This is a guest post by Cameron Fenton, Canadian Tar Sands Organizer with 350.org.
This week, the cover of the Economist proclaimed “the fall in the price of oil and gas provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix bad energy policies.” The article teased on the cover explains how low oil prices create the space for governments to make rapid leaps to change energy policy instead of “tinkering at the edges” urging policy makers to use this moment to “inject some coherence into the world's energy policies.”
The article gets a lot of things right. Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies and forcing big polluters to pay for the mess they're making are crucial policy steps, but the piece also presents some more dubious proposals. The last paragraph of the Economist piece is the perfect example of the inherent dangers ahead.
The U.S. and Mexico appear to have joined Canada in its fight to prevent a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) investigation of the more than 176 square kilometres of tailings ponds holding waste from the Alberta oilsands near Fort McMurray.
In 2010 a group of citizens and environmental groups petitioned NAFTA’s Commission on Environmental Cooperation to investigate whether Canada is breaking its own federal laws, in particular the Fisheries Act, by failing to adequately manage the massive tailings ponds which hold a toxic mixture of water, silt and chemicals.
“It was important for us to know whether this was happening and whether environmental laws were being broken and whether the government is upholding those laws or ignoring them,” Dale Marshall from Environmental Defence, one of the organizations behind the compliant, said.
A 2012 federal study confirmed the tailings ponds are seeping waste into the local environment and Athabasca River. In 2013 an internal memo prepared for then Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver confirmed groundwater toxins related to bitumen extraction and processing are migrating from the tailings ponds.
In this episode of DeSmogCAST our team discusses Obama's recent promise to veto legislation put forward by a Republican-led Congress to expedite construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. While the fate of Keystone remains uncertain, the Obama Administration made changes in the final days of 2014 that now allows for the export of U.S. crude oil. As Justin Mikulka reports, the change doesn't lie in a newly passed bill but rather in a language game used to mask the difference between crude oil and condensate.
Finally we take a look at a new study recently published in Nature that analyzes the globe's total carbon reserves and pinpoints those that must remain unburned if we are to stay within the 2 degrees Celsius warming limit recommended by scientists and policy makers. That study highlights the Canadian oilsands and almost all coal reserves in the U.S. as carbon deposits that must remain in the ground in a carbon-constrained future.
If revenge is indeed a dish that's best served cold, the President of Cool just served up a four-star pièce de résistance for Stephen Harper.
Tuesday's announcement of Obama's planned veto of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline should not have been surprising, yet when the blow came it carried a shocking intensity.
And how did things go so badly that Canada doesn't have the heft or goodwill in Washington to add a single pipeline to a nation benoodled with them? The answer lies in the delusional hubris of Stephen Harper.
No close watcher of the president should be surprised. In myriad ways, the prime minister's personal ambition shredded our nation's single most important relationship and drew us into the toxic swamp of Washington's poisonous politics.
It's been going on for years.
The White House confirmed today that President Obama will veto Congressional legislation designed to greenlight construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, the contentious project first proposed six years ago to carry more than 800,000 barrels per day of Canadian oilsands crude from Alberta to refineries and export facilities along the Gulf of Mexico.
Despite strong indications of support in Congress, the Obama Administration has already indicated it will veto the bill to expedite approval of the $8 billion project if approved. A similar bill was blocked by Democrats in the Senate in November.
“If this bill passes this Congress the president won’t sign it either,” Josh Earnest, White House press secretary, said. Obama rejected TransCanada's application to build the pipeline in 2012, suggesting congressional Republicans had set a “rushed and arbitrary deadline” for the project's approval.
The bill, proposed by Republican Senator John Hoeven from North Dakota and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin from West Virginia, will be debated in a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing Wednesday with the panel set to vote on the project Thursday.
This week’s episode of DeSmogCAST covers the fallout of the U.S. midterm elections and what a GOP-led Congress will mean for climate action and the Keystone XL pipeline.
Hosted by DeSmogBlog contributor Farron Cousins, our DeSmog cast – featuring Carol Linnitt, Brendan DeMelle and Steve Horn – also takes a look at fracking bans in several U.S. states, the hilarious success of the #KMFACE campaign, and the importance of community organizing in the face of growing fossil fuel influence in our lives. We discuss Chevron’s ‘Fuel Your Schools’ campaign currently taking place in schools around Vancouver’s lower mainland.
Oil companies and fossil fuel investors seeking further developments in the Alberta tar sands have been dealt another setback with the publication of a report showing producers lost $17.1 billion USD between 2010-2013 due to successful public protest campaigns.
Fossil fuel companies lost $30.9 billion overall during the same period partly due to the changing North American oil market but largely because of a fierce grassroots movement against tar sands development, said the report — Material Risks: How Public Accountability Is Slowing Tar Sands Development.
A significant segment of opposition is from First Nations in Canada who are raising sovereignty claims and other environmental challenges, added the report, which was produced by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) and Oil Change International (OCI).
“Tar sands producers face a new kind of risk from growing public opposition,” Tom Sanzillo, director of finance at IEEFA, and one of the lead authors on the report, said. “This opposition has achieved a permanent presence as public sentiment evolves and as the influence of organizations opposed to tar sands production continues to grow.”
Alex MacLean is one of America’s most famed and iconic aerial photographers. His perspective on human structures, from bodies sunbathing at the beach to complex, overlapping highway systems, always seems to hint at a larger symbolic meaning hidden in the mundane. By photographing from above, MacLean shows the sequences and patterns of human activity, including the scope of our impact on natural systems. His work reminds us of the law of proximity: the things closest to us are often the hardest to see.
Recently MacLean traveled to the Alberta oilsands in western Canada. There, working with journalist Dan Grossman, MacLean used his unique eye to capture some new and astounding images of one of the world’s largest industrial projects. Their work, funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, will form part of a larger, forthcoming report for GlobalPost.
DeSmog Canada caught up with MacLean to ask him about his experience photographing one of Canada’s most politicized resources and the source of the proposed Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines.
Today an oil tanker carrying between 500,000 and 600,000 barrels of western Canadian oilsands (also called tarsands) bitumen arrives in Bilbao, a port city in northern Spanish. It is the first shipment of Canadian bitumen to the European Union and a sign the federal government’s “pan European oilsands advocacy strategy” is succeeding.
“This shipment could open the door to more imports of dirty tarsands,” says Franziska Achterberg of Greenpeace from Brussels. “Europe can’t be both a climate champion and a market for climate-wrecking tar sands. The EU must uphold its environmental credentials and stand up to the intense lobbying by the oil industry and the Canadian government.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has been lobbying the EU since 2009 to keep its markets open to bitumen. Internal documents have shown the federal government has used its embassies in Europe “to protect and advance Canadian interests related to the oil sands.”