A veteran of Canada’s ailing oilpatch is hoping a new product drawn from deep under Prairie grain fields will provide a natural resource boom for Western Canada.
Marlon McDougall, 59, says he wasn’t interested when first approached last year to join a junior exploration company.
After 35 years in the oil and gas industry, he had grown frustrated by its multiplying headaches, including environmental criticism, pipeline constraints, regulatory burdens and the need to adopt expensive new technologies as easy-to-produce pools of oil and gas are depleted.
But New York-based financial manager Nick Snyder, 36, founder and chairman of privately held North American Helium, assured him none of those problems exist with helium, the lighter-than-air product he plans to produce and export.
The rush to get in on a new resource industry recalls the excitement of the oil and gas sector in the ’80s, McDougall, named president and chief operating officer last spring, said in an interview from the company’s modest downtown Calgary offices.
“You do things right,” he said. “You have an idea, you capture land, you shoot seismic, you go out and drill exploration wells, you make discoveries and it just rolls on from there.”
Helium, the second most plentiful element in the universe, is in short supply on Earth.
Demand for the gas once used mainly for military, weather and party balloons has been steadily rising, creating shortages and spiking prices in recent years.
Helium’s unique ability to remain a liquid at extremely low temperatures makes it the cooling agent of choice for superconducting magnets in research and medicine (including MRIs). It’s also essential in rocketry and plasma welding.
The global market for helium, meanwhile, is being thrown wide open by the U.S. government’s decision five years ago to gradually sell off its strategic reserves of the inert gas and turn the market it now heavily influences over to the private sector by 2021.
The environment is ripe for a resurgence of the industry in Saskatchewan, which produced helium from wells for about a decade 50 years ago before foundering due to slumping prices, said Melinda Yurkowski, assistant chief geologist for the Saskatchewan Geological Survey.
“It’s still a lot of rank exploration right now,” she said, adding no one knows how much helium — produced by the decay of radioactive uranium and thorium — the province contains.
Virginia-based Weil Group Resources reactivated two legacy helium wells in 2016 and built a 40-million-cubic-feet-per-year, $10-million helium separation facility at Mankato in the southwest corner of the province.
Helium was trucked to Weil’s liquefaction facilities in the U.S. and sold until the wells were suspended due to production problems in mid-2019. Weil has since drilled a new well to try to restore output.
The company has plans to produce helium in Alberta as well and is considering eventually building a liquefaction facility there to super-cool the gas to liquid form so it can be shipped in high-pressure tanks anywhere in the world, Weil CEO Jeff Vogt said.
Western Canada has an advantage over other new sources of helium in that its best reserves are found in pools made up of 95 per cent nitrogen, said Scott Mundle, an assistant professor and researcher at the University of Windsor in Ontario who has been studying samples from helium explorers.
The nitrogen found can be safely vented to the atmosphere after the one-to-two per cent helium content is removed, because the Earth’s atmosphere is made up of about 78 per cent nitrogen, he said.
Trace amounts of methane and carbon dioxide can also be released with minimal impact on the environment, he added.
The extremely high pressure in reservoirs deeper than two kilometres under the surface means wells can be productive for years before being depleted, said Mundle, outlasting shallower pools elsewhere in the world.
North American Helium is the most active of the handful of companies that have staked out a total of 1.7 million hectares of helium leases and permits in Saskatchewan.
It has drilled 13 new helium wells in southwestern Saskatchewan, with 11 considered commercially viable, and has tentative plans to open a plant to process gas from a single well by mid-2020.
Moving forward with production will depend on signing long-term supply contracts with buyers, who will most likely be from among the big industrial gas suppliers who currently control global distribution, McDougall said.
The potential is huge, Snyder said. North American Helium’s five-year plan includes wells, separation plants and liquefaction facilities to supply a substantial chunk of global demand currently pegged at about seven billion cubic feet per year.
“We think internally a reasonable expectation is that as the (American) fields decline … providing about 10 per cent of global supply — 700 million cubic feet per year — is very much the sweet spot in terms of being achievable and capital efficient with the land base we have.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 5, 2020.
Family members of PS752 victims report receiving threats for speaking out against Iranian regime – CBC.ca
Canadians who lost loved ones when Iran shot down Flight PS752 earlier this year have been reporting an increasing number of threats warning them against criticizing Iran’s response to the disaster.
“These are ugly, insidious crimes, apparently orchestrated at the behest of a foreign power. That is something that would be disturbing to every Canadian,” said former MP Ralph Goodale who is acting as Canada’s special adviser to the government on the incident.
Goodale says two cases of intimidation and harassment were reported to police in the spring. The number of such incidents of which authorities are aware has now increased to 11, he said. RCMP, local police and security organizations are working with Canada’s allies around the world and taking the threats seriously, Goodale added.
Hamed Esmaeilion lost his nine-year-old daughter Reera and wife Parisa when PS752 was shot down by the Iranian military over Tehran on Jan. 8, killing all 176 people aboard. He’s the spokesperson representing an association of victims’ families in Canada seeking justice and he said he has been receiving hateful messages for months.
‘Let’s talk about the last moments of your wife and daughter’
But the situation escalated after a rally he held on Parliament Hill on Oct. 5, he said.
A suspicious vehicle loitered outside his house that night, pulling up in front of his driveway and then backing up, Esmaeilion said. He also reported receiving a suspicious phone call on Oct. 5 from someone who left a message saying, “Let’s talk about the last moments of your wife and daughter.”
Esmailion said he blocked the number but received a threat in Farsi through his Instagram account later the same day: “Your name is on a list of terror, so enjoy your life before you get killed. And you would be a lesson for out of country traitors.”
Esmailion said he met with RCMP on Friday and was told to keep a record of further calls.
“It doesn’t scare me, honestly,” he told CBC. “This is something we have been through since the beginning and especially in the month of May and June … That was, I think, the peak of insulting and hateful messages that I received.”
He said he believes the messages are coming both from Iran and Canada but he has no idea whether they’re from representatives of the Iranian regime or just from its supporters.
Mahmoud Zibaie, who also lost his wife and daughter when PS752 was shot down, told CBC News that he received a call from someone identifying themselves as the chief investigator of the military court in Iran dealing with the lawsuit for compensation launched against the regime.
Zibaie said the caller told him that he needed to return to Iran to participate in the suit for compensation. He said the compensation is low down on the list of what he wants from Iran.
“In some sense, I can say that I can regard it as a threat because he … kept telling me that, ‘Okay, we have to see each other. You have to get back to Iran. You have to come here and you have to launch a lawsuit,'” he said.
Zibaie said he plans to share the audio of that call with the RCMP.
Javad Soleimani of Edmonton lost his wife on the flight. He said he is not taking the threats seriously because he has no family left in Iran but worries about those with family back home who could be targets for harassment or persecution.
“These threats and families harassment, actually, have been something ongoing from the very beginning,” Soleimani told CBC News. “From hijacking the funeral routine, writing congratulations on your martyrdom on the coffins, and also … detaining some family members in Iran.”
“It’s I think it’s a national threat to Canada,” he said. “I think the only way to deal with these intimidation or threats or concerns for families is that the Canadian government more publicly support families of victims.”
Goodale said the federal government is taking the threat very seriously.
“It is an offence against Canada, It is a crime under the Criminal Code, and foreign interference attacks the very sovereignty and integrity of our country. So it is indeed treated with gravity it deserves,” he said.
The RCMP issued a statement today saying that it is “aware of allegations of intimidation of the grieving families of the PS752 and we take such complaints seriously.”
“While we cannot comment on individual cases, Canadians and all individuals living in Canada, regardless of their nationality, should feel safe and free from criminal activity,” said the statement.
Watch: Families of Flight 752 victims report threats from Iran:
Canada expecting uptick in excess deaths amid COVID-19: StatCan – CTV News
Canada is expecting to see an increase in excess deaths as COVID-19 cases are once again trending upwards, according to Statistics Canada.
Between March and June 2020, as COVID-19 spread across the country, Canada saw over 7,000 excess deaths. That figure refers to deaths that exceed the number that would normally be expected during any given period of time.
While these excess deaths skyrocketed in the early months of the pandemic, there was a brief dip in July, when these figures returned to a normal, pre-pandemic range, which according to Statistics Canada falls around 21,000 deaths per month.
Meanwhile, there were over 170 COVID-19 deaths in August and September respectively — but by the time the first 10 days of October were over, Canada had already reported 244 deaths.
That means there were more COVID-19 deaths reported in those 10 days than were reported in the months of August or September.
“Overall, if the similarities between public health surveillance figures and official death data persist through the resurgence of cases, Canada will likely experience an increase in excess deaths in October,” the publication on the Statistics Canada website explains.
Statistics Canada says that these figures can be an important indicator of both the “direct and indirect effects” of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While the direct effects include deaths attributable to COVID-19, the indirect effects relate to measures put in place to address the pandemic,” the agency wrote.
“These measures could cause increases or decreases in mortality, such as missed or delayed medical interventions, fewer traffic-related incidents, and other possible changes in behaviour such as increased substance use.”
In its publication, Statistics Canada said it based its findings on “an updated provisional dataset from the Canadian Vital Statistics Death Database” as well as the Public Health Agency of Canada’s COVID-19 Outbreak Update.
It gave the caveat that this data only includes deaths that provinces and territories have reported to Statistics Canada, meaning reporting delays could impact the figures. The data also doesn’t include Yukon. However, Statistics Canada said they adjusted to account for incomplete data “where possible.”
The agency asserted that the figures “provide an important benchmark for understanding the potential impacts of the resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities across Canada.”
Excess deaths by province
The charts below plot the number of deaths reported by provinces on a weekly basis from the beginning of January until the end of September. The data is provisional, and because of reporting delays, do not reflect all the deaths that occurred during the reference period. Ontario, for example, shows a steep drop in deaths during the summer months of 2020, but that may be partly due to delays in reporting.
Years before 2019 are represented by faint grey lines behind the chart. Numbers have not been adjusted for populations growing year over year.
Ginella Massa to join CBC News Network as primetime host – CBC.ca
Journalist Ginella Massa will join CBC News Network as the host of a new primetime show, the Crown corporation announced Wednesday as part of programming changes over the next few months.
“She’s just got a spark and curiosity to her that is refreshing at a time when there’s so much to be interested in, and so much that is sort of unchartered in terms of the kind of journalism we do, the kind of stories we tell,” said Michael Gruzuk, CBC’s senior director of programming.
Massa will also join CBC’s flagship news program The National as a special correspondent, as well as take part in “many of our CBC News specials,” according to an internal CBC memo.
A graduate of Seneca College and York University, Massa is currently a reporter for CityNews in Toronto. In 2019, she was part of the CityNews team that won a Canadian Screen Award for best live special for coverage of an Ontario leaders’ debate.
She has also worked with CTV, NewsTalk 1010 and Rogers TV, moving from behind the scenes as a news writer and producer to in front of the camera as a television journalist.
In 2015, she became the first hijab-wearing TV reporter in Canada, and then the next year, the first to anchor a major newscast in the country.
Massa said she hopes to use her new CBC role to focus on stories from different perspectives — be it race, religion or class.
“For the last decade of my career in journalism, both behind the scenes and on air, I have often been the only one who looks like me in the room,” Massa said.
“I do try to bring those perspectives to the newsroom … bring the stories that people around me are talking about, which aren’t always the stories that get the most attention.”
Beginning in the new year, Massa’s hour-long show will air weeknights at 8 p.m. ET on CBC News Network.
Her hiring comes alongside a number of other changes on the cable network.
On Nov. 1, it will launch Rosemary Barton Live, a two-hour Sunday program focused on federal politics, followed by the premiere of CBC News Live with Vassy Kapelos, a weekday “fast-paced roundup of breaking political and Canadian stories” on Nov. 2, the internal memo said.
Kapelos will continue to host Power and Politics, which moves to a new time slot of 6 p.m.-8 p.m. ET on weekdays.
CBC journalist Carole MacNeil will host a new weekday afternoon show on News Network, which will be “more programmed” rather than focusing on breaking news that just happened, Gruzuk said.
The changes come weeks after Barbara Williams, CBC’s executive vice-president of English services, announced 130 job cuts across the country. That included 58 news, current affairs and local positions, with most of them in Toronto.
The company cited higher costs and lower revenues as the reason for the cuts, precipitated by a $21-million budget deficit. That shortfall was, in particular, “due to declines in advertising and subscription revenues linked to our traditional television business,” Williams wrote in a letter to staff.
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