Kinder Morgan oil spill volume from 2013 was quadruple the reported amount

“There’s been more oil spilled than [Kinder Morgan] is saying,” pipeline critic David Ellis said last November. A March 2014 document reveals there was, in fact, quadruple the amount that the company initially reported to have spilled at Coquihalla Canyon.
Jenny Uechi
Posted: May 12th, 2014

After persistently prodding the National Energy Board, pipeline critic David Ellis finally got a report on Kinder Morgan’s two oil spills along the Trans Mountain pipeline route. The spills happened last June, and had temporarily shut the pipeline down for investigation.

What he saw on page two of Kinder Morgan’s Engineering Assessment floored him. It stated that instead of just 20-25 barrels spilled near the Coquihalla Canyon, the pipeline leaked well over quadruple that amount.

Ellis had wondered why Kinder Morgan was hurriedly removing some 5005 cubic metres (over 600 truckloads) of oil-contaminated soil from the area. It seemed excessive, which led him to comment at the time: “there’s been more oil spilled than [Kinder Morgan] is saying.”

His suspicions were confirmed by the report, which said a subsequent analysis “resulted in a revised estimated release volume of approximately 18 m3” — or about 113 barrels of oil spilled in the park area.

At the time that he started voicing his concerns about it, Kinder Morgan attacked his credentials and maintained that the large volume of soil was being removed only to “meet strict clean up criteria because of its location within a provincial park.” But the latest report suggests it was because the spill was bigger than people originally thought.

Both Kinder Morgan and the NEB said that the company took the appropriate steps to contain the spill once it started.

“The initial estimate of volume was exactly that, an estimate,” said Kinder Morgan spokesperson Andy Galarnyk. “As remediation work continued we updated the volume estimate based on levels of contamination discovered.”

More problems with aging pipeline expected?

According to the report, the problem was misidentified as a manufacturing anomaly, and later turned out to be a dent with gouges, caused by pipeline fatigue. The pipeline, built in 1953, is now over 60 years old. Ellis worries there may be more problems with the pipe down the road.

“It’s like an old garden hose,” Ellis said, of the Trans Mountain pipeline. “They should shut this pipe down immediately to investigate.”

Ellis is concerned by the larger-than-reported spill — not only because it took place in a provincial park area is teeming with wildlife, but because the stretch of pipeline around Hope was constructed in 1953 with a thinner pipeline wall than required as part of a cost-saving measure. He believes the last 12 miles of this thin pipe near Hope is especially vulnerable for a spill.

“I am most worried about the thinner, ‘budget-saving’ pipe that did break in the Coquihalla and runs to Hope,” Ellis said. “What would 110 barrels of crude oil do to the Fraser River salmon if it got in there?”

He said he alerted the NEB back in January about information from a rare 1954 book, The Building of Trans Mountain, which notes that at a pressure limiting station located at Hope (near the Coquihalla pass), relief valves can spill oil into two 50,000 tanks so that pressure in the pipe from Hope to Burnaby may be reduced.

The book states on page 99:

“Using this pressure limiting equipment saved about $5,000,000 in the original line investment by avoiding need for heavier wall pipe to withstand high pressures during accidental shut-offs in the low sections of the system.”

“Thinner pipe would make fatigue go faster. The thinner it is, the more effect the fatigue has on it,” TransCanada whistleblower and former metallurgical engineer Evan Vokes said. He also raised issue with the fact that the company has had over 2,600 pipeline “anomaly digs” since 1984, which signalled that the Trans Mountain pipeline was not being very well maintained.

NEB spokesperson Sarah Kiley, however, said that thinner pipe does not necessarily mean increased risk of fatigue. She said there was once incident of overpressure in 2012 around 11km south of Clearwater, but said Kinder Morgan hasn’t said the pipeline was stretched as a result.

Galarnyk noted likewise, stating:

“The pipe on our entire system is designed and maintained for safe operation at the established operating pressures.”

Michael Hale, an intervenor for the NEB hearings on Kinder Morgan’s pipeline expansion and member of the Pipe Up Network, said he was “shocked” by the frenzy of repairs taking place along the existing pipeline route when he and his group went with Ellis to the area last August.

“We were quite shocked to see what was going on up there,” Hale said. “We realized the company was doing a lot more than just oil spill cleanup. There were huge sections of pipe dug up, and it wasn’t just oil spill cleanup. It made us wonder about the integrity of the old pipeline.”

He thought the company may have been rushing to fix existing flaws ahead of the application to twin the Trans Mountain pipeline.

As a result of the pipe cracking in June, the NEB had ordered Kinder Morgan to reduce its operating pressure by 20 per cent last August. But Galarnyk confirmed that the pipeline was now back at 100 per cent, everywhere except for the Edson to Hinton section. He said the section is being assessed and that the company would apply to lift the pressure in due course.

But critics ask if the company should instead be focusing on maintaining its existing pipeline before spending resources on twinning it.

“Shouldn’t the company focus on making the existing Trans Mountain line safe, before wanting to expand bitumen shipments for export?” Hale asked.

B.C. coast, St. Lawrence estuary most at risk for major marine oil spill: report

OTTAWA – The coast of southern British Columbia and the Gulf of St. Lawrence are the Canadian areas most vulnerable to marine oil spills and among the most likely for a major spill to occur, according to a government-commissioned risk analysis.

While observing that the “risk of large spills is generally low in Canada,” the 256-page study finds that small spills “can also cause significant damage and are likely to happen much more frequently than larger spills.”

Getting Canadian crude oil to tidewater for export has been a major preoccupation of the Conservative government in Ottawa, and the findings will add to the debate over several pipeline proposals — including two in B.C. that the report says will substantially increase marine risks.

The study, delivered this month to Transport Canada, looks at the risks associated with marine oil spills south of the 60th parallel under current shipping volumes.

It identifies the southern tip of Vancouver Island, the Cabot Strait off Newfoundland, the eastern coast of Cape Breton Island and the Gulf of St. Lawrence as the most probable areas for a major oil spill.

“These results demonstrate the need for Canada to tailor its preparedness efforts for each sector of the country, as the risks across the country are demonstrably different,” says the study by WSP Canada Inc.

On Thursday, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver will introduce legislation dealing with offshore energy safety in an effort to get ahead of environmental concerns over Canada’s oil boom. He’s also expected to dramatically beef up nuclear industry liabilities.

The study for Transport Canada offers a mixed review for future risks.

It’s not a picture likely to mollify concerns in B.C.

The report assessed the potential impact of four proposed pipeline projects, including the Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat and Kinder Morgan’s plan to almost triple its Trans Mountain line into Vancouver.

The report says the Kinder Morgan proposal “would essentially double the volume of oil passing through” an already vulnerable marine environment, the area south of Vancouver Island where Washington-bound oil tankers are common.

“Doubling the volume of oil passing through Pacific sub-sector 5 would likely increase the spill risks to ‘very high’ for all zones (nearshore, intermediate and deep sea) for 10,000 square meter spill volume and greater,” says the report.

The Northern Gateway marine route through the Douglas Channel out of Kitimat, meanwhile, would “raise the near-shore risk from ‘very low’ to ‘very high’ as observed in the Vancouver region (sub-sector 5),” states the report.

And risks for the largest spills in the deep sea sectors off the B.C. coast would rise from low to medium “due to the increase in traffic of very large volumes from sub-sector 2 to Asia or California.”

All pipeline proposals do not raise the risk of marine spills, however.

The study found that reversing Enbridge’s Line 9 to carry Western Canadian crude to refineries in Montreal and Quebec City would actually lower marine spill risks, as it would reduce oil imports through the sensitive Gulf of St. Lawrence.

And the study found that the proposed Energy East Pipeline to St. John, N.B., would likely be a wash, reducing shipping imports but increasing oil exports to leave the overall marine risk about where it is now.

© Copyright (c)

U.S. study warns of risks in shipping oilsands products from Alberta to B.C.

VANCOUVER – U.S. scientists are warning that there are environmental risks, regulatory holes and serious unknowns regarding the shipment of Alberta oilsands products to British Columbia by pipeline, rail and tanker.

The findings are in a 153-page report from last September by the emergency response division of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The unit has expertise in preparing for, evaluating and responding to oil and chemical spills in coastal environments.

Enbridge (TSX:ENB), the company behind the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline to the British Columbia coast, counters that most of the concerns raised in the report are out-of-date, overstated or being resolved.

The study examined the different ways to transport Alberta’s bitumen, a molasses-like crude oil, over U.S. land and water. Those included rail, the proposed Kinder-Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline to Vancouver, the Keystone XL line to Texas from Alberta, and Northern Gateway.

“Most oilsands products are transported to market via existing and proposed pipelines; however, a sharp increase in the use of rail and marine transport can be expected while new pipelines are constructed to match the increased production of oilsands products,” the report says.

It was written by six experts at the University of Washington and supervised by Prof. Robert Pavia of the university’s School of Marine and Environmental Affairs.

“While there are many arguments about the level of risk, no one believes the risk is zero,” Pavia told The Canadian Press, adding that he was speaking personally. “In my mind it’s not a question of whether a spill will occur, but how well-prepared we are for a spill once it does occur.”

In the case of Northern Gateway, not only might there be potential to harm Washington state shores, there could be hazards from tankers leaving Kitimat, B.C., to travel through the waters of Alaska, near the Aleutian Islands to Asia. The proposed 1,177-kilometre-long pipeline would carry 525,000 barrels of bitumen daily from Alberta to the northern B.C. port.

Both Canada and the United States need to renew and expand efforts to reduce any risks, Pavia said.

Last December, a federal joint review panel supported the project — providing Enbridge meets 209 conditions. The final decision rests with the federal cabinet.

The U.S. report notes there are information gaps about the transport of bitumen.

“Little research is currently available regarding the behaviour of oilsands products spilled into water, and how they weather in the environment,” the report says.

“Most tests have been conducted in the laboratory, so predicting the actual behaviour of oilsands products for a range of spills is difficult.” The risks associated with carrying oilsands products over water “are not well-defined.”

The study does point out that only a handful of spills have occurred in the U.S. and Canada.

Enbridge communications manager Ivan Giesbrecht said that’s a positive thing.

“This further supports that these products do not pose increased risk for transmission pipeline corrosion,” he said in an interview.

In 2007, a neighbourhood in Burnaby, B.C., was covered in synthetic crude when excavation equipment ruptured a pipeline. In 2010, a pipeline leaked 20,000 barrels of oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.

Last September’s report also points out that anyone responding to an oilsands spill could face both oil that is light and floating or heavier oil that could sink.

“This could impact fish and birds that move between water and air, such as those that may inhale toxic fumes, or become coated by oil. Sinking oil could move into the water column and harm fish larvae.

“Current capabilities to detect and recover oil when it sinks or is suspended in the water column are poor.”

Giesbrecht said each spill is unique and depends on where and when it occurs. He said it is also “an incorrect assumption,” one not supported by studies or observations, that diluted bitumen in water would split into two portions of floating and sinking oil.

A Canadian government study released earlier this month shows that diluted bitumen does sink in salt water when battered by waves and mixed with sediment. If the bitumen is free of sediment, the crude floats even after evaporation and exposure to light.

The U.S. study says research is needed into the public health impacts of oilspills, weathering effects and biodegradation, and there should be more testing with a wider variety of oilsands products.

Giesbrecht said that Enbridge plans to join, with government and industry, a committee of technical experts to research spill behaviour and response. He also said the industry has already started to conduct such research.

Giesbrecht said Enbridge doesn’t agree with the findings of the U.S. study. He said the company is committed to applying industry best practices and to developing leak-detection technologies.

The report also noted “regulator shortcomings,” including that oilsands products aren’t subject to the U.S. excise tax that provides funds for spill cleanup, and that there was scant product information provided by the facilities that transport the oil they’re handling.

“There are additional gaps in policies and regulations that warrant scrutiny as transport of oilsands products and other unconventional oils increases,” the report said.

Federal and state railway regulators have played a minor role in oil spill planning, but given recent high-profile accidents, like the deadly crash and explosion in Lac-Megantic, Que., the report suggests more regulatory oversight over rail transport should be considered.

Majority of British Columbians oppose Northern Gateway pipeline: poll

Results not surprising in survey commissioned by environmental groups

Nearly two thirds of British Columbians are opposed to the $6.5-billion Northern Gateway pipeline and the tankers it will bring to the northern coast, according to a poll commissioned by environmental groups.

Conducted between Jan. 13-19, the Justason Market Intelligence poll of 600 people also found that 64 per cent (the same number that are opposed) believe the project will definitely or probably be built. The margin of error of the combined telephone and online poll is plus or minus four per cent.

The survey showed that 92 per cent were aware of the project, which will carry diluted bitumen from the Alberta oilsands to Kitimat for transport by tanker overseas to open up Asian markets.

The poll was commissioned by the Dogwood Initiative, ForestEthics Advocacy, Northwest Institute for Bioregional Research and West Coast Environmental Law.

The Enbridge pipeline project received approval last month from a joint panel federal review of the National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

Several First Nations and environmental groups have already launched court action against the panel decision.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has until the middle of this year to grant approval.

The findings showed that four times as many of those surveyed “strongly” oppose the project (50 per cent) than who “strongly” support the project (12 per cent). Another 17 per cent somewhat support the project.

The majority-opposition finding is not an unusual for a poll commissioned by environmental groups, which generally highlight in their questions the introduction of super tankers and the possibility of oil spills.

Dogwood Initiative executive director Will Horter said opposition is always stronger in polls when tankers are mentioned as part of the Northern Gateway project.

“People have very strong concerns about oil pipelines, but have deep, deep concerns about the oil tankers,” said Horter.

Business and industry-commissioned polls, which tend to highlight the economic benefits of Northern Gateway, usually find higher support for the project.

A B.C. Chamber of Commerce-commissioned poll released in December found nearly 50 per cent support for Northern Gateway.

The Justason poll also found that 51 per cent distrust the joint review panel process, while 32 per cent trusted it.

If Premier Christy Clark’s five conditions for supporting heavy oil being transported through B.C. are met, 49 per cent said they would be a lot or a little bit more supportive of the project.

The B.C. Chamber poll had found that should the project meet the five conditions, support increased to 63 per cent.

Clark’s conditions include the passing of an environmental review, creating world-leading marine and land spill prevention and recovery systems, addressing First Nations’ rights and receiving a fair share of economic benefits.

ghoekstra@vancouversun.com

Follow me: @Gordon_Hoekstra

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Legal challenges could stall decision on Kinder Morgan pipeline: experts

$5.4-billion project faces constitutional, aboriginal and procedural actions

The federal government’s efforts to speed up decisions on oil pipelines are at risk of backfiring, according to legal and policy observers.

In the first real test of the National Energy Board’s new review rules, Kinder Morgan’s $5.4-billion Trans Mountain pipeline is being assailed with legal action and a flurry of motions calling for a more open and lengthy public process.

The federal review of the pipeline expansion — which will nearly triple oil output and bring another 400 tankers each year to the Burrard Inlet — is set to begin in August and supposed to be complete in 15 months.

But the challenges — particularly those from First Nations — have the potential to be successful and delay a decision on the project, says University of B.C. law professor Gordon Christie.

“It’s kind of ironic because the (Conservative federal government’s) stated aims for doing this (changing laws) to streamline the process may come back and bite them,” Christie said.

“Changing things this way creates more kinds of arguments for lawyers to dig their teeth into,” said Christie. “If the legal process plays out the way it is supposed to, this will delay things.”

In 2012, the Conservatives introduced amendments to laws to tighten federal review timelines after they said Canada’s regulatory review process was being hijacked by “radical” environmentalists, unnecessarily delaying decisions on important industrial projects such as oil pipelines.

A week ago, environmental group ForestEthics and several Lower Mainland residents filed a constitutional challenge to the NEB that alleges its process unduly restricts participation, which is a Charter violation of freedom of speech.

Days earlier, the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation launched legal action at the Federal Court of Appeal arguing the federal government and the NEB failed to properly consult it before setting up the review. And the Paceedaht, Katzie and Cowichan First Nations have asked for the hearing of their traditional knowledge scheduled this summer to be moved because it conflicts with their annual salmon harvest.

The month before, economist Robyn Allan, a former ICBC CEO, filed a motion to the NEB to reinstitute oral cross-examination as fundamental to a proper review. The NEB says the written cross-examination is an adequate method and interveners still have “the opportunity to make their case.”

Allan’s motion is supported by a coterie of B.C. municipalities, including Vancouver, Burnaby, West Vancouver and tiny Valemount in northern B.C.

Also last month, Marc Elieson, a former BC Hydro CEO and longtime provincial and federal bureaucrat mostly under NDP governments, filed a motion with the NEB alleging bias of the review panel’s chair.

Both Elieson and Allan say they will appeal the NEB’s rejection of their motions.

Several motions, including from the City of Vancouver, have called for more time to scrutinize documents and file questions.

Simon Fraser University professor Doug McArthur said he believes the federal government has been “a little bit careless” in opening itself to legal challenges with its legislative changes to speed up reviews of major industrial projects.

While the law has been moving toward more open regulatory processes, including full opportunity for participation for those who have an interest and expertise, the federal government seems to be pushing in the opposite direction, observed McArthur.

While a court decision on the review process will not likely stop the pipeline, there is a good chance it will conclude these people must be heard, said McArthur, who served as deputy minister in Glen Clark’s NDP B.C. government in the 1990s.

“You can’t underestimate the impact of the government doing it wrong and having to go back and redo it — the impact this could have on the overall viability of these projects. Time is money,” he said.

The National Energy Board has already extended the deadline for information requests from interveners by 10 days, but said they do not expect any delays in the process.

“We have a hearing schedule and we’ve been moving along according to that schedule,” said NEB spokeswoman Sarah Kiley.

And the federal government insists this review will be “no less rigorous” compared to past reviews.

In an email, Natural Resources Ministry spokesman Paul Duchesne said the written cross-examination format will allow the panel to hear from interveners in an efficient way.

He added that the more than 1,600 participants will ensure the review is informed by the facts. (Of those, about 1,200 are only able to submit a letter).

“We are confident in the NEB’s ability to conduct an independent, fair and open process that incorporates the views of Canadians who are directly affected or have related expertise,” Duchesne said.

ghoekstra@vancouversun.com

UN report backs First Nations against pipelines Report by James Anaya, the UN’s secial rapporteur, says there’s a ‘crisis’ in Canada

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper could narrow the gulf of mistrust with aboriginal peoples by blocking major resource projects including two proposed pipeline megaprojects to the B.C. coast — unless First Nations consent to construction, the United Nations said Monday.

A report by James Anaya, the UN’s special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, said there is a “crisis” in Canada and that the level of mistrust has perhaps worsened in the past decade.

The situation of indigenous peoples in Canada (http://www.scribd.com/doc/223470439/The-situation-of-indigenous-peoples-in-Canada)

Anaya put the two oilsands pipeline megaprojects Enbridge’s to Kitimat and Kinder Morgan Canada’s to Burnaby at the top of a long list of economic proposals that have drawn bitter complaints from aboriginal leaders Anaya met during a fact-finding mission last year.

Anaya, an American indigenous rights scholar and nominee for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, said the government doesn’t have a coherent plan to meet its Supreme Court of Canada-mandated obligations to consult and accommodate First Nations before major projects proceed.

“There appears to be a lack of a consistent framework or policy for the implementation of this duty to consult, which is contributing to an atmosphere of contentiousness and mistrust that is conducive neither to beneficial economic development nor social peace,” Anaya wrote.

One of his recommendations calls on the federal government to set a clear policy on consultation and accommodation.

“In accordance with the Canadian constitution and relevant international human rights standards, as a general rule resource extraction should not occur on lands subject to aboriginal claims without adequate consultations with, and the free, prior and informed consent of, the indigenous peoples concerned,” states Anaya in his report that was released in Geneva Monday.

In a Vancouver Sun interview last year he said “free, prior and informed consent” didn’t mean an absolute aboriginal veto on resource projects. But he said the commitment does require governments and sometimes companies to engage in “consensus-based decision-making with genuine dialogue among all concerned.”

The report also lists the Site C hydroelectric dam project on the Peace River, gas drilling and pipeline construction in northeastern B.C. on Treaty 8 nations’ traditional territory, and the attempts by Taseko Mines and Fortune Minerals to build mines on unceded traditional First Nations territory in B.C.

The report also criticized the federal environmental review panels, saying the panelists are perceived by First Nations as having “little understanding of aboriginal rights jurisprudence or concepts.”

Anaya had a number of other tough criticisms:

• He called on the Harper to reverse his position and call for a “comprehensive, nationwide inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal woman and girls, organized in consultation with indigenous peoples.”

• He said the federal government needs to improve its handing of land claims across Canada and especially in B.C., where many First Nations are deeply in debt and utterly frustrated over federal negotiating tactics.

But Anaya also found some positive developments, including the agreement late last year to establish a B.C. First Nations Health Authority. He called that a potential model for other jurisdictions.

Anaya, a professor of human rights law and policy at the University of Arizona, will conclude his term at the UN next month. He is being replaced by Vicky Tauli-Corpuz of the Philippines.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Climate change is here, action needed now, says new White House report

Washington (CNN) — Climate change is here and will only worsen. Get used to more flooding, wildfires and drought, depending on where you live. Cities and states across America already are spending lots of money to respond.

Those are the take-home messages of a new White House report released Tuesday that is part of President Barack Obama’s second-term effort to prepare the nation for the impacts of a changing climate such as rising sea levels and increasingly erratic weather.

The National Climate Assessment update said evidence of human-made climate change “continues to strengthen” and that “Americans are noticing changes all around them.”

“This is not some distant problem of the future,” Obama told NBC, while John Holdren, who directs the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said climate change “already is affecting every region of the country and key sectors of the economy.”

Read the National Climate Assessment

The Obama administration wants the report to ignite awareness of the need for government and communities to respond now to climate change in the face of fierce political opposition, mostly from conservatives.

Unrelenting political opposition

White House: Expect droughts, fires Bill Nye battles with CNN host Report: Climate change warning

A relentless campaign backed by the fossil fuel industry and its allies challenges whether climate change is real, and if so, whether human activity such as increased carbon emissions from power plants, factories and cars contributes to it.

In a statement coinciding with the report’s publication, the White House said the findings “underscore the need for urgent action to combat the threats from climate change, protect American citizens and communities today, and build a sustainable future for our kids and grandkids.”

Breaking down the report by region

John Podesta, a Democratic operative who now counsels the President, told reporters that

Obama will kick off a broad campaign this week to publicize the report, while Cabinet members and other administration officials would be “fanning out” across the country to spread the word about how climate change impacts specific regions.

Republican critics immediately pounced on new report as a political tool for Obama to try to impose a regulatory agenda that would hurt the economy.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky mocked what he described as the hypocritical stance of “liberal elites” who demand strong action on climate change while failing to reduce their own carbon footprint.

“Even if we were to enact the kind of national energy regulations the President seems to want so badly, it would be unlikely to meaningfully impact global emissions anyway unless other major industrial nations do the same thing,” McConnell said in arguing against proposals to reduce industrial pollution.

He called the debate “cynical” because Obama knew that “much of the pain of imposing such regulations would be borne by our own middle class.”

Changing attitudes?

To Podesta and Holdren, the reality of climate change will win out over opponents of new energy policies to combat it.

“Public awareness has been going up and will continue to go up,” Holdren told reporters, predicting increased public support for government action to reduce U.S. carbon emissions and for America to take a leadership role on climate change in the international arena.

Five things you can do

Recent polling indicates most Americans believe human activities cause climate change, but also shows the issue is less important to the public than the economy and other topics.

A Gallup poll in March found that 34% of respondents think climate change, called global warming in the poll, posed a “serious threat” to their way of life, compared to 64% who responded “no.” At the same time, more than 60% of respondents believed global warming was happening or would happen in their lifetime.

More than 300 experts helped produce the report over several years, updating a previous assessment published in 2009. Podesta called it “actionable science” for policymakers and the public to use in forging a way forward.

Scientists categorize the response to climate change into two strategies — minimizing the effects by reducing the cause, which is known as mitigation, and preparing for impacts already occurring or certain to occur, which is called adaptation.

The report breaks the country down by region and identifies specific threats should climate change continue. Major concerns cited by scientists involved in creating the report include rising sea levels along America’s coasts, drought in the Southwest and prolonged fire seasons.

Sea levels rising

On GPS: Friedman on climate change Report: Climate change warning Expert: ‘We decide’ climate change losses

It predicts sea levels will rise at least a foot by the end of the century and perhaps as much as four feet, depending on how much of the Greenland and Antarctic ice shelf melts.
Such an outcome could be catastrophic for millions of people living along the ocean, submerging tropical islands and encroaching on coastal areas.

Low-lying U.S. cities already experience high flooding, with Miami planning to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to address the problem, noted Jerry Melillo of Marine Biological Laboratory, who chaired the advisory committee that produced the new assessment.

The Great Plains could experience heavier droughts and heat waves with increasing frequency, while more wildfires in the West could threaten agriculture and residential communities, the report notes.

Obama’s week-long focus on climate change continues Wednesday, when the White House convenes a summit focused on green building tactics. Later in the week, Obama will announce new solar power initiatives, according to Podesta.

In his first term, the President faced opposition by Republicans and some Democrats from states with major fossil fuel industries such as coal production to significant climate change legislation.

He pledged to renew his efforts on the issue in his final four years, including using executive actions that bypass Congress. Obama has introduced new regulations on vehicle emissions and created “climate hubs” that help businesses prepare for the effects of climate change.

A major upcoming issue is a proposal under consideration by the Obama administration to build the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

Environmental groups say the project would contribute to climate change because tar sands oil is dirtier than conventionally drilled crude, and importing it would maintain the country’s dependence on fossil fuels. Republicans and some Democrats from oil industry states want the pipeline approved to create jobs and bolster exports from a strategic ally and U.S. neighbor.

The new assessment calls for continued mitigation steps including regulations and programs to reduce carbon emissions, as well as necessary planning and investment to deal with the known impacts.

Melillo cited some adaptation measures already underway, noting a “terrific plan for extreme heat events” by the city of Philadelphia.

“Things are starting to happen,” Melillo said, adding that the continued efforts over time will “ultimately present a very positive picture” about Americans taking action on climate change.

CNN’s Kevin Liptak and Tom Cohen reported from Washington, and CNN’s Jethro Mullen reported from London. CNN’s Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.

Describing economic benefits of oil spill not in the guidelines, energy board says

Backlash builds over Kinder Morgan’s NEB application remarks

OTTAWA — A federal regulator has refuted Kinder Morgan Canada’s claim that its formal proposal to build a new pipeline to B.C. needed to include a description of the positive economic benefits of a major oil spill.

The statement, contained in a single 165-word paragraph in a 15,000-page submission, caused an immediate uproar and was featured in a mocking commentary on a U.S. prime-time news program Friday.

But the company, a subsidiary of Houston-based Kinder Morgan, insisted that it was simply meeting the National Energy Board’s expectations.

“I think taken out of context in 15,000 pages it might seem to be an eyebrow-raiser,” Michael Davies, the company’s senior director of marine development, said last week.

But “it’s part of what the NEB expects us to provide in the application.”

An energy board spokeswoman, as well as two major rivals in the pipeline business, said Monday this isn’t true.

A manual provided to all applicants asks them to assess the project’s expected overall beneficial and adverse socio-economic and environmental impacts, according to the NEB’s Sarah Kiley.

“It does not say that we expect to see an assessment of the positive benefits of a potential spill. In this case, (Kinder Morgan) has chosen to indicate that there will be economic benefits as the result of a spill or malfunction.”

Enbridge spokesman Ivan Giesbrecht confirmed that the company, a proponent of the $7.9 billion oilsands pipeline to Kitimat, does not believe NEB guidelines require such an analysis.

“There is not, as you say, a requirement to ‘dissect the positive and negative implications of every eventuality,’ ” Giesbrecht said in an email. “A number of possible scenarios are reviewed, including worst cases, and the ability to respond to those worst cases is examined.”

TransCanada Pipelines, proponent of the Keystone XL project to the U.S. Gulf Coast, also doesn’t submit government applications that outline the jobs and wealth that can be generated by spills, according to spokesman Shawn Howard.

Kinder Morgan, meanwhile, stresses that the overwhelming majority of its submission on spills refers to the damage they cause, and the company’s determination to avoid them.

“The important thing here is, no spill is acceptable to us, and that is reiterated throughout the document,” Davies said.

“In retrospect, had we anticipated this piece would be pulled apart and looked at on a stand-alone basis, we probably would have put another sentence or two to the effect that, ‘our view is that spills are unacceptable.’ ”

Davies, in a second interview, said Monday the NEB’s guidelines are “not definitive” and acknowledged that it’s up to companies to interpret what the board wants from applicants.

He said the Kinder Morgan Canada simply wanted to submit a thorough application.

Last week a researcher with the Broadbent Institute unearthed Kinder Morgan’s claim that spills have both short- and long-term economic benefits. Critics in the political and environmental movement expressed shock, calling the company insensitive.

And MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow seized on the company’s assertion that positive financial benefits depend on “the willingness of local businesses and residents to pursue response opportunities.”

Maddow, who began her 23-minute segment with photographs of a major Kinder Morgan spill in Burnaby in 2009, dripped with sarcasm.

“Turn that frown upside down, oil-soaked neighbourhood! You can get a job cleaning it up if you just have the right attitude,” Maddow said while her audience was shown headlines from last week’s Vancouver Sun front page.

She added that such a public relations blunder reinforces the attitudes of residents in her home state of Massachusetts, where people are “losing their minds” over Kinder Morgan’s plans to expand its pipeline network in their state.

University of Alberta professor Andrew Leach, a frequent Canadian commentator on pipeline politics, said the comment was a public relations “disaster” for Kinder Morgan.

That view was seconded by Tzeporah Berman, a key figure in the B.C. environmental movement, which has had a relatively easy time rallying public opposition to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project.

Opposition has been more muted for Kinder Morgan’s $5.4-billion plan to triple the capacity of its Trans Mountain Pipeline from 300,000 barrels a day to slightly under 900,000.

Outgoing provincial New Democrat Party leader Adrian Dix is widely seen to have killed his party’s chance at power by attacking the project during the 2013 election.

And at the federal level the NDP has been more guarded in its criticism, while Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, an opponent of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project, gushed enthusiasm earlier this year for Kinder Morgan’s plans.

The public reaction to Kinder Morgan’s gaffe is “big and getting bigger,” Berman said.

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“We’ve had open houses and meetings from Edmonton to … the west coast of Vancouver Island and we’re aware that spills are a concern for our project, and we’ve tried to do a very thorough job in our application,” he said.

“It’s unfortunate that this one paragraph has been sort of pulled out of all of that, and used to construe a different message than what our approach is.”

New Trans Mountain pipeline review rules violate charter rights, says legal challenge

VANCOUVER — Pipeline opponents are challenging the federal government’s new energy board rules that restrict participation in the review hearing on Kinder Morgan’s proposed Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion.

A notice of motion was filed Tuesday asking the National Energy Board to declare the revised regulations unconstitutional.

“The applicants submit that this is a draconian, undemocratic limitation of their constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression,” said the motion, filed directly with the federal energy regulator.

“There is no justification for this violation of (charter) rights.”

The revisions introduced two years ago restrict participation in project review hearings to those with a direct interest in the proposal and those who have expertise to offer.

The $5.4-billion expansion would almost triple the capacity of the existing pipeline that links the Alberta oil sands to Port Metro Vancouver.

The energy board has approved 400 individuals and groups for intervener status, which allows them to take part directly in the hearings, address the panel and question other interveners. Another 1,250 groups and individuals have been approved as commenters, or those who can submit comments but can’t question other participants.

Of more than 2,000 applications for various levels of participation, 468 were denied. The board said 452 groups and individuals who requested intervener status were instead granted commenter status.

The new participation rule was among a host of amendments that included time limits and took the final decision from the board’s hands, while giving it to the federal cabinet.

Ben West, of Forest Ethics Advocacy, which joined eight individuals named in the motion, said the application process itself was a barrier.

“If you look at the number of people who were actually rejected from having intervener status, who were downgraded to commentators, even of the 2,000 people who went through that process, many people are not being given the right to speak or participate,” he said.

The window for interested parties to file their applications was “unreasonably short,” the motion said.

The board adopted a very narrow definition of who is directly affected, it said, and refuses to hear submissions on climate change or fossil fuels.

“In the result, this board has deterred participation in this important public hearing and has suppressed expression about whether the proposed project is in the interest of Canadians,” it said.

Sarah Kiley, a spokeswoman for the National Energy Board, said there have been several motions filed on the Trans Mountain review, including a motion to recuse a board member.

The panel itself deals with most motions, but because the latest involves a constitutional challenge, the board must serve the attorneys general in each province and in Ottawa with a copy.

“That has already happened,” Kiley said Tuesday, hours after the motion was filed.

The lawmakers have 10 days to respond and then the board will decide how to proceed.

The nine applicants include Lynne Quarmby, a professor of molecular biology and biochemistry at Simon Fraser University, Eric Doherty, a former director of the B.C. Sustainable Energy Association and several landowners who live near the possible route.

© Copyright (c)

Data Journalism: Do the Numbers Add Up to Climate Action?

Journalists and other communicators are increasingly using digital graphics to bring climate data to life. Will their creative new approaches help shake public ambivalence on the climate change issue?

For those trying to communicate climate data, the public’s digital newsfeeds are a challenging arena. The story of tiny changes at thousands of sample sites all over the world probably moving mostly in the same direction doesn’t provide news-hungry journalists with much of a hook.

Compared to many other front-page stories climate change is abstract. The action doesn’t happen on a battlefield, a red carpet, or a trading room floor but on a complex spreadsheet in a university or federal research office somewhere.

But hope is at hand. A new media cohort has emerged in the digital cloud grouped loosely under the banner “data journalism.” Highly skilled at data handling and with a nose for number-based stories, data journalists are brightening up climate change coverage with interactive diagrams, slideshows, calculators, charts, and maps.

The Data Journalism Handbook describes the movement as comprising a mixture of journalists, hackers, web developers, graphic designers, and academics. They publish through online news sites and through one-off media projects commissioned by businesses, nonprofits, universities, and advocacy groups. At the heart of the movement are principles of transparency and collaboration. Most reports use free online data and open source software. Experienced data journalists have provided a wealth of training resources for the next generation, including free online handbooks, competitions, and websites collating new work.

Data journalists have covered climate change on a number of levels. Some projects relay basic climate and energy science. Others make it easier for their audiences to search climate data on their own. Some data journalism projects probe government and business datasets to examine responses to climate change. But the movement has been challenged over the quality of data analysis produced by these often self-trained statisticians, and the perennial question remains: Will providing people with more information on climate change really make a difference to their willingness to act?
Explaining Basic Climate Science

One way data journalists help communicate climate change is through interactive graphics providing the public with essential background information on climate and energy issues. Simple, playful, and packed with photographs, charts, video and music, these digital lessons are a far cry from the dog-eared textbooks that turned so many away from high school science.

The advantage of presenting complex information in graphics is supported by cognitive science. Princeton University Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, in his bestselling book Thinking Fast and Slow, showed that people generally are more willing to engage with images than with text.

One striking example of data journalism in the environmental context is “The Great Barrier Reef: An Obituary.” This five-part multimedia slideshow was released by the Guardian newspaper to coincide with the IPCC’s “2014 Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability Report.” In text overlaying stunning photographs, the slideshow tells the story of the reef from its geological origins to its present state of disease. The story, with its own eerie sound track, is interspersed with videos of indigenous fishermen, marine biologists, and reef activists. Using similar tools the Guardian has produced a guide for permafrost, and a stylish refresher on climate change terminology.

The issue needn’t be as old as coral pollution for public understanding to be rusty. When the shale gas industry started to boom in Pennsylvania, Penn State Public Broadcasting identified a lack of accessible information on basic fracking processes. The station produced a high-definition graphic transporting the viewer down through 5,186 feet of shale rock, providing rich deposits of information along the way.

Penn State Public Broadcasting identified a lack of accessible fracking information and produced a high-definition graphic taking viewers down through 5,186 feet of shale rock.
While these graphics aim to give explanations of climate and energy systems, another set of graphics aims instead to display climate change metrics like CO2 emissions. The graphic design company Carbon Visual created an animation of carbon emissions exuding from New York City with each ton of CO2 represented by a giant blue bubble. The piece won awards for its original presentation of emissions data.

Another well-known team in the data visualization field, Information is Beautiful, caught mainstream attention for its particularly elegant portrait of sea-level rise — a bar chart constructed from the skyscrapers of the world’s most celebrated cities.
Targeting Confusion and Apathy By Making Climate Data Personal

Data journalists are not only targeting public confusion but are also going after public apathy by making climate data personal. By providing calculators and interactive maps data journalists are opening up the traditional linear news story, thus allowing readers to find their own narratives amongst the data points.

Carbon footprint calculators, for example, were an early device for members of the public to get past national carbon emission statistics and find out how they as individuals had been adding to the greenhouse gases warming the planet. Though more closely associated with the conservation movement than with newsrooms, carbon footprint calculators were a parallel to developments in personalized coverage of the economy. For example, the BBC’s Budget Calculator, which allows readers to work out how annual budget changes will affect their households, emerged around the same time as carbon footprint calculators and was held up as a landmark in the data journalism movement.

A more somber calculation is provided by Duncan Clark of the Guardian. His interactive “Climate change: how hot will it get in my lifetime?” allows readers to line up their and their children’s futures against the latest IPCC projections of dangerous temperature rise.

Duncan Clark’s “Climate change: how hot will it get in my lifetime?” interactive graphic allows readers to enter birth years to line up their and their children’s futures against IPCC temperature rise projections.

New media projects also are helping the public find out about observed climate in their own communities. Thermal interactive maps allow viewers to select a location and instantly see the effects of global warming at that point. Teams who have made these maps include New Scientist, and the University of East Anglia (UEA) in partnership with Google Earth. In the latter case, the map was also part of an effort by climate scientists to increase data transparency and help counter some critics’ accusations that they had engaged in some sort of climate change conspiracy.

Targeting Injustices By Speaking Truth to Power

Public information projects such as these, however, hide data journalism’s sometimes-rebellious streak, for the movement has somewhat radical roots. “Data journalism” as a term came into more widespread use in 2010 after WikiLeaks released confidential documents relating to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Newsrooms were presented with thousands of columns and rows of military data, and those with the skills to interpret the spreadsheets were suddenly in high demand. As it expands, many in the data journalism movement continue to pursue what they see as social and environmental injustices. Prominent data journalist Nate Silver, for example, explains his personal motivation in correcting the reality that “‘big data’ has not yet translated into widespread gains in economic conditions, human welfare or technological growth.” Accordingly, data journalists like Silver have gone after social justice issues from inequality in hospital care to racial segregation in housing.

Data journalists reporting on the environment have challenged government and companies on a number of issues, including natural disaster relief and energy extraction, by making powerful use of maps.

On the issue of natural disaster relief, an early example of data-based reporting came from former Miami Herald research editor Stephen Doig. Now an academic, Doig led a team investigating the pattern of damages caused by Hurricane Andrew. The team found that the destruction correlated not only to the wind speed, but also to the age of housing — those built after the relaxation of planning laws proved the most vulnerable. A more recent series by the independent nonprofit news service Pro Publica points out the failure of authorities to update flood maps in the years prior to Hurricane Sandy.

Another issue which data journalists have highlighted is deforestation. The Earth Journalism Network, an international non-profit helping journalists in developing countries find and map environmental data, has supported a number of media projects tracking forest loss. InfoAmazonia for instance draws together satellite data of Amazon rainforest coverage with records of mining, hydropower, and fossil fuel extraction to allow the public to closely monitor industrial development. The website Ekuatorial maps data on Indonesia’s forests and oceans with a similar mission.

In areas experiencing rapid exploration and extraction of fossil fuels, data journalists have used maps to call attention to threatened ecosystems and breaches of environmental regulation. Shale Play, a project of NPR and local public media, maps the 6,931 active wells in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale and highlights in orange 3,331 cited violations. Australia’s ABC News mapped coal seam gas extraction to draw attention to the industry’s contributions to water scarcity in drought-prone regions.

Other projects have presented more upbeat data on climate change adaptation and mitigation. Bloomberg, for example, produced a quirky interactive showing renewable energy investments around the world moving from west to east over the last decade. In 2013 the Guardian Datablog produced an extensive comparison of transport usage across European cities demonstrating those with the highest rates of public transport use and cycling.

Partial view of Bloomberg’s interactive graphic illustrates historical growth and future projections of world renewable energy capacity.
Statistics Imply Authority … But are the Numbers Right?

These reports are often intuitively structured and highly polished, but some have doubts over whether the math behind them is really sound. Twitter’s data editor Simon Rogers has called data journalism the “new punk” (anyone can do it), but others worry data handling tools are being promoted to those too inexperienced or too partisan to use them rigorously.

In addition, statistics may give the reader a misleading impression of expertise, economist Allison Schrager recently posted: “I worry that data give commentary a false sense of authority since data analysis is inherently prone to bias … Even data-backed journalism is opinion journalism.”

Media professionals working with data need to be able to judge the quality of the methods by which that data were collected, the sufficiency of the sample or samples, and whether correlations in the data really are evidence of causation. Yet many journalists long have stayed well away from college tracks of math and science, and on-the-job training is often a luxury.

The data journalism community is aware of such concerns and data journalism handbooks and journalism training courses now offer guidelines for those who are new to statistics.
There is also a risk that the push for transparency boosted by the data journalism movement inevitably makes climate data more easily available to those determined to deliberately manipulate it for political ends. The “Climategate” controversy, in which hackers released thousands of private e-mails and documents from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, provoked a feeding frenzy of climate science attacks. Whether open climate data initiatives like the Obama administration’s climate.data.gov launched last month will experience similar abuse remains to be seen.
Turning Data on Climate into Social Change

350.org’s ‘Do The Math’ campaign helps advance the movement to divest holdings in fossil fuel interests.

Even if data journalists’ graphics were as dazzling as those in Hollywood blockbusters, and even if the analyses behind those graphics would pass muster in the world’s most revered journals, can data journalism get the public sufficiently motivated to personally act on climate change? Understanding of climate science has changed only incrementally in 20 years of IPCC reports, and over that time the proportion of the public saying they are highly concerned has not increased significantly. It isn’t enough for people to know the climate change numbers, they have to care.

One example where aggressive use of data has managed to get the public on their feet is 350.org’s Do The Math campaign. The campaign compared the (small) total of additional carbon emissions permissible before temperatures are projected to exceed 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) scenarios and the (very large) total of carbon emissions held in fossil fuel reserves. But 350.org didn’t let the data just stay on the screen. Activist leader Bill McKibben and a host of prominent speakers went on tour presenting the data at live shows and rallying audiences to act on what they’d seen, urging that their schools, churches and businesses divest from fossil fuel holdings.

The Role of Data Journalism in an Evolving News Culture

It is clearly crucial that straightforward explanations of climate change are readily available to the public, and digital graphics are a fun and accessible tool. Data journalism is also bringing into the newsroom new skills for telling environmental stories often under-reported: from holding governments to account on issues from poor flood preparations to high deforestation rates.

Data journalism offers freelance and salaried reporters a valuable new arrow in their quiver, even as traditional newsrooms frequently face retrenchment and “down sizing.” Finding the resources to capitalize on the new tools in some ways may come easier for freelancers than for traditional newsroom employees facing severe belt-tightening.

All the same, when digital graphics are combined with the clear follow-on actions and a strong sense of collective responsibility, as often motivated by environmental concerns, data journalism becomes not only convincing but compelling, not only educational but also inspiring. And those are qualities established newsrooms and freelancers alike find much in need.

AUTHOR

Megan Albon is a visiting student at Harvard University, studying for one year on a Herchel Smith Scholarship from Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge. Having completed her undergraduate degree in geography, including thesis research on Ethiopia’s remaining coffee forests; Megan is using her year at Harvard to move in to science journalism.