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Oil Industry Looks to Create "Lake District" from Open-Pit Mines and Toxic Tar Sands Waste

This week, the Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA), an industry-funded consultancy group in Alberta, released the End Pit Lakes Guidance Document to the Government of Alberta for review. The 434-page document outlines a 100-year plan to integrate open-pit mines and tar sands tailings into Northern Alberta's local ecosystem, introducing what they call a 'reclaimed lake district' as a long-term alternative to the temporary tailings ponds that currently hold the billions of gallons of water, sand, clay, hydrocarbons, naphthenic acids, salt and other byproducts of the bitumen extraction and upgrading process.

The 30 proposed end-pit lakes (EPLs) will take up more than 100 square kilometers, spread out over an area of 2,500 square kilometers. Toronto, for comparison, covers an area of 630 square kilometers. 
 
Industry envisions the artificial lake district as a future recreation site, although there is no indication yet that filling empty open-pit mines with freshwater will give way to the clean natural environments necessary to promote recreational uses of the area. In fact, The Globe and Mail reports the document “highlights the scale of the ecological gamble underway in the province” and suggests the technique is being considered as a remediation option because “it's less costly to fill a mine with water than dirt.”
 

Shell Not Arctic Ready, Spoofed By Honest Ad Campaign

The news of Royal-Dutch Shell's recent decision to hold off on Arctic drilling until next season offers some relief to those keeping track of the company's shoddy performance in Alaska to date. Shell advertised their position as “Arctic Ready,” suggesting their out of date drill rigs, their non-existent disaster spill response, and their technical know-how were 'ready' to take on the temperamental Arctic.  

But within the first few months of establishing their northern operations, Shell suffered several embarrassing mishaps, demonstrating just how unfit they were to take on some of the most dangerous drilling conditions in the world.
 
The company's aging fleet got a late start in the short drilling season when the Noble Discoverer was occupied by Xena, The Warrior Princess, delaying its voyage to Alaska from New Zealand. Peter Velez, Shell's head of Arctic Emergency Response admitted the company had not considered the cost of spills or other disasters like a well blow out, saying the chances of something like that occurring are “very, very small.” Shell's Arctic Challenger was deemed unsafe by the US Coast Guard, while it sat leaking hydraulic fluid into a Washington state port, just before the Noble Discoverer nearly ran aground in an Alaskan bay

First Nation Challenges Shell Canada's Jackpine Mine Expansion, Citing Constitutional Treaty Rights

Yesterday the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) announced their plans to constitutionally challenge Shell Oil Canada's expansion of the Jackpine Mine tar sands project. The project expansion would threaten the resources needed to sustain rights protected under Treaty 8, which the ACFN signed in 1899 at Fort Chipewyan on Lake Athabasca. A joint federal-provincial review panel will hear the challenge - the first of its kind to appear before such a group - on October 23rd, 6 days before the Jackpine Mine expansion application will make its own appearance before the panel on October 29.

The Jackpine Mine expansion would disturb 12,719 hectares of land and destroy 21 kilometers of the culturally significant Muskeg River, according to ACFN's press release issued yesterday
 
In addition, greenhouse gas emissions from the project would total 2.36 megatons of CO2 equivalent each year - an increase of 5.2 per cent in tar sands emissions from 2009, or roughly 281,000 cars on the road. Since Shell proposed the expansion in 2007, 11 additional projects have been proposed in the tar sands region.

USGS Fracking Study Confirms Methane Contamination of Drinking Water in Pavillion, Wyoming

For those concerned about the future of shale gas development in the U.S., water contamination present in a monitoring well in Wyoming is about to become the lynchpin in the debate over unconventional gas production and the threat fracking poses to drinking water.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) just released a report confirming the EPA's December 2011 findings that water in Pavillion, Wyoming contains contaminants related to fracking
 
After residents in the region complained of poor water odor and taste, the EPA established two deep water monitoring wells to determine if water quality concerns were related to fracking in the area. 
 
EPA’s analysis of samples taken from the Agency’s deep monitoring wells in the aquifer indicates detection of synthetic chemicals, like glycols and alcohols consistent with gas production and hydraulic fracturing fluids, benzene concentrations well above Safe Drinking Water Act standards and high methane levels. Given the area’s complex geology and the proximity of drinking water wells to ground water contamination, EPA is concerned about the movement of contaminants within the aquifer and the safety of drinking water wells over time.
 

Death in the Woods: Canadian Federal Government Delays Release of Caribou Recovery Strategy - Again

This post is a part of DeSmog's investigative series: Cry Wolf.

Yesterday, the Canadian government told the nation's federal court that it will not release its long-awaited Woodland Caribou Recovery Strategy. The Recovery Strategy, already 5 years overdue, represents conservationists' strongest measure of defense for dwindling caribou populations in Alberta that suffer increasing habitat loss from industrial development and intensive tar sands expansion.
 
The outlook for caribou in Alberta is grim, especially as they find themselves in a stand off against industrial giants backed by a federal government in favor of increasing tar sands and other industrial activity. Habitat disruption is a crucial issue for caribou who need large buffered areas of old growth forest to survive. The majority of Alberta's 12 caribou herds currently struggle with low calf survival - an issue directly related to disturbed habitat.
 
The Canadian and Albertan governments have historically hesitated to take meaningful measures to protect Alberta's caribou herds because such measures would not only advertise the deleterious effects of tar sands development on local wildlife and their habitat, but would require setting aside protected areas made unavailable for oil and gas development.

Exporting Canada's Oil Means Exporting Canada's Jobs: Why the Enbridge Pipeline Threatens Canadian Economic Security

The arguments in favor of the Enbridge-proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline often stress the economic benefits the pipeline will bring to Canada. Economists and trade organizations emphasize the advantages of increased production in the tar sands for Albertans and the jobs produced during pipeline construction for British Columbians. Another supposed economic bonus is to come from strengthened trade relations with China, the largest foreign investor currently involved in Canada's tar sands.

Yet as the current National Energy Board hearing takes place, a new message is surfacing, and it's not of the 'economic boon' ilk. According to a number of analysts, energy experts and even industry players the pipeline will export more than just Canadian crude: it will also be shipping off Canadian jobs. And that, they say, coupled with China's growing stake in the tar sands, is by no means in Canada's long term economic interest.
 

Enbridge Expands Ruptured Tar Sands Line to Move Bitumen East Along Trailbreaker Route

With the two year anniversary of the “Dilbit Disaster” fresh on our minds it seems improbable that Enbridge, the company responsible for the 1 million gallon spill of dilbit, or diluted bitumen, on a tributary of the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, is currently pushing through a plan to expand that same pipeline. 

 
The first phase of the expansion, already underway, will see 75 miles of pipeline segments replaced. 

Alberta Bitumen Threatens Health of Communities Living Near Refineries in U.S., ForestEthics Reports

Toxins from refineries processing tar sands bitumen are dangerously polluting the air of local communities in the United States, according to a recent report by ForestEthics. Areas surrounding tar sands refineries - where a higher proportion of society's vulnerable minority, aging and poor communities live - exhibit intense levels of sulfur dioxide (SO2) as a result of the high sulfur content of bitumen feed stocks used in the process. Sulfur dioxide pollution is associated with asthma and heart disease.

“The growing use of Canada's tar sands by U.S. refineries adds another health risk to those already being faced by some of the most disadvantaged communities in the United States,” said Aaron Sanger, U.S. Campaigns Director at ForestEthics and author of the report, in a press release.
 
At current rates, the U.S. imports 99 percent of Canadian bitumen exports. That oil is refined near low-income areas, meaning the health effects fall disproportionately on communities with disadvantaged groups. African American and Latino populations suffer higher cancer risks from refinery pollutants than the general population, according to the EPA.
 
The ForestEthics report, Tar Sands Refineries: Communities at Risk, shows that refineries upping their intake of tar sands bitumen have a correlative increase in SO2 emissions.

All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go: Enbridge Looks East for Export Pipeline Route

According to Enbridge’s application for the Northern Gateway Pipeline the company expects a staggering 217% growth in tar sands production by 2035. If built, the Enbridge pipeline would provide the landlocked tar sands with a high-capacity thoroughfare to deliver diluted bitumen, or dilbit, to Asian markets.

But with mounting opposition to the pipeline gaining stride in British Columbia, some analysts speculate the project, embroiled in environmental and political concerns, has no more than a 50/50 chance of completion within the next decade.
 
With a community of academics, political groups, environmental organizations, local residents and First Nation communities vocalizing their opposition to the project, Enbridge is looking elsewhere for an export escape route for tar sands crude.
 
DeSmog’s Ben Jervey reported this summer on an Enbridge application to revise old plans to construct the Trailbreaker, a pipeline designed to deliver tar sands oil to the Atlantic coast. The project would reverse the flow of two aging light crude pipelines in order to direct dilbit through Ontario and Quebec, along the shores of New England, and out to the coast of Portland, Maine. 
 

B.C. Leaders Plan Mass Rally Against Enbridge Gateway Pipeline October 22

Next month, Canadians will launch one of the largest acts of civil disobedience in the country’s history. Over 80 influential leaders from across the country, representing a wide cross-section of “business, First Nations, environmental, labour, academic, medical and artistic communities…announced an upcoming mass sit-in in front of the provincial legislature in Victoria, British Columbia on October 22,” according to the DefendOurCoast.ca announcement.

The demonstration will showcase British Columbians' growing opposition to the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline that would pump roughly 525,000 barrels of diluted bitumen each day from Alberta to the B.C. coast for export, and the threat pipelines and tanker traffic pose to the province’s pristine coastline. 
 
Some of the notable leaders lending their support to the sit-in are Stephen Lewis, David Suzuki, Maude Barlow, Naomi Klein, Tom Goldtooth, David Coles, Vandana Shiva, Bill McKibben, John O’Connor, and Tony Clarke
 

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