Category Archives: blog

The Dirt ~ April 16, 2013

By Der T. Tarsands

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Hello_and_Welcome_12345

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“It’s crazy. It helps Canada, but it does nothing for the United States. I don’t see why I need to be a mule for Canada to pump its tarsands oil through my ground and through my water. We don’t want to take that chance – not for a product that’s not U.S.”

~ Nebraska farmer Jim Tarnick

FEATURE DIRT

Going for one million “No to Keystone XL” comments

As Exxon admits that its Pegasus Pipelinespilled at least half a million gallons of tar sands crude, more than three times larger than its initial estimates, into the streets and waterways of Mayflower, Arkansas, a diverse coalition environmentalists, ranchers, landowners, Native Americans and politicians are getting ready to prevent TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline from ever committing a similar disaster in the Midwest.

The “All Risk, No Reward Coalition” launched a flurry of TV ads that, according to the press release, “will educate the  American people on the ‘All Risk and No Reward” of TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and urge President  Obama  and  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to reject it.” The TV ad is saturating the airwaves in Grand Island, Nebraska in anticipation of a ThursdayState Department hearing on the Northern Route Approval Act, a bill that would remove the final decision on the fate of Keystone XL from President Obama’s hands and approving the pipeline outright.

“[Alberta Premier Alison] Redford and Canadian oil companies may benefit from the pipeline, but folks here at home will be the ones taking on all of the risk, without any reward,” said Rachel Wolf, a spokeswoman for the All Risk No Reward group, in response to Redford’s recent visit to Washington to lobby for the approval of Keystone XL.

The Nebraska hearing follows a similar affair held in Washington for the House energy committee, where Canadian climate economist Mark Jaccard testified that, despite the conclusion in the State Department’s Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), “The denial of Keystone XL will help to slow development of the oil sands. As a growing source of carbon emissions, slowing the expansion of oil sands is an important step.” Numerous oil industry pundits and executives have made the same claim.

Meanwhile, U.S. environmental organizations are ramping up a 10-day online campaign to deliver one million #NoKXL comments to President Obama and Secretary Kerry by Earth Day (April 22), the last day of the public comment period for the Keystone XL SEIS. More than 700,000 people have said no to KXL already, and organizers are hoping to break the one-million mark before the weekend.

According to 350.org’s website, “The Keystone XL Pipeline is dangerous, dirty, and destructive – and the latest Environmental Impact Statement was both inaccurate and incomplete. It ignores the pipeline’s significant risk for toxic spills, ignores its catastrophic impacts on our climate, and ignores the clear consensus among financial analysts and oil executives who agree Keystone XL will make the difference in tar sands development.”

Cooking the Books, a new report from Oil Change International, calculates the true carbon footprint of the Keystone XL pipeline. If approved, Keystone XL would be responsible for at least 181 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) each year, comparable to the tailpipe emissions from more than 37.7 million cars or 51 coal-fired power plants. Between 2015 and 2050, the pipeline alone would result in emissions of 6.34 billion metric tons of CO2e – an amount greater than the total carbon dioxide emissions of the United States in 2011.

To have your voice heard loud and clear, visit 350.org today.

CLEANING UP DIRTY OIL

Joe Oliver, Canadian Government Out of Touch with Reality

-3_9This just in: More evidence that the Canadian federal government, especially Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver, is clearly out of touch with reality.

Just three days before the United States and China, the world’s two biggest carbon polluters, signed what could be a ground-breaking agreement to accelerate the reduction of greenhouse gas pollution, Oliver was telling the La Presse editorial board (in French) that, “I think that people aren’t as worried as they were before about global warming of two degrees. Scientists have recently told us that our fears (on climate change) are exaggerated.”

When pressed, Oliver was not able to identify which scientists he was using as a source, La Pressereported, but his staff pointed to an article by Lawrence Solomon, a Canadian writer and infamous climate-change skeptic and denier, and the founder and executive director of Energy Probe, an environmental policy organization and fossil fuel lobbyist group.

“The minister is getting briefed by distorted media reports about climate change,” said Keith Stewart, climate and energy campaign co-ordinator for Greenpeace Canada, who also called Oliver’s views on the most serious threat humanity ever has faced “appalling” and “shocking.”

In direct contradiction to Oliver’s unverifiable claims, a statement issued by the United States and Chinasaid the signatories of the new agreement “consider that the overwhelming scientific consensus regarding climate change constitutes a compelling call to action crucial to having a global impact on climate change,” and that the “urgent need to intensify global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions… is more critical than ever…. Such action is crucial both to contain climate change and to set the kind of powerful example that can inspire the world.”

Meanwhile, Oliver might want to check the results of a new poll conducted by Forum Research Inc. that indicates that Canadians overwhelming believe climate change is real (81 per cent) and, to a lesser degree, that it is caused by human activities (54 per cent). Perhaps Oliver was simply speaking to (and/or on behalf of) his base – only 60 per cent of Conservatives believe climate change is a reality, compared to 88 per cent of Liberals and 92 per cent of New Democrats. Only 55 per cent of Albertans who actually believe in climate change think it is caused by humans, compared with 44 per cent of Conservatives across Canada.

Oliver’s comments should come as no surprise. His boss, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has beenquoted often enough disparaging or countering the science on climate change. In 2007, a letter written by Harper in 2002 stated that anthropogenic climate change is based on “tentative and contradictory scientific evidence” that focuses on carbon dioxide, which is “essential to life.” He also referred to the Kyoto Protocol, which required that Canada make significant cuts in emissions, while countries like Russia, India and China face less of a burden, as “essentially a socialist scheme to suck money out of wealth-producing nations.”

It’s no wonder the Harper government pulled out of Kyoto, gutted Canada’s environmental laws, and pimps for the tar sands industry as if it were the only way to build a responsible and sustainable economy in Canada.

Oil Industry Behind Gutting of Canada’s Environmental Laws

Turns out, it wasn’t even the Harper government’s idea to gut Canada’s most important environmental legislation. It was the oil industry’s.

Recently released internal documents indicate that the strategy to put multiple changes to a series of environmental protection laws into a single piece of legislation was recommended by lobbyists for the oil and gas industry. The briefing scenario, prepared for a senior Environment Canada official attending an industry awards gala organized by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), suggested that oil and gas companies didn’t want a series of separate legislative changes, but rather an “omnibus” approach.

“CAPP did not express any opinion on what legislative process the federal government should use to implement the changes,” CAPP vice president, Janet Annesley, told Postmedia News’ Mike De Souza. According to the same article, Annesley’s comment contradicts the industry demands regarding environmental laws such as the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the Species At Risk Act.

“CAPP has raised issues with the ‘one-off’ reviews of specific legislation such as CEAA and SARA and would rather have a more strategic omnibus legislative approach,” said the briefing material, released through access to information legislation.

Makes you wonder who is running the show in Ottawa, Annesley and CAPP, or the politicians we elected to represent us.

STOPPING DANGEROUS PIPELINE EXPANSION

Poll: Canadians oppose pipelines the government wants to build

On April 12, just two days after a new pollindicated that Canadians oppose both the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines, Canada’s National Energy Board released 199 “potential conditions” that Enbridge would need to fulfill if it gets the green light to build its Northern Gateway Pipeline.

Although the 45-page list of conditions “does not constitute approval,” the conditions set out the terms, according to the Globe and Mail, “under which Enbridge will have to abide if it gains approval for Northern Gateway.” One would have thought, perhaps naively, that many of the items should go without saying, things that should have been included in Enbridge’s application for a permit to build Northern Gateway in the first place. Things like actually implementing Enbridge’s “voluntary” spill and tanker safety plan, and holding nearly $1 billion in liability coverage, including $100 million in “ready cash” that can be accessed within 10 business days of a large spill to pay for cleanup costs. You can see the whole list here.

What’s most troubling, perhaps, is that these same conditions were not placed on the Canadian portion of the TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, which went ahead with just 22 conditions. “By the Keystone XL measure,” the Globe and Mail wrote, “the proposed Enbridge conditions are nearly an order of magnitude more numerous, and far more stringent.”

For example, the NEB asked TransCanada to simply file “a list of pipe that was received from the pipe supplier” before it began pumping oil. With Gateway, the NEB wants Enbridge to provide numerous bits of documentation, including a full engineering report on the steel it intends to use – and that report must be filed three months before the pipe is manufactured.

Hmmm. If Enbridge must meet such stringent requirements, why not TransCanada, or any company that wants to build a new pipeline or repurpose an old one?

The conditions, of course, may be moot, considering that only 32 per cent of Canadians are “in favour” of building the Northern Gateway. A majority of Albertans (55 per cent) support the project, compared with just 33 per cent of British Columbians, who would bear the brunt of the risks and the consequences from the inevitable oil spills. Just 38 per cent of Canadians support the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

If Canadians don’t want them, one wonders why Canadian politicians spend so much of their time and money trying to shove them down our throats.

Spills, spills and more spills go unreported

Oil spills, it seems, are something of an epidemic these days. While North Americans gape in horror at the disastrous consequences of the Pegasus pipeline rupture that covered Mayflower, Arkansas with a thick blanket of toxic tar sands oil, details of other spills are either reported late or not at all.

A Manitoba pipeline gushed 100,000 letres of oil for as long as a month, one of 47 so far this year in Manitoba, before it was finally reported by the media. Suncor, which leaked 350,000 litres of toxic tar sands wastewater into the Athabasca River for 10 hours last month (for the second time in two years, it turns out), also spilled 225 barrels of soybean-based diesel fuel into Burrard Inlet from its Port Moody, BC facility, but didn’t bother to tell anyone about it.

Tests indicate that the wastewater Suncor leaked from the tar sands tailings pond did not meet Alberta’s Surface Water Guidelines and did not pass Alberta’s rainbow trout acute toxicity test. According to the government, pyrene “was present at twice the chronic guideline for aquatic life.”  The acute toxicity in the rainbow trout test is “most likely” caused by the naphthenic acid concentration.

Suncor spilled toxic water for three days at the same site in 2011, but the leak wasn’t made public until the second incident took place in late March. It is unclear whether any tests were done after the 2011 spill, and Suncor was never charged or punished for the leak, which likely contravened Alberta and/or federal legislation.

The Dirt ~ April 10, 2013

By Dirty Tar Sands

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The best weekly review of tar sands and pipeline
campaign news and commentary.

dc_climate_rallybd6213

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“They’re highly organized, and they know exactly what they’re doing.”

~ John Kingston, writing about opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline for Platts, a leading source of information on global energy issues

FEATURE DIRT

More lessons from Arkansas tar sands spill

8625628693_e14b12a11b_nAll eyes are now on Mayflower, a quaint little suburban town in rural Arkansas surrounded by streams, lakes and wetlands. And now, tar sands crude.

On Date, Exxon’s underground Pegasus Pipeline  ruptured, spilling as much as 294,000 gallons of dirty tar sands crude in and around Mayflower. And by “in”, we mean down streets, across lawns, and into gardens, canals, storm sewers, creeks, wetlands and even into nearby Lake Conway, a popular among locals for its fishing and other recreational activities.

If Mayflower has taught us anything, it’s that pipeline spills can happen anytime, anywhere, with disastrous consequences (especially when it’s in the path of tornado). “All of us are in shock,” David Fox, the pastor of the local First Baptist Church, told Inside Climate News. “Manmade disasters are so rare in our state … you don’t think this kind of thing can happen to you.”

But there are a few more specific lessons to be mulled over by those, like President Obama, who must decide whether to allow new tar sands pipelines to be built, and like the NEB, who are deciding whether to allow old oil and gas pipelines to carry more corrosive tar sands crude, through communities across the United States and Canada.

Tar sands crude is nasty stuff

Seven years ago, Exxon reversed the flow of the pipeline and turned it into a higher-volume line carrying diluted bitumen, or dilbit, flowing under greater pressure from Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

Dilbit, you may be interested to know, is much more dangerous to transport by pipeline than conventional oil. Dilbit is created by diluting bitumen, a heavy tar-like substance containing numerous toxic substances, with either conventional light crude or diluent, a cocktail of natural gas liquids. In this form, it has the consistency of conventional crude and can be pumped through pipelines, but it carries additional risks. The exact composition of diluents are secret, but the mixture often includes benzene, a known human carcinogen.

The secret and not-so-secret ingredients in dilbit may mean it’s even more toxic than regular old light crude. “Without more information on the chemical characteristics of the diluent or the synthetic crude, it is difficult to determine the fate and transport of any spilled oil in the aquatic environment,” wrote the EPA in response to the U.S. State Department’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone XL Pipeline. “For example, the chemical nature of diluent may have significant implications for response as it may negatively impact the efficacy of traditional floating oil spill response equipment or response strategies. In addition, the Draft EIS addresses oil in general and as explained earlier, it may not be appropriate to assume this bitumen crude/synthetic crude shares the same characteristics as other oils.”

Dilbit, unlike synthetic crude, also is more acidic and corrosive than conventional oil. This increases the risk of pipeline leaks, something Congress recently ordered the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to study. Studies also indicate that pipelines operating at temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit spill up to 23 times more often due to external corrosion than conventional oil pipelines. The State Department estimates the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would operate at between 130 to 150 degrees. It was corrosion that caused an Enbridge pipeline to rupture and spills not once, but twice near Marshall, Michigan.

It is also harder to clean up when, inevitably, it spills. When Enbridge’s Pipeline 6B split open in 2009 and spilled one million gallons of dilbit into the Kalamazoo River, near Marshall, Michigan, the dilbit initially floated on the water like conventional crude. But once the volatile diluents evaporated into the atmosphere, the heavy bitumen sank into the water. Because you can’t see it, it’s more difficult to remove.

“[It's] not something a lot of people have dealt with,” said an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official at the Kalamazoo River clean-up site. “When you can’t see [the oil], you don’t know where it is, so it’s very hard to clean it up.”

Old pipelines leak more than new ones

The Pegasus Pipeliold-pipe-graphic1_0ne was 65 years old when it ruptured. Older pipelines, which have undergone decades of wear and corrosion, can be more prone to leaks, and thus less safe, than new pipelines—especially pipelines carrying corrosive dilbit at higher temperatures.

According to the corrective action order issued by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the “age of the pipeline”, as well as the reversal of its flow and its location near water resources and populated areas, makes the Pegasus Pipeline “hazardous to life, property, and the environment” until “corrective measures” are taken. Even Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, Joe Oliver blamed the spill on the pipeline’s age.

Reversing pipelines can be dangerous

When Exxon reversed the Pegasus Pipeline in 2006, it was the first time it had ever been done, a feat of engineering Exxon (ironically, in hindsight) called “historic”. According to federal rules, no permit application or safety review was required to reverse the flow of the Pegasus Pipeline.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) sees things differently now. After the spill, PHMSA issued a corrective action order that admits “a change in the direction of flow can affect the hydraulic and stress demands on the pipeline.”  (Woops. Should have thought of that before I guess.)

The Mayflower-Pegasus spill now brings into focus, perhaps for the first time, the increasingly popular industry practice of reversing and repurposing existing pipelines in order to transport booming supplies of heavy crude out of the tar sands region north of the border.

Think tar sands pipelines are safe? Think again.

All of these characteristics make transporting tar sands crude by pipeline much more dangerous than conventional crude, and is something decision makers must carefully consider when they review permits for the growing network of new and repurposed tar sands pipelines that will run through or near hundreds of communities and thousands of streams, rivers, wetlands, lakes and aquifers in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

‘Cause really, no one should have to live with the risks and consequences of tar sands oil spilling into their own backyard, local water supply or favourite fishing hole. I mean, really.

(Read more about dilbit in Inside Climate News’s Dilbit Primer, and about the enhanced risks dilbit poses to pipelines at NRDC’s website. There’s also a good article on National Geographic’s site.)

CLEANING UP DIRTY OIL

Developing the tar sands means cooking the planet

cracked-earth-texasWhen NASA climate scientist James Hansen said developing the tar sands and other unconventional sources of oil would mean “game over for the planet,” pro-tar sands politicians, industrialists and pundits came unglued, calling him everything from a whacko and fear-monger to a biased (and therefore untrustworthy) scientist.

Well, it turns out that senior members of the Canadian federal government believe, or at least have said, much the same thing. An internal memo, sent by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver’s deputy minister Serge Dupont and released to Postmedia’s Mike De Souza through access to information legislation, highlighted a section of a Conference Board of Canada report that said demand for fossil fuels could drop if countries attempt to prevent the planet’s atmosphere from warming by more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

De Souza points out that the two-degree threshold is a “goal set out in recent international climate change negotiations, based on scientific and economic studies, to prevent irreversible damage to the planet’s ecosystems and economy. Countries have not reached a consensus on a legally binding deal to achieve the target.”

“The Conference Board analysis hinges on global oil prices and demand rising steadily to 2035,” reads the memo, dated Oct. 26, 2012 and signed by Dupont. “If, for example, new supply sources outpace demand, or if the global energy mix changes drastically in response to global climate change initiatives, then the benefits from oilsands investments may be considerably less.”

Another way to say this is that the expansion dreams of tar sands proponents – namely, Big Oil and the Alberta and Canadian governments – relies on the failure of the global community to implement a meaningful greenhouse gas reduction strategy that quickly reduces our reliance on fossil fuels, especially dirtier hydrocarbon sources like tar sands crude.

In large part, this explains why the Alberta and Canadian governments, in cooperation with the oil industry, have been lobbying to undermine progressive climate policy, such as the European Union’s Fuel Quality Directive and similar proposals in many U.S. states.

If that’s “responsible resource development,” as federal and Alberta politicians to characterize Canada’s tar sands industry, well, we’re in deep, deep trouble.

Federal government implements Orwellian rules to limit pipeline oversight

phpThumb_generated_thumbnailjpgIf there’s one thing the Harper government knows it’s this: If you don’t like the rules, just change ‘em. After gutting most of Canada’s federal environmental legislation to expedite tar sands development and pipeline proposals at the behest of the oil industry, now the federal government is making it more difficult, and in some cases impossible, for members of the public to participate in the National Energy Board’s (NEB) review of Enbridge’s proposal to reverse its Line 9 pipeline through southern Ontario and Quebec. The flow of the aging pipeline is being reversed so it can carry dangerous tar sands crude to the East Coast for export to Asia.

Under the new rules, which the NEB put in place at the direction of the federal government in response to overwhelming opposition from the public during the NEB’s review of the Northern Gateway pipeline, Ontario residents who live along the 639-kilometre pipeline route and want to submit public comments about their concerns – are you ready for it – fill out a long and complex application to ask permission from the NEB, Canada’s pipeline regulator, before they can even submit a letter to the NEB on the Line 9 pipeline proposal.

That’s right. First, set aside your income tax return and spend a couple of days filling out a 10-page application, which includes enough of what the Toronto Star calls “cryptic hurdles” to stymie even the most experienced tax lawyer. Be ready, because you will be asked to describe, in detail, “your specific and detailed interest” in the Line 9 pipeline reversal project, including how you, and you alone, are “directly affected” and/or have “relevant information” to offer up. “Note,” it kindly reminds you, “that mere opposition to or support for the proposed Project will not be enough.” Oh, and don’t forget to include your resumé and some references (presumably high-ranking members of the Conservative Party would be your best bet), because not every average, run-of-the-mill citizen has the skills and experience to stick their noses in the oil industry’s business.

Then sit back, finish your taxes, and wait patiently for the paternalistic NEB, which makes it very clear that not all letters of comment will be accepted, to let you know if you’re worthy enough to participate. There’s no details on how the NEB will decide who’s in and who’s out, but that’s OK. The federal government has demonstrated quite clearly over the last year or two that it is an objective and unbiased arbiter of anything to do with the oil industry. Not.

“Since when does someone’s resume determine if they have the right to be concerned about what’s happening in their home community?” said Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada. “Anyone who lives and works in southern Ontario could be affected by a spill and everyone is affected by climate change. The right to send a letter of comment and have it considered by public agencies is part of the basic rights and freedoms Canadians enjoy.”

The Ontario government agrees. As a result of the Orwellian attempt to limit public input, the province of Ontario has decided to step in and, on behalf of the Ontario public, seek intervener status over concerns about the pipeline, which  runs through the Greater Toronto Area. “It’s certainly a significant issue for the people who might be impacted, for the environmental concerns around the pipeline and therefore it’s a serious issue for the province,” Ontario Infrastructure and Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli said at a press conference. “We want to make sure that the interests of the people who might be affected are protected, that the environment will be protected, that the interests of First Nations will be protected in the process.”

Chiarelli, a former mayor of Ottawa, urged other levels of government, particularly those municipalities through which the pipeline runs, to get involved and register as interveners if they’re worried about the potential impacts of the pipeline proposal.

This problematic new process stems from federal Bill C-38 – the omnibus budget bill last spring that gutted federal environmental laws. Enbridge’s proposal for its Line 9 pipeline could allow dangerous tar sands oil to be shipped east through an aging pipeline that crosses some of the most heavily populated parts of Ontario and Quebec. This is the first new pipeline proposal to be up for approval since Bill C-38 passed last year.

Unhappy? Visit Environmental Defence’s website and ask the Ontario and Quebec governments to hold their own environmental assessments on the project. For those who want to voice your displeasure directly to the NEB, the board has kindly “appointed an official to help navigate the process.” His name is Michael Benson, and he can be reached at michael.benson@neb-one.gc.ca.

STOPPING DIRTY PIPELINE EXPANSION

Arkansas Oil Spill Response a Keystone Cops Rerun

8621520980_e33b31e002_nIt looks like Exxon’s response to the catastrophic rupture of its Pegasus Pipeline, which leaked as much as 294,000 gallons of dirty tar sands crude into the streets, gardens, canals, storm sewers, creeks and wetlands of Mayflower, Arkansas, is turning into another Keystone Cops rerun.

We’ve seen this episode before. A scathing government investigation into the devastating July 2010 oil spill near Marshall, Michigan found Enbridge, the Calgary-based company that owned the pipeline, handled their response like the “Keystone Cops.”

The spill began after the Enbridge pipeline ruptured and spilled almost one million gallons of diluted bitumen into the Kalamazoo River, poisoning 35 miles of waterway, exposing 320 people to crude oil, and causing the most damaging onshore oil spill in US history. In its report, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said that the accident could have been avoided, and that Enbridge botched their response to the oil spill.

“When we were examining Enbridge’s poor handling to their response to this rupture you can’t help but think of the Keystone Cops,” said Deborah Hersman, the board chairperson, when the report was released.

Now, new evidence dug up by the award-winning Inside Climate News indicates that we may have another Keystone Cops episode in the making in Mayflower, Arkansas.

It’s unclear exactly what happened, but according to transcripts of 911 calls to the police, ExxonMobil, the company responsible for the accident, didn’t know the pipeline had ruptured – there was a 22-foot gash in the pipeline – until someone called to let them know there was oil running through people’s yards and down the street.

The first call, by a resident who said there was oil spilling through the neighbourhood, was made at 2:49 p.m. Contact was made with Exxon at 3:19 pm, fifteen minutes after the evacuations started. Exxon responders didn’t show up until 3:46 pm, almost an hour after the massive leak was reported.

It gets worse.

Apparently, Exxon told the federal National Response Center (NRC) that it noticed a problem at 1:15 p.m. when it spotted a drop in pressure, 90 minutes before the first 911 call reached the Faulkner County sheriff. But the transcripts show that Exxon didn’t place its first call to the NRC until 4:06 p.m., about 20 minutes after its responders arrived on the scene.

The details will eventually come out, but it looks like another case of Keystone Cops running around like chickens with their heads cut off while they try to keep us safe from the inevitable ruination that results when you try to put corrosive tar sands crude in a pipeline.

TransCanada adds another pipeline to growing tar sands network

tarsandspipelineboomapril2012InsideClimateNews_0Meanwhile, yet another pipeline company has put on the table yet another pipeline proposal to get Alberta’s dirty and dangerous – just ask the people in Marshall, Michigan and Mayflower, Arkansas – crude to the ocean so it can be shipped overseas in supertankers.

As TransCanada quakes in its boots over the less-than-certain fate of the Keystone XL pipeline, it has hatched a new plan to turn an aging natural gas pipeline in Canada into a tar sands pipeline headed east. TransCanada’s proposed Energy East Pipeline would transport tar sands crude from Alberta, through Ontario and Quebec, and as far as New Brunswick’s Irving Oil Ltd. refinery and port of Saint John.

According to the Council of Canadians’ primer on the subject, TransCanada wants to convert its Eastern Mainline pipeline, which currently transports natural gas and is operating at half capacity, into an tar sands oil pipeline that could carry eastward up to 850,000 barrels per day. Eighty per cent of the pipeline (between Saskatchewan and Quebec) already exists; it would need to be extended in the west, to connect the pipe to Hardisty, Alberta, and in the east, where it would be extended to either Montreal, Quebec City, or Saint John, NB, all port cities that can help industry get its dirty cargo to international markets.

Like the Pegasus Pipeline that doused Mayflower in crude, the Eastern Mainline Pipeline was built in the 1950s, and would carry a substance (tar sands crude) thicker than the material for which it was originally designed. According to a study by the National Petroleum Council for the U.S. Department of Energy, “pipelines operating outside of their design parameters such as those carrying commodities for which they were not initially designed, or high flow pipelines, are at the greatest risk of integrity issues in the future due to the nature of their operation.”

Like other pipeline projects, this one would create significant risk of oil spills, create few jobs, and provide little oil to Eastern Canada and do little to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, because most of it will be sold to the highest bidder and sent overseas.

But it will make oil companies even richer and more powerful than they already are.

MORE DIRT IN THE NEWS

Tar Sands Blockade joins the PGA Tour

A member of the “highly organized” and extremely effective opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline pulls off an ingenious bit of subterfuge and crashes the Valero Open in San Antonio, where he reveals himself to be something other than an ordinary sign carrier.

Art for an Oil-Free Coast comes to Tar Sands capital

Raincoast’s traveling Art for an Oil-Free Coast exhibition has completed its B.C. leg and soon will head to the heart and soul of Tar Sands Country. Head to Calgary City Hall starting April 15th  to view some remarkable art about the remarkable Great Bear Rainforest, and see for yourself why this priceless coast is no place for tankers and tar sands oil.

Native Americans protest first tar sands mine on U.S. soil

Students and community members attended an Idle No More rally to protest the first tar sand project in the United States, in the desert country of southern Utah.

Grand Elder Raymond Robinson continues hunger strike

Grand Elder Raymond Robinson continues his hunger strike to protest new federal legislation in Canada that will bring about horrific damage to the environment. “First Nations are being blackmailed into signing their rights away. These changes have been implemented without any consultation… They are asking us to give up our waters our lands our resources and even our Inherent Aboriginal Treaty Rights.”

Tar sands protestors chain themselves to Canadian Consulate in Seattle

In another Tar Sands Blockade action, a group of Seattle area residents locked themselves to the doors of the Canadian Consulate and poured fake oil on the Canadian and American flags. “We used to look up to Canada as an environmental leader, but promoting extreme energy like tar sands has soiled that reputation forever.”

thedirt_logo

Federal government implements Orwellian rules to limit pipeline oversight

By D. T. Sands

Thursday, April 11, 2013

If there’s one thing the Harper government knows it’s this: If you don’t like the rules, just change ‘em. After gutting most of Canada’s federal environmental legislation to expedite tar sands development and pipeline proposals at the behest of the oil industry, now the federal government is making it more difficult, and in some cases impossible, for members of the public to participate in the National Energy Board’s (NEB) review of Enbridge’s proposal to reverse its Line 9 pipeline through southern Ontario and Quebec. The flow of the aging pipeline is being reversed so it can carry dangerous tar sands crude to the East Coast for export to Asia.

Under the new rules, which the NEB put in place at the direction of the federal government in response to overwhelming opposition from the public during the NEB’s review of the Northern Gateway pipeline, Ontario residents who live along the 639-kilometre pipeline route and want to submit public comments about their concerns – are you ready for it – fill out a long and complex application to ask permissionfrom the NEB, Canada’s pipeline regulator, before they can even submit a letter to the NEB on the Line 9 pipeline proposal.

That’s right. First, set aside your income tax return and spend a couple of days filling out a 10-page application, which includes enough of what the Toronto Star calls “cryptic hurdles” to stymie even the most experienced tax lawyer. Be ready, because you will be asked to describe, in detail, “your specific and detailed interest” in the Line 9 pipeline reversal project, including how you, and you alone, are “directly affected” and/or have “relevant information” to offer up. “Note,” it kindly reminds you, “that mere opposition to or support for the proposed Project will not be enough.” Oh, and don’t forget to include your resumé and some references (presumably high-ranking members of the Conservative Party would be your best bet), because not every average, run-of-the-mill citizen has the skills and experience to stick their noses in the oil industry’s business.

Then sit back, finish your taxes, and wait patiently for the paternalistic NEB, which makes it very clear that not all letters of comment will be accepted, to let you know if you’re worthy enough to participate. There’s no details on how the NEB will decide who’s in and who’s out, but that’s OK. The federal government has demonstrated quite clearly over the last year or two that it is an objective and unbiased arbiter of anything to do with the oil industry. Not.

“Since when does someone’s resume determine if they have the right to be concerned about what’s happening in their home community?” said Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada. “Anyone who lives and works in southern Ontario could be affected by a spill and everyone is affected by climate change. The right to send a letter of comment and have it considered by public agencies is part of the basic rights and freedoms Canadians enjoy.”

The Ontario government agrees. As a result of the Orwellian attempt to limit public input, the province of Ontario has decided to step in and, on behalf of the Ontario public, seek intervener status over concerns about the pipeline, which  runs through the Greater Toronto Area. “It’s certainly a significant issue for the people who might be impacted, for the environmental concerns around the pipeline and therefore it’s a serious issue for the province,” Ontario Infrastructure and Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli said at a press conference. “We want to make sure that the interests of the people who might be affected are protected, that the environment will be protected, that the interests of First Nations will be protected in the process.”

Chiarelli, a former mayor of Ottawa, urged other levels of government, particularly those municipalities through which the pipeline runs, to get involved and register as interveners if they’re worried about the potential impacts of the pipeline proposal.

This problematic new process stems from federal Bill C-38 – the omnibus budget bill last spring that gutted federal environmental laws. Enbridge’s proposal for its Line 9 pipeline could allow dangerous tar sands oil to be shipped east through an aging pipeline that crosses some of the most heavily populated parts of Ontario and Quebec. This is the first new pipeline proposal to be up for approval since Bill C-38 passed last year.

Unhappy? Visit Environmental Defence’s website and ask the Ontario and Quebec governments to hold their own environmental assessments on the project. For those who want to voice your displeasure directly to the NEB, the board has kindly “appointed an official to help navigate the process.” His name is Michael Benson, and he can be reached at michael.benson@neb-one.gc.ca.

More lessons from Arkansas tar sands spill

By DirtyOilSands.org

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

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All eyes are now on Mayflower, a quaint little suburban town in rural Arkansas surrounded by streams, lakes and wetlands. And now, tar sands crude.

On March 29, Exxon’s underground Pegasus Pipeline ruptured, spilling as much as 294,000 gallons of dirty tar sands crude in and around Mayflower. And by “in”, I mean down streets, across lawns, and into gardens, canals, storm sewers, creeks, wetlands and even into nearby Lake Conway, a popular among locals for its fishing and other recreational activities.

If Mayflower has taught us anything, it’s that pipeline spills can happen anytime, anywhere, with disastrous consequences (especially when it’s in the path of tornado). “All of us are in shock,” David Fox, the pastor of the local First Baptist Church, told Inside Climate News. “Manmade disasters are so rare in our state … you don’t think this kind of thing can happen to you.”

But there are a few more specific lessons to be mulled over by those, like President Obama, who must decide whether to allow new tar sands pipelines to be built, and like the NEB, who are deciding whether to allow old oil and gas pipelines to carry more corrosive tar sands crude, through communities across the United States and Canada.

Tar sands crude is nasty stuff

Seven years ago, Exxon reversed the flow of the pipeline and turned it into a higher-volume line carrying diluted bitumen, or dilbit, flowing under greater pressure from Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

Dilbit, you may be interested to know, is much more dangerous to transport by pipeline than conventional oil. Dilbit is created by diluting bitumen, a heavy tar-like substance containing numerous toxic substances, with either conventional light crude or diluent, a cocktail of natural gas liquids. In this form, it has the consistency of conventional crude and can be pumped through pipelines, but it carries additional risks. The exact composition of diluents are secret, but the mixture often includes benzene, a known human carcinogen.

The secret and not-so-secret ingredients in dilbit may mean it’s even more toxic than regular old light crude. “Without more information on the chemical characteristics of the diluent or the synthetic crude, it is difficult to determine the fate and transport of any spilled oil in the aquatic environment,” wrote the EPA in response to the U.S. State Department’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone XL Pipeline. “For example, the chemical nature of dilutent may have significant implications for response as it may negatively impact the efficacy of traditional floating oil spill response equipment or response strategies. In addition, the Draft EIS addresses oil in general and as explained earlier, it may not be appropriate to assume this bitumen crude/synthetic crude shares the same characteristics as other oils.”

Dilbit, unlike synthetic crude, also is more acidic and corrosive than conventional oil. This increases the risk of pipeline leaks, something Congress recently ordered the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to study. Studies also indicate that pipelines operating at temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit spill up to 23 times more often due to external corrosion than conventional oil pipelines. The State Department estimates the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would operate at between 130 to 150 degrees. It was corrosion that caused an Enbridge pipeline to rupture and spills not once, but twice near Marshall, Michigan.

It is also harder to clean up when, inevitably, it spills. When Enbridge’s Pipeline 6B split open in 2009 and spilled one million gallons of dilbit into the Kalamazoo River, near Marshall, Michigan, the dilbit initially floated on the water like conventional crude. But once the volatile diluents evaporated into the atmosphere, the heavy bitumen sank into the water. Because you can’t see it, it’s more difficult to remove.

“[It's] not something a lot of people have dealt with,” said an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official at the Kalamazoo River clean-up site. “When you can’t see [the oil], you don’t know where it is, so it’s very hard to clean it up.”

Old pipelines leak more than new ones

The Pegasus Pipeline was 65 years old when it ruptured. Older pipelines, which have undergone decades of wear and corrosion, can be more prone to leaks, and thus less safe, than new pipelines—especially pipelines carrying corrosive dilbit at higher temperatures.

According to the corrective action order issued by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the “age of the pipeline”, as well as the reversal of its flow and its location near water resources and populated areas, makes the Pegasus Pipeline “hazardous to life, property, and the environment” until “corrective measures” are taken. Even Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, Joe Oliver blamed the spill on the pipeline’s age.

Reversing pipelines can be dangerous

When Exxon reversed the Pegasus Pipeline in 2006, it was the first time it had ever been done, a feat of engineering Exxon (ironically, in hindsight) called “historic”. According to federal rules, no permit application or safety review was required to reverse the flow of the Pegasus Pipeline.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) sees things differently now. After the spill, PHMSA issued a corrective action order that admits “a change in the direction of flow can affect the hydraulic and stress demands on the pipeline.”  (Woops. Should have thought of that before I guess.)

The Mayflower-Pegasus spill now brings into focus, perhaps for the first time, the increasingly popular industry practice of reversing and repurposing existing pipelines in order to transport booming supplies of heavy crude out of the tar sands region north of the border.

Think tar sands pipelines are safe? Think again.

All of these characteristics make transporting tar sands crude by pipeline much more dangerous than conventional crude. Just ask the people in Mayflower, Arkansas. This is something decisionmakers must carefully consider when they review permits for the growing network of new and repurposed tar sands pipelines that will run through, over or near hundreds of communities and thousands of streams, rivers, wetlands, lakes and aquifers in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

‘Cause really, no one should have to live with the risks and consequences of tar sands oil spilling into their own backyard, local water supply or favourite fishing hole. I mean, really.

(Read more about dilbit in Inside Climate News’s Dilbit Primer, and about the enhanced risks dilbit poses to pipelines at NRDC’s website.)

Alison Redford’s Half-Truth Tour

By Mike Hudema | Greenpeace Canada

Monday, April 08, 2013

Read this blog post on the originating site

Dear Premier Redford:

I think Americans and Albertan’s deserve honesty. It’s part of the reason that I wrote you this letter after your very misleading USA Today ad.

But rather than be honest about Alberta’s poor environmental record and booming emissions, judging by your press release, the Alberta Government’s strategy is to continue the deception.

You know as well as I do that Alberta’s carbon tax has enough holes that you can build a tar sands industry through it. Carbon taxes are also supposed to reduce emissions and in Alberta emissions are set only to grow. You know the facts but here’s a quick refresher on just how pathetic the Alberta carbon tax you tout really is.

Your press release also touts Alberta’s investment in Carbon Capture and Storage. Really Premier Redford? You know that the carbon capture programs are dropping like flies. So why are you touting a program you know has been a failure to US democratic representatives?

Be honest Premier Redford. Be honest about the fact that Alberta has the highest emissions in the country. Be honest that despite a commitment to have a world class independent monitoring system years later it’s still not in-place and not independent. Be honest that despite commitments to end toxic tailing lakes they continue to grow. Be honest about the thousands of treaty rights violations the government is being sued for because of the impacts of tar sands development.

Be honest Premier Redford, it’s really the least you could do.

Barrier to public participation in upcoming pipeline hearings

By Environmental Defence & Greenpeace Canada

Friday, April 05, 2013

Read this blog post on the originating site

Toronto, ON – New undemocratic rules are creating a barrier to public participation in upcoming National Energy Board (NEB) hearings into the proposal for Enbridge’s Line 9 oil pipeline. For the first time, members of the public who want to send a letter with comments to the NEB about a pipeline project must first apply for permission to participate – by filling out a 10-page form that includes a request for a resume and references.

This problematic new process stems from federal Bill C-38 – the omnibus budget bill last spring that gutted federal environmental laws. Enbridge’s proposal for its Line 9 pipeline could allow dangerous tar sands oil to be shipped east through an aging pipeline that crosses some of the most heavily populated parts of Ontario and Quebec. This is the first new pipeline proposal to be up for approval since Bill C-38 passed last year.

“The new rules are undemocratic. They attempt to restrict the public’s participation in these hearings and prevent a real dialogue about the environmental impacts of the Line 9 pipeline project,” said Adam Scott of Environmental Defence. “Canadians should not have to apply for permission to have their voices heard on projects that carry serious risks to their communities.”

Under the new rules, any Ontario resident who lives along the 639-km pipeline route who wants to send in a letter about their concerns must first apply to the NEB for permission to send in a letter. As of today, the public will have just two weeks to fill out a 10-page form which asks for a resume and references.

“Since when does someone’s resume determine if they have the right to be concerned about what’s happening in their home community?” said Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada. “Anyone who lives and works in southern Ontario could be affected by a spill and everyone is affected by climate change. The right to send a letter of comment and have it considered by public agencies is part of the basic rights and freedoms Canadians enjoy.”

Line 9 runs directly through the most populated part of the country, through backyards, under farms and next to schools. The pipeline crosses every Canadian river flowing into Lake Ontario, threatening the drinking water of millions.

The new rules for public participation include:

Members of the public must ‘apply for permission’ just to send in a letter.

Participants are limited to those who are ‘directly affected’, or have ‘relevant information’ neither of which are clearly defined.

There is only a two-week window for the public to apply to participate, after which members of the public will be excluded from the hearing process. This means that if a resident along the route finds out about the project after that window, they have no voice.

Applicants are asked to provide qualifications, such as a resume or reference letter.

The application form is 10 pages long.

The application is very difficult to find online.

The basis on which participants will be rejected or accepted is unclear.

In addition to the new barriers for public participation, Enbridge’s proposal won’t undergo an environmental assessment, also thanks to Bill C-38 which gutted environmental laws.

Last week Environmental Defence, Greenpeace Canada and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment sent a letter to Ontario Minister of the Environment Jim Bradley requesting that the Province order its own environmental assessment because the federal government is failing to do one. Only through a provincial review will the public have a chance to be consulted, and the full risks to drinking water fully understood.

Until last year, the federal government reviewed roughly 6,000 projects per year through environmental assessment. Under the new rules, this number is predicted to be less than 40.

“It’s clear that the province needs to step in to ensure a fair and open process that will protect the best interest of Ontario residents and our shared environment,” said Adam Scott of Environmental Defence.

About ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE (www.environmentaldefence.ca):  Environmental Defence is Canada’s most effective environmental action organization. We challenge, and inspire change in government, business and people to ensure a greener, healthier and prosperous life for all.

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For more information, or to arrange interviews, please contact:

Naomi Carniol, Environmental Defence, (416) 323-9521 ext. 258; (416) 570-2878 (cell) ncarniol@environmentaldefence.ca

Keith Stewart, Greenpeace Canada, (416) 659-0294 (cell)

The Dirt :: Double Issue :: April 3, 2013

By DirtyOilSands.org

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“The Mayflower tar sands spill is another warning of the potential costs of the tar sands industry’s reckless expansion plans … [and] offers us a small sample of the risk that tar sands pipelines pose to American communities.”

~ Anthony Swift,  Attorney for NRDC’s International  Program

FEATURE DIRT

This could happen in your neighbourhood

Arkansas oil spill warns of tar sands pipeline risks

The dangers of transporting tar sands oil became starkly evident last week when black, Alberta crude flowed through backyards, streets, canals and streams in Mayflower, Arkansas. Tens of thousands of gallons of tar sands diluted bitumen, or dilbit, was released from a rupture in Exxon’s Pegasus Pipeline, a 70-year-old pipeline that runs from Patoka, Illinois to Nederland, Texas, underlining the risks inherent in building more tar sands pipelines like Keystone XL, which would be nine time bigger than the Pegasus pipeline.

In 2010, a pipeline spilled one million gallons of tar sands dilbit into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River watershed,  demonstrating that diluted bitumen spills were significantly more challenging and expensive to clean up and more damaging to the environment, particularly water bodies, than conventional crude. Tar sands dilbit pipelines typically operate at significantly higher temperatures than conventional crude pipelines, increasing their risk of rupture due to external corrosion and other factors.

“The Mayflower tar sands spill is another warning of the potential costs of the tar sands industry’s reckless expansion plans,” wrote NRDC’s Anthony Swift in a blog post. “Nearly three years after the Kalamazoo river spill, tar sands pipeline companies are pushing ahead with major expansion plans without doing due diligence of the risks associated with tar sands diluted bitumen transport on pipelines…. [The] Pegasus pipeline rupture offers us a small sample of the risk that tar sands pipelines pose to American communities.”

NRDC and other environmental groups have called on government regulators to identify risks associated with tar sands pipelines and develop safety regulations to address those risks before any new dilbit pipelines are built. Information has continued to pile up confirming many of the concerns raised by NRDC and other environmental groups: pipelines moving tar sands are more likely to leak, leak detection systems are unlikely to detect tar sands spills when they happen, tar sands spills are significantly more damaging than conventional spills, and conventional spills response measures are inadequate for containing and cleaning tar sands spills.

In an ironic twist, Think Progress has just reported that a bizarre technicality in U.S. law allowed Exxon Mobil to avoid paying into the federal oil spill fund responsible for cleaning up oil spills like the one in Mayflower. According to a thirty-year-old law in the US, diluted bitumen coming from the Alberta tar sands is not classified as oil, meaning pipeline operators planning to transport tar sands crude across the United States are exempt from paying into the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

The day after the Mayflower spill, Canadian academic and best-selling author Thomas Homer-Dixon wrote an op-ed in the New York Times that the Globe and Mail has called “an assault on the Keystone XL pipeline. Entitled “The Tar Sands Disaster,” Homer-Dixon stated that U.S. President Barack Obama would be “doing Canada a favour” by rejecting TransCanada’s application to build the Keystone XL pipeline.

“Canadians don’t universally support construction of the pipeline,” Homer-Dixon wrote. “A poll by Nanos Research in February 2012 found that nearly 42 percent of Canadians were opposed. Many of us, in fact, want to see the tar sands industry wound down and eventually stopped, even though it pumps tens of billions of dollars annually into our economy.”

Why? Homer-Dixon maintains that tar sands production “is one of the world’s most environmentally damaging activities” that “generates significantly more carbon dioxide than conventional oil production.” There’s also the fact that tar sands development “is relentlessly twisting our society into something we don’t like. Canada is beginning to exhibit the economic and political characteristics of a petro-state.”

The Mayflower spill will only put more pressure on President Obama and the U.S. State Department to reject the Keystone XL pipeline once and for all. To have your voice heard, visit 350.org and have your voice heard today.

CLEANING UP DIRTY OIL

Suncor leaks highlight risks to Athabasca River

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Last week, Suncor gushed an unknown quantity of potentially toxic wastewater into the Athabasca River. For 10 hours. If you think that’s bad, Suncor also released 2,200 barrels of toxic wastewater into the Athabasca River two years ago from the same site, which is located upstream from the communities of Fort Mackay and Fort Chipewyan. For three days.

According to the Globe and Mail, Suncor never bothered to issue a press release regarding the 2011 incident, which killed fish in a monthly experiment used to test for toxicity. The Fort McKay First Nation just downstream from Suncor said it has tried to get details from the Alberta government about which chemicals were released, but the data “hasn’t materialized,” said Daniel Stuckless, manager of environmental and regulatory affairs for Fort Mackay.

Two years later, the Alberta government has finally (and belatedly) made public some of the details of the 2011 spill and issued an enforcement order requiring Suncor to clean up its act. That’s right, two years later.

The government claims the enforcement order is not related to last week’s release of polluted water from the same site, but given lack of transparency regarding the first leak, it’s tough to take them seriously. The government has released no information about how much pollution was released in the latest spill, or how toxic it was. No one even has seen a photo of the broken and leaking pipe, which had frozen.

Eleven organizations representing environmental, First Nations and landowner associations sent a letter to the Alberta government last Wednesday, demanding to know more about the leak “so Albertans can judge for themselves the impact of this spill.”

“This is all information that Suncor and the Alberta government should know and be immediate public knowledge,” read the letter, addressed to Alberta Environment Minister Diana McQueen, “but we remain in the dark.”

The Alberta government promised to respond to the letter immediately, but so far, no additional details have been made public.

Meanwhile, Imperial Oil soon will begin operation of its Kearl mine that will eventually produce 345,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day, in the absence of a promise to ensure the protection of the Athabasca River, the latest in a series of broken promises by the Alberta provincial and federal Canadian government to protect the critical watershed that surrounds the tar sands region.

The Kearl mine was approved in 2007 with the specific understanding, according to the decision approving the mine, that measures to protect the river would be implemented.  These measures were to include a water management framework that protects river flows from excessive tar sands water withdrawals.  Today, a key element of that framework – an ecological base flow – has not been established and there are no measures in place to ensure that tar sands operators stop withdrawals from the river especially during low flows.

“It is unacceptable that in nearly six years, there are still no measures in place to protect the Athabasca River from massive water diversions that leave the river dry,” wrote Danielle Droitsch, director of NRDC’s Canada Project from Washington, D.C.  “The Alberta government has again failed to establish critical  environmental safeguards.  Instead, the provincial and federal government continue to mislead the public with false information claiming the existing Athabasca River Water Management Frameworksets mandatory limits on withdrawals.”

According to the Pembina Institute, the Joint Review Panel recommended that the Kearl mine (KOS) was in the public interest as long as rules were introduced that would halt river withdrawals during low flow periods. The decision report states that “The Joint Panel finds that the KOS Project is in the public interest for the reasons set out in this report. The Joint Panel concludes that the project is not likely to result in significant adverse environmental effects, provided that the recommendations and mitigation measures proposed by the Joint Panel are implemented.”

Those specific recommendations included that, “Phase II of the Water Management Framework be implemented by January 1, 2011, in keeping with the stated commitments of the governments of Alberta and Canada,” and that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Alberta Environment“incorporate an ecological base flow into the final Water Management Framework for the Athabasca River.”

“In the circular reasoning that has become common in oilsands decision-making,” wrote the Pembina Institute’s Director of Oil Sands Jennifer Grant, “the Panel based its recommendation that the project be approved on the assumption that the rules would be strengthened, rather than on the likely impacts of the project under existing regulations.”

Protecting the Athabasca River is not the only promise that remains unfulfilled. Increasing greenhouse gas emissions, growing tailings volumes, and the failure to protect caribou also undermine the entire industry’s efforts to convince the public that the tar sands are being developed in a clean and responsible manner.

“We still are failing to see the changes required to back [these claims] up,” wrote Grant. “Six long years have passed since the Joint Panel recommended that a zero-withdrawal low-flow limit must be implemented to protect the Athabasca River. Proceeding with new oilsands projects in the absence of this limit is simply unacceptable, and threatens the credibility of Alberta and Canada’s oilsands regulatory process.”

This legacy of broken promises to establish strict measures to address the growing and negative impacts on the water resources of the tar sands region, Droitsch maintains, deserves more attention and scrutiny particularly as the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is being reviewed by the U.S. State Department.

Solving the Canadian oil industry’s climate pollution problem

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The Pembina Institute has just released a new set of recommendations for the oil and gas sector that are necessary to get Canada on track to hit its national climate target. Will the government finally implement them or continue with business-as-usual?

The federal government says it will publish regulations to limit greenhouse gas pollution from producing and processing oil and gas before the summer. The Pembina Institute’s analysis indicates that the oil and gas sector needs to make a 42 per cent reduction from its projected 2020 emission level for Canada to achieve its 2020 climate goals.

“The oil and gas sector accounts for nearly a quarter of Canada’s greenhouse gas pollution, and right now there are zero federal constraints on the sector’s emissions,” said Clare Demerse, director of federal policy at the Pembina Institute.

“With a renewed focus on climate change in the U.S., and as a decision approaches on the high-profile Keystone XL pipeline proposal, Canada’s track record on greenhouse gas pollution is under the microscope. Strong regulations would be good news for Canadians and for our economy.”

From 2010 to 2020, emissions from the tar sands are expected to more than double, making it Canada’s fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas pollution. The projected growth in the tar sands is a major reason why the government’s modelling shows that Canada is on track to miss its 2020 climate target by over 100 million tonnes — more than the emissions from Canada’s entire electricity sector.

Alberta’s intensity-based greenhouse gas regulation is being considered as a model for federal regulations. If Ottawa uses Alberta’s architecture, it would need to significantly strengthen the Alberta policy to get Canada on track to hit its 2020 target. This would entail:

  • Setting a sector-wide target that at least reaches a 42 per cent intensity improvement;
  • Setting a price of at least $100 per tonne by 2020 for payments into the technology fund, though a price on the order of $150 per tonne would be much more likely to close the gap; and
  • Limiting companies’ access to offset credits.

The approach recommended in this report would increase average costs for a typical in situ tar sands facility by an estimated $2.87 per barrel in 2020, after accounting for interactions with royalty and corporate tax rates. A barrel of tar sands bitumen regularly sells for about $70.

Read the whole report here.

More evidence the tar sands industry is in deepening trouble

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Alberta’s tar sands industry took a couple of major hits over the last two weeks, in large part because of the great job clean energy advocates have done raising the profile of the problems and risks associated with the dirty energy project.

As we wrote about in the last issue of The Dirt, Germany’s largest and most prestigious scientific organization, the Helmholtz Association Research Centers, recently pulled out of a project focused on improving environmental and engineering performance in the Alberta tar sands.

Frank Schwabe, Member of the German Parliament, released a statement saying the Helmholtz Association quit this research over fears that involvement in the tar sands was damaging the institution’s reputation. “Although the [research] project appears to seek a sustainable approach,” Schwabe said, “this is done only to make a deeply problematic, highly environmentally damaging business a little less problematic in order to justify strengthening and expanding the tar sands industry.”

“As oil production from tar sands is viewed very negatively in Germany, it is difficult to explain why such a research project for tar sands is funded with public monies – especially considering that the project is being undertaken in a country that has withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol. Canada´s withdrawal from the Protocol in 2011 was perceived as an affront by the majority of Germans.”

The real and perceived environmental and economic risks associated with tar sands development are also influencing capital investment. Total E&P Canada Ltd., the Canadian arm of France’s Total SA, chose to take a $1.65-billion loss rather than continue its involvement in in the Voyageur tar sands upgrading plant. Total E&P sold its 49 per cent interest in Voyageur to Suncor Energy. The two companies pulled the plug on the plant because it no longer made economic sense.

The move is largely the result of increased production of light oil in the United States, which, according to the Calgary Herald, is “challenging the economics of unsanctioned bitumen projects and of new processing plants used to convert raw bitumen into light oil.”

Canadian divestment campaign escalates on Fossil Fool’s Day

danieltseleie-divest-uvicsmall

The Canadian Fossil Free divestment campaign kicked into high gear last week, when hundreds of students at fifteen campuses across Canada took action on the Fossil Fools Day, the first national day of divestment actions since the Fossil Free movement came to Canada in February.

The students called out “an industry that is planning to cook the planet, is responsible for destroying land, polluting the air and water, and violating the rights of people around the world, and an industry whose business model means burning over five times the amount of carbon our planet can handle.” Students also gathered hundreds of student signatures calling on campus administration to divest their universities’ endowments from fossil fuels.

The movement also got some spirited support from one of Canada’s political heavyweights. “The most important university campaign right now is the divestment of funds from the fossil fuel industry,” said Green Party leader Elizabeth May in a speech at Concordia University in Montreal. “ (Include photo).

The goal of the campaign is to convince college and university presidents and boards to immediately freeze any new investment in fossil fuel companies, and divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within five years. As the campaign grows we want to see the same from religious funds and other public funds.

Tar sands expansion contravenes Alberta’s caribou policy

woodlandcaribou credit caribou-pictures com

Despite claims of responsible and sustainable tar sands development, the Alberta government continues to sell new petroleum and natural gas leases in five threatened caribou range areas – including the tar sands region – despite unacceptably high industrial disturbance of caribou habitat in those areas. The Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) has called on the Alberta government to cease new surface leasing and new disturbance permits in Alberta caribou ranges and to make good on its promises to maintain and restore caribou habitat.

“These new leases violate Alberta’s 2011 woodland caribou policy that places an immediate priority on maintaining caribou habitat”, says Carolyn Campbell, AWA conservation specialist. “If Alberta is sincere about responsible energy development, the provincial government should defer new leasing and disturbance until enough caribou habitat can be restored to recover the populations.”

Alberta’s 2011 caribou policy states “The Government of Alberta is committed to achieving naturally sustaining woodland caribou populations.” According to Environment Canada, woodland caribou need at least 65 per cent undisturbed habitat to have even a 60 per cent chance of being self-sustaining.  In January 2012, Global Forest Watch Canada reported that the eight Alberta caribou herds in the tar sands region already had 64 per cent industrial disturbance.

According to the Alberta Wilderness Association, “Alberta’s existing project-level operating guidelines are woefully inadequate to address cumulative impacts of industry’s footprint, and have been recognized as such by the Alberta government and industry via Alberta Caribou Committee work. New protected areas announced for northeast Alberta will only cover 20% of caribou ranges and will allow conventional oil and gas leases that were already sold to be developed in those new parks.

STOPPING DIRTY PIPELINE EXPANSION

Estimate clean-up costs for Enbridge’s Kalamazoo spill exceeds $1 billion

Kalamazoo background shot

As Enbridge invests in yet another tar sands pipeline project, clean-up costs for its Michigan pipeline leak that spilled one million gallons of tar sands crude continue to skyrocket. According to Inside Climate News, the Kalamazoo River spill, which occurred in July 2010, already has cost Enbridge more than $820 million in cleanup costs, but that figure could top $1 billion by the time additional EPA-mandated dredging is carried out. The goal of the new effort is to remove submerged oil from three areas of the river, where the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says oil is still accumulating. The EPA is worried fears that the oil could continue to spread and contaminate parts of the river that are currently clean.

The cleanup of the Kalamazoo has been especially challenging because the pipeline that ruptured was carrying diluted bitumen, or dilbit, from Canada’s oil sands region. That’s the same type of oil that the Keystone XL pipeline would carry from Alberta, Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast if the project if the Obama administration approves the project.

Dilbit contains a mixture of oil-thinning chemicals, which soon evaporated, and heavy bitumen, which gradually sank. Much of the bitumen accumulated in the riverbed, where cleanup techniques used for spills of lighter, conventional oil weren’t effective.

Enbridge, meanwhile, announced it will spend $200 million on a new pipeline to connect Athabasca Oil Corp’s planned Hangingstone oil sands project in northern Alberta to its regional pipeline network. Enbridge also has applied to double pipeline capacity of Line 67 (formerly the Alberta Clipper pipeline) from the tar sands to Superior, Wisconsin. If the United States approves the expansions, Enbridge could ship nearly 880,000 barrels of tar sands crude a day through its pipelines by 2015, up from between 450,000 and 500,000 barrels a day now.

Vermont Senate passes legislation to keep tabs on tar sands pipeline

beautiful vermont

As tar sands crude flooded the streets of Mayflower, Arkansas, the Vermont Senatepassed a “tar sands pipeline bill” that would increase state oversight of oil pipelines. The bill, which was prompted by an application from Enbridge Oil to pipe oil from Alberta’s tar sands region to Montreal refineries, and then through Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom on its way to Portland, Maine, is now on its way through the Vermont House, where it is expected to be passed with flying colours.

“I know we’ll take it up, and I would never predict what a committee would do ahead of time, but I know there’s a great deal of support for the bill in the House,” said Rep. David Deen, who is also chair of the House Fish and Wildlife Committee. “I fully expect some version of the bill to make it through my committee and the House.”

The Senate passed the bill despite pressure from the oil and gas industry. Downs Rachlin Martin lobbyist Joseph Choquette, who represents the American Petroleum Institute, sent senators a letter on behalf of the Portland Pipe Line Corp., raising legal questions about the bill. The Portland Pipe Line Corp. owns the Portland-Montreal pipeline that connects Montreal oil refineries to Portland, Maine, and is the only company that would be subject to the new legislation.

“Treating this pipeline facility and company differently than all other regulated projects and entities that operate in Vermont would arguably run afoul of federal pre-emption principles that explicitly bar states from regulating oil pipeline safety; potentially constitute an impermissible attempt to nullify the President’s exercise of his foreign affairs power under the U.S. Constitution as reflected in the Presidential Permits issued to Portland Pipe Line and potentially impose an unconstitutional burden on foreign or interstate commerce.”

The Senate passed it anyway, and the House is expected to follow suit.

“Pipeline bullies” run the show in Canada

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Andrew Nikiforuk has written another compelling piece in The Tyee, this time about how “pipeline company bullies” influence Canada’s National Energy Board and take private property from landowners without compensation.

The column is based on testimony given by David Core before the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources. Core, a 58-year-old farmer and landowner and an expert on pipeline regulation, directly contradicted the testimony of National Energy Board (NEB) chairman Gaétan Caron as well as that of Mark Cory, Assistant Deputy Minister of Natural Resources Canada.

Core told the Senate that the NEB, which is overseeing the Northern Gateway hearings, is a captive regulator that does not work for Canadians but “protects the interests of pipeline companies.” Core also documented oil-pipeline spills that had not been cleaned up in Ontario, Manitoba and the Northwest Territories, and provided evidence that the National Energy Board has left the industry off the hook for multibillion-dollar abandonment liabilities on 70,000 kilometers of federally-regulated pipelines.

Read the entire article here.

Sink or swim? False facts misrepresent risk of Northern Gateway spills

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Despite the hard lessons it learned about sinking bitumen in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, Enbridge continues to assure the National Energy Board that the oily products it intends to carry west through the Northern Gateway – including bitumen – will stay on the surface if there is a pipeline leak or tanker spill, where they can be cleaned up using skimmers and other tools.

However, years of research, and the real-world experience in the Kalamazoo River, where clean-up costs are estimated to reach $1 billion, make clear that diluted bitumen does not float in an accident, Merv Fingas, the former chief of research and development at Environment Canada who specialized in oil spills, told the Globe and Mail.

Sinking bitumen makes an already “really messy situation” in the case of a spill “orders of magnitude more difficult,” said Eric Swanson, a director for the Victoria-based Dogwood Initiative. Art Sterritt, executive-director with Vancouver-based Coastal First Nations, said heavy crude could deal a double blow in case of an accident: “It’s going to float for a while and it’s going to wipe out the foreshore, then it’s going to sink and it’s going to wipe out the bottom.”

But Enbridge Dr. Alan Maki maintains that, “It is an immutable fact of physics that they will float. They simply cannot sink in water.” Dr. Alan Maki, who holds a Master’s in aquatic biology and has served as a witness for Enbridge, told the NEB in February. In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Mr. Fingas, said “that’s not true.” The diluent, he said, “[evaporates] fairly rapidly, so you really have to look at the density of the base compound, the bitumen underneath it.”

Who to believe? The industry-funded expert, or the scientific evidence and a real-world example of how difficult it is to clean up a bitumen oil spill?

MORE DIRT IN THE NEWS

Hansen quits NASA to accelerate climate fight

If the U.S. government thought NASA climate scientist James Hansen has been a thorn in its side, just wait until he quits his job and becomes a full-time activist ready to take a more active role in lawsuits challenging the federal and state governments over their failure to limit emissions.

Power-drunk Conservatives hurting oil industry

Canada.com columnist Stephen Maher is concerned that the federal Conservatives’ cosy relationship with the oil industry, and its “power-drunk overreaching” and “hyper-aggressive approach” to weakening environmental protection policy, “may actually be counterproductive to the industry.”

Orwellian doublespeak in the tar sands 

Enjoy this tongue-in-cheek conversation between Canada’s Minister of Plenty and an Enemy of the State (the NewSpeak term for “environmentalist) published in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

 

Does Tar Sand Oil Increase the Risk of Pipeline Spills?

By David Biello | Scientific American

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Read this blog post on the originating site

An oil flood through an Arkansas subdivision on March 29 is just the most recent example of pipeline problems in the U.S. In recent weeks, months and years diesel has leaked from a pipeline into wetlands near Salt Lake City; oil has spilled into the Yellowstone River in Montana; and about 20,000 barrels of oil have spewed into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. The question: Is the problem the pipelines themselves or what they carry?

The answer may be an unfortunate combination of the two. Certainly, the infrastructure has issues. The U.S. is crisscrossed by more than four million kilometers of such pipelines, many decades old. These pipelines spring hundreds of leaks every year, most small. The pipelines can fail for reasons ranging from a backhoe inadvertently striking one to the slow but steady weakening from corrosion. “It’s not a matter of if, but when,” says Susan Connolly, a resident of Marshall, Mich., right near where the Kalamazoo River spill occurred in 2010 as a result of external corrosion.

Critics charge that pipelines carrying diluted bitumen, or “dilbit”—a heavy oil extracted from tar sands mined in northern Alberta—pose a special risk because, compared with more conventional crude, they must operate at higher temperatures, which have been linked to increased corrosion. These pipelines also have to flow at higher pressures that may contribute to rupture as well. Environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) notes that pipelines in the upper Midwest that routinely carry oil from tar sands have spilled 3.6 times more oil per pipeline mile than the U.S. average. The Arkansas and Kalamazoo accidents both involved dilbit.

The chemistry of the tar sands oil could contribute to corrosion as well. In processing, the tar sands are boiled to separate the bitumen from the surrounding sand and water, and then mixed with diluent—light hydrocarbons produced along with natural gas—to make the oil less viscous and able to flow. But even so, the resulting dilbit is among the lowest in hydrogen as well as the most viscous, sulfurous and acidic form of oil produced today.

Some think the Arkansas spill could have resulted from just this combination of aged infrastructure and added stress from dilbit, although an exact cause has yet to be determined. The breached Pegasus Pipeline involved in the Arkansas incident can carry nearly 100,000 barrels of oil per day from Illinois to Texas. Originally constructed in the 1940s to bring Texas crude oil up to Illinois, it had been reversed in recent years to stream dilbit. The operator, ExxonMobil, retrofitted the 50-centimeter tube to compensate for the demands of pushing tar sand oil through in the opposite direction, but the higher temperatures and pressures may nonetheless have contributed to the rupture or sped up preexisting corrosion, suggest critics such as NRDC’s Anthony Swift.

A study from the Alberta government, however, casts doubt on the notion that dilbit is worse for pipelines than any other oil is. It found that dilbit is not corrosive at pipeline temperatures of as much as 65 degrees Celsius, although it is highly corrosive at refinery temperatures above 100 degrees C. Nor is the fine sand that remains in some of the dilbit eroding pipelines, though it does form sludges that must be cleaned. The higher temperature operation may even kill off the bacteria that help to corrode pipelines carrying other types of oil. “There is no evidence that dilbit causes more failure than conventional oil,” geologist John Zhou of the provincial government research firm Alberta Innovates said during an interview in November on a trip to the tar sands; Zhou helped prepare the Canadian province’s analysis of dilbit. The U.S. National Academies is currently studying the issue.

The good news for residents of Arkansas is that a dilbit spill on land may prove easier to clean than one in water. Thanks to its more viscous nature, Zhou says, “it’s not going to move very far on a spill”—as long as it does not get into waterways, as occurred in Michigan. Regardless, the sour smell of dilbit is likely to remain in the air of Mayflower, Ark., until all the diluent evaporates. “Before you get into town, you can already smell the oil,” says Glen Hooks of the Sierra Club Arkansas, who visited the spill site. “There is no reason to trust oil companies when they say pipelines are safe when there’s been spill after spill after spill.”

The mishap also highlights some of the concerns around the building of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, which could carry 830,000 barrels per day of dilbit or other tar sands products 2,700 kilometers from Alberta to Texas. That pipeline would incorporate the latest technologies, such as epoxy coatings and electrical current to reduce corrosion. Yet, even brand-new pipelines can spring a leak: TransCanada’s Keystone I Pipeline, which began carrying dilbit from Alberta to the U.S. Midwest in phpThumb_generated_thumbnailjpg (13)2010, has already suffered 14 different leaks (pdf).

Exxon’s Arkansas Tar Sands Spill: The Tar Sands Name Game

By Anthony Swift | Natural Resources Defense Council

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Read this blog post on the originating site

As the American public becomes acquainted with images of tar sands flowing across lawns, driveways and streets of an Arkansas suburb near Little Rock (for video of the spill go here), Exxon is now making the claim that the crude spilled from its ruptured Pegasus pipeline isn’t technically tar sands. This attempt is reminiscent of the knots that Enbridge tied itself into to deny that the million gallons of tar sands it spilled into the Kalamazoo River weren’t actually tar sands. During that spill Kari Lydersen, a former Washington Post reporter covering the spill for OnEarth Magazine, helped break Enbridge CEO’s about-face,  when after denying that his company had spilled ‘tar sands” for two weeks, told the press:

“No, I haven’t said it’s not tar sand oil. What I indicated is that it was not what we have traditionally referred to as tar sands oil. … If it is part of the same geological formation, then I bow to that expert opinion. I’m not saying, ‘No, it’s not oil sands crude.’ It’s just not traditionally defined as that and viewed as that.” Enbridge CEO Patrick Daniel, August 12th, 2010

My colleague Josh Mogerman wrote in detail about Enbridge’s denial – and it seems that Exxon is borrowing Enbridge’s playbook in this case. Exxon has identified the crude spilled in Mayflower, Arkansas as Wabasca Heavy diluted bitumen. Now the company is making the case that the crude it spilled is not technically ‘tar sands.’ However, Exxon’s argument doesn’t stand close scrutiny. Let’s look at the key facts.

1. Wabasca Heavy diluted bitumen is produced in Alberta’s Athabasca tar sands region. I’ve included a map showing the Wabasca formation as oil sands rather than heavy oil. The map is from the Canadian Centre of Information – I would link to it but I took it from The Oil Sands Developers Group this morning and the Oil Sands Map section seems to have crashed since then.

2. Wabasca Heavy Diluted Bitumen is considered by the Alberta Government as tar sands.  In the Alberta Oil Sands Industry’s (AOSID) Spring 2012 Quarterly Update, the Alberta government makes the following characterizations of its tar sands resources:

“There are three major bitumen (or oil sands) deposits in Alberta. The largest is the Athabasca deposit, located in the province’s northeast in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. The main population centre of the Athabasca deposit is the City of Fort McMurray. The second-largest oil sands deposit is referred to as Cold Lake, just south of Athabasca, with the main population centre the City of Cold Lake. The smallest oil sands deposit is known as Peace River, which is located in northwest central Alberta. A fourth deposit called Wabasca links to the Athabasca and is generally lumped in with that area.” (pg. 2)

And in its glossary, it defines “oil sands” as:

Bitumen-soaked sand, located in four geographic regions of Alberta: Athabasca, Wabasca, Cold Lake and Peace River. The Athabasca deposit is the largest encompassing more than 42,340 square kilometres. Total deposits of bitumen in Alberta are estimated at 1.7 trillion to 2.5 trillion barrels. (pg. 15)

3. Industry considers Wabasca Heavy diluted bitumen as tar sands. The Canadian oil industry’s crude quality clearinghouse Crudemoniter.ca doesn’t list Wabasca Heavy as a heavy conventional crude but as a diluted bitumen – the category for tar sands. In a recent report, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA) referred to Wabasca as “oil sands.”

So given that:

  1. Wabasca Heavy is a diluted bitumen with the physical properties of tar sands;
  2. Wabasca Heavy is produced in the Athabasca tar sands region of Alberta
  3. Wabasca Heavy is considered by both the Alberta government and industry as tar sands.

How does Exxon argue Wabasca heavy is not in fact tar sands? Their argument seems to be based entirely on how Wabasca heavy is produced. Tar sands near the surface is essentially strip mined. When it isn’t nearly the surface, most companies heat water and flood the underground tar sands formations with steam in order to reduce the viscosity of (i.e. melt) the bitumen so it can be recovered from wells in a process called Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD).

Exxon makes the point that Wabasca Heavy bitumen isn’t produced by either mining or SAGD, but a process called Solvent Assisted Production (SAP). In solvent assisted production you see, rather than flooding the underground formation with steam to reduce the viscosity of the tar sands bitumen, you flood the formation with a combination of water and polymer solvents to reduce the bitumen’s viscosity. And if you use water and polymer solvents instead of steam, rather than producing tar sands bitumen you get tar sands bitumen.

This transformative process appears to be based on the logic that flooding a reservoir with steam is unconventional while flooding it with water and polymer solvents is conventional. It’s also likely that the logic of Exxon’s argument is predicated on folks not following it quite this far. Cenovus itself, the company using SAP to produce tar sands, describes it as a process used hand-in-hand with typical SAGD methods to produce tar sands.

Coal is coal whether you use pick ax or shovel. Diluted bitumen tar sands is diluted bitumen tar sands whether you produce it using polymer solvents or steam. And that what was flowing down driveway in Mayflower, Arkansas this weekend.

Because ‘Bitumen is not Oil,’ Pipelines Carrying Tar Sands Crude Don’t Pay into US Oil Spill Fund

By CAROL LINNITT | DeSmog Canada

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

As Think Progress has just reported, a bizarre technicality allowed Exxon Mobil to avoid paying into the federal oil spill fund responsible for cleanup after the company’s Pegasus pipeline released 12,000 barrels of tar sands oil and water into the town of Mayflower, Arkansas.

According to a thirty-year-old law in the US, diluted bitumen coming from the Alberta tar sands is not classified as oil, meaning pipeline operators planning to transport the corrosive substance across the US – with proposed pipelines like the Keystone XL – are exempt from paying into the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

News that Exxon was spared from contributing the 8-cents-per-barrel fee to the clean-up fund added insult to injury this week as cleanup crews discovered oil-soaked ducks covered in “low-quality Wabasca Heavy Crude from Alberta.” Yesterday officials said 10 live ducks were found covered in oil, as well as a number of oiled ducks already deceased.

Continue reading article and view photographs on originating site

Lobbyist appointed as Alberta’s new top energy regulator

By ANDREW NIKIFORUK | THE TYEE

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Read this blog post on the originating site

The Alberta government has appointed the founding president of the Canada’s most powerful oil and gas group as well as an active energy lobbyist to head its new energy regulator.

Gerald Protti, a long-time senior executive for Encana from 1995 and 2009, served as the inaugural president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).

He is also registered as an active lobbyist for the Energy Policy Institute of Canada.

That lobby group, which disgraced senior Harper advisor Bruce Carson helped to set up (Carson served as vice chair), says on its website that it wants to make energy regulations more industry friendly: “Help design regulatory processes that aid, rather than impede, responsible energy development.”

(Carson, the 66-year-old former aide to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, was the architect of Tories’ oil sands public relations strategy and will go to trial next summer on influence-peddling charges. He has a history of fraud convictions.)

The Redford government appointed Protti, who also has close ties to the Harper government, as industry advisor to the Alberta government on its Regulatory Enhancement Project.

That project is still designing a one-stop shop regulatory body for oil and gas that Protti now heads.

Mike Hudema of Greenpeace Canada was at a loss for words to describe the appointment.

“You’d think the Alberta government would want to gain credibility with an appointee that had a strong record of public service. But this move does nothing for the province’s credibility. It’s pure conflict of interest.”

Added Hudema: “By handing the fox the keys to the hen house, the Redford government has made a mockery of their claims to being a tough regulator. No one outside of Alberta is going to take the founder of the oil industry’s main lobby group seriously as an environmental regulator. It may be a cause for joy in corporate boardrooms, but it is our communities and our environment that will pay the price of this revolving door between government and industry.”

Edmonton-based lawyer Keith Wilson and many other critics have described new legislation(Bill 2) creating Alberta’s new energy regulator as an unfettered disaster for citizens who live near energy projects in rural Alberta.

According to Wilson, Bill 2 effectively takes away the rights landowners now have to contest and oppose projects not in the community interest. But the new regulator “now gets complete unfettered discretion in deciding whether landowners get any notice or can have any right to a hearing or other participation in the process. There is nothing in Bill 2 that creates any rights for landowners.”

Protti’s appointment may create a political storm in the province.

When then-Premier Ralph Klein tried to appoint another energy insider, former Amoco executive Sherrold Moore, as head of the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board (now the Energy Resources Conservation Board) in 1998, public outrage forced the government to back down.

It finally appointed Neil McCrank, senior civil servant and lawyer, instead.

The appointment is not without precedent. B.C.’s oil and gas regulator, the Oil and Gas Commission, was actually set up by a former oil and gas lobbyist too.

Tyee contributing editor Andrew Nikiforuk is both an Alberta landowner and a reporter.

Tar sands spill in Arkansas is a warning of the risks of tar sands pipelines

By Anthony Swift | Natural Resources Defense Council

Monday, April 01, 2013

Read this blog post on the originating site

On Friday afternoon, Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline ruptured, spilling between 80,000 and 420,000 gallons of tar sands diluted bitumen in a suburban neighborhood in Mayflower, Arkansas. In 2010, a similar tar sands diluted bitumen spill into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River watershed demonstrated that diluted bitumen spills were significantly more challenging to clean up and damaging to the environment, particularly water bodies, than conventional crude. Moreover, tar sands diluted bitumen pipelines typically operate at significantly higher temperatures than conventional crude pipelines, increasing their risk of rupture due to external corrosion and other factors. While details regarding the cause of the rupture and the magnitude of the spill are still coming in, the Mayflower tar sands spill is yet another demonstration of the risks that tar sands pipelines pose to the communities and sensitive water resources they cross. At about a tenth of the full capacity of the Keystone XL tar sands pipelines, the 90,000 bpd Pegasus pipeline rupture offers us a small sample of the risk that tar sands pipelines pose to American communities.

Tar sands diluted bitumen is substantially different from the conventional crude historically moved on the U.S. pipeline system. It is a combination of heavier than water bitumen tar sands and light, toxic natural gas liquids or other petrochemical diluents. Together, this mix is called diluted bitumen, a substance that is fifty to seventy times thicker than conventional crudes like West Texas Intermediate (North America’s benchmark crude) and moves at higher pipeline temperatures. High temperature pipelines have been demonstrated to be at a substantially higher risk of rupture due to external corrosion – a study of a small network of high temperature pipelines in California showed they were 23 times as likely to rupture due to external corrosion than conventional pipelines.

The Pegasus tar sands pipeline rupture adds to growing evidence that tar sands poses additional risks to our nation’s pipelines and communities. Canadian diluted bitumen tar sands was first moved on the U.S. pipeline system in the late nineties – primarily on pipelines in the northern Midwest. While U.S. regulators don’t differentiate between tar sands pipelines and conventional crude pipelines, States with pipelines that have moved the largest volumes of tar sands diluted bitumen for the longest period of time – North Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan – have spilled 3.6 times as much crude per pipeline mile as the national average. And until late last year, Exxon’s 90,000 bpd Pegasus pipeline was the only pipeline to move Canadian diluted from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast.

Spill responders in Arkansas are making every effort to keep the tar sands out of nearby Lake Conway, an important drinking water source and recreational area. It is important that they do, because nearly three years after the tar sands spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan, neither industry nor regulators have developed effective methods to contain tar sands spills in waterbodies. When diluted bitumen spills, the light natural gas liquid diluents evaporate, leaving the heavier that water bitumen to sink into the waterbody. Once it is under the water’s surface, conventional spill response methods are largely ineffective. After nearly three years and a billion dollars of cleanup activities in Kalamazoo, almost 40 miles of that river and a nearby lake are still contaminated.

The Mayflower tar sands spill is another warning of the potential costs of the tar sands industry’s reckless expansion plans. Nearly three years after the Kalamazoo river spill and tar sands pipeline companies are pushing ahead with major expansion plans without doing due diligence of the risks associated with tar sands diluted bitumen transport on pipelines.

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The Dirt :: March 19, 2013

By DirtyOilSands.org

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

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QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“The provincial ad totally misses the point in identifying that greenhouse gas emissions are minimal when oilsands are extracted…. Today’s bottom line is whether taxpayers should be paying to lobby for projects instead of being welcome to effectively contribute to decision-making on them.”

~ Warren Fenton, Environment Canada’s former head of environmental impact assessment in western and northern Canada, writing about the Alberta government’s pro-Keystone XL ad in the New York Times

FEATURE DIRT

Canadian Conservatives Shill for Big Oil

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It’s one thing for Big Oil to spend big bucks on advertising to promote big projects, but should Canadian governments be spending taxpayer dollars to promote a controversial pipeline in a foreign country?

Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives apparently think so. The Alberta government, which has been dominated by the Conservative’s for the forty years, paid the New York Times 30,000 taxpayer dollars to run a misleading advertisementmeant to promote TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline that a recent New York Times editorial condemned as something U.S. President Barack Obama “cannot in good conscience approve.”

The ad was purchased after the New York Times turned down the offer of a guest editorial from Alberta Premier Redford. Entitled “Keystone XL: The Choice of Reason,” the ad contained the logos of both the Province of Alberta and the Government of Canada. It claims that America’s desire to effectively balance strong environmental policy, energy security and economic health “mirrors” that of Alberta, a jurisdiction, the ad contends, that is a “responsible energy developer”. In a logical leap across the chasm of incredulity, it then suggests that approving Keystone XL is the “choice of reason,” a decision that should be made based on “science and fact” rather than the emotional opposition of the projects detractors.

Numerous Canadians expressed outrage that the Alberta government would spend taxpayers’ money on a disingenuous act of greenwashing to support a project that will largely benefit corporations without creating much in the way of employment or economic activity in America, a project that comes with significant environmental risks that will be borne by Americans (in the case of the inevitable spills) and the rest of the world (in the case of increased greenhouse emissions).

In a “featured” letter-to-the-editor in the Edmonton Journal, long-time Alberta resident and Environment Canada’s former head of environmental impact assessment in western and northern Canada Warren Fenton asks whether “Albertans and Canadians want such ads to be factual and not simply self-serving propaganda?”

“The provincial ad totally misses the point in identifying that greenhouse gas emissions are minimal when oilsands are extracted…. Today’s bottom line is whether taxpayers should be paying to lobby for projects instead of being welcome to effectively contribute to decision-making on them.”

In a recent editorial in The Hill Times, Mark Jaccard, a professor of Environmental Economics at Simon Fraser University, wrote that “my Canadian government and the tar sands industries who want Keystone argue that somehow, miraculously, increasing carbon polluting infrastructure will not increase carbon pollution. (George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth has nothing on these guys.) They argue that even without Keystone Alberta tar sands would be developed to the same extent. So you might as well approve Keystone – so the argument goes. But this is simply not true.”

Jaccard claims that Keystone would help tar sands producers expand output by 50 to 100 per cent, and that if it is not approved, output would stay constant.

“But this is where the magicians offer their next deception. They claim that even without Keystone tar sands production would increase because the oil would simply be shipped to China via a Northern Gateway pipeline through British Columbia. You might as well build Keystone and keep the oil from going to China, so the magicians argue. In fact, the likelihood of this is slim – and getting slimmer every day. The reason is British Columbia. My province is the Canadian, and perhaps the North American, epicenter of two important social movements – environmentalism and rights activism by aboriginal peoples.”

In the end, Jaccard concludes that Keystone XL should be rejected because it will hinder tar sands expansion and the doubling of greenhouse gas emissions it will cause, and that “believing otherwise is nothing more than a magician’s delusion. If U.S. policy makers don’t want to lock-in a Sandy-Katrina future for our children, rejecting Keystone is one of the most obvious and easiest steps.”

Canada’s federal Conservative Party of Canada, at least, had the good sense not to spend (more) taxpayer dollars shilling for Big Oil. Instead, the federal Tories have launched a pro-Keystone XL fundraising campaign so party members can donate their hard-earned cash to promote the Alberta and federal governments’ pet project. In its plea, Canada’s federal Conservative Party said it needs the money to compete against anti-Keystone arguments made in the U.S. recently by Thomas Mulcair, leader of Canada’s official opposition, the New Democratic Party.

But Mulcair isn’t the only doubting Thomas. The Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) opposes the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, and is calling for a full accounting of the public money spent lobbying for it.

“The Conservatives have spent millions of public dollars to push for a pipeline that will export Canadian jobs, trample First Nations rights undermine domestic industrial policy and is bad for the environment” said CEP National President Dave Coles. “In their obsession for this job-killing export pipeline, the Conservatives have even insinuated that the leader of the official opposition is a traitor,” said Coles. “They are so far out in left field on this issue and it is time they live up to the costs of their adventures down south.”

What self-respecting Conservative would donate money to an Orwellian disinformation campaign to support a job-killing pipeline project that would facilitate the doubling of greenhouse gases produced by the tar sands? Doesn’t seem very conservative to us.

Enbridge’s Nose Grows a lot Longer

By National Wildlife Federation

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Read this blog post on the originating site

In a recent hearing to determine the fate of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline project, Enbridge told regulators, decision makers and the public that tar sands oil floats in water. This is according to an industry backed study conducted in a lab.

The large problem for Enbridge is that they can’t hide from the real-life facts. Enbridge has the best (and worst) “study” right here in the Kalamazoo River, where they spilled around a million gallons of tar sands crude into Michigan waters. This spill has proven the exact opposite: tar sands oil sinks in fresh water!

This is not a little white lie: the fact that tar sands oil sinks in water is one of the biggest problems facing the industry and pipeline operators, proving that any spill of any kind into water is devastating, toxic andimpossible to clean-up. The hundreds of acres of submerged oil in the Kalamazoo River — that Enbridge can’t clean up — is case and point!

Steep Learning Curve for Tar Sands Spills

Michigan journalist Fritz Klug wrote about this very point almost two years ago:

“At minimum, we’re writing a chapter in the oil spill cleanup book on how to identify submerged oil,” [EPA incident commander Ralph] Dollhopf said. “We’re writing chapters on how it behaves once it does spill (and) how to recover it.”

What the EPA didn’t expect at the beginning of the spill last July was how much time they would spend extracting the heavier oil submerged in the bottom of the Kalamazoo River.

“In a situation where we don’t have to be concerned with submerged oil, then we clean up the oil on the surface and be done,” Dollhopf said.

This past fall, the EPA issued Enbridge another work order to address the hundreds of acres of submerged oil, but Enbridge is dismissing that order because they have no idea how to remove the oil from the bottom of the river without causing extreme habitat destruction.

When a tar sands pipeline spill occurs, all readily available equipment used to clean-up oil will only address oil floating on the surface of water. So, for any pipeline operator to say they know how to properly clean up tar sands crude — this is a flat out lie.

Again, this point is extremely important considering the flood of tar sands pipeline projects hitting the U.S.

Lawmakers in the Dark

Taking this a step further, the lack of acknowledgment by our decision makers and congressional members is a little shocking. Our leaders should be demanding that regulators and pipeline operators make immediate changes to spill response plans to address this very issue, and no tar sands pipelines should be expanded or constructed until issues like this are fully addressed. This should have been an outcry immediately following Enbridge’s spill — especially considering tar sands crude is already running through many pipelines that travel in and around the Great Lakes, which are the freshwater drinking source for millions or people and habitat for countless wildlife.

In fact, many members of Congress are ignoring the facts and trying to streamline massive tar sands pipeline projects, like Keystone XL, which will expose millions to the risk of spills and drive development in Canada’s tar sands region, one of the biggest threats to our global climate.

We are allowing Enbridge to cover up the facts with propaganda, which will continue to allow the industry to expand plans for transporting tar sands oil through some of the most sensitive areas in the world.