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


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.

With news of the Port of Vancouver ruffling the feathers of the federal government by issuing a permit for a jet fuel pipeline without so much as a heads up, the port authority’s integrity has been thrust into the spotlight yet again.

While the port has apologized to Transport Minister Marc Garneau, the thorny issue of the port conducting environmental reviews of projects, while profiting from the same projects, remains.

Complicating matters, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority (which regulates the Port of Vancouver) is a member of the Coal Association of Canada — a lobby group that glosses over the impacts of burning coal on climate change and that has gained notoriety in recent weeks for spreading misinformation about the phase-out of coal-fired electricity in Alberta.

The port authority has also been outed in the past for a covert and intimate relationship with the Vancouver-based Coal Alliance, an aggressive lobby group with a membership that includes rail companies, export terminals and other lobby groups.

This article originally appeared on the Council of Canadians' website.

If you follow mainstream media you’ve probably heard the argument ‘we need to get our oil to tidewater’ ad nauseam.

Be it Natural Resource Minister CarrPrime Minister TrudeauPremier Notley or pipeline and tar sands industries, it’s a drum beat that’s building in intensity. As the argument goes, if we could only get a pipeline built and oil shipped, Canada’s crumbling oil industry could recover from its current woes.

Here’s the thing… it’s totally wrong.

I’m not the only one calling this bluff.

Clean power projects, such as run-of-river, thermal, solar and wind operations, are providing about 14 per cent of BC Hydro’s domestic supply of electricity and account for $8.6 billion in capital investment in the province, according to a new report commissioned by Clean Energy BC.
 
The report by MNP, a chartered accountancy and business advisory firm, finds investments have been made throughout the province, including in First Nations communities and areas hit by the recent collapse in global commodity markets.
 
“Clean Energy Projects can help diversify the economies of local communities by providing another source of employment in communities that may have traditionally relied on mining or forestry to provide the majority of local employment,” the report states.
 
Many of the 101 independent power projects currently in operation are owned by First Nations or have benefit or revenue-sharing agreements with local First Nations.

Doig River elder Tommy Attachie.

In the heart of one of the continent’s biggest fracking booms stands a place the people of the Doig River First Nation have revered for generations.

Elders remember visiting this ancient spruce forest in northeastern B.C. as children on horseback. There they’d hunt moose, grieve their loved ones, heal their spirits.

So as oil and gas wells began to crop up all over their traditional territory, the elders of Doig River decided to do something to protect their most sacred place.

In 2011, they declared a tribal park called K’ih tsaa?dze, which means “old spruce” in the Dane-za, or Beaver, language.  

Enbridge will have to secure an environmental assessment certificate from the B.C. government if it wants to proceed with its Northern Gateway oil pipeline according to an order issued by B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office on Friday.
 
Early on in the Northern Gateway process, the B.C. government signed an “equivalency agreement” with the federal government, giving Ottawa the responsibility for the environmental assessment.
 
However, a Supreme Court of B.C. decision this January found that the B.C. government acted improperly and that the province must still make its own decision about issuing an environmental assessment certificate.

In a letter to Enbridge posted last week, B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office states that it will accept the National Energy Board’s (NEB) joint review panel report as the assessment report, but it will carry out its own consultation with Aboriginal groups — if and when Enbridge indicates it’s ready to proceed (it’s clear Enbridge must make a move here).

The National Energy Board, Canada’s federal pipeline regulator, will now require pipeline operators to make emergency response plans publicly available online, according to an order issued this week.
 
The new rules require all pipeline companies to post emergency plans on their websites by September 30, 2016. The increased transparency measure is part of a larger effort by the National Energy Board to regain credibility with the Canadian public.

“We’ve always reviewed manuals, we’ve always reviewed companies’ emergency management systems to make sure they’re robust, but Canadians are now saying they want more information and we’re just acting on what Canadians are telling us,” National Energy Board chairman Peter Watson told Global News. 

“This is an example where I felt quite strongly that we could put more information out about companies’ emergency response plans and help people understand what’s at play and how these things work. And that will, I think, give them more confidence that we know what we’re doing around these systems for emergency response.”

No one has a better handle on the effect climate deniers have on the socio-political stage than science historian and author Naomi Oreskes.
 
Her book Merchants of Doubt charts the path of many of the world’s most notorious deniers, skeptics, shills, PR men and experts-for-hire. Plus, as a trained historian and professor of earth and environmental sciences at Harvard, Oreskes has the ability to take a 10,000-foot view when it comes to climate politics and the turning tide of public opinion.
 
Oreskes recently visited Vancouver to discuss climate change and climate denial in Canada at a talk organized by the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies.  
 
For Oreskes, understanding how climate denial is active in places like Canada involves acknowledging the expansiveness of climate change as an issue, one that cuts across boundaries between government, society and market power.
 
We asked Oreskes what she makes of Canada’s current political situation — a situation in which our  prime minister announces impressive climate targets on the world stage but then quietly approves B.C.’s first LNG export terminal on a Friday afternoon.
 
“Of course there is a long road ahead,” Oreskes said. “[Climate change] is a very big issue that reaches into economics, politics and culture.”

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