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


Wednesday, April 03, 2013


“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


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 and have your voice heard today.


Suncor leaks highlight risks to Athabasca River

suncor (1)

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


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



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


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.


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


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


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?


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 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 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


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.

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.

Fact-checking Canada’s record on climate change and the oilsands

By Clare Demerse | Pembina Institute

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Read this blog post on the originating site

With consideration of the Keystone XL pipeline proposal heading into the home stretch, a parade of Canadian politicians have been making the trek to the U.S. to try to convince the Obama Administration of the pipeline’s merits.

The good news is that the recent visitors — from Premiers Redford and Wall to federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver — now acknowledge that Canada’s environmental record is crucial to the upcoming U.S. decision.

The bad news is that there are some gaping holes in that record.

Minister Oliver has called for pipeline decisions to be “based on science and facts, not conjecture, hyperbole or ideology.” In that spirit, surely it’s fair to put some of the assertions in Minister Oliver’s recent Chicago speech under the microscope.

“Current projections show that Canada is halfway to meeting” its 2020 greenhouse gas emissions target.

If you read that statement to mean that we’re “halfway there” right now, I have bad news for you. Environment Canada estimates that Canada will only be “halfway” to meeting its 2020 target in 2020 — meaning that we’re on track to miss the 2020 target by 113 million tonnes, or double the current emissions of British Columbia.

To date, the federal government has not published any plan or proposal to close that gap, and the trend line that Minister Oliver alludes to with his “halfway” assessment already factors in the effects of all existing federal and provincial climate policies.

“Total greenhouse gas emissions from oilsands production represent 0.1 per cent, or one one-thousandth, of global emissions.”

No argument with the numbers themselves, but Joe Oliver isn’t in charge of climate change for the world; he’s the minister of Canada’s natural resources. And in the Canadian context, the oilsands play a starring role as the single fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas pollution in this country.

Indeed, the projected growth from the oilsands sector alone from 2005 to 2020 is large enough to cancel out all other emission reductions taking place elsewhere in the Canadian economy over the same period. More than anything else, the oilsands explain why Canada is projected to miss its 2020 target by such a large margin.

“Once the federal regulations are in place, Canada will be one of a very few oil producers in the world with national binding regulations on its oil and gas sector.”

As Minister Oliver’s statement hints, the reality is that that there are currently no federal constraints of any kind on greenhouse gas pollution from Canada’s oil and gas sector. The government has proposed a variety of approaches to controlling Canada’s emissions since first taking power seven years ago, and made a specific commitment to a sectoral regulation for oil and gas in 2011, but there’s still nothing on the books. In other words, they’ve made their new year’s resolution (again), but they haven’t yet headed out the door to the gym.

If and when Canada does get a regulation into place, it will join numerous oil and gas producing jurisdictions that have already taken steps to tackle their emissions. We recently published a reportlisting some of those policies, which include carbon taxes in Norway and Australia and cap-and-trade systems in the European Union and California (not to mention carbon pricing in B.C. and Alberta).

Several of those policies are not specific to the oil and gas sector; instead, many of these jurisdictions have adopted economy-wide carbon pricing that includes oil and gas emissions. That kind of broad-based pollution pricing is economically efficient, flexible, and frankly the preferred policy option for many oil and gas companies. Unfortunately, it’s an approach that the Harper government continues to attack on a daily basis as a “job-killing” “tax on everything” — but that kind of rhetoric was conspicuously absent from Minister Oliver’s U.S. outreach.

“Canada’s oilsands are subject to some of the most stringent environmental regulations and monitoring in the world.”

That’s a bold claim from a government that spent much of the past year revising many of Canada’s most important environmental laws to make it easier for resource development to go ahead. The federal government has partnered with the Government of Alberta on a new approach to environmental monitoring that shows promise; unfortunately, budget wrangling and delay means that the new system is still not up and running.

We’ll stop there for now, although the federal government has provided plenty more material that merits a closer look — including its very rosy assessment of Canada’s coal regulations or the assertion that the Keystone XL project would be a huge job creator when the State Department’s recently-releasedsupplemental environmental impact statement found that operating the multi-billion dollar Keystone XL pipeline would create a total of 35 permanent jobs.

A year ago, the federal government’s emphasis was on faster project approvals, more oilsands development, and pipelines in all directions. It’s good news that scrutiny from the sector’s major customer has reminded our political leaders that environmental protection needs to be just as much of a priority.

The government’s rhetoric has already changed in response, but even the best speechwriters can’t make a compelling case when there’s little good material to work with.

Environment Minister Peter Kent said last week that the release of the long-promised oil and gas sector regulations is drawing near. It’s a crucial decision for Canada’s approach to climate change. And if Ottawa rises to the challenge by adopting tough rules, it’s also a high-profile opportunity for the government to write itself a better script.

The children: Why a generation is putting itself on the line for the climate

By Wen Stephenson | Grist

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

I recently picked up a book that’s been sitting in my must-read pile for a long time: David Halberstam’s The Children, a remarkable account of the African-American students who began the momentous lunch-counter sit-ins in Nashville in February 1960 and went on to risk their lives as Freedom Riders and as movement leaders in Birmingham and Selma. Half a century on, it can be easy to forget that citizens of this country took such risks, and made such sacrifices, in order to gain basic human rights.

Still, I thought I knew the story. So I was startled to find myself pierced, on the very first page, by Halberstam’s description of one young woman’s inner struggle:

Years later, though she could recall almost every physical detail of what it had been like to sit there in that course on English literature, Diane Nash could remember nothing of what Professor Robert Hayden had said. What she remembered instead was her fear. A large clock on the wall had clicked slowly and loudly; each minute which was subtracted put her nearer to harm’s way. … It was always the last class that she attended on the days that she and her colleagues assembled before they went downtown and challenged the age-old segregation laws at the lunch counters in Nashville’s downtown shopping center.

Halberstam then describes Diane Nash’s memory of the night before the first sit-in, on Feb. 13, 1960:

On that evening, she had sat alone in her room at Fisk University. Suddenly she was hit with an overpowering attack of nerves. What had she gotten herself into? she wondered. … She, Diane Nash, a coward of the first order in her own mind, a person absolutely afraid not just of violence but of going to jail, was going to join a small group of black children and ministers and take on the most important and resourceful people in a big, very white, very Southern city….

It was a joke, she thought, it will never happen. We are a bunch of children. We’re nice children, bright and idealistic, but we are children and we are weak.

I think I know why those words pierced me the way they did. Over the past year and a half, I’ve gotten acquainted, and at times worked closely, with a group of student climate activists in the Boston area.

The Dirt :: March 12, 2013


“A president who has repeatedly identified climate change as one of humanity’s most pressing dangers cannot in good conscience approve a project that — even by the State Department’s most cautious calculations — can only add to the problem.”

~ the New York Times editorial board, writing about the Keystone XL pipeline

In this issue:

  • New York Times says no to Keystone XL
  • Debunking Canadian propaganda about the virtues of bitumen
  • Tar sands truth in Europe
  • Mothers and Methodists hold funeral at TransCanada office

The Keystone XL pipeline proposal was dealt yet another blow this week when the world’s most influential newspaper decried the project as dangerous and not in keeping with U.S. President Barack Obama’s commitment to doing whatever he can to limit the impacts of climate change.

“A president who has repeatedly identified climate change as one of humanity’s most pressing dangers cannot in good conscience approve a project that — even by the State Department’s most cautious calculations — can only add to the problem,” wrote the New York Timeseditorial board on Sunday. “Saying no to the pipeline will not stop Canada from developing the tar sands, but it will force the construction of new pipelines through Canada itself. And that will require Canadians to play a larger role in deciding whether a massive expansion of tar sands development is prudent. At the very least, saying no to the Keystone XL will slow down plans to triple tar sands production from just under two million barrels a day now to six million barrels a day by 2030.”

The Times editorial was accompanied by a column from well-known columnist and author Thomas Friedman. In “No to Keystone. Yes to Crazy.”, Friedman wrote that he hopes President Obama turns down TransCanada’s proposal to build the Keystone XL pipeline across the Midwest so the “dirtiest crude” from Alberta’s tar sands can be exported to overseas markets.

Friedman added that if the president does approve the pipeline, “I hope that Bill McKibben and his coalition go crazy. I’m talking chain-themselves-to-the-White-House-fence-stop-traffic-at-the-Capitol kind of crazy, because I think if we all make enough noise about this, we might be able to trade a lousy Keystone pipeline for some really good systemic responses to climate change.”

The New York Times position comes as  more analysis of the State Department’s draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) finds that it debunks many of the arguments used by the pipeline’s supporters to justify the need for the Keystone XL pipeline. Champions of Keystone XL argue that it is essential to delivering jobs, oil and energy security, but the SEIS concluded that “not building the pipeline would have almost no impact on jobs; on US oil supply; on heavy oil supply for Gulf Coast refineries; or even on the amount of oil sands extracted in Alberta.”

The draft SEIS found that Keystone XL would only create 35 permanent jobs in the U.S. and have “negligible socioeconomic impact.” What about energy security? According to the draft SEIS, “the increase in U.S. production of crude oil and the reduced U.S. demand for transportation fuels will likely reduce the demand for total U.S. crude oil imports.” Which means that if Keystone XL is denied, it “would not substantially influence the … overall volume of crude oil transported to the United States or refined in the United States.” Besides, if Keystone XL is built, the oil it ferries to the Gulf Coast will be exported overseas, not kept in America to increase so-called “energy security.”

The biggest criticism of the draft SEIS, however, is that the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline would have no measurable climate change impacts, because tar sands expansion would continue anyways, as producers found other ways to transport their dirty crude to market. This framing, says Pat Parenteau, an environmental law professor at Vermont Law School, is “not in keeping with the letter or the spirit” of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

According to Inside Climate News, the Environmental Protection Agency, which plays an important role in rating the performance of other agencies in performing environmental assessments under NEPA, has repeatedly urged the State Department to focus on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and how to offset them if Keystone were to get the green light.

“The fundamental question for State should have been, will this pipeline lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions?” said Danielle Droitsch, an environmental lawyer and director of the Canada project at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a leading pipeline opponent. “We don’t have to go through this circular, roundabout argument. It’s just a really, really nice way to escape doing that analysis.”

“It stands the whole concept of examining the consequences of your actions on its head, it really does,” Parenteau told Inside Climate News. “There is going to be litigation if this is approved.”

Read more on the climate impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline at Inside Climate News.

In the latest attempt to greenwash the tar sands, Canada’s Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver has been roaming the United States trying to convince American politicians and thought leaders that Alberta’s dirty crude is a clean, responsible, sustainable – even “green” – source of energy, and that Canada’s environmental record and climate change policy are as good as it gets.

“The oil sands are a greener alternative than some other sources from around the world,” Oliver said in news conferenceafter delivering a speech touting the merits of the Keystone XL pipeline to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “I’m here to give you the unvarnished goods – and to let you make up your own mind about the merits of Canadian oil for America. Canada is the environmentally responsible choice for the U.S. to meet its energy needs in oil for years to come.”

If Oliver’s comments about Canada’s environmental record have left you confused, it’s worth reading some responses to his nonsense. In anop-ed in the Globe and Mail, Tzeporah Berman invoked George Orwell in an attempt to set the record straight. “At a time when climate scientists are urgently telling us to significantly scale back the burning of fossil fuels, having a minister promote exactly the opposite really does feel like being told that two plus two equals five.”

Berman, author of This Crazy Time and co-founder of ForestEthics, pointed out that every independent study, including one from the U.S. Department of Energy, has found that the oil sands are one of the world’s dirtiest forms of oil, producing three times more greenhouse gas emissions per barrel produced, and 22 per cent more than conventional oil when their full life cycle of emissions, including burning them in a vehicle, is included.

She also noted that Oliver failed to mention that even his government’s own reports from Environment Canada have said that Canada will not meet its climate-pollution targets because of oil sands expansion. In fact, climate pollution from the oil sands has doubled in the last decade and is predicted to double again in the next decade if all the new development is allowed to go ahead. The truth is, wrote Berman, “we still have no federal rules to reduce climate pollution from the oil sands.”

Berman wasn’t the only one taking Mr. Oliver to task. Andrew Nikiforuk, author of Tar Sands and The Energy of Slaves, also pointed out the “extraordinary and popular delusions” being purveyed by Oliver and other Canadian politicians. Invoking the likes of Alexander Pope and Charles Mackay, Nikiforuk decried Canada’s “slavish [tar sands] promoters for omit[ing] the troubling facts as hawkers do. They said nothing, for example, about bitumen’s poor quality, unending carbon liabilities, soaring costs and appalling energy returns. They also lied about Canada’s pathetic environmental record.”

Not to be outdone, Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair made a whirlwind tour to Washington, D.C., telling anyone who cares to listen (and many who don’t) that the Canadian government is “playing people for fools” by claiming that its environmental record is world class and that it cares about climate change.

“In the U.S. people know how to read,” he told the National Post. “They know that Canada is the only country that has withdrawn from Kyoto. They know that the Conservatives can’t possibly meet their Copenhagen targets (on greenhouse gas emissions) precisely because of the oilsands. They have to stop playing people for fools.”

That pretty much puts to rest the validity of Oliver’s claims. Let’s hope that Americans can, indeed, see through the federal government’s delusional self-promotion.

Tar sands truth in Europe

Europe may be far across the sea, but it’s not so far that Canada’s relentless tar sands promoters are safe from those who oppose the dirty stuff. Gordon Campbell, Canadian High Commissioner to the UK, was greeted with protests at Oxford University recently, where he delivered a seminar entitled “New World, New Mind”.

Organized by Tar-Free Oxford, local community members held a banner that read “Keep Tar Sands out of Europe” as Campbell arrived to deliver a seminar at the college. “Canada is promoting tar sands oil as a clean and ethical energy source, when we know that the exact opposite is the case,” said Suzanne Dhaliwal, from the UK Tar Sands Network. “Entire ecosystems are being destroyed and communities are being devastated in order to extract this highly polluting source of oil.”

Organizers are concerned about Canada’s relentless lobbying against a key piece of EU climate policy, the Fuel Quality Directive, which aims to reduce imports of highly polluting fuels such as tar sands and synthetic oil from coal into Europe.

In Berlin, Dene Nation Chief Bill Erasmus disrupted an event at the Canadian embassy linked to a large tourism expo to draw attention to Canada’s poor tars sands development record. Tourism officials from Alberta and other parts of Canada were in Berlin promoting the natural beauty of Alberta and B.C.

Erasmus delivered a letter to tourism officials explaining his people’s concerns about the tar sands. “We are not against economic development in Canada or Alberta, but tar sands extraction is polluting our rivers, destroying our natural resources and thus the economic basis of our survival – and yours. This is a model of economic development, tied to boom and bust cycles, which will not bring lasting prosperity to our country. What we need is a sustainable economic model for a diversified economy that does not depend on exporting fossil fuels.

“The Canadian government is heavily lobbying European countries to derail European climate change efforts, such as the Fuel Quality Directive aimed at reducing emissions from imported transport fuels. This is wrong; Canada is interfering in the European legislative process and needs to accept the proposed criteria. Environment and climate are our joint responsibility and we need to protect them. For us, for our children and for the tourists we want to come to our home.”

A large graphic was projected on the building that houses the Canadian Embassy in Berlin (see photo at the top of this post). “You can look away,” it read. “Tourists won’t. Stand up against the tar sands.”


Mothers and Methodists hold funeral at TransCanada office


Debunking Canadian propaganda about the virtues of bitumen


New York Times says no to Keystone XL

The State Department review shows Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in our national interest

By Susan Casey-Lefkowitz | Natural Resources Defense Council

Monday, March 11, 2013

A deeper dive into the State Department draft environmental review shows that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not needed. The energy security argument for the pipeline, always dubious, has evaporated to the point where even the State Department cannot find a reason to build it. The draft also confirms that the Keystone XL is not an economic recovery plan, since it will create only 35 permanent jobs and 3,900 construction jobs. It won’t help consumers since far from bringing new oil to the US, it is meant to relieve a glut and raise oil prices. Instead the State Department found that the project will benefit oil companies by giving them access to the higher oil prices in overseas markets, making new tar sands projects more worth their while. Yet, it is Americans who carry the risks of tar sands oil spills in our rivers and aquifers and worsening climate change. What the State Department got dead wrong is their mistaken assumption that Keystone XL would not drive tar sands expansion. The review used this assumption to get out of any meaningful consideration of the climate pollution from tar sands expansion, and in this time of worsening climate change that is not acceptable. Rejection of Keystone XL is an easy and necessary choice for America. As European Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said, rejection of Keystone XL would send a strong message internationally that the US is serious about fighting climate change.

Let’s take a closer look at the draft environmental review:

Keystone XL’s 35 permanent jobs and 3,900 construction jobs are not an economic recovery plan

The State Department review once again shows how TransCanada, the American Petroleum Institute and other proponents of the pipeline have vastly overstated the number of jobs that will be created by Keystone XL. The State Department, based on TransCanada’s own numbers, shows that at the most 3,900 construction jobs will be created in building the pipeline with only 10% of the total workforce hired locally. Only 35 permanent jobs will be created by the pipeline. What is more, the State Department ignores the potentially negative impacts of pipeline spills, spills into freshwater supplies or increases in climate and other pollution on employment and the economy. Farming, ranching, and tourism are major sources of employment along the Keystone XL pipeline’s proposed route – approximately 571,000 workers are directly employed in the agricultural sector in the states along the Keystone XL corridor. Water contamination resulting from a Keystone XL spill, or the cumulative impact of spills over the lifetime of the pipeline, would have significant economic costs.

We can do better. As a result of our clean energy industry’s rapid growth and effective state and federal policies, clean energy projects and programs currently in progress are creating thousands of jobs in communities across the country without the risk.  And many more shovel ready projects could be brought online if our policymakers are willing to send clear market signals and level the playing field for clean energy options to move forward.

Keystone XL’s path to export means less economic and energy security for the US, not more

Continue reading on blog’s originating site

On the wrong track: Rail is not an alternative to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline

By Anthony Swift | Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

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In its recently released draft environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline that would bring tar sands from Canada to the Gulf Coast for export, the State Department attempts to make the case that rail could be a viable alternative. The State Department argued that Keystone XL would have little effect on tar sands production because rail could provide an equally feasible and economic transportation option for tar sands. This is a critical element of the draft environmental review because while State determined that tar sands is dirtier than conventional oil, it concludes that Keystone XL would have little impact on the expansion of tar sands and therefore policymakers and the public needn’t consider the impacts of that expansion. However, State’s assumptions are on the wrong track. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will drive tar sands expansion. Expansion depends on tar sands being able to reach the high prices of overseas markets. But pipelines to the east and west are stalled and rail – as we will show here – is not an economically viable alternative to Keystone XL. And without Keystone XL, financial analysts are already saying that the tar sands industry’s expansion plan will go off the rails.

In its most recent environmental review, the State Department is repeating its argument that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will have limited impact on greenhouse gas emissions because rail transport is an economically feasible alternative. State made several flawed assumptions in its environmental review, including 1) an unrealistically low cost for transporting tar sands by rail from Alberta to Texas, 2) an inaccurate estimate of tar sands production costs and 3) an unrealistic assumption that tar sands production costs will not increase with rising labor, material and energy prices.  In its analysis, State relies on statistics that pertain to rail transport of shale oil from North Dakota but that do not apply to Alberta’s tar sands. Given the unfeasibility of transporting large quantities of tar sands by rail and the massive opposition to tar sands pipelines to the East and West coast of Canada, Keystone XL is the lynchpin for significant expansion of the tar sands – and industry analysts agree. Tar sands is expensive to extract and process – with breakeven prices approaching $100 per barrel – and cheap transportation is required to make new projects profitable. Without Keystone XL and the cheap transportation it provides, the tar sands industry will not reach its goal of tripling production by 2030 and the significant climate emissions that come with it.

Oil Sands Mining Uses Up Almost as Much Energy as It Produces

By Rachel Nuwer | InsideClimate News

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

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The average “energy returned on investment,” or EROI, for conventional oil is roughly 25:1. In other words, 25 units of oil-based energy are obtained for every one unit of other energy that is invested to extract it.
But tar sands oil is in a category all its own.

Tar sands retrieved by surface mining has an EROI of only about 5:1, according to research released Tuesday. Tar sands retrieved from deeper beneath the earth, through steam injection, fares even worse, with a maximum average ratio of just 2.9 to 1. That means one unit of natural gas is needed to create less than three units of oil-based energy.
“They have to use a lot of natural gas to upgrade this heavy, sticky, gooky almost tar-like stuff to make it fluid enough to use,” said Charles Hall, a professor at the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Hydrogen from gas heats the tar sands so the viscous form of petroleum it contains, known as bitumen, can be liquefied and pumped out of the ground. In this way, Hall said, gas helps turn tar sands “into something a bit closer to what we call oil.”

With most of the world’s highest quality resources already exhausted, companies are turning to formerly undesirable alternatives such as tar sands oil, which come with higher energetic price tags yet lower returns.
“We built our nation, economy and civilization on cheap energy—that’s where this incredible growth of the U.S. economy has come from,” said Hall, who coined the term EROI in 1979. “But that characteristic high energy return on investment fuel from much of the last century is no longer here.”

The latest EROI values for tar sands were calculated by David Hughes, a fellow at the Post Carbon Institute, a non-profit devoted to issues such as climate change and energy scarcity, based in Santa Rosa, Calif. The institute released Hughes’ findings on Tuesday.
Hughes’ figures include the energy it takes to mine bitumen as well as to upgrade it to synthetic oil that can be put into a refinery. It also includes the liquefied natural gas used to turn it into dilbit (diluted bitumen) so it can flow through pipelines.

Hall, who wasn’t involved in Hughes’ study, thinks the EROI for oil sands would fall closer to 1:1 if the tar sands’ full life cycle—including transportation, refinement into higher quality products, end use efficiency and environmental costs—was taken into account.
Travis Davies, manager of media and issues at the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, disputes Hughes’ calculations. He said oil sands create 6 to 10 energy units for each energy unit used, but he did not cite a source for those figures.

Both Hughes and Hall think the new data should be factored into the debate over Canada’s tar sands reserves, which cover an area about the size of Florida. Environmentalists argue that the oil sands should be left in the ground, because they produce much more carbon than other fossil fuels. The industry, supported by the Canadian government, says the oil sands are crucial to Canada’s economy and can provide the United States with a reliable source of fuel from a friendly neighbor.
What isn’t often mentioned, Hughes said, is the energy required to extract the oil, or the rate at which it can feasibly be recovered.

“Unless we talk about all three metrics—size of the resource, net energy and rate of supply—we’re not getting the full story,” he said.

Canada’s Oil Sands Boom

The world currently burns through an estimated 88.25 million barrels of oil per day. As the supply of sweet, light crude diminishes, it is being replaced by unconventional alternatives, including tar sands.

Most unconventional energy sources have much lower efficiencies than conventional gas and oil, which operate at a combined energy-returned-on-investment ratio of about 18:1. Shale gas, for example, performs at about 6.5:1 to 7.6:1—a bit better than the 2.9:1 to 5.1 for tar sands oil. Corn ethanol, with an EROI of about 1.3:1, sits at the bottom of the barrel for investment pay off.

“If you accept the fact that fossil fuels are finite—and I think most people would—then using a lot more fossil fuels for recovering energy as opposed to doing actual work basically uses them up quicker with no net payback in terms of useful work,” Hughes said. “It’s an issue of diminishing returns.”

Canada is touted as having the third largest oil reserves in the world. But its supply of conventional oil is shrinking, and oil sands extraction has been growing fast in the past decade, from about 700,000 barrels per day in 2000 to 1.7 million today.

Hughes based his calculations on the 25.6 billion barrels of Canadian tar sands oil that are currently under active development. What concerns him more is the EROI of the estimated 143 billion additional barrels of oil sands that are sitting under Alberta’s boreal forests, especially since only 8 percent of that oil is accessible via surface mining.

“Those EROI numbers are going to go down as we move away from the highest quality to the lesser quality parts of the resource,” Hughes said. “I’d expect that downward shift to probably start about now.”

When the entire life cycle of the fuels is considered—including production, transportation and burning the final product— the greenhouse gas differential between conventional oil and tar sands oil is about 20 percent, according to a 2011 study from Stanford University.

While no rigorous studies have been conducted on the association between diminishing EROI values and increased greenhouse gas emissions, Hughes thinks “it’s a pretty safe assumption to make” that they are linked.

Those emissions are only going to increase as Canada ramps up to the 5 million barrels per day already approved for extraction, said Simon Dyer, policy director for the Pembina Institute, a Canadian non-profit focused on developing sustainable energy solutions.

“The impacts today are actually irrelevant compared to the tripling of emissions that hasn’t yet expressed itself on the landscape,” Dyer said. “At a time when we need to be de-carbonizing our economy and making moves to lower our sources of carbon energy, clearly oil sands are a step in the wrong direction.”

More Than Just Dollars

Whether mining tar sands oil makes sense financially, depends on the world market price of oil—and on whether a company has already paid off its infrastructure costs or is building a new mine.

With the current price of synthetic crude oil sometimes dipping as low as $30 per barrel, a company that has paid off its infrastructure can still make a profit. For a company that’s still building, however, the market price would have to be about $100 per barrel in order to justify construction, Hughes said.

“Cost-wise, this is the most expensive oil being produced today,” Dyer said. “It’s a pretty clear indicator that our solution to energy needs is not chasing lower and lower quality fossil fuel resources that come with higher impacts.”

If oil sands oil eventually finds an easy outlet to the Gulf Coast—perhaps through the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project—the price for upgraded synthetic oil will likely rise to reflect the world market value, currently $110 per barrel.

Profitability aside, the development of Canada’s oil sands reserves will never offset declines in crude oil. At the world’s current rate of oil consumption—32.2 billion barrels per year—Canada’s tar sands oil reserves remain at a finite 168.6 billion barrels, enough to keep the world fueled for less than six years.

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.