oilsands

Mon, 2014-12-15 06:00Justin Mikulka
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Calls to Ban Bomb Trains Ramp Up While Communities Await New Regulations

ban bomb trains

Earthjustice has challenged the Department of Transportation’s denial of a petition by Sierra Club and Forest Ethics to ban the transportation of Bakken crude oil in DOT-111 tank cars.

Most of the explosive crude oil on U.S. rails is moving in tanker cars that are almost guaranteed to fail in an accident,” explained Patti Goldman of Earthjustice.

The risks are too great to keep shipping explosive Bakken crude in defective DOT-111s. The National Transportation Safety Board called them unsafe two decades ago, and by the Department of Transportation’s own estimates, the U.S. could see 15 rail accidents every year involving these cars until we get them off the tracks.” 

At the same time Earthjustice was bringing this challenge, the Canadian government was announcing that it will ban 3,000 of the riskiest DOT-111s from carrying materials like Bakken crude.

Sat, 2014-12-06 08:05Carol Linnitt
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DeSmogCAST 5: Canada's Clean Energy Revolution, Oilsands Tailings Pollution and COP20 Expectations

DeSmogCAST

In this week's episode of DeSmogCAST we cover a new report in Canada that shows the clean energy sector making huge gains in investment and job-creation, despite a lack of strong support at the federal level. We also discuss a new study from Environment Canada that shows toxic pollutants from the Alberta oilsands' tailings ponds are being emitted into the atmosphere at much higher rates than previous estimated. Finally we turn our attention to the UNFCCC COP20 underway in Lima, Peru and ask what we can expect to see in the next week's top level, international climate negotiations.

Hosted by DeSmogBlog contributor Farron Cousins, this episode features DeSmog Canada's executive director Emma Gilchrist, DeSmogUK's new deputy editor Kyla Mandel and yours truly.

Wed, 2014-11-26 11:08Carol Linnitt
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Edelman and TransCanada Part Ways After Leaked Documents Expose Aggressive PR Attack on Energy East Pipeline Opponents

Russ Girling TransCanada

Last week internal documents from Edelman, the world’s largest PR firm, were leaked to Greenpeace, exposing an aggressive strategy to target opponents of TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline.

The release of the documents brought TransCanada under fire for using dirty public relations tricks to manipulate public opinion and divide communities on the issue of the company’s 4,600 km Energy East pipeline that will carry 1.1 million barrels a day of Alberta oilsands crude to one small refinery and to export facilities on the east coast.

Today a press release from Edelman confirms the firm is parting ways with TransCanada after “attention…moved away from the merits of TransCanada’s Energy East Pipeline project.”

According to the release, “Edelman and TransCanada have mutually agreed not to extend Edelman’s contract beyond its current term,” which completes at the end of December.

The release also states the communications strategy Edelman devised was meant to “drive an active public discussion that gives Canadians reason to affirmatively support the project.”

Tue, 2014-11-25 11:51Warren Bell
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Vivian Krause and Richard Berman’s Oil Industry Playbook

vivian krause, richard berman

He had no idea he was being taped.

So when influential Washington, DC, political consultant Richard Berman talked about strategy and tactics to the oil and gas industry’s Western Energy Alliance in Colorado Springs this past June, he didn’t mince words.  

This is an endless war,” Berman said.

The secret tape was published in the New York Times a few weeks ago, released by a displeased oil industry executive, on condition of anonymity.

As he urged industry reps to employ tactics like digging up embarrassing tidbits about environmentalists and liberal celebrities, Berman also made one emphatic point:

People always ask me one question all the time, ‘How do I know that I won't be found out as a supporter of what you're doing?’ We run all of this stuff through non-profit organizations that are insulated from having to disclose donors. There is total anonymity. People don't know who supports us. We've been doing this for 20-something years in this regard.”

The Western Energy Alliance, at whose June meeting Berman laid out his cold-blooded strategy, describes membership as “an investment in the future of the independent oil and gas community in the West.” Its members throughout the U.S. and Canada “share and support our commitment to improve business conditions, expand opportunities and move the industry forward.” 

Wed, 2014-11-12 18:52Emma Gilchrist and Carol Linnitt
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Convenient Conspiracy: How Vivian Krause Became the Poster Child for Canada’s Anti-Environment Crusade

Vivian Krause The Province

Today Vivian Krause published an opinion piece in The Province claiming “a vote for Vision is a vote for U.S. oil interests.” So, you might be wondering: just who is Vivian Krause? We’re so glad you asked…

An essential component of all public relations campaigns is having the right messenger— a credible, impassioned champion of your cause.

While many PR pushes fail to get off the ground, those that really catch on — the ones that gain political attention and result in debates and senate inquiries — almost always have precisely the right poster child.

And in the federal government and oil industry’s plight to discredit environmental groups, the perfect poster child just so happens to be Vivian Krause.

Mon, 2014-11-03 15:41Chris Rose
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“Citizen Interventions” Have Cost Canada’s Tar Sands Industry $17B, New Report Shows

Oil companies and fossil fuel investors seeking further developments in the Alberta tar sands have been dealt another setback with the publication of a report showing producers lost $17.1 billion USD between 2010-2013 due to successful public protest campaigns.

Fossil fuel companies lost $30.9 billion overall during the same period partly due to the changing North American oil market but largely because of a fierce grassroots movement against tar sands development, said the report — Material Risks: How Public Accountability Is Slowing Tar Sands Development.

A significant segment of opposition is from First Nations in Canada who are raising sovereignty claims and other environmental challenges, added the report, which was produced by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) and Oil Change International (OCI).

Tar sands producers face a new kind of risk from growing public opposition,” Tom Sanzillo, director of finance at IEEFA, and one of the lead authors on the report, said. “This opposition has achieved a permanent presence as public sentiment evolves and as the influence of organizations opposed to tar sands production continues to grow.”

Thu, 2014-09-25 14:49Justin Mikulka
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U.S. Oil Imports From Canada Hit All-Time High Despite Opposition

Oil tankers

While the battle against TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline rages on and oil-by-rail faces increased scrutiny, U.S. oil imports from Canada have quietly hit a record high of 2.99 million barrels per day.

That number — from the week ending Sept. 12, 2014 — marks a 20 per cent increase from a year earlier.

While rail is still handling only a small amount of crude oil compared to pipelines, it continues to rapidly expand.

In a May 19, 2014 meeting between the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), API indicated the oil industry estimated it would need 12,000 rail cars to move Western Canadian crude, which is predominantly tar sands oil.

And in the second half of this year, it is becoming evident that the API’s prediction was a pretty good one. Rail is going to play an increased role alongside pipelines in getting tar sands oil to market despite opposition from activists across North America.

Tue, 2014-09-09 05:00Justin Mikulka
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Goldman Sachs Warns Investors About Tar Sands By Rail Challenges While Investing in Tar Sands By Rail

Oil by rail

In 2009, Matt Taibbi wrote a piece in Rolling Stone in which he described the investment bank Goldman Sachs as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” 

Apparently tar sands oil smells like money. And thus the vampire squid has found another target. As Reuters reported on August 29:

A Goldman Sachs-led rail terminal operator, USD Group LLC, announced on Friday plans to form a Master-Limited Partnership this year to trade publicly on the New York Stock Exchange.

This new company will be based around a tar sands rail loading facility in Hardisty, Alberta. That is the same place where the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would begin. USD Group already owns a crude-by-rail terminal in the town, with capacity to load two 120-car unit trains per day.

And with the success of this first phase of development, the company has announced plans to double the capacity of the terminal, which would allow it to load 280,000 barrels per day (bpd). The company has also announced plans to add another 70,000 bpd, which would bring its capacity to 350,000 bpd, or roughly half the proposed capacity of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline.

Thu, 2014-08-21 09:32Justin Mikulka
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All Aboard! Tar Sands Bitumen by Rail Set to Eclipse Pipelines Like Keystone XL

“Rail can get you just about anywhere. It's like the Harry Potter stairway. You get on the stairs at one end and they move to wherever you need to go. That's the beauty of the railway. You get on at one end here, with your bitumen or dilbit, and then you can end up in different places depending on what are the best markets.”

That quote is from Pete Sametz, president of Connacher Oil and Gas, speaking to the Daily Oil Bulletin about the appeal of moving tar sands oil by rail. And Sametz isn’t alone in his enthusiasm for rail transportation options for bitumen. 

At the Canadian Institute's North American Pipeline Symposium in June, Randy Meyer of Canadian National railway, told the conference how this situation appeared to him. 

“It's kind of amusing when I read in the paper that there's this angst and gnashing of teeth about Keystone and I'm going, 'My goodness, we're already there.' We can go there and we are. We are shipping product there.

The reality is that tar sands bitumen transport is so well-suited for rail over pipelines that it is now cheaper to move tar sands bitumen by rail than it is by pipeline. If you're a tar sands industry executive, this is your light-bulb moment: Who needs the Keystone XL headache when you can bypass the controversy entirely using existing rail lines? 

Aside from the magical Harry Potter flexibility of rail compared to pipelines, rail also offers the option of moving bitumen without having to dilute it, as is required for pipelines, which makes it cheaper as explained by Randy Meyer. 

“We did a study where we took the American Association of Railway's published rates, which averaged out all the traffic that moves and all its products. That average … is about 16 per cent less than pipeline costs.”

This reality and the recent revelations that the impact of the tar sands oil will be much greater than initially predicted, present a grim picture for the environment, although apparently an amusing and exciting one for oil and rail executives. Companies like Grizzly Oil Sands outline their plans on their website. 

Sun, 2014-08-17 13:50Carol Linnitt
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The Oilsands Cancer Story Part 3: The Spotlight Turns on Fort Chip Doctor

Fort Chipewyan Cemetery. Fort Chip, located downstream of the oilsands, has higher than average cancer rates.

This is the third installment in a three-part series on Dr. John O'Connor, the family physician to first identify higher-than-average cancer rates and rare forms of cancer in communities downstream of the Alberta oilsands.

Part 3: The Spotlight Turns On Fort Chip Doctor

After the story of Fort Chip’s health problems broke, Health Canada sent physicians out to the small, northern community.

Dr. John O’Connor said one of the Health Canada doctors went into the local nursing station and, in front of a reporter, filled a mug with Fort Chip water and drank from it, saying, ‘See, there’s nothing wrong with it.’

That was such a kick in the face for everyone,” O’Connor said. “Just a complete dismissal of their concerns.”

Health Canada eventually requested the charts of the patients who had died. Six weeks later they announced the findings of a report that concluded cancer rates were no higher in Fort Chip than expected.

For O’Connor, however, the numbers “just didn’t match up.”

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