansion. That problem is not solved, although there are many partial solutions.

•Saudi Arabian wells can produce 20,000 barrels per day without going horizontal. To replace one Saudi well as a source, we will have to drill up to 50 horizontal wells. 

•The gas and oil is in layers. Many layers. Five to seven layers. Once one layer gets figured out, that is the only one you hear about. However, as one layer dries up (in twenty years) they will simply move to the other layers. There is so much gas and oil down there, most of which isn't even being talked about yet. 

 

 

 

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