Montreal, October 15, 2005 • No 159




Harry Valentine is a free-marketeer living in Eastern Ontario.




by Harry Valentine


          In recent months, the price Canadians pay at the pumps for gasoline rose by some 50%. Commercial transport companies started adding fuel surcharges to their rates. Directly and indirectly, higher transportation costs are passed on through the economy and to the consumer. This winter, the Canadian supermarket price of produce imported from the American Southwest is expected to escalate. Even before the Thanksgiving weekend, Canadian food banks were reporting an increase in the number of people who were seeking their assistance. Their clientele included some middle-class people and a segment of the population known as "the working poor."


          In the months prior to two major hurricanes damaging sixty-three oil and natural gas drilling platforms off the American Gulf Coast, world oil prices had risen to over US$50 per barrel due to a restricted supply and a growing demand for oil from India and China. America's single largest foreign supplier of oil is now Canada, which also supplies greater quantities of natural gas to American markets for home heating and to generate electricity in America's most easily licensed thermal power stations. Natural gas prices are expected to rise to over US$12 per million Btu's this winter(1).

          To meet an increasing demand for more natural gas, exploration companies are expected to drill over 24,000 boreholes of up to 6,000-ft deep(2) in Western Canada, of which 75% would likely become productive. The non-producing boreholes are usually capped. Ground water that has seeped into the porous rock(3) at the bottom of these holes typically measures near 30 degrees C (86 degrees F), a result of earth temperature rising up to 15 degrees C (27 degrees F) per every 1,000 metres (3,280-ft) extra depth. Technology now exists to uncap the plugged boreholes and exhausted wells to provide access to a large quantity of geothermal energy that can be put to productive use across Western Canada during the winter months.

          Private negotiation occurring among interested private parties including landowners, drilling companies and interested entrepreneurs could culminate in potentially viable geothermally based business opportunities. However, Canadian provincial governments claim ownership over all underground resources(4) located within their jurisdictions. Claiming ownership over this energy is as ridiculous as a government claiming ownership over heat and light coming from the sun. Heat and/or light coming from the naturally occurring furnaces located at the core of the earth as well as at the centre of the solar system, are not the legitimate property of any government. The mere assertion of such a claim is tantamount to an abuse of governmental power.

"Heat and/or light coming from the naturally occurring furnaces located at the core of the earth as well as at the centre of the solar system, are not the legitimate property of any government. The mere assertion of such a claim is tantamount to an abuse of governmental power."

          An innovative entrepreneur in Springhill, Nova Scotia, had to obtain state permission before using ground water that had flooded an abandoned coal mine to heat industrial buildings at low cost during winter. The mine water was measured at 25 degrees C (77 degrees F), year round. Ground water in porous rock at the bottom of exhausted natural gas wells across Western Canada may hold enough low-grade geothermal energy to actually heat insulated commercial greenhouses during the cold, northern winters. It may be possible for produce grown in winter in such greenhouses to become price competitive against imported produce sold in Canadian supermarkets.

          Similar entrepreneurial opportunities may also exist in Central and Eastern Canada, where deep abandoned mines or deep caves could be used as geothermal heat sources for greenhouses during winter. In a few rare locations in Southern Quebec and in Atlantic Canada, a phenomenon called "salt domes" could exist underground. Salt domes are usually converted to store natural gas. They could also be converted into giant geothermal energy storage reservoirs. A single such reservoir could supply enough geothermal heat for over a hundred giant greenhouses during winter.

          At some locations, heat from swamps or bogs(5) could partially sustain the wintertime heating needs of greenhouses. Supplemental heat and power from local co-generation power stations could serve a battery of neighbouring commercial greenhouses. The burning of Biomass at such power stations could also produce ash containing fertilizer compounds that could be used in greenhouse operations. Bringing such a venture to fruition could more easily be achieved after provincial governments cease their claim of ownership over geothermal energy.

          However, provincial power policies may prevent new wintertime produce growing ventures from even being started. Their prohibition on connecting private power lines across private property lines, even those between greenhouses producing food during winter, would achieve this end. Canadians would be forced to pay more for imported produce during winter, with a segment of them having to seek help from food banks. An absence of such state economic regulation over activities related to wintertime food production, and the resources that could sustain them, could go a long way as far as providing Canadians with access to affordable produce during winter.


1. 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas contains 1,000,000 Btu's of heat.
2. See "What Is Natural Gas and History of Use."
3. See "Geothermal Energy," Springhill and Area Economic Development Commission, and "Salt Caverns," Storage of Natural Gas,
4. See "Geothermal Rights Pamphlet," British Columbia's Ministry of Energy and Mines.
5. See "What is Geothermal Energy and How Can It Be Used?," Canadian Geothermal Energy Association.