TAR SANDS: The Myth of Tidewater Access

The idea that greater pipeline capacity and access to tidewater would maximize the value Alberta receives for its tar sands crude is a standard talking point for industry, politicians, and other commentators in the ongoing oil price-induced recession in Alberta. With the province bearing significant consequences of the collapse of global oil prices, attention is rightfully focused on what can and should be done to support Alberta through, and out of, its economic rut.

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When Council and residents of Burnaby prevent Kinder Morgan’s pipeline, is there another location being considered?

An article printed in the Delta Optimist on February 24 2016 revealed a plan lurking in the shadows for the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline.

The article points out that Delta Council endorsed Burnaby’s request to the federal government to suspend the National Energy Board’s review of the Kinder Morgan’s proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. Then it goes on to suggest Delta could be a fallback location.

Here is what Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington told the Optimist,

“I have no doubt the powers that be are reviewing the possibility of a pipeline to Deltaport. And the way that the minister of environment provincially has supported every major new development along the Fraser – from jet fuel to coal to natural gas – I have no doubt they will at least be sympathetic to such a proposal,” she said.




Alberta pipeline safety report won’t be made public right away

EDMONTON – The Redford government will not immediately release the results of an independent review of pipeline safety in Alberta despite opposition calls to do so, Energy Minister Ken Hughes said Tuesday.

The report was commissioned in July 2012 after a scathing U.S. National Transportation and Safety Board report and three local pipeline leaks triggered unprecedented public concern.

It was completed by G10 Engineering in December, while a related report by the Energy Resources Conservation Board was completed in March. Hughes said they will both be made public, but he did not give a date.

“It’s important to have the full context. It’s a fairly technical review and we’ll release it in the fullness of time,” Hughes said.

“Meanwhile, the pipeline industry is doing a lot of work to ensure they are performing at the high level that we expect them to perform at. … We have 400,000 kilometres of pipeline in this province; people in this province know how to manage and operate pipelines effectively.

“One of my messages when I sat down with the pipeline industry last summer was that everybody had to perform at the best possible level and to get to a more consistent level of performance right across the pipeline industry.”

Hughes made the comments after NDP MLA Rachel Notley accused the government of delaying the release of the report to avoid a “full, rigorous and public debate about the quality of pipeline safety and oversight in the province of Alberta.

“As Albertans, we have a right to expect that our government will do everything it can to promote and protect our public safety, our health and our environment,” she said.

Notley said that Canada’s auditor general and Saskatchewan’s auditor general have both raised serious concerns about pipeline safety in Canada, as did the NTSB report released last summer. The NTSB report blamed Calgary-based Enbridge for “pervasive organizational failures” that led to a massive pipeline spill in Michigan three years ago.



© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

Alberta tests Athabasca River to gauge Suncor site leak’s toxicity

More than a day after industrial waste water leaked from a Suncor Energy Inc. site into the Athabasca River, the oil-sands giant and the province were still trying to determine which, if any, toxic materials were carried into the major Alberta waterway.

On Monday, staff at the Suncor oil-sands base plant north of Fort McMurray discovered a pipe carrying water that had been used in bitumen extraction and upgrading had frozen, cracked and was leaking into an outfall pond near the river for at least several hours. They were able to halt the flow at 4 p.m. the same day.


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Late on Tuesday, Suncor confirmed some of this industrial waste water flowed from the pond into the Athabasca River.

With a decision on the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline looming in the U.S. – and scrutiny of the environmental effects of the oil sands ramping up – the leak comes at a delicate time for Canada’s energy industry.

“Once it hit the approved discharge point, it was diluted with water that is intended for release and then flowed into the river,” said Suncor spokeswoman Sneh Seetal.

Suncor doesn’t yet know the amount of industrial waste water released – or its makeup – but Ms. Seetal said staff believe the industrial waste water was so diluted, the potential for harm is low.

“We don’t anticipate any impact on the river. But as a precautionary measure, we are continuing to analyze river samples downstream from the release,” she said, noting an investigation will continue.

Although it is not clear exactly what was in the mix of the leaked industrial waste water – otherwise known as “process-affected water” – Suncor was unable to exclude the possibility it included tailings. Tailings are the leftovers of oil sands production, and can contain fine silts, unrecovered hydrocarbons, and materials including naphthenic acids, ammonia, and mercury – all toxic to aquatic organisms and mammals.

The leak comes during a week when Industry officials are touring an NBC TV crew around the Fort McMurray area, filming at various sites (but not Suncor) for a news story about the Keystone pipeline and the significance of the massive oil-sands reserves to the U.S.

Alberta’s Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development was notified by Suncor at 1:45 p.m. Monday afternoon that the valve was open “and their process water was flowing,” spokeswoman Jessica Potter said. At 2:30 p.m. Monday, Suncor said the water flow had been reduced to “a trickle.” By 4 p.m., the line had been “completely shut down.”

Ministry staff are now investigating and are also testing the river, and will decide whether any punishment is required.

Environment Minister Diana McQueen said the Redford government takes these types of incidents seriously, and even in the face of critics who say Alberta’s environmental laws aren’t robust enough, the quick response from both government and the company shows otherwise. “I’ve got to tell you, our team – as soon as they were notified – was there on the scene,” Ms. McQueen said in an interview.

People living and working downstream of the plant, including native communities, were notified of the release on Monday afternoon as well.

But with many questions about the water leak still unanswered, Athabasca Chipewyan Chief Allan Adam – a long-standing opponent to oil-sands development being ramped up – said the Suncor industrial waste-water leak is one of the reasons he and other chiefs went to Ottawa last week to announce they would continue to oppose proposed pipeline projects to transport crude from Alberta’s oil sands.

“It just goes to prove, accidents do happen,” Chief Adam said on Tuesday.

Water-quality issues have become an increasing concern in Alberta’s oil-sands region. In January, a peer-reviewed study by a research team including Environment Canada scientists found levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in lakes near the Athabasca oil sands have risen roughly at the same pace as development.

Suncor operations were not affected by the incident.

With a report from Shawn McCarthy and Josh Wingrove

NDP leader promises to partner with oilpatch on energy development

Thomas Mulcair seems to have found his sweet spot in his efforts to relate to the Alberta energy patch. The NDP leader had a rocky start when he took over, slamming fracking and blaming the energy sector for causing Dutch disease.

But in Calgary on Tuesday, Mr. Mulcair hit the right notes when he spoke about the need to clarify the rules on foreign investment, particularly by state-owned enterprises like those from China.

The NDP will be a partner with the development of energy resources

The federal NDP leader also said pipelines to carry oil from the West to the East should be a priority because they would build energy security, get higher prices for Canadian oil, and create jobs.

Both positions show greater political maturity for the aspiring prime minister. They will resonate even in the Tory stronghold, where there has been hostility to CNOOC Ltd.’s takeover of Nexen Inc. and where the oil sands industry is desperately looking for new markets following controversies around their top export plans — the Keystone XL project from Alberta to the Gulf Coast and the Northern Gateway project from Alberta to the West Coast.

“The NDP will be a partner with the development of energy resources,” if it forms a government in 2015, Mr. Mulcair told a luncheon organized by the Calgary Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by oil sands producer Suncor Energy Inc. and pipeline company Enbridge Inc.

“We will be there with you,” he said, while also inviting the sector to work harder to earn its “social licence” to operate, have meaningful consultations with First Nations, and take its environmental responsibilities more seriously.

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It’s quite a turnaround from the recent past, when Mr. Mulcair pandered to his Quebec base by blaming the Alberta oil sands for boosting the value of the Canadian dollar to the detriment of the manufacturing sector and accused the sector’s main lobby group, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, of “pulling a con job” when claiming there are regulations to ensure that shale gas fracking is safe.

But when the foreign investment debate erupted last summer, Mr. Mulcair and his party shifted to the mainstream by seizing on national discomfort with China’s aggressive acquisition spree and asking many of the questions that needed to be asked.

It led to an invitation to the NDP leader to speak in Canada’s energy capital about his views around foreign investment, which happen to be aligned with those of the Calgary Chamber, those of many oil patch thought leaders and of many in the market.

In his speech, Mr. Mulcair said foreign investment rules remain obscure following Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s approval of the CNOOC/Nexen transaction and of Petronas’s takeover of Progress Energy Resource Corp. last December.

Mr. Mulcair said the Prime Minister failed to explain which foreign takeovers will be allowed in the future and the commitments made by the purchasers may never be made public or even be enforced.

“The Conservative government even ignored Alberta’s request to ensure the CNOOC deal guaranteed that: 50% of management positions are held by Canadians; workforce levels are maintained for at least five years and planned capital spending becomes a priority,” Mr. Mulcair said.

Calling the CNOOC/Nexen transaction “a tragic deal for Canada,” Mr. Mulcair said the implications could get worse once the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement is ratified.

Under the deal, once a Chinese company is established in Canada, it must receive “national treatment” for expansion and operations — meaning it must be treated as if it were a Canadian company, Mr. Mulcair warned.

The agreement also gives CNOOC powerful rights to expand its ownership in Canada’s oil and gas sector as any Canadian company would and provides China with a mechanism to sue the federal government if its rights to expand its oil sands interests are impeded.

The combative Mulcair did resurface in a scrum with reporters, when he called Northern Gateway “the most abject misunderstanding of the importance of protecting the environment that I have ever seen.”

After years of controversy around the project, few in the oil industry will disagree.

Alberta Federation of Labour: China’s Gas Tank Report

Alberta Federation o

China’s Gas Tank

Three Steps Toward Selling Out Canadian Energy Security

December 10, 2012

Chinese-Canadian business relations are being redefined, as we cede decision-making power about our natural resources to state-owned foreign businesses. These businesses are not bound by market pressures and will not act in the best interests of Canadians.

The economic relationship between Canada and China is being redefined.

Over the past year, three major events have dominated the headlines on Canadian business pages. These stories are each part of a larger picture in which Canada’s national interests are being subverted, and the country’s strategic energy assets are being taken over. From exploration and production to transportation and marketing, control of the oil sands is being ceded to state-owned foreign companies.

The China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) takeover of Nexen gives a Chinese state-owned oil company marketing control over several hundred thousand barrels per day of oil sands bitumen. Marketing control gives CNOOC power over the price – which means we are handing over control of Alberta’s most important source of royalty revenue to a state-owned enterprise.

At the behest of funding partners that are backed by Chinese state-owned oil companies, the Northern Gateway Pipeline locks in a future where Alberta’s resources leave the country in their rawest form possible. This will ship good paying jobs to China.

View/download the full report here


Oilsands development about to exceed Alberta’s new pollution limits: documents

EDMONTON – Less than two weeks after Alberta enacted legally enforceable pollution limits for its oilsands region, industry figures already suggest they will soon be breached by emissions of two major gases causing acid rain.

Regulatory documents for Shell’s proposed Jackpine mine expansion say annual levels of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide are likely to push past limits contained in the province’s Lower Athabasca Regional Plan if all currently planned developments proceed.

The documents, filed late last week, also provide what may be the clearest picture yet of what impact two decades of development have had on northeastern Alberta.

“It validates the concern that many stakeholders have raised about the cumulative pace and scale of development,” said Simon Dyer of the Pembina Institute. “It’s the first real test of the (plan).”

Shell filed the papers after the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency asked the company to give a clearer account of how the environment of the oilsands region has changed since development began and what part the Jackpine expansion would play. Written by environmental consultants Golder and Associates, the document estimates how levels of the two gases have grown over the years.

Average annual levels of sulphur dioxide are estimated at about 20 times what they would naturally be over a large area from Fort MacMurray to about 100 kilometres north. Nitrogen dioxide is estimated to be at least 10 times pre-development levels — although the report acknowledges hard data from that time is spotty.

And if all the projects that have been announced publicly or are in the regulatory process go ahead, the pollutants are projected to exceed what are supposed to be absolute caps.

Sulphur dioxide will reach average annual concentrations of 21.1 micrograms per cubic metre of air, just over the plan’s limit of 20 micrograms. Nitrogen dioxide will reach 59.5 micrograms, well over the limit of 45.

Randall Barrett, director of Alberta Environment’s northern region, said the projections are derived from models deliberately designed to overestimate emissions as a way to ensure caution.

“It shows us we have to be very diligent in how we are setting pollution controls for any plants in this area, because the computer models are predicting that we are getting close or over some of the air quality (levels).”

Regulators use the models to determine what sort of emission controls to impose on applicants, said Barrett.

“What would likely happen is they would go to the most stringent type of air quality pollution control, because the models are predicting you could be over the limit.”

Barrett said actual air monitoring data continues to show both sulphur and nitrogen dioxides remain well under their caps. If those gases increase as more facilities come on stream, the plan includes “trigger” levels that would require industry to improve its pollution controls.

“This (modelling) is enforcing how important that monitoring is.”

The government is obliged to act if pollutants exceed either the triggers or the absolute caps — an obligation that Environment Minister Diana McQueen has underlined.

“It is a legally binding commitment that holds government accountable to Albertans,” she said when announcing the plan Aug. 22.

Spokesmen for Shell weren’t available for comment.

In the document, Shell points out the sulphur dioxide levels are concentrated in areas closest to its mines, regions that should be treated differently. Levels in “non-developed areas” remain below the government’s cap, it says.

It also says elevated nitrogen dioxide levels are a result of “over-predicted” emissions from giant trucks used in the mines and suggests those emissions are being reduced as the vehicles are upgraded.

Dyer says the government’s plan makes no provision for treating some areas differently than others. He also says contaminants in one area do ultimately spread throughout the region.

An earlier Shell document acknowledges 23 small, mostly unnamed lakes, have already passed their critical load for acid.

The document also lists cumulative effects that aren’t yet governed by the regional plan, such as wildlife impacts.

Out of 22 indicator species — including birds, mammals and amphibians — 16 will suffer high or moderate negative consequences even under the current amount of development, it says. Some areas will suffer “moderate” biodiversity loss, even after reclamation efforts.

Shell argues species will rebound as the area is returned to a more natural state and adds there should be enough undisturbed regions to maintain a healthy ecosystem.