Oil prices are crashing and Obama has vetoed Keystone XL. Will Canada double down on its dirty tar sands?
Barack Obama’s veto of Keystone XL has placed the export pipeline for Canadian tar-sands crude on its deathbed. Earlier in February, the Environmental Protection Agency revealed that Keystone could spur 1.37 billion tons of excess carbon emissions providing the State Department with all the scientific evidence required to spike the project, permanently. If the news has cheered climate activists across the globe, it also underscored the folly of Canada’s catastrophic quest, in recent years, to transform itself into a dirty-energy “superpower.”
Big Oil’s Big Lies About Alternative Energy »
In the minds of many American right-wingers, Canada may be a socialist hell-scape of universal health care and quasi-European welfare policies. But it is also home to 168 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, the third-largest in the world. Since ultraconservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper famously described by one Canadian columnist as “our version of George W. Bush, minus the warmth and intellect” took power in 2006, he’s quietly set his country on a course that seems to be straight from the Koch brothers’ road map. Harper, 55, has gutted environmental regulation and fast-tracked colossal projects to bring new oil to market. Under his leadership, Canada has also slashed corporate taxes and is eliminating 30,000 public-sector jobs.
Riding record-high oil prices,–$107 a barrel as recently as last June,–Harper’s big bet on Canadian crude appeared savvy. The oil boom had driven a seven percent surge in national income, helping Canada ride out the Great Recession with less anguish than most developed nations. And with fossil fuels swelling to nearly 40 percent of net exports, Harper’s Conservative government was on track to deliver a Tea Party twofer in advance of federal elections this fall: a budget surplus and a deep tax cut for the country’s richest earners.
But today, with the price of oil cut in half, the Canadian economy is staggering. Tar-sands producers have clawed back billions in planned investments and begun axing jobs by the thousands. The Canadian dollar, recently at parity with the U.S. dollar, has dipped to about 80 cents. Instead of a federal budget surplus, economists are now projecting a C$2.3 billion deficit. “The drop in oil prices,” said Stephen Poloz, the nation’s central banker, in January, “is unambiguously negative for the Canadian economy.”
If low oil prices hold, the pain will get worse. Most of Canada’s reserves are locked up in tar sands. The industrial operations required to get the oil from the ground to your gas tank are not only filthy and energy-intensive generating up to double the greenhouse emissions of conventional oil they also take years of construction to bring online. Because of investment decisions made during the boom years, tar-sands production is projected to expand by seven percent this year, exacerbating the glut. The collapse of crude is threatening to take Harper’s nearly decade-long rule down with it. Canada’s Liberal party, headed by 43-year-old Justin Trudeau (son of legendary Canadian PM Pierre), is running neck and neck in the polls, and bashing Harper where he used to be strongest his management of the economy. “It’s not fiscally responsible,” said Trudeau in January, “to pin all your hopes on oil prices remaining high, and when they fall, being forced to make it up as they go along.”
As we, in the United States, consider the fate of our own massive oil reserves and confront the specter of yet another Bush presidency, Stephen Harper’s Canada offers a cautionary tale about the economic and political havoc that can be unleashed when a first-world nation yokes itself to Tea Party economics and to the boom and bust of Big Oil.
Stephen Harper came of age in Alberta, a land of cowboys and oil rigs sometimes referred to as “Texas of the North.” He began his career in the mailroom of Imperial Oil (today an offshoot of Exxon). He rose through Parliament promising a revolution in federal affairs under the battle cry “The West wants in!” Following his election to prime minister in 2006, he wasted little time unveiling his plan to open up his nation’s vast oil reserves.
After the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, some of the estimated 200 million gallons of oil that spilled were never recovered. They were missing. Now researchers have found some of them: A good 10 million gallons are sitting at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.
A new study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, hypothesizes that about 5 percent of oil from the spill made it to the seafloor. A separate study in October put that number at about 10 percent. “Our number is a little bit more conservative than theirs,” said Jeff Chanton, lead author of the new study, “but if the two approaches agree within a factor of two, that’s pretty good for estimating all of the oil on the seafloor.” Basically, a lot of oil is down there.
And that oil can cause a lot of problems. Because there’s less oxygen deeper in the Gulf, it will take more time to decompose. And the oil can lead to tumors and lesions in sea animals, the researchers found.
“Fish will likely ingest contaminants because worms ingest the sediment, and fish eat the worms. It’s a conduit for contamination into the food web,” Chanton said. ”This is going to affect the Gulf for years to come.”
The findings come as BP continues trying to weasel its way out of paying fines and reparations for the spill. Reuters reports that the company is pushing back against a multi-billion-dollar government fine under the Clean Water Act:
In arguments that wrapped up on Monday, BP tried to whittle away at $13.7 billion in potential fines if faces under the Clean Water Act for the worst offshore disaster in U.S. history.
BP has said its fine should be modest, as it took extensive steps to mitigate the disaster, and that the defendant named in the case, BP’s exploration and production unit, known as BPXP, cannot afford a big penalty.
And the Associated Press reports that the company is still seeking to challenge the way in which businesses affected by the spill are compensated by attacking the man in charge of distributing the funds.
BP says the claims administrator, Patrick Juneau, failed to disclose that he worked on previous oil spill litigation for the state of Louisiana when he was hired to oversee settlement payouts.
Attorneys for Juneau told the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that he hid nothing improper and his record of work for the state was public well before BP and others agreed to his hiring in 2012.
All sides hailed the settlement when it was approved in 2012. But BP later argued that Juneau was misinterpreting the settlement and paying claims to businesses that didn’t deserve them.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier and the 5th Circuit ruled that, under the settlement BP agreed to, businesses do not have to prove they were directly harmed by the spill to collect money–only that they made less money in the three to eight months after the spill.
In case you weren’t feeling sorry enough for BP already, today also brings news that the company’s profits and share price are both down because of low oil prices. Cue the tiny violins.
Members of Kwantlen First Nation in Langley were surprised to discover that Kinder Morgan had just wrapped up one week of Burnaby-Mountain-style borehole drilling on their traditional territory.
The southwest B.C. aboriginal community, an hour’s drive from Vancouver, held a press conference to raise alarm about the drilling activity, that appeared to come without notice.
”There was absolutely no communication whatsoever,” said band member Brandon Gabriel on Thursday.
“Its speaks volumes to how they do business. The fact they keep changing the markers of where they do test drilling speaks volumes to the underhanded nature of their business practice,” he added.
The lack of communication about the drilling left many Kwantlen believing the Texas-based company is attempting to be secretive to avoid protests.
Aboriginal drummers with the Kwantlen First Nation at a Kinder Morgan protest Thursday near the Belmont Golf Course. Photo by Mychaylo Prystupa.
About 70 people, including the Kwantlen’s chief and band councillors, held the protest just metres from where the borehole drilling took place near the Belmont Golf Course.
Kinder Morgan said Thursday it dug 30-metre-deep boreholes near the Salmon River, and on Rawlison Crescent.
“The sites are both on private property, not municipal lands,” wrote a company spokesperson.
Gabriel told the crowd the band only found out about the drilling through social media and from a salmon conservation group that contacted them to let them know.
The Salmon River Enhancement Society, a non-profit water stewardship charity, noticed the Kinder Morgan drillers in recent days, and took photos. The company work crews appeared to have wrapped up on Monday.
Kinder Morgan said it received permission from the Township of Langley and the private landowners where the drilling took place. But a local resident said the people need to be informed too.
“The township did not make the citizens aware. That’s a problem,” said Shane Dyson, who attended the rally, and lives nearby.
“This will be going on in Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Hope – across the Fraser Valley where they’ll be doing their drill testing.”
“We need to have citizen oversight,” he added.
The company declined to state where else it will conduct further borehole testing, but it is widely believed to be going on throughout the Lower Fraser Valley.
The company is seeking to understand the underground geology all along the 1,000-kilometre-plus pipeline route between Edmonton and Burnaby.
Kwantlen Elder Farley Antone said his people have long been opposed to the company’s incursions into Kwantlen lands and waterways.
”A few years ago, when we were first introduced to Kinder Morgan…I had four words for them. Over my dead body,” said the Elder, to cheers from the crowd.
Kwantlen members also expressed frustration that the National Energy Board’s recent Aboriginal oral hearing in Chillwack did not allow for any critical questioning of the company’s project.
Kinder Morgan’s lawyer infamously asked the band at that hearing if the community still eats fish.
City submits motion to NEB for info on costs of ads
by Jennifer Moreau
The City of Burnaby is taking aim at Kinder Morgan’s pro-pipeline advertising campaign and questioning whether consumers will end up paying for the publicity.
The city filed a motion Thursday with the National Energy Board asking for several things, including details on how Kinder Morgan is funding its ad campaign, and whether the money is coming from extra “firm service” shipping fees approved by the National Energy Board.
“It’s a bad policy, regardless of what aspect of the project proposal the fees are paying for. But if these federal government-sanctioned shipping fees are funding Kinder Morgan’s current multi-million-dollar ad campaign, it would be particularly inappropriate,” Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said in a media release. “We want to know whether or not some of these ‘firm service fees’ are being used to pay for the cost of Kinder Morgans advertising that is clearly nothing more than an attempt to improve their tainted corporate image.”
A couple years ago, the National Energy Board gave Kinder Morgan permission to charge some of its Westridge Marine Terminal customers firm service fees averaging an extra $1.45 per barrel of oil. Those fees total roughly $29 million annually, according to Ian Anderson, president of Kinder Morgan Canada. The money is used to offset the pipeline expansion’s development costs, so if the project is rejected, there is no risk to investors.
Robyn Allan, former CEO of ICBC, cried foul and suggested those costs would ultimately be passed onto consumers. Anderson refuted her argument in a letter to the Burnaby NOW last July, saying the oil will sell at a higher prices overseas.
Allan maintains that will drive up crude costs in Canada, and refineries will pass those costs onto consumers.
The city is asking the NEB to step in and issue orders to obtain Kinder Morgan’s projected advertising costs and details on how they are funded, as well as an order to make sure Kinder Morgan’s firm service fees aren’t used for advertising costs. The city also wants the NEB to order Kinder Morgan to inform the public on the extent of the pipeline expansion and its potential risks and impacts.
In the motion, the city’s lawyer, Greg McDade, notes that some of the advertising has appeared in Burnaby newspapers and had been targeting Burnaby residents.
Scott Stoness, a vice-president with Kinder Morgan Canada, said the company’s advertising campaign is part of Kinder Morgan’s efforts to engage with and provide information to as many British Columbians as possible.
“The information highlights Trans Mountain’s company history, culture, and commitment to safety,” he said in an emailed statement to the NOW. “Consumers are not paying for our advertising, as (the) price of gasoline in the Lower Mainland is mostly dependent on world market prices. Prices paid by local consumers at the pumps are driven by world oil prices, not Alberta oil prices, so any increase in price per-barrel as a result of Alberta producers accessing world markets due to expanded pipelines does not mean higher gasoline prices for locals.”
Stoness explained that many factors affect gas prices, including taxes, refining costs, seasonal fluctuations and general rules of supply and demand.
“The cost of crude oil makes up less than 50 per cent of the ultimate price you pay at the pump,” he said.
When Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project review began in April 2014, it was on a fast track to approval. The 2012 changes to the National Energy Board Act established a truncated process that would have seen a decision on this massive project by fall 2015.
However, the project has since hit multiple snags, including a delay in any approval until spring 2016, unprecedented protests relating to Kinder Morgan’s drilling activities on Burnaby Mountain, and increasing community and First Nations opposition.
One of the drivers of this frustration is the NEB’s continued refusal to hold public hearings in the part of the country that will arguably be most directly affected by the proposal: Burnaby, the pipeline terminus and the point at which the bitumen would be loaded onto tankers to travel through the Salish Sea.
Thus, in 2014, First Nations and indigenous groups that wanted to give oral evidence to the NEB panel about their traditions, their worries, and their way of life were required to attend at other locations in the province.
In late October, representatives of four United States Tribes — the Lummi, Suquamish, Swinomish, and Tulalip Tribes — travelled up the Fraser Valley to Chilliwack to share their history, their concerns, and their worries about the Kinder Morgan expansion with the NEB. This is one of the lesser-told stories of 2014.
The four tribes have lived on the coast and relied on the Salish Sea for their way of life since time immemorial. Like the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation — whose lands and waters are in and around the tanker terminal in Burnaby — they are all Coast Salish nations. While most people recognize the Canada-U.S. border as the political separation between the two countries, for the Coast Salish, that border is simply a line on a piece of paper. Better than most, they understand that the potential environmental and cultural harms Kinder Morgan’s project could inflict won’t stop at the border.
Along with their representatives from Earthjustice — Ecojustice’s sister organization in the United States — these tribes are taking a strong stand with Canadian First Nations to oppose this pipeline. The importance of place is such that these tribes are dedicating time, resources, hearts, and minds to opposing Kinder Morgan’s proposal.
The reason is simple: The way they see it, Mother Earth has nothing left to give.
One by one, indigenous elders, leaders, youth, and fishermen stood before the NEB panel. They spoke of their connection with the sea and its resources and how any expansion of tanker traffic would further harm their lives, their economies, the ongoing practice of traditional ways of life, and the tribes’ continual efforts to protect the health of the Salish Sea. They expressed their deep concerns about increased threats to the Salish Sea, such as the risk of a catastrophic accident and oil disaster — something that seems inevitable with the large-scale pipeline expansion.
The testimonies shared by these Tribes and other Coast Salish Nations are a potent reminder that deep knowledge and connection to land and sea is something that we all need to develop.
From the fur trade, to forestry, to oil and gas development, Canada’s industries have a long history of drawing down resources and moving on — showing little concern for the finite capacity of the natural world or respect for connection to place. But that pattern cannot continue indefinitely. Tar sands extraction is more extreme than previous resource grabs. Not only are we running out of oil to extract and forests to log, the atmosphere is hitting the point where it can no longer absorb our carbon emissions without grave climate impacts.
We must learn from people who have a deep connection to place and accept that the earth has limits that must be respected. We must recognize that the harmful impacts from this pipeline will not respect international borders.
Communities like the U.S. Tribes and Canadian First Nations that have been here since time immemorial remind us that we who live here now have a duty to protect our home. Unless we do, we will continue down the path laid out by multinational energy companies, where nature and the opposition of local communities are seen as mere logistical challenges to be overcome by re-routing pipelines through mountains and writing fat cheques. And eventually we will still have to come to terms with the reality that Mother Nature has no more to give.
This piece was written by Ecojustice staff lawyer Karen Campbell. Ecojustice is one of Canada’s leading charities using the law to protect and restore Canada’s environment. Learn more at ecojustice.ca.
I want to know as much as I can about it, but it isnt always easy to find information or, in the case of opinion editorials, a different viewpoint. Notwithstanding, I have learned some truths about oil tankers over the past year or so.
Ive learned the federal government has infrastructure that is capable of dealing with an oil spill of up to 10,000 tonnes.
Ive learned that currently about 90 tankers a year are loaded at the Burnaby pipeline terminal and that each carries more than 10 times that amount of oil.
Ive learned we are woefully unprepared to deal with a major oil spill.
Ive learned that the term oil spill clean up is misleading; at best, a clean up operation will capture about 10 per cent of the oil.
Ive learned that the distance to and the weather conditions at a spill site are significant factors in terms of response time and cost.
Ive learned the existing insurance coverage limit for an oil tanker spill is $1.3 billion.
Ive learned the clean up cost of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill was in excess of $2 billion.
Ive learned that neither man nor money could repair the damage to the Prince William Sound marine ecosystems.
Ive learnedafter more than 20 yearsneither can mother nature.
Ive learned bitumen is heavier and more toxic than conventional oil and that the longer it is in water, the more likely it will sink. Ive learned that most spills occur when oil is transferred to or from tankers.
Ive learned that the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion will pump enough bitumen to fill a tanker a day. Ive learned that 365 tankers a year increases the risk of an oil spill by a factor of four.
Ive learned that Ive learned more about oil tankers than I want to.
By BARB JUSTASON, Special to The Vancouver Sun (April 3, 2012) Thursdays federal budget is raising a lot of eyebrows in British Columbia especially the vow to speed up the review of Enbridges proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline and tanker project.
Two polls released this past week indicated this is going to be a hot-potato issue for B.C. politicians, and the announcements out of Ottawa only increase the urgency for the provincial government to take a stand one way or another.
A Mustel poll commissioned by Burnaby-Douglas New Democratic MP Kennedy Stewart found growing opposition to the Enbridge proposal (although, due to differing methodologies, this is hard to back up).
Mustel tracked a question based on a project description designed by Ipsos Reid on behalf of Enbridge and last asked in December. Heres the wording they used:
As you may know, Enbridge is the company leading the Northern Gateway pipelines project, which is a proposal to build an underground pipeline system between near Edmonton, Alta., and Kitimat, in northern B.C. One pipeline will transport oil to Kitimat for export by tanker to China and other Asian markets. A second pipeline will be used to import condensate [a product used to thin oil products for pipeline transport] to Alberta.
Based on what you know to date, would you say that you generally support or oppose the Northern Gateway pipelines project? Is that strongly or somewhat?
The results? 50 per cent support and 42 per cent oppose.
But what about the oil tankers? Stewarts poll barely touches on the crucial role of tankers in Enbridges proposal, instead masking the scarcity of this information with content the public cant possibly have an opinion about condensate.
My firm, Justason Market Intelligence, also released a poll this week, commissioned by four of B.C.s leading environmental groups, that probed public opinion on the Enbridge proposal, but our poll included important information about the pipeline and the role of supertankers:
One of the worlds largest oil transport companies, Enbridge, has asked Ottawa to approve a plan to allow crude oil to be transported from Albertas oilsands across British Columbia, where it would be loaded onto oil supertankers en route to refineries in Asia. This would bring crude oil supertankers to the coastal inlets of the Great Bear Rainforest for the first time. Have you heard of this plan?
Up until now, crude oil supertankers have not entered B.C.s inside coastal passage because of concerns about oil spills. Ottawa is now considering allowing crude oil supertankers to transport crude oil through these waters. Do you support or oppose allowing crude oil supertankers through B.C.s inside coastal waters?
The results? 22 per cent support and 66 per cent oppose, including 50 per cent who strongly oppose. Only 11 per cent strongly support.
Another way of looking at it: If the researcher asks British Columbians about pipelines, about 50 per cent are relatively tolerant right now. If the researcher asks about pipelines and supertankers, tolerance diminishes.
What an interesting foray into the world of opinion research question design. But what does all this mean?
The reality is that the Enbridge proposal relies completely on the presence of supertankers to travel to and from Kitimat through one of the most ecologically sensitive regions of B.C.s coastal waters, the Great Bear Rainforest.
Eventually, possibly not too long from now, British Columbians will get it. It wont just be a survey question. They will fully understand the real implications, and potential environmental risk, of the pipeline-tanker proposal.
And once they get it, it will be a very big deal indeed.
Opposition exists across all groups in the province according to our poll. B.C. New Democrats oppose the proposal in the highest numbers, but even among B.C. Liberal and B.C. Conservative voters, opposition to the Enbridge pipeline-tanker proposal exceeds support.
The pressure on Premier Christy Clark to state her position on the proposal is growing. In the coming months, this pressure will be deafening. Coming out in favour of the proposal will win her no love in British Columbia, even among B.C. Liberal supporters. Coming out against it will alienate the federal Conservatives.
At the end of the day, the B.C. government must take a position. Timing is everything. A decision now may pre-empt growing public concern about the Enbridge proposal.
A delayed decision may backfire because, as we see in the polling results, the more British Columbians know about proposals that would bring supertankers to B.C., the more opposed they get.
Barb Justason is the principal of Vancouver-based Justason Market Intelligence.
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