Thursday, December 13, 2012
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“If such conflict can happen in Texas, there is a strong likelihood it will happen again, and in greater force, in Nebraska – the state where opposition delayed a presidential permit for the Keystone XL pipeline – in British Columbia, and other areas of North America where new pipelines are planned.”
~ Nathan Vanderklippe, Globe and Mail reporter
In this issue:
- Keystone Showdown in Texas a Sign of Things to Come
- We Know All We Need to Know
- Sea Level Rise to Cost West Coast Cities Billions of Dollars
- Tolkien’s Moral Tale About the Tar Sands
- As Tar Sands Development Expands, First Nations Dig In
- Divestment Campaign Harkens Back to Apartheid Movement
- Industry Call Shots in Alberta Pipeline Review
- Plan on Heading to Washington, DC for President’s Day
Despite their motto – “Friendship” – confrontation is familiar to Texans. After all, it’s part of their creation myth. Rebellious Texans wrested the city of San Antonio de Béxar, the largest Mexican town in Texas, from the Mexican Army in 1835. A few months later, they lost it again in the legendary Battle of the Alamo. But by that time the unrelenting Texans were well on their way to victory and independence. Rebellion, it seems, are part of the Texan way.
Fast forward 180 years and it just seems apropos that the first major revolt against the construction of a tar sands pipeline would take place not in B.C. or Nebraska, but in Texas, where the ideals of justice are held nearly as dear as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
According to an excellent piece in the Globe and Mail, a growing army of rebellious environmentalists, movie stars and local landowners have refused to take “yes” for an answer for going on two months.
“Protesters have holed up in trees in Texas, trying to block construction of the southern leg of TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline. They have barricaded themselves inside long stretches of welded pipe, facing police mace in a bid to slow construction. They have locked themselves to equipment, and formed human chains. They have staged hunger strikes from jail cells.”
The latest firefight took place in a Texas courtroom, where Judge Jack Sinz issued a temporary restraining order against TransCanada, halting pipeline construction on Michael Bishop’s Nacogdoches County property. The judge issued the order, he wrote, because Bishop “has been defrauded and denied his constitutional rights.”
Bishop, a 64-year-old chemist who had originally granted TransCanada permission to build a crude oil pipeline on his property, maintains that the Keystone XL pipeline will carry bitumen crude, an entirely different animal that he wants no part of. TransCanada “lied to the American people,” Bishop said, adding that TransCanada “used coercion and intimidating tactics to obtain the property in question and that acting on the validity of their claim, I settled under duress.”
“I’ll give the money back, that’s not the issue,” Bishop told the Financial Post. “I just want them to leave my homestead alone.”
Texas may be tough, but B.C. is a “powder keg”
But as Nathan Vanderklippe noted in his Globe article, “Texas is not a place that is generally opposed to oil. Yet protesters have converged on the state in hopes of interfering with construction of a project that has stoked an angry debate about the future of energy development.”
Look north, he wrote, and things will likely get a whole lot worse: “If such conflict can happen in Texas, there is a strong likelihood it will happen again, and in greater force, in Nebraska – the state where opposition delayed a presidential permit for the Keystone XL pipeline – in British Columbia, and other areas of North America where new pipelines are planned.”
Meanwhile, in B.C., which Vanderklippe calls “the largest powder keg of all,” opposition to Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway bitumen pipeline is only gathering steam. A new poll commissioned by the Gitga'at First Nation, which is fiercely opposed to Enbridge’s plans, indicates that 60 per cent of British Columbians now oppose the proposed Northern Gateway bitumen pipeline. The poll was conducted by Forum Research, which had conducted earlier polls with similar results. The trend? Growing opposition.
“There is no question,” Tzeporah Berman, an environmental activist who led the charge during the Clayoquot Sound protests, told the Globe and Mail, that should Northern Gateway be approved, interference with construction “will be bigger.” Art Sterritt, executive director of Coastal First Nations, which is firmly opposed to Gateway, was even more to the point: “There’s never been a project in B.C. that’s ever had this much opposition. All the same players that were involved [in Clayoquot Sound] are involved in this, and multiply that by 10.”
Risks, propaganda increase opposition to Northern Gateway
Forum’s polling results also indicate that Enbridge's less-than-honest, multi-million-dollar PR campaign has been not only ineffective, but counter-productive in its effort to sway public opinion in support of its contentious project. The poll found that 86 per cent of respondents had seen some advertising from Enbridge in the last six months, but of those who had seen ads, 46 per cent had not changed their opinions, while 37 per cent said it made their impressions of the project worse.
In particular, respondents were displeased when Enbridge erased 1000 square kilometres from the Douglas Channel in its Northern Gateway pipeline public safety videos to convince the public that its tanker route is safer than it really is. Polling results indicate that 64 per cent of British Columbians who were previously aware of the Douglas Channel ad campaign thought the map was misleading, and 58 per cent said the ad lowered their opinion of the project.
The results seem to add additional support to the 45,000 people who signed a petition calling for the Enbridge to remove the “misleading’ promotional video from its website. The petition was delivered to Enbridge at its headquarters in Vancouver and at the Joint Review Panel hearings in Prince Rupert.
Gitga’at councillor Marven Robinson told the Vancouver Observer that, “the [polling] results indicate to him that people throughout the province are starting to better understand the risks involved in the project, adding that Enbridge should have known better than to try to mislead the public.”
One of those risks became a little more crystal clear this week. The University of British Columbia Fisheries Centre published an assessment of the economic costs of a tanker spill off the B.C. coast as a result of increased tanker traffic in high-risk waters. The conclusion states that a tanker spill would cost between $2.4 and $9.6 billion to clean up, and result in economic losses to local communities and other industries to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. “If these costs are accounted for,” reads the study, “all of the projected economic gains from the Enbridge Northern Gateway project could quickly turn into losses in the event of a tanker spill.”
Given increasing public awareness about the risks associated with tar sands pipelines and tankers carrying bitumen crude over aquifers and rough ocean waters, you can bet that what’s happening in Texas is only the tip of the iceberg – and B.C. will be Ground Zero.
The UN Climate Change conference in Doha ended last week, and there were few kind words about what was accomplished in Qatar. A press release from the Center for International Environmental Law in Washington, D.C. didn’t mince any words: “countries again recognized the need for urgent action to respond to climate change, and again failed to take that action. The last-minute deal lacks meaningful commitments and leaves critical details to be resolved at a later date.”
CIEL President Carroll Muffett added that, "This outcome represents a failure of ambition and yet another failure of political will — the latest in a long line of pledges to take real action someday, but not today. Governments have now squandered decades that could have been spent averting climate disaster.”
Meanwhile, a recent paper indicates that the first report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, published in 1990, was pretty accurate: average global temperature will rise by 0.7–1.5 °C between 1990 and 2030, with a best estimate of 1.1 °C. “It seems highly likely that even in 1990 we understood the climate system well enough to make credible statements about how its aggregate properties would change on timescales out to a couple of decades,” wrote D.J. Frame and D.A. Stone.
Unfortunately, as the editors at Nature point out in an editorial, words are not enough. “Doha talks followed the recent trend: warm political words but little sign of serious action. There was some minor progress on secondary issues, just enough to keep the show on the road, but little to address the core problem of soaring emissions.”
This is why the environmental review of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline (and other tar sands pipelines and mines) will be meaningless without including a climate assessment. It will be “a meaningless document unless it includes a serious review of the very serious climate impacts of the tar sands development the pipeline will trigger,” said Sierra Club spokesman Trey Pollard in a statement.
Rumors suggest the U.S. State Department may soon release the updated review of the project. We’ll have to wait and see if it is more than just words.
A new report from the B.C. government indicates that bolstering B.C.’s flood-defense network in the Lower Mainland will cost as much as $10 billion over the next century. Sea level is predicted to rise by an average of one metre in B.C. by 2100, with the Fraser Delta expected to see an increase of 1.2 metres. It’s been recognized for some time that the rising tide will affect a significant part of Metro Vancouver, so existing flood defences will need to be improved and new berms must be built. And it won’t be cheap.
Further south, Vancouver’s Sister City, San Francisco, is dealing with similar bad news. Fog City, like the rest of California, could be forced to endure a 55 inch rise in sea level by 2100, 40 per cent higher than Vancouver. That’s a lot of sea where it didn’t used to be.
Is it really a good idea to burn bitumen as fuel for the next 100 years? Probably not.
CLEANING UP DIRTY OIL
Stephen Colbert may be the biggest Lord of the Rings geek ever, but I’ll wager he never thought about what Tolkien’s seminal work has to teach us about our relationship with the tar sands. But Keith Stewart has. You see, Stewart, climate and energy campaign coordinator for Greenpeace Canada, is a bit of a Tolkien geek himself, and he claims that, “if you can look past the trappings of dragons and magical rings, Tolkien has a lot to say about the dilemma that is increasingly at the heart of Canadian politics: What to do with the tar sands?”
And it has nothing to do with the fact that the tar sands development north of Fort McMurray looks a lot like Tolkien’s mythical Mordor. “Those images, however powerful, are merely appearances,” Stewart writes. “At the heart of Tolkien's work is a moral dilemma. Unlike many of those who followed in his literary footsteps, his tale is not about the Hero who takes up a magic sword and strikes down the Evil Dark Lord…. The real battle was inside the central characters as they struggle over what to do with the Ring.
“In Tolkien's work, each of the principals – wizard, warrior, everyman – both passes and fails the test. That is to say, each of the heroes in the story has their own dark shadow: the part of themselves that is convinced that they can use the power of the One Ring without becoming that which they oppose.”
What has any of this to do with the tar sands?
“Fossil fuels present us with a similar dilemma to that of Tolkien’s Ring. Oil, gas and coal are wonderfully useful and have contributed enormously to raising standards of living. Nevertheless, we now know that this power comes at a price: we are adding heat-trapping gases to the atmosphere at such a rate that we risk destabilizing the web of life at a global level.”
Power and wealth are beguiling, and dirty hydrocarbons promise both, but at a cost too much to bear. Just ask Saruman, Boromor and Gollum. Read the rest of Stewart’s post to see what role you’re playing in the Tolkienesque drama of our time.
As reports of increasing pollution in the tar sands region and the climate change corner we’ve painted ourselves into besiege us, ever-industrious Imperial Oil is set to open the doors to its $10.9 billion Kearl Tar Sand Mine. In truth, the mining has already begun, but getting the plant up and running is no mean feat. After all, says Imperial spokesman Pius Rolheiser, this project, which will eventually turn bitumen into 345,000 barrels of “higher quality, marketable bitumen product” every day for the next 50 years, and these things take time.
Kearl may be impossible to stop, but many of the local aboriginal people in the area are fighting hard against Shell Canada’s Jackpine Mine Expansion. Shell told the Joint Review Panel that it the expansion “overwhelmingly in the public interest” and would “enhance Canada’s energy security,” but the locals whose people have lived in what’s now known as the oil sands region for millennia have a different opinion. The Athabasca-Chipewyan First Nation is fighting tooth and nail to stop the project, and non-status aboriginals argue they are even worse off. “We feel there is nothing left,” John Malcolm told the panel. “We are original inhabitants of Fort McMurray, but most of us aren’t here anymore. We’ve left the area, gone to other places, just like the caribou. If you belong to the non-status, we have nowhere to go, like we’re radicals.”
There’s good reason for their concern. The cumulative impacts of rapidly expanding and poorly managed tar sands development is pushing nature to the breaking point. “As a presenter at these hearings, I’ve had a front-row seat to observe how quickly oilsands expansion is outpacing our ability to manage the environmental impacts,” wrote the Pembina Institute’s Simon Dyer. “While oilsands proponents boast about the size of the resource and naturally highlight the important economic benefits (while ignoring the downsides), the story emerging from this hearing is that there is limited room left in the ecosystem to support the kind of oilsands expansion that is being touted by governments and industry.
“Given that context, the federal government’s push to accelerate oilsands development is simply irresponsible. As Canadians, do we really want to make our economic success contingent on the world failing to deal with catastrophic climate change?”
There is good news on the horizon, at least for those aboriginal people who are formally recognized by the federal government, for aboriginal groups hold veto power over resource development. Bill Gallagher, who has worked as an oil-patch lawyer and treaty negotiator, calls the situation "the biggest under-reported business story of the last decade."
In his new book, Resource Rulers: Fortune and Folly on Canada's Road to Resources, Gallagher reviews First Nations’ legal victories since the 1980s and concludes, "The native legal winning streak now simply has to be fundamentally and constructively addressed, both nationally and regionally."
Just ask Chief Jackie Thomas of the Saik’uz First Nation and Yinka Dene Alliance, a coalition of six first nations that have banned Enbridge from their territories. He says he’s been given “a mandate by my community to use all means necessary to stop” Enbridge’s proposal to build the Northern Gateway pipeline.
Thomas is a representative of one of 130 First Nations who signed an indigenous legal declaration banning pipelines and oil tanker traffic in British Columbia. The “Save the Fraser Declaration” was presented by National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Shawn Atleo, reiterated growing opposition to construction of new pipelines in the province.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs is of a similar mind. He said his organization would provide unconditional support to opponents of Northern Gateway, as well as other energy projects including the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain extension that would twin an existing pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby. “We are instructed through our chiefs and their communities to offer political support and legal support, and if necessary, to link arms on the front line,” Stewart said.
And they’ve got the support of at least two municipalities, including Vancouver. According to the Globe and Mail, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson was praised by native leaders for his “courageous” endorsement of the declaration. Robertson read a statement proclaiming Dec. 13 as “Save the Fraser Declaration Day” for the City of Vancouver, adding that “a great majority of this city is opposed” to any pipeline projects that put the Fraser watershed at risk.
Kearl may be opening its doors soon, but the Jackpine Mine expansion, the Northern Gateway pipeline, and other future tar sands developments may have met their match.
Bill McKibben’s on a roll. As we detailed last week, student movements at more than a hundred universities in the United States are calling on their administrations to divest themselves of investments in the fossil fuel industry. More and more students at more and more universities, including New York University, are encouraging their institutions to “Go Fossil Free.”
McKibben’s divestment campaign echoes a similar strategy to strangle the South African government to divest itself of apartheid. Jordan Long, a student at Sewanee: The University of the South, likens Bill McKibben to Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu. “McKibben is demanding better of us, and so are the thousands of students standing in solidarity against the fossil fuel industry,” she wrote in a blog post. “He is inspiring a different type of thinking, and the impact of that cannot be quantified by something as pedestrian as returns. Money is powerful, but it pales in comparison to the power of knowledge. And that is what’s truly revolutionary about this movement—we are creating a new kind of knowledge, a knowledge that is fundamentally reshaping the way we live our lives. What we accomplish in the coming years will affect our lives far beyond the impacts of divestment.”
Well said, Jordan. Well said.
CLEANING UP DIRTY PIPELINES
Surprise, surprise. The oil industry had a heavy hand in a review of pipeline safety commissioned by the Alberta government.
The Alberta government was pressured into doing a technical safety review last summer following three pipeline-related spills, including a Plains Midstream Canada pipeline leak that loosed about 475,000 litres of oil into the Red Deer River, a major drinking water source for central Alberta.
But no one should be terribly surprised that in Alberta, the Company Province, the terms of the review had to be OK'd in advance by pipeline company officials.
“There's a difference between talking to industry and asking for their approval," Greenpeace energy spokesman Keith Stewart told the Edmonton Journal. "It looks like industry got to write the terms for this review."
Thank you Greenpeace for using Freedom of Information legislation to dig out the dirt. Much obliged.
Looking to make vacation plans for President’s Day? Why not join thousands of fellow Americans and head to D.C. to tell Obama that the Keystone XL pipeline has no place in a future he “quote from Obama’s speech.”
After the hottest year in American history, a horrible ongoing drought, and SuperStorm Sandy, it’s time to show President Obama the connection between importing tar sands crude and a future full of Sandys. So on President’s Day 2013, a weekend dedicated to the legacy of great leaders, why not join us for a massive climate rally in Washington D.C.?
It promises to be a humdinger of a protest. Three thousand people signed up in the first 24 hours after the announcement, but there’s room for plenty more. Sign up today!
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