tar sands

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:

Keystone PipeLIES Exposed: New Film from Center for Media and Democracy

On Tuesday, the Center for Media and Democracy released a new short film that sets out to debunk the many false claims — the films calls them “pipeLIES” — used by promoters of the Keystone XL pipeline. These industry talking points, many of which are repeated without verification by mainstream media sources, have corrupted any reasonable public discourse on the pipeline, and the film's producers hope that using the video medium to expose the mistruths will lead to better public understanding of the true risks of the pipelines. 

The film, Keystone PipeLIES Exposed, takes a close and critical look at both ends of the proposed pipeline — from the open pit tar sands mines in Alberta to the toxic refineries in Port Arthur, Texas. But the meat of the 23-minute film looks at the pipeline itself — the route, the construction jobs, the spill risks, the communities and ecosystems that would be made vulnerable.

While traveling down the pipeline, so to speak, the film pays special attention to the talking points and falsehoods — the massively inflated job creation claims, promises of lower gas prices, and so on — that are constantly repeated by those who stand to profit from the pipeline's construction, and often by a mainstream media too lazy to verify them. 

Emmy Award-winning journalist Dave Saldana wrote, directed and produced the film. Saldana is also an attorney, and says this background was particularly useful in exploring and debunking many of the oil industry's suspicious claims. Saldana says:

I looked at the claims as a lawyer; what did the evidence show me? The evidence shows that its job creation claims are grossly inflated; that better, greener alternatives would aid America's energy independence and put more Americans to work for a longer time than the pipeline; and that the pumping of tar sands oil across the U.S. primarily for export to foreign countries poses enormous risks to America's water supply, food supply, and air quality. And that’s before you even get to what it does to climate change.”

Here's the film. You can also check out the PipeLIES Exposed site to find references for all the arguments debunking the lies. 

Keystone PipeLIES Exposed from Center for Media and Democracy on Vimeo.

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.”

Canadian Company Called U.S. Oil Sands Will Soon Start Extracting Utah's Tar Sands

Think only Canadians need to worry about tar sands extraction? Think again.

In October, U.S. Oil Sands, Inc. joined Kentucky-based Arrakis Oil Recovery as the second company to receive a permit to produce U.S. tar sands. The Utah Water Quality Board gave U.S. Oil Sands a permit to extract 2,000 barrels of oil per day from Utah's tar sands reserves. 

Despite its name, U.S. Oil Sands is actually a Canadian outfit based in Calgary, Alberta. The company currently holds leases on just over 32,000 acres in Utah's Uintah Basin. U.S. Oil Sands' mining will take place at PR Spring on the Colorado Plateau in an area called the Bookcliffs, which straddles the Utah/Colorado border.  

U.S. Oil Sands' water-and-energy-intensive extraction process involves first digging up congealed tar sands, then crushing them to reduce their size. The company then mixes the crushed sand with large amounts of hot water (at a temperature of 122-176°F) to loosen up and liquefy the tarry, oil-containing residue and separating it from the sand.

Next, coarse solids sink, are subsequently removed and considered waste tailings. Air is then bubbled through the remaining water-oil mixture, which makes the oil float to the top in what's referred to as “bitumen froth,” in industry lingo. The froth is then deaerated, meaning all the air molecules are removed.

When it finally gets to this point in the production process, the mixture is still so thick it can't be pumped through pipelines.

Thus, it undergoes even more treatment with a hydrocarbon solvent to reduce the viscosity and density of the sludge. Wastes from the process — which contain water contaminated with chemicals and unrecoverable oils — are called “middlings” and will be disposed of in surface tailings ponds and kept long-term.

Keystone XL's Northern Leg: A Fracked Oil Pipeline Along with Tar Sands

On January 31, President Barack Obama's U.S. State Department released its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the northern leg of TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

The State Department's FEIS argues that the northern half of Keystone XL, if built, “remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands, or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States.”

But flying under the media's radar so far, the State Department review also highlights the prospect that Keystone XL will not only carry tar sands, but also be tapped to carry up to 100,000 barrels per day of oil extracted via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin.

“[Keystone XL] would have the capacity to deliver up to 830,000 bpd, of which 730,000 bpd of capacity has been set aside for [tar sands] and the remaining 100,000 bpd of capacity set aside for [Bakken] crude oil,” the report details.

“[TransCanada] has represented that it has firm commitments to transport approximately 555,000 bpd of [tar sands], as well as 65,000 bpd of crude oil from the Bakken.”

A smaller proposed project owned by TransCanada called the Bakken MarketLink pipeline and incorporated as Keystone Marketlink LLC in February 2011, would ship the fracked oil to Keystone XL's northern leg as an “on ramp.” 

“This project would include a 5-mile pipeline, pumps, meters, and storage tanks to supply Bakken crude oil to the proposed pipeline,” explains the FEIS.

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.

Keystone XL Could Boost Global Oil Consumption By 500K Barrels A Day

A new study from the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) focuses on a greenhouse gas impact of the Keystone XL pipeline that hasn’t received much attention: how the pipeline could affect the global oil market by increasing supply, decreasing prices and therefore driving up global oil consumption.

Even if those effects are small in global terms, they could be significant in relationship to Keystone XL and U.S. climate policy, argue Peter Erickson and Michael Lazarus, senior scientists in SEI’s U.S. Center, in a new paper, Greenhouse gas emissions implications of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The more suppliers there are in the market for oil, the more they compete and that drives down prices for consumers,” Erickson said.

Climate policy and analysis often focuses on energy production and consumption, but rarely considers how energy infrastructure might shape energy use and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions.

The Keystone XL pipeline proposal to connect Canadian tar sands production with the Gulf of Mexico’s refineries and ports have brought these questions to light. U.S. President Barack Obama has said he will only approve Keystone XL if it “does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

To gauge the pipeline’s potential impact, Erickson and Lazarus built a supply-and-demand model using publicly available supply curves and peer-reviewed demand elasticities (the extent to which changes in oil consumption respond to changes in oil prices).

They examined three possibilities — 1) That the Keystone XL permit is rejected, and the same amount of oil would reach the market by other means; 2) if half of the oil reaches the market anyway; and 3) that none reaches the market.

For the last two cases, the researchers found the pipeline’s impact on global oil prices, though modest (less than one percent), would be enough to increase global oil consumption by hundreds of thousands of barrels per day.

State Dept's Keystone XL Contractor, ERM Group, Also OK'd Controversial Pebble Mine in Alaska

A DeSmogBlog investigation has revealed Environmental Resources Management Inc. (ERM Group) — the contractor performing the U.S. State Department's environmental review for the northern half of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline — gave the greenlight to Alaska's controversial Pebble Mine proposal in June 2013.

The proposed Pebble Mine, located in Bristol Bay in southwest Alaska, contains mineable gold and copper. It's also a major hub for fishing and the seafood industry, leading the Center for American Progress to call the battle over Pebble Mine a “resource war.”

“Bristol Bay…is home to the world’s largest commercial sockeye salmon fishery,” explains a November 2013 EarthWorks blog post. “The devastation caused by a massive open pit mine would linger in perpetuity affecting not just Bristol Bay, but the commercial fishing industry everywhere in the Pacific Northwest.”

Michigan Judge Dismisses Charges Against Activist Who Protested Inside Enbridge's 6B Pipeline

Chris Wahmhoff

When Kalamazoo activist Chris Wahmhoff walked up to the fourth floor of the Calhoun County Circuit Court on Monday and checked the docket, he found his case sandwiched between three other cases also involving Enbridge — a telling sign of the times.
   
When Judge James Kingsley started speaking in the courtroom, Wahmhoff thought all was lost. He hung his head and waited, as the five minutes the judge spoke dragged on. 

Then there was just thing magical moment of him saying ‘but,’ ” Wahmhoff says. He lifted his head to hear the judge say he would quash the motion. Wahmhoff immediately jumped from his seat and cheered, accompanied by a room full of supporters.

Then we were very heavily scolded by the judge, who said they were going to arrest every one of us,” he said with a laugh.

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