By Chris Sorensen - Wednesday, July 4, 2012 - 0 Comments
Canada’s largest transporter of crude oil allies with the capital, whether it wants it or not
Patrick Daniel started in the oil and gas pipeline business more than 30 years ago. At the time, pumping oil through thousands of kilometres of buried metal pipes was viewed as a relatively innocuous activity, to the extent it was even thought about at all. “It was generally considered to be dull, boring and well below the radar screen,” says Daniel, the chief executive of Calgary’s Enbridge Inc., now the country’s largest transporter of crude oil. “It provided an essential service to society and was something that most everyone took for granted.”
Not anymore. Enbridge now occupies ground zero in the raging debate over Alberta’s vast oil sands. The company’s proposed $5.5-billion Northern Gateway project, a pipeline running 1,177 km from near Edmonton to a shipping terminal in Kitimat, B.C., is badly needed to deliver the gooey bitumen to energy-hungry Asian markets. But activists who protest the oil sands’ heavy carbon footprint have seized on the project as a way to choke off further development in northern Alberta. They’ve joined forces with local environmentalists and First Nations groups along the Northern Gateway’s proposed route, and are seeking to have the pipeline killed. A similar strategy was successfully used to throw up a roadblock in front of rival TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL project, which was supposed to deliver oil sands crude to the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Fortunately for Enbridge and its shareholders, the company has found itself with a powerful new ally in recent months: Ottawa. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made oil sands exports and greater ties with Asia a key economic focus, and his government appears to be doing whatever it can to make sure the Northern Gateway gets built. That includes reminding Canadians the pipeline is in the country’s “national interest,” passing key legislative changes that could be used to dramatically speed up the pipeline’s approval and launching direct attacks on groups opposing the project—even going so far as to name some a “terrorist threat.”
By John Geddes - Monday, May 28, 2012 at 9:17 AM - 0 Comments
The NDP and the Tories are more than happy to spar over the Alberta oil sands boom
A fracas unfolding on Parliament Hill almost always follows a predictable path. One side, either the government or the opposition, seeks partisan advantage by pushing some issue onto the agenda. Then the other tries to squelch it. If a cabinet minister is discovered overspending on orange juice, for instance, the opposition aims to prolong her misery, while the government strives to change the channel. But the extended, bitter contretemps over Thomas Mulcair’s assertion that Alberta’s oil sands development hurts Canada’s manufacturing exports by pumping up the value of the loonie didn’t follow that well-worn course. When Conservatives accused him of dividing the country by begrudging western Canada its economic success, Mulcair—far from trying to sidestep their attacks—met them head on and even seemed to relish throwing fuel on the fire.
It was a rare case of both sides seizing on the same acrimonious argument as a potential political winner. If they continue to see it that way, this regionally sensitive clash over economic and environmental policies could be a defining factor in framing the choice between continued Conservative rule and the NDP alternative. So get ready for “Dutch disease” to claim a key place in the vernacular of federal politics. The term was coined back in the 1970s to describe Holland’s dilemma when offshore gas discoveries boosted the Dutch currency’s value, making the country’s exports more costly, thus hurting its manufacturers. Mulcair blames Canada’s case of Dutch disease for about half of 500,000 manufacturing jobs lost, mostly in Quebec and Ontario, after Stephen Harper’s Tories won power in 2006. He charges the Conservatives with sacrificing the entire manufacturing sector. “Their priority,” he says, “is the unbridled development of the oil sands.”
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, May 7, 2012 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
Thomas Mulcair worries that we’re suffering from Dutch Disease.
NDP leader Thomas Mulcair said Saturday that, because of the way it raises the value of the Canadian dollar, other parts of the country are paying a price for the prosperity enjoyed by natural resource sectors such as the oil sands in Alberta. “It’s by definition the ‘Dutch disease,’ ” Mulcair said Saturday on the CBC Radio show, The House.
The “Dutch disease” is a reference to what happened to the Netherlands economy in the 1960s after vast deposits of natural gas were discovered in the nearby North Sea. The resulting rise in its currency was thought to have caused the collapse of the Dutch manufacturing sector, and Mulcair said the same thing is happening in Canada. “The Canadian dollar’s being held artificially high, which is fine if you’re going to Walt Disney World, (but) not so good if you want to sell your manufactured product because the American clients, most of the time, can no longer afford to buy it.”
Dalton McGuinty has expressed similar concerns. The OECD has also raised the issue. Jack Mintz says Dutch Disease isn’t happening here. Stephen Gordon questions the concept. The Current considered the diagnosis in March. More research here and here.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, April 18, 2012 at 1:56 PM - 0 Comments
Under the current system, the government can stop a pipeline plan that the National Energy Board – the federal energy regulator – has approved but it cannot overrule a decision by the NEB to veto a project. That will now change.
An official document said Ottawa would “establish clearer accountability for decisions on major pipeline projects in the national interest by giving government authority to make the ‘go/no go’ decisions.”
By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, April 3, 2012 at 11:39 AM - 0 Comments
The industry-approved lingo for Alberta’s hydrocarbon gunk is ‘oil sands’
It’s been said that there is no polite non-euphemism in the English language for the place we go to perform excretory functions. Most of the terms we consider neutral like “bathroom” or “water closet,” allude to the washing up that goes on there, and not the other stuff. Even “lavatory,” “latrine,” and “toilet” originally referred to cleansing and primping, and yet those words are still used, by necessity, to describe rooms without plumbing that are nothing but boxes on top of open pits. (Nobody bathes or washes in a traditional military “latrine,” yet the Latin etymology of the word implies bathing.)
Nobody minds, or really notices, this odd lexicographic situation. But something like it seems to be happening with that vast ocean of hydrocarbon gunk in northeastern Alberta that preoccupies policy-makers. To refer to them as the Athabasca “tar sands” has become a signal of opposition to their uninhibited exploitation. Calling them the “oil sands,” the industry-approved phrase, indicates that one is comfortable with digging them up and selling them to the highest bidder, whether Chinese or Chicagoan.
When Canada got a new permanent Opposition leader this week after seven months of waiting, not a full day passed before he was challenged on his record of criticizing the “tar sands” by that objectionable name. And Thomas Mulcair took the challenge seriously enough to try wriggling out of it.
By Luiza Ch. Savage - Wednesday, April 20, 2011 at 11:30 AM - 3 Comments
Why even Obama can’t hurry approval for the long-delayed oil pipeline from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast
Asked his views about “tar sands” at a town hall in Pennsylvania last week, U.S. President Barack Obama said that importing from Canada is a “good thing,” but added there are “some environmental questions about how destructive” the oil sands are. That comment, along with the prolonged permit process for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico, has raised hackles in Canada and on Capitol Hill, where Republicans held a hearing on March 31 to proclaim the “Urgent Case for Canadian Oil.”
The $7-billion pipeline, which would increase by 50 per cent the exports of oil sands crude to the U.S., was raised by Prime Minister Stephen Harper during his meeting with Obama in January. The Obama administration has been studying the project since December 2008. Alberta’s energy minister, Ron Liepert, let it be known he’s fed up with the delays. “I just wish he’d sign the bloody order and get on with it,” Liepert told the Calgary Herald last week. Yet that’s the last thing Alberta should want Obama to do.
It was the U.S. Congress that passed a law requiring a multi-step review process by the State Department before the permit can be issued. Under the Environmental Protection Act, the State Department, which is in charge of international pipelines, must issue an “environmental impact statement” and then a “national interest determination” of all pipelines crossing the U.S. border. Last July, the Environmental Protection Agency said State’s draft environmental impact statement on Keystone XL was inadequate, and asked State to study potential impacts on everything from greenhouse gas emissions, spill response and impacts on wetlands and birds. If State had refused, “they would open themselves to litigation,” says Danielle Droitsch, director of U.S. policy for the Pembina Institute, an Alberta environmental think tank. Such lawsuits, she adds, happen “a lot.”
By Colby Cosh - Friday, December 24, 2010 at 8:06 AM - 90 Comments
Much like “Jurist”, I had to laugh at the headlines conjured up in the wake of the most interesting Wikileaks revelation so far concerning Canada. The Globe, summarizing the leaked minute of a private meeting between former Environment Minister Jim Prentice and U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson, says “[Prentice] threatened to impose new rules on oil sands”. Okayyy, but it’s not really a threat if you make it only in the presence of a third party, is it? We’ve all met fake tough guys who are full of stories about how they really told so-and-so off, but who are really just imagining what they would have said if their spine weren’t made of marmalade. Similarly, the CBC has it “Prentice was ready to curb oilsands”, mysteriously failing to add “…but he didn’t really get around to it, and then one day he just cleaned out his desk and left.”
The actual text of the cable suggests that Prentice’s underlying cynicism did not go unnoticed by its presumptive author—the Ambassador himself. Be honest, now: don’t you cringe a little at this part?
Minister Prentice was clearly making every effort to establish a connection with Ambassador Jacobson, outlining his respect for the Administration and his interest in President Obama’s “back story”, persona, and goals. …Prentice appeared keen to forge a personal relationship with Ambassador Jacobson—to the mutual benefit of both countries.
Obviously the whole point of such face-to-face meetings is to “establish personal connections”, but if your sister came back from a blind date with a report like this you’d say “Gawd, what a schmuck.” Minister Try-Too-Hard got careful about his language, however, when he and the ambassador came to grips with the actual tar-sands issue. At every turn in Jacobson’s account of the conversation, Prentice’s concern is with image, not environmental reality. Just imagine this paragraph without the bits in bold type:
During a discussion of the Ambassador’s travels, Prentice asked for his views on the oil sands. Prentice shared that he was concerned about the media focus on the sands and the possible impact on Canada‘s international reputation. He recalled that he was first concerned about oil sands coverage during a trip to Norway where the public was debating whether or not Norway should be investing public funds (Statoil) in ‘dirty oil’. As Prentice relayed it, the public sentiment in Norway shocked him and has heightened his awareness of the negative consequences to Canada‘s historically ‘green’ standing on the world stage. Calling himself “conservationist-minded”, Prentice said he would step in and regulate the sands if Canada’s image in the world gets further tarnished by negative coverage. …Prentice did say that he felt that Government of Canada’s reaction to the dirty oil label was “too slow” and failed to grasp the magnitude of the situation.
As an honest Albertan, I’ll call your attention to two other things about this paragraph:
(1) In an exchange of views on the oil sands, Prentice apparently doesn’t actually say a word about the oil sands—only the international reaction to them.
(2) “Conservationist” is a conscious alternative to “environmentalist”, not a synonym for it. Conservationists are what we had before we had environmentalists. After years of interviewing Alberta politicians and businessmen and hearing them take this line, I understand “conservationism” to denote an emphasis on the value to human beings of wilderness and biodiversity, as opposed to a worldview that says the grizzly’s needs and priorities (and the lichen’s) are indistinguishable from our own. Since this distinction is rarely discussed, it’s an easy means of equivocation: saying you’re “conservationist-minded” can easily mean you wouldn’t personally want a derrick to spoil the view at your A-frame in Kananaskis.
The punch line of the Wikileak arrives when Prentice disavows any actual intention to act on planned tar sands expansion: “In response to the Ambassador’s inquiry about a possible moratorium on further expansion in the oil sands, Prentice didn’t think it was necessary at this time and felt growth to [3-4 million barrels a day] was sustainable.” And there’s a little dénouement when Prentice again summarizes his goals—as the Environment Minister of the Dominion, mind you—solely in terms of image: “At the end of the day, Prentice wants Canada to be billed as the most environmentally-conscious energy superpower.” One wonders at the need for “billed as” to be present in that sentence.
I’m being unkind to Prentice; I don’t know that I would behave any differently in his place, and I’m certainly, as a matter of core philosophy, on the “conservationist” side of the conservationist/environmentalist divide. Moreover, he’s right that government was somewhat slow to react to the publicity crisis, though I don’t see why that should be blamed on the federal government rather than Alberta, since Alberta’s so belligerent about its responsibility for and ownership of its oil.
But Prentice has long been regarded, in the downtown-Toronto conventional wisdom, as a lone Nice Moderate who struggled to fit in with a pack of faith-crazed ideologues. Maybe people should consider the possibility that he really was, after all, a foam-jowled Calgary wolf—one who just happened to be particularly expert at wearing sheep’s clothing. The rap on this federal government, the common theme of the attacks on it, is that it doesn’t respect evidence in decision-making. Those who still see Prentice as a potential alternative leader will, I think, be precisely those who overlook his obsessive concern with “labels” and “standing” and “reputation”. Does he sound, in the cable, like a data-driven Environment Minister? Does it sound like he was much concerned with what the oil sands are doing—or not doing—to the watershed, the wildlife, the people downstream, and the climate?
I ask because if Canadian oil sands policy is going to be determined exclusively by the squealings of people who have seen ugly photographs of them but don’t otherwise know anything about them…well, the sands and the people who make a living from them are going to lose that fight. If your position is “Shut ‘em down”, then an emotional, esthetics-based debate is easy for you to win. There is a policy case, weak or strong, to be made on behalf of the tar sands; it would be a lot harder to argue that they make the world prettier or the landscape pleasanter or the animals happier.
By Colby Cosh - Thursday, April 29, 2010 at 3:30 PM - 36 Comments
Having stuck up for Syncrude in the early stages of the blind, agonizing struggle over the Case of the Bitumen-Bathed Birds, I ought to express my disapproval of the high-pitched political threats made yesterday by the consortium’s lawyer, Robert White. White told the press that “If… Syncrude is guilty of this crime, the government is complicit and the industry is doomed… If by having a tailings pond we’re guilty of this charge, we have to stop having tailings ponds.”
When some business holds itself hostage, and argues that it must either be allowed to continue perpetrating illegal behaviour or it will vanish from existence, it’s a near-certain sign that its other legal and moral defences aren’t getting the job done. In this case the behaviour is only arguably illegal—that remains to be decided—but White isn’t arguing that it was, in fact, legal. His argument is that, no matter what the judge or any fair-minded observer might find, the consequences of a guilty verdict are simply intolerable. He has departed from making a defence under the law, and chosen to attack the power of the court to decide what the law is.
This would be understandable if the law, in this case, were unreasonable, dangerously subjective, or tyrannical. Speaking as someone who would be as happy as a cat in a yarn factory if the regulatory apparatus of state were reduced to 1% of its current size, I don’t see that this is so. Reasonable efforts to protect migratory birds, as the judge rightly reminded White this morning, are among the conditions of Syncrude’s license to create gigantic tailings ponds. The key issue in the trial is whether the efforts Syncrude did make were, in fact, reasonable. “Provincial law does not require that Syncrude performs the impossible,” observed Judge Tjosvold; he might have added that if Syncrude’s activity is inherently incompatible with provincial law, then either legislators must change the law or Syncrude must stop. That’s what the word “law” means, yes?
By Paul Wells - Friday, February 5, 2010 at 12:07 PM - 112 Comments
Jim Prentice preaches responsibility regarding the oil sands
It wasn’t quite Daniel in the lions’ den, but it had a whiff of Nixon to China about it. Here was a senior Conservative cabinet minister putting the boots, at least rhetorically, to Alberta’s oil sands.
“It is no secret, and should be no surprise, that the general perception of the oil sands is profoundly negative,” Jim Prentice said the other day. “That is true both within Canada and internationally.” The environment minister was speaking to members of the University of Alberta Calgary schools of public policy and business. Right there in Calgary. The belly of the beast. Well, it was the Palliser Hotel, so it was the fanciest part of the belly of the beast, but still.
In his next sentence, Prentice seemed uncertain where to put either blame for the oil sands’ image or hope for its improvement. “We need to continue the positive work of industry, with investments in environmental technologies that will show the world how environmental responsibility and excellence can be taken to new levels,” he said.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, January 18, 2010 at 10:11 PM - 79 Comments
Standing on a square stage in the middle of the room, grey jacket removed and placed on back of chair. He wears black shoes, dark blue slacks, light blue shirt, sleeves rolled up. He holds the microphone in his left hand, gestures with right. Students seated on all sides, he talks broadly of economic restructuring, innovation, energy efficiency, democratic engagement, social security, China, Brazil, Africa, foreign aid, intellectual property, personal responsibility, productivity, internationalism and education. He promises to be concise, he asks everyone else to be civil. After about 15 minutes he calls for questions. A line of about 16 young people forms behind a microphone set up in the audience.
So has the Liberal leader opted to open his year with a nod to both the past and the future—a return to the university halls from which he came, standing amidst the hopeful young minds of this country’s tomorrow, prefacing a restart to his Prime Ministerial ambitions and perhaps even relaunching the Liberal Party of Canada. In the capital a week before Parliament would have opened, he stood this afternoon before a crowd of 250 at the University of Ottawa. A 20-minute walk from the House of Commons, he attempted to make sense of here, there and everywhere else beyond both.
“One of things, I think, that drives all of politics is anybody who’s in politics always asks the question, ‘Who’s not in the room? Who’s not included? Who doesn’t share? Who doesn’t participate? Who doesn’t benefit from what I’ve got?’ ” he asked. “That’s the core political instinct, in my view. ‘Who’s not in the room? Who’s out in the cold?’ ” Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, January 18, 2010 at 11:37 AM - 16 Comments
Michael Ignatieff’s tour stop at the University of British Columbia apparently got a bit shouty on Friday. You can read the accounts of Canwest and the Ubyssey or, if you prefer, you can see and hear for yourself.
By Alex Shimo - Monday, February 23, 2009 at 5:12 PM - 22 Comments
Canada described as one of the two top “profligate energy users on the planet”
A biting article from the Economist magazine on Canada’s green policies, published here. The author highlights several ways that we have been lax on the environment, saying Canada is one of the two top “profligate energy users on the planet,” yet it has spent “little time over the last eight years” discussing what we might do “to combat climate change and the environment.”
On a discussion of our “dirty oil”, it discusses how we have been fighting for an exemption from a 2007 rule that bars the American government from buying fuels that produce too much carbon dioxide, or at least more than produced by conventional sources. The Energy Independence and Security Act, was signed into law in December 2008 by President Bush, and it puts the oil ssands at a disadvantage compared to easy-to-harvest oil from the wellhead. Continue…
By Alex Shimo - Thursday, December 11, 2008 at 5:59 PM - 14 Comments
Obama announced his energy team yesterday, nominating Nobel physicist Steven Chu to head the…
Obama announced his energy team yesterday, nominating Nobel physicist Steven Chu to head the Department of Energy. This is an important victory for science and environmentalists, since it is the first time a scientist is heading a major executive branch department since the 1970s, according to Marc Ambinder, political columnist at The Atlantic Monthly. Chu has an impressive resume - he’s a Nobel Prize winning physicist and he’s been the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory since 2004, where he has pushed aggressively for research into solar power, biofuels, and other alternative energy as a way to combat global warming. Obama also gave former EPA administrator Carol Brower a new White House position overseeing environmental, energy, and climate policies. Lisa Jackson of New Jersey to be his Environmental Protection Agency head and Nancy Sutley, deputy mayor of Los Angeles, will lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
What does this mean for Canada? The tar sands and its growing emissions will likely come under more intense scrutiny. Continue…
By Alex Shimo - Tuesday, December 9, 2008 at 12:24 PM - 18 Comments
The tailings ponds from the Alberta tar sands are leaking enough contaminated water every…
The tailings ponds from the Alberta tar sands are leaking enough contaminated water every year to fill the Rogers stadium two and a half times every year, according to a new study. A report released today by two environmental groups estimates the leakage is 11 million litres every day. The ponds are filled with known toxins and carcinogens, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and copper, zinc and iron.
The Toronto-based Environmental Defense fund and the Pembina Institute estimated the leakage by using industry data provided and other university studies. Matt Price, who authored the report says it may take a generation for the contaminated water to build up enough in the ground water system to leak into the water system. By that time “it will be too late to stop it.”
Alberta Environment admit there is leakage, but have disputed the volumes. It says the toxic water drips into aquifers so deep that they themselves are contaminated by flowing through the oil sands.
You can read the full report here.
By Mitchel Raphael - Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 6:34 PM - 3 Comments
Author Tony Clarke was in Ottawa for the launch of his new book, Tar…
Author Tony Clarke was in Ottawa for the launch of his new book, Tar Sands Showdown: Canada and the New Politics of Oil in an Age of Climate Change.
Joe Cressy, a political organizer, put the event together.
Attendees included author and activist Maude Barlow.