tar sands

Thu, 2014-04-24 13:21Raphael Lopoukhine
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Alberta Ramps Up “Responsible Energy Development” Sales Pitch in Wake of New Keystone XL Delay

Alberta oilsands tar sands julia kilpatrick

Days after another delay by the Obama administration on TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline, members of the Alberta government are hitting the U.S. circuit to promote the oilsands and boost their “green” credentials.

Three government officials are heading to key regions in the U.S. to push for continued market access and advertise what Albertan energy minister Diana McQueen calls “our commitment to clean energy development.”

Alberta hopes to showcase investment in carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology as part of a successful emissions reduction plan.

Critics say the Alberta government’s talk about “sustainability” and “clean energy” is not in line with reality.

If you’ve been following the Canadian government’s sales pitch for the Keystone XL pipeline, you’ve probably heard this claim before: ‘Emissions per barrel have been reduced by 26 per cent between 1990 and 2011,’” writes P.J. Partington, senior federal policy analyst with the Pembina Institute.

However, the reality, Partington writes, is that “since 1990, oilsands production has quintupled, while GHG emissions from production and upgrading have quadrupled.”

Wed, 2014-04-23 17:40Stephen Leahy
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Critics Concerned Pipelines, Tankers Reason for Downgrading "Threatened" Status of Humpback Whales

humpback whale mike baird

This week the federal government was legally obligated to establish protected habitat for threatened North Pacific humpback whales. Instead the Harper government suddenly moved to take the humpback off the “threatened species” list. That would eliminate the legal requirement under Canada’s Species At Risk Act for protecting habitat along the British Columbia coast.

The government based the downgrade on a recommendation made by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), the independent scientific body that designates which wildlife species are in trouble, in 2011.

Critics have noted the decision eliminates a major obstacle to both the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. After the conditional approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline by the National Energy Board's joint review panel, the University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre launched a legal complaint on behalf of B.C. Nature requesting the government's recovery strategy for humpback whales be taken into consideration.

A federal recovery strategy for humpback whales on the B.C. coast released in October cited potential increased oil tanker traffic as a danger to dwindling populations. The recovery strategy, released after a five-year delay, also noted the danger toxic spills posed to critical habitat.

If built, the two pipeline projects would increase oil tanker traffic from eight to 28 per month, increasing the risks of collisions with whales, potential spills in vital habitat and excessive noise.

Tue, 2014-04-22 15:09Steve Horn
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Earth Day Greenwash: API Front Group Iowa Energy Forum Sponsors Pro-Keystone XL Event

The political carnival that is the prelude to the Iowa caucuses has started over a year and a half early. At the center of it this time around: a game of political hot potato over the northern leg of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

American Petroleum Institute (API) deployed one of its paid consultants — former Obama Administration National Security Advisor General James “Jim” Jones — to deliver an Earth Day address in the home state of the presidential caucuses at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

James Jones used his time on the podium to promote the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, which another James — retired NASA climatologist James Hansen — once called a “fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet.”

“General James Jones…will discuss the benefits of the pipeline initiative, including more jobs, less dependence on foreign oil, and cheaper energy costs for Americans,” explained an April 15 Drake University press release promoting the event.


Gen. James Jones; Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Days after the Obama Administration decided to delay making a decision on Keystone XL North until after the 2014 mid-term elections, API went on the offensive, with Jones acting as the group's surrogate.

API is using one of its numerous front groups that could factor most prominently during election season: the Iowa Energy Forum, chief sponsor and organizer of the event titled, “The Pipeline to National Security Discussion.”

Fri, 2014-04-18 12:05Steve Horn
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Keystone XL Review Extended, Delaying Final Decision Until After 2014 Elections

Reuters and Politico broke a major story today that TransCanada's northern leg of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will not be decided on until after the 2014 mid-term elections.

“The U.S. State Department will…extend the government comment period on the Keystone XL pipeline, likely postponing a final decision on the controversial project until after the November 4 midterm elections,” Reuters explained.

Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama have final say over whether the pipeline will be built because it crosses the U.S.-Canada border.

Reporters learned of the decision after a call between high-level congressional staff and State Department officials. 

“The justification is the need to wait on continued litigation over a Nebraska court decision earlier this year, which threw part of the project’s route in doubt, two sources said today after a call between the State Department and congressional staff,” reported Politico.

In the end, the decision came down to politics, according to Politico, though there are no shortage of climate change and ecological concerns for the prospective pipeline.

“A delay past November would spare Obama a politically difficult decision on whether to approve the pipeline, angering his green base and environmentally minded campaign donors — or reject it, endangering pro-pipeline Democrats,” they reported.

Sat, 2014-04-12 21:28Emma Gilchrist
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Kitimat Votes ‘NO’ to Enbridge Northern Gateway Oil Pipeline in Local Plebiscite

Kitimat residents have voted against the Northern Gateway pipeline, with 58.4 per cent of ballots in the city’s plebiscite being cast against the project, as of around 9 p.m. Saturday. In total, 1,793 voted against the proposed project, while 1,278 or 41.6 per cent were in favour.

3,071 ballots were cast, marking a high turnout (62 per cent) in the community of roughly 4,900 eligible voters at the terminus of Enbridge’s proposed oil pipeline. Fifty-six per cent of eligible voters cast ballots in the last municipal election.

We’re celebrating with the Haisla outside in the park…and they’re surrounding the Douglas Channel Watch with thank you signs. They’re performing a drum song right now,” said Patricia Lange from Douglas Channel Watch.

It’s a really powerful moment.”

The vote, although non-binding, is an important part of the public relations battle being waged over Enbridge’s project. Enbridge brought in teams of paid corporate canvassers from out of town, placed full-page ads in northern newspapers and launched a “Vote Yes For Kitimat” website.

This vote is confirmation we are going to stand firm and say no to the influence of big oil,” Lange said.

Wed, 2014-04-09 13:06Carol Linnitt
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Greenpeace Complaint Against Ethical Oil Brings “Corrosive Effect of Oil on Our Politics” to Light

When Greenpeace Canada’s climate and energy campaigner Keith Stewart filed an official complaint with Elections Canada, he did a lot more than question the implications of the Ethical Oil Institute’s collusion with the Conservative Party of Canada: he called national attention to the corrosive effect oil money has had on Canadian politics in recent years.

At the broadest level,” Stewart told DeSmog Canada via e-mail, “we are trying to rebalance the playing field between money and people power in Canadian politics. You can never eliminate the influence of money on politics, but you can limit it and make it more transparent.”

Greenpeace’s request for an investigation is based on the fact that corporate donations to political parties are banned in federal politics — yet money raised by the Ethical Oil Institute appears to have been spent on advertising and other activities developed and implemented by people directly involved in the Conservative Party of Canada. The institute does not disclose its funding sources, but its website states it does “accept donations from Canadian individuals and companies, including those working to produce Ethical Oil.”

Mon, 2014-04-07 14:40Carol Linnitt
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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.

Mon, 2014-04-07 12:25Steve Horn
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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

Fri, 2014-03-28 09:48Steve Horn
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BP Lake Michigan Oil Spill: Did Tar Sands Spill into the Great Lake?

Is it conventional crude or tar sands? That is the question. And it's one with high stakes, to boot. 

The BP Whiting refinery in Indiana spilled between 470 and 1228 gallons of oil (or is it tar sands?) into Lake Michigan on March 24 and four days later no one really knows for sure what type of crude it was. Most signs, however, point to tar sands. 

The low-hanging fruit: the refinery was recently retooled as part of its “modernization project,” which will “provide Whiting with the capability of processing up to about 85% heavy crude, versus about 20% today.”

As Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Midwest Program Director Henry Henderson explained in a 2010 article, “heavy crude [is] code for tar sands.”

Albeit, “heavy crude” is produced in places other than Alberta's tar sands, with Venezuela serving as the world's other tar sands-producing epicenter. So, in theory, if it's heavy crude that spilled into Lake Michigan, it could be from Venezuela.

But in practice, the facts on the ground tell a different story. As a January 2014 article in Bloomberg outlined, the combination of the U.S. hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom and the Canadian tar sands boom has brought U.S. imports of Venezuelan oil to 28-year lows.

Which brings us to the next question: how does the Canadian “heavy crude” get to BP's Whiting refinery to begin with? Enter: Enbridge's Line 6A pipeline.

Thu, 2014-03-27 16:03Steve Horn
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BP Doubles Initial Size Estimate of Lake Michigan Oil Spill

Three days after spilling crude oil into Lake Michigan, BP has doubled its spill estimate to between 470 and 1228 gallons. The leak happened at its refinery in Whiting, Ind.

Although some of the oil has been cleaned up, it's unclear how much is left in the lake, a drinking water source for about seven million Chicagoans.

Located just across the Illinois-Indiana state border, Whiting is home to the sixth largest refinery in the U.S. The refinery just went through a $4 billionmodernization project,” giving it “the capability of processing up to about 85 percent heavy crude.” That's up from its original 20 percent, says BP's website.

“Frigid temperatures caused some of the oil to harden into a waxy consistency that made it easier to collect,” BP spokesman Scott Dean told The Chicago Tribune. “Crews used vacuum trucks to suck up any liquid oil that washed ashore.”

The day after the spill, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), as well as U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) issued press releases in which they pledged to hold BP accountable for the spill. Durbin and Kirk also wrote a follow-up letter to BP, requesting a meeting with BP.

“Any unanticipated spill is cause for concern, but given the Whiting refinery’s recent expansion of its operations to double the amount of heavy oil sands being processed, this spill raises questions about the long-term safety and reliability of BP's new, expanded production at Whiting,” they wrote

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