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Environment Canada Researchers Find High Mercury Levels Around Alberta Oilsands | DeSmog Canada

Environment Canada Researchers Find High Mercury Levels Around Alberta Oilsands | DeSmog Canada.

Tar Sands, Alberta, oilsands

Mercury levels have risen to 16 times the regional “background” levels in an area around oilsands developments in northeastern Alberta, according to Environment Canada researchers.

Environment Canada researcher Jane Kirk, who presented the as-yet unpublished report at a Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) conference in Nashville last November, told Postmedia News the affected area encompasses 19,000 square kilometres around oilsands operations.

Margaret Munro of Postmedia News reports that Kirk told the conference the area is “currently impacted by airborne Hg (mercury) emissions originating from oilsands developments.”

The mercury levels fall off gradually with increasing distance from the oilsands “like a bull’s eye,” said co-researcher Derek Muir, head of Environment Canada’s ecosystem contaminants dynamics section. The highest mercury loadings, which reached up to 1,000 nanograms per square metre, were found in the “middle of the bull’s eye,” covering around 10 percent of the impacted area.

In October, Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq signed a global treaty pledging to decrease mercury emissions.

The federal researchers stressed that the findings were still lower than mercury levels found in southern Ontario and southern Quebec, where toxins from incinerators and coal-burning power plants are affecting the environment.

But the scientists said that mercury is “the number one concern” when looking at toxins released by oilsands production, with “indications that the toxin is building up in some of the region’s wildlife.” The contamination is further worrying to environmental groups and First Nations concerned about the oilsands’ impact on fishing, hunting and wildlife.

Environment Canada wildlife scientist Craig Herbert told the toxicology conference that the eggs of several species of waterbirds downstream of the oilsands have been showing increasing levels of mercury, with levels found in the majority of Caspian Tern eggs in 2012 exceeding “the lower toxicity threshold.”

Kirk’s team measured contaminants in cores of the snowpack collected from over 100 sites near the oilsands every March, to calculate how much pollution enters the ecosystem at spring melt after gathering in snow over winter.

The team’s 2011 results confirmed that “aerial loadings” of 13 priority pollutant elements including mercury were 13 to 15 times higher at sites within 50 km of the upgraders that convert bitumen into synthetic crude oil, and “highest within 10 km of the upgraders,” according to the presentation abstract.

The results “support earlier findings that the bitumen upgraders and local Oil Sands development are sources of airborne emissions to the Alberta Oil Sands Region.”

The researchers also found up to 19 nanograms of methyl mercury per square metre near oilsands sites, which is 16 times the region’s background level. Postmedia News reports that this is the first finding of this more toxic form of mercury in snow. The finding is significant because, as the abstract explains, “methyl mercury is a neurotoxin that bioaccumulates through foodwebs.”

“Here we have a direct source of methyl mercury being emitted in this region and deposited to the landscapes and water bodies,” Kirk told Postmedia News. “So come snowmelt that methyl mercury is now going to enter lakes and rivers where potentially it could be taken up directly by organisms and then bioaccumulated and biomagnified though food webs.”

Muir said that microbes in the snow could be converting mercury into methyl mercury, or that it could be coming from “dust and land disturbances,” though there is currently no data to support this.

“To our knowledge, emissions data from blowing dusts due to various landscape disturbances (open pit mines, exposed coke piles, new roads, etc.) and volatilization from tailing ponds are not publicly available,” the researchers said.

The research shows that zinc, nickel and vanadium levels in lake sediments peaked in the 1990s following oilsands development, but have fallen off since, which Kirk attributes to “improvements in the air pollution catcher technology at the upgraders.”

But levels of mercury and other “crustal elements” in lake sediments have been “going up more or less continually” with the expansion of the oilsands, said Muir, with open pit mines and coke piles possibly contributing to the pollution.

The fact remains that more research is required on why mercury levels are going up and the impact it’s having on ecosystems.

“Is it affecting fish levels and is it going to result in increasing fish consumption advisories? We don’t know,” said Kirk.

But Environment Canada’s latest results only confirm the need to further study and address the serious impacts of oilsands development.

Winter weather blasts Central, Atlantic Canada – Canada – CBC News

Winter weather blasts Central, Atlantic Canada – Canada – CBC News.

Snow plows prepare to clear slushy streets in Toronto on Monday as forecasters warn freezing rain will turn roads in much of Southern Ontario into ice paths. Snow plows prepare to clear slushy streets in Toronto on Monday as forecasters warn freezing rain will turn roads in much of Southern Ontario into ice paths. (Tony Smyth/CBC)

Prairies deep freeze

Prairies deep freeze 2:33

Newfoundland power update

Newfoundland power update1:24

Storm hits Atlantic Canada

Storm hits Atlantic Canada2:18

 

 

The relentless weather is causing misery this morning across much of Canada, with southern Ontario hit with freezing rain, wind-chill warnings in some parts of the Prairies and 30,000 Newfoundlanders still in the dark after a mass power outage on the weekend.

 

 

In Ontario, parts of the province were hit with massive snowfalls, while other areas, including the Toronto region, were pelted with snow and freezing rain.

 

CANADA/Both drivers and pedestrians in Toronto are being urged to be aware of a possible flash-freeze in time for Monday’s rush hour. (Devaan Ingraham/Reuters)

“In southern Ontario, that temperature is starting to drop and quickly,” CBC meteorologist Jay Scotland said Monday morning. “That slushy mix on the roads is icing up quickly.”

Both drivers and pedestrians are urged to be aware of a possible flash freeze during the morning commute. A flash-freeze warning comes when a steep temperature drop causes water from rain or melted snow to quickly freeze.

The weather wreaked havoc at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Monday morning, with hundreds of flights cancelled or delayed. Both Air Canada and WestJet advised customers to check their flight status before heading to the airport.

Due to weather, please check with your airline for delays or cancellations and give yourself extra time to get to the airport safely.

— Toronto Pearson (@TorontoPearson) January 6, 2014

“I wasn’t five minutes here at the airport before people started telling me horror stories of being stuck on an airplane for hours on end,” CBC reporter Linda Ward said from the airport.

“Passengers are telling me their planes just couldn’t get to the gate because of so many cancelled planes, so it’s definitely a very frustrating scene here this morning … The people who were on those planes [are] very angry, very tired, very hungry … They say all in all this was just a horrible travel experience.”

Environment Canada extended wind-chill and flash freeze warnings for the Toronto area on Monday morning, warning temperatures will feel as cold as –35 C to –40 C Monday night and into Tuesday morning.

A mix of snow and rain in Toronto, and snow further north, produced hundreds of accidents on the roads and highways Sunday evening, including one crash in Brampton that left one man dead.

Local school boards warned parents to check online Monday morning to see if any schools cancelled classes for the day. The Toronto Catholic District School Board said it would release a decision by 6 a.m. ET and the Toronto District School Board warned of potential closures.

Much of Quebec was also facing adverse weather warnings Monday morning. Environment Canada issued winter storm, freezing rain and wind warnings for most of the province.

Storm wallops Atlantic Canada

The winter weather blast also left much of Atlantic Canada under weather advisories.

  • Police advise motorists, including all officers, to stay off the roads as dangerous whiteout conditions brought on by snow and wind continue to lash much of Atlantic Canada. Here, a pedestrian in Halifax braves the blizzard.
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“Atlantic Canada is a real mess … where I see the risk of freezing rain continuing this morning as a warm front pushes north,” Scotland said.

“For much of the Maritimes, this will switch over to rain through the morning and early afternoon … and further east warnings are out for Newfoundland who deal with this mess tonight through tomorrow — gusty wind, freezing rain and heavy rain.”

Environment Canada issued freezing rain warnings for most of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Nova Scotia was under freezing rain and rainfall warnings, while Newfoundland was under freezing rain, blizzard and wind warnings.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, about 30,000 Newfoundland Power customers were still without electricity Monday morning after a power plant went offline in the latest power problem to hit the province in recent days.

Residents and businesses throughout the province were told to conserve energy as the province grapples with rolling power outages.

As generation becomes avail. from @nlhydro we are continuing to add customers. Conservation is still extremely important. #darknl

— Newfoundland Power (@NFPower) January 6, 2014

Aging infrastructure, a terminal station fire and a blizzard that ripped through the province Friday night combined to overburden an already stretched electricity grid, according to Premier Kathy Dunderdale.

At the peak of the power outages Saturday morning, about 190,000 customers were in the dark, Newfoundland Power said.

Prairie deep freeze

Meanwhile, much of Saskatchewan and Manitoba are under extreme wind chill warnings, where residents are facing temperatures that feel as cold as –40 C with wind chill.

“To the east, wind chill warnings are out from Hanna in eastern Alberta through southern Saskatchewan [and] Manitoba,” Scotland said.

“Across this warned area, current temps are well into the – 30s C with wind chills well into the – 40s.”

The potentially record-low temperatures are heightening fears of frostbite and hypothermia.

“Persons in or near this area should be on the lookout for adverse weather conditions and take necessary safety precautions,” warns Environment Canada.

Ice storm aftermath: warm weather brings more outages – Canada – CBC News

Ice storm aftermath: warm weather brings more outages – Canada – CBC News.

Rob Ford on ice storm efforts

Rob Ford on ice storm efforts 9:13

What 7 days without power is like

What 7 days without power is like 3:58

Tens of thousands still in the dark in Ontario

Tens of thousands still in the dark in Ontario 3:36

The little generator that could

The little generator that could2:11

About 30,000 customers in Ontario and New Brunswick remain in the dark one week after a major ice storm blanketed Central and Atlantic Canada, and warming temperatures have caused new power outages in Toronto.

Toronto Hydro CEO Anthony Haines said early Saturday that melting ice falling from trees and other structures has led to fresh damage. At about 1 a.m. ET the number of customers without power had dropped below 20,000 for the first time, but by 8 a.m. it was back up to around 23,000. The number is hovering at 18,000 as of mid-afternoon Saturday.

“Over the morning hours we’ve been moving backwards, but I’m sure our crews will attend to those and we’ll start moving in the right direction again over the next couple of hours,” he told CBC News Network.

Calling it a “story of ups and downs,” Haines pointed out that  the current tally — 18,000 — is about the same number that crews have been bringing power to each day.

The falling ice caused at least one injury when a Hamilton worker was struck in the head, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said. Officials couldn’t provide an update on the worker’s condition.

“This is Day 7 and there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” said Ford in an interview with CBC News midday Saturday.  “What that day is, I can not tell you…We’re trying our best.”

CANADA/About 25,000 customers in Ontario are still without power on Saturday morning. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

In response to the backlash the mayor and other officials have received from people still without power, Ford said “it tears my heart out.”

“We have crews from Ottawa, we have crews from Windsor,” he said.  “I share their frustration…it’s all hands on deck [and] we are moving as fast as we can.”

Haines said computer simulations have shown three days, but that there are variables at work like the new outages and the arrival of more crews. The provincial utility, Hydro One, said the outages outside Toronto are largely over, which has allowed it to send crews in to help the city.

“I’m hopeful certainly by the early part of next week the vast majority of customers will be back,” Haines said.

Working around the clock

Haines, who noted that the average Toronto Hydro customer is equivalent to 2½ people, said he sympathizes with people.

“What we can do is work around the clock and we can bring extra resources in from far and wide … we will not stop until the power is on for everybody,” he said.

  • Toronto Hydro says it is receiving assistance from a number of other utilities, including Hydro Ottawa, Sault Ste. Marie PUC, Enwin (Windsor) and Manitoba Hydro.
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Haines and Toronto Community Housing CEO Gene Jones (who is still dealing with outages in about 80 housing units) said they will perform a postmortem after the outages are over to see what they might do better next time.

Haines stressed the enormous scope of the damage:

  • Forty per cent of the city’s power lines, which would cross Canada twice, have been affected by the storm.
  • Thirty-thousand pieces of equipment have been installed back into the grid and about 47,000 metres of cable have gone back up into the air.
  • The City of Toronto says about 20 per cent of the city’s tree canopy has been damaged and it could take seven weeks to clean up all the fallen limbs, Haines said.

Amid the rising anger and frustration of those still in the dark, utility companies are pleading for patience, saying crews are working around the clock and nothing else can be done to speed up the process.

That’s little consolation for people who have been in the dark for a week, including Carmen Andronesu, who is one of more than 1,000 residents who live in a condo complex in Toronto’s north end.

“No matter how much you try calling here and there, it’s like you cannot find help from anywhere,” she said.

Wynne promises help for food spoilage

In a morning news conference, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said the concern she’s heard most around the province is spoiled food. She said she’s looking at providing help and would offer details over the next couple of days when a plan had been confirmed.

“We’ve reached out to food suppliers to try to come up with a way of compensating people and getting some extra food — or food vouchers, something to folks, so that’s what we’re working out over the next couple of days,” she said.

Ford said Toronto won’t be looking into any sort of compensation until the power has been restored.

“I can’t give any numbers or any assurances that we can reimburse anyone,” Ford said.

11,000 without power in N.B.

About 11,000 customers in New Brunswick are also struggling through a long power outage, mostly in St. Stephen and the Saint John area.

Some people won’t have their power restored until the new year, according to a tweet from NB Power on Saturday. Gaetan Thomas, the utility’s CEO, said extra crews are being brought in from Quebec tonight, which means more than 200 crews will be working in the province to restore electricity.

Thomas said another large storm, forecast for tomorrow, will also hinder their efforts as it brings freezing rain and snow.

In the rural southern New Brunswick community of Titusville, people without power have been heading to the generator-powered general store to buy kerosene, propane, candles and water.

Owner Mark Carline said the storm and outage has caused him to reflect.

“I think we were all reminded and humbled by the fact that at any given time we could be set back to this state, where we’re scrambling [to get] the basic necessities.”

In Quebec, the outages are almost over: Hydro-Québec tweeted late Friday night that they were “almost there” with only about 400 customers left who needed power restored.

 

Woodland caribou still at risk, despite federal plan to help – Politics – CBC News

Woodland caribou still at risk, despite federal plan to help – Politics – CBC News.

An environmental group says more needs to be done to prevent an iconic Canadian animal from going extinct.

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) is releasing a report today, co-authored by the David Suzuki Foundation, on the status of woodland caribou.

CBC News obtained an embargoed copy of the report, “Population Critical: How are the caribou faring?”

It comes one year after the federal government issued a recovery strategy to prevent the woodland caribou from becoming extinct.

The caribou are listed as a threatened species at risk, largely because industrial development is destroying their habitat in the boreal forest.

Ottawa’s recovery strategy gave provinces and territories three years to come up with a plan to stop the decline of caribou herds in their jurisdictions.

The CPAWS report looks at what progress has been made in the past 12 months.

‘Caribou aren’t protected’

CPAWS national executive director Éric Hébert-Daly says there has been a lot of discussion, but little else.

“The truth is while we wait and while we plan and we do all that work, the caribou aren’t protected,” he told CBC News.

CPAWS gave three provinces and territories a medium grade for showing some signs of progress.

The rest got a low mark for doing little if anything to stop industrial development.

Hébert-Daly hopes that will change in the next 12 months.

“There isn’t really a jurisdiction yet that has really shone in terms of being able to lead the way, and so we’re looking for that in the next year,” Hébert-Daly said.

Some provinces declined to comment yesterday, saying they wanted more time to read the report.

A spokesman for Environment Canada said the department will keep working “with all jurisdictions” on recovery actions for the caribou.

“The Government of Canada has already acted to protect critical habitat in Wood Buffalo National Park (N.W.T./Alberta) and Prince Alberta National Park (Sask.),” Mark Johnson said in an email to CBC News.

 

Trending Bad: What Environment Canada’s latest climate report says about Canada’s carbon pollution | Pembina Institute

Trending Bad: What Environment Canada’s latest climate report says about Canada’s carbon pollution | Pembina Institute. (source)

P.J. Partington — Oct. 29, 2013

Last week, Environment Canada released its annual Emissions Trends report, projecting the path of Canada’s climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions. This blog looks at what the report says and why it matters.

What is Emissions Trends and why is it important?

Canada’s Emissions Trends is an indispensible report from Environment Canada and a welcome example of government transparency. Carefully put together by a top-notch team of analysts, the report lays out Environment Canada’s best guess about the future path of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions under current policy. It tells us where our emissions are headed in each sector and in each province, as well as nationally, and allows us to compare this to a hypothetical scenario in which no action was taken.

Credible, timely and publicly accessible emissions projections like this are essential to creating a shared basis for constructive policy discussions about energy and greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. Working from a common set of facts helps focus debates on the important stuff, like our country’s energy future, rather than on whose numbers are more credible.

Projections like this allow analysts to compare expected performance against the commitments Canada has made. The Harper government has promised to reduce the harmful emissions that are driving climate change — and if this is not happening we need to understand why.

What are the key findings of this year’s report?

The main message is very clear: Canada’s emissions are headed in the wrong direction. They are headed up, not down, and by the end of this decade are projected to be 20 per cent higher than the level to which Canada has committed. Last year’s report also warned of this yawning gap — a gap much bigger than the emissions from every power plant in the country, put together.

And this year’s edition shows that Ottawa has done nothing over the past year to change this trajectory: there is not a single new policy on the list of federal initiatives to reduce emissions in Canada. So it’s little surprise that the country is no closer to reaching its emissions target. In fact, the gap between where we are headed and where we should be headed has grown slightly in the past year.

The central conclusion of this year’s report is inescapable: without a serious ramp up of effort from our government, Canada is headed for another major broken promise on climate change. This is bad news for a lot of reasons, not least for our credibility.

We share the same emissions reduction commitment as the United States. Thanks to the climate policies President Obama has put in place, and the additional ones he has committed to adopting, U.S. government projections can now assert that they are on track to meet their target. We cannot. Each day that Canada lacks a credible plan to meet our commitments, our claims to climate leadership and responsible resource development ring increasingly hollow.

Projected GHG emissions for Canada and the United States

 

Projected GHG emissions for Canada and the United StatesSolid lines show projected GHG emissions in Canada and the U.S. under current policy, relative to the 2005 level. The shaded blue area reflects projected U.S. emissions with implementation of the President’s Climate Action Plan. Excludes land-use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) emissions. Data from U.S. Department of State and Environment Canada. Click to enlarge.

What can we do?

When jurisdictions take strong action to curtail emissions they get results.

The best example arguably comes from Ontario. Between 2005 and 2020, emissions from electricity in Canada are projected to fall by 39 million tonnes, the biggest decrease in any of Canada’s sectors. A lot of the credit for that decrease in emissions is due to provincial action like Ontario’s coal phase-out, which the province accompanied with support for clean energy and conservation.

Provinces like B.C., Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia are mustering significant effort to cut emissions and have seen their per-capita pollution fall. The emissions curve is also bending down in the transportation sector, where federal efficiency standards are expected to improve the fuel economy of new cars and trucks.

Projected change in GHG emissions by province, 2005-2020

 

Projected change in GHG emissions by province, 2005-2020.Shows projected absolute change in provincial GHGs under current policy. Canada’s 2020 target is 125 Mt below the 2005 level. Excludes land-use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) emissions. Data from Environment Canada. Click to enlarge.

So policies previously put in place by governments at both the provincial and federal level is making an impact. Emissions Trends estimates that Canada’s emissions are 128 Mt lower now than they would be if the provinces and Ottawa hadn’t taken any action to date. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

But it’s also just a start. Despite these past actions, Canada’s emissions are still projected to increase over the remainder of this decade. Closing the gap to Canada’s 2020 target is still going to be a huge job, one that will require far stronger action from Ottawa and the provinces than we’ve seen to date, particularly over the last year.

Sectors that have not yet been regulated need to be addressed quickly. The oil and gas sector — a rapidly growing emissions source that accounts for nearly a quarter of Canada’s carbon pollution — still has no federal greenhouse gas constraints of any kind. Without new rules, oilsands emissions are projected to triple between 2005 and 2020, in the process wiping out all the reductions that all other sectors in the country are projected to make. By the end of the decade, oilsands emissions are expected to emit more greenhouse gas pollution than any province, save Ontario and Alberta.

This rapid and uncontrolled growth in future oilsands emissions is the biggest barrier to getting Canada’s emissions on a downward track.

Projected change in GHG emissions by sector, 2005-2020

 

 Projected change in GHG emissions by sector, 2005-2020.Shows projected absolute change in GHGs by economic sector under current policy. Canada’s 2020 target is 125 Mt below the 2005 level. Excludes land-use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) emissions. Environment Canada’s preliminary estimates project new international accounting rules will allow Canada to claim a reduction of 28 Mt from the LULUCF sector in 2020. Data from Environment Canada. Click to enlarge.

Unfortunately, the federal government is currently not considering an economy-wide price on carbon, which would be a huge boost to climate action across Canada and a valuable complement to the rules they have enacted. But there’s no reason at all why they couldn’t be doing much more to develop strong sectoral regulations, reinvesting in smart programs to boost clean energy and energy efficiency, and working with provinces and municipalities on important priorities for sustainable transportation.

This year’s Emissions Trends paints a disappointing picture. But Canada’s government has the power to change it with ambitious and effective policy.

 

Why so much secrecy in public arena?: Public editor | Toronto Star

Why so much secrecy in public arena?: Public editor | Toronto Star.

 

CBC.ca – Image Gallery – Wild weather rolls across Canada

CBC.ca – Image Gallery – Wild weather rolls across Canada.

 

Toronto Power Down As Torrential Rain Hits Region (LIVEBLOG)

Toronto Power Down As Torrential Rain Hits Region (LIVEBLOG).

 

Roads closed, homes evacuated in central Ontario flooding – Toronto – CBC News

Roads closed, homes evacuated in central Ontario flooding – Toronto – CBC News.

 

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