oilsands

The Canada-China FIPA Restricts Canada's Climate Options

This is a guest post by Gus Van Harten, professor at the Osgoode Hall Law School and author of Sold Down the Yangtze: Canada's Lopsided Investment Deal with China. This post originally appeared on the Globe and Mail.

For years, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government told Canadians that it could not act on climate change until China joined in. Yet, in 2014, the government quietly finalized a 31-year investment treaty that, in essence, gives Chinese oil companies an advance bailout against a range of steps that Canada may need to take on climate change.

Take, for example, the call by more than 100 scientists for limits on oilsands expansion until a serious Canadian plan on climate change is in place. What is a serious plan? The scientists said it would need “to rapidly reduce carbon pollution, safeguard biodiversity, protect human health and respect treaty rights.”

Now, consider Canada’s new Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) with China. 

Alberta Takes First Step to Clamp Down on Carbon Emissions

Oilsands emissions

It’s finally happening: after years of stalling by the Progressive Conservatives, Alberta’s new NDP government announced Thursday it will double the province’s meager carbon levy on large emitters by 2017.

Industry and environmentalists alike welcomed the decision, while also saying it doesn’t go far enough. 

Currently, any facility that emits more than 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases per year must reduce its emissions by 12 per cent below typical performance or pay $15 per tonne for emissions over the baseline. By 2017, the new framework will require companies to lower emissions by 20 per cent below typical performance, with a $30-per-tonne levy for emissions above that target.

It’s not going to drive the meaningful reductions or give the market incentives that we need,” said Ed Whittingham, executive director of the Pembina Institute.

Can Alberta’s Oilsands Monitoring Agency Be Saved?

Oilsands air pollution

“Transparent,” “credible, “world-class” — those are just a few of the words that have been deployed to detail the aspirations of the one-year-old organization tasked with monitoring the air, water, land and wildlife in Alberta.

But there are a lot of questions about whether the Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency (AEMERA), funded primarily by industry, has lived up to its goal to track the condition of the province’s environment.*

Unlike the Alberta Energy Regulator, which the new NDP government is considering splitting into two agencies to separate its conflicting responsibilities to both promote and policy energy development, AEMERA hasn’t spent much time in the public spotlight — yet.

Last October, Alberta’s auditor general slammed the agency for releasing its 2012-2013 annual report in June 2014, well after when it should have been released. The auditor general also said the report “lacked clarity and key information and contained inaccuracies.”

Pipeline Regulator Orders High-Pressure Safety Test of Enbridge’s Line 9B

The National Energy Board (NEB) ordered high-pressure testing of a segment of Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline before the line, a west-to-east oil pipeline, can begin operating according to a press release issued Thursday.

Before Line 9B becomes operational, hydrostatic testing results of three segments of the pipeline must be provided to and approved by the NEB,” the National Energy Board — Canada’s federal pipeline regulator — said.

Enbridge requested permission to reverse the flow of a 639-kilometre portion of the Line 9B pipeline between North Westover, Ontario and Montreal. Line 9B is part of the larger Line 9, which Enbridge hopes will carry diluted bitumen from the Alberta oilsands to Eastern Canada.

Community groups, particularly in Quebec, have long requested the high-pressure, hydrostatic test. A hydrotest or hydrostatic test is a commonly used method of determining if a pipeline can operate safely at its expected operating pressure. Recently a number of groups demanded the NEB explain why it would not order a hydrotest of Line 9.

So You've Been Publicly Shamed Into Climate Action: On Harper’s Promise to End Fossil Fuels

Stephen Harper’s participation in the G7 leader’s declaration to decarbonize the global economy by 2100 was a massive headline generator in Canada, and not surprisingly so.

For a Prime Minister who has openly mocked the idea of carbon pricing, mercilessly driven an expensive (both financially and politically) energy superpower agenda and earned a reputation for pulling out of or stalling climate negotiations, the very idea of an ‘end’ to fossil fuels would seem … counterintuitive.

Although the shock of seeing Harper even touch something called ‘decarbonization’ is still reverberating, experts were quick to point out a long-term goal that shoves off concrete climate policy is likely just what Canada was hoping for.

Harper Agrees to End Use of Fossil Fuels by 2100, Make Deep Cuts to Emissions by 2050 at G7 Summit

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has signed on to a G7 commitment to eliminate the use of fossil fuels by 2100 and make significant cuts to greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The move will “require a transformation in our energy sectors,” Harper said at a news conference in Garmisch, Germany.

Nobody’s going to start to shut down their industries or turn off the lights,” he said. “We’ve simply got to find a way to create lower-carbon emitting sources of energy — and that work is ongoing.”

According to federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May, an earlier draft of the G7 committment sought full decarbonization by 2050, but both Canada and Japan fought to weaken the declaration. 

The final version of the G7 leader’s declaration states: “We emphasize that deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required with a decarbonization of the global economy over the course of this century.”

“We commit to doing our part to achieve a low-carbon global economy in the long-term including developing and deploying innovative technologies striving for a transformation of the energy sectors by 2050 and invite all countries to join us in this endeavour.”

On the Frontlines of the Hashtag Wars: Enbridge, Tim Hortons and #BoycottTims

Tim Hortons Coffee Cup

On the same day that Bill C51 was set for a final vote in the Senate, the Canadian internet erupted into a storm of angry tweets. The message was clear: you can take our freedom, but you can never tell our Timmies not to run ads for Enbridge.

Timmies is, of course, Tim Hortons coffee, the venerable Canadian institution whose coffee and donuts have become so inseparable from the Canadian identity that Prime Minister Stephen Harper once famously blew off going to the UN for a coffee at Timmies instead. Tim Hortons has exactly the kind of patriotic sheen to it that CAPP is hoping will rub off on its ‘Raise Your Hand’ campaign.

Last week, Enbridge pipelines announced on its blog that it would be showing its latest ads on Tim’s TV (the flatscreen televisions behind the service counter). Almost immediately, online activists seized on the opportunity.

SumOfUs, an organization that rallies public pressure to encourage companies to adopt sustainable business practices, encouraged Tim Hortons to cancel an advertising buy from Enbridge, the company trying to build public support for the Northern Gateway oilsands pipeline from Alberta to the B.C. coast. 

Would You Raise Your Hand for Canada's Oil and Gas Industry?

Raise Your Hand Canada Feature Image

After a rough year of collapsing oil prices and the embarrassing dethroning of Alberta’s longtime Progressive Conservative government, the oil and gas industry could use a win. The latest campaign from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) was probably designed to be one.

Alas.

How Stephen Harper Used God and Neoliberalism to Construct the Radical Environmentalist Frame

Stephen Harper’s efforts to frame environmentalists as radicals who deserve to be investigated by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service took three years to come to fruition.

It’s often claimed that Harper’s vendetta against environmental groups springs from his unconditional support for the oil industry. While that is more or less evident, it’s also necessary to consider the dominant influences — from his evangelical Christianity and his neoliberal ideology — on his tactics.

It was in early January 2012 that the Harper government first attacked opponents of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver released an open letter accusing “radical” environmentalists and “jet-setting celebrities” of blocking efforts to open access to Asian markets for Canadian oil.

These groups threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda,” Oliver, a former investment banker who raised money for oil companies, wrote. “They seek to exploit any loophole they can find, stacking public hearings with bodies to ensure that delays kill good projects.”

Wildfires Rage Near Oilsands Operations, Raising Climate Questions

Forest fires covering 8,200 hectares of land in northern Alberta continue to burn out of control, spurred on by extremely dry conditions and unseasonably warm temperatures. The fires have forced the evacuation of hundreds of oilsands workers, the irony of which is not being lost on many  (just check out the reactions to this CBC article).

Climate change during the 21st century is expected to result in more frequent fires in many boreal forests, with severe environmental and economic consequences,” said a 2014 Natural Resources Canada post

About 10 per cent of Canada’s oil output — amounting to about 233,000 barrels a day — has been shut down since Monday, May 25, due to the fires. The Bank of America Merril Lynch warned in a research report that if wildfire disruptions persist, there could be a 0.1 to 0.3 per cent hit to second-quarter annualized growth.

An increase in the number of forest fires is likely to make one of the world’s most costly fossil fuel sources even more labour intensive and expensive.

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