In-Depth

Famous Canadian Ice Road Melts for the Last Time

Northwest Territories Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Ice Road, Matt Jacques|DeSmog Canada

Each winter in Canada’s far north, a series of ice roads take form, providing people and supply trucks temporary access to the region’s otherwise isolated towns. But rapid changes to Canada’s north means this spring marks the final melt of one of the north’s famed ice highways, the ‘Road to the Top of the World,’ stretching across 187 kilometres of frozen Mackenzie Delta and Arctic Ocean in the Northwest Territories, linking Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk.

It’s taking longer for everything to freeze up, and the ice isn’t as thick,” Wally Schumann, the minister of infrastructure for the Northwest Territories, told the New York Times in April. The Northwest Territories is warming at four to five times the global rate.

Under construction right now is a new permanent $300-million all-weather road — but its long-term stability is also challenged by the unpredictable, warming landscape says Phil Marsh, professor and Canada Research Chair in Cold Regions Water Science at Wilfred Laurier University.

This area is continuous permafrost with massive amounts of ground ice,” Marsh explained.

In the spring, melting water can carve sizeable channels through the ground ice, “which can rapidly drain a lake in less than twenty four hours.”

What Have We Learned From the Lac-Megantic Oil Train Disaster?

Lac-Megantic's downtown before the oil train disaster.

Brian Stevens first learned about the Lac-Megantic disaster — in which an unattended oil train caught fire and exploded, killing 47 people in the Quebec town — when he saw the news reports on TV.

Stevens is currently National Rail Director for Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union, but he previously spent 16 years as an air-brake mechanic working on trains. At a recent conference in Ottawa examining lessons from the 2013 Lac-Megantic rail disaster, he recounted his reaction to seeing those initial scenes of destruction.  

That ain’t Canada, that can’t happen in North America because our brake systems won’t allow that,” he said when he eventually learned the images he was seeing were from Canada. “My heart sank … It was crushing.”  

In Photos: Lessons from the Scene of the Sea Empress Oil Spill

Dr. Robin Crump had a front row seat to one of the world’s worst oil spills.

Twenty years ago, on Feb. 15, 1996, the Sea Empress oil tanker ran aground on mid-channel rocks in Pembrokeshire Coast National Park in Wales.

Over the course of the following week, the Sea Empress spilled almost 18 million gallons — 80 million litres — of crude oil, making it Britain’s third largest oil spill and the world’s 12th largest at the time.

Beaches were coated in a thick brown chocolate mousse of petroleum. Thousands of birds and other creatures perished. The rare species, Asterina Phylactica, first discovered by Dr. Crump, was reduced to a handful of individuals. Thanks in large part to Crump’s efforts, the species was well on the road to recovery within six months.

Why Does B.C. Still Kill Grizzlies for Sport?

Grizzly bear trophy hunt

In early October a provincial government news release landed in the inboxes of reporters and researchers around B.C.

It boasted of a new government-commissioned report that concluded B.C. has “a high level of rigour and adequate safeguards in place to ensure the long-term stability of grizzly populations.”

Even though the report was less glowing than the news release and noted there are monitoring difficulties and a lack of funding, the review gave the BC Liberals the ammunition they needed to conclude the controversial practice of hunting grizzlies for sport is just fine.

But, here’s the thing: even if the province’s estimates of 15,000 grizzly bears in B.C. is correct — and it is a figure disputed by independent biologists, some of whom believe the number is as low as 6,000 — the stand-off over hunting intelligent animals for sport isn’t about the science. It’s about values and ethics.

In Photos: Bella Bella Diesel Fuel Spill Two Weeks In

It has been two weeks since the Nathan E. Stewart, a U.S.-based fuel barge tug, struck ground and sank near Bella Bella, B.C., contaminating the harvest waters of the Heiltsuk First Nation with an estimated 60,000 gallons of diesel fuel.  

During that time coastal residents have watched with dismay as spill response efforts have been hampered repeatedly by unfavourable weather, failed spill containment and even one incident where a spill response ship took on water and itself began to sink.

But the ongoing failure to contain and clean up the spill has been witnessed most closely by members of the Heiltsuk First Nation, who have been on the frontlines of the spill response effort since day one.

Exclusive New Photos: The B.C. Government's Frantic Push to Get Site C Dam Past 'Point of No Return'

Site C dam construction

Just two years ago only four in 10 British Columbians had even heard of the Site C dam. Now, the project — one of the most expensive and environmentally destructive in B.C.’s history — is making international headlines.

With construction ramping up, the high cost of the Site C dam is becoming more visible, and not just on the landscape.

Residents are being forcibly removed from their land. More than 100 kilometres of river valley — much of it agricultural land — is slated for flooding. Independent review processes, meant to ensure the project serves the public interest, have been circumvented and indigenous rights have been trampled.

Tweet: EXCLUSIVE photos: what working toward #SiteC’s ‘point of no return’ looks like http://bit.ly/2ejaJqk @christyclarkbc #bcpoli #bcelxn17B.C. Premier Christy Clark has vowed to get the $9 billion Site C dam past the “point of no return” before the May 2017 provincial election, despite a torrent of experts questioning the demand for the power.

Aided by permits issued by the Trudeau government, construction on the project is rushing ahead, while First Nations wait on a court ruling that could stop construction.

Thanks to donations from you, our readers, DeSmog Canada was able to send celebrated photographer, Garth Lenz, to the Peace to capture the ongoing construction and the landscapes and lives that stand to be affected by the Site C dam.

While the destruction may alarm some readers, it's worth noting that most of the work so far has been isolated to in and around the site of the proposed dam and more than 80 kilometres of river valley remains untouched at this stage. 

Will Alberta’s Last-Ditch Effort to Save the Caribou Be Enough?

Woodland Caribou

When the Alberta government released its draft plan to save the province’s dwindling caribou populations from local extinction earlier this month, it was heralded as a major step forward — but big questions remain.

The biggest one: after years of failing to intervene in the caribou crisis, will the new plan be enough to bring them back from the brink of extinction?

It was great news for northwest populations where big protected areas are needed and there’s still time there to ensure caribou recovery,” conservation specialist Carolyn Campbell from the Alberta Wilderness Association told DeSmog Canada.

But when it comes to the Little Smoky range, it’s still not enough, Campbell said.

The problem is the underlying causes of predation are still allowed to worsen in the next five years by restarting logging and by implying energy infrastructure can still go ahead,” she said. “We can’t support the plan continuing to destroy habitat.”

Think Facts Matter? Try Attending a Friends of Science Event Headlined by Ezra Levant

We’re only a minute into watching a brief low-budget video — one that begins by alleging U.S. President Barack Obama is a bully because he suggests that climate change deniers should be “called out” — when Ezra Levant sits down in the chair next to me.

The Rebel Commander himself.

According to organizers, he’s the reason attendance of tonight’s $45-per-head fundraiser in Calgary — casually titled “Climate Leadership Catastrophe: Carbon Taxes, Job Loss, Freedoms Denied” and organized by the so-called “Friends of Science” — spiked from 200 to 445 people after he was announced as its keynote speaker.

And he’s the same intensely controversial pundit who I met in late November at another Calgary event called “Generation Screwed” which I covered for Vice Canada while wearing a “Dreamy Trudeau” sweater.

Hey James,” he says, reaching out his hand to shake mine.

Enbridge and Kinder Morgan Lobby Hard As Feds Change Tune on Pipelines

It’s been a month of mostly good news for Enbridge and Kinder Morgan, the two companies pushing to build major pipeline projects from Alberta’s oilsands to British Columbia’s coast.

Quick recap: on April 11, the National Post reported that the federal government is drawing up a pipeline implementation strategy for Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion Project and TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline.

Two weeks later, Bloomberg noted the federal government is reevaluating its tanker ban on the province’s northern coast, which currently bars exports from the Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline. On the same day (April 25), Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement project was quietly approved by the National Energy Board, boosting future exports by 370,000 barrels/day.

Capping off the busy spell is the May 6 announcement that Enbridge has requested a three year extension from the National Energy Board for the Northern Gateway pipeline. The company is required to begin construction by 2016 according to its current permits but says it needs more time to lock down legal permissions and further consult with Indigenous peoples.

The reinvigoration of these pipeline projects come on the heels of a major lobbying effort by both Enbridge and Kinder Morgan.

“There is no doubt”: Exxon Knew CO2 Pollution Was A Global Threat By Late 1970s

Throughout Exxon’s global operations, the company knew that CO2 was a harmful pollutant in the atmosphere years earlier than previously reported.

DeSmog has uncovered Exxon corporate documents from the late 1970s stating unequivocally “there is no doubt” that CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels was a growing “problem” well understood within the company.

It is assumed that the major contributors of CO2 are the burning of fossil fuels… There is no doubt that increases in fossil fuel usage and decreases of forest cover are aggravating the potential problem of increased CO2 in the atmosphere. Technology exists to remove CO2 from stack gases but removal of only 50% of the CO2 would double the cost of power generation.” [emphasis added]

Those lines appeared in a 1980 report, “Review of Environmental Protection Activities for 1978-1979,” produced by Imperial Oil, Exxon’s Canadian subsidiary.

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