alberta oil sands

Tar Sands by Rail Disasters: The Latest Wave in the Bomb Train Assault

With the first crash and explosion of a unit train of tar sands oil in Canada in February, we learned that the conventional wisdom among people covering the oil-by-rail industry regarding the flammability of tar sands oil has been dead wrong. A second derailment and explosion on March 7th involved synbit, which is a form of bitumen diluted with synthetic crude oil.

While there are many examples of this mischaracterization of the dangers of moving tar sands by rail that can be found in the press, here at DeSmogBlog we didn’t have to look far. In an article last year about how to make Bakken crude less dangerous we wrote that the government had plans to allow tar sands oil to be transported in the unsafe DOT-111 rail tank cars “because it is not explosive.”

While raw bitumen from the Alberta tar sands is not volatile or highly flammable, when it is diluted with natural gas condensate to form a mixture known as dilbit, which is typically done to make it easier to transport, it appears that it can be as dangerous as the Bakken crude that has now been proven to be highly flammable and explosive in multiple train derailments.

An article in Railway Age pointing out the implications of the tar-sands-by-rail accident had the ominous title “Why bitumen isn’t necessarily safer than Bakken” and concluded with the statement that “Should TSB [Transportation Safety Board] conclude that dilbit has a volatility similar to Bakken crude, as the Alberta research suggests, the hazmat classification of crude oil could be in question.”

Obama's Veto of Keystone XL Bittersweet for Texans Forced to Allow the Pipeline on Their Land

As expected, President Obama today vetoed the Republican bill attempting to allow TransCanada to finish constructing the Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline. While the veto received praise from environmentalists, along with encouragement to reject the pipeline entirely, the veto provides little consolation to those in Texas who already have the southern route of the pipeline moving Canadian tar sands under their land. 

“Don't get me wrong. I’m thrilled that President Obama owned up to his promise to veto the Keystone XL pipeline bill today. But in the same breath I'm spittin' mad,” Julia Trigg Crawford, Texas landowner who fought TransCanada from taking her land by eminent domain but lost, told DeSmogBlog.

“Nearly three years ago, with the exact same data in front of him he decided to 'cut through the red tape and fast track' the southern leg of this project. Where was his 'climate test' then?” “Before the ink is dry on this veto, President Obama owes all of us in Texas and Oklahoma an explanation. Better yet, an apology.”

Julia Trigg Crawford next to the easement on her land in Sumner, Texas that TransCanada condemned to build the southern route of the Keystone XL pipeline. ©2013 Julie Dermansky

In the constant clamor from high profile environmental groups for President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline, there is little mention that the president fast-tracked the southern portion of the pipeline. Nor do most people know that TransCanada is already transporting tar sands from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

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.

Tar Sands South: First US Tar Sands Mine Approved in Utah

The race is on for the up-and-coming U.S. tar sands industry. To date, the tar sands industry is most well-known for the havoc it continues to wreak in Alberta, Canada - but its neighbor and fellow petrostate to the south may soon join in on the fun

On Oct. 24, the Utah Water Quality Board (UWQBapproved the first ever tar sands mine on U.S. soil, handing a permit to U.S. Oil Sands, a company whose headquarters are based in Alberta, despite it's name. 

In a 9-2 vote, the UWQB gave U.S. Oil Sands the green light to begin extracting bitumen from its PR Spring Oil Sands Project, located in the Uinta Basin in eastern Utah. The UWQB concluded that there's no risk of groundwater pollution from tar sands extraction for the prospective mining project.  

Members of the public were allowed to attend the hearing but “were not permitted to provide input,” according to The Salt Lake Tribune

Romney's "Oil Above All" Energy Plan Short on Variety, and on Energy

Last Thursday, Mitt Romney presented his “oil above all” energy plan, in which he promised “North American energy independence” by 2020. Far from comprehensive, the plan echoes the familiar “Drill, Baby, Drill” mantra from the 2008 presidential campaign, and offers no energy strategy beyond increasing domestic production of oil and gas, and increased access to Canadian tar sands crude.

Proving his devotion to “oil above all” was the graph that the presidential hopeful presented while unveiling his plan to a “modest crowd” in New Mexico. As far as graphics go, it's  confused and misleading, so let me walk you through it in case you missed CNN's live coverage.

Though it's titled “North American Oil Production: Energy Independence by 2020,” the demand line represents only the United States' oil needs. Hey, at least the Romney team doesn't anticipate our oil consumption to rise over the next eight years.

Scientists Storm Ottawa After Harper Government Cuts Environmental Protections and Research Again

Canadian scientists are taking to the streets in protest of the Harper government's latest cuts to scientific research and its increasingly backward environmental policies.

Over the last several weeks, the government has shut down major research institutions such as the iconic Experimental Lakes Area (ELA), eliminated funding for the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Science, and passed a budget bill which cuts government jobs for scientists and scraps pollution control programs.

The Harper government has made no bones about the energy future it envisions for Canada.  Alberta's oil sands lay at the center of not only the government's energy plan, but also its economic plan.  Now, it is becoming abundantly clear that if environmental protections get in the way of this plan, they wil be removed.  Hence Canada's withdrawl from the Kyoto Accord and its awful record at international negotiations on a new, legally-binding climate pact.

Oil Sands Fact Check: New API Front Group

How do you sell a rotten bag of goods? Rule number one of effective propaganda: repackage it into something seemingly less grotesque.

In that spirit, the Houston Chronicle recently reported the American Petroleum Institute (API) has created yet another front group, this one to promote tar sands crude, one of the dirtiest sources of fuel in the world, as a safe and secure energy resource.

It's name? “Oil Sands Fact Check” (OSFC).

Enbridge Lobbyists Successfully Eliminated Fish Habitat Protections For Pipeline

Changes to the Fisheries Act limiting the protection of fish habitat did not, as it turns out, arise simply out of a series of complaints by disgruntled farmers hoping to fill in small patches of wetlands or municipalities seeking to repair bridges, as claimed by Minister Keith Ashfield.

Briefing notes obtained by the Access to Information Act show Enbridge found the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO)’s demands “onerous” and, in more than 100 visits with government officials between January and the tabling of amendments to the Fisheries Act, Enbridge lobbyists made clear that they wished to see the department’s regulatory powers limited.

The documents, dug up by Postmedia’s Mike De Souza and Peter O’Neil, show disagreements between DFO and Enbridge occurred over two years, and concerned more than 1,000 waterways on the proposed route of the Northern Gateway Pipeline.

The Conservative budget bill, Bill C-38, has made sweeping changes to the Federal Fisheries Act by eliminating Section 35, which makes it an offense to harmfully alter, disrupt or destroy fish habitat. The regulations which replace Section 35 prohibit “serious harm to fish that are part of a commercial, recreational or aboriginal fishery or fish that support such a fishery.”

Read the story: Federal documents reveal clash between Enbridge, DFO

I Love You Huffpo but What's Going On?

I have been writing on environmental issues on the popular news blog Huffington Post going on five years now but I am not sure if I will continue.

In an article today about yet another oil pipeline burst in the Northern Alberta tar sands, the editors of the Huffpo Canada section included a shiny happy “slideshow” at the end touting all the upsides of this massively destructive industry. 

It is blatant spin with factoids like: “Alberta will reap $1.2 trillion from oil sands” (leaving out the next part about the fact that emissions will triple in the same number of years):

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.


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