Category Archives: news

Alberta’s carbon tax is a bold move. Sadly, it’s not enough

News Articles Featured Opinion | Tzeporah Berman | The Globe and Mail | April 05, 2013

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This week we heard that Alberta Premier Alison Redford is considering increasing the price of carbon in Alberta by imposing a limit on tar-sands emissions and a $40-per-tonne-tax on production above that limit. Good for her. What we know from other jurisdictions is that putting a price on pollution spurs innovation, creates certainty and can provide billions of dollars for the development of needed alternatives – renewable energy, efficiency programs, electric-vehicle infrastructure and public transit. Most importantly it works to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are already degrading our life-support systems.

Let’s be clear: Canada’s biggest barrier to meeting its climate targets is the tar sands. In fact, despite the best efforts of Canadians across the country to take public transit and insulate their homes, pollution growth in the tar sands swamps all these gains. However, if we froze emissions from the oil sands we could get on track. Canadians should measure proposal like Redford’s “40:40” – referring to a 40 per cent cut in the carbon-emission limit and a $40-per-ton tax on production above that limit – by whether overall emissions will actually stop growing. From the information available so far, it does not look like that will happen. While the $40-per-tonne number sounds high, when you factor in the 40 per cent intensity target, the carbon price ends up more like $15 a tonne (if industry estimates of a $2-per-barrel increase are correct). In comparison, British Columbia has a carbon tax of $30 per tonne (it brings in $1.2-billion in revenue), while Norway has a tax of over $70.

The reality is that you don’t really open up many more opportunities for innovation and reduction with anything under $40 per tonne. In order to truly change the economic playing field in favour of clean energy, it needs to progress to $100 or $150 over the next decade so that big investments such as carbon capture and storage start making sense economically. Currently, they don’t.

A recent study by Adam Brandt of the Stanford University School of Earth Sciences notes that at $40 we can expect no more than one additional carbon-capture project in the oil sands, capturing 1.6 megatonnes of carbon. Climate pollution from oil sands production is projected to hit 104 megatonnes of carbon by 2020. That is twice current emissions from Norway or Bangladesh — and exceeds the combined emissions from 85 nations.

The industry is already responding with concern to the proposal. It’s too expensive. We won’t be competitive. Baloney. These are the most profitable companies on the planet, and they’re used to treating the atmosphere as their free dumping ground. They can not only afford a higher tax, but our climate security demands one.

The fact that Royal Dutch Shell already uses a ‘shadow price’ of $40 a tonne because they have been expecting carbon regulations for years and couldn’t live with uncertainty is proof of that. Look no further than Norway’s profitable and competitive industry for further proof.

We need to stop kowtowing to the oil industry and design policies that benefit people and not polluters. Ms. Redford needs to propose a carbon price that actually leads to overall emissions reductions so that the oil industry takes on its share of Canadian emissions reductions, just like everyone else does.

If what Ms. Redford is trying to do is set a more sustainable course and secure her province’s reputational capital and market access, then she is going to need to stand up to the industry and go for something closer to $100 a tonne. With that, we might have a chance of meeting our climate targets.

Would the industry complain? Of course they would: they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. They are making billions from destroying our atmosphere.

But their bark is worse than their bite. Companies can threaten to leave, like they always do, but the reality is that they are here because the oil is here and not someplace else. They’ll stick around, because they have to.

Tzeporah Berman, a former head of Greenpeace International’s worldwide climate campaign and a co-founder of ForestEthics, has been leading environmental campaigns in Canada and internationally for over 20 years. She is the author of This Crazy Time: Living Our Environmental Challenge.

Energy board changes pipeline complaint rules

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.”

CP oil spill in northern Ontario larger than first reported

News Articles | Nathan Vanderklippe | The Globe and Mail | April 04, 2013

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A northern Ontario spill of oil from a derailed train is 100 times larger than Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. initially reported.

The company said Wednesday that only four barrels spilled. On Thursday, it said some oil had flowed beneath the snow and gone undetected. CP now estimates 400 barrels spilled, or 63,500 litres – a slightly greater amount than the company’s spill last week in Minnesota.

At about 7:50 Wednesday morning, 22 rail cars derailed about 10 kilometres west of White River, a small northern Ontario town. Two of those cars leaked light oil.

“The original leaking car was secured. The second car … showed no signs of the product around its base during initial assessments,” CP spokesman Ed Greenberg said.

When the leak was discovered under the snow, “CP constructed a berm and other containment and mitigation equipment is in place.”

The company said it does not believe the oil leaked beyond containment booms or into water, although testing is in place.

Asked how CP could miss such a large amount of leaked oil, Mr. Greenberg said workers initially believed the leaking had stopped at the second car.

“Appreciate the conditions that our crews are working in at a derailment site. … In the second car it was difficult to assess its condition due to its position among the derailed equipment,” he said.

CP resumed service on its tracks near White River, a major company line, Thursday evening.

The spill comes as pipeline shortages push growing volumes of oil onto trains. Rail tank cars are now moving oil across the continent from both the Bakken oil play in North Dakota and, increasingly, from both light and heavy oil fields in Canada.

The advent of rail transport has sparked a debate about the relative safety of oil pipelines compared to trains. Industry statistics have shown that trains have more spills. The rail industry argues that its spills are smaller, and it therefore spills less than pipelines. Some statistics show otherwise, however, and pipeline companies have argued that buried pipe is the safest method. Backers of rail movements, meanwhile, have argued that heavy oil – the kind that flows from the oil sands – can be moved more safely on tracks.

The oil and gas industry has faced intense scrutiny following major safety breaches in the Gulf of Mexico and Kalamazoo River. Subsequent pipeline spills – including a 12,000-barrel leak from an Exxon Mobil Corp. pipeline in Arkansas in late March – have provided fodder to critics who say new pipelines, including TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL project, are risky propositions.

Industry, however, says it safely delivers more than 99.99 per cent of the barrels that move both through pipelines and on trains.

Scientist links crude oil to fish deformities, asks Canada to investigate

News Articles Featured | CANADIAN PRESS | April 03, 2013

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OTTAWA – A renowned Canadian scientist says there appear to be similarities between fish deformities found downstream from Alberta’s oilsands and those observed after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska and Florida’s Deepwater Horizon disaster.

David Schindler of the University of Alberta has written two federal cabinet ministers pointing out the research similarities.

He’s proposing that some chemical or suite of chemicals found in crude oil may be causing the malformations, and he’d like to see Canada take the lead in researching the issue.

In a letter to Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield and Environment Minister Peter Kent, Schindler says the federal Experimental Lakes Area in northwestern Ontario would be ideal for studying specific chemical impacts on fish in the wild.

Ottawa announced last year that it was closing the Experimental Lakes Area, a remote region of 58 pristine lakes that have been used since 1969 for groundbreaking freshwater studies.

The closure of the world-famous facility will save the federal government $2 million annually — a move that scientists have called inexplicable, given the scientific value of the lakes area.

The Tar Sands Disaster

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.

A Canadian Oil Sands Project Was Just Dumped At An Enormous $1.65 Billion Loss

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.

Federal environment policy may not be helping the oilpatch

News Articles Featured | Stephen Maher | Postmedia news | March 29, 2013

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You don’t have to fit yourself out for a tinfoil hat to convince yourself that the federal Conservatives are taking their marching orders from the oil industry.

Stephen Harper’s political consciousness was formed at the University of Calgary in the early 1980s, when Albertans were rightly furious with the federal government for imposing the disastrous National Energy Program.

The policy, which the Liberals brought in in 1980, when they didn’t have a seat west of Manitoba, wreaked havoc on the Alberta oilpatch, a crude eastern cash grab at the resource wealth of Alberta.

But those days are long gone, and the adopted Albertan in 24 Sussex has turned the tables, and it’s easy to conclude that the oilpatch is now running the federal government.

Harper, sensibly enough, is seeking to promote and protect the most important industry in his home province.

Everyone benefits from the industry, in tax revenue and investment income, and the “Dutch disease” arguments against the industry seem overblown, given the positive impact on manufacturing in points east.

But the government goes all out to promote the industry, to the detriment of other, legitimate interests, to the point that it is reasonable to assume that it is influencing policies that it should not.

Given the stealth style of the Harper government, the refusal to give honest explanations of its decisions, we must seek a pattern in its actions:

* In 2011, Canada withdrew from the Kyoto accord that required us to cut our emissions of greenhouse gases.

The Conservatives have failed to introduce any measures to meaningfully reduce emissions, save copycat legislation mimicking American auto standards and rules full of loopholes for coal-burning plants.

* In two omnibus bills that followed the budget of 2012, the government made hundreds of changes to legislation affecting environmental protections, making it remarkably easier to get federal approval for potentially damaging resource projects and dramatically cutting the number of environmental reviews.

* The government has acted to muzzle federal scientists who study anything remotely connected to climate change, requiring that they receive approval from political masters before discussing their research with the public, leading to complaints from foreign science journals and jeopardizing international scientific co-operation.

* In May the Fisheries Department announce that it will no longer provide $2 million in annual funding to the Experimental Lakes Area, a world-renowned Ontario fresh-water research facility where scientists run experiments in 58 lakes.

The facility, which is responsible for research that helped the world understand how phosphorous and acid rain affect fresh water ecosystems.

The government is negotiating with an institute that may take over the facility, but this month began demolishing the modest cabins where scientists stay in the summer to run their research.

World-renowned scientist David Schindler believes the government is uneasy with research at ELA threaten oilsands developments.

* Last week, Canada quietly withdrew from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, apparently to save $350,000 a year.

Critics say the government wants to avoid being confronted with evidence of the impact of climate change in Africa.

* This week the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy closed its doors, the victim of federal funding cuts, because it had suggested that the government ought to put a price on carbon.

* Last year, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver released an open letter denouncing “environmental and other radical groups” that oppose oil sands developments and the Canada Revenue Agency launched tax audits of environmental groups, threatening their status as charities.

* In the House of Commons and in partisan advertisements, Conservative MPs attack phantom NPD plans for a “job-killing carbon tax,” warning that such a policy would destroy Canadian jobs.

There is also plentiful evidence that the government is taking the positions it does at the urging of powerful industry groups.

The lobbyist registry shows they enjoy unparalleled access to decision makers, and documents uncovered under access-to-information law show that policies they promote end up getting adopted.

But there is evidence that at least some players in the industry are not on board with all this stuff. The Canadian president of Royal Dutch Shell, for instance, says that a carbon tax makes sense.

And it is not clear whether it is in the long-term best interest of the industry to risk Canada appearing to be an environmental pariah, since Ottawa can’t push through the pipelines the industry wants without the co-operation of other governments.

It’s not the industry’s job to balance those competing interests, and there is reason to doubt that they are pushing Ottawa to kill research on fresh water, or muzzle scientists, or avoid meetings about desertification.

In fact, if the public comes to believe the industry is exerting unwarranted influence on public policy, there will eventually be a backlash, which isn’t good for shareholders.

The Conservatives’ hyper-aggressive approach may actually be counterproductive to the industry, the kind of power-drunk overreaching that led to the National Energy Program all those years ago.

Oil spill clean-up ship hit sandbar en route to government news conference in Vancouver

News Articles Featured | MIKE HAGER | VANCOUVER SUN | March 21, 2013

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VANCOUVER – British Columbia’s largest oil spill response vessel got stuck on a sandbar en route to a federal news conference about strengthening Canada’s oil spill defences.

The shipping-industry-funded company in charge of the vessel confirmed it ran aground briefly on an uncharted sandbar off Sand Heads at the mouth of the Fraser River en route from its Esquimalt base to the Coal Harbour news conference. But it denied the ship had a “close quarters situation” with a B.C. ferry near Active Pass earlier Monday – as claimed by the Coast Guard’s marine communications union.

In a news release Wednesday, Canadian Auto Workers Local 2182 spokesman Allan Hughes said the vessel’s slow trip to the conference underscored how ill-prepared B.C. is for an oil spill.

“It’s astonishing to think that the safety and protection of Canada’s busiest port is dependent on a quick response in the event of an oil spill and this is what we get — a response vessel grounding itself and taking 11 hours to arrive in Vancouver.”

Hughes said Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver announced nothing new Monday to add to the Port of Vancouver’s protection “and didn’t bother telling media about the (vessel’s) incident or just how far away major oil spill response ships are from Vancouver.”

The ship was not damaged in the incident and drifted off the sandbar within minutes after shutting off its engines, its operator Western Canada Response Corporation said.

The incident was reported to Transport Canada and did not affect the ship’s travel time to the conference, the company added. It said the ship and crew attended the news conference to take media questions about oil spill cleanup operations.

Canadian and US aboriginal groups vow to block oil pipelines

News Articles Featured | Reuters | March 21, 2013

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An alliance of Canadian and US aboriginal groups vowed on Wednesday to block three multibillion-dollar oil pipelines that are planned to transport oil from the Alberta tar sands, saying they are prepared to take physical action to stop them.

The Canadian government, faced with falling revenues due to pipeline bottlenecks and a glut that has cut the price for Alberta oil, says the projects are a national priority and will help diversify exports away from the US market.

But the alliance of 10 native bands – all of whose territories are either near the crude-rich tar sands or on the proposed pipeline routes – complain Ottawa and Washington are ignoring their rights.

They also say building the pipelines would boost carbon-intensive oil sands production and therefore speed up the pace of climate change.

“Indigenous people are coming together with many, many allies across the United States and Canada, and we will not allow these pipelines to cross our territories,” said Phil Lane Jr, a hereditary chief from the Ihanktonwan Dakota in the state of South Dakota.

“Along with every single legal thing that can be done, there is direct action going on now to plan how to physically stop the pipelines,” he told a news conference in Ottawa.

The pipeline projects in question are:

• TransCanada Corp’s Keystone XL to Texas, which is awaiting approval from Washington;

• Enbridge Inc’s Northern Gateway to the Pacific Coast, which if built will help export oil to China;

• Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP’s plans to more than double the capacity of its existing Trans Mountain pipeline to Vancouver.

Some Canadian aboriginal bands briefly blockaded roads and rail lines in January as part of a national protest dubbed “Idle No More” against the poor living conditions that many natives endure.

They say the Canadian government is ignoring treaties signed with native bands in the 18th and 19th centuries. These agreements, they say, give aboriginal groups a major say in what happens on their territories.

“They’ve been stealing from us for the last 200 years … now they’re going to destroy our land? We’re not going to let that happen,” said Martin Louie of the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation in British Columbia.

“If we have to go to court, if we have to stand in front of any of their machines that are going to take the oil through, we are going to do that. We’re up against a wall here. We have nowhere else to go.”

US environmentalists are urging president Barack Obama to block the Keystone XL pipeline. Greens and native bands also oppose the Northern Gateway, saying if there were a spill it could cause an environmental disaster and jeopardise traditional ways.

Canada’s Conservative government on Tuesday appointed a lawyer to gather views of native groups across British Columbia on energy development and report back to Ottawa.

Federal natural resources minister, Joe Oliver, asked abut the bands’ comments on Wednesday, said the government expects citizens to respect the law.

“If we do not go ahead with infrastructure, with pipelines to move our resources to tidewater and on to markets that want the resources, we will see them stranded and our legacy lost,” he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

“The people who will be hurt by this will be Canadians and we don’t want that happen and we are determined it will not happen,” he said.

The Nadleh Whut’en have teamed with four other British Columbia First Nations against Northern Gateway in a group called Yinka Dene Alliance. They have long said they will not allow the pipeline, which is now the subject of public hearings, to go through their territories.

For its part, Enbridge said it is well aware of the group’s opposition. The company says it has agreements with 60% of the aboriginal communities along Northern Gateway’s proposed route that will give those communities equity stakes in the project.

“The Yinka Dene Alliance’s position hasn’t changed for years, even with several attempts to sit down and discuss issues and try to address their concerns,” Enbridge spokesman Todd Nogier said. “We see the federal government’s announcement yesterday (of a representative to meet with natives) as a very positive one. It’s one that works to address bigger issues beyond any single project.”

Furor Over Keystone Pipeline Caught U.S. and Canada Flat-Footed on Climate Change

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.

Buoyancy of oil sands bitumen raises spill concerns

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.

EPA tells Enbridge to do more cleanup in Kalamazoo River

News Articles | Gayathri Vaidyanathan | E&E reporter | March 15, 2013

More than two years after an Enbridge Energy Partners LP pipeline spilled 819,000 gallons of diluted bitumen into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, U.S. EPA has ordered the company to do additional dredging to remove oil.

The company needs to dredge above Ceresco Dam, upstream of Battle Creek, and in the Morrow Lake Delta to remove submerged oil. A key concern is that the oil will migrate and pollute downstream areas. Enbridge has five days to respond and 15 days to submit a work plan.

The EPA-Enbridge tussle has taken on additional prominence because the pipeline, Line 6B, was carrying dilbit, the same oil sands hydrocarbon that would be carried by the Keystone XL pipeline. Research has found that dilbit spills are much harder to clean up than traditional crude.

The EPA work order reveals, in fact, that dilbit degrades much less quickly than traditional crude by microbe digestion. In laboratory tests, only a quarter of the Line 6B oil degraded, even under optimal conditions. The greatest amount of degradation happened in the first 14 days and slowed thereafter.

That means “at a minimum,” 75 percent of the oil is likely to remain in a water body after a spill, requiring cleanup, EPA wrote. In fact, about 75 percent of the sediment samples taken from the affected portions of the Kalamazoo River system still contain Line 6B oil above detectable limits, according to EPA.

The finding throws into question Enbridge’s assertion that a combination of sheen management and allowing the oil to degrade naturally will suffice to clean up the spill. It also raises questions about the nature of cleanup that would be necessary if other dilbit pipelines leak.

Sheen management might be sufficient in most areas of the river, but not where sediment accumulates around dams and impoundments. These accumulations are unlikely to degrade naturally, EPA wrote.

Faulty modeling by Enbridge

The work order is a follow-up to EPA’s finding in October that Enbridge needs to continue cleanup in the river system (EnergyWire, Oct. 4, 2012).

Enbridge had challenged that finding in its comments to EPA, saying that sophisticated hydrodynamic modeling suggests that oil accumulated in the three impoundments — Ceresco Dam, upstream of Battle Creek and the Morrow Lake Delta — will not migrate downstream. That’s even during times of flooding.

But EPA found that the hydrodynamic modeling developed by Enbridge as a requirement of the Consolidated Work Plan is rudimentary. It cannot be used to make determinations about future cleanup, EPA said. In fact, EPA and the U.S. Geological Survey had pointed out issues and assumptions in Enbridge’s modeling that make the model’s results simplistic, EPA wrote.

“Despite receiving the U.S. EPA/USGS review in August, Enbridge has taken no steps to resolve these deficiencies and only recently responded to the review,” EPA wrote.

Enbridge had also raised concerns about the methodology EPA used to determine the amount of submerged oil in the impoundments. Specifically, Enbridge and EPA had agreed to use a technique called “poling,” which involves sticking a pole into the sediment bed and agitating it. A sheen would rise to the surface, and it could then be characterized as light, moderate, heavy or none. Enbridge had challenged EPA’s use of the poling data to require additional cleanup.

EPA dismissed Enbridge’s comments, saying it was clear that the spilled oil from the pipeline is migrating downstream and accumulating in impoundments. The poling information was used in a manner agreed on by both parties ahead of time, EPA found. Temperature, wind and other factors did not affect its characterization of oil found in the impoundments, the agency wrote.

Protesters in custody after disrupting Northern Gateway hearings in Vancouver

News Articles Featured | Dene Moore | Globe and Mail | January 15, 2013

Read the full article on the originating site

Five protesters face charges after a group of people staged a noisy disruption at Vancouver hearings into the Northern Gateway pipeline project.

Three men and two women managed to sneak into the hearings on Tuesday despite efforts by the federal review panel to limit access, said Vancouver Police Sgt. Randy Fincham.

Police believe a visitor who was there with someone scheduled to speak at the hearing allowed the protesters access to the hearing room around 11 a.m.

“The demonstrators when they entered the hearing, they began moving through the hearing room, blowing whistles and causing a ruckus and interfering with the hearing that was taking place,” Fincham said in an interview.

“The members of the joint review panel that were conducting the hearing asked the five demonstrators to leave the building, as it is a private hearing.

“The five demonstrators refused to leave and they were subsequently arrested by the police … for assault by trespass.”

Three men and two women were expected to be released Tuesday afternoon, if they met conditions for release, Fincham said.

Police have an enhanced presence at the hearing site, he said, and will continue to maintain a presence until eight days of scheduled hearings are complete.

One woman was arrested on Monday night, after she managed to evade security and get into the lobby of the hotel during a mass demonstration marking the first day of hearings in Vancouver.

The nationwide Idle No More movement merged with ongoing protests against oil pipeline projects proposed for British Columbia, to bring about a thousand people out for rally in the city’s Victory Square on Monday night. Police say about half of them marched to the hearing site.

Fincham said one group of protesters was aggressively taunting police and tried to gain access to the hotel, but only the one woman managed to get into the lobby.

“She was arrested and taken to jail,” Fincham said, adding that she was released later that night.

Protest organizer Maryam Adrangi said the demonstrators arrested Tuesday don’t support the hearing process.

They went into the hearing room to reveal T-shirts emblazoned with anti-pipeline slogans, and they taped off the room as a “climate crime scene.”

In particular, pipeline opponents are angry that the review panel is not hearing evidence about emissions from the Alberta oil sands and the greater issue of global warming.

“They are following how this is becoming increasingly less democratic and they went in there to expose that they aren’t going to let unjust legislation stop them from having their voices heard,” Adrangi said.

She cited petitions, protests and several municipal motions – including one from Vancouver – that oppose both the Northern Gateway project and a plan by Kinder Morgan to more than double the capacity of its existing TransMountain pipeline from Alberta to Vancouver.

“There have been endless ways that people have said no, so if the public was genuinely being heard then this project would have already been scrapped,” Adrangi said.

A company spokesman said the hearing interruption was “disappointing.”

“These proceedings are intended to give voice to British Columbians and some individuals saw fit to interrupt that process,” Enbridge spokesman Todd Nogier told reporters outside the hearing room.

He said the review is a very important process for a key project.

“It’s a very important issue for British Columbians, a very important issue for all Canadians.”

If approved, the almost 1200-kilometre-long twin pipeline would carry about 525,000 barrels of petroleum per day from Alberta to the B.C. coast for shipment by tankers.

Community hearings were held previously in Victoria, and a one-day hearing is scheduled in Kelowna later this month.

The panel is limiting access to the hearings room to participants.

“Given the large urban nature of Victoria and Vancouver and previous protests held in both locations regarding the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway project, the panel has decided that it will limit access to the hearing room,” stated a directive posted on the panel website.

Members of the public are able to listen to submissions in another location. The hearings are also being streamed live on the panel website.

Fincham said Vancouver Police will continue to have an enhanced presence at the hearings.

The panel held final hearings earlier in Edmonton, Prince George and Prince Rupert, where company experts and interveners answered questions under oath.

Those hearings will resume in Prince Rupert next month, and the panel must submit its recommendations to the Environment Minister by the end of this year.

As State Department nears completion of Keystone XL review, both sides dig in

News Articles | Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson | Washington Post | January 17, 2013

The State Department is close to completing a draft of an environmental review that will help determine whether President Obama approves the Keystone XL pipeline, as environmental and energy industry groups sought to bolster their position with new information.

Pipeline opponent Oil Change International released a report Thursday saying that estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from oil sands development have failed to include the full emissions from a byproduct of refining oil sands crude — a coallike substance known as petroleum coke.

At the same time, the Consumer Energy Alliance, a group funded partly by oil and gas firms, issued an economic analysis that said the 1,700-mile pipeline connecting Alberta’s oil sands to Texas refineries would generate $580.2 million in direct spending over two years in Nebraska.

And 10 Republican governors and Saskatchewan’s premier sent a letter to Obama that urged him to approve the pipeline, which would ship 700,000 barrels of crude daily from Canada to the United States.

The State Department’s draft Environmental Impact Statement, which could come in the next few weeks, will be open to public comment before it is finalized.