oilsands

Alberta Approves Suncor Tailings Plan Despite Reliance on ‘Unproven Technology’

Oilsands tailings pond

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) has approved a tailings management plan from oilsands giant Suncor, despite the plan relying on “newly patented, unproven technology” that will require decades of monitoring.

Wednesday’s decision came only six months after the AER rejected Suncor’s proposed plan for the same project because it relied on unproven technology and a 70-year timeline for reclamation. The regulator only later agreed to re-review the plan.

So what changed? Uh, nothing.

Suncor really hasn’t budged an inch in terms of actually changing anything,” said Jodi McNeill, policy analyst at the Pembina Institute, in an interview with DeSmog Canada.

TransCanada Cancels Energy East Oilsands Pipeline

TransCanada pipeline

Canadian pipeline company TransCanada announced today it will no longer be proceeding with its proposed Energy East Pipeline and Eastern Mainline projects.

After careful review of changed circumstances, we will be informing the National Energy Board that we will no longer be proceeding with our Energy East and Eastern Mainline applications,” said president and CEO Russ Girling in a statement released Thursday morning.

The $15.7 billion Energy East pipeline planned to transport 1.1 million barrels of oil per day from western Canada’s oilsands to refineries in Quebec and Saint John, New Brunswick, as well as an export terminal in New Brunswick.

What The Oilsands Sell-Off Actually Means

Oilsands trucks

The last few months have been marked by some massive shifts in the oilsands.

In December, there was the $830 million Statoil sale to Athabasca Oil, followed in January and February by the writing down of billions of barrels of reserves by Imperial Oil, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil.

On March 9, Shell sold a majority of its oilsands assets to Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL) in a huge $7.25 billion sale, while Marathon Oil split its Canadian subsidiary between Shell and CNRL for a total of $2.5 billion.

The question is: why are all of these companies selling their oilsands assets? While some celebrate the moves as successes for the climate movement, others blame the Alberta NDP for the exodus of internationals.

Tweet: Experts say #oilsands sell-off has more to do w/ a broader shift that’s made oilsands uneconomical http://bit.ly/2nK3zyQ #ableg #cdnpoliBut experts say the reality has more to do with a broader economic shift that’s made oilsands uneconomical — for the time being at least.

Secrecy Around Composition of Oilsands Dilbit Makes Effective Spill Response, Research Impossible: New Study

Knowledge gaps about the behaviour of diluted bitumen when it is spilled into saltwater and lack of information about how to deal with multiple problems that can result from extracting and transporting bitumen from the Alberta oilsands, make it impossible for government or industry to come up with effective policies to deal with a disaster, says a newly published research paper, Oilsands and the Marine Environment.

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.

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.”

B.C. Orders Enbridge to Seek New Environment Certificate for Northern Gateway

Enbridge will have to secure an environmental assessment certificate from the B.C. government if it wants to proceed with its Northern Gateway oil pipeline according to an order issued by B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office on Friday.
 
Early on in the Northern Gateway process, the B.C. government signed an “equivalency agreement” with the federal government, giving Ottawa the responsibility for the environmental assessment.
 
However, a Supreme Court of B.C. decision this January found that the B.C. government acted improperly and that the province must still make its own decision about issuing an environmental assessment certificate.

In a letter to Enbridge posted last week, B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office states that it will accept the National Energy Board’s (NEB) joint review panel report as the assessment report, but it will carry out its own consultation with Aboriginal groups — if and when Enbridge indicates it’s ready to proceed (it’s clear Enbridge must make a move here).

'Failed Experiment': Alberta Folds Oilsands Monitoring Agency

Tailings pond in Alberta oilsands

The Alberta government has shuttered its arm’s length environmental monitoring agency after a report concluded the program was a “failed experiment.”
 
Minister of Environment Shannon Phillips announced Tuesday the Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency (AEMERA) would be disbanded and environmental monitoring will return back to the government.

“It ensures government is directly accountable for environmental monitoring and that issues or gaps in monitoring are responded to immediately,” Phillips said at a press conference.

Phillip’s ministry commissioned a report that described the Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency as overly expensive, poorly co-ordinated and plagued by bureaucratic bickering.

“It is hard to escape the conclusion that AEMERA is a failed experiment in outsourcing a core responsibility of government to an arm’s-length body,” wrote report author Paul Boothe, director of the Lawrence National Centre for Policy and Management at Western University’s Ivey School of Business.

‘It’s a New Day’: Why Environmentalists Need to Change Their Strategy Under Trudeau Government

Ottawa climate protest

Nine and a half years. That’s how long Stephen Harper was prime minister of Canada — a long haul for environmentalists, who were all but shut out of Ottawa and often antagonized by the federal government.

Now that Justin Trudeau and the Liberals have taken the helm, advocates have high hopes for a course correction on the environment and energy files. But after nearly a decade of working under hostile conditions, environmentalists need to make a course correction of their own if they want to effectively influence public policy, experts say.   

If I was running a large ENGO and my file was climate, it’s a new day,” said Allan Northcott, vice-president of Max Bell Foundation, which runs the Public Policy Training Institute to train non-profit leaders in how to effectively advocate for policy changes.

The opportunity is different, so it’s going to require a different plan, a different strategy.”

Is it the Beginning of the End for the Alberta Oilsands?

A new report from Oil Change International challenges industry’s common assumption that the continued production of oilsands crude is inevitable.

The report, Lockdown: The End of Growth in the Tar Sands, argues industry projections — to expand oilsands production from a current 2.1 million barrels per day to as much as 5.8 million barrels per day by 2035 — rely on high prices, public licence and a growing pipeline infrastructure, all of which are endangered in a carbon-constrained world.

As the report’s authors find, growing opposition to oil production — especially in the oilsands, which is among the most carbon intensive oil in the world — has significantly altered public perception of pipelines, a change amplified by the cross-continental battles against the Enbridge Northern Gateway, Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain, TransCanada Energy East and TransCanada Keystone XL pipelines.

According to the report’s authors, production growth in the oilsands hinges on the construction of these contentious pipelines because the existing pipeline system is currently at 89 per cent capacity.

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