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Documents Reveal Alberta Colludes with Industry in Pipeline Safety Review

A pipeline safety review conducted by the Alberta government last summer was done with the oil and gas industry's interests in mind, according to recent documents released to Greenpeace through Freedom of Information legislation. The documents (PDF) show the review, commissioned after a series of back-to-back pipeline incidents across Alberta raised public concern, was coordinated internally between government and industry, and appears to have required industry consent.

Greenpeace campaigner Keith Stewart told the Canadian Press “there's a difference between talking to industry and asking for their approval.”

Private communications suggest government officials worked behind the scenes to develop a review plan that would please industry.
“It looks like industry got to write the terms for this review,” said Stewart.
The review was commissioned by the Alberta government after a collective of more than 50 prominent environmental, land rights, First Nations and union representatives called upon Premier Alison Redford to initiate an independent review of the province's pipeline safety. The groups, including the Alberta Surface Rights Group, The Council of Canadians, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace Canada also launched an anonymous oil spill tipline, urging individuals to make rupture and spill information public. The Alberta government does not make such information available on a public database.
Between May and June the pipeline industry suffered three major incidents in Alberta. The first saw 3.5 million liters of oil leaked into muskeg near Rainbow Lake. In June, a tributary of Red Deer River, which provides drinking water to many Albertan communities, was flooded with 475,000 liters of oil from an unused pipeline. Not two weeks later, more than 230,000 liters were spilled from a leaking line near Elk Lake

Harper Government Approves Foreign Acquisition of Nexen, Progress Energy, Affirms FIPA Concerns

Today Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the approval of two major acquisitions of Canadian energy companies by foreign state-owned enterprises. The Chinese National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) will commence the $15.1 billion takeover of Nexen Inc., a Canadian company with major holdings in the Alberta tar sands. Malaysia's Petronas will proceed with the purchase of Progress Energy Resources Corp., a Calgary company with considerable shale gas plays in British Columbia, for $5.2 billion. Petronas has plans to construct an $11 billion liquified natural gas plant in Prince Rupert to prepare gas exports for Asia. 

Prime Minister Harper announced the takeovers, which are steeped in controversy, in tandem with new takeover guidelines intended to address growing concerns of foreign ownership of Canada's resources by energy-hungry nations. He remained silent on the significance of the approval for FIPA, the Foreign Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement, also known as the China-Canada Investment Treaty.
“Canadians generally and investors specifically should understand that these decisions are not the beginning of a trend but rather the end of a trend,” said Mr. Harper. The full meaning of that statement, however, remains to be seen. The Harper government's decision to ratify FIPA may mean deals done with China, like today's deal with CNOOC, will carry a new significance.
The government previously raised the threshold for official review of foreign takeovers from $330 million to $1 billion, signaling open arms to potential foreign investors with an eye on mega projects like the Alberta tar sands. However, today that threshold was returned to $330 million for state-owned enterprises.
“To be blunt, Canadians have not spent years reducing ownership of sectors of the economy by our own governments only to see them bought and controlled by foreign governments instead,” Mr. Harper said

International Forum on Globalization: Kochtopus "U.S. Carbon Billionaires" Create "Climate Deadlock"

U.S. Carbon Billionaires

While international cooperation to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions has never been a greater imperative, climate progress has never been more stymied, more corrupted by those who stand to gain from maintaining a beleaguered carbon-based energy system that threatens the health and well-being of the global community. 

According to a new report released this week by the International Forum on Globalization (IFG), no climate culprit deserves greater blame than the carbon billion duo, brothers Charles and David Koch. The IFG's “Faces Behind a Global Crisis: U.S. Carbon Billionaires and the UN Climate Deadlock” explains the role these oil barons play in paralyzing global efforts to combat climate change on the international level. 
“The Kochs cashed in by polluting our planet - economists would call them free-riders - and now they wield their wealth to rig the rules in their own favor…Leading an epic propaganda effort by the broader fossil fuel industry, global climate cooperation may face no bigger barrier blocking progress today than these two individuals of undue influence.”
The extent and influence of the Kochs' wealth cannot be underestimated. According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, the Koch brothers combined constitute the world's wealthiest 'individual' with a value of $80.2 billion, beating out Mexico's Carlos Slim at $71.8 billion. 

"Big Oil's Oily Grasp": Polaris Institute Documents Harper Government Entanglement with Tar Sands Lobby

Oil industry lobbyists in Canada have taken the country by the reins. At least, that's the implication of the Polaris Institute's new report released today. The report, “Big Oil's Oily Grasp - The Making of Canada as a Petro-State and How Oil Money is Corrupting Canadian Politics,” (pdf) documents 2,733 meetings held between the oil industry and federal government officials since 2008. That figure outstrips meetings with environmental organizations by a whopping 463 percent. 

“Canada's increasing dependence on the export of bitumen to the United States has, in effect, served to redefine this nation in the form of a petro-state,” the report opens. Lobbying activities in Ottawa may help explain why “the Canadian government has increasingly watered down or withdrawn its role and responsibilities to regulate the economic, environmental and social impacts of the tar sands industry.”
The report highlights the spike in lobbying activities - of six major Big Oil players including Enbridge and TransCanada - in the period between September 2011 and September 2012, right when the industry-friendly omnibus budget Bill C-38 made its infamous debut. In that same period of time, the federal government met once with Greenpeace. 
Since 2008, oil and gas industry groups held meetings with officials 367 percent more than the two major automotive associations in Canada, and 78 percent more than the top two mining associations. 
“The amount of face time the oil industry gets in Ottawa in personal meetings and other correspondence greatly exceeds the time afforded other major industries in Canada,” says the report's co-author Daniel Cayley-Daoust. “No one doubts the hold the oil industry has on this current government, but it is important Canadians are aware that such a high rater of lobbying to federal ministers has strong policy implications.”

Canadian Youth Delegation: Tar Sands Creating "Commitment Issues" for Canada at COP18

Canada's leadership is failing to uphold international commitments to reduce the country's emissions under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This failure on the global stage is the direct result of Canada's domestic policies, according to the Canadian Youth Delegation to COP18's recent report “Commitment Issues.”  

Canada's determination to develop Alberta's tar sands constitutes the nation's primary obstacle to progress on climate action. Bitumen extraction in the region “invalidates Canada's commitment to limit global warming to 2 degrees celsius since pre-industrial times and sets a dangerous global precedent for extreme extraction,” the report states.
The Canadian government has participated in several significant international agreements and treaties aimed at reducing global levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, given the country's aggressive oil and gas development, these agreements only serve to highlight Canada's disregard for, rather than participation in, international efforts to prevent dangerous global warming.

Mining Corporation Looks to BC for Frac Sand Open Pit Mine

Stikine Gold Mining Corp. will provide unconventional gas producers with British Columbian silica sand for fracking operations if the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations approves the company's open pit frac sand mine project application. According to the Ministry's website the project, located 90 kilometers north of Prince George, is in pre-application status with the Environmental Assessment Office.

If granted approval, Stikine could gouge a 5 kilometer wide and 200 meter deep hole in the region's sandstone shelves, dismantling what works as a massive natural water filtration system in order to benefit an industrial enterprise that removes millions of gallons of freshwater from the earth's hydrogeological system each year. This is done as an intermediary step towards fracking for unconventional gas, an energy-intensive, heavy industrial process that will ultimately release high levels of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. 
“Stikine's new focus on the potential production of Frac Sand from silica sources in north eastern BC (NEBC) represents a strategic opportunity in the market and a first for what is shaping up to be a massive gas play in region,” the company announced on its website.
Frac sand mining is an often overlooked component of hydraulic fracturing operations. Producers use a mixture of sand, water, and chemicals to blast open shale gas deposits, such as those located in northeastern BC. Fracking opponents often point to the toxicity of fracking chemicals, the possibility of groundwater contamination and high levels of fugitive methane emissions associated with the process to demonstrate the high environmental footprint of the industry-lauded 'clean' energy source.
The role sand plays in fracking is often overshadowed by these more widespread problems that follow the process to each well-pad, affecting communities at the local level. However, giving more thought to the industry's need for sand - a single well can use between 2 and 5 million pounds of sand - sheds light on just how destructive fracking is, right from inception.

Interview: Filmmakers Explore Enbridge Tanker Route Along BC's Rugged Coast

British Columbian filmmakers Nicolas Teichrob and Anthony Bonello are leading a grassroots campaign to protect BC's waters from Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline. In an effort to bring awareness to all sides of the pipeline battle, the duo documented the tanker route destined to carry diluted tar sands bitumen along rugged coastal shores if the pipeline is approved.

Concerns over the construction of the pipeline are only half the story, according to the film's trailer released last week. The other half begins where the pipeline ends, with pristine coastal waters and the life - both ecological and cultural - that depends upon it.

Following stand up paddler Norm Hann as he paddles the 350 kilometers that stretch from Kitimat to Bella Bella, the film, called STAND, showcases the region's biodiversity as well as its treacherous waterways. The documentary also tells the story of coastal communities through the creative protest of Bella Bella high school students and legendary surfer Raph Bruhwiler.

DeSmog caught up with Nicolas Teichrob and Anthony Bonello to learn more about their experience along the tanker route and inspiration for STAND.

New Enbridge Spill Near Chicago Continues Company's "Pattern of Failures"

Enbridge was forced to shut down one of its pipelines last week after 900 barrels of crude oil leaked at the Mokena tank farm near Chicago. The leak was discovered on Tuesday of last week although its cause remained undisclosed until this morning, when the Mokena fire department cited a hole in a 20-inch pipeline. 

The leak forced the shutdown of Enbridge's Line 14, a pipeline carrying 318,000 barrels of oil per day from Superior, Wisconsin to Mokena, Illinois. 

Enbridge spokesman Graham White told the Chicago Tribune Friday that the spilled 37,000 gallons of crude were “contained within the tank berm,” causing little environmental impact. The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is investigating the accident.

The Mokena spill is yet another incident in a long list of Enbridge operational failures that have severely weakened the company's public standing and professional reputation. 

Two Tanker Incidents off BC Coast Confirm Tar Sand Supertanker Concerns

Two separate incidents involving container ships off the coast of British Columbia have local First Nations questioning the prudence of transporting tar sands crude in the region's hazardous waterways. The incidents, occurring within less than 48 hours of each other, lend new support to those who oppose the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline that would bring over 200 oil-bearing supertankers through the area each year. 

On Wednesday, November 21, the Hanjin Geneva, a 279-metre long cargo vessel, ran aground in the Prince Rupert Harbour after changing course to avoid a small fishing boat. 
Yesterday the Tern Arrow, a deep-sea container ship, suffered a power failure in Gitga'at territorial waters in the Great Bear Rainforest. 
“The ship lost power and drifted for three hours in Laredo Sound,” said Arnold Clifton, Chief Councillor of the Gitga'at First Nation. “This is the same place that a ship hit Wilson Rock in 1980. These are the same coastal waters that Enbridge is proposing to bring more than 225 oil supertankers through every year. How many close calls will we have then, and how will our coastal communities survive?”

Dr. David Schindler: Tar Sands Science "Shoddy," "Must Change"

If you ask an Environment Canada media spokesperson about contamination resulting from tar sands operations, they will not tell you the federal government has failed to adequately monitor the mega-project's effects on water.

They most certainly will not say outright that the federal government has failed to monitor the long term or cumulative environmental effects of the world's largest industrial project. They won't say it, but not because it isn't the case. 

The tar sands are contaminating hundreds of kilometres of land in northern Alberta with cancer-causing contaminants and neurotoxins.

And although federal scientists have confirmed this, they are prevented from sharing information about their research with the media. 

In fact, if a journalist wants to approach a public servant scientist these days, he or she is required to follow the federal ministry's media relations protocol, one which strictly limits the media's access to scientists, sees scientists media trained by communications professionals who coach them on their answers, determine beforehand which questions can be asked or answered, and monitor the interaction to ensure federal employees stay within the preordained parameters.

The result is an overly-monitored process that causes burdensome delays in media-scientist interactions. The overwhelming consequence is that the media has stopped talking to the country's national scientists.
But University of Alberta scientist Dr. David Schindler is ready and willing to pick up the slack, especially after Environment Canada federal scientists recently presented findings that vindicated years of Schindler's contentious research exposing the negative effects of tar sands production on local waterways and aquatic species.
According to Schindler, the rapid expansion of the tar sands is not based on valid science: “Both background studies and environmental impact assessments have been shoddy, and could not really even be called science. This must change,” he told DeSmog.