The tech world should defend the Keystone pipeline

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By Denzil Doyle 

It is encouraging to see the emphasis that President Obama is placing on the jobs and other economic spinoffs that will be created by the proposed Keystone pipeline, because if the arithmetic is done properly the numbers will surprise even the staunchest opponents of the project. They will demonstrate that the pipeline industry is a mature industry that uses a broad range of proven technologies.

The communications between Canada’s scientific community and its politicians and bureaucrats leave a lot to be desired. The environmentalists would have us believe that whether we are talking about the north-south or the east-west pipeline, we are dealing with unproven technology. To hear them talk, one would think that they are the world’s first pipelines and they will leak continuously.

The fact of the matter is that there are over two million miles of pipeline in North America and they are monitored by over 20,000 devices called Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems. Some of them have been in use since the early ’70s and the majority of them use satellite technology. A typical pipeline has a SCADA terminal at every pumping station and there is a pumping station about every hundred miles.

Canada has figured prominently in the supply and maintenance of such equipment. However, if you asked the average politician or bureaucrat what the size of the North American pipeline-based SCADA market is, he or she would probably tell you to watch your language.

It’s not unreasonable to assume that the installed base of such equipment has a value of at least $500 million ($25,000 per SCADA terminal) and that the upgrading and servicing of that base costs 10 per cent per year, or $50 million. For high-tech companies, that translates into about 250 direct jobs and 750 indirect ones. (These numbers apply only to the monitoring equipment and exclude the pumps and the pipe.) What a sad spectacle it was to see a delegation of leftist Canadian politicians going to Washington to tell their U.S. counterparts that the employment would be insignificant and that the risks would be very high.

There was a time when we had organizations like the Science Council of Canada that would provide some sanity in debates like this. It looks like we could use them again. As a minimum, our technology-based trade associations should challenge the positions being taken by these irresponsible people.

Image: Markosun

Denzil Doyle’s involvement in Ottawa’s high technology industry goes back to the early 1960s when he established a sales office for Digital Equipment Corporation, a Boston-based firm that had just developed the world’s first minicomputer. The Canadian operation quickly evolved into a multi-faceted subsidiary. When he left the company in 1981, Canadian sales exceeded $160 million and its employment exceeded 1,500. In his next career, Doyle built a consulting and investment company, Doyletech Corporation, that not only helped emerging companies, but built companies of its own. In recognition of his contributions to Canada’s high technology industry, he was awarded an honourary Doctorate of Engineering by Carleton University in 1981 and a membership in the Order of Canada in 1995. 

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