tar sands

Canada Tells NAFTA Leaky Oilsands Tailings Ponds a ‘Challenge’ to Prove, Despite Existing Federal Study

There’s no telling if the 220 square-kilometres of unlined tailings ponds in the Alberta oilsands are leaking contaminated waste into nearby water sources, according to the government of Canada.

That claim was made in an official response to NAFTA’s Commission for Environmental Cooperation despite strong scientific evidence suggesting a clear linkage between the oilsands’ 1.3 trillion litres of fluid tailings and the contamination of local waterways.

The response comes after a June 2017 submission by two environmental organizations and a Dene man alleging the federal government was failing to enforce a section of the Fisheries Act that prohibits the release of a “deleterious substance” into fish-frequented waters.

What You Need to Know About NAFTA’s Investigation into Oilsands Tailings Leaks

Oilsands tailings pond

For years environmental organizations have called on the federal government to do something about the leakage of  billions of litres of toxic chemicals from Alberta’s oilsands tailings ponds into the Athabasca River every year.

And for years they’ve been ignored — until now.

NAFTA’s Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) is reviewing a submission by Environmental Defence, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Daniel T’seleie. Now, Canada must provide a response to the arguments made in the submission.

Here’s a primer on why this process matters.

No Sure Plans, Funding for $51 Billion Cleanup and Rehabilitation of Oilsands Tailings Ponds

Alex MacLean Oilsands Suncor Tailings Pond

The future of Alberta’s sprawling tailings ponds is in serious crisis.

As of right now, there is no clear understanding if or how oilsands companies are going to clean up the 1.2 trillion litres of toxic petrochemical waste covering over 220 square kilometres in the province’s northeast.

On Monday, Environmental Defence and the U.S.’s Natural Resources Defense Council published a report that pegged potential costs for cleanup and reclamation at a staggering $51.3 billion: $44.5 billion for cleanup, with an additional $6.8 billion for rehabilitation and monitoring.

That amount exceeds the $41.3 billion in royalties collected by the province of Alberta between 1970 and 2016.

Increasingly, as an Albertan, I am concerned that these will become public liabilities,” Martin Olszynski, law professor at the University of Calgary and expert in environmental law, tells DeSmog Canada.

It’s Still Unclear How Alberta’s Tailings Will Be Cleaned Up Or Who Will Pay For It

Alberta oilsands tailings ponds, Alex MacLean

For years, Alberta’s government has reassured the public that it has a plan to ensure the oilsands’ 1.2 trillion litres of hazardous tailings are permanently dealt with after mines shut down.

That assertion is becoming less convincing by the day.

Industry still hasn’t decided on a viable long-term storage technology to begin testing. The fund to cover tailings liabilities in case of bankruptcy is arguably extremely underfunded. And there are concerns from the likes of the Pembina Institute that the future costs for tailings treatment will be far greater than anticipated.

Martin Olszynski, assistant professor in law at University of Calgary, told DeSmog Canada such questions simply can’t be left unanswered.

It would the height of unfairness if at the end of all this massive profit and wealth generation, Albertans were left on the hook for what will be landscape-sized disturbances that are potentially very harmful and hazardous to humans and wildlife,” he said.

Secrecy Around Composition of Oilsands Dilbit Makes Effective Spill Response, Research Impossible: New Study

Knowledge gaps about the behaviour of diluted bitumen when it is spilled into saltwater and lack of information about how to deal with multiple problems that can result from extracting and transporting bitumen from the Alberta oilsands, make it impossible for government or industry to come up with effective policies to deal with a disaster, says a newly published research paper, Oilsands and the Marine Environment.

Canada’s Trudeau Plans to Work with Trump Admin to Approve Keystone XL, Pump Exxon-owned Tar Sands into U.S.

Tar sands Mildred Lake plant

At a speech given to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he intends to work with President-elect Donald Trump to approve the northern leg of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline. 

The speech comes as Trump revealed in a recent interview with Fox News that one of the first things he intends to do in office is grant permits for both Keystone XL and the perhaps equally controversial Dakota Access pipeline. Because Keystone XL North crosses the U.S.-Canada border, current processes require it to obtain a presidential permit from the U.S. Department of State, which the Obama administration has denied.

The next State Department, however, could be led by the recently retired CEO of ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson, who was just nominated to be U.S. Secretary of State and soon will face a Senate hearing and vote. Potentially complicating this situation is the fact that Exxon holds substantial interest in both tar sands projects and companies, which stand to benefit from the Keystone XL pipeline bringing this carbon-intensive crude oil across the border.

Canada’s Costly Oilsands Loses Another Player as Norwegian Oil Giant Statoil Pulls Out

Statoil's oil sands operations

Norwegian oil major Statoil will be pulling out of its Canadian oilsands project after nearly a decade with an expected loss of at least USD$500 million.

In yet another sign that Canada’s oilsands – one of the most polluting fossil fuel projects on the planet – is becoming increasingly costly, Lars Christian Bacher, Statoil’s executive vice-president for international development and production, said in a statement: “This transaction corresponds with Statoil’s strategy of portfolio optimisation to enhance financial flexibility and focus capital on core activities globally.”

The 14 December announcement comes just weeks after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approved the controversial Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline and the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline in a move to facilitate growth in the oilsands and create jobs.

In Photos: Lessons from the Scene of the Sea Empress Oil Spill

Dr. Robin Crump had a front row seat to one of the world’s worst oil spills.

Twenty years ago, on Feb. 15, 1996, the Sea Empress oil tanker ran aground on mid-channel rocks in Pembrokeshire Coast National Park in Wales.

Over the course of the following week, the Sea Empress spilled almost 18 million gallons — 80 million litres — of crude oil, making it Britain’s third largest oil spill and the world’s 12th largest at the time.

Beaches were coated in a thick brown chocolate mousse of petroleum. Thousands of birds and other creatures perished. The rare species, Asterina Phylactica, first discovered by Dr. Crump, was reduced to a handful of individuals. Thanks in large part to Crump’s efforts, the species was well on the road to recovery within six months.

Can Trudeau Possibly Square New Pipelines with the Paris Agreement?

On Nov. 29, the federal government granted conditional approvals for the twinning of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline and the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline replacement project.

If built, the two pipelines will add just over one million barrels per day of export capacity from Alberta’s oilsands. Expectedly, many Canadians cried climate foul.

And, equally as predictably, there’s been a litany of arguments criticizing people for protesting the approvals.

The ‘Canada Needs More Pipelines’ Myth, Busted

Rachel Notley, Stephen Harper and Naheed Nenshi

For years, the Canadian public has been besieged with the same message: Alberta’s pipeline network is completely maxed out, meaning the oilsands are landlocked and new pipelines must be constructed to allow producers to ship their product to new markets and eliminate the discount imposed on exports.

It’s a notion that’s been repeated by politicians of all stripes, including Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

But there’s no merit to that argument, according to a new report from the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Oil Change International.

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