pipelines

Alberta’s Pipeline Regulation a ‘Facade’: Experts

Oil pipeline

The Alberta Energy Regulator — responsible for regulating more than 430,000 kilometres of pipelines in the province — has finally started to try to clean up its image.

In the last two weeks of February, the agency launched a “pipeline performance report” that graphs recent pipeline incidents, it levelled a $172,500 fine against Murphy Oil for a 2015 spill that went undetected for 45 days and it shut down all operations by the notoriously uncooperative Lexin Resources, including 201 pipelines.*

But critics suggest there are major systemic flaws in the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) that still need to be addressed if pipeline safety is to be taken seriously.

It’s absolutely ridiculous,” says Mike Hudema, climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Canada. “You’re talking about a spill that went undetected for 45 days. And the company was fined an amount that they could likely make in less than an hour. That doesn’t send any message to the company. It definitely doesn’t send any message to the industry. And it doesn’t reform company behaviour.”

4 Reasons the ‘Oil to Tidewater’ Argument is Bunk

Oil tanker

Access to world markets for Canadian oil has been available since 1956 when the Westridge dock was constructed in Burnaby, B.C., and linked to the Trans Mountain pipeline.

The dock’s export capacity has rarely been used to its full potential in more than 60 years — yet the oil industry and politicians continue to make the argument that Canada needs new pipelines to get oil to world markets. 

Here are four reasons that argument doesn’t fly.

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.

How to Fix the National Energy Board, Canada's 'Captured Regulator'

The National Energy Board (NEB) is a “captured regulator” that has “lost touch with what it means to protect the public interest.”

That’s what Marc Eliesen — former head of BC Hydro, Ontario Hydro and Manitoba Hydro, and former deputy minister of energy in Ontario and Manitoba — told the NEB Modernization Expert Panel on Wednesday morning in Vancouver.

The bottom line is that the board’s behaviour during the Trans Mountain review not only exposed the process as a farce, it exposed the board as a captured regulator,” he said to the five-member panel.

Tweet: “Regulatory capture exists when a regulator ceases to be independent and objective.” http://bit.ly/2kUzoTv #cdnpoli #EnergyEast #TransMtnRegulatory capture exists when a regulator ceases to be independent and objective.”

The Trans Mountain pipeline was reviewed with what many consider a heavily politicized NEB process, one that Trudeau had committed to changing prior to issuing a federal verdict on the project.

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.

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.

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.  

The Carbon Offset Question: Will Canada Buy its Way to the Climate Finish Line?

Alberta oilsands, tar sands Kris Krug

On Dec. 9, after much deliberation and political theatre, the federal government, eight provinces and three territories signed the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.

Saskatchewan and Manitoba were notably absent from the list of signatories.

But also absent was an explanation of just how and how much Canada will rely on emissions trading  — technically known as internationally transferred mitigation outcomes — to meet its 2030 target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions down to 524 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, a reduction of 30 per cent compared to 2005 emission levels.

In its framework Canada vaguely pledged to “continue to explore which types of tools related to the acquisition of internationally transferred mitigation outcomes may be beneficial to Canada.”

Yet Canada may be eyeing the offset tool as a fundamental part of achieving emissions reductions, especially if global resource prices rebound and the oilsands expand to production levels allowable under newly approved pipelines.

A Surprisingly Simple Solution to Canada’s Stalled Energy Debate

If you feel exhausted by Canada’s fevered debates about oil pipelines, liquefied natural gas terminals, renewable energy projects and mines, there just might be relief in sight.

Right now, the federal government is reviewing its environmental assessment (EA) process. Yes, it’s reviewing its reviews. And while that might sound kinda boring, it could actually revolutionize the way Canada makes decisions about energy projects.

My highest hope is that Canada will take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity … and take a really visionary approach to environmental assessment,” said Anna Johnston, staff counsel at West Coast Environmental Law.

That could include implementing something called “strategic environmental assessment,” which creates a forum for the larger discussions about things like oil exports, LNG development or all mining in an area.

So instead of the current environmental assessment process, in which pipeline reviews have become proxy battles for issues such as climate change and cumulative effects, there’d actually be a higher-level review designed specifically to examine those big-picture questions. 

How B.C. Quietly Accepted the Harper-Era Federal Review of Kinder Morgan Pipeline

B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak and B.C. Premier Christy Clark,

The B.C. government has refused to exercise its authority to order a provincial environmental assessment of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline and tanker project, instead opting to rely on a report produced by the federal National Energy Board (NEB) that recommended approval of the project.

This means the province’s decision on the project — which would triple the amount of oil shipped through Vancouver — will be made using a Harper-era assessment heavily criticized for having no cross-examination of evidence and failing to assess cumulative effects, marine oil spills and greenhouse gas emissions.

This is a government that say they’re standing up for British Columbians and when they had a chance legally to protect British Columbians with a made-in-B.C. environmental assessment they passed the buck, accepted Stephen Harper’s process and let down British Columbians,” said George Heyman, the NDP’s environment critic.

The federal government has to decide whether to approve the project by Dec. 19 — but the province also has to make its own decision on whether to grant an environmental assessment certificate.

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