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OTTAWA – The harsh reality of this winter’s exceptionally cold weather is catching up to millions of natural-gas users in central Canada.
The natural-gas company Enbridge has applied to Ontario regulators for a nearly 40 per cent hike in the energy rates it charges customers, just one month after predicting that its massive storage capacity should mute any price increase.
But it has been so cold, for such an extended period, that the utility says it was forced to buy more natural gas — at a much higher cost — than expected.
“For a customer that does burn 3,000 cubic metres of gas a year, the increase for them is going to be in the order of $400,” said Enbridge energy supply and policy director Jamie LeBlanc.
Normally, such a household would typically pay roughly $1,000 annually for natural gas.
If approved by the Ontario Energy Board, the rate increase would take effect April 1.
But once taxes are added, the price increase is closer to 50 per cent, says former Liberal MP and energy-market watcher Dan McTeague, who advocates capping taxes on home-heating fuels.
“My estimate is that, within a year … the federal government will have probably pocketed an additional half billion dollars from the misery of Canadians trying to keep themselves warm,” he said.
“And that to me is outrageous.”
Other natural-gas suppliers are expected to also apply for rate increases as they are forced to buy more expensive energy supplies on the open market.
Households heating with propane and oil have already experienced a price shock.
Propane customers in eastern Ontario and western Quebec saw their home heating bills nearly double in January and February compared with what they were paying in November.
Even those with fixed-price contracts have seen their bills go up because they’ve been using more energy.
Natural-gas prices in Ontario are set every three months, and Enbridge said it doesn’t expect prices to remain high.
“We don’t believe that this is a long-term natural gas event,” said LeBlanc.
“A typical winter we wouldn’t see this type of pricing.”
But that’s cold comfort for people on fixed incomes, such as seniors, who have had to absorb the energy price increases by spending less on other necessities including food, as well as cutting back on non-essential purchases.
“People are suffering,” said McTeague.
Enbridge and other utilities have energy assistance programs available for low-income households, as well as payment plans to spread out the cost of heating over a longer period of time.
They also offer tips for conserving energy by turning down thermostats, reducing hot water use and, as a longer-term solution, retrofitting homes for better efficiency.
Earlier this week, a preliminary report to the ministers of natural resources and industry predicted that a propane shortage that hit Ontario and Quebec would continue until temperatures warm up.
“Given current production, storage, transportation and export trends, tight supply and high prices are expected to continue for the remainder of the high-demand winter season,” said the report made public Tuesday.
“Consumers of propane, including households that cannot easily switch to other fuels, will continue to be significantly impacted.”
The federal government asked the National Energy Board and Competition Bureau to review the propane market after supplies dried up and prices skyrocketed.
The report said there were four main factors for the shortage — a colder-than-normal winter across eastern Canada and the U.S., exceptional use of propane to dry wet crops in the U.S. midwest, and already-low inventory before the peak winter season and “rapidly growing” U.S. propane exports to overseas markets.
But it offered no recommendations on how to mitigate shortages and energy price shocks in the future.
Reaction was fast and furious to the State Department’s final report on the environmental impacts of TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline on Friday, and you couldn’t be blamed if you wondered if environmental groups, the oil and industry and government were responding to completely different reports.
While many headlines trumpeted the report as good news for Keystone XL backers, we believe it swung the pendulum towards a rejection of the pipeline by President Obama.
Why? Because President Obama says that he is committed to climate action, and the report is clear that in a world where climate change is taken seriously, the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would undoubtedly have a significant impact on climate change.
It is the President who will make the final decision to approve or reject the pipeline, and if he is serious about his commitment to climate action, this report gives him everything he needs to reject the pipeline.
The report looks at a series of scenarios and the climate impact of the pipeline in each one. In one of these scenarios, we are tackling climate change; demand for oil continues to drop in North America and the tar sands continue to face transportation constraints – not unlike the constraints they are facing today.
While the report still downplays the climate pollution, it is in this scenario that the pipeline would contribute most significantly to global carbon pollution, up to 5.7 million news cars or 7 coal-fired power plants worth of emissions per year. The other scenarios are ones in which the global demand for oil is aligned with carbon emissions that would lead to dangerous global warming. The other scenarios are ones where we are not meaningfully tackling climate change.
If the President is committed to a safe climate future – it is one that does not include the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
The tar sands exist because of a perfect storm of conditions: a high oil price, no meaningful regulatory costs, and a world with little action on climate change. This is a set of conditions that is crumbling despite increasingly desperate efforts to keep this expensive and carbon intensive operation profitable. Industry and government know very well that pipelines, and especially Keystone XL, are the key to being able to lock in more expansion and more production.
While some who support the pipeline argue that tar sands oil will still be brought to market regardless of whether the pipeline is approved – namely by rail – the cost, lack of policy, public concern and logistics are enough for experts and industry alike to know that rail cannot replace pipelines. In fact, industry projections depend on approval of every pipeline on the table plus some rail to be able to triple tar sands product as planned by 2030.
Notably, the State Department itself threw cold water on the chances of Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline being built, stating that“…this project has been so derailed via political opposition, state determines ‘it remains uncertain at this time if the project would receive permits and be constructed and therefore… was eliminated from detailed analysis.”
Industry’s hopes for tar sands expansion are far from inevitable. Regardless of the Keystone outcome, it will never be easy to build another giant tar sands pipeline on this continent again.
Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and the President has committed to doing everything he can to avoid the worst of it. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is the test of his sincerity. It is the single biggest thing he could do as President to make it clear to Canada and the world that the era of reckless fossil fuel development is over. That a country – like Canada – can’t get away with leaving its fastest growing source of greenhouse gas pollution completely unregulated. That now is the time to be investing in smarter, cleaner energy, not locking ourselves into decade’s worth of some of the world’ most carbon intensive fuels with a new giant pipeline.
Last week in his State of the Union speech the President said, “Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”
The reason we can be so optimistic about this report is that it gives the President the evidence he needs – if he is serious about the climate crises – to reject this pipeline, and leave a legacy of a clean energy future.
Activists in British Columbia have responded to the National Energy Board’s approval of the Northern Gateway oil pipeline with threats of illegal activism reminiscent of the 1990s. Greenpeace spokesman Mike Hudema, for example, said his group will “do what it takes” to ensure the pipeline is never built (and he specifically mentioned civil disobedience).
Given the nature of the NEB’s process, such civil disobedience would be inappropriate, and detrimental to society. It would overturn the assumption that people are free to engage in lawful commerce if they obey the rules, without an endless process of protests, lawsuits, and smear campaigns.
Others, however, disagree. One Vancouver writer has argued that potential civil disobedience against the oil pipeline is akin to historical protests in favour of female suffrage, slavery, indentured servitude, and against clear-cutting forests.
Civil disobedience has an honourable history; the question is whether a particular group on a particular matter is justified in such actions. Such steps are, after all, violations of the law, whether property rights, trespassing, and so on.
Where people’s rights are systematically violated, where they are denied recourse to the courts, or to their elected representatives, the case for civil disobedience is clear.
But the Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal does not represent such a violation, and there has already been a rather extensive process of discussion and consultation.
The consultation and regulatory process conducted by the National Energy Board spanned four years, cost some $500 million, involved 180 days of hearings, worked through 9,400 submitted letters and took oral testimony from nearly 1,200 people. That process may not have been perfect but even perfection would not have satisfied those opposing the pipeline: their opposition is absolute. They are not interested in whether Northern Gateway is safe or not, or economically helpful to Canada; they oppose it, period.
Threatened civil disobedience over Northern Gateway rather trivializes the idea of civil disobedience. Another pipeline is hardly an existential threat to Canada’s (or B.C.’s) environment, much less anyone’s civil rights. Already, 825,000 kilometers of pipelines criss-cross Canada, with about 40,000 km in British Columbia (as of 2011). Another 1,200 km is hardly earth-shattering.
Then there is another other argument made by some activists: that civil disobedience in the early 1990s against the forest industry did not collapse B.C.’s economy the last time environmental activists upped the ante, so neither will it this time. But economies need not collapse to harm some people and kill off opportunities for others.
Consider one example. The 1990s-era decision to ban mining in the Tatshenshini-Alsek region of northern B.C. — the Windy Craggy deposit, a claim owned by Geddes Resources. The mine potential (in 1992 estimates) of $15 billion in copper, silver and gold extraction was at stake, with 500 direct jobs then valued at $78,000 each annually, along with another 1,500 indirect jobs.
Rather than accept a mine proposal that amounted to 1,100 square km out of 958,000 square km in total — barely more than one-tenth of one per cent of the Tatshenshini-Alsek region — a 1993 decision by the provincial government killed off the potential mine. Tourism jobs could have co-existed with mining jobs in the Tatshenshini; instead, the current tourism potential in a remote corner of the province has not and never will match the high-paying jobs of the long-scuttled $15 billion mine ($22 billion in current dollars).
This absolutist positioning is an ongoing problem in Canada. In his 2000 book on the conflict in B.C.’s forests in the 1990s, then-UBC Professor William Stanbury noted the vandalism, sabotage, ignored court injunctions, and international boycott campaigns organized by some green activists. As Stanbury wrote, “one of the more disturbing issues raised in the course of this study is that there appears to be declining respect for rationality in making major public decisions in B.C. relating to environmental issues.”
Indeed. And we see a replay of the irrational, absolutist problem now with violent protests over pipelines and violent protests over hydraulic fracturing. We will probably see more such protests should Northern Gateway receive federal approval.
Threatened protests over Northern Gateway are not your grandmother’s civil disobedience where great injustices were challenged by brave people willing to suffer jail, violence, and more to right those wrongs that afflicted the daily lives of millions.
The current and predicted protests are, instead, the reflex action of absolutists who would destroy opportunities for others regardless of how one of the world’s better-functioning democracies allows for companies to engage in lawful commerce. There is nothing noble about such “resistance.” It instead has the distinct whiff of unnecessarily severe Puritans in more modern, green attire.
This blog was co-written by Kenneth P. Green, Senior Director, Natural Resource Studies at the Fraser Institute.
Group Calls for Formal Ethics Inquiry into Spy Watchdog Turned Enbridge Lobbyist Chuck Strahl | DeSmog Canada
Public interest group Democracy Watch released a letter (link to pdf) to ethics commissioner Mary Dawson Friday, requesting she launch an inquiry into former Conservative cabinet minister Chuck Strahl in the wake of revelations that he’s working as an Enbridge lobbyist while also serving as Canada’s top spy watchdog.
The letter points to rules in the Conflict of Interest Act that require public office holders to manage their private life to avoid conflicts of interest. Strahl’s work as a lobbyist, Democracy Watch suggests, invites conflicts of interest, rather than prevents them.
Recently the Vancouver Observer revealed Strahl had registered in B.C. as an Enbridge lobbyist. As the chair of theSecurity Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), some questioned Strahl’s suitability to judiciously oversee the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), the spy agency involved in the monitoring of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline hearings.
Democracy Watch also notes that Strahl violated the waiting period meant to prevent former public office holders from using their government contacts to advance private corporate interests.
Enbridge met with Strahl in his role as a cabinet minister on April 29, 2010. Strahl left his position on May 17, 2011. Five months later, in October 2011, Strahl signed an open letter in support of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline. In December of 2013, Strahl registered as a B.C. lobbyist listing Northern Gateway Pipelines L.P. as his client.
According to Duff Conacher, board member of Democracy Watch and adjunct professor with the University of Toronto faculty of law, Strahl is allowing his work with government departments and Enbridge to overlap in illegal ways.
“There’s a rule that you cannot work for any entity, or any organization, or anyone, that you had significant dealings with during your last year in office… And therefore Strahl should not have been dealing with Enbridge until May 18, 2013, which would have been two years after he left office,” he told DeSmog Canada.
“The open letter Strahl signed on to was illegal,” Conacher said. “You’re not allowed to make representations to anyone for any entity that you had significant official dealings with during your last year in office.”
Yet signing an open letter in favour of Enbridge projects is just the beginning of Strahl’s misdeeds, according to Conacher. Far more serious is Strahl’s position with the oversight committee tasked with protecting citizen rights from CSIS.
“Beyond that though there is a general rule about preventing conflicts of interest…so I don’t think he can work for Enbridge as chair of SIRC because that causes conflicts; it does not prevent them.”
In addition, Conacher worries Strahl’s cabinet position may have exposed him to government information that could be used to benefit Enbridge’s push for the Northern Gateway pipeline.
“There is another rule, that never ever in your entire life after you leave cabinet can you give advice using secret information that you’ve learned on the job,” he said.
“It’s not only that your not allowed to share the secret information; you’re not allowed to do that. But you’re not allowed to even give advice using the secret information. He can’t un-know what he knows and so his advice is based on what he knows. What he knows is secret information, therefore he’s prohibited from giving that advice.”
Canada’s ethics commissioner Mary Dawson has been politely side-stepping the issue, Conacher says. Her track record shows she tends to avoid controversy as well, with over 80 former ethics rulings made in secret. Conacher’s concern is that Dawson, a Conservative-appointed commissioner, is avoiding the hard questions — questions Democracy Watch details in its eight-page letter to her.
“It’s beyond conflict of interest. It’s also these other rules that apply and it’s not resolved by Strahl just recusing himself if a complaint comes forward about CSIS and Enbridge,” he said. “And that’s what Mary Dawson has been dodging.”
Dawson is not required to investigate ethics complaints filed by members of the public. She would be required to investigate, however, if a member of parliament made the same complaint.
Strahl’s behaviour, Conacher says, is “very dangerously undemocratic” and “unethical” because it places “the interests of a few private companies way above the public interest.”
“That’s why it’s illegal,” he says. “Thankfully, it’s illegal.”
The Conflict of Interests Act has been reviewed over the past year by the House of Commons ethics committee. A full report outlining the position of each federal party on ethics issues is due out this week or when parliament resumes.
“You don’t have democracy if these rules are not strict, strong and enforced. As everyone knows: if you allow private interests to trump public interests then you don’t have democracy,” Conacher said.
Canada has a problem. Our greenhouse gas pollution is soaring. With climate impacts hitting harder and closer to home (ice storms, polar vortexes, floods…), our country is recklessly racking up a huge carbon bill that will saddle future generations with a debt impossible to pay off.
In a new report prepared for the United Nations, for the first time Environment Canada did the number crunching all the way to 2030. We’ve known for awhile that our 2020 target has become a mission impossible. But this report also paints a sorry picture of 2030, where Canada still doesn’t have its act together and climate pollution, specifically from the tar sands, continues to skyrocket (check out this detailed analysis by the Pembina Institute).
The report reaffirms that the growth in pollution from the tar sands – if the tar sands are allowed to continue expanding as projected – will wipe out any progress made to reduce emissions in any other sector, including Ontario’s coal phase-out, B.C.’s carbon tax, or other provinces’ energy efficiency and carbon reduction measures.
The result is while some pull up their bootstraps and clean up their acts, soaring pollution from the tar sands will cancel out everyone else’s hard work. And this means if Canada is to meet a national goal to cut emissions, some regions and sectors will need to do more than their fair share because one sector – oil – is getting off scott-free.
We hear a lot of talk these days about pipelines as “nation building projects” and being in the “national interest.” But if tar sands expansion is allowed, made possible by big new pipelines, this is a recipe for dividing our country, not uniting it.
Here’s why: At some point, Canada will need to get serious about reducing emissions, and how the carbon pie is divided between regions will become important. We can expect regions to speak up loudly if they’re asked to do more than their fare share to reduce carbon emissions because the oil industry is being irresponsible.
All provinces have a stake in major pipeline proposals like Enbridge’s Northern Gateway and TransCanada’s Energy East. There’s the tangible danger that these pipelines could spill tar sands oil into forests, farmland and drinking water sources. And then there’s the less tangible – but critical – impact they would have on the amount of carbon the country is pumping into the atmosphere and the impacts of climate change.
Will Ontario, British Columbia or Quebec be keen to do more than their fair share to cut carbon to make up for the impact of these pipelines? Doubtful. And they should not be asked to. All sectors and regions will need to reduce emissions. For the oil sector, that means keeping production at current levels and cleaning up existing operations – not expanding. It also means seeing the government put in place robust regulations on the oil sector that will see emissions go down, rather than up. Even the weak regulationsunder discussion now have just been punted ‘a couple of years’ further down the road by the Prime Minister.
The idea that Canada may fail to rein in soaring emissions by 2030 may not seem like the brightest news to kick off the New Year, but there is an important caveat to this story. It can only come true if industry and government get their way when it comes to rapid and reckless tar sands expansion.
The good news is that new pipelines and oil projects aren’t getting a free ride these days. With ever-growing public concern about moving oil (by tanker, rail, or pipeline), a world feeling the early impacts (and paying the price) of a changing climate, and new conversations in the financial sector about the risks of investing in high-carbon fuels, the tar sands are facing a serious uphill battle.
The world is waking up to climate change and the environmental devastation of projects like the tar sands, and while our current government chooses to leave their head in the sand, Canadians are also standing up to demand the safe, smart, clean energy future we deserve.
TORONTO – A panel reviewing a proposed pipeline to the Pacific Coast that would allow Canada’s oil to be shipped to Asia is recommending the Canadian government approve the project.
On Thursday, the three-person review panel recommended approving the pipeline with 209 conditions.
Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver said the government will thoroughly review it and consult with affected aboriginal groups before making a decision on the contentious pipeline.
There is fierce environmental and aboriginal opposition and court challenges are expected.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has staunchly supported the pipeline after the U.S. delayed a decision on TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline that would take oil from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast.
The Northern Gateway pipeline would be laid from Alberta to the Pacific to deliver oil to Asia, mainly energy-hungry China.
Last week, Lorraine Mitchelmore, the top Canadian executive for Royal Dutch Shell, broke with industry narrative, stating that “the argument for environmentalism is not an emotional argument. It is just as rational as the argument for growing our energy industry.”
There is an important underlying realization in Mitchelmore’s statement that some conservative pundits, as well as our own government, seem to willfully miss. Sustainability — smart environmental decision-making — has everything to do with prosperity. It has everything to do with people’s jobs and their quality of life, with the opportunities they want for their kids. It is, in fact, the rational decision to carefully steward, protect, and invest in the natural capital on which our communities and future livelihoods depend.
What is dangerously irrational is making decisions based on short-term economic pay-offs that we know will undermine our future prosperity, perhaps catastrophically.
This is exactly what the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline threatens to do. Our government is apparently determined to move unprocessed diluted bitumen by tanker through the Great Bear Sea, which by Environment Canada’s own assessment, is one of the most treacherous sea passages in the world. No one can guarantee that there will not be an accident. Indeed, given the extremely dangerous waters of the Hecate Strait, it is rational to argue that an accident is simply a matter of time. And as two recent reports point out — one commissioned by the Province of B.C. and the other by the Federal government — Canada is woefully ill-prepared to deal with an oil spill in these waters.
What is at risk is very clear. Just talk to the people who live in this region, and they will tell you. It’s their jobs — the fishing and tourism industries — and their cultural identity. And it’s the spectacular ecosystem upon which all of that depends. A place that is as unique a global treasure as the Great Barrier Reef or the Amazon rainforest. It is no wonder that so many Canadians exercised their democratic rights by participating in the review process for this project. More than 9,500 people wrote to the Joint Review Panel, 96 per cent against the pipeline. The overwhelming majority of the 1,000+ people who provided oral testimony were also opposed. There is no question that the concerns raised by this project are the legitimate concerns of Canadians who value their livelihoods.
The real question is why we would take such a huge risk in such a special place.
If the answer is “to defend jobs”, it is misguided and misleading. More jobs will be destroyed by an oil spill than will be created by Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline. Coastal First Nations’ traditional territories and coastal communities depend economically on the Great Bear Sea. Marine-dependent activities in these territories represent significant economic value. B.C. seafood and tidal recreational fishing generate $2.5 billion per year – and support more than 30,000 jobs. Exporting raw, unprocessed bitumen creates far more jobs outside Canada than it does here.
It is also irrational to repeat mistakes that we now have the knowledge and ability to avoid.
A generation ago, the Exxon Valdez ran aground and foundered, off the coast of Alaska. The resulting oil spill was an ecological, economic and social disaster that crippled coastal communities and deprived a generation of its livelihoods. The loss of the herring fishery alone cost the economy $400 million. Many communities have not yet fully recovered. In fact, some never will.
It’s a fate that we have the power to prevent in the Great Bear region, by pragmatically acknowledging that the risks of this proposed oil pipeline outweigh the benefits.
Yes, the argument for environmentalism is a rational one. For the people whose lives would be destroyed by an oil spill, it is also an emotional one. And for Canada, particularly at this moment, it is the one that will determine our future as global leader or laggard.
This article originally appeared in the Financial Post on Dec. 17, 2013
Reaction from stakeholders across Canada has been swift following the joint announcement by Alberta Premier Alison Redford and B.C. Premier Christy Clark that their provinces had reached an agreement on how to move forward with pipeline proposals.
Critics of the move to transport Alberta oil and gas by pipeline to terminals on B.C.’s coast largely panned Tuesday’s agreement, saying Clark has changed her position on pipelines several times.
“We’re hearing that there’s actually a framework that could allow these pipelines to go forward. I think the real flip-flopping is coming from Premier Clark of British Columbia,” said Ben West, environmental activist with Forest Ethics.
“You know the province made some very strongly worded statements during the joint review panel about the safety concerns associated with [Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline proposal].… Now what we’re seeing is quite to the contrary.”
West’s sentiments were echoed by Greenpeace — a vocal opponent of proposed pipeline projects, which staged a daylong protest at Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline terminal in Burnaby, B.C. in October.
“This so-called deal will not break the unbroken and growing wall of opposition to tarsands pipelines and tankers in British Columbia,” said Mike Hudema, a climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace Canada.
“Today’s announcement doesn’t address the concerns of more than 130 First Nations, supported by communities along the route and people across the country, who oppose the movement of tarsands oil through their lands and waters,” said Hudema.
Industry officials, however, were largely positive about today’s developments, saying the deal is a sign of co-operation that might be a preview of things to come.
“We’ve always said that resolving the issues related to energy infrastructure is a collaborative effort that will require a number of different stakeholders and governments to achieve solutions,” said Todd Nogier, an Enbridge spokesman.
Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline has been at the centre of disagreements between the governments of B.C. and Alberta.
When asked about the Alberta-B.C. agreement during a press conference at the Vancouver Board of Trade on Tuesday, Greg Stringham of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers started by simply exclaiming, “Yay.”
Stringham went on to say, “We still know there’s a ton of work left to do to be able to do this. It was very good to see that they can actually come together and say we’re going to work to try to resolve these things.”
The agreement does not ensure any of the currently proposed pipeline projects will be approved, but sets the groundwork for all future negotiations between the provinces.