Monday, September 16, 2013

Canadians Don't Want Tar Sands Being Shipped Through Vancouver. Wonder Why?


The Wisconsin Federation of College Republicans wants the GOP to take the lead on combating climate change. That's not happening in Wisconsin and it's not happening anywhere else. Republican politicians refuse to recognize climate change and continue to fight on behalf of polluters and energy producers-- who finance their political careers.

HuffoPo ranks Vancouver, British Columbia the 4th prettiest city in the world, after Florence, Marrakech and Sydney. (They rank Venice #6, Rio #9 and Paris #13.) Last week, the Vancouver Observer reported that Canada's Conservative Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, is shipping "group of federal cabinet ministers and senior bureaucrats [to] British Columbia next week to convert oil sands pipeline opponents."
"This push is a sign of desperation from the Harper Conservatives," said ForestEthics campaigner Tzeporah Berman.

"I just hope they don't embarrass Canadians again by pretending that these meetings are sufficient to address First Nations concerns and try and slam the pipelines through. They need to understand that no means no."

The push for consulting with First Nations also comes in response to a recommendation from the Prime Minister's special envoy to defuse tensions between Aboriginal groups and pipeline proponents. Vancouver-based lawyer Douglas Eyeford reportedly told the Prime Minister's office that negotiations over the pipelines were falling apart.

Indian Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt will also be in B.C. all next week, though the official reason for Valcourt's trip is reported to be to attend the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings. Transport Minister Lisa Raitt and Environment Minister Leona Agglukaq are also coming to BC before Thanksgiving.

With the most lucrative market for Alberta's oil sands crude in Asia, the federal government is determined to find a way to convince BC First Nations to support pipeline projects in order to access Asian markets, despite fierce opposition in British Columbia to pipeline projects people deem to be putting the coastline, natural habitat and culture at risk.
Many U.S.A. Americans have been wondering why, if shipping the tar sands is so safe, doesn't Canada just ship it directly to pretty Vancouver instead of all the way through the U.S. farmbelt to Texas. Down to Houston is a much longer and more dangerous journey for the sludge and it's a lot further away from the Asian markets that want the toxic stuff. Thomas Homer-Dickson, who holds the CIGI Chair of Global Systems at the Balsillie School of International Affairs at the University of Waterloo in Ontario addressed that in an OpEd for the NY Times a few months ago in which he pointed out that if Obama blocks the Keystone XL pipeline once and for all, he’d be doing Canada a favor.
Canada’s tar sands formations, landlocked in northern Alberta, are a giant reserve of carbon-saturated energy-- a mixture of sand, clay and a viscous low-grade petroleum called bitumen. Pipelines are the best way to get this resource to market, but existing pipelines to the United States are almost full. So tar sands companies, and the Alberta and Canadian governments, are desperately searching for export routes via new pipelines.

Canadians don’t universally support construction of the pipeline. A poll by Nanos Research in February 2012 found that nearly 42 percent of Canadians were opposed. Many of us, in fact, want to see the tar sands industry wound down and eventually stopped, even though it pumps tens of billions of dollars annually into our economy.

The most obvious reason is that tar sands production is one of the world’s most environmentally damaging activities. It wrecks vast areas of boreal forest through surface mining and subsurface production. It sucks up huge quantities of water from local rivers, turns it into toxic waste and dumps the contaminated water into tailing ponds that now cover nearly 70 square miles.

Also, bitumen is junk energy. A joule, or unit of energy, invested in extracting and processing bitumen returns only four to six joules in the form of crude oil. In contrast, conventional oil production in North America returns about 15 joules. Because almost all of the input energy in tar sands production comes from fossil fuels, the process generates significantly more carbon dioxide than conventional oil production.

There is a less obvious but no less important reason many Canadians want the industry stopped: it is relentlessly twisting our society into something we don’t like. Canada is beginning to exhibit the economic and political characteristics of a petro-state.

...[M]ore alarming is the way the tar sands industry is undermining Canadian democracy. By suggesting that anyone who questions the industry is unpatriotic, tar sands interest groups have made the industry the third rail of Canadian politics.

The current Conservative government holds a large majority of seats in Parliament but was elected in 2011 with only 40 percent of the vote, because three other parties split the center and left vote. The Conservative base is Alberta, the province from which Prime Minister Stephen Harper and many of his allies hail. As a result, Alberta has extraordinary clout in federal politics, and tar sands influence reaches deep into the federal cabinet.

Both the cabinet and the Conservative parliamentary caucus are heavily populated by politicians who deny mainstream climate science. The Conservatives have slashed financing for climate science, closed facilities that do research on climate change, told federal government climate scientists not to speak publicly about their work without approval and tried, unsuccessfully, to portray the tar sands industry as environmentally benign.

The federal minister of natural resources, Joe Oliver, has attacked “environmental and other radical groups” working to stop tar sands exports. He has focused particular ire on groups getting money from outside Canada, implying that they’re acting as a fifth column for left-wing foreign interests. At a time of widespread federal budget cuts, the Conservatives have given Canada’s tax agency extra resources to audit registered charities. It’s widely assumed that environmental groups opposing the tar sands are a main target.

This coercive climate prevents Canadians from having an open conversation about the tar sands. Instead, our nation behaves like a gambler deep in the hole, repeatedly doubling down on our commitment to the industry.

President Obama rejected the pipeline last year but now must decide whether to approve a new proposal from TransCanada, the pipeline company. Saying no won’t stop tar sands development by itself, because producers are busy looking for other export routes-- west across the Rockies to the Pacific Coast, east to Quebec, or south by rail to the United States. Each alternative faces political, technical or economic challenges as opponents fight to make the industry unviable.
The government of British Columbia has already formally rejected proposals to ship the toxic sludge through it's territory, so Harper is back to lobbying Obama and plotting with his Republican Party allies here.
[T]he B.C. government’s detailed submittal to federal government decision-makers was also noteworthy in recognizing there is growing evidence that diluted bitumen could pose additional risks to water and is more difficult to clean up. The B.C. government decision has ramifications for the decision about the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. First, the decision confirms that Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will be a lead determinant to tar sands growth resulting in a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Second, the decision confirms, at a minimum, there is no scientific evidence that diluted bitumen acts the same as conventional oil when it hits water and that serious spills is required before approving new tar sands pipelines. In light of British Columbia’s rejection, the U.S. State Department should revisit its previous findings that the Keystone XL poses no risks to water or climate which were based on faulty assumptions about the behavior of tar sands oil and about the role that Keystone XL will play as the major driver of tar sands strip-mining and drilling.

Proponents of Keystone XL often claim that tar sands development is inevitable pointing to other pipeline projects or rail as evidence that a rejection of Keystone XL would not impact tar sands production.  But the B.C. government has now officially opposed the largest pipeline proposal in Canada putting that project in deep peril.  Already, a staggering 60 percent of British Columbians are opposed to the project.  Before this recent decision, financial analysts gave low odds for approval of this pipeline or other western tar sands pipelines moving forward.  The opposition comes from over 100 First Nations to the project who have constitutional rights enabling them to delay or stop the pipeline has also led to skepticism the project would proceed.

Arguments that tar sands development and transport will continue to grow unimpeded by other means such as rail or by pipelines to Canada’s east coast are equally debunked... [B]ecause the tar sands industry can’t get its product out through Canada, it is relying heavily on Keystone XL to enable tar sands growth. Just recently, Canadian bank RBC acknowledged that as much as a third of planning oil sands growth would be put on the back burner if Keystone XL were rejected. The link between pipelines and production-- and the significant role of Keystone XL-- is acknowledged widely within industry circles. But the U.S. State Department continues to wrongly conclude tar sands development is inevitable with or without the Keystone XL pipeline.

The B.C. government’s lengthy submittal outlining its opposition to the Northern Gateway project specifically recognized that diluted bitumen (tar sands mixed with certain chemicals) is a very different substance from conventional oil and that its behavior in water is not fully understood. They stated “the challenge of responding to a spill is complicated by the potential for dilbit to sink.” The B.C. government pointed specifically to the tar sands spill in Kalamazoo Michigan. While the B.C. government did not render a final determination on this matter, they stated that Enbridge’s claims that dilbit floats has been undermined by other evidence and there is not a “full understanding of the behaviors of spilled dilbit” and that further research is warranted.

Indeed, the pipeline will cross over 700 pristine rivers and streams. NRDC and a coalition of Canadian partners sounded the alarm on the potential risks of transporting diluted bitumen in 2011. There are unique challenges and risks associated with transporting diluted bitumen compared to conventional oil. When tar sands pipelines spill, the spills are especially hazardous due to the explosive properties of diluted bitumen and the concentration of toxins found in bitumen, like benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Further, cleaning up a bitumen spill is very challenging using conventional cleanup technologies like booms and skimmers because heavy bitumen can sink in water. And current pipeline safety regulations in Canada or the United States do not address the unique challenges associated with shipping diluted bitumen.

While the B.C. government has formally registered its opposition, the process to consider the pipeline continues. A federal panel has still yet to hear final argumenst and present a report.  While the Canadian federal government could still push for approval of the pipeline, the official opposition from a state through which the pipeline runs will make it more challenging for federal decision-makers. Regardless, the announcement from the B.C. government has likely put another nail in the coffin for this project.

The B.C. decision presents us with an opportunity to remember that tar sands poses unique and significant impacts to water and climate. It confirms that Keystone XL would be a linchpin for tar sands growth leading to greater climate impacts. And it confirms that we should focus on the range of problems that come from spills from tar sands pipelines  which poses much greater risks to the environment, wildlife, and public health. In the end, it confirms there are significant adverse risks from the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and that it is not in our national interest.

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