Analysis

What The Oilsands Sell-Off Actually Means

Oilsands trucks

The last few months have been marked by some massive shifts in the oilsands.

In December, there was the $830 million Statoil sale to Athabasca Oil, followed in January and February by the writing down of billions of barrels of reserves by Imperial Oil, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil.

On March 9, Shell sold a majority of its oilsands assets to Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL) in a huge $7.25 billion sale, while Marathon Oil split its Canadian subsidiary between Shell and CNRL for a total of $2.5 billion.

The question is: why are all of these companies selling their oilsands assets? While some celebrate the moves as successes for the climate movement, others blame the Alberta NDP for the exodus of internationals.

Tweet: Experts say #oilsands sell-off has more to do w/ a broader shift that’s made oilsands uneconomical http://bit.ly/2nK3zyQ #ableg #cdnpoliBut experts say the reality has more to do with a broader economic shift that’s made oilsands uneconomical — for the time being at least.

Behold The Allure of the Energy Megaproject

Christy Clark LNG

This article originally appeared on The Tyee.

Imagine if you lived in a nice quiet community of about 30 people, and the Chinese government got permission to plunk a $20-billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant on your doorstep.

Holy snapping duck shit! Chances are you’d want a pretty strong say in whether that could or should happen, under what conditions, with whose permission — and you’d want a very clear, objective analysis of the costs and benefits, and the risks, to you, your family, your neighbours, not to mention the physical place that would be so massively disrupted by such a project — you know, the place you currently call home.

Most of us don’t live in nice quiet communities of 30 people — or maybe we do. On my residential block in East Vancouver, I’d say that (based on the census’s estimated average of 2.6 people per household in Vancouver) there are 30 people on my side of the street alone. Maybe you live in an old apartment building with 30 people in it total; maybe a condo with 30 people on your floor. Anyway, 30 people isn’t a lot, but $20 billion is, and right now, on Digby Island — right across the harbour from Prince Rupert in northern B.C. — the tiny community of Dodge Cove is staring down a project that would pretty much destroy it.

It’s become a “sacrifice zone” — yet another bucolic corner of the world at risk of being flattened on the anvil of progress.

Federal Clean Fuel Plan Could Slash Transport Emissions

Electric car charging station

A little known federal plan to adopt a clean fuel standard could cut Canada’s emissions by as much as Ontario’s coal phase-out (North America’s single largest emissions reduction initiative) — if done right.

The clean fuel standard, announced last November, will require fuel suppliers to decrease the carbon footprint of the fuels they sell in Canada.

But unlike similar regulations in British Columbia and California, which target transportation fuels only, the federal government is considering using the clean fuel standard to also target emissions from fuels used in buildings and industrial processes, such as heating oil and petroleum coke.

Gas, solids, liquids, whatever. If it is a fossil fuel, it is going to be subject to this standard,” Clare Demerse, policy advisor at Clean Energy Canada, told DeSmog Canada. “That is a really … powerful signal. All fossil fuels in Canada have to improve their carbon performance.”

The Art of the Steal: Inside Christy Clark's Natural Gas Resource Giveaway

Premier Christy Clark making Woodfibre LNG announcement

For years, B.C. Premier Christy Clark has been under immense pressure to deliver on the liquefied natural gas (LNG) promises that formed the backbone of her 2013 election campaign. 

Back then, the Liberals predicted LNG could create almost 40,000 construction jobs in BC, 75,000 full-time jobs once in operation, and much more. 

“It's no fantasy,” read the Liberal platform of 2013.  “We can create $1 trillion in economic activity and create the BC Prosperity Fund with $100 billion over 30 years.” 

But four years later, the opportunity to cash in on LNG exports to Asia has dissolved, while the $100 million currently sitting in the Prosperity Fund has been drawn not from natural gas, but from sources like the premiums for the BC Medical Services Plan.

Three Reasons Why Keystone XL May Never Get Built

Keystone XL pipeline

Almost a full decade since first applying for a presidential permit, TransCanada looks set to finally receive go-ahead in the U.S. for its massive $8-billion Keystone XL pipeline.

But here’s the thing: U.S. approval, while a great leap forward for TransCanada, doesn’t guarantee the Keystone XL pipeline will ever be built.

U.S. President Donald Trump was elected with the explicit promise to get the 830,000 barrel per day pipeline from Alberta to Nebraska built, under the conditions that the U.S. would receive a “big, big chunk of the profits, or even ownership rights” and it would be built with American steel; his administration has already flip-flopped on the latter pledge.

*Update: On March 24, 2017, Trump granted Trans Canada the presidential permit required to build Keystone XL, saying: “It’s going to be an incredible pipeline, the greatest technology known to man, or woman.”

So is Keystone XL going to be built? Not so fast. Here are three key reasons why it may never become a reality.

FYI: ‘World Leading’ Oil Spill Response Means Nothing

Governments love buzzwords — probably because they roll off the tongue so nicely that people often overlook the fact they’re meaningless.

Take one of the B.C. government’s favourite expressions of late: “world leading” oil spill response.

It’s included not once, but twice, in B.C.’s five conditions for approval of oil pipelines — used to give the green light to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline.

But what does “world leading” oil spill response actually mean?

I see a lot of gaps in this wording of ‘world class’ response,” says Riki Ott, a marine toxicologist who was working as a commercial fisher in Cordova, Alaska, when the Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef in March 1989, spilling more than 41 million litres of oil into Prince William Sound.

How the Spectre of Oil Trains is Deceptively Used to Push Pipelines

Either support new pipelines or your community will be incinerated by an oil-carrying train.

It sounds outrageous, but it’s been a foundational argument made by the pro-pipeline lobby ever since the horrific Lac-Mégantic disaster in 2013.

This is almost like putting a gun to the head of communities, saying ‘well, if we don’t build our pipeline then we’re going to put more oil-by-rail traffic through your community,’ ” says Patrick DeRochie, program manager of Environmental Defence’s climate and energy program.

Tweet: ‘...the oil industry’s really manipulating legitimate public concerns about rail safety to push pipelines.’ http://bit.ly/2iRvNVt #cdnpoliI think that’s dishonest and the oil industry’s really manipulating legitimate public concerns about rail safety to push pipelines.”

On Dec. 20, 2016 — less than a month after the federal approvals of the Kinder Morgan TransMountain and Enbridge Line 3 pipelines — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau clearly stated that “putting in a pipeline is a way of preventing oil by rail, which is more dangerous and more expensive.”

The fact that it’s an oft-repeated sentiment shouldn’t overshadow the fact that this is a completely false binary.

Five Surprisingly Good Things That Happened in Canada in 2016

The election of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named south of the border is leaving many Canadians with a case of the climate doldrums as 2016 winds to a close — but here’s the thing: 2016 was actually the most promising year Canada has had on climate action in more than a decade.

To be sure, us Canucks have had some not-awesome news on the climate and energy front lately, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s approval of the enormously polluting Pacific Northwest LNG terminal near Prince Rupert, B.C., Enbridge’s Line 3 from Alberta to Wisconsin and the hotly contested Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain oil pipeline to Vancouver.

Many had higher hopes of climate leadership from Trudeau and they’re not wrong to be disappointed. However, as this year comes to a close, it’s also worth looking back on some of the significant steps forward that were made in 2016 — victories that in many cases were unimaginable even two years ago.

What's Missing in Media Coverage of Canada's Pipeline Debate

If you read any commentary in the wake of Trudeau’s pipeline approvals, you might have come across the sentiment that pipeline opponents are “environmental NIMBYs” and “angry mobs” who are “stuck in bondage to strange ideologies…eyes ablaze with truth oil,” having “demolished trust in agencies.”  

Conversely, pipeline proponents are “realistic” and “rational,” able to offer up “informed discussion and courtesy” due to their nuanced understandings of economics and deep respect for regulatory processes.

In the current political climate, if you disagree with an economic model or the critical assumptions underlying it you court the risk of being labelled an extremist or emotional, or simply unqualified to participate in the debate,” says Jason MacLean, assistant professor of law at Lakehead University and author of two recent Maclean’s essays on climate policy.  

Trudeau’s New Pipeline Talking Point — Straight From the Oil Industry

Justin Trudeau live interview with Vancouver Sun

In a Facebook Live interview with the Vancouver Sun this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau trotted out a favourite talking point of the oil industry.

 “Where we have to recognize that we’re not going to find common ground is in the people who say the only thing we can do to save the planet is to shut down the oilsands tomorrow and stop using fossil fuels altogether within a week,” Trudeau said.

There are a few things wrong with this statement.

1) Who’s campaigning to shut down the oilsands tomorrow? I’ve been writing about energy and environment for nearly 10 years and I can’t name a single credible group that’s ever campaigned to shut down the oilsands. Heck, I can’t even think of one that’s campaigning to decrease production. They almost all campaign to limit expansion.

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