News Articles Featured | Gloria Galloway | The Globe and Mail | April 05, 2013
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Canadians who want to tell the National Energy Board what they think about proposed pipeline projects – either in person or in writing – must now complete a 10-page application form proving they would be directly affected by the development or that they have relevant expertise.
The new rules the NEB unveiled on Friday stem from provisions in omnibus budget legislation drafted by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government and passed into law last year. Environmental groups say they are the Conservatives’ response to the thousands of people who indicated an interest in voicing opposition to Enbridge Inc.’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.
The first test of the new procedure for applying to have a say in a pipeline development is being conducted in Ontario, where the NEB is assessing the environmental and economic effects of Enbridge’s plan to reverse its Line 9 to bring 300,000 barrels a day of heavy crude from Sarnia to Montreal.
The route of the pipeline roughly follows Highway 401, crossing all rivers and streams flowing into Lake Ontario. Several municipalities, including Hamilton, Mississauga, Toronto and Kingston, have written to the NEB to express concerns.
Ordinary Canadians who want to participate at the NEB hearings, or even write a letter to offer their thoughts, must first print the application form that was made available online on Friday, answer 10 pages of questions, then file it with both the NEB and Enbridge. And they must do so by April 19.
The NEB also encourages those wishing to make submissions to include résumés and references. Only after an application is approved will the board accept a letter.
“I understand it does look quite daunting,” said NEB spokeswoman Whitney Punchak, who pointed out that people need to complete only the sections of the application relating to issues they believe pertain to them.
“This is in place to make sure that it’s fair and efficient and that we really hear from those who are affected by the project,” Ms. Punchak said.
As to the two-week deadline, Ms. Punchak said the board has been working since February to alert people to the process. “Two weeks should be plenty of time to fill out the application,” she said.
But Adam Scott of the environmental activist group Environmental Defence said few Canadians are likely to be aware that the opportunity for participation in the approvals process for the Line 9 pipeline is now open, and will close in short order.
“Let’s say you found out about this Line 9 thing in May and you said, ‘Oh, this goes right through my neighbourhood, I would like to write a letter to the process that’s ongoing,’ ” said Mr. Scott. “They would send you a letter back saying, ‘Sorry, you didn’t apply during the two-week window for participation status so we can’t accept your letter.’ ”
And even those people who complete their applications on time may not be able to convince the board that they should be heard, he said, because the NEB has not spelled out what it means to be directly affected.
Keith Stewart of Greenpeace called the process Kafkaesque, saying it will be more work for the board to read the applications than simply to read the letters from people who want to offer input. “I think it’s a basic tenet of democracy that you should be allowed to get your voice heard,” Mr. Stewart said.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May called the application process “an outrage” that violates the rules of natural justice and fairness. “Just when you think things cannot get worse under Harper, they do,” Ms. May said.
Peter Julian, the energy and natural resources critic for the New Democrats, said it is clear that the Conservatives don’t think the public should be heard on these projects. “I think it’s showing profound disrespect for Canadians to say that they don’t have a role in the process,” Mr. Julian said.
And Liberal MP Ted Hsu, who attended an NEB information session about the pipeline proposal in Kingston earlier this week, said he believes the Line 9 reversal will be a test of the new legislation and how much public input will be permitted. “So I think everybody should try to participate and see what happens.”
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said the NEB wants to hear from people who are impacted by the project.
“Focusing consultation on individuals directly affected by a proposal before the NEB and experts with relevant information or expertise, ensures the review is informed by the facts,” said Mr. Oliver. “There have been no changes to timelines for applying to participate in the public consultation process.”
News Articles Featured Opinion | Thomas Homer-Dixon | New York Times | April 01, 2013
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If President Obama blocks the Keystone XL pipeline once and for all, he’ll do Canada a favor.
Canada’s tar sands formations, landlocked in northern Alberta, are a giant reserve of carbon-saturated energy — a mixture of sand, clay and a viscous low-grade petroleum called bitumen. Pipelines are the best way to get this resource to market, but existing pipelines to the United States are almost full. So tar sands companies, and the Alberta and Canadian governments, are desperately searching for export routes via new pipelines.
Canadians don’t universally support construction of the pipeline. 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.
The most obvious reason is that tar sands production is one of the world’s most environmentally damaging activities. It wrecks vast areas of boreal forest through surface mining and subsurface production. It sucks up huge quantities of water from local rivers, turns it into toxic waste and dumps the contaminated water into tailing ponds that now cover nearly 70 square miles.
Also, bitumen is junk energy. A joule, or unit of energy, invested in extracting and processing bitumen returns only four to six joules in the form of crude oil. In contrast, conventional oil production in North America returns about 15 joules. Because almost all of the input energy in tar sands production comes from fossil fuels, the process generates significantly more carbon dioxide than conventional oil production.
There is a less obvious but no less important reason many Canadians want the industry stopped: it 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.
Countries with huge reserves of valuable natural resources often suffer from economic imbalances and boom-bust cycles. They also tend to have low-innovation economies, because lucrative resource extraction makes them fat and happy, at least when resource prices are high.
Canada is true to type. When demand for tar sands energy was strong in recent years, investment in Alberta surged. But that demand also lifted the Canadian dollar, which hurt export-oriented manufacturing in Ontario, Canada’s industrial heartland. Then, as the export price of Canadian heavy crude softened in late 2012 and early 2013, the country’s economy stalled.
Canada’s record on technical innovation, except in resource extraction, is notoriously poor. Capital and talent flow to the tar sands, while investments in manufacturing productivity and high technology elsewhere languish.
But more alarming is the way the tar sands industry is undermining Canadian democracy. By suggesting that anyone who questions the industry is unpatriotic, tar sands interest groups have made the industry the third rail of Canadian politics.
The current Conservative government holds a large majority of seats in Parliament but was elected in 2011 with only 40 percent of the vote, because three other parties split the center and left vote. The Conservative base is Alberta, the province from which Prime Minister Stephen Harper and many of his allies hail. As a result, Alberta has extraordinary clout in federal politics, and tar sands influence reaches deep into the federal cabinet.
Both the cabinet and the Conservative parliamentary caucus are heavily populated by politicians who deny mainstream climate science. The Conservatives have slashed financing for climate science, closed facilities that do research on climate change, told federal government climate scientists not to speak publicly about their work without approval and tried, unsuccessfully, to portray the tar sands industry as environmentally benign.
The federal minister of natural resources, Joe Oliver, has attacked “environmental and other radical groups” working to stop tar sands exports. He has focused particular ire on groups getting money from outside Canada, implying that they’re acting as a fifth column for left-wing foreign interests. At a time of widespread federal budget cuts, the Conservatives have given Canada’s tax agency extra resources to audit registered charities. It’s widely assumed that environmental groups opposing the tar sands are a main target.
This coercive climate prevents Canadians from having an open conversation about the tar sands. Instead, our nation behaves like a gambler deep in the hole, repeatedly doubling down on our commitment to the industry.
President Obama rejected the pipeline last year but now must decide whether to approve a new proposal from TransCanada, the pipeline company. Saying no won’t stop tar sands development by itself, because producers are busy looking for other export routes — west across the Rockies to the Pacific Coast, east to Quebec, or south by rail to the United States. Each alternative faces political, technical or economic challenges as opponents fight to make the industry unviable.
Mr. Obama must do what’s best for America. But stopping Keystone XL would be a major step toward stopping large-scale environmental destruction, the distortion of Canada’s economy and the erosion of its democracy.
News Articles | Jen Alic | Business Insider | March 31, 2013
France’s Total SA (NYSE: TOT) will sell its 49% stake in its Canadian oil sands project to Suncor Energy Inc. for $500 million, netting the French oil giant a $1.65 billion loss on the beleaguered project.
Total would have had to spend another $5 billion (at least) on the Alberta oil sands Voyageur Upgrader project over the next five years—an investment that cannot be justified according to its executives.
The project is beleaguered by increasing labor costs, a shortage of labor and the falling prices of Canadian heavy crude against rising US oil production. Profit margins have narrowed to the extent that the project is no longer economically feasible.
The sale to Canada’s Suncor (NYSE: SU)—from which Total purchased the project in 2010–and the resulting loss hasn’t affected Total shares to any significant extent as of the time of writing. These net losses won’t be reflected until Total releases its first quarter 2013 results.
Not only does the Total divestiture raise questions about the long-term viability of Canadian oil sands investments, it also raises questions about whether the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project is really in the US’ interests—at a time when US oil output is rising and Canada’s oil sands are becoming less strategically advantageous.
Total is still hanging on to two other oil sands projects in Canada—at Fort Hills and Joslyn—and for now there is no talk of divesting, but later this year Total will make a final decision on its Fort Hills investment, according to Bloomberg.
As part of its effort to persuade the United States to accept the Keystone pipeline and the oil sands fuel it would carry from Canada, the province of Alberta is advertising itself as an environmental leader at the cutting edge of clean energy development.
On Sunday, the province took out a half-page ad in the New York Times asserting that it is “committed to raising the bar higher on its leading climate change policy.”
“Our past, present and future environmental management actions—including the fact that Alberta already has a price on carbon and was the first place in North America to legally require all large industry to curb emissions—are unmatched by any oil producing region in the world,” Premier Alison Redford said in a companion statement.
“To ignore the good work done in Alberta to begin to reduce greenhouse gas emissions—while others around the world simply talk—is disingenuous in the extreme,” she added in a speech the next day.
Alberta’s talk about its actions to address the climate issue came as Redford prepares for a trip to Washington next month to lobby for the project—her fourth such visit in 18 months.
But the ad, which the opposition immediately said was misleading, was a lobbying tactic, not a diplomatic overture. Indeed, many experts see the long-running Keystone saga as a failure of diplomacy on all sides.
Foreign policy experts say the Keystone could have been used to forge a grand, cross-border bargain to jointly address climate change—a bargaining chip toward agreements on carbon taxes, cap-and-trade regimes, or other comprehensive approaches.
But both governments are so ensnarled in their own politics they didn’t work together as they have on so many past environmental issues. Instead, the furor over this single project has overshadowed the two countries’ overall energy and environmental relationship and left little more than a war of words between those with vested interests on all sides.
Sometimes the facts get bent in the process.
Official statistics show that Alberta lags the rest of Canada in controlling emissions, even as Canada itself is falling short of its promises.
Canada’s most recent annual emissions trend report projected that the country will achieve only half the nationwide greenhouse gas reductions it has pledged to make by the year 2020—its promise to cut them 17 percent compared to 2005. (The U.S., too, is struggling with the same target, reached at negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009.)
Alberta, which like other Canadian provinces controls its own natural resources, has the least ambitious target of any province. If met, it would leave its emissions well above the 2005 level. Absent any new regulations, Alberta’s emissions are projected to grow from 231 million tons to 285 million tons. (One ton of carbon is roughly a month’s typical energy use by an American household, or two month’s driving of a typical car, according to an estimate by the University of Arizona.)
The most significant source of Alberta’s future emissions is the production of bitumen, the thick oil that is mined from the tar sands. The province expects it will take decades to bring them down to about 2005 levels.
As a public relations tactic, the pro-environment posture sounds good. But as a measure of real progress on climate change it falls short.
Broad Policy Context Urged for Years
For years, foreign policy experts have urged Canada and the United States to do more to address energy and climate issues in the context of far-reaching, well coordinated bilateral agreements.
A detailed report for the Canadian International Council, for example, cited “opportunities to broaden climate change and clean energy discussions,” including “the potential impact of Canadian and American climate change policy on oil sand exporters.
News Articles Featured | Nathan Vanderklippe | Globe and Mail | March 20, 2013
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Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver this week told a Vancouver audience that British Columbians have nothing to fear from Pacific exports of Canadian oil sands crude.
“We have taken significant measures to protect against a spill,” the minister said.
But one of the country’s top oil spill experts says exports of heavy crude pose added risks to the West Coast, since some oil sands blends are likely to sink in the case of a spill, complicating potential cleanup efforts.
Years of research make clear that some kinds of diluted bitumen will not float in an accident, says Merv Fingas, the former chief of research and development for a group at Environment Canada that specialized in oil spills. Instead, the oil-thinning diluent in the crude will evaporate. The remaining bitumen, if it is heavy enough, will drop through the water, where the highly sticky substance can adhere to rocks and other sediments, making cleanup difficult.
Determining whether spilled oil sands crude will float is a key question for those weighing shipments of oil to Pacific markets. Critics say the possibility of a product that sinks increases the environmental risks of such oil shipments, raising another obstacle for industry’s ambitions.
But Enbridge Inc., the pipeline builder seeking to build the Northern Gateway pipeline, has sought to assure the National Energy Board that the products it intends to carry west will stay on the surface, where they can be cleaned up using skimmers and other tools.
“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, Mr. Fingas said “that’s not true.” The diluent, he said, “comes off fairly rapidly, so you really have to look at the density of the base compound, the bitumen underneath it.”
Bitumen is different depending on its source, but some has a higher specific gravity than seawater, Mr. Fingas said. “So some bitumen will sink and some will not,” he said. He added: “Every time we did get a sample of any kind of bitumen in the laboratory and analyzed it, it always sank.”
Mr. Fingas holds a PhD in environmental physics, plus three Master’s and two undergraduate degrees. He has been involved with over 800 papers and publications, as well as six books on spills. He was one of three scientists chosen by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to estimate the amount of oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
Mr. Fingas supports Pacific oil sands exports, saying it’s economically necessary for Canada. And bitumen, he said, has fewer soluble toxins than light oil, making it much safer to aquatic life if spilled.
But the possibility that bitumen won’t float has raised alarm in B.C. 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,” he said.
Enbridge has presented research to the NEB that tested two types of diluted bitumen. While some 15 per cent of the oil fell 10 centimetres below the surface of the test facility, “at no point was oil found to submerge, sink, and stick to the bottom of the flume,” the report found.
In a statement, Enbridge spokesman Todd Nogier said making diluted bitumen creates “a new product” that is “not likely to sink in areas away from the shoreline in marine environments.” He added that oil “may sink” near shore if it “interacts with sediments.” Enbridge has been ordered to dredge parts of the Kalamazoo River after remnants of a heavy oil spill remain in the Michigan waterway.
A 1999 study by the U.S. National Research Council found that in heavy oil spills, 20 per cent of the crude sank, compared to 4 per cent in all spills. Ottawa has pledged more study. On Monday, Natural Resources Minister Mr. Oliver said the government will examine how bitumen behaves “when spilled in the marine environment.”
Environment Canada’s studies of bitumen in spills date back to 1995, Mr. Fingas said. The current government, however, has substantially cut back that work. Mr. Fingas spent 33 years with Environment Canada before quitting in 2006, ahead of cuts that he said trimmed its environmental emergencies research work force from 45 to roughly 15, and eliminated the two aircraft it used for studies. That has hamstrung capabilities Mr. Fingas worked to build.