Environmental Issues in Canada


With its abundant forests, natural resources and surrounding oceans, environmental issues in Canada are a hot topic.

There are many environmental issues in Canada and below you will find an overview of the major themes that arise time and again, followed by our latest news and analysis on the subject.


Canada's Oilsands 

One of the most controversial environmental issues in Canada is the extremely high-carbon process of extracting oilsands deposits found in Northern Alberta.

According to Environment Canada, the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions (responsible for climate change) is Canada's oil industry. In a report released in 2014, Environment Canada found that oil and gas now accounts for one-quarter of all of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions.

Oilsands Pipelines

Much of the oil extracted in Alberta's oilsands reserves is shipped by pipelines in a raw form called “bitumen.” As oil companies look to expand their extraction operations in the oil sands, they need to expand their capacity to ship the oil to global markets. 

There is an ongoing public debate about whether new pipelines should be built in Canada. Concerns include global climate change, pipeline leaks, First Nations treaty rights and oil tanker spills. One of the most high-profile pipeline debates has centered around the Keystone XL pipeline that would have shipped oil from the oilsands to refineries in the United States. On November 6, 2015, U.S. President Barack Obama officially stopped the Keystone pipeline from being built by stating he would not issue the necessary presidential permit.

The Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline has been proposed for nearly 10 years, but is also essentially dead after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came to power on a promise to implement a ban on oil tankers on the north coast of B.C. The B.C. Supreme Court also ruled early in 2015 that the province of B.C. had failed to adequately consult affected First Nations.

Other oilsands pipelines are still in the environmental assessment stages: TransCanada's Energy East pipeline would ship bitumen from Alberta to Quebec and Atlantic Canada and Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline would ship bitumen from Alberta to Burrard Inlet near Vancouver.

Coal Exports

Canada is responsible for shipping large amounts of coal overseas. When it comes to climate change, the continued burning of coal is a major concern because it is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, when compared to other fossil fuels. When burned, coal also produces toxic pollutants like mercury. 

While coal exports are not accounted for in domestic reporting of greenhouse gas emissions, Canada is in essence exporting greenhouse gas emissions to other countries like China, Japan and India. Canada also still uses coal to generate a portion of its electricity, but Ontario has already phased out coal use, and Alberta has committed to phasing out coal-fired electricity generation by 2030.

A major issue is the proposed expansion of coal export facilities on Canada's Pacific coast, which would export thermal coal from Wyoming's Powder Basin, creating both local pollution issues as well as the global implications of increased greenhouse gas emissions.

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Image credit: Ben Powless on Flickr.

DeSmog Canada's latest news coverage on environmental issues in Canada


Nothing remains at the Rocky Mountain Fort site where Peace Valley farmers and First Nations camped for 60 days in the hopes of stopping clear-cut logging for the Site C dam. The camp was dismantled in March and the old-growth spruce and cottonwood forest was logged, as BC Hydro prepares to convert the Class 1 heritage site into a Site C waste rock dump.

But one notable thing still stands: the civil lawsuit BC Hydro filed in January against five campers and a supporter, a suit the B.C. Civil Liberties Association describes as a matter “of grave concern.”

The 13-page lawsuit accuses six Peace Valley residents of conspiracy, intimidation, trespass, creating a public and a private nuisance, and “intentional interference with economic relations by unlawful means.”

Most worrisome for the people named is that the suit seeks financial damages for BC Hydro that could result in the loss of their homes, life savings or other assets. Five of the six already stand to lose their houses, farms, land or traditional territory to the nearly $9 billion Peace River dam.

Josh Paterson, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), says the association is extremely concerned about the civil suit because it could put a chill on freedom of expression. It might cause others “to think twice before they talk about their political opinion.”

Top-level scientists and academics from across Canada are calling on the federal government to put the brakes on construction of the Site C dam and, in an unusual move, the call is being supported by the Royal Society of Canada.

A stinging criticism of the assessment process, lack of consideration for First Nations concerns and the B.C. government’s decision to start construction despite ongoing court cases, was released at an Ottawa news conference Tuesday with a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and a statement asking that the federal government not issue any more permits for the hydroelectric mega-project until there have been additional reviews and the courts have decided on First Nations court cases.

A “Statement of Concern” signed by 250 scientists and academics, amounting to a Who’s-Who of Canadian academia, asks that the B.C. government submit the project for review by the B.C. Utilities Commission, something suggested by Joint Review Panel, but rejected by the provincial government.

There should also be a review by the Department of Justice to analyze whether the project infringes on aboriginal and treaty rights, the statement says.

Based on evidence raised across our many disciplines, the undersigned scholars have concluded that there were significant gaps and inadequacies in the regulatory review and environmental assessment process for the Site C Project,” says the statement.

This article originally appeared on the Dogwood Initiative website.

Oil to tidewater.”

It’s an industry mantra happily adopted by politicians — and even some environmentalists. But ask yourself this: what happens when you pump more product into an oversupplied market? Answer: the price goes down.

Who benefits from cheaper crude oil? First, the customers — like China’s state-run heavy oil refineries. And later, competitors with lower overhead, like Saudi Arabia.

You’ve probably heard these twin arguments before:

The National Energy Board (NEB) recommended a conditional approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion today after a years-long review process many participants criticized as inadequate, rushed and lacking in transparency.

In a filing posted Thursday the NEB recommended cabinet approve the project, subject to 157 conditions.

Taking into account all the evidence, considering all relevant factors, and given that there are considerable benefits nationally, regionally and to some degree locally, the Board found that the benefits of the Project would outweigh the residual burdens,” the filing states.

Yet many individuals and organizations involved in the process say today’s recommendation comes on the heels of a beleaguered review process that did not consider many of the risks of the project.

Today’s recommendation is exactly as we expected given the way this panel approached the review,” Robyn Allan, former CEO of ICBC and economic risk expert, told DeSmog Canada. “It was simply set up as a way to get to yes.”

The B.C. government passed legislation that changes the boundaries of Finn Creek Provincial Park last Thursday, to make way for the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline even though the province has yet to give its approval to the controversial project.

In its pipeline expansion allocation Kinder Morgan requested the province redraw the boundaries of four provincial parks to facilitate pipeline construction.

Last week B.C. changed the boundaries of Finn Creek Provincial Park to make way for the pipeline that is currently undergoing review with the federal National Energy Board. The NEB’s final recommendation is expected by May 20.

This pipeline project clearly threatens the values that this park was established to protect,” Peter Wood with the B.C. chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), said. “It should never have been allowed to proceed this far, let alone be approved. Allowing industrial activity in an ecologically sensitive area like Finn Creek Park runs counter to the government’s mandate of protecting these places.”

The province of British Columbia and Enbridge Northern Gateway are being ordered to pay $230,000 in court costs to both the Gitga’at First Nation and Coastal First Nations after a January 2016 ruling found both parties failed to fulfill a legal obligation to consult with First Nations on the Northern Gateway pipeline.

The B.C. Supreme Court found the province contravened consultation rules in 2010 when it signed an equivalency agreement that granted environmental decision-making authority for the pipeline to the federal government. 

The January ruling was seen as a major vindication for coastal First Nations who felt the province failed to live up to its continual promise to work with and consult with First Nations communities along the pipeline route.

The awarded court costs have added to that feeling.

Exactly a year has passed since the centre-left New Democratic Party (NDP) rolled to a stunning win in Alberta.

Yet it’s still deeply surreal to think about that victory on May 5, 2015, which increased the party’s seat count from four to 54 in the 87-seat legislature and elevated former labour lawyer Rachel Notley to the position of premier.

After all, the Progressive Conservatives (PCs) — a union-bashing and petroleum-entrenched behemoth of a party — had governed the province without challenge since 1971.

For much of the ‘90s and 2000s, the province was led by Ralph Klein, an austerity-obsessed alcoholic who cracked jokes about human-caused climate change, berated homeless people for being unemployed and blew up a hospital to save a bit of money.

Abandoned oil and gas wells in Alberta are on the rise — but where many see a growing liability, Alberta’s fledgling geothermal industry sees massive opportunity.
 
“We’ve got these old wells that we know are hot and we’re going to fill them with cement and walk away,” says Tim Davies, CEO of geothermal company Turkana. “It’s just stupid.”
 
There’s currently no permitting framework for geothermal in Alberta, leaving the renewable energy out of play.
 
“I own the well, I own the land and I own the oil. But I can’t own the heat,” Davies said. “There’s just no mechanism for that in place.”
 
“The oil business has drilled 400,000 wells in Alberta alone,” Alison Thompson, president of the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association, told DeSmog Canada. “They’ve already found all the hot water the province has.”

By Tim Burkhart, former researcher with the Cohen Commission and Peace River Break Coordinator with the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.
 
On a clear day after the thaw, I climb a meandering hiking trail through thick forest, crossing springs swollen with alpine melt, and scramble up rocky slopes to a wind-swept vista of alpine tundra at the weather-beaten peak of Mount Bickford, about 40 minutes west of the small industry town of Chetwynd, B.C.
 
From this lofty vantage point above the Pine Pass, the crucial east-west length of Highway 97 is visible, connecting northeast B.C. with the rest of the province west of the Rockies.
 
Standing beside the dark waters of a mountain lake, still fringed with snow, I can gaze out upon an uninterrupted view of one of the most important landscapes in British Columbia.

Christy Clark LNG

Christy Clark is our province’s very own natural gas salmon, swimming gamely upstream against the advice of evidence and experts from multiple fields, determined to spawn B.C.’s LNG business in the heart of the province and give it the best start she can — everything else be damned. Or dammed, or whatever.
 
On a visit this week to Fort St. John, which is currently on fire, the premier bragged that producing and burning LNG will help prevent wildfires by causing a net decrease in carbon emissions as it displaces coal in China.
 
“If there’s any argument for exporting LNG and helping fight climate change, surely it is all around us when we see these fires burning out of control,” she told reporters at a press conference.

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