Tag Archives: oil sands

From fiery Alberta to North Korea, America’s genie to London’s mayor: Facts, and Opinions, this week

Flames rise in Industrial area south Fort McMurray, Alberta Canada May 3, 2016. Courtesy CBC News/Handout via REUTERS

Flames rise in Industrial area south Fort McMurray, Alberta Canada May 3, 2016. Courtesy CBC News/Handout via REUTERS

Fort McMurray: Boom, bust …burned, by Rod Nickel and Liz Hampton

A convoy of evacuees from the Canadian oil town of Fort McMurray drove through the heart of a massive wildfire guided by police and military helicopters as they sought to reach safety to the south of the burning city. “Our life is here. We will go back and rebuild,” vowed one. … read more

By Unknown - http://collectionscanada.gc.ca/ourl/res.php?url_ver=Z39.88-2004&url_tim=2014-06-25T15%3A39%3A41Z&url_ctx_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Actx&rft_dat=3592868&rfr_id=info%3Asid%2Fcollectionscanada.gc.ca%3Apam&lang=eng MIKAN no. 3592868, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4928941

Athabasca oil sands on the banks of the river, c. 1900 Photo: Collections Canada

Fort McMurray: from “black pitch” and salt to oil sands. By Brian Brennan

The story of Fort McMurray is one of long hibernation followed by rapid growth. The oilsands developments turned it from a sleepy little northern frontier town into Alberta’s most explosive boom city. But it took almost two centuries for the development to happen. The boom had been foretold from the time fur trader Peter Pond explored the region in 1778 …read more

Sadiq Khan: British dream reality for London’s first Muslim mayor, by Parveen Akhtar

In Pakistan, the chances that the son of a bus or rickshaw driver could secure a high-ranking political position in the country’s capital city are minuscule. But now, the people of London have elected Sadiq Khan – the son of an immigrant Pakistani bus driver – to be their first Muslim mayor.

The Irreconcilable Narratives of America’s South, by Ruth Hopkins, Wits Justice Project

In Montgomery the narrative of a proud confederacy is visceral and dominant and is echoed in its street names, buildings, signs and statues. But the Equal Justice Initiative, instead of protesting the display of Southern pride and honour, has started an elaborate and ambitious remembrance project that not only includes the collection of soil from sites of lynchings to remember the victims.  Alabama’s huge slave population and Montgomery’s central role in the confederacy are intimately connected. … read more

Commentary:

North Korea’s Kim rattles the bars of his cageNorth Korean leader Kim Jong Un signs a document regarding a long range rocket launch in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang February 7, 2016. REUTERS/KCNA, by Jonathan Manthorpe, International Affairs columnist

A good rule of thumb is to always be deeply suspicious of optimistic projections for the future of North Korea. There have been some rose-tinted forecasts wafting from Pyongyang this week as the Workers’ Party of Korea holds its first congress since 1980. The congress was called to endorse the leadership of Kim Jong-un, 33, who took over after the death of his father Kim Jong-il at the end of 2011. … read more

Trump has made racism and violence “OK” in the US, by Tom Regan, Summoning Orenda columnist

Donald Trump is not the real problem in the rise of racism  in the US . He is merely the catalyst. It’s his ham-handed ridiculous racism masquerading as “policy” or “outreach” that’s the problem. He has let the racist and bigoted genie out of the bottle and it won’t go back in peacefully. America needs to prepare for scenes of violence and hatred it may not have seen since the 60s in the South. … read more

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Elsewhere ….

On World Press Freedom Day, May 3,  Reporters Sans Frontieres/Reporters Without Borders launched a campaign called “Great Year for Censorship.” Its aim is to draw attention to “a deep and worrying decline in the ability of journalists to operate freely and independently throughout the world,” and especially targets leaders in 12 countries who have “trampled on media freedom and gagged journalists in various spectacular ways.”

RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index, released in April,  reveals “a climate of fear and tension combined with increasing control over newsrooms by governments and private-sector interests,” said the organization.

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White House decision on Keystone pipeline

Photo of an Alberta oil rig by Greg Locke, Copyright 2014

Alberta oil rig. Greg Locke © 2014

UPDATED: The U.S. rejected the final phase of the Keystone pipeline, President Barack Obama announced at his Friday morning press conference.  “The State Department has decided that the Keystone XL Pipeline would not serve the national interest of the United States,” said Obama in a statement, adding “I agree.”

TransCanada Corp.’s application for the Keystone XL pipeline, shipping oil from Alberta’s oil sands to refineries in the southern U.S., hit a wall earlier this week when Obama rejected the company’s 11th hour request to suspend a review of the pipeline’s final construction phase.

The pipeline is partly symbolic at this point; as the tortured application process wound its way through  America’s Byzantine politics, much of the oil that Keystone would carry has already found alternate ways south, through existing pipelines and via rail. But Obama’s decision is a key signal on how serious America is about climate change, leading up to the Paris summit in a few weeks.

Links below. Drag the counter to the 51 second mark to replay the live announcement from the White House here:

Excerpts, via @WhiteHouse Twitter feed :

  • “The pipeline would not make a meaningful long-term contribution to our economy.”
  • “A bipartisan infrastructure plan…could create more than 30 times as many jobs/year as the pipeline”
  • Our businesses created 268,000 new jobs last month…the unemployment rate fell to 5%.
  • “The pipeline would not lower gas prices for American consumers. In fact, gas prices have already been falling steadily”
  • “Shipping dirtier crude oil into our country would not increase America’s energy security.”
  • “We’ve doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas by 2025.”
  • “We’ve…multiplied the power we generate from the sun 20 times over.”
  • “America has cut our total carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth.”
  • “America is leading on climate change with new rules on power plants”
  • “We’ve got to come together…to protect the one planet we’ve got while we still can.”
  • “If we want to prevent the worst effects of climate change before it’s too late, the time to act is now.”

Statement from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, emailed:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today issued the following statement on the Keystone XL pipeline decision by the United States:

“The application for a cross-border permit for the Keystone XL pipeline project was turned down by the United States Government today. We are disappointed by the decision but respect the right of the United States to make the decision.

“The Canada-U.S. relationship is much bigger than any one project and I look forward to a fresh start with President Obama to strengthen our remarkable ties in a spirit of friendship and co-operation.

“We know that Canadians want a government that they can trust to protect the environment and grow the economy. The Government of Canada will work hand-in-hand with provinces, territories and like-minded countries to combat climate change, adapt to its impacts, and create the clean jobs of tomorrow.”

Links:

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Canada’s Harper Government’s ‘Maginot’ Security Plan

Roberts Bank Superport near Vancouver, Canada, is one of the exports . © Deborah Jones 2015

“The current government is not Canada’s first to go AWOL in protecting natural security. Indeed, as a colonial, second-generation industrial power, Canada was built largely by converting natural capital to private fur and timber, later pulp and fossil fuel, fortunes” — Chris Wood. Above, Roberts Bank Superport near Vancouver, Canada, includes North America’s busiest single coal export terminal. © Deborah Jones 2015

CHRIS WOOD: NATURAL SECURITY
June, 2015

Canada’s heavy-handed ‘security’ strategy is a sham.

That statement may be true in a number of readings, ranging from motive to likely outcome (more inflamed zealots with an excuse for violence on Canadian soil). But the sense in which I mean it is this: Canada’s strategy is not securing the foundation of the nation’s wealth or prosperity or the freedoms those assets support. To the contrary.

Behind its constant drumbeat of threat and necessary repression, the Conservative Party of Canada-led government has all but given up defending the most fundamental security its citizens enjoy: their natural security.

Now that security is beginning to break down.

Recently, we saw the results when wildfires accomplished what a generation of activists have failed to: force some tar sands operators in Alberta to suspend activity.

It broke again down in the small town of Cache Creek, British Columbia, where flash flooding tore out building lots, damaged scores of homes and left half a dozen condemned in destruction the province’s Premier called “unbelievable.”

Not really. Canada’s natural security is showing signs of stress from coast to coast.

It broke down big time a couple of years ago this month, when another near-flash flood inundated Calgary’s financial and Stampede districts. That breakdown eventually cost Albertans $5 billion.

The tab from the ” snowmageddon” in the Maritime provinces this past winter has yet to be calculated. The one from flash frosts in southern Ontario’s temperature-sensitive fruit industry is still unfolding.

The current government is not Canada’s first to go AWOL in protecting natural security. Indeed, as a colonial, second-generation industrial power, Canada was built largely by converting natural capital to private fur and timber, later pulp and fossil fuel, fortunes.

In a massive journalistic project for the Vancouver-based Tyee Solutions Society, an independent, non-profit journalism generator, I examined 25 years of Canada’s environmental record in close detail. That record (available here in searchable form with numerous links) reveals a quarter-century retreat from bold-sounding declarations of standing on guard for the world’s second-largest national territory.

Since 1989, five Prime Ministers from three parties have occupied the official residence at 24 Sussex Drive. Every government has enacted impressive-sounding laws to protect air and water, species and entire ecosystems, and even to help protect the planet’s oceans, atmosphere and climate.

And every government has failed to fully, or occasionally at all, implement and enforce those laws. For more than a quarter century, Canada’s national government has turned critical components of natural security defence for which it is Constitutionally responsible, over to provincial governments — despite evidence from its own Auditor General that this has resulted in soaring non-compliance.

In 2011, Environment Canada acknowledged that it was not enforcing half of the few laws for which it retained nominal responsibility. The same agency has admitted to Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment — an independent officer of Parliament — that it has no idea of the condition of most species and ecosystems under its protection. In 2012, the current government dropped century-old legislative protection from more than 90 per cent of the country’s waterway and lakes.

This is the equivalent of ordering all of Canada’s border guards to go home, grounding its coastal air patrols, sending the Royal Canadian Mounted Police back to their barracks, switching off every air-defence satellite and letting even Canada’s spies and internet nannies take the rest of their careers off.

It is a form of unilateral disarmament that puts at risks values that are only beginning to be quantified. But the numbers being reached by economists who look closely at what intact, fully functional ecosystems provide us, are staggering.

The Mackenzie River Valley is reckoned to provide the country with natural services worth some $571 billion a year — thirteen and a half times the region’s official GDP of $42 billion. Toronto’s trees kick in benefits in health and air quality that exceed that city’s promotion and development budget.

Then there is the sobering fact that the entire planet is running what might be called a natural security deficit. Two thirds of the biosphere’s life-support systems, according to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, were being drawn down at unsustainable rates a decade ago. The human economy has devoured the temperate zone’s most productive ecosystems: its deltas and plains and forests and shallow seas.

Our appetites have only increased. They are being turned now on places that once seemed hard to get to, like Canada’s north — and the last extant expanses of life-support ecosystems on the planet.

The economists have put a value on those too. They calculate that the earth’s biosphere as a whole contributes services worth US$127 trillion to humanity (2011 estimate). That’s a bit less than twice the global economic GDP that year of roughly $72 trillion.

But in fact, the value of our natural security is both incalculable and by definition greater than all of the material and financial assets it underwrites. At the extreme, without the life-supporting ecosystems that form our biological habitat, all the rest of our wealth, our homes, our cars and toys, as well as most of our hopes and dreams and very possibly we ourselves as a species, disappear.

Our natural security is provided by densely interconnected and interactive living biological and geo-physical systems, working in constant autonomous motion. Imagine a vast bio-physical game of Jenga, with a lot of its structure still obscure. We are pulling out the pieces from the game… with no real idea when the whole thing will come tumbling down — or whether we’ll be able to survive the wreckage when it does.

Canada’s government is focused on enhancing police powers and projecting its small and thinly equipped military abroad in order, it claims, to preserve its citizens’ security.

It should read the history of the Maginot Line: the vastly expensive, strategically pointless, fortification that France built along its border with Germany in the 1930s.

The Canadian government is building one of its own. Less imposing, and even more beside the point.

 Copyright Chris Wood 2015

For more information about Canada’s environmental stewardship, visit: Bottom Lines: A Quarter-Century Report on Canada’s Natural Security: bottomlines.tyeesolutions.org

 

chris1

Chris Wood is a founding writer with Facts and Opinions. He is the author of the Natural Security column and occasional long-form Think magazine pieces, and contributes the odd blog entry.

Wood writes about the issues of human social survival in the 21st century. His 40-year career has spanned award-winning work in radio, newsmagazines, books and the internet. He is the author or co-author of seven books, most recently Down the Drain: How We Are Failing To Protect Our Water Resources, with Ralph Pentland (Greystone, 2013).  After growing up near Hamilton, Ont., and later living for periods of time in rural Ontario, the Maritimes, Toronto, Dallas and Vancouver, his home is now on Vancouver Island with  his writer/marketer wife, Beverley Wood, and their two middle-aged bull terrier dogs. Currently, all are on an extended research and study term in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

Read more about Chris’s work, or book him as a speaker, at www.bychriswood.com

 

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us with a donation, by clicking below; by telling others about us, or purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page.

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Alberta election: is change in the wind?

 

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley, on May 3. Photo: Don Voaklander, creative commons

Polls suggest Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley has a shot at governing. Photo: Don Voaklander, creative commons

Could Alberta be the bellwether for shifting politics in North America’s oil patch communities?

Alberta citizens vote in a provincial election today.  Alberta — world famous as home of the oil sands — has been ruled by the Progressive Conservative party for more than four decades, and it is the base of Canada’s hard-right federal Conservative government. Now the socialist New Democratic Party, which received less than 10 per cent of the popular vote in 2012,  is on a wave of massive popular support, and numerous opinion polls give it a shot at governing.

The election of a socialist government in right-wing Alberta would have been unthinkable until now — but amid social and political upheaval, global oil prices are volatile and plunging, and communities almost entirely reliant on oil and gas extraction are suffering. 

Alberta-based journalists Penney Kome and Sean Holman consider aspects of the issues.

The election, writes Holman, is “a missed opportunity to change that indifference, raising awareness among Albertans about why their information rights are important and how those rights can prevent another 44 years of unaccountable governments in this province.”  

“Alberta, the province that elected North America’s first Muslim mayor, is flirting with another surprise: a feminist New Democrat government — or at least Opposition,” writes Kome.

Click here to read NOTEBOOK: a bellwether election for Alberta?

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Pipeline protest

November, 2014

Throughout the autumn citizens including First Nations peoples, politicians, and visitors from other countries, trekked up Burnaby Mountain to protest a proposed expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline. Trans Mountain delivers bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands through British Columbia to a port on Canada’s west coast, for transfer to tankers shipping it refineries in Asia.

The expansion has not yet been approved by Canada’s federal National Energy Board. But it triggered a jurisdictional war after the NEB gave the Houston, Texas, based company the right to drill two test holes in a nature conservancy, over opposition by the city of Burnaby. Dozens of police were called in to keep protesters from the drill site, and scores of protesters were arrested, mostly peacefully, before Kinder Morgan removed its equipment by a court-imposed December 1 deadline.

Images of the protest, and a celebration after the drills were removed, by Gavin Kennedy and Deborah Jones. Updates on the story to follow on F&O. 

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Further reading:

ENERGY, F&O’s ongoing coverage

© 2014 Facts & Opinions

 

 

Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.

Subscribe by email to our free FRONTLINES, a blog announcing new works, and the odd small tale. Look for evidence-based reporting in DISPATCHES; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in THINK; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. Some of our original works are behind a paywall, available with a $1 site day pass, or with a subscription from $2.95/month – $19.95/year. If you value journalism, please help sustain us.

 

 

 

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Environmental Assessments Include Climate

By Chris Wood,  Natural Security columnist

West Elk Mountains, Colorado, Photo by Ken Lund, Flickr, Creative Commons

West Elk Mountains, Colorado. Photo: Ken Lund via Flickr, Creative Commons

How wide to cast the net when examining the environmental damage a proposed industrial development might do, is a contested issue. In Canada, panels weighing the impacts of proposed oil pipelines from Alberta to the Pacific Coast have repeatedly refused to consider the damage that may occur from climate change as a result of the transported oil being burned. A similar tension has bedeviled hearings into proposals to expand coal exports through Vancouver. 

In January, separate suits by environmental groups and First Nations challenged, in Canada’s Federal Court, a license issued to Enbridge Inc. to build its proposed Northern Gateway bitumen pipeline. They argued that the project’s environmental impact assessment was flawed in not considering its downstream climate impact. (The cases are still pending.)

The Canadian argument received some moral support from across the border. In June, a United States federal judge in Colorado invalidated a U.S. federal license for a coal mine on similar ground: because its proponents and the permitting agency (the Bureau of Land Management) had failed to adequately consider the mine’s climate impacts — including the impact of burning the coal it produced.

U.S. District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson found that while the mine’s proponents had been able to calculate its anticipated economic benefits “down to the job and the nearest $100,000,” they had failed to address the potential economic costs associated with the climate impacts of methane released during production, and of other greenhouse gas released when the mine’s product was consumed. 

Ignoring “the social cost of coal,’’ Jackson said, the Bureau and Arch Coal, developers of the West Elk Mine, had produced, “half of a cost-benefit analysis.”

Copyright Chris Wood 2014

Further reading:
A Canary for Coal Mines, by Brian Calvert in High Country News: http://www.hcn.org/articles/new-coal-and-climate-policy

 

*Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? If you’d like to support our journalism, for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1.) 

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Naheed Nenshi’s unlikely stardom

Nenshi2

Naheed Nenshi. © 2013 Neil Zeller (City of Calgary photo)

There are strange doings in Alberta, the Canadian province that’s often compared to America’s state of Texas.

Alberta has been characterized by its Go-Get-‘Em attitude, cowboy hats, and an economy based on oil and gas extraction, especially the oil sands in its north. It’s widely associated with the full-throated call for unfettered markets by its neo-liberal “Calgary School” of economics. Alberta is home to Canada’s Bible Belt. Its Wildest and Westest city is dubbed Cowtown for its famous Calgary Stampede, but has developed into one of the world’s great modern energy headquarters. In short, Alberta has been fertile territory for Canada’s version of America’s Republican party. 

Alberta is now at a crossroads: a landlocked province, it’s on tenterhooks awaiting U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision on approving the next leg of the Keystone pipeline, crucial for transporting bitumen from Alberta oil sands to world markets. And yet, despite its safe historic identity and these parlous times, the citizens of Calgary have abandoned their predictable scripts. They’ve enthusiastically embraced a leader who surely ranks amongst the world’s least-likely political stars: Naheed Nenshi, a former policy wonk and academic, a self-styled “brown guy,” a liberal quite willing to fetter some sorts of business, and an Ismaili Muslim. 

Nobody, noplace and nothing can be captured in the simplistic terms I’ve used above, of course. But facts underly most stereotypes – and if there’s even a grain of truth in Alberta stereotypes, a remarkable political shift is now underway. Conservative, staid Alberta has begun electing politicians, both provincially and locally, who can only be characterized as “moderate,” perhaps even “progressive.” Provincially last year, Albertans voted for the centrist Progressive Conservative party over the far-right Wild Rose Party. This week its two biggest cities chose unapologetically “progressive” mayors: Nenshi by a 74 per cent landslide in Calgary, and a newcomer named Don Iveson by six out of 10 voters in the provincial capitol Edmonton.

Nenshi, who came to national and international media attention earlier this year after massive floods struck Calgary (he was called a “superhero” for his adroit handling of the crisis) is arguably the poster child of this shift. 

But as surprising as it is to find Nenshi as Calgary’s much-loved mayor, he is no risk-taker. His role as a change-maker may be more symbolic than actual. In his first term he proved willing to forcefully push back against opponents on local issues – but he very deftly avoided the big issues:  North America’s culture wars and Alberta’s bête noire, climate change. The question now is whether his horizons will expand in term two.

Log in to read Canada’s Mayor, a profile of Nenshi by Alberta author Brian Brennan, in the Magazine section, accessible with a $1 day pass for the entire site, or by subscription.

 

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