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.

Image credit: Ben Powless on Flickr.


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


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By Daniel Wood • Monday, April 24, 2017 - 14:12
Massey Bridge

This article originally appeared on The Tyee.

There are places one can sit and consider the past and future with equal clarity. On this October day, Harold Steves, 79, an outspoken environmentalist and Richmond city councillor, looks from the riverbank at the end of Richmond’s Rice Mill Road.

Directly in front of him is the Fraser River, and directly below his feet lies Highway 99’s George Massey Tunnel. Given a $22-million seismic upgrade a decade ago, it was said by then-B.C. transportation minister Kevin Falcon that the tunnel was safe and a future twinning would eliminate the twice-daily commuter bottleneck.

But if today’s B.C. government has its way, work will start late this year on a massive $3.5-billion bridge, financed through a Public-Private Partnership (P3), to be completed by 2022.

Which means a stiff toll to pay off private creditors in the years ahead. Which will also mean that the perfectly safe, perfectly good tunnel will be removed.

By Carol Linnitt • Thursday, April 20, 2017 - 16:43
Christy Clark Site C dam, energy conservation cancelled

Way back in the good ole days of 2010, B.C. released the Clean Energy Act, a plan that required the province to conserve massive amounts of energy.

And, all in all, B.C. has been pretty good at that. But that all changed in 2013 when the B.C. government approved the Site C dam.

According to a new report released this week by the University of British Columbia’s Program on Water Governance, since 2013 B.C. has “moderated” energy conservation measures even though those measures would have reduced B.C.’s power demand, at a significantly cheaper cost than building Site C.

These measures include codes and standards for building efficiency, stepped rate structures to reduce energy consumption, and programs like low interests loans and tax breaks designed to encourage the adoption of more energy efficient technologies and practices.

By Emma Gilchrist • Monday, March 27, 2017 - 08:50
Christy Clark and Petronas CEO Tan Sri Dato’ Sahmsul Azhar Abbas

The B.C. government is subsidizing the LNG industry to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars — and British Columbians are going to pay the price, according to a new report by Sierra Club B.C.

The report, Hydro Bill Madness: The BC Government Goes For Broke With Your Money, lays out the impact of tax breaks, subsidies and reduced electricity rates negotiated by industry.

Power subsidies to even just two or three of the proposed LNG plants could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars per year,” reads a press release accompanying the report.

Two LNG export terminals have been approved in B.C. — Petronas’ Pacific Northwest LNG on Lelu Island near Prince Rupert and the Woodfibre LNG plant in Howe Sound near Squamish. Another 18 are proposed.

Both companies have been major donors to the B.C. Liberal party, which has ruled the province for 16 years and faces an election on May 9.

Malaysian-owned Pacific Northwest LNG donated more than $18,000 to the B.C. Liberals since 2014, while Indonesian-based Woodfibre has found itself in the midst of a growing scandal over illegal donations.

By James Wilt • Thursday, March 23, 2017 - 14:07
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.”

By Guest • Thursday, March 23, 2017 - 10:59
Arlene Boon

This is a guest post by Ray Eagle.

Many British Columbians may not realize that the $9 billion Site C dam, currently under construction on the Peace River, has a 46-year back-story.

B.C. Hydro began engineering studies for Site C back in 1971. In the early 1980s B.C. Hydro went before the newly formed British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC), created “to ensure that ratepayers receive safe, reliable, and nondiscriminatory energy services at fair rates from the utilities it regulates, and that shareholders of those utilities are afforded a reasonable opportunity to earn a fair return on their invested capital.”

In November 1983, the BCUC issued a 315-page summary that stated the dam was not needed at that time, while at the same time criticizing B.C. Hydro’s forecasting ability.

Tweet: “The Commission examined the methodology of @BCHydro's forecasting…” and it didn’t go so well in 1983. Or now still http://bit.ly/2nhohVbThe Commission examined the methodology of Hydro's forecasting … and concluded that, while significant improvements have been made, further improvements can and should be made to improve reliability,” the report read.

By Ian Gill • Tuesday, March 21, 2017 - 09:05
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.

By Robyn Allan • Monday, March 20, 2017 - 12:55
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.

By Aurora Tejeida • Thursday, March 16, 2017 - 09:06
Salmon

Between the Site C dam, Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline and the Pacific NorthWest liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility, it’s hard to keep track of all the projects that have been approved in B.C. But for First Nations that will be affected by the Pacific NorthWest LNG terminal and pipelines, the environmental and cultural impacts are impossible to escape.

In what is now the fourth federal lawsuit filed against the federal government’s approval of the $36 billion LNG project, two Gitxsan Nation hereditary chiefs have filed a judicial review arguing that Pacific NorthWest LNG infringes on their Aboriginal fishing rights.

In October of last year, judicial reviews were also filed in federal court by the Gitanyow and Gitwilgyoots First Nations, as well as the SkeenaWild Conservation Trust.

The main concern? Salmon. Specifically, salmon stocks in the Skeena watershed, which supports Canada's second-largest salmon run. The LNG export terminal is planned for Lelu Island, near Prince Rupert, a site the federal government studied 40 years ago and found unsuitable or port development.  

By Guest • Wednesday, March 15, 2017 - 12:36
Woman with respirator

By Benjamin Israël for the Pembina Institute.

In November 2016, the Government of Canada announced its intention to phase out coal as a source of power. Since then, many voices have misrepresented or questioned the impact that coal emissions have on Canadians’ health and our environment.

In order to clear the air, we’ve answered four of the biggest questions being asked about the link between an accelerated phase-out of coal-fired power and human health.

By Christopher Pollon • Wednesday, March 15, 2017 - 05:23
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.

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