A freight train operated by Canada Pacific Railway Ltd. (CP) derailed yesterday morning and caused an oil spill outside Jansen, Saskatchewan, a small town about 150 km southeast of Saskatoon. CTV News reports that one of the cars leaked an estimated 575 barrels (more than 91,000 litres) of crude oil. Tank cars typically carry about 600 barrels of oil. No one is reported to have been hurt.
Environmental damage from the spill has apparently been contained by digging a berm around the leaked oil. CP has said that the oil was Western Canadian crude, not oil from the Albertan tar sands.
Guy Dixon and Nathan Vanderklippe write in the Globe and Mail, that the oil spill comes after Prime Minister Stephen Harper called oil transport by rail “more environmentally challenging” than pipelines, as part of his speech promoting Keystone XL in New York last week. Harper’s dubious point handily distracts from the fact that any mode of oil transport can and will lead to environmentally damaging oil spills, a consequence that will only become more common if Canada opens up the Albertan tar sands to further exploitation.
With Prime Minister Stephen Harper in New York courting US business leaders and promoting the Keystone XL pipeline, it's perhaps unsurprising to hear that his government has nearly doubled its spending on advertising the Albertan tar sands since last year.
Suzanne Goldenberg writes in the Guardian, that according to the Canadian Press agency, the Harper government "has increased its advertising spending on the Alberta tar sands to $16.5m from $9m a year ago." The government's strategy includes television advertising and "high-profile ad buys" like sponsoring Politico Playbook, an influential political journalism site frequented by administration officials.
As the public anxiously awaits the U.S. State Department’s final decision on the fate of the Keystone XL Pipeline, the discussion has largely ignored the elephant in the room: the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA.)
Thanks to NAFTA, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, the State Department will likely be able to do little more than stall the pipeline’s construction. In its simplest form, NAFTA removes barriers for North American countries wishing to do business in or through other North American countries, including environmental barriers. The goal of the agreement was to promote intra-continental commerce and help the economies of all involved in the agreement.
Politico reports that Alberta is spending $200,000 over the next few months to retain the lobbying and PR services of Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications and Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti.
Politico quotes a filing from the Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti firm that says it will provide "strategic consulting in educating U.S. government officials about the Keystone XL pipeline and Alberta's energy resources," while the Rasky firm will "assist in communicating priority issues and promoting the principal's energy and environmental positions to the executive and legislative branches of government as well as other U.S. institutions."
While the ultimate fate of the Keystone XL pipeline rests squarely in the hands of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, Alberta is ramping up its all-out Washington blitz to win support for the controversial proposal in Congress and anywhere on the Hill their lobbyists can get in the door.
Here is a brief look at the specific lobbyists retained to curry favor on behalf of the Alberta government. Note that at least two have experience working on the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and John Kerry.
As Think Progress has just reported, a bizarre technicality allowed Exxon Mobil to avoid paying into the federal oil spill fund responsible for cleanup after the company's Pegasus pipeline released 12,000 barrels of tar sands oil and water into the town of Mayflower, Arkansas.
According to a thirty-year-old law in the US, diluted bitumen coming from the Alberta tar sands is not classified as oil, meaning pipeline operators planning to transport the corrosive substance across the US - with proposed pipelines like the Keystone XL - are exempt from paying into the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.
News that Exxon was spared from contributing the 8-cents-per-barrel fee to the clean-up fund added insult to injury this week as cleanup crews discovered oil-soaked ducks covered in "low-quality Wabasca Heavy Crude from Alberta." Yesterday officials said 10 live ducks were found covered in oil, as well as a number of oiled ducks already deceased.
This is the third post in a three-part series. For Part 1 of Parsing Redford's Little Black Lies, click here. For Part 2, How Redford Can Walk the Walk, click here.
ON March 1, the U.S. State Department released its draft Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would increase the flow of Alberta’s tar sands oil to the U.S. by an estimated 510,000 barrels per day. It’s a big deal, both for those who support additional tar sands development and for those who want to limit the pace and scale of the world’s most controversial energy development.
For the latter, the draft SEIS was a disappointment. Like the original Environmental Impact Statement, the SEIS does not adequately account for the pipeline’s impact on water and climate. In particular, the SEIS ignored evidence that Keystone XL would contribute significantly to the escalation of the already rapid expansion of the tar sands, one of the world’s dirtiest forms of energy, and the resulting increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
Not surprisingly, this suited Alberta Premier Alison Redford just fine. Redford had just returned from a “mission” to Washington, D.C., where she played fast and loose with the facts as she tried to convince American politicians that Keystone was an integral part of what she likes to call responsible energy development. For her, the draft SEIS was the long-overdue next step in the approval process, and she used the opportunity to exaggerate and mischaracterize Alberta’s environmental record.
Yesterday Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver held a press conference to respond to NDP leader Tom Mulcair’s open objection to the Keystone XL pipeline. Oliver, who has recently returned from a US tour to advertise Canada’s tar sands as green, finds Mulcair’s recent trip to Washington, D.C. somewhat disconcerting.
“It isn’t helpful when a senior Member of Parliament comes down there either directly or indirectly to speak against a project that is in Canada’s national interest,” Oliver said.
Mulcair’s visit south of the border, where he met with US business leaders and lawmakers, appears to be in reaction to Minister Oliver’s recent tar sands greenwashing junket to D.C.
Oliver, who also spoke in Chicago and Huston, gave his American audience what he called the "unvarnished goods" on Canada's tar sands: they represent an "environmentally responsible," "greener alternative" oil supply for carbon-hungry U.S. markets. His tour followed on the heels of Alberta Premier Alison Redford's similar efforts to promote one of the world's dirtiest forms of energy as environmentally-friendly.
Tom Mulcair, it appears, has had enough with the misinformation.
The Canadian government, says Mulcair, is “playing people for fools” when it comes to Canada’s environmental performance, especially surrounding the expansion of the tar sands.
As a Canadian energy and climate economist, I have first-hand experience with the magician-like techniques of the Canadian government and petroleum industry as they try to double the output of our highly polluting tar sands. Politicians in Washington should be wary, especially if they are sincere in wanting to spare us and our children from an increasing barrage of Katrinas, Sandys and droughts.
Magicians use slight-of-hand to distract us from what they are really doing. The fossil fuel industry and its allies have spent a lot of money to bombard us with messages about the jobs and tax benefits of increasing carbon pollution via this or that fossil fuel project.
Count how many times they explain how this carbon pollution is consistent with what scientists say and politicians promise in terms of avoiding devastating climate change.
Of course, they don’t explain.
That is the art of deception on which magic is based: to get you looking the wrong way. If you were to look the right way, you would see that we cannot be expanding fossil fuel infrastructure today and keep global temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius (3.7 Fahrenheit). That infrastructure – all of it – must be stable or contracting.
The depth of the Canadian government’s tar sands PR strategy was further revealed yesterday in a collection of nearly 1,000 pages of emails between Canadian diplomats in the United States. The correspondence dates back to August 2011 when protests movements focused on the Alberta tar sands began to spread across the continent. Toronto-based conservation group Environmental Defence obtained the documents through access to information legislation.
In an effort specifically designed to promote the Keystone XL pipeline south of the border, the government has been targeting journalists from major American news outlets, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Time and prominent trade publication E & E Daily, in order to “develop Canada’s network of reporters covering energy issues.” Canadian diplomats took reporters to lunch and then filed reports about strengthening the relationship between diplomats and journalists.
Chris Plunkett, a spokesperson for Canada’s Washington embassy, indicated these efforts were just par for the course when it comes to activities that have an impact on the Canadian economy. He said the Canadian government “strongly supports the expansion of the Keystone pipeline and the embassy continues to advocate for its approval which will contribute to energy security and economic growth for both Canada and the U.S.”
Adding emphasis to apparent intentions to sway American media, a series of emails going all the way up to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird shows the extent of the Conservatives’ response to negative media attention. An editorial in the New York Times that maligned the Keystone project prompted the department to draft a letter to the editor signed by Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer.
We’ve heard it all before: get your oil from Canada, or get it from the devil.
Okay, well, maybe not the devil, but if you aren’t dealing with Canada, you’re dealing with despots, tyrants, oppressors of women and suppressors of democracy.
This is the pervasive pseudo-logic brought to us by conservative commentator and Sun News correspondent Ezra Levant. In his book Ethical Oil, which eventually grew into the Ethical Oil Institute, Levant poses Canadians with a false dichotomy: either we support Canada’s ethical oil – which is democratically developed in an environmentally responsible way – or we support conflict oil.
The argument is a classical for-or-against proposition meant to polarize Canadians on a complex issue. And it is Canada’s latest export to America.