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New Report Another Blow to Keystone Pipeline Supporters

9:55 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Grandia

A new report out today finds that enforcement of environmental infractions by companies in the Alberta oil sands are 17 times lower than similar infractions reported to the United State’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The report [pdf], authored by the environmental non-profit Global Forest Watch, looked at more than fifteen years of data on recorded environmental mishaps by oil sands companies, tracking the follow-up actions taken and the final verdict on fines.

The findings are shocking and come at a very inconvenient time for government and industry supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline project that would greatly increase tar sands processing and shipments to the United States.

Of the more than 4,000 infractions reported, less than 1-percent (.09 to be exact) received an enforcement action (that would be less than 40 of 4,000). Compare this the US Environmental Protection Agency, who has an enforcement rate of 16% for similar infractions by companies under their Clean Water Act.

Global Forest Watch also found that the median fine for environmental infractions in the oil sands over the past 16 years was $4,500. If you were an oil sands player like ExxonMobil, who reported a profit last year of $44.9 billion, would you change your ways over a $4,500 fine?

Royal Dutch Shell Oil’s CEO, another big player in the oil sands, probably spent $4,500 on golf and dinner yesterday.

TransCanada, the company trying to convince US president Barack Obama to approve the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, was out last week touting Canada as a world leader in environmental protection. TransCanada wrote in the Globe and Mail that:

“The only relevant question is whether the U.S. wants to source its heavy oil from Canada, a friendly and stable ally with strict environmental standards, or from other suppliers whose interests are not aligned with those of the United States and have limited or no environmental standards.”

Relevant question indeed, and here’s the answer: Canada does not have “strict environmental standards” at all and this report puts even more pressure on President Obama to not approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

10 Reasons Canada’s Tar Sands Suck

10:24 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Grandia

Alberta Tar Sands

Canada’s right-wing Prime Minister is in New York today trying to convince lawmakers that the tar sands are okay, and that the Keystone XL pipeline should go ahead.

At the same time, Canada’s environment minister is in London trying to convince politicians there that tar sands crude is the same as regular sweet crude, and should not be subject to a polluter tax.

As a Canadian it blows my mind that we can have the second largest deposits of oil in the world, but our government remains billions in debt and one in seven Canadian children live in poverty.

I feel like we are being played for fools here in Canada, because foreign owned oil companies like ExxonMobil, British Petroluem and PetroChina (71% of oil sands production is owned by foreign shareholders) are making billions exporting raw tar sand from our country, while us citizens are dealing with all the nasty downsides.

Time for a tar sands reality check.

Here’s the top 10 reasons Canada needs to rethink their unrelenting desire to expand tar sands operations:

1. The Canada tar sands isn’t just an environmental issue, it is also a social justice, human rigths and health issue. A higher incidence of rare and deadly cancers has been documented in First Nations communities downstream of the oil sands by doctors, the Alberta Health Department and First Nations since 2007.

2. Like birds? Me too. Did you know that over 30 million birds will be lost over the next 20 years due to tar sands development?

3. 95% of the water used in tar sands surface mining is so polluted it has to be stored in toxic sludge pits. That’s 206,000 litres of toxic waste discharged every day.

4. Canada’s tar sands make Hoover Dam look like lego blocks, because we are home to 2 of the top 3 largest dams in the world. The dams are used to hold back all that toxic sludge produced by mining tar sands.

5. Producing a barrel of oil from the oil sands produces 3.2 to 4.5 times more greenhouse gases than conventional oil produced in Canada or the United States. To put that in perspective, a Honda Accord burning tar sands gas has the same climate impact as driving a Chevy Suburban using conventional gas.

6. According to an annual climate change performance index, because of the tar sands, Canada’s climate performance is the worst in the entire western world. We rank 58th out of 61 countries on the index, beating out only Kazakhstan (59th), Iran (60th) and Saudi Arabia (61st).

7. 11 million litres of toxic wastewater seep out of the tailing pits into the boreal forest and Athabasca river every day. That’s 4 billion litres a year. Anyone want to go fishing?

8. Norway has saved $644 billion in its petroleum production investment fund. Meanwhile, Alberta, where all the tar sands deposits are, has only saved $16 billion. There is no Canadian federal fund.

9. The International Energy Agency says up to two thirds of known fossil reserves must be left in the ground to avoid a 2°C global temperature rise. MIT reports that when a global price on carbon emerges to prevent climate change, it will make the oil sands economically non-viable.

10. And if you think the tar sands are going away, think again.The oil sands underlie approximately 140,000 square kilometres of Alberta – an area about the size of Florida. Oil sands leases cover about 20% of the province’s land area. If the oil companies have it their way, the tar sands operations are on a trajectory to triple in size, with literally no end in sight.

So there you go. The tar sands are paying off for the oil companies, while everyday Canadians see little upside, and a whole lot of downside.

Thanks to the Tar Sands Reality Check project for putting all these facts together, and getting them signed off by top experts.  Read the rest of this entry →

How Will Kerry Handle Bilateral Today With Canada’s Oil Obsessed Foreign Minister?

10:50 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Grandia

John_Baird_-_Canadian_MP

How will John Kerry handle his first meeting with oil-obsessed Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird?

Newly appointed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet on Friday with his Canadian counterpart, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird. In any such bilateral meeting, it is paramount that each participant trust the words of his counterpart. After all, when it comes to the world of diplomacy, where wars are settled and treaties are signed, there’s little more than words and trust. 

As a former employee in Canada’s Foreign Affairs I have attended many bilateral meetings with foreign dignitaries. If I were advising Kerry, I would suggest one question he should ask of John Baird to see if he is an honest broker.

The question is: “Is Canada committed to confronting climate change?”

John Kerry is, and has been for a long time, a vocal leader on the issue of climate change. Sources inside his former Senate office have told me Kerry regularly expresses his commitment to act on climate change and understands the imperative of curbing water and air pollution to safeguard the economy.

Canadian Minister John Baird has a very different stance towards the climate change challenge, preferring to express contempt for proposals to implement market-based solutions to Canada’s soaring greenhouse gas emissions. For example, just last year Baird told Parliament that the Harper government disbanded the National Roundtable on Energy and Environment because they did not like the Roundtable’s recommendation that Canada adopt a tax on carbon.

“Why should taxpayers have to pay for more than 10 reports promoting a carbon tax, something that the people of Canada have repeatedly rejected? It should agree with Canadians. It should agree with the government. No discussion of a carbon tax that would kill and hurt Canadian families,” Baird stated in Parliamentary debate.

For the record, polls consistently show that the majority of Canadians are in favour of a tax on carbon pollution. Even many of the companies operating in the tar sands are calling for a carbon tax.

When it comes to the issue of climate change, Kerry and Baird are diametrically opposed. If Baird is honest with Kerry he should explain to the freshly minted Secretary of State the rationale for the Canadian government’s backtracking on international commitments to address climate change. Perhaps he can also explain why his party is currently running a national attack ad campaign against the Opposition party for proposing a carbon tax.

On the other hand, perhaps Baird will instead try to steer the conversation to what the Harper government considers a much more important and dire issue: President Obama’s approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that would pump millions of barrels of Canadian tar sands crude to U.S. refineries to largely serve an overseas market.

The Alberta tar sands is considered one of the dirtiest and most carbon intensive industrial projects on the planet. From extraction to upgrading, a barrel of oil derived from bitumen can be three to four times as carbon intensive as a conventional barrel of oil produced in the US or Canada.

Kerry, being the savvy diplomat he is, could (and hopefully will) point out to Baird, that any conversation about the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline is intrinsically tied to Canada evolving its postion on climate change. If Canada is serious about aligning with the U.S. on climate policy, as Stephen Harper has expressed, then Baird should be fully briefed and ready to cooperate based on President Obama’s stated commitment to tackle climate change in his second term.

In his inaugural address two weeks ago President Obama said:

“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”

The Keystone XL pipeline poses a key test for President Obama’s commitment to fulfill his promise on climate action. Encouraging rapid expansion of Canada’s tar sands operations is irreconcilable with aggressive efforts to curb climate change pollution in North America.

If Minister Baird is honest with his counterpart, he will admit as much to Secretary Kerry. Anything less than honesty on Baird’s part will start Canada’s relationship off with the new Secretary of State very poorly. It is a tough position for Baird to be in, but it is one created by the Minister and the Conservative government itself.

Read the rest of this entry →