Alberta

Fri, 2013-01-11 09:46Jeff Gailus
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The Biggest Little Black Lie of 2012

In a culture awash in bullshit, it’s no easy task to identify the Little Black Lie of the Year. It’s like choosing the most beautiful butterfly or the most violent criminal. There are just so many to choose from, and who’s to say?

Still, it behooves us to try, so I solicited input from people who pay attention to such things. There were numerous contenders. In a deceit of geologic magnitude, Enbridge erased 1,000 square kilometres of islands from the Douglas Channel to make the tanker route out of Kitimat Harbour look much safer than it really is.

Then there’s the patently misleading claim by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, almost a year to the day after Canada’s outspokenly belligerent Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver said “we are supportive of the [Northern] Gateway [pipeline] project,” that “the government doesn’t choose particular projects.”

South of the border, the ever-dubious Fox News reported that the Keystone XL pipeline would create “a million new high-paying jobs,” when the reality is no more like 4,600 temporary constructions jobs and just 50 permanent jobs.

There were dozens of others; the competition was stiff. But the New Year brought the release of a new scientific study that sets one Little Black Lie above – or below, depending on your perspective – them all.

For years, the Alberta government and the oil industry have maintained that tar sands mines and bitumen upgraders were not polluting the land and water in northern Alberta, that development was being conducted in a “clean, responsible and sustainable” manner. Despite research published by David Schindler and his colleagues in 2009 and 2010 that found elevated levels of a variety of toxic chemicals in the snowpack and waterways around the mines, and despite numerous studies that found the monitoring program in the tar sands region to be egregiously flawed, the Alberta government’s messaging remained the same: any and all pollution found in the area was from “natural” sources. 

Today, and every day in 2012, the government’s “oil sands” website reads: “Monitoring stations downstream of mine sites show industrial contribution cannot be detected against historically consistent readings of naturally occurring compounds in the Athabasca River.”

But now the cat’s out of the bag, and this Little Black Lie has been exposed once and for all.

Sat, 2012-12-22 11:33Carol Linnitt
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Alberta Finds Mismanagement of Errors Causes Fracking Water Contamination

“There is no amount of regulation that can overcome human error,” said Alberta's Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) spokesman Darin BarterERCB released an investigation report that cites inadequate management of risks as one of the main causes of a September 2011 accident that contaminated groundwater with toxic hydraulic fracturing chemicals, including the cancer causing agent known as BTEX (benzene, toulene, ethylbenzene, and xylene).

The incident occurred near Grande Prairie in northern Alberta when Crew Energy and GasFrac Energy Services workers failed to “recognize and properly assess a number of issues that led to the perforation and fracturing above the base of groundwater protection,” according to the report.

Workers accidentally fracked directly into an underground water table after a series of mishandled errors resulted in a massively bungled frack job that injected 42 cubic metres of unrecoverable propane gel into an aquifer some 136 metres below ground. 
 
Personnel from Crew Energy told the Calgary Herald the company is “embarrassed” about the accident. Rob Morgan, chief operating officer for Crew said, “there's no question of our appreciation of the severity of this,” adding, “pretty much all of the personnel who were involved in this particular circumstance are no longer with the company.”
Tue, 2012-12-18 04:00Jeff Gailus
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Little Black Lies: Manufacturing Irony

If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you’ll know that the Alberta government is suing the tobacco industry for $10 billion. What may be less clear is how ironic this gesture of fiscal responsibility is, coming, as it does, from a government that happily perpetuates the same transgressions that got Big Tobacco in trouble in the first place.

Each year, approximately 3,000 Albertans die from tobacco-related illnesses,” Premier Alison Redford said when she announced the legal action last May. “This lawsuit, to be clear, is not about banning cigarettes or punishing smokers. It is about recovering health-care costs as a result of the misconduct of the tobacco industry.”

The issue, Redford reminds us, is not that cigarette smoking kills thousands of people, and costs taxpayers millions of dollars, every year. No, Redford, like others who have sued the tobacco industry over the last 30 years, are outraged that these purveyors of America's most widely used addictive drug lied and lied relentlessly to the North American public.

Rather than come clean and acknowledge the scientific evidence that cigarette smoking caused various illnesses, the tobacco industry embarked on an insidious campaign to discredit the science and foul the public airways with deceptive advertising, all so innocent smokers would keep buying their deadly products (a crime that was sardonically portrayed in the hit movie, Thank You for Smoking).

This strategy, which has been used by other industries that make dangerous or polluting products, became known as the art of “manufacturing doubt,” after a now infamous memo from a senior tobacco official. “Doubt is our product,” the anonymous tobacconist wrote, “since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.”

It sounds complicated, almost impossibly so, but it’s actually rather simple if you have enough money. Corporate collectives have been doing it for decades: funding bogus science and investing in think tanks to produce dubious research results that cast doubt on legitimate research findings, from cancer-causing tobacco to global warming carbon emissions.

Add well-funded advertising campaigns that create a new reality irrespective of the truth, and corporations have been able to thwart government regulations that might otherwise damage their bottom lines – or at the very least make them fess up to the less savoury impacts of their products and services.

If this sounds eerily familiar, it should. The Government of Alberta, in cahoots with the oil industry, has been using a similar strategy to promote tar sands development in northern Alberta. The first step was to create a monitoring system that was incapable of detecting pollution in the land and water in the tar sands region.

Mon, 2012-10-29 12:25Carol Linnitt
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Conference Board of Canada: Economic Benefits of Tar Sands Hinge On Climate Inaction

By 2035 operators in Alberta's tar sands expect to produce 5 million barrels of the world's most environmentally dirty and energy intensive oil per day. Current daily production hovers around 2 million barrels. According to a recent Conference Board of Canada report, projected expansion of the tar sands will require roughly $364 billion in investment over the next 25 years and will create significant economic benefits for both Canada and the US.

However, the report, commissioned by the Canadian federal and Alberta provincial governments, acknowledges that the economic benefits of oil production in the tar sands hinges on continued global climate inaction.
 
Based on the 'New Policies Scenario' from the International Energy Agency (IEA), the Conference Board report, “Fuel for Thought: The Economic Benefits of Oil Sands Investment for Canada's Regions,” anticipates Canada and other participating countries will not achieve their 2009 Copenhagen Accord goal to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. Projected growth in the tar sands is consistent with at least 3.5 degrees of warming.
Fri, 2012-10-26 08:00Steve Horn
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Tar Sands South: First US Tar Sands Mine Approved in Utah

The race is on for the up-and-coming U.S. tar sands industry. To date, the tar sands industry is most well-known for the havoc it continues to wreak in Alberta, Canada - but its neighbor and fellow petrostate to the south may soon join in on the fun

On Oct. 24, the Utah Water Quality Board (UWQBapproved the first ever tar sands mine on U.S. soil, handing a permit to U.S. Oil Sands, a company whose headquarters are based in Alberta, despite it's name. 

In a 9-2 vote, the UWQB gave U.S. Oil Sands the green light to begin extracting bitumen from its PR Spring Oil Sands Project, located in the Uinta Basin in eastern Utah. The UWQB concluded that there's no risk of groundwater pollution from tar sands extraction for the prospective mining project.  

Members of the public were allowed to attend the hearing but “were not permitted to provide input,” according to The Salt Lake Tribune

Fri, 2012-10-26 05:00Carol Linnitt
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No Herd Left Behind: Federal Caribou Recovery Strategy On "Collision Course with Industry," Leads to Caribou "Zoos"

This post is a part of DeSmog's investigative series: Cry Wolf.

Five years overdue in a legal sense and ten years after caribou were officially listed as 'threatened' according to the Species at Risk Act, the Canadian government has finally released its controversial Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou. The report, originally released in draft form in August 2011, ignited severe public criticism for emphasizing 'predator control' options like a provincial-wide wolf cull in order to artificially support flagging caribou populations in Alberta. 

The wolf cull garnered wide-spread condemnation from the scientific community, environmental organizations and First Nations who said the province's wolves were not the cause of caribou declines. Instead, Alberta's reckless industrial development in caribou habitat was to be blamed for the near-decimation of one of Canada's most iconic species. The caribou famously adorns the Canadian quarter.
 
The new and improved federal recovery strategy seems poised to remedy that, however, with dramatic improvements made to habitat protection and restoration legislation. Under the current strategy, the oil and gas industry, and the government of Alberta must work together to ensure a minimum of 65 per cent of caribou habitat is left undisturbed for the species to survive.

At least 65 per cent of caribou habitat must be left undisturbed for caribou herds to have a 60 per cent chance of being self-sustaining. Government and industry must make immediate arrangements to remediate caribou ranges that currently do not meet that 65 per cent benchmark within the next five years.
 
But the recovery strategy does not outline how Alberta must accomplish that task, leaving the 'immediate' ground work necessary for such accomplishments undefined. And given the rate at which the tar sands are currently experiencing expansion, Simon Dyer of the Pembina Institute described the strategy as “on a collision course with industry.” 
Tue, 2012-10-23 18:12Carol Linnitt
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Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Challenges Shell in Legal Hearing

Today the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) is arguing that Shell Canada's proposed expansion of the Jackpine Mine in the tar sands is in violation of constitutionally protected aboriginal rights outlined in Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution and Treaty 8, which the ACFN signed in 1899. Arguments against the proposal will be heard by a provincial-federal Joint Review Panel.

The ACFN participated in a Fort McMurray rally today, asking for individuals, organizations and communities across Canada to stand in solidarity with their tribe. 

“We are here today because a legal challenge may be the only remaining piece of law that can stop the destruction of our land,” said Allan Adam, chief of the ACFN. “We are thankful for the mountain of support we've been receiving. People understand the significance of this challenge and what we must do for our land.”

The proposed expansion will increase Jackpine Mine's production capacity from 200,000 barrels per day (bbl/d) to 300,000 bbl/d and will extend the mine's lifespan to 2049.

The project will add 1.8 million tonnes of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, roughly the equivalent of 280,000 additional cars on the road. The waste from the expanded project will amount to some 486 billion litres of liquid tailings including mercury, arsenic and lead, which Shell proposes to permanently bury in what is called a 'pit lake,' according to a press release.

Thu, 2012-10-11 10:45Carol Linnitt
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Foreign Funding? So Glad You Asked: Enbridge Renews Attack Against Canadian Environmental Groups

Enbridge recently launched a renewed attack on Canadian environmental organizations, demanding the panel overseeing the Northern Gateway Pipeline hearing squeeze funding information from the project's critics.

In early 2012, a campaign - coordinated by the conservative government, the oil industry and the astroturf Ethical Oil Institute - sought to undermine the credibility of groups opposing the pipeline by suggesting they are “foreign interest groups” that “threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda” as Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver so forcefully put it.

Now Enbridge is renewing that egregious attack by requesting the panel investigate funding granted to Canadian environmental groups from a number of prominent American foundations renowned for their work in social and environmental equity, including poverty reduction, aboriginal issues, conservation, resource management, international development, and children and peace initiatives.

But Enbridge's ploy to redirect public attention away from tar sands, pipeline and oil spill issues toward the meddling of foreign interests in Canadian affairs is misguided, to say the least. The lion's share of foreign funding that guides the Canadian resource economy does not come in the form of conservation or environmental efforts: it comes through foreign investment in the resource sector.

And in the instance of the tar sands and related pipelines, foreign investments can be a politically, environmentally and socially dangerous affair.

Tue, 2012-10-02 17:43Carol Linnitt
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First Nation Challenges Shell Canada's Jackpine Mine Expansion, Citing Constitutional Treaty Rights

Yesterday the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) announced their plans to constitutionally challenge Shell Oil Canada's expansion of the Jackpine Mine tar sands project. The project expansion would threaten the resources needed to sustain rights protected under Treaty 8, which the ACFN signed in 1899 at Fort Chipewyan on Lake Athabasca. A joint federal-provincial review panel will hear the challenge - the first of its kind to appear before such a group - on October 23rd, 6 days before the Jackpine Mine expansion application will make its own appearance before the panel on October 29.

The Jackpine Mine expansion would disturb 12,719 hectares of land and destroy 21 kilometers of the culturally significant Muskeg River, according to ACFN's press release issued yesterday
 
In addition, greenhouse gas emissions from the project would total 2.36 megatons of CO2 equivalent each year - an increase of 5.2 per cent in tar sands emissions from 2009, or roughly 281,000 cars on the road. Since Shell proposed the expansion in 2007, 11 additional projects have been proposed in the tar sands region.
Sat, 2012-09-29 15:15Carol Linnitt
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Death in the Woods: Canadian Federal Government Delays Release of Caribou Recovery Strategy - Again

This post is a part of DeSmog's investigative series: Cry Wolf.

Yesterday, the Canadian government told the nation's federal court that it will not release its long-awaited Woodland Caribou Recovery Strategy. The Recovery Strategy, already 5 years overdue, represents conservationists' strongest measure of defense for dwindling caribou populations in Alberta that suffer increasing habitat loss from industrial development and intensive tar sands expansion.
 
The outlook for caribou in Alberta is grim, especially as they find themselves in a stand off against industrial giants backed by a federal government in favor of increasing tar sands and other industrial activity. Habitat disruption is a crucial issue for caribou who need large buffered areas of old growth forest to survive. The majority of Alberta's 12 caribou herds currently struggle with low calf survival - an issue directly related to disturbed habitat.
 
The Canadian and Albertan governments have historically hesitated to take meaningful measures to protect Alberta's caribou herds because such measures would not only advertise the deleterious effects of tar sands development on local wildlife and their habitat, but would require setting aside protected areas made unavailable for oil and gas development.

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