Look At These Incredible Photos Taken By Pulitzer Center Journalists Flying Over the Oilsands This Week

Dan Grossman, Alex McLean, Alberta tar sands, oilsands

Journalist Dan Grossman and photographer Alex MacLean are in the middle of their week long tour of the Alberta oilsands. Their on-the-scene reporting is meant to bring greater public attention to the scale – and the stakes – of developing oil from the world’s largest deposit of carbon-intensive bitumen.

As Grossman puts it on the Pulitzer Center website, “We know the ground beneath Alberta’s boreal forest—saturated with an estimated 150 billion barrels of oil—rivals all other troves of oil apart from those of Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. We know Alberta’s rich deposits underlie a territory of 54,000 square miles, as large as Iowa. But we can barely comprehend numbers this big. Alex will help us. He’ll show us waste ponds nearly the size of Manhattan and dump trucks that could swallow a McMansion whole.”  

Grossman has been tweeting about his experience in the oilsands region prolifically since April 4th. Below you can see some of the duo’s photojournalist coverage of their trip so far.

ANR Pipeline: Introducing TransCanada's Keystone XL for Fracking

When most environmentalists and folks who follow pipeline markets think of TransCanada, they think of the proposed northern half of its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. 

Flying beneath the public radar, though, is another TransCanada-proposed pipeline with a similar function as Keystone XL. But rather than for carrying tar sands bitumen to the Gulf Coast, this pipeline would bring to market shale gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).

Meet TransCanada's ANR Pipeline System.

Although not actually a new pipeline system, TransCanada wants ANR retooled to serve domestic and export markets for gas fracked from the Marcellus Shale basin and the Utica Shale basin via its Southeast Main Line. 

“The [current Southeast Main Line] moves gas from south Louisiana (including offshore) to Michigan where it has a strong market presence,” explains a March 27 article appearing in industry publication RBN Energy

Map Credit: RBN Energy

Debunked: Eight Things the U.S. State Keystone XL Report Got Wrong About the Alberta Oilsands

kris krug oilsands tar sands

Last week the Alberta government responded to the U.S. State Department's final supplemental environmental impact statement (FSEIS) on the Keystone XL project by emphasizing the province's responsibility, transparency, and confidence that the pipeline is in the “national interest” of both Canada and the U.S.

In a statement, Alberta Premier Alison Redford appealed to the relationship between the U.S. and Canada. Premier Redford pointed out that the FSEIS had “recognized the work we're doing to protect the environment,” saying that “the approval of Keystone XL will build upon the deep relationship between our countries and enable further progress toward a stronger, cleaner and more stable North American economy.”

Environment and Sustainable Resource Development Minister Robin Campbell also issued a statement, mentioning Alberta's “strong regulatory system” and “stringent environmental monitoring, regulation and protection legislation.”

Campbell's reminder that the natural resource sector “provides jobs and opportunities for families and communities across the country” was similar to Premier Redford's assurance that “our government is investing in families and communities,” with no mention made of corporate interests.

In order to provide a more specific and sciene-based response to the FSEIS report on Keystone XL, Pembina Institute policy analyst Andrew Read provided counterpoints to several of its central claims.

Alberta Doctor: Canada Is "Lying" About Health Impacts of Tar Sands

Last month, a doctor from Northern Alberta asked a group of U.S. Senators to “keep up the pressure” on the Canadian government about an “ongoing tragedy” he has witnessed firsthand: a health crisis provoked by tar sands development.

Dr. John O'Connor doesn't just claim that the Canadian government is willfully ignoring the impacts of the tar sands on the environment and human health—drastically higher incidence of some rare cancers linked to contaminants released into the air and water by tar sands development, for instance—he claims that in their blind rush to make Canada an energy superpower, Canadian offiicals have been deliberately misleading the public.

O'Connor did not mince words. As the Vancouver Observer reported:

Enbridge Announces $7B Line 3 Rebuild, Largest Project in Company History

Enbridge Line 3

In its largest capital project in history, Enbridge plans to do what Transcanada so far can't — ship more than half a million barrels of heavy oil across the U.S. border without President Barack Obama's direct approval.

Late Monday evening, Enbridge announced plans for its largest capital project in history— a $7 billion replacement of its Line 3 pipeline.

The existing Line 3 pipeline is part of Enbridge’s extensive Mainline system. The 34-inch pipe was installed in 1968 and currently carries light oil 1,660 km from Edmonton to Superior, Wis. 

While the Line 3 pipeline currently has a maximum shipping capacity of 390,000 barrels of light crude oil per day, pumping stations along the line have a much larger capacity (and can accommodate heavier oils). Enbridge plans to take advantage of this. Under the company's replacement plans, the new Line 3 pipeline will be widened by two inches, and built “using the latest available high-strength steel and coating technology.” By the time it goes into service in 2017, Line 3 will ship 760,000 barrels of oil across the border every day, nearly double what it currently moves. 

CCS Series: Government Subsidies Keep Alberta’s CCS Pipe Dream Afloat

carbon capture and storage

This is the second installment of a two-part series on carbon capture and storage. Read Part 1, Alberta's Carbon Capture and Storage Plan Stagnate as Carbon Price Lags.

As Alberta falls behind on its goal to capture 30 million tonnes of carbon emissions a year by 2020, hundreds of millions of dollars in government subsidies are being pumped into the carbon capture and storage (CCS) sector.

Enhance Energy’s Alberta Carbon Trunk Line project is receiving $495 million from Alberta and $63.3 million from Ottawa. Enhance says on its website the project would have been much smaller without the government investment.

Shell Canada, with partners Chevron Canada Ltd. and Marathon Oil Corp., is developing Alberta’s only other CCS project, called Quest, with $120 million in federal and $745 million in provincial support. Shell aims to sequester more than one million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year from its Scotford upgrader, starting in late 2015.

CNRL Releases New, Lower Cold Lake Oil Spill Estimates

bitumen emulsion oil spill at CNRL Primrose CSS site in the Alberta oilsands

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) has released new figures tallying the total volume of bitumen emulsion recovered at the Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL) Primrose site in Cold Lake, Alta. The new total — 1,177 cubic metres or 1.1 million litres — is more than a third lower than previously reported amounts.

An earlier incident report from November 14, 2013, states more than 1,878 cubic metres of emulsion was recovered at the four separate release sites, where the mixture of bitumen and water had been leaking uncontrollably into the surrounding environment for several months without explanation. That's enough liquid to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool three-quarters of the way full.

CNRL's July 31, 2013, statement (pdf), released to investors just over one month after the leaks were reported to the AER, said that within the first month of cleanup, 1,000 cubic metres of bitumen emulsion had been collected.

Scientist Kevin Timoney, who's authored several reports on the CNRL leaks, said the reported figures just don't add up.

The bottom line is, how do you go from essentially 1,900 cubic metres, which is what you get if you listen to the president of CNRL when he was talking in January, down to 1,177 cubic metres. How does that happen?” Timoney said. “And nobody has answered that.”

CCS Series: Alberta’s Carbon Capture and Storage Plans Stagnate as Carbon Price Lags

carbon capture and storage

This is the first installment of a two-part series on carbon capture and storage. Read Part 2, Government Subsidies Keep Alberta's CCS Dream Afloat.

Alberta is falling behind on its goal to capture 30 million tonnes of carbon emissions a year by 2020 — and growth in the carbon capture and storage (CCS) industry will only come if the price of carbon rises significantly or government mandates CCS through regulation, experts and officials say.  

Currently, only two CCS projects are in the works in Alberta. If both projects come on line in time they will sequester at best three or four million tonnes of carbon a year by 2020 — just a tenth of the province’s target.

Enhance Energy Inc. is moving ahead this spring with building its Alberta Carbon Trunk Line, which the company calls the world’s largest carbon capture and storage project.

The carbon trunk line will include a 240-kilometre pipeline to capture waste carbon from Alberta’s industrial heartland and pipe it south to the Lacombe area, where it will be injected into depleted oil reservoirs to help extract light oil, before being stored underground.

Is Keystone in the National Interest? Of Canada, That Is?

keystone xl

It's up to the U.S. President to decide whether the cross-border leg of the Keystone XL pipeline is in the national interest of his country. Ultimately, his criteria are less scientific than political. Does he stand to lose more by alienating those who support or oppose the project?

With midterm elections coming up in November, Obama doesn't have time to worry about Canada's hurt feelings. Our economy, environment and opinion are very low on his list of priorities.

But the strongest pro-Keystone arguments on the American side raise an uncomfortable question: if the pipeline is approved, who benefits a little bit — and who benefits a lot? In other words, who gets the short end of the stick?

Andrew Nikiforuk: Canada's Petrostate Has "Dramatically Diminished Our International Reputation"

“Alberta is very much a petrostate,” says journalist and author Andrew Nikiforuk. “It gets about 30 per cent of its income from the oil and gas industry. So as a consequence, the government over time has tended more to represent this resource and the industry that produces it, than its citizens. This is very typical of a petrostate.”

The flow of money, he says, is at the heart of the issue. “When governments run on petro dollars or petro revenue instead of taxes then they kind of sever the link between taxation and representation, and if you're not being taxed then you're not being represented. And that’s what happens in petrostates and as a consequence they come to represent the oil and gas industry. Albert is a classic example of this kind of relationship.”

In this interview with DeSmog, Nikiforuk explains the basics of his petrostate thesis and asks why Canada, unlike any other democratic nation, hasn't had a meaningful public debate about the Alberta oilsands and how they've come to shape the Canadian landscape, physically as much as politically.


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