Archive for ‘oil sands’

January 10, 2012

Has Harper’s Conservative Government been Hijacked by Foreign Oil Interests?

Recently, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, wrote an open letter claiming that  “...foreign special interest groups (sounds like Assad?) are opposing the Northern Gateway pipeline. He is singing the tune of the absurd Ethical Oil group (who won’t reveal who they are supported by), not mentioning that Enbridge’s initial supporter for the pipeline was the Chinese company Sinopec; and that the oil will be shipped to a country whose human rights record can only be considered as unethical. As usual the Conservatives are displaying new and massive levels of hypocrisy.

Let Elizabeth May have a word: here is her Open Letter to Joe…

Dear Joe,

Your letter caught my attention.  I respect you and like you a lot as a colleague in the House.  Unfortunately, I think your role as Minister of Natural Resources has been hijacked by the PMO spin machine.  The PMO is, in turn, hijacked by the foreign oil lobby. You are, as Minister of Natural Resources, in a decision-making, judge-like role.  You should not have signed such a hyperbolic rant.

I have reproduced a short section of your letter. The idea that First Nations, conservation groups, and individuals opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline are opposed to all forestry, mining, hydro-electric and gas is not supported by the facts.  I am one of those opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline.  I do not oppose all development; neither does the Green Party; neither do environmental NGOS; neither do First Nations.

I oppose the Northern Gateway pipeline for a number of reasons, beginning with the fact that the project requires over-turning the current moratorium on oil tanker traffic on the British Columbia coastline. The federal-provincial oil tanker moratorium has been in place for decades.  As former Industry Canada deputy minister Harry Swain pointed out in today’s Globe and Mail, moving oil tankers through 300 km of perilous navigation in highly energetic tidal conditions is a bad choice. In December 2010, the government’s own Commissioner for the Environment, within the Office of the Auditor General, reported that Canada lacked the tools to respond to an oil spill.  These are legitimate concerns.

Furthermore, running a pipeline through British Columbia’s northern wilderness, particularly globally significant areas such as the Great Bear Rainforest, is a bad idea.  Nearly 1200 kilometers of pipeline through wilderness and First Nations territory is not something that can be fast-tracked.

Most fundamentally, shipping unprocessed bitumen crude out of Canada has been attacked by the biggest of Canada’s energy labour unions, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, as a bad idea. The CEP estimates it means exporting 40,000 jobs out of Canada (figure based on jobs lost through the Keystone Pipeline). They prefer refining the crude here in Canada.  (The CEP is also not a group to which your allegation that opponents of Gateway also oppose all forestry, mining, oil, gas, etc is anything but absurd.)

The repeated attacks on environmental review by your government merit mention.  The federal law for environmental review was first introduced under the Mulroney government.  Your government has dealt repeated blows to the process, both through legislative changes, shoved through in the 2010 omnibus budget bill, and through budget cuts.  In today’s letter, you essentially ridicule the process through a misleading example.  Your citation of “a temporary ice arena on a frozen pond in Banff” requiring federal review was clearly intended to create the impression that the scope of federal review had reached absurd levels.  You neglected to mention that the arena was within the National Park. That is the only reason the federal government was involved.  It was required by the National Parks Act. The fact that the arena approval took only two months shows the system works quite well.

Perhaps most disturbing in the letter is the description of opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline as coming from “environmental and other radical groups.”  Nowhere in your letter do you mention First Nations.  (I notice you mention “Aboriginal communities,” but First Nations require the appropriate respect that they represent a level of government, not merely individuals within communities.)

The federal government has a constitutional responsibility to respect First Nations sovereignty and protect their interests.  It is a nation to nation relationship.  To denigrate their opposition to the project by lumping it in with what you describe (twice) as “radical” groups is as unhelpful to those relationships as it is inaccurate.

“Radical” is defined as “relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough.”  (Merriam Webster).

By that definition, it is not First Nations, conservation groups or individual opponents that are radical.  They seek to protect the fundamental nature of the wilderness of northern British Columbia, the ecological health of British Columbia coastal eco-systems, and the integrity of impartial environmental review.  It is your government that is radical by proposing quite radical alteration of those values.

Your government has failed to present an energy strategy to Canada.  We have no energy policy.  We are still importing more than half of the oil we use.  Further, we have no plan to reduce dependency on fossil fuels, even as we sign on to global statements about the need to keep greenhouse gases from rising above 450 ppm in the atmosphere to keep global average temperatures from exceeding a growth of 2 degrees C.  The climate crisis imperils our future – including our economic future – in fundamental ways which your government ignores.

By characterizing this issue as environmental radicals versus Canada’s future prosperity you have done a grave disservice to the development of sensible public policy.  There are other ways to diversify Canada’s energy markets.  There are other routes, other projects, and most fundamentally other forms of energy.

I urge you to protect your good name and refuse to sign such unworthy and inaccurate missives in the future.


Elizabeth May, O.C.

Member of Parliament
Saanich-Gulf Islands

Green Party of Canada

July 21, 2011

Alberta’s threat to coastal British Columbia

National Geographic magazine is featuring an article that shows how Canada’s push to become a player in the world oil market will threaten key habitats along the British Columbia coast. Included in the threat? The Great Bear Rainforest, home of the Spirit Bear.

From the article Pipeline Through Paradise:

With the Northern Gateway proposal, the Gitga’at and the rain forest that surrounds them have been caught up in a great geopolitical oil game. The Northern Gateway isn’t just a pipeline. It’s Canada’s bid to become a global player in the petroleum market.

The proven reserves in Alberta‘s oil sands are second only to Saudi Arabia’s oil fields, yet the United States today is virtually the sole export market for oil sands crude. A Canadian company, Enbridge, wants to build a $5.8 billion ($5.5 billion Canadian) pipeline to transport oil 731 miles, from Alberta to Kitimat. The double-barreled pipeline would carry oil west and send condensate, a liquid used to dilute the thick crude and allow it to flow, east to Alberta. Giant tankers—some nearly as long as the Empire State Building is tall, loaded with condensate or up to 2.15 million barrels of crude—would thread between a jigsaw of islands to and from Kitimat.

A West Coast oil port would open the Alberta oil sands to Asian markets, including China. Sinopec, China’s state-owned oil company, is among the Asian refiners and Canadian oil firms that have invested $105 million into moving the Northern Gateway pipeline through the planning and permitting stage.

Canada has been slow to deal with the reality of global warming due to the use of fossil fuels. It is a shame that both the federal and provincial governments are promoting oil when they have done so little to prevent the fallout of its consumption.

Read the full article online in Pipeline Through Paradise.

December 8, 2009

Schindler’s List

A new scientific study contributed to PNAS by Dr. David Schindler of the University of Alberta confirms that the Tar Sands operations in Northern Alberta are more than just a source of dirty oil and untreatable tailing’s ponds:

December 7, 2009 – (Edmonton) After an exhaustive study of air and water pollution along the Athabasca River from Fort McMurray to Lake Athabasca, researchers say pollution levels have increased as a direct result of nearby oilsands operations.
University of Alberta biological sciences professor David Schindler was part of the team that conducted a long-term air and water study and found high levels of polycyclic aromatic compounds, a group of organic contaminants containing several known carcinogens, cancer-causing agents, mutagens, which can change the genetic composition of a material, and teratogens, chemicals that can disrupt the development of an embryo or fetus.
“We found PACs in parts per trillion, which are toxic at [those levels],” said Schindler.
“We found concentrations that can cause death, mutations and deformities in fish embryos.”

Despite the evidence of this study, Alberta’s Environment has stressed that the pollutant’s are “…consistent with natural sources, erosion of natural outcroppings…” Even though the study reveals what causes the erosion:

“It was quite a big cloud — we could track it chemically out to around 50 kilometres from the sources,” he said. “We think, just based on the signature, that it’s in part dust blowing off the surfaces of these big, expanses of mines.”

What we have in Alberta is an Environment department whose objective seems to be to white wash the oil industry rather than to stand up for the environment. The government web page is a hub for oil industry apologetics. For example, to hide the dirty oil aspect of the tar sands, the provincial government uses a twisted logic and insists on calling them the “oil sands”

“Oil sands or tar sands?

The hydrocarbon mixtures found in northern Alberta have historically been referred to as tar, pitch or asphalt. However, ‘oil sands’ is now used most often to describe the naturally occurring bitumen deposits. This helps distinguish it from the other terms, which are associated with distilled or man-made products, such as the mixtures used to pave roads.

Oil sands is an accurate term because bitumen, a heavy petroleum product is mixed with the sand. It makes sense to describe the resource as oil sands because oil is what is finally derived from the bitumen.”

 Now everyone knows that Alberta’s sands contain bitumen, defined as: Any of various flammable mixtures of hydrocarbons and other substances, occurring naturally or obtained by distillation from coal or petroleum, that are a component of asphalt and tar and are used for surfacing roads and for waterproofing. So in attempting to redefine them as “oil sands”, the government is being misleading- the state of the oil is the sand is bituminous. Or in the vernacular, tar!

I wish the media, at the very least, would stop swallowing the government propaganda and call a spade a spade – they are Tar Sands. Dirty oil indeed, and extracted with methods that pollute the air and water and leave massive untreatable lakes of dirty toxic residues.

The University of Alberta
CBC News 
Tar Sands Watch

The open access study:
Oil sands development contributes polycyclic aromatic compounds to the Athabasca River and its tributaries
Erin N. Kelly, Jeffrey W. Short, David W. Schindler, Peter V. Hodson, Mingsheng Ma, Alvin K. Kwan and Barbra L. Fortin

For over a decade, the contribution of oil sands mining and processing to the pollution of the Athabasca River has been controversial. We show that the oil sands development is a greater source of contamination than previously realized. In 2008, within 50 km of oil sands upgrading facilities, the loading to the snowpack of airborne particulates was 11,400 T over 4 months and included 391 kg of polycyclic aromatic compounds (PAC), equivalent to 600 T of bitumen, while 168 kg of dissolved PAC was also deposited. Dissolved PAC concentrations in tributaries to the Athabasca increased from 0.009 μg/L upstream of oil sands development to 0.023 μg/L in winter and to 0.202 μg/L in summer downstream. In the Athabasca, dissolved PAC concentrations were mostly <0.025 μg/L in winter and 0.030 μg/L in summer, except near oil sands upgrading facilities and tailings ponds in winter (0.031–0.083 μg/L) and downstream of new development in summer (0.063–0.135 μg/L). In the Athabasca and its tributaries, development within the past 2 years was related to elevated dissolved PAC concentrations that were likely toxic to fish embryos. In melted snow, dissolved PAC concentrations were up to 4.8 μg/L, thus, spring snowmelt and washout during rain events are important unknowns. These results indicate that major changes are needed to the way that environmental impacts of oil sands development are monitored and managed.

December 9, 2008

Alberta Tar Sands Tailing Ponds Leaking

A report by Environmental Defence using industry information finds that the Alberta tar sands tailing ponds are leaking over 11 million litres of contaminated water a day into the environment. This is equivalent to over 4 billion litres a year.

Should proposed projects go ahead on schedule, by 2012 this annual leakage rate would increase five-fold to 72 million litres a day, or over 25 billion litres a year.

Download the full report (2.41 mb)

Download the leakage calculation (118 kb)

December 2, 2008

Alberta’s Oil Sands Will Kill Millions of Birds – New Study

The extraction and refining of bitumen from Canada’s oil sands is taking a significant toll on migratory birds throughout North America, according to a new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Pembina Institute and the Boreal Songbird Initiative. Danger in the Nursery: Impact on Birds of Tar Sands Oil Development in Canada’s Boreal Forest outlines the current and projected affects of the oil sands industry on migratory bird populations in Alberta’s boreal forest and along the Western Hemisphere’s flyways.

“At a time when bird populations are rapidly declining, this report puts into perspective the far reaching effects of oil sands development on North America’s birds,” said the report’s lead author Jeff Wells, Ph.D., of the Boreal Songbird Initiative. “The public needs to understand the real and long-term ecological costs of this development and determine if this is acceptable.”

Canada’s Boreal forest is a globally important destination for birds as a nesting area and breeding habitat, especially for an array of wetland-dependent birds. Unfortunately the rapidly expanding tar sands oil extraction industry increasingly puts these birds at risk. It is estimated that half of America’s migratory birds nest in the Boreal forest, and each year 22-170 million birds breed in the area that could eventually be developed for tar sands oil. The report projects that the cumulative impact over the next 30-50 years could be as high as 166 million birds lost, including future generations. The report suggests impacts will increase in the next 30-50 years, despite international treaties to protect these birds.

Read the complete media release here.

November 24, 2008

The Oil Sands and the Carbon Sequestering Myth

CBC News has obtained a government document that says reducing greenhouse gases from Western Canada’s oilsands will be much more difficult than some politicians and the industry suggest.
The ministerial briefing notes, initially marked “Secret,” say that just a small percentage of the carbon dioxide released in mining the sands and producing fuel from them can be captured.
The oilsands are the fastest-growing source of CO2 in the country, set to increase from five per cent to 16 per cent of total emissions by 2020 under current plans.

Read the full article here.

(Photo: David Dodge, from Oil Sands Watch, The Pembina Institute. Copyright © 2005 The Pembina Institute.)
November 18, 2008

Alberta’s Premier Stelmach Selling Dirty Oil

Premier Stelmach of Alberta is currently touring Europe in an attempt to convince European leaders to invest in the province’s tar sands. This is an endeavor to battle the reputation that Alberta is a producer of ‘dirty oil’: oil that is produced in an environmentally unfriendly manner. This document from the Pembina Institute illustrates the kind of facts he has to disguise with his tax-payer funded tour of Europe:

Oil sands mines have already cleared, dug up or flooded with toxic waste more than 478 square kilometres in the boreal forest.

That’s just the beginning –

3,000 square kilometres have been leased for mining operations.

In 2008, after 41 years of oil sands development, the Government of
Alberta has certified as reclaimed only a one-square-kilometre parcel of land,
representing only about 0.2% of the land disturbed by oil sands mining.

The oil sands industry is producing toxic liquid wastes, called tailings, at the rate
of 1.8 billion litres per day, with no known way to reclaim them.

Tailings lakes cover approximately 130 square kilometers, and they
and they are among the largest human-made structures in the world..

Factoring in new approvals and planned projects,
tailings lakes could eventually cover more than 220 square kilometres –
an area five times the size of Alberta’s Sylvan Lake.

In a natural boreal forest, about 40% of the landscape is wetlands,
with bogs and fens as the dominant wetland types. The reclamation of
these peat-forming wetlands has never been demonstrated.

The “reclamation security” held by the Government of Alberta is currently
$468 million for all projects. At only about $11,000 per hectare, this
security is probably inadequate to cover true reclamation costs.
It places Canadians at financial risk and creates an environmental
burden for future generations.

In the light of the Alberta Governments attitude to Global Warming (see here and here) is it surprising that I recommend that Europe not take Stelmach seriously?
(Image of tailing lakes © 2005 The Pembina Institute. Photo: David Dodge, The Pembina Institute)

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