tar sands

Canada’s Implementation of UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights Raises Questions About Oilsands, Resource Extraction

After years of refusal by the Conservative government, Canada is preparing to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) — a decision that could herald the beginning of a new era in relations between First Nations and the federal government.

In a mandate letter addressed to Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau requested the minister “renew the relationship between Canada and Indigenous Peoples.”

The first item on Bennett’s long list of to-dos is to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, starting first with the implementation of the UN declaration.

Implementing the declaration is a big deal for Canada, one of only four countries to not only abstain from voting on the declaration, but to actually vote against it. (The other three are the U.S., which has signaled its intention to revise its position, and New Zealand and Australia, both of which reversed their positions in 2009.)

The declaration, first adopted by the UN in 2007 after 25 years of consultation and deliberation, is meant to “constitute the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world.”

Canada Subsidizes the Fossil Fuel Industry by $2.7 Billion Every Year. Where Does That Money Go?

Canada’s fossil fuel industries are the recipients of $2.7 billion US ($3.6 billion CDN)  in handouts each year, despite a promise from all G20 nations, including Canada, to eliminate subsidies in 2009.

About $1.6 billion US of those subsidies came from the federal government with the rest distributed by the provinces, according to a new report from Oil Change International.

The report finds G20 countries spend about $452 billion US each year to prop up their oil, gas and coal industries.

The Liberals promised to “fulfill Canada’s G20 commitment to phase out subsidies for the fossil fuel industry,” in their election platform. The party singled out the Canadian Exploration Expenses tax deduction as too generous to industry, saying the tax break should only kick in if companies are completely unsuccessful in their resource exploration.

The saving will be redirected to investments in new and clean technologies,” the party platform says.

But the Canadian Exploration Expenses tax deduction isn’t the only place where companies can take advantage of a generous subsidy system.

So were else is the money coming from and going to?

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.

River Supplying Water To Alberta Oil Sands Operations At Risk From Drought

A new study casts doubt on the long-term ability of the Athabasca River to supply the water Alberta’s oil sands industry relies on.

Water is allocated to oil sands operations based on river flow data collected since the 1950s, but that doesn’t necessarily represent an accurate assessment of the Athabasca River’s flow variability over the longer term, according to a report published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Four Lessons Canada Needs to Learn from the Oil Crash

It’s easy to assume the plummet in energy prices will be a boon for the fight against climate change as emissions-intensive oilsands projects are cancelled or put on hold, but experts say that will only be the case if we learn some lessons from the current downturn.

Here are the four key factors that will determine whether Canada cuts emissions during this downturn or simply moves from “heroin to methadone,” as one expert puts it.

Celebrities and the Oilsands: Help or Hindrance?

By now, it’s an almost entirely predictable routine: a celebrity takes a tour of the Alberta oilsands for a day or two and quickly harnesses apocalyptic rhetoric in press conferences to detail the experience. Chagrined industry spokespeople lash out. News coverage dissipates after a few days. Rinse and repeat. Thus far, Neve Campbell, Leonardo DiCaprio, Darren Aronofsky, Desmond Tutu and James Cameron have partaken in the ritual.

Now, at long last, we can add Bill Nye to the already stacked roster, thanks to his recent two-day stint in the area for a climate change documentary he’s working on.

Producing all this oil that’s producing all this carbon dioxide, that’s not good from a global stand point,” the Science Guy said in an interview with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, which was tweeted by the likes of Bill McKibben and 350.org.

Nye’s statement is very true. Alberta’s oilsands represent fossil fuel development on an unprecedented and highly visible scale. Canada won’t meet its 2020 emissions reduction targets as a result of the growing sector (by that year, the oilsands are expected to churn more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually than all the passenger transport in the country).

But do celebrity visits help push the dialogue out of gridlock?

New Water Use Restrictions Highlight Influence of Climate on Oilsands, Need for Stronger Rules

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) is restricting water withdrawals for oil and gas operators in several river basins across the province due to extremely dry summer conditions and low water levels.

Ontario Energy Board Report Highlights Risks of Energy East Pipeline in New Report

A new report released Thursday by the Ontario Energy Board finds the risks of TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline, destined to carry Alberta oilsands crude to eastern refineries and export facilities, outweigh the project’s benefits.

The board’s vice-president, Peter Fraser, said the report, prepared at the request of Ontario Minister of Energy Bob Chiarelli, finds “an imbalance between the economic and environmental risks of the project and the expect benefits for Ontarians.”

The Energy East pipeline, projected to transport 1.1 million barrels of oil per day, is the continent’s largest proposed pipeline, outsizing the company’s controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which has become a political boondoggle in the U.S. in recent years due to growing concerns over oil spills, private property and climate.

The Ontario Energy Board traveled to communities along the pipeline route to gauge public sentiment about the project and, according to the report, found fears over potential water pollution running high throughout the province.

Stephen Harper Forgets Stephen Harper’s Pledge to End Fossil Fuels

If the recent frufrah over NDP candidate Linda McQuaig’s comment that “a lot of the oilsands oil may have to stay in the ground” is indicative of anything, it’s that Canada’s election cycle is in full spin. May all reasonableness and sensible dialogue and accountability be damned.

Perhaps that’s the blunt and singular reason behind the Conservative Party and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s outrage at McQuaig’s entirely non-contentious assertion that, because of our international commitments to curtail global climate change, Canada won’t exploit the entirety of its oil reserves.

Harper accused the NDP of having a “not-so hidden agenda,” saying the party “is consistently against the development of our resources and our economy.”

That’s why they…would wreck this economy if they ever got in, and why they must never get into power in this country.”

But Harper’s reaction seems conspicuously overwrought given the Prime Minister’s own pledge, along with the other G7 nations, to phase out the use of fossil fuels by 2100.

At the time of signing — a whole two months ago — Harper said the plan would “require a transformation in our energy sectors.”

Agriculture, not Energy, Will Fuel Canada’s Economy in Coming Decades: Experts

The agriculture sector will rise in importance in coming decades as the world warms and moves away from fossil fuels.

That’s the most recent prediction from Jeff Rubin, former chief economist for CIBC World Markets, whose latest book, The Carbon Bubble, forecasts a not-so-distant future in which climate change will open up the possibility for cultivating crops, historically grown in places like Kansas and Iowa, much further north. At the same time, Rubin argues, global dependence on fossil fuels will drop, freeing up capital to migrate to crops like corn and soy.

There could be some tremendous opportunity for Western Canada, in the same provinces that are likely to be victims of the carbon bubble,” Rubin told DeSmog Canada. “Food is the only real sector in the commodity field that has been resilient, that’s kept its pricing power. You could argue that just that alone is sufficient.”

Agriculture has always played a major role in Canada’s economy. Rod MacRae, associate professor of environmental studies at York University and national food policy expert, notes the food sector trails directly behind energy and automobile manufacturing, employing one in every eight Canadians.


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