Alberta

Tue, 2013-03-05 12:23Jeff Gailus
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Parsing Redford’s Little Black Lies, Part 1

This is the first post in a three-part series. For Part 2, How Redford Can Walk the Walk, click here.

Within weeks of becoming Alberta’s first female premier in October 2011, Alison Redford realized that the tired old propaganda about jobs and Canada’s reputation as a safe and friendly supplier of oil weren’t helping in the battle over the future of tar sands oil in America.

We heard very quickly that they don’t want to hear anymore the security argument or the jobs argument. We get that,” Redford told the Globe and Mail. “Really, this is about environmental stewardship and sustainable development of the oil sands. We were quite happy to talk about that, [but] that was a shift in the kinds of conversations that Alberta was having.”

What Redford doesn’t seem to have understood is that it’s not about talking the talk, it’s about walking the walk. In a recent column in America’s biggest newspaper, USA Today, Redford tried to convince Americans that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is part of Alberta’s “responsible oil sands development.”

Sat, 2013-02-16 10:00Ben Jervey
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Oil Aboard! Tar Sands Industry Eyes Nexen Rail Alternative to Stalled Pipelines

Facing enormous opposition to the proposed Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines, Canada’s tar sands industry is taking to the tracks to get its sticky bitumen to China. Canadian and Chinese oil companies have explored the “pipeline by rail” option for years now, but over the past month, the prospect of tar sands trains has taken a few big steps closer toward reality.

For over a year, Calgary-based Nexen, Inc. has been developing plans to load tar sands crude onto trains for transport to the West Coast, where it would be loaded onto barges and shipped to China. Late last month, the Canadian government approved the sale of Nexen to a nationalized Chinese oil company, and earlier this week, the U.S. government, which has some say because of Nexen’s major operations in the Gulf of Mexico, gave its stamp of approval.  According to Nexen, the company now has “all the requisite approvals” and the deal “is expected to close the week of February 25, 2013.” (So much for Canadian tar sands benefiting Canadians first and foremost.)

Rail is considered more and more appealing to industry insiders as numerous plans to ship tar sands crude by pipeline have grown increasingly controversial and have been stalled by climate and private property activists from British Columbia to New England to Nebraska. (See: the Keystone XL, the Northern Gateway, and Trailbreaker/Enbridge Line 9.)

In fact, the industry is growing desperate to find ways to export the heavy Canadian crude, as export pipeline capacity is currently maxed out, causing a glut in supply in Alberta, which is driving down prices and causing, according to the Globe and Mail, “billions in forfeited revenues.”

Sat, 2013-02-16 08:00Guest
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The Credibility Gap: All Talk and Not Much Action on Climate Change

By Hannah McKinnon, National Program Manager at Environmental Defense.

In last week's State of the Union address, President Obama reiterated his vision for clean energy and urgent action on global warming. With TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline on the frontlines and looking threatened, oil industry supporters are suddenly desperate to look like the environmental and climate risks of the tar sands are under control.
 
But there’s a massive credibility gap as Canada’s contribution to global warming is spiralling out of control, with the reckless expansion of the tar sands.
 
We’ve always believed that actions speak louder than words. So while the oil industry and government embark on a pro-tar sands PR campaign, let’s look at how Canada has behaved on climate action and the environmental risks of the tar sands.  

Sat, 2013-02-09 06:00Carol Linnitt
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BC's Fracking Problem: Northern Gateway Not Only Concern for BC Residents

The British Columbia government has plans to double or even triple the amount of natural gas produced in the province in order to meet growing international demand. Although the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline is a key issue of concern to British Columbians, widespread fracking for unconventional gas presents another significant challenge that should be on the public's radar, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).

As the CCPA reports, BC's gas production targets all but ensure the province will fail to meet its own 2007 emission reductions targets as laid out in the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act. Exported gas from BC is expected to contribute the emissions equivalent of putting 24 million new cars on the road, and all for a 0.1 percent projected increase in provincial jobs.

You can watch this animated video here for an overview:

Fri, 2013-01-25 05:00Carol Linnitt
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Canadian Scientists Must Speak Out Despite Consequence, Says Andrew Weaver

If people don’t speak out there will never be any change,” says the University of Victoria’s award-winning climate scientist Andrew Weaver. 

And the need for change in Canada, says Weaver, has never been more pressing.

“We have a crisis in Canada. That crisis is in terms of the development of information and the need for science to inform decision-making. We have replaced that with an ideological approach to decision-making, the selective use of whatever can be found to justify [policy decisions], and the suppression of scientific voices and science itself in terms of informing the development of that policy.”
 
Tue, 2013-01-22 13:38Steve Horn
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Keystone XL North: TransCanada's Controversial Shale Gas Export Pipeline Plan

The battle continues over the future of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, with the Tar Sands Blockade continuing and a large forthcoming President's Day anti-Keystone XL rally set to take place in Washington, DC.

In a nutshell: Keystone XL, if approved by the U.S. State Department, will carry viscous and dirty tar sands crude - also known as diluted bitumen or “dilbit” - from Alberta, Canada down to Port Arthur, TX. From Port Arthur, the tar sands crude will be exported to the global market

Muddying the waters on the decision is the fact that The Calgary Herald recently revealed that prospective Secretary of State, John Kerry, has financial investments in two tar sands corporations: Suncor and Cenovus. Kerry has $750,000 invested in Suncor and another $31,000 invested in Cenovus. 

Which of course all begs the question: Is this another episode of State Department Oil Services all over again?

Fri, 2013-01-18 05:00Carol Linnitt
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Federal Study Reignites Pollution Concern in Expanding Tar Sands Region

Dr. David Schindler, the scientist who sounded the alarm on tar sands contamination back in 2010, has suddenly found his research backed by an Environment Canada study recently published in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The federal study, which confirmed Schindler’s hotly-contested research, has reignited concerns over the pace and scale of development in the Athabasca region, an area now beset with a host of ecological and human health concerns. 

Fri, 2013-01-11 09:46Jeff Gailus
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The Biggest Little Black Lie of 2012

In a culture awash in bullshit, it’s no easy task to identify the Little Black Lie of the Year. It’s like choosing the most beautiful butterfly or the most violent criminal. There are just so many to choose from, and who’s to say?

Still, it behooves us to try, so I solicited input from people who pay attention to such things. There were numerous contenders. In a deceit of geologic magnitude, Enbridge erased 1,000 square kilometres of islands from the Douglas Channel to make the tanker route out of Kitimat Harbour look much safer than it really is.

Then there’s the patently misleading claim by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, almost a year to the day after Canada’s outspokenly belligerent Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver said “we are supportive of the [Northern] Gateway [pipeline] project,” that “the government doesn’t choose particular projects.”

South of the border, the ever-dubious Fox News reported that the Keystone XL pipeline would create “a million new high-paying jobs,” when the reality is no more like 4,600 temporary constructions jobs and just 50 permanent jobs.

There were dozens of others; the competition was stiff. But the New Year brought the release of a new scientific study that sets one Little Black Lie above – or below, depending on your perspective – them all.

For years, the Alberta government and the oil industry have maintained that tar sands mines and bitumen upgraders were not polluting the land and water in northern Alberta, that development was being conducted in a “clean, responsible and sustainable” manner. Despite research published by David Schindler and his colleagues in 2009 and 2010 that found elevated levels of a variety of toxic chemicals in the snowpack and waterways around the mines, and despite numerous studies that found the monitoring program in the tar sands region to be egregiously flawed, the Alberta government’s messaging remained the same: any and all pollution found in the area was from “natural” sources. 

Today, and every day in 2012, the government’s “oil sands” website reads: “Monitoring stations downstream of mine sites show industrial contribution cannot be detected against historically consistent readings of naturally occurring compounds in the Athabasca River.”

But now the cat’s out of the bag, and this Little Black Lie has been exposed once and for all.

Sat, 2012-12-22 11:33Carol Linnitt
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Alberta Finds Mismanagement of Errors Causes Fracking Water Contamination

“There is no amount of regulation that can overcome human error,” said Alberta's Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) spokesman Darin BarterERCB released an investigation report that cites inadequate management of risks as one of the main causes of a September 2011 accident that contaminated groundwater with toxic hydraulic fracturing chemicals, including the cancer causing agent known as BTEX (benzene, toulene, ethylbenzene, and xylene).

The incident occurred near Grande Prairie in northern Alberta when Crew Energy and GasFrac Energy Services workers failed to “recognize and properly assess a number of issues that led to the perforation and fracturing above the base of groundwater protection,” according to the report.

Workers accidentally fracked directly into an underground water table after a series of mishandled errors resulted in a massively bungled frack job that injected 42 cubic metres of unrecoverable propane gel into an aquifer some 136 metres below ground. 
 
Personnel from Crew Energy told the Calgary Herald the company is “embarrassed” about the accident. Rob Morgan, chief operating officer for Crew said, “there's no question of our appreciation of the severity of this,” adding, “pretty much all of the personnel who were involved in this particular circumstance are no longer with the company.”
Tue, 2012-12-18 04:00Jeff Gailus
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Little Black Lies: Manufacturing Irony

If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you’ll know that the Alberta government is suing the tobacco industry for $10 billion. What may be less clear is how ironic this gesture of fiscal responsibility is, coming, as it does, from a government that happily perpetuates the same transgressions that got Big Tobacco in trouble in the first place.

Each year, approximately 3,000 Albertans die from tobacco-related illnesses,” Premier Alison Redford said when she announced the legal action last May. “This lawsuit, to be clear, is not about banning cigarettes or punishing smokers. It is about recovering health-care costs as a result of the misconduct of the tobacco industry.”

The issue, Redford reminds us, is not that cigarette smoking kills thousands of people, and costs taxpayers millions of dollars, every year. No, Redford, like others who have sued the tobacco industry over the last 30 years, are outraged that these purveyors of America's most widely used addictive drug lied and lied relentlessly to the North American public.

Rather than come clean and acknowledge the scientific evidence that cigarette smoking caused various illnesses, the tobacco industry embarked on an insidious campaign to discredit the science and foul the public airways with deceptive advertising, all so innocent smokers would keep buying their deadly products (a crime that was sardonically portrayed in the hit movie, Thank You for Smoking).

This strategy, which has been used by other industries that make dangerous or polluting products, became known as the art of “manufacturing doubt,” after a now infamous memo from a senior tobacco official. “Doubt is our product,” the anonymous tobacconist wrote, “since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.”

It sounds complicated, almost impossibly so, but it’s actually rather simple if you have enough money. Corporate collectives have been doing it for decades: funding bogus science and investing in think tanks to produce dubious research results that cast doubt on legitimate research findings, from cancer-causing tobacco to global warming carbon emissions.

Add well-funded advertising campaigns that create a new reality irrespective of the truth, and corporations have been able to thwart government regulations that might otherwise damage their bottom lines – or at the very least make them fess up to the less savoury impacts of their products and services.

If this sounds eerily familiar, it should. The Government of Alberta, in cahoots with the oil industry, has been using a similar strategy to promote tar sands development in northern Alberta. The first step was to create a monitoring system that was incapable of detecting pollution in the land and water in the tar sands region.

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