Alberta

Mon, 2012-01-23 21:38Steve Horn
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Demise of Keystone XL Means More Bakken Shale Gas Flaring

Damned if we do, damned if we don't - this is the CliffsNotes version of the ongoing Keystone XL pipeline debate. President Barack Obama recently halted TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline project, which would bring tar sands crude, or dilluted bitumen (“dilbit”) from Alberta through the heart of the U.S., to Gulf Coast refineries near Port Arthur, Texas, where the oil would then be exported to the global market.

Most environmental organizations declared victory and suggest the Keystone XL pipeline is dead. Unfortunately, this is far from the case. Republican House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) recently told The Hill he may attempt to rope the pipeline into the next payroll tax extension. Furthermore, a recent Congressional Research Services (CRSpaper said that under a little-used Consitutional clause, the two chambers of Congress, rather than the White House, could have the final say on the pipeline's ultimate destiny. CRS explained, 

[I]f Congress chose to assert its authority in the area of border crossing facilities, this would likely be considered within its Constitutionally enumerated authority to regulate foreign commerce.

Because the pipeline crosses the U.S.-Canada border, many thought that the U.S. State Department, and by extension the White House, had the final say in the manner. This may no longer be true.

On the other hand, even if the Keystone XL becomes a “pipe dream,” the grass isn't necessarily greener on the other side.

Thu, 2011-12-15 18:32Steve Horn
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'Consumer Energy Alliance' Front Group Exposed by The Tyee and Salon

In a must-read piece co-published today by Salon.com and The TyeeGeoff Dembicki exposes the dark underbelly of the public relations and lobbying industry, revealing the interconnectedness between Alberta tar sands movers and shakers in Alberta and their oily compatriots in Washington. 

The investigative article focuses on the fossil fuel industry front group Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), which is run out of the offices of the PR firm HBW Resources, headed by David Holt, Andrew Browning, and Michael Whatley.

Geoff Dembicki's article “Big Oil and Canada thwarted U.S. carbon standards,” exposes CEA's effort to thwart government efforts to favor relatively cleaner conventional fuels over the dirtiest forms of extreme unconventional energy like the Alberta tar sands. 

Dembicki reveals how CEA influenced the debate at both the national and state-by-state levels on low carbon fuel standards (LCFS), working to defeat or delay any efforts to differentiate between the emissions footprints of extreme and unconventional fuels like tar sands oil and cleaner-but-still-dirty conventional oil.

Oil industry power players, including BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Marathon, Shell and Norway’s Statoil are among the CEA's key financially backers, and many of these companies also happen to have deep ties to the Alberta tar sands.

Tue, 2011-11-15 13:24Carol Linnitt
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Gas Industry Geologists - Not Doctors - Decide If Water Is "Safe" in Alberta Fracking Contamination Cases

Water contamination is at the heart of the fracking debate. Gas companies and their well-funded industry support groups (still) adamantly contend that ‘there are no proven instances of drinking water contamination due to fracking.’ But as Chris Mooney recently wrote about in the Scientific American, and as DeSmogBlog pointed out in our featured report Fracking the Future – this argument is based more on semantics and sly avoidance tactics than scientific evidence, or personal experience for that matter. But in Alberta the oil and gas industry’s ability to deny responsibility for instances of water contamination may be related to an even greater systemic flaw – one which leaves the final verdict in the hands of industry representatives.

In Alberta, landowners who suspect their water is contaminated by gas drilling activity are directed to contact Alberta Environment (AENV), the provincial body that oversees the Water Act, and has just recently been renamed the Ministry of Environment and Water “to emphasize the importance of protecting one of Alberta’s greatest resources.”

AENV responds to complaints in tandem with the province’s oil and gas regulator, the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), previously the Energy and Utilities Board (EUB).  Upon the event of suspected water contamination, ERCB provides AENV with relevant information about the producing well, including which company it belongs to.  AENV then contacts the company who is directed to “conduct an investigation or hydrogeology study, using a qualified professional.”
Thu, 2011-11-10 13:27Ben Jervey
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Breaking: State Department Delays Keystone XL Decision Until 2013

The State Department announced today that they would “seek additional information” about the Keystone XL pipeline, meaning that they will take another 12 months at least to re-review the proposed pipeline route. This new review will build on (or make up) for the woefully-incompletely Environmental Impact Statement.

Here's the State Department's official language:


…given the concentration of concerns regarding the environmental sensitivities of the current proposed route through the Sand Hills area of Nebraska, the Department has determined it needs to undertake an in-depth assessment of potential alternative routes in Nebraska. …
Among the relevant issues that would be considered are environmental concerns (including climate change), energy security, economic impacts, and foreign policy.

The decision comes in the immediate wake of a massive protest at the White House on Sunday, as roughly 12,000 anti-pipeline activists circled the White House in a “solidarity hug.” The action was the latest in a series of protests and events staged by opponents of the proposed TransCanada pipeline that would funnel tar sands crude from Canada down to the Gulf Coast in Texas, much of it bound for export to other nations.

The decision to delay is a clear testament to the power of public engagement in the political process and good old-fashioned protest. But the battle isn't over yet.

Fri, 2011-10-28 11:52Carol Linnitt
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Canadian Embassy Coaches Diplomats To Promote Tar Sands, Overstate Environmental Protection Efforts

The Canadian government, on the provincial and federal level, needs to tag team on tar sands public relations, according to an internal Canadian Embassy document reported on by Mike De Souza yesterday in the Financial Post. The newly released document, obtained by Environmental Defense Canada through an access to information request, details the outcome of a 2010 overseas trip taken by Alberta’s former Environment Minister Rob Renner. According to the Embassy staff who prepared the report, international investors and stakeholders feel Canada’s lack of unified tar sands advocacy leaves the world’s dirtiest source of energy vulnerable to attack.

During a week long visit to the United Kingdom, Renner heard the concerns of invested parties who suggested Alberta take the lead in a nationwide and government-directed public relations campaign to “temper negative coverage” of the tar sands. 

According to the internal report “there is a strong need for consistent (Alberta and federal government) messaging and cooperation on this file. The opponents of oilsands will find ways to exploit any lack of coherence and coordination, undermining common objectives shared by (the Canadian government) and (the Alberta government) on this issue.”
Tue, 2011-09-06 16:39Carol Linnitt
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New West Partnership Includes CAPP Lobbyists in Fracking Policy Development

The British Columbia Ministry of Energy was designated a “lead agency” in a backroom collaboration with Alberta and Saskatchewan to address water concerns for the province’s rapidly expanding shale gas industry. The New West Partnership, an undisclosed collaboration between Canada's three western provinces to expedite shale gas extraction, has held four secret meetings since July 2011 to discuss water issues related to fracking, according to a leaked briefing note, released today by the BC Tap Water Alliance (BCTWA).

The leaked document, including an attached directive, outlines the group’s strategies to streamline gas production across the West while minimizing public and stakeholder involvement. The partnership project, which is aimed to design streamlined policy regarding gas extraction including the controversial technique fracking, is also posed to curtail public concern with “proactive” public relations campaigns that will respond to the “ill-informed campaigns” of environmental NGOs, public media and local communities. 

The Project Charter outlines the New West Partnership’s intentions to manage public opinion with ‘consistent messages’ regarding environmental concerns which are “potentially problematic” for shale gas development. Despite the group’s pretense to stakeholder transparency and “enhanced communication,” the only external body consulted so far is Canada’s largest oil and gas lobby, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). According to the BCTWA press release, the internal meetings held by provincial regulators and government officials included three unregistered lobbyists representing CAPP, prompting a complaint from the Alberta Federation of Labour.  
Thu, 2011-08-11 14:24Emma Pullman
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Permit to Pollute: Dodging New Law, Agency Approves Alberta Coal Plant

In Alberta, coal was first mined near Edmonton as early as 1850, and commercial coal operations took off in 1874. After the coal rush where hundreds of mines popped up across the province, the “black rock that burns” fell out of favour by the mid 1950s with the advent of natural gas.

While no new coal plants have been approved in Alberta in over a decade, it seems history is repeating itself. On June 30th, the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) approved the Milner Expansion Project, a 500Mw coal-fired generating facility to be built west of Edmonton. The final decision by the AUC to approve the coal plant is a serious black eye for the AUC and its ability to protect the public interest.

The project gives Calgary-based Maxim Power Corp. license to produce some of the filthiest power on the planet for 45 years while emitting 3Mt per year of greenhouse gas emissions. Alberta’s filthy tar sands are already the scourge of the planet, and this approval adds insult to injury.

Fri, 2011-07-29 12:14Ben Jervey
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The Many Problems With Tar Sands Pipelines

Enbridge tar sands pipeline spill Kalamazoo River Michigan

Note: This post is part of an ongoing series about North American pipelines. For an introduction and links to the wide-ranging coverage–from safety to legal issues to the business and economics to vulnerabilities–see this regularly-updated intro post.

On Monday, the House passed a bill that would force the Obama administration to make a final decision on TransCanada’s controversial Keystone XL pipeline by November 1. The Keystone XL project (which regular DeSmogBlog readers should be familiar with) would funnel tar sands oil from Alberta’s massive reserves down to Gulf Coast refineries in Texas.

This isn’t the place to discuss in too much depth the various and plentiful problems with Alberta tar sands itself – from extraction to transportation to refining to combustion, it’s the dirtiest oil on the planet. From a climate perspective, the Alberta tar sands contain enough carbon to lock the planet into climate chaos. In the words of NASA climatologist Jim Hansen, “if the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over.”

Because Keystone XL is so controversial, and because its construction could be such a tipping point in the climate fight, a broad and diverse coalition of scientists and activists are digging in their heels for a big fight, and planning a multi-week action at the White House. (Here’s more on how to get involved.)

But since this is a post about pipelines, I’m going to focus on how tar sands pipelines are different than those that carry conventional crude, how they’re much more prone to leaks and spills, and how those spills are particularly bad for the environment.

Thu, 2011-06-02 16:15Farron Cousins
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UK Opposed to Europe’s Tar Sands Import Ban

While most European countries are working on a proposal that would effectively ban the use of Canadian tar sands in the European Union, the United Kingdom has made it clear that they will not support any measure to reduce their reliance on tar sands. Britain joins the Netherlands as one of only two countries that want to continue to have the option to use oil derived from Canadian tar sands.

The EU is working to produce a new “fuel directive” this year that would reduce the amount of emissions acceptable from fuels used for transportation. The directive would require a 6% reduction in the amount of emissions from vehicle fuel over the next 9 years. Because the emissions from tar sands run about 23% higher than those from traditional fossil fuels, this would mean that their use in the EU would be effectively prohibited.

Fri, 2011-05-13 07:45TJ Scolnick
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A Less Dirty Energy Reliant Development Pathway In Alberta’s Future?

In July 2009, Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach created the Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy. This 12-member council of various global experts was convened to provide guidance on how the province should maintain its prosperity through 2040. Earlier this month, after nearly two years of research, public meetings and private debate, the experts released their long-awaited scoping report, Shaping Alberta’s Future: Report of the Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy [pdf].

Together they sought to answer [pdf]: “What intentional choices should Albertans be making now to shape our future, the future of our grandchildren and the future of our province?”

According to council Chair David Emerson, a business executive and former federal cabinet minister, the council took a distinctive approach when evaluating Alberta’s future: “Our starting place was a strong conviction that “business-as-usual” is not an option for Alberta.”

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