tar sands

A Short History of Greenwashing the Tar Sands, Part 1

This is Part One of a three-part series on the political greenwashing of the tar sands in Canada.

When I hatched the idea to write a book about the use of spin and propaganda in the battle over the tar sands, a close friend of mine suggested I avoid the term “tar sands.” His logic was simple: using this term, which has become a pejorative, would turn some people off, people who might benefit, he said, from reading my book.

His recommendation was meant to be helpful, but it speaks to the power of manipulating language to make people believe something appears to be something that it is not. “Greenwashing” refers to the strategy of intentionally exaggerating a product’s environmental credentials in order to sell it, and nowhere has greenwashing been more generously used than in the promotion of the tar sands and the new and bigger pipelines that proponents hope will carry it around the world.

Greenwashing is fairly recent phenomenon—it was only added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 1999—but it has become commonplace as public concern has grown over the spate of environmental problems we now face, and as consumers demand “greener” products as a means of solving them. The most recent analysis by TerraChoice Environmental Marketing found that although the number of green products is growing, the marketing of more than 95 per cent of them still commits one the seven sins of greenwashing.

Parsing Redford’s Little Black Lies, Part 3

This is the third post in a three-part series. For Part 1 of Parsing Redford's Little Black Lies, click here. For Part 2, How Redford Can Walk the Walk, click here.

ON March 1, the U.S. State Department released its draft Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would increase the flow of Alberta’s tar sands oil to the U.S. by an estimated 510,000 barrels per day. It’s a big deal, both for those who support additional tar sands development and for those who want to limit the pace and scale of the world’s most controversial energy development.

For the latter, the draft SEIS was a disappointment. Like the original Environmental Impact Statement, the SEIS does not adequately account for the pipeline’s impact on water and climate. In particular, the SEIS ignored evidence that Keystone XL would contribute significantly to the escalation of the already rapid expansion of the tar sands, one of the world’s dirtiest forms of energy, and the resulting increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

Not surprisingly, this suited Alberta Premier Alison Redford just fine. Redford had just returned from a “mission” to Washington, D.C., where she played fast and loose with the facts as she tried to convince American politicians that Keystone was an integral part of what she likes to call responsible energy development. For her, the draft SEIS was the long-overdue next step in the approval process, and she used the opportunity to exaggerate and mischaracterize Alberta’s environmental record.

29 Vermont Communities Say No to Tar Sands Shipments, New England Opposition Grows

Last week in the state of Vermont, 29 communities sent a strong message to elected leaders in Montpelier and Washington, D.C. by passing a non-binding resolution that would prohibit the shipping of dirty tar sands through the Northeast Kingdom portion of the state via The Portland Pipeline.

The 236-mile-long Portland pipeline, which runs from Portland, Maine to Montréal, Québec, across a rather scenic and “wild” portion of northern New England, is said to be majority-owned, at 76%, by ExxonMobil according to an analysis by environmental groups and 350.org.

ExxonMobil, being deeply entrenched in the development of tar sands, might find good reason to send the tar sands from Montréal down to Portland for export, say many environmental groups.  Such realities are what propelled Vermont to take precautions and pass the resolution.

How Redford Can Walk the Walk, Part 2

This is the second post in a three-part series. For Part 1, Parsing Redford's Little Black Lies, click here.

As Alberta Premier Alison Redford tries her best to hoodwink American politicians into believing Alberta is leading the way on climate change, it’s worth considering where the problems lie and how they might be addressed. The solutions, of course, have nothing to do with more and better public relations, just a commitment to environmental stewardship that Alberta has yet to embrace.

As I wrote in the first part of this column, Redford’s claims about “responsible oil sands development” in her recent USA Today column are patently false. This is because Alberta has failed to implement its own climate change strategy, allowing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the province to grow significantly over the last 20 years despite a commitment to steep reductions.

There are three reasons for this failure. The first is the rampant expansion of Alberta’s tar sands development, which is the fastest growing source of GHG emissions in Canada. GHG emissions from the tar sands more than doubled over the last 20 years, and planned growth under current provincial and federal policies indicates they will double yet again between 2009 and 2020, from 45 megatonnes in 2009 to 92 million tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2020. Environment Canada knows full well that tar sands production, which is expected to double between 2008 and 2015, “will put a strong upward pressure on emissions.”

State Department Keystone XL Study Done by Oil Industry-Connected Firm with Big Tobacco, Fracking Ties

On March 1, the U.S. State Department published its long-awaited Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the TransCanada Keystone XL (KXL) tar sands pipeline

The KXL is slated to bring tar sands crude - also known as diluted bitumen or “dilbit” - from Alberta, Canada to Port Arthur, TX. From Port Arthur, it will be refined and exported to the global market

Flying in the face of the slew of scientific studies both on the harms of burning tar sands and on the KXL itself, State determined that laying down the pipeline is environmentally sound. 

Unmentioned by State: the study was contracted out to firms with tar sands extraction clientele, as revealed by InsideClimate News

“EnSys Energy has worked with ExxonMobil, BP and Koch Industries, which own oil sands production facilities and refineries in the Midwest that process heavy Canadian crude oil. Imperial Oil, one of Canada's largest oil sands producers, is a subsidiary of Exxon,” InsideClimate News explained. “ICF International works with pipeline and oil companies but doesn't list specific clients on its website.”

Writing for Grist, Brad Johnson also revealed the name of a third contractor - Environmental Resources Management (ERM) Group - which TransCanada hired on behalf of the State Department to do the EIS

”(ERM) was paid an undisclosed amount under contract to TransCanada to write the statement, which is now an official government document,” Johnson explained. “The statement estimates, and then dismisses, the pipeline’s massive carbon footprint and other environmental impacts, because, it asserts, the mining and burning of the tar sands is unstoppable.”

ERM, a probe into the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF) Tobacco Archives reveals, has deep historical ties to Big Tobacco. Further, a key employee at ICF International - via familial ties - is tied to the future of whether hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for shale oil and gas becomes a reality in New York's portion of the Marcellus Shale.   

Parsing Redford’s Little Black Lies, Part 1

This is the first post in a three-part series. For Part 2, How Redford Can Walk the Walk, click here. For Part 3, click here.

Within weeks of becoming Alberta’s first female premier in October 2011, Alison Redford realized that the tired old propaganda about jobs and Canada’s reputation as a safe and friendly supplier of oil wasn’t helping in the battle over the future of tar sands oil in America.

We heard very quickly that they don’t want to hear anymore the security argument or the jobs argument. We get that,” Redford told the Globe and Mail. “Really, this is about environmental stewardship and sustainable development of the oil sands. We were quite happy to talk about that, [but] that was a shift in the kinds of conversations that Alberta was having.”

What Redford doesn’t seem to have understood is that it’s not about talking the talk, it’s about walking the walk. In a recent column in America’s biggest newspaper, USA Today, Redford tried to convince Americans that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is part of Alberta’s “responsible oil sands development.”

Tar Sands Tailings Contaminate Alberta Groundwater

The massive tailings ponds holding billions of litres of tar sands waste are leaking into Alberta's groundwater, according to internal documents obtained by Postmedia's Mike De Souza.

An internal memorandum prepared for Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver and obtained through Access to Information legislation says evidence confirms groundwater toxins related to bitumen mining and upgrading are migrating from tailings ponds and are not naturally occurring as government and industry have previously stated.

“The studies have, for the first time, detected potentially harmful, mining-related organic acid contaminants in groundwater outside a long-established out-of-pit tailings pond,” the memo reads. “This finding is consistent with publicly available technical reports of seepage (both projected in theory, and detected in practice).”

This newly released document shows the federal government has been aware of the problem since June 2012 without publicly addressing the information. The study, made available online by Natural Resources Canada in December 2012, was still “pending release” at the time Minister Oliver was briefed of its contents in June.

The Keystone Principle

This is a guest post by KC Golden, originally published on GripOnClimate.org

The big President’s Day rally on the National Mall is more than a Keystone pipeline protest.  It’s a statement of principle for climate action.

After a year of unprecedented destruction due to weather extremes, the climate fight is no longer just about impacts in the future.  It’s about physical and moral consequences, now.  And Keystone isn’t simply a pipeline in the sand for the swelling national climate movement.  It’s a moral referendum on our willingess to do the simplest thing we must do to avert catastrophic climate disruption:  Stop making it worse. 

Oil Aboard! Tar Sands Industry Eyes Nexen Rail Alternative to Stalled Pipelines

Facing enormous opposition to the proposed Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines, Canada’s tar sands industry is taking to the tracks to get its sticky bitumen to China. Canadian and Chinese oil companies have explored the “pipeline by rail” option for years now, but over the past month, the prospect of tar sands trains has taken a few big steps closer toward reality.

For over a year, Calgary-based Nexen, Inc. has been developing plans to load tar sands crude onto trains for transport to the West Coast, where it would be loaded onto barges and shipped to China. Late last month, the Canadian government approved the sale of Nexen to a nationalized Chinese oil company, and earlier this week, the U.S. government, which has some say because of Nexen’s major operations in the Gulf of Mexico, gave its stamp of approval.  According to Nexen, the company now has “all the requisite approvals” and the deal “is expected to close the week of February 25, 2013.” (So much for Canadian tar sands benefiting Canadians first and foremost.)

Rail is considered more and more appealing to industry insiders as numerous plans to ship tar sands crude by pipeline have grown increasingly controversial and have been stalled by climate and private property activists from British Columbia to New England to Nebraska. (See: the Keystone XL, the Northern Gateway, and Trailbreaker/Enbridge Line 9.)

In fact, the industry is growing desperate to find ways to export the heavy Canadian crude, as export pipeline capacity is currently maxed out, causing a glut in supply in Alberta, which is driving down prices and causing, according to the Globe and Mail, “billions in forfeited revenues.”

The Credibility Gap: All Talk and Not Much Action on Climate Change

By Hannah McKinnon, National Program Manager at Environmental Defense.

In last week's State of the Union address, President Obama reiterated his vision for clean energy and urgent action on global warming. With TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline on the frontlines and looking threatened, oil industry supporters are suddenly desperate to look like the environmental and climate risks of the tar sands are under control.
 
But there’s a massive credibility gap as Canada’s contribution to global warming is spiralling out of control, with the reckless expansion of the tar sands.
 
We’ve always believed that actions speak louder than words. So while the oil industry and government embark on a pro-tar sands PR campaign, let’s look at how Canada has behaved on climate action and the environmental risks of the tar sands.  

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