Friday, September 07, 2012
- Green Groups Ask Alberta to Meet with People, Not Oil Companies
- Concerns Escalate for Shell’s Jackpine Mine Expansion as Hearings Approach
- Shell Pushes Ahead on Carbon Capture and Storage Project
- Breaking All the Rules (Again)
- Anti-Pipeline Protests Continue as Enbridge, TransCanada Push to Make Pipelines a Reality
- Unitarian Church Tells Enbridge to Get Lost
- Tarsands Waste Water Bad for Mosses
- Tarsands Toxins Hard on Amphibian Larvae
- Harper the Cannibal
Cleaning Up Dirty Oil
Greenpeace Canada has started an online petition asking Alberta Premier Alison Redford to meet with the 60+ public groups who demanded an independent review of pipeline safety and policy.
For years now, the Alberta government largely has ignored the environmental community and Canadians who oppose the hellish pace of tarsands development in northern Alberta. Now, after tremendous public pressure following three major pipeline spills in Alberta in just over a month, the Alberta government is trying to shut public groups out of a long-overdue review of Alberta’s dangerously updated pipeline system. After finding time to meet with a long list of oil and gas companies, Alberta politicians have yet to meet with the 60+ groups who asked for the review in the first place.
Visit the petition to add your name to the list of 5000+ people who think public groups should get the same opportunity as the oil and gas industry to bend the ear of the Alberta government.
While concerns escalate over the expansion of Shell Canada’s proposed Jackpine Tarsands Mine expansion, hearings for the controversial project before the Joint Review Panel are set to begin on October 29 in Fort McMurray, Alberta.
According to Greenpeace Canada, an internal memo prepared by Environment Canada expresses concerns about the environmental impacts of the proposed Jackpine Mine expansion, including the fact that development has outpaced Shell’s assessment of cumulative effects. These concerns echo those of First Nation leaders downstream from Shell’s proposed tarsands mine. According to the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Shell’s proposed project is also “in breach of Treaty 8 rights leading to degradation of critical hunting, trapping, fishing lands and waterways in the region.”
The Pembina Institute, Fort McMurray Environmental Association, and the AFCN, among other groups, will be intervening and/or challenging the proposed mine expansion. Individuals who wish to speak at the hearings must register by October 1, 2012. Written comments must also be submitted by October 1st. The Pembina Institute can provide additional information and guidance for submissions.
The expansion would include additional mining areas and associated processing facilities, utilities and infrastructure. The project would be located about 70 km north of Fort McMurray, on the east side of the Athabasca River. The expansion project would increase bitumen production by 100,000 barrels per day, bringing production at the mine to 300,000 barrels per day and extend the life of the mine to 2049.
The expansion will disturb 12,719 ha of land by mining and related activities, and mine out 21 kilometres of the Muskeg River. The Jackpine Mine expansion will create a pit lake in its final stages that once full in 2065, will cap 486 billion litres of toxic tailings. Greenhouse gas emissions would increase by 2.36 Mt CO2e/year, an increase of 5.2 per cent in tarsands emissions (based on 2009 emissions), which is equivalent to 562,000 cars on the road. The project is projected to exceed acid rain air limits based on cumulative impacts, up to 60 per cent declines for some regional wildlife species.
Meanwhile, Shell Canada announced plans to go ahead with an unproven technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that many experts believe is nothing more than Faustian folly. The Alberta government and the tarsands industry have put all their eggs in the carbon-capture-and-storage basket as the means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from tarsands development. But many critics, including investigative journalist Andrew Nikiforuk, call it a “wasteful and fiscally irresponsible technology, while coal and oil companies argue it will extend the oil age.”
“We see it as one tool in the tool kit that we need to tackle climate change,” Ed Whittingham, executive director of the Pembina Institute, told The New York Times. “We have been critical of oil sands but we are supportive of C.C.S.,” he added, using shorthand for carbon capture and storage.
Kate Colarulli, deputy director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Oil campaign, was less sanguine about the plan to store CO2 underground. “It’s a lot of taxpayer money spent on greenwashing,” she said. “The truth is there is an environmental Armageddon happening in northern Alberta. There are also questions about whether these gases can be safely stored underground.”
Shell’s Quest Project will inject liquefied carbon dioxide into wells and then store the CO2 nearly a mile underground, beneath multiple layers of rock. The CO2 will originate from the Athabasca Oil Sands project, a partnership between Shell, Chevron and Marathon. The companies have not disclosed how much money they will invest in the project, but Keith Stewart, climate and energy campaign coordinator at Greenpeace Canada, estimates the project has received $850 million in government subsidies, 63 per cent of the projects estimated $1.35 billion price tag. “This is C$1.35bn that could have gone into renewable energy,” Mr. Stewart told The Financial Times, adding that there remained concerns about whether the carbon dioxide could be stored underground without leaking.
We already know that Alberta’s Lower Athabasca Regional Plan (LARP) leaves a lot to be desired, but Keepers of the Athabasca Watershed Council points out that it’s not just incomplete, it doesn’t even jive with existing government policy.
The Alberta government continues to claim that the LARP is “responsible” part of a “world class” plan to manage the tar sands in a “responsible and sustainable” over the coming decades, but Keepers of the Athabasca, a local grassroots environmental group on the ground in the tar sands region, has called them out on what appears to be an exaggeration (at best) and a shady lie (at worst).
According to a Keepers’ press release, “LARP confirms that when the province approves new projects, it is not in a position to determine their cumulative effects on such things as acid rain, destruction and fragmentation of the boreal forest, and the risk of toxins in groundwater,” reads a. “The government’s own regulations require them to determine cumulative effects, but they have not been doing so. Essentially they are breaking their own rules,” adds Helene Walsh, long-time activist and a member of the Keepers’ board.
Keepers has vetted the available evidence and found that significant harmful environmental effects have already occurred. For example, peer-reviewed studies have demonstrated that either Canada’s or Alberta’s guidelines for the protection of aquatic life have been exceeded for seven priority pollutants —cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, silver, and zinc—in melted snow and/or water collected near or downstream of oil sands projects.
So it looks like LARP isn’t as responsible as the Alberta Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development Diana McQueen would have us believe. So surprising.
For more information, read Keepers’ recent report, Alberta’s Oil Sands Development is Not Responsible (June 2012).
While Enbridge and TransCanada argue for why their proposed Northern Gateway and Keystone XL pipelines are in North Americans’ best interests, public interest groups and First Nations continue to protest against them with a vigour and regularity usually reserved for religious worship and exercise regimes.
On Sunday, September 2, the Save the Salish Sea Festival at Waterfront Park in North Vancouver drew close to 3,000 people who showed their support for the Coast Salish First Nations’ stand against oil tanker traffic and the Kinder Morgan and Enbridge tarsands pipelines proposals. The festival and concert followed a canoe journey the day before, when members of the Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish Nations paddled the Burrard Inlet, where Kinder Morgan’s pipeline would, if approved, increase oil tanker traffic
In Saanich, BC, the monthly vigil against the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project continues on Tuesday, September 11, at the downtown cenotaph. The vigil supports First Nations communities, which are against the project that weaves through their territory in northern B.C. Protesters meet from 5 to 6 p.m. For further information, please contact Dorothy Field by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, at a Holiday Inn in Edmonton, Enbridge tried to convince regulators that the Northern Gateway Pipeline is an economic no-brainer and nation-building exercise “every bit as important as the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Canadian Pacific railway.” The Edmonton-area Alexander First Nation and the BC government will cross-examine the company at the hearings this week. The Alexander First Nation is one of several First Nations that signed the Calgary Statement of Solidarity last year, which recognizes the Indigenous law-based positions taken by BC’s Coastal First Nations in banning oil tankers, and the Nations of the Fraser River watershed in banning crude oil pipelines in their watershed. According to West Coast Environmental Law, these First Nations stated that “[t]he Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline and tankers project will expose Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities from the Pacific Coast across to Alberta to the risk of pipeline and supertanker oil spills.”
South of the Medicine Line, opposition to TransCanada’s proposed Keystone KL pipeline continues, even as the pipeline giant submitted a supplemental environmental report to Nebraskan authorities on its “preferred alternative route” for the pipeline. According to Inside Climate News, the company said modifications to the route would minimize the impact on sensitive areas known as the Sandhills, along with “additional areas that exhibit similar characteristics to the Sandhills even though they are not identified this way in existing literature or agency databases.”
But that didn’t stop the pipelines increasingly emboldened opponents. “The new route still risks our land, water and property rights,” said Bold Nebraska Executive Director Jane Kleeb. “The new route still crosses high water tables, sandy soil which leads to higher vulnerability of contamination and still crosses the Ogallala Aquifer, the lifeblood of Nebraska's economy. We will not allow middle American to be the middle man for a foreign tarsands pipeline wanting to export their extreme form of energy to the highest bidder.”
The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) responded by releasing the 2012 Election Edition of “The Keystone Pipeline Myth Machine,” which debunks eight of the biggest myths about the benefits of TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline. “The reason TransCanada needs to keep rerouting the Keystone XL map is because it’s just a bad idea,” said Joe Mendelson, NWF climate and energy policy director. “Each new map amounts to a catalog of which property owners will suffer, and what habitat will be placed at risk. The best approach is to ditch Keystone XL entirely and embrace clean energy solutions that don’t spill or explode.”
In East Texas, landowner advocates and climate justice organizers continue to protest TransCanada’s plans by locking themselves to heavy machinery to shut down work and blockade construction efforts. On Wednesday, Sept. 5, three members of the Tar Sands Blockade locked themselves to a feller-buncher in Hopkins County, stopping the clearing of the pipeline route and sending 20 workers home for the day. No arrests were made.
The Hopkins County blockade follows an earlier incident, in which seven blockaders locked themselves to the underside of a massive truck in Polk County on August 28. All were arrested for criminal trespassing. Tar Sands Blockade vows that the lock-down blockades will continue. “Our 3rd action has been a huge success, and we’re only going to continue standing up for our friends and neighbors by calling fraud what it is – fraud,” reads the Tar Sands Blockade Blog. “Tar Sands-sourced diluted bitumen slurry is not crude oil. It’s an exotic, radically toxic hydrocarbon surface-mining product that we will not permit to travel across our homes and freshwater sources without a fight!”
It’s not always about money. Just ask the Unitarian Church of Vancouver, which is divesting Enbridge stocks from its portfolios and urging its 400 members to do likewise – a transition that has gotten easier now that credit union Vancity has removed the pipeline company from its socially responsible investments.
"We've been opposing fossil fuel use since 1993 because of increasing global warming," Karl Perrin, chair of the Unitarian Church of Vancouver's Environment Committee, said in an email to the Vancouver Courier. "When we first heard about Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion years ago, we knew we would oppose expansion of tar sands pipelines, especially crossing B.C."
According to the Courier, the church is encouraging its members to do likewise. "One of the purposes of the resolution was to make [our members] aware that virtually all SRI mutual funds held Enbridge stock because it was considered 'the best of a bad lot.' Their Keystone Kops nonreaction to the Kalamazoo River spill called their good reputation into doubt," Perrin said.
It is unclear whether VanCity’s and the Unitarian Church of Vancouver's decision to unload Enbridge stock was responsible for its decline last week.
A recent study published in the August 2012 edition of Environmental Pollution found that (surprise, surprise) groundwater contaminated with liquid tailings is bad news for fen plant growth in peat bogs. According to the paper’s abstract, “Groundwater discharge of oil sands process water (OSPW) proved detrimental to mosses under dry conditions.” The researchers went on to say that “ensuring adequate water levels would be crucial in fen creation following oil sands exploitation.” The best plant to grow in “contaminated areas”? Star campylium moss (Campylium stellatum). The runner up is Common green bryum moss (Bryum pseudotriquetrum), which spontaneously regenerated even in the most toxic water. The research was funded by Suncor Energy Inc.
It is well-known that naphthenic acids (NA), a byproduct of bitumen extraction and upgrading found in tailings ponds and freshwater sources in the tarsands region, are harmful environmental contaminants that can negatively influence survival, growth and development of wildlife. Amphibian larvae, in particular, are susceptible to waterborne contaminants, but until recently, little was known about what happens when amphibian embryos or tadpoles are exposed to NA. Now we know.
A recent study by two Canadian scientists found that Northern leopard frog (Lithobates pipiens) and Western clawed frog (Silurana tropicalis) embryos exposed to 2-4 mg/l of a commercial NA blend suffer significant reductions (32% and 25%, respectively) in growth and development upon hatching. Increased incidences of deformities were observed in exposed individuals of both species, but were only significant in the Northern leopard frog, which is listed as a “species of special concern” in Canada, and “at risk” in Alberta. Embryos suffered 100 per cent mortality following exposure to 6 mg/l NAs, and narcosis at lower concentrations. According to the researchers, “these data suggest that exposure to NAs at environmentally realized concentrations may negatively affect tadpole populations.”
Harper, it seems, can’t shake his reputation as a ruthless politician. According to Huff Post Canada, Harper was introduced as the "prime minister of cannibal” twice this week, most recently by Environment Minister Peter Kent. In this video, Tory MP Ryan Leef first made the news public while introducing Harper in Carcross, Yukon. Harper, without missing a beat, joked that, "You’ve confirmed some rumours about me, I think.” The Twittersphere, of course, went nuts.