Alberta

Tue, 2012-05-01 06:30Carol Linnitt
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Comparing Territories: Tar Sands Blanket Caribou Habitat

As the controversy surrounding Canada’s proposed wolf cull in Alberta grows, the provincial government is attempting to limit criticism directed at the country’s polluting Tar Sands – the prime driver behind the region’s rapid decline in caribou populations.  Alberta’s Ministry of Sustainable Resource Development (SRD) is the government body responsible for, not surprisingly, sustainable management of the province’s natural resources, but interestingly SRD lumps disparate things - like caribou and bitumen - together.  

As public concern increases over the SRD’s mismanagement of Alberta’s caribou herds (10 of the 13 monitored herds are experiencing decline), government spokespeople have had to work overtime to conceal the role the Tar Sands have to play in this enduring resource debacle.

DeSmogBlog has covered the extensive government-industry collusion behind Alberta’s botched caribou recovery strategies, demonstrating the extent to which the entire process is dominated by a single economic imperative – oil and gas development in, most notably, the Tar Sands. The government, however, has downplayed the role the Tar Sands have to play in the mass disappearance of Alberta’s caribou, choosing instead to place the blame squarely on the wolf.  

SRD spokesman Dave Ealey has been working the defensive for months, telling sources like the LA Times that wolf control in Alberta is unrelated to the Tar Sands. And while this argument may hold when addressing the wolf cull near Hinton, Alberta in the Little Smoky caribou range (where caribou are affected by conventional oil and gas production), it does not accurately portray the overall situation in Alberta. 
To get a feel for the overlap between caribou habitat and Tar Sands development, compare the maps (sourced from here and here) below:
Tue, 2012-04-10 05:45Ben Jervey
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Tar Sands in the United States: What You Need to Know

Think that that dirtiest oil on the planet is only found up in Alberta? You might be surprised then to hear that there are tar sands deposits in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, much of which are on public lands.

While none of the American tar sands deposits are actively being developed yet, energy companies are frantically working to raise funds, secure approvals, and start extracting.

To help you better understand the state of tar sands development in the U.S., here’s a primer.  

Where are the American tar sands?

The Bureau of Land Management estimates that there are between 12-19 billion barrels of tar sands oil, mostly in Eastern Utah, though not all of that would be recoverable.

This map from the Utah Geologic Survey shows all of the state’s tar sands.

Sun, 2012-04-01 16:22Steve Horn
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Investors: No More Flaring of Fracked Oil and Gas in Bakken Shale

The debate over flaring unconventional oil and gas in shale basins across the United States has suddenly heated up immensely (excuse the bad pun). 

On March 27, the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economy (CERES) penned a letter calling for an end to the practice, writing,

We are a group of 37 investors, representing $500 billion in total assets, who areconcerned about the financial risks associated with the flaring of natural gas that has accompanied fast-proliferating oil production from shale formations in North Dakota, Texas and elsewhere in the U.S.

We are concerned that excessive flaring, because of its impact on air quality and climate change, poses significant risks for the companies involved, and for the industry at large,ultimately threatening the industry’s license to operate.

As you know, shale oil production, made possible by hydraulic fracturing technology,…is poised to become the world’s largest oil producer in the next five years, with nearly all of this projected growth coming from shale oil. …

On a lifecycle basis, emissions from oil produced with high flaring rates may be comparable to those from Canada’s vast oil sands region.

The letter ended by calling for the building up of proper infrastructure, such as pipelines and refineries, in order to push for an eliminiation of the dirty practice. CERES concluded the letter with a firm request, stating, “We therefore are writing to request information about the amount your company is currently flaring, as well as details about your plans to reduce flaring at existing wells and prevent it at future wells.”

Letter signarories included As You SowPresbyterian Church (USA)Turner Investments, and Praxis Mutual Funds, to name several.

Fri, 2012-03-23 13:55Ben Jervey
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Look to Canada for Proof that Neither Presidents Nor Pro-Drilling Policies Control Gas Prices

Another Spring, another round of totally uninformed and illogical arguments about gas prices.

You could be forgiven if you’re feeling some deja vu. As conservatives and Congressional Republicans scramble to blame the president for rising gas prices, you might have the feeling that we’ve been here before.

Oh, that’s right. It was just last year (almost exactly a year ago, actually) that prices were pushing towards $4 per gallon, and everyone from Sarah Palin (in a ludicrously misguided and ill-informed Facebook rant) to Speaker Boehner were misplacing blame for pump prices.

Anyone who takes the time to actually look into it can pretty easily learn that the president alone can’t do much about rising gas prices, through expanded drilling or approving pipelines or whatever else.

The AP just ran a definitive piece that looked at 36 years of data, and found “no statistical correlation between how much oil comes out of U.S. wells and the price at the pump.”

And here are twenty experts from across the political spectrum (including the staunchly conservative American Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute) stating clearly that domestic drilling has no real effect on gas prices.

A full 92% of economists surveyed replied that gas prices are set by external market forces, and not domestic policies. Even Fox News reported in 2008 that “no President has the power to increase or to lower gas prices.”

Still, the disinformation flies, and so I’ll throw another fact-based argument in the mix. You want more proof that we can’t drill or pipeline our way to lower gas prices? Look north, to Canada.

Tue, 2012-03-20 14:03Steve Horn
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Obama Sojourns to "Pipeline Crossroads of the World" for Campaign Speech

It's the multi-pronged fight that never seems to end.

The Alberta Tar Sands have been near the forefront of the North American energy and climate debate, thanks in large part to growing public concern and grassroots efforts like Tar Sands Action, a campaign led by climate activists to block construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The temporary derailing of Keystone XL by President Obama - who in January delayed permission to construct the pipeline for the foreseeable future - was labeled a “victory” by many activists. 

But complicating the “victory” narrative, Obama later granted permission to TransCanada Corporation to build the southern segment of the pipeline, the Cushing Extension, sometimes also referred to as the Cushing Marketlink Project, which will run from Cushing, Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas

Pandering to Big Oil, Obama will visit Cushing on Thursday, the self-proclaimed “Pipeline Crossroads of the World,” to give a stump speech for his 2012 election campaign.

The Stillwater News Press explained the rationale for the visit this way:

The White House has announced the president will be in Cushing Thursday to discuss his 'all-of-the-above' energy policy…Thursday appears to some locals as an opportune time for Obama, who said he supports the southern leg, to get on board on the northern segment of the 36-inch pipeline from Canada.

CBC News reports that “Obama will make a speech at a storage yard that's holding pipes to be used to build the pipeline.” 

As the old adage goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” 

Fri, 2012-02-03 13:00Steve Horn
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Warren Buffett Exposed: The Oracle of Omaha and the Tar Sands

Credit: Pete Souza, Office of the President

On January 23, Bloomberg News reported Warren Buffett's Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF), owned by his lucrative holding company Berkshire Hathaway, stands to benefit greatly from President Barack Obama’s recent cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline

If built, TransCanada's Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline would carry tar sands crude, or bitumen (“dilbit”) from Alberta, B.C. down to Port Arthur, Texas, where it would be sold on the global export market

If not built, as revealed recently by DeSmogBlog, the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side, and could include increased levels of ecologically hazardous gas flaring in the Bakken Shale, or else many other pipeline routes moving the prized dilbit to crucial global markets.

Rail is among the most important infrastructure options for ensuring tar sands crude still moves to key global markets, and the industry is pursuing rail actively. But transporting tar sands crude via rail is in many ways a dirtier alternative to the KXL pipeline. “Railroads too present environmental issues. Moving crude on trains produces more global warming gases than a pipeline,” explained Bloomberg.

A key mover and shaker behind the push for more rail shipments is Warren Buffett, known by some as the “Oracle of Omaha” – of “Buffett Tax” fame – and the third richest man in the world, with a net worth of $39 billion. With or without Keystone XL, Warren Buffett stands to profit enormously from multiple aspects of the Alberta Tar Sands project. He also, importantly, maintains close ties with President Barack Obama.

Mon, 2012-01-23 21:38Steve Horn
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Demise of Keystone XL Means More Bakken Shale Gas Flaring

Damned if we do, damned if we don't - this is the CliffsNotes version of the ongoing Keystone XL pipeline debate. President Barack Obama recently halted TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline project, which would bring tar sands crude, or dilluted bitumen (“dilbit”) from Alberta through the heart of the U.S., to Gulf Coast refineries near Port Arthur, Texas, where the oil would then be exported to the global market.

Most environmental organizations declared victory and suggest the Keystone XL pipeline is dead. Unfortunately, this is far from the case. Republican House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) recently told The Hill he may attempt to rope the pipeline into the next payroll tax extension. Furthermore, a recent Congressional Research Services (CRSpaper said that under a little-used Consitutional clause, the two chambers of Congress, rather than the White House, could have the final say on the pipeline's ultimate destiny. CRS explained, 

[I]f Congress chose to assert its authority in the area of border crossing facilities, this would likely be considered within its Constitutionally enumerated authority to regulate foreign commerce.

Because the pipeline crosses the U.S.-Canada border, many thought that the U.S. State Department, and by extension the White House, had the final say in the manner. This may no longer be true.

On the other hand, even if the Keystone XL becomes a “pipe dream,” the grass isn't necessarily greener on the other side.

Thu, 2011-12-15 18:32Steve Horn
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'Consumer Energy Alliance' Front Group Exposed by The Tyee and Salon

In a must-read piece co-published today by Salon.com and The TyeeGeoff Dembicki exposes the dark underbelly of the public relations and lobbying industry, revealing the interconnectedness between Alberta tar sands movers and shakers in Alberta and their oily compatriots in Washington. 

The investigative article focuses on the fossil fuel industry front group Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), which is run out of the offices of the PR firm HBW Resources, headed by David Holt, Andrew Browning, and Michael Whatley.

Geoff Dembicki's article “Big Oil and Canada thwarted U.S. carbon standards,” exposes CEA's effort to thwart government efforts to favor relatively cleaner conventional fuels over the dirtiest forms of extreme unconventional energy like the Alberta tar sands. 

Dembicki reveals how CEA influenced the debate at both the national and state-by-state levels on low carbon fuel standards (LCFS), working to defeat or delay any efforts to differentiate between the emissions footprints of extreme and unconventional fuels like tar sands oil and cleaner-but-still-dirty conventional oil.

Oil industry power players, including BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Marathon, Shell and Norway’s Statoil are among the CEA's key financially backers, and many of these companies also happen to have deep ties to the Alberta tar sands.

Tue, 2011-11-15 13:24Carol Linnitt
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Gas Industry Geologists - Not Doctors - Decide If Water Is "Safe" in Alberta Fracking Contamination Cases

Water contamination is at the heart of the fracking debate. Gas companies and their well-funded industry support groups (still) adamantly contend that ‘there are no proven instances of drinking water contamination due to fracking.’ But as Chris Mooney recently wrote about in the Scientific American, and as DeSmogBlog pointed out in our featured report Fracking the Future – this argument is based more on semantics and sly avoidance tactics than scientific evidence, or personal experience for that matter. But in Alberta the oil and gas industry’s ability to deny responsibility for instances of water contamination may be related to an even greater systemic flaw – one which leaves the final verdict in the hands of industry representatives.

In Alberta, landowners who suspect their water is contaminated by gas drilling activity are directed to contact Alberta Environment (AENV), the provincial body that oversees the Water Act, and has just recently been renamed the Ministry of Environment and Water “to emphasize the importance of protecting one of Alberta’s greatest resources.”

AENV responds to complaints in tandem with the province’s oil and gas regulator, the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), previously the Energy and Utilities Board (EUB).  Upon the event of suspected water contamination, ERCB provides AENV with relevant information about the producing well, including which company it belongs to.  AENV then contacts the company who is directed to “conduct an investigation or hydrogeology study, using a qualified professional.”
Thu, 2011-11-10 13:27Ben Jervey
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Breaking: State Department Delays Keystone XL Decision Until 2013

The State Department announced today that they would “seek additional information” about the Keystone XL pipeline, meaning that they will take another 12 months at least to re-review the proposed pipeline route. This new review will build on (or make up) for the woefully-incompletely Environmental Impact Statement.

Here's the State Department's official language:


…given the concentration of concerns regarding the environmental sensitivities of the current proposed route through the Sand Hills area of Nebraska, the Department has determined it needs to undertake an in-depth assessment of potential alternative routes in Nebraska. …
Among the relevant issues that would be considered are environmental concerns (including climate change), energy security, economic impacts, and foreign policy.

The decision comes in the immediate wake of a massive protest at the White House on Sunday, as roughly 12,000 anti-pipeline activists circled the White House in a “solidarity hug.” The action was the latest in a series of protests and events staged by opponents of the proposed TransCanada pipeline that would funnel tar sands crude from Canada down to the Gulf Coast in Texas, much of it bound for export to other nations.

The decision to delay is a clear testament to the power of public engagement in the political process and good old-fashioned protest. But the battle isn't over yet.

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