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Why an accidental leak should send shivers up Big Oil’s spine | Jeff Rubin

Why an accidental leak should send shivers up Big Oil’s spine | Jeff Rubin.

Posted by Jeff Rubin on February 18th, 2014 under SmallerWorld

One of the largest accidental releases of oil in Alberta’s history isn’t a burst pipeline and it doesn’t involve a train of tanker cars derailing into a river. It’s also not a thing of the past. It’s been going on for about a year and it’s still happening. An estimated 12,000 barrels of bitumen and water has now risen from giant cracks in the forest floor at an underground oil sands project run by Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.

Oil leaks are a regrettable fact of life in the business, but this one might send shivers up the spine of even a veteran oilman. CNRL insists the seepage is due to the failure of four well bores that are supposed to draw oil from its Primrose project, near Cold Lake, to the processing facilities on the surface. Others, including even Alberta’s pro-industry energy regulator, aren’t so sure.

The well bores are separated by several kilometers, which calls into question why four would fail at the same time. A more frightening theory that’s gaining currency suggests CNRL may have overpressurized the underground formation causing the caprock closer to the surface to fracture, which is allowing the bitumen to seep upwards.

Primrose is a so-called in situ oil sands play, which means it uses a process that involves heating bitumen in the ground to a point where its viscosity allows it to be pumped to the surface. It doesn’t create the moonscapes and toxic tailings ponds that have become the signature features of oil sands mining projects, but it’s also not without its environmental footmarks. At Primrose, CNRL, for instance, has been ordered to pump more than 400,000 cubic meters of contaminated water from a small lake contaminated by the bitumen seepage. On a broader scale, the enormous amount of steam needed to extract bitumen from in situ plays, makes the undertaking more carbon intensive than even the mining projects that begin by stripping all traces of the original boreal forest from the landscape.

The carbon trail from in situ projects isn’t the only worry. The extraction method may also be having more of an impact on the earth itself than was previously thought. Geologists have found that injecting massive amounts of steam into bitumen deposits can actually lift the ground cover by more than a foot a month. If this upheaval fractures the caprock then that’s one less barrier left to stop the uncontrolled flow of bitumen to the surface.

The proliferation of such unconventional extraction methods, as the US experience with fracturing shale rock shows, can also have unintended seismic effects. In Oklahoma and other places, for instance, fracking has been linked to earthquake activity.

So far, the Alberta Energy Regulator has yet to deliver a final verdict on the Primrose leak, although it did recently move to limit the amount of steam that CNRL can inject into its wells. While the provincial energy regulator — led by a former EnCana executive and president of the oil industry’s lobby group — does seem to be suspicious of CNRL’s proffered explanation for the seepage, it has yet to order the company to stop injecting steam at its Primrose operations. The longer bitumen keeps seeping to the surface, though, the more pressure the regulator will face to do so.

Whether CNRL’s problems at Primrose are specific to that site or will become a more generic issue for the industry remains to be seen. But with 80 percent of the massive expansion planned for the oil sands coming from in situ production, it’s a question that investors in oil sands stocks will soon want answered.

Why, nine years later, Keystone XL’s fate is still in limbo | Jeff Rubin

Why, nine years later, Keystone XL’s fate is still in limbo | Jeff Rubin.

Posted by Jeff Rubin on February 10th, 2014 under SmallerWorld

It’s nine years and counting since the Keystone pipeline was first proposed and TransCanada is still waiting for Presidential approval to build the line. An environmental assessment report from the US State Department that landed last week would seem to move TransCanada’s hopes forward, but the pipeline’s ultimate fate is still very much in limbo.

The State Department concluded that the Keystone XL project won’t lead to greater production from the oil sands and, by extension, more carbon emissions. Many see this overall assessment, which is more or less a restatement of earlier findings, as highly questionable. Indeed, just ask the oil industry itself how important new pipeline connections are to not only increasing production, but also the very commercial viability of the oil sands resource.

The report does envision scenarios in which oil sands development is curbed by a combination of lower oil prices and a lack of pipeline capacity. Ultimately, though, the State Department finds that an increase in the amount of oil moved by rail will allow new oil sands production to come on-stream whether or not new pipelines are built. The upshot, at least for the State Department, is that oil sands production will march ahead with or without Keystone. Environmental advocates, suffice to say, disagree.

In any event, there won’t be any cross border pipeline construction until President Obama gives the okay. And no one knows when that will be or what he’ll ultimately decide.

The President has proven to be a wily politician, particularly on the carbon front. Environmentalists were happy when he directed the Environmental Protection Agency to sanction tough new emissions standards for power generation that will effectively preclude any new coal-fired plants from being built. But he did so only after the advent of cheap shale gas had already rendered coal uneconomic, meaning many coal-fired plants would have been shuttered regardless of new rules from the EPA.

In a similar vein, the President has boldly attached a carbon standard to his approval of Keystone, but that only happened after a gush of domestic oil production made more volume from Alberta’s oil sands redundant to the US market. Indeed, the US is so awash in oil that, even as Obama ponders his decision on Keystone, the American Petroleum Institute is working hard to remove restrictions on exporting crude that date back to 1975. The lobbying effort would only seem to bolster the credibility of claims by US environmentalists that the Canadian oil shipped through Keystone won’t be burned by American motorists but instead shipped abroad for another country’s benefit.

Regardless of the pipeline’s ultimate fate, the Keystone saga highlights the enormity of the challenge that’s ahead of oil sands producers. While Keystone’s 830,000 barrels-a-day of throughput is significant, it’s still only a fraction of the additional pipeline capacity that will be needed for producers to fulfill their expansion plans. The industry is targeting 5 million barrels a day of production within the next 20 years, an amount that it, as well as Prime Minister Stephen Harper, sees as inevitable.

Inevitability, though, is clearly in the eye of the beholder. To achieve daily production of 5 million barrels will require not just Keystone, but multiple versions of the pipeline.

According to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, reaching 5 million barrels a day will require a greenlight for Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Project and TransCanada’s Energy East line, a doubling of Kinder Morgan’s existing Trans Mountain Pipeline, as well as an expansion of the Alberta Clipper line — all in addition to Keystone. Even with those projects going ahead, the industry would still be shy about a million barrels a day of shipping capacity, a shortfall that CN, CP, and other railways would be expected to step in and cover.

Obama’s decision on Keystone, though, is up first. Contrary to the opinion of the US State Department, approving Keystone XL is indeed a necessary condition to increasing oil sands production. What happens if it doesn’t get built? Canada’s oilpatch doesn’t like to think about that scenario, but it’s one that investors need to be considering.

Activist Post: West Virginia Health Officials Refuse to Accept Experts Findings on Elk River Contamination

Activist Post: West Virginia Health Officials Refuse to Accept Experts Findings on Elk River Contamination.

Chris Carrington
Activist Post

Even though the water in West Virginia has been declared safe, hospital admissions related to the spill have increased.

What has transpired is that the Center for Disease Control has set safety standards for pure MCHM (4-methylcyclohexaneemethol), but the stuff polluting the Elk River was far from pure. Containing a mix of up to seven chemicals, the crude MCHM that was discharged into the Elk River was something else entirely, and the CDC safety standards set for MCHM don’t cover it when mixed with other chemicals, what is referred to as crude MCHM.

Investigators still don’t know the full composition of the 10,000 gallon discharge into the Elk River. Freedom Industries, the company responsible with maintaining the storage tanks, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and, although hit with numerous law suits regarding the spill, they have been slow to provide information on the toxic cocktail that entered the river.

What is known is that water testing by the West Virginia Environmental Quality Board has shown that formaldehyde is present in the water supply. Scott Simonton of WVEQB said:

“I can guarantee that citizens in this valley are, at least in some instances, breathing formaldehyde. They’re taking a hot shower. This stuff is breaking down into formaldehyde in the shower or in the water system, and they’re inhaling it.”

“It’s frightening, it really is frightening,” the Charleston Gazette quoted Simonton telling state lawmakers. ”What we know scares us, and we know there’s a lot more we don’t know.”

He continued:

“We know that (crude MCHM) turns into other things, and these other things are bad,”.”And we haven’t been looking for those other things. So we can’t say the water is safe yet. We just absolutely cannot.”

Now that officials know other chemicals were present, they can start the process of hunting them down. The fear is that even though the all clear was given regarding the levels of pure MCHM, other chemicals, either singularly or in combination, could well be lurking in domestic pipes and tanks, and that those chemicals could break down into yet more harmful components.

For this reason residents have been told to flush their domestic systems to remove any lurking toxins, but even the best way to do that is open to dispute with experts disagreeing on the best method to use.

Andrew Welton, an environmental engineer from the University of South Alabama, went to West Virginia after the leak. He has been assisting residents to purge their systems, but using different guidelines to those used in West Virginia. For example, he recommends that residents should open windows and doors before starting the process and should use fans to remove fumes from homes. West Virginia officials say this is un-necessary.

Speaking to The West Virginia Gazette he said:

“I can’t believe they aren’t doing this. These issues aren’t being addressed. The long-term consequences of this spill are not being addressed.”

In another twist The commissioner of the Bureau of Public Health, Dr Letitia Tierney DISMISSED Simontons statement and said that the formaldehyde detected was unrelated to the chemical spill.

“Formaldehyde is naturally produced in very small amounts in our bodies as part of our normal, everyday metabolism and causes no harm,” Tierney’s statement said. “It can also be found in the air that we breathe at home and at work, in the food we eat, and in some products that we put on our skin.”

Simonton countered:

“Your level of what risk you will accept is up to you,” Simonton said. “I can only tell you what mine is, and I’m not drinking the water. (source)

While the arguing over who’s right and who’s wrong, it’s interesting to note that West Virginia officials are blaming the winter for some of the hospital admissions. Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s office pointed to many reasons why hospital admissions are rising, namely the inability of a large number of people to wash their hands, which is an odd thing to say if they believe the water is safe to use. Or maybe they have washed their hands, and that’s why they are sick.

“We’re in the middle of flu and virus season,” Dr. Letitia Tierney of the state Bureau of Public Health said in the statement. “While the [hand] sanitizer is good for cleaning, it isn’t great for eliminating a virus. Some people are getting these viruses, as many people do every winter. In addition, a lot of people are getting very anxious. Anxiety is a real diagnosis, and it can be really hard on people and it’s OK to be seen by a health professional to ensure you’re OK.”

West Virginia health officials are playing around with the well-being of 300,000 people. It would be good if they could cut the crap and sort this situation out before someone dies.

Read more here and here.

Contributed by Chris Carrington of The Daily Sheeple where this article first appeared.

Chris Carrington is a writer, researcher and lecturer with a background in science, technology and environmental studies. Chris is an editor for The Daily Sheeple. Wake the flock up!

Jean Chretien Hints Neil Young Should Stick To Music, Says ‘We’re Not About To Not Need Oil’

Jean Chretien Hints Neil Young Should Stick To Music, Says ‘We’re Not About To Not Need Oil’.

Jean Chretien apparently thinks Neil Young should stick to music.

The former prime minister recently sat down with George Stroumboulopoulos and, in an interview that will air Monday night, he compared the Canadian rock icon weighing in on complex oilsands issues with Chretien suddenly joining the entertainment business.

“He’s a great artist but I would not become a singer tomorrow,” Chretien said. “It will be a disaster.”

While Chretien said Young is entitled to express himself as he sees fit, it’s clear the Liberal legend believes developing the oilsands makes sense.

“I think it’s a resource that has to be eventually developed. And protecting the environment – that’s very important,” he said. “But oil is oil and we still have cars and we’re not about to not need oil. We have oil that God put in the ground in Canada. We have to develop it in a responsible way.”

The former prime minister also suggested that with advancements in technology, he is not put off by the idea of pipelines.

“If we can put a man on the moon, you can get oil out of the ground and put it safely into a pipe,” he said.

Chretien, who also served as minister of Indian affairs and northern development under Pierre Trudeau for “for six years, two months, three days and four hours,” also briefly addressed some concerns expressed by First Nations communities.

“Of course the natives were living there, so they have to be compensated,” Chretien said. “They lived a different way, but the natives don’t live anymore from hunting and trapping. It’s not a way to live anymore. It’s a new reality that they face.”

Young launched a blistering attack on the Harper Conservatives and Alberta’s oilsands this week as part of his “Honour the Treaties” tour to raise funds for a northern Alberta reserve’s fight against oilsands development.

At a press conference in Toronto last Sunday with members of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Young accused the Harper government of ignoring science to drive corporate profits.

“Canada is trading integrity for money,” he said. “That’s what’s happening under the current leadership in Canada, which is a very poor imitation of the George Bush administration in the United States and is lagging behind on the world stage. It’s an embarrassment to any Canadians.”

He also said he was “shattered” after visiting a Fort McMurray industrial site, comparing it to the atomic bomb-devastated wreckage of Hiroshima, Japan.

Residents of Fort McMurray responded by posting beautiful pictures from around town to Twitter.

Jason MacDonald, Harper’s top spokesperson, hit back with a press release.

“Even the lifestyle of a rock star relies, to some degree, on the resources developed by thousands of hard-working Canadians every day,” MacDonald said in a statement. “Our government recognizes the importance of developing resources responsibly and sustainably and we will continue to ensure that Canada’s environmental laws and regulations are rigorous.”

And a pro-oil pressure group with ties to the Harper government launched an attack site, NeilYoungLies.ca, to discredit the musician.

In addition to sparking plenty of debate, Young’s concert series raised more than $550,000 this week for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s legal fund.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who feted Chretien at a tribute dinner this week, also supports oilsands development and the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Yet, Trudeau says a lack of sound climate change policies from the Harper government is preventing the project from moving forward.

Chretien’s full interview with Stroumboulopoulos airs Monday, January 27 at 7 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. on CBC.

With files from The Canadian Press

Are you opposed to fracking? Then you might just be a terrorist | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | theguardian.com

Are you opposed to fracking? Then you might just be a terrorist | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | theguardian.com.

From North America to Europe, the ‘national security’ apparatus is being bought off by Big Oil to rout peaceful activism
Climate and anti-fracking activists blocade site

Are the hundreds of peaceful protesters who blockaded the Cuadrilla oil drilling site outside Balcombe, West Sussex, dangerous “extremists”? Photograph: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

Over the last year, a mass of shocking evidence has emerged on the close ties between Western government spy agencies and giant energycompanies, and their mutual interests in criminalising anti-fracking activists.

Activists tarred with the same brush

In late 2013, official documents obtained under freedom of information showed that Canada‘s domestic spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), had ramped up its surveillance of activists opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline project on ‘national security’ grounds. The CSIS also routinely passed information about such groups to the project’s corporate architect, Calgary-based energy company, Enbridge.

The Northern Gateway is an $8 billion project to transport oil from the Alberta tar sands to the British Columbia coast, where it can be shipped to global markets. According to the documents a Canadian federal agency, the National Energy Board, worked with CSIS and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to coordinate with Enbridge, TransCanada, and other energy corporations in gathering intelligence on anti-fracking activists – despite senior police privately admitting they “could not detect a direct or specific criminal threat.”

Now it has emerged that former cabinet minister Chuck Strahl – the man appointed by Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper to head up the CSIS’ civilian oversight panel, the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) – has been lobbying for Enbridge since 2011.

But that’s not all. According to CBC News, only one member of Strahl’s spy watchdog committee “has no ties to either the current government or the oil industry.” For instance, SIRC member Denis Losier sits on the board of directors of Enbridge-subsidiary, Enbridge NB, while Yves Fortier, is a former board member of TransCanada, the company behind the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

Counter-insurgency in the homeland

Investigative journalist Steve Horn reports that TransCanada has also worked closely with American law-enforcement and intelligence agencies in attempting to criminalise US citizens opposed to the pipeline. Files obtained under freedom of information last summer showed that in training documents for the FBI and US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), TransCanada suggested that non-violent Keystone XL protestors could be deterred using criminal and anti-terror statutes:

“… the language in some of the documents is so vague that it could also ensnare journalists, researchers and academics, as well.”

According to the Earth Island Journal, official documents show that TransCanada “has established close ties with state and federal law enforcement agencies along the proposed pipeline route.” But TransCanada is only one example of “the revolving door between state law enforcement agencies and the private sector, especially in areas where fracking and pipeline construction have become big business.”

This has had a tangible impact. In March last year, US law enforcement officials had infiltrated and spied on environmentalists attending a tar sands resistance camp in Oklahoma, leading to the successful pre-emptive disruption of their protest action.

Just last December, other activists in Oklahoma faced terror charges for draping an anti-fracking banner in the lobby of the offices housing US oil and gas company, Devon Energy. The two protestors were charged with carrying out a “terrorism hoax” for using gold glitter on their banner, some of which happened to scatter to the floor of the building – depicted by a police spokesman as a potentially “dangerous or toxic” substance in the form of a “black powder,” causing a panic.

But Suzanne Goldenberg reports a different account:

“After a few uneventful minutes, [the activists] Stephenson and Warner took down the banner and left the building – apologising to the janitor who came hurrying over with a broom. A few people, clutching coffee cups, wandered around in the lobby below, according to Stephenson. But she did not detect much of a response to the banner. There wasn’t even that much mess, she said. The pair had used just four small tubes of glitter on their two banners.”

The criminalisation of peaceful activism under the rubric of ‘anti-terrorism’ is an escalating trend linked directly to corporate co-optationof the national security apparatus. In one egregious example, thousands of pages of government records confirm how local US police departments, the FBI and the DHS monitored Occupy activists nationwide as part of public-private intelligence sharing with banks and corporations.

Anti-fracking activists in particular have come under increased FBI surveillance in recent years under an expanded definition of ‘eco-terrorism‘, although the FBI concedes that eco-terrorism is on the decline. This is consistent with US defence planning documents over the last decade which increasingly highlight the danger of domestic “insurgencies” due to the potential collapse of public order under various environmental, energy or economic crises.

Manufacturing “consensus”

In the UK, Scotland Yard’s National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit (which started life as the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit and later became the National Domestic Extremism Unit), has had a long record of equating the spectre of “domestic extremism” with “single-issue protests, such as animal rights, anti-war, anti-globalisation and anti-GM crops.” Apart from animal rights, these movements have been “overwhelmingly peaceful” points out George Monbiot.

This has not prevented the police unit from monitoring almost 9,000 Britons deemed to hold “radical political views,” ranging from “anti-capitalists” to “anti-war demonstrators.” Increasingly though, according to a Guardian investigation, the unit “is known to have focused its resources on spying on environmental campaigners, particularly those engaged in direct action and civil disobedience to protest against climate change.”

Most recently, British police have gone so far as to conduct surveillance of Cambridge University students involved in social campaigns like anti-fracking, education, anti-fascism, and opposition to austerity, despite a lack of reason to suspect criminal activity.

This is no accident. Yesterday, senior Tory and ex-Cabinet minister Lord Deben, chairman of the UK government-sponsored Committee on Climate Change, characterised anyone suggesting that fracking is “devastatingly damaging” as a far-left “extremist,” holding “nonsensical” views associated with “Trotskyite” dogma. In contrast, he described “moderate” environmentalists as situated safely in the legitimate spectrum of a “broad range of consensus” across “all political parties.”

In other words, if you are disillusioned with the existing party political system and its approach to environmental issues, you are an extremist.

Deben’s comments demonstrate the regressive mindset behind the British government’s private collaboration with shale gas industry executives to “manage the British public’s hostility to fracking,” as revealed in official emails analysed by Damien Carrington.

The emails exposed the alarming extent to which government is “acting as an arm of the gas industry,” compounding earlier revelations that Department of Energy and Climate Change employees involved in drafting UK energy policy have been seconded from UK gas corporations.

Public opinion is the enemy

The latest polling data shows that some 47% of Britons “would not be happy for a gas well site using fracking to open within 10 miles of their home,” with just 14% saying they would be happy. By implication, the government views nearly half of the British public as potential extremists merely for being sceptical of shale gas.

This illustrates precisely why the trend-line of mass surveillance exemplified in the Snowden disclosures has escalated across the Western world. From North America to Europe, the twin spectres of “terrorism” and “extremism” are being disingenuously deployed by an ever more centralised nexus of corporate, state and intelligence power, to suppress widening public opposition to that very process of unaccountable centralisation.

But then, what’s new? Back in 1975, the Trilateral Commission – a network of some 300 American, European and Japanese elites drawn from business, banking, government, academia and media founded by Chase Manhattan Bank chairman David Rockerfeller – published an influential study called The Crisis of Democracy.

The report concluded that the problems of governance “stem from an excess of democracy” which makes government “less powerful and more active” due to being “overloaded with participants and demands.” This democratic excess at the time consisted of:

“… a marked upswing in other forms of citizen participation, in the form of marches, demonstrations, protest movements, and ’cause’ organizations… [including] markedly higher levels of self-consciousness on the part of blacks, Indians, Chicanos, white ethnic groups, students, and women… [and] a general challenge to existing systems of authority, public and private… People no longer felt the same compulsion to obey those whom they had previously considered superior to themselves in age, rank, status, expertise, character, or talents.”

The solution, therefore, is “to restore the prestige and authority of central government institutions,” including “hegemonic power” in the world. This requires the government to somehow “reinforce tendencies towards political passivity” and to instill “a greater degree of moderation in democracy.” This is because:

“… the effective operation of a democratic political system usually requires some measure of apathy and noninvolvement on the part of some individuals and groups… In itself, this marginality on the part of some groups is inherently undemocratic, but it has also been one of the factors which has enabled democracy to function effectively.”

Today, such official sentiments live on in the form of covert psychological operations targeted against Western publics by the CIAPentagon andMI6, invariably designed to exaggerate threats to manipulate public opinion in favour of government policy.

As the global economy continues to suffocate itself, and as publics increasingly lose faith in prevailing institutions, the spectre of ‘terror’ is an increasingly convenient tool to attempt to restore authority by whipping populations into panic-induced subordination.

Evidently, however, what the nexus of corporate, state and intelligence power fears the most is simply an “excess of democracy”: the unpalatable prospect of citizens rising up and taking power back.

Dr Nafeez Ahmed is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save It among other books. Follow him on Twitter @nafeezahmed

The Takehome Lesson From Neil Young: Read the Jackpine Mine Decision For Yourself | DeSmog Canada

The Takehome Lesson From Neil Young: Read the Jackpine Mine Decision For Yourself | DeSmog Canada.

Neil Young Waging Heavy Peace Book Cover

This is a guest post by energy economist Andrew Leach.

Neil Young and the Honour the Treaties Tour is crossing the country in support of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s court challenge against Shell’s proposal to expand its mining operations north of Fort McMurray.

The biggest risk I see from this tour is not that Neil Young says things which are wrong (there have been a few), that he blames Prime Minister Harper for promoting an industry that has played an important role in the policies of pretty well every Prime Minister to precede him in the past four decades (that part was pretty clear), or, least of all, that he’s a famous musician who hasn’t spent his life working on energy policy.

The biggest risk I see is that all of the heat and light around the Neil Young tour will distract you from what you should do, which is to sit down, read the mine approval, and decide for yourself what you think.

joint review panel approved (PDF) the Jackpine Expansion in July 2013, and in December, the project received cabinet approval. The most important issue here, so far over-shadowed during Neil Young’s tour, is summarized in one line in the decision letter: “the matter of whether the significant adverse environmental effects (of the project) are justified in the circumstances.”

This decision is likely to be as important for the future of the oil sands in Canada and its so-called social license as the pipelines, rail accidents and greenhouse gas policies which have been covered to a much larger degree in the media. This is a decision where your government had spelled out clearly before it the environmental risks and uncertainties of an oil sands project, in all its gory detail, and decided it was worth it or, “justified in the circumstances.”

We’ve come a long way from the days when then-Premier Ed Stelmach declared environmental damage from the oil sands to be a myth.  Around that time, in its approval of the Kearl oil sands mine, for which Phase I started last year, a Joint Review Panel concluded that, “the project is not likely to result in significant adverse environmental effects.” But, the panel evaluating Kearl raised a flag, saying that, “with each additional oil sands project, the growing demands and the absence of sustainable long-term solutions weigh more heavily in the determination of the public interest.”

We’ve now reached the point—the panel evaluating the Jackpine Mine left no doubt—where significant environmental consequences will occur in order to not (and, I kid you not, these are the words used) sterilize bitumen. Reading the Report of the Joint Review Panel (warning, it’s a slog) will be eye opening. Let me give you a couple of excerpts, in case you can’t spare the time:

·      The Panel has concluded that the Project would provide significant economic benefits for the region, the province, and Canada

·      The Project will provide major and long-term economic opportunities to individuals in Alberta and throughout Canada, and will generate a large number of construction and operational jobs.

·      The Panel concludes that the Project would have significant adverse environmental project effects on wetlands, traditional plant potential areas, wetland-reliant species at risk, migratory birds that are wetland-reliant or species at risk, and biodiversity

·      The Panel understands that a large loss (over 10,000 hectares) of wetland would result from the Project, noting in particular that 85 per cent of those wetlands are peatlands that cannot be reclaimed.

·      The Panel finds that diversion of the Muskeg River is in the public interest, considering that approximately 23 to 65 million cubic metres of resource would be sterilized if the river is not diverted

·      The Panel recognizes that the relevant provincial agencies were not at the hearing to address questions about why the Project (which seeks to divert the Muskeg River: author’s addition) is not included in the Muskeg River Interim Management Framework for Water Quantity and Quality;

·      The Panel concludes that it could not rely on Shell’s assessment of the significance of project and cumulative effects on terrestrial resources;

·      The Panel notes that a substantial amount of habitat for migratory birds that are wetland or old-growth forest dependent will be lost entirely or lost for an extended period;

·      The Panel is concerned about the lack of mitigation measures proposed for loss of wildlife habitat…that have been shown to be effective.

Don’t stop reading before you get to the good parts:

·      Although the Panel has concluded that the Project is in the public interest, project and cumulative effects for key environmental parameters and socioeconomic impacts in the region have weighed heavily in the Panel’s assessment;

·      All of the Aboriginal groups that participated in the hearing raised concerns about the adequacy of consultation by Canada and Alberta, particularly with respect to the management of cumulative effects in the oil sands region and the impact of these effects on their Aboriginal and treaty rights.

It’s these last two that have got us to where we are today—to a First Nation challenging the government in court for a decision that it made which valued bitumen over the environment and their traditional territory and for not fulfilling its constitutional duty to consult on that decision.

The decision on this project will, in all likelihood, go all the way to the top court in the land. The decision which really matters, however, will be the one you take: is it justified, in your mind, given the circumstances?

This article originally appeared on Maclean’s. Republished here with permission. Read Leach’s Neil Young Fact Check, also on Maclean’s, here.

Image Credit: Waging Heavy Peace book cover

The Oilsands Really Do Look Like Hiroshima (PHOTOS)

The Oilsands Really Do Look Like Hiroshima (PHOTOS).

Neil Young’s comparison of Fort McMurray and the oilsands to Hiroshima has stirred up plenty of criticism. But is it accurate?

Judge for yourself.

hiroshima oilsands

hiroshima
Max Desfor/AP

hiroshima oilsands neil young
Photo courtesy of Garth Lenz. See his TED talk on the oilsands here.

TransCanada Begins Injecting Oil Into Keystone XL Southern Half; Exact Start Date A Mystery | DeSmogBlog

TransCanada Begins Injecting Oil Into Keystone XL Southern Half; Exact Start Date A Mystery | DeSmogBlog.

 

Keystone XL’s southern half is one step closer to opening for business. TransCanada announced that “on Saturday, December 7, 2013, the company began to inject oil into the Gulf Coast Project pipeline as it moves closer to the start of commercial service.”

The Sierra Club’s legal challenge to stop the pipeline was recently denied by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, so the southern half, battled over for years between the industry and environmentalists, will soon become a reality.

According to a statement provided to DeSmog by TransCanada, “Over the coming weeks, TransCanada will inject about three million of [sic] barrels of oil into the system, beginning in Cushing, Oklahoma and moving down to the company’s facilities in the Houston refining area.”

In mid-January, up to 700,000 barrels per day of Alberta’s tar sands diluted bitumen (dilbit) could begin flowing through the 485-mile southern half of TransCanada’s pipeline, known as the Gulf Coast Project. Running from Cushing, Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas, the southern half of the pipeline was approved by both a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nationwide Permit 12 and an Executive Order from President Barack Obama in March 2012.

BloombergThe Canadian Press and The Oklahoman each reported that the Gulf Coast Project pipeline is now being injected with oil. Line fill is the last key step before a pipeline can begin operations.

“There are many moving parts to this process — completion of construction, testing, regulatory approvals, line fill and then the transition to operations,” TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard told DeSmog. “Line fill has to take place first, then once final testing and certifications are completed, the line can then go into commercial service.”

Residents living along the length of the southern half will have no clue about the rest of the start-up process, as TransCanada says it won’t provide any more information until the line is already running. “For commercial and contractual reasons, the next update we will provide will be after the line has gone into commercial service,” the company announced.

When DeSmog asked whether the company is currently injecting conventional oil or diluted bitumen sourced from the Canadian tar sands, TransCanada’s Howard replied:

“Many people like to try and categorize the blend, etc., however we are injecting oil into the pipeline. As you’ve likely seen me quoted before, oil is oil and this pipeline is designed to handle both light and heavy blends of oil, in accordance with all U.S. regulatory standards.

I am not able to provide you the specific blend or breakdown as we are not permitted (by our customers) from disclosing that information to the media. There are very strict confidentiality clauses in the commercial contracts we enter into with our customers, and that precludes us from providing that. The reason is that if we are providing information about a specific blend, when it is in our system, etc. – that has the potential to identify who our customers may be or allow others to take financial positions in the market and profit from that information when others do not have access to the same information. This has much farther reaching impacts for the financial markets (and ultimately all of us).”

Riddled with Anomalies

The Keystone XL line fill comes just weeks after Public Citizen released an investigation revealing potentially dangerous anomalies such as dents, faulty welding and exterior damage that the group suggests could lead to pipeline ruptures, tears and spills.

“[Public Citizen] and its citizen sources uncovered over 125 anomalies in that half of the line alone,” DeSmogBlog reported on November 12. “These findings moved Public Citizen to conclude the southern half of the pipeline shouldn’t begin service until the anomalies are taken care of, and ponders if the issues can ever be resolved sufficiently.”

Public Citizen posted these photos on Flickr:


Pinholes in the applied coating can lead to exposing underlying pipe damage to leakage.


Multiple coating patches over new pipe about to be placed into the trench during initial construction.


Close up of section of Keystone XL southern half’s pipe marked “junk” by TransCanada.


Front of a cut out section of pipe on citizen David Whatley’s land marked “Dent Cut Out.”


A dent anomaly on the exterior cut out section of pipe. The dent was about the size of a brick.

Precedent of Spills

Public Citizen’s report also pointed out that the original TransCanada Keystone tar sands pipeline has had a dozen spills already, a fact that makes a lot of pipeline critics anxious about KXL.

“The government should investigate, and shouldn’t let crude flow until that is done,” Tom Smith, Director of Public Citizen’s Texas office said in a press statement accompanying the report. “Given the stakes – the potential for a catastrophic spill of hazardous crude along a pipeline that traverses hundreds of streams and rivers and comes within a few miles of some towns and cities – it would be irresponsible to allow the pipeline to start operating.

“TransCanada’s history with pipeline problems speaks for itself and I fear we could be looking at another pipeline whose integrity may be in question.”

Despite this precedent of spills, Keystone XL’s southern half is about to become a reality, with the fate of the border-crossing northern half of Keystone XL still resting in the hands of President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Peak Oil Is Dead | Michael T. Klare

Peak Oil Is Dead | Michael T. Klare.

Long Live Peak Oil!

Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com

Among the big energy stories of 2013, “peak oil” — the once-popular notion that worldwide oil production would soon reach a maximum level and begin an irreversible decline — was thoroughly discredited.  The explosive development of shale oil and other unconventional fuels in the United States helped put it in its grave.

As the year went on, the eulogies came in fast and furious. “Today, it is probably safe to say we have slayed ‘peak oil’ once and for all, thanks to the combination of new shale oil and gas production techniques,” declared Rob Wile, an energy and economics reporter for Business Insider.  Similar comments from energy experts were commonplace, prompting an R.I.P. headline at Time.com announcing, “Peak Oil is Dead.”

Not so fast, though.  The present round of eulogies brings to mind the Mark Twain’s famous line: “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”  Before obits for peak oil theory pile up too high, let’s take a careful look at these assertions.  Fortunately, theInternational Energy Agency (IEA), the Paris-based research arm of the major industrialized powers, recently did just that — and the results were unexpected.  While not exactly reinstalling peak oil on its throne, it did make clear that much of the talk of a perpetual gusher of American shale oil is greatly exaggerated.  The exploitation of those shale reserves may delay the onset of peak oil for a year or so, the agency’s experts noted, but the long-term picture “has not changed much with the arrival of [shale oil].”

The IEA’s take on this subject is especially noteworthy because its assertion only a year earlier that the U.S. would overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s number one oil producer sparked the “peak oil is dead” deluge in the first place.  Writing in the 2012 edition of itsWorld Energy Outlook, the agency claimed not only that “the United States is projected to become the largest global oil producer” by around 2020, but also that with U.S. shale production and Canadian tar sands coming online, “North America becomes a net oil exporter around 2030.”

That November 2012 report highlighted the use of advanced production technologies — notably horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) — to extract oil and natural gas from once inaccessible rock, especially shale.  It also covered the accelerating exploitation of Canada’s bitumen (tar sands or oil sands), another resource previously considered too forbidding to be economical to develop.  With the output of these and other“unconventional” fuels set to explode in the years ahead, the report then suggested, the long awaited peak of world oil production could be pushed far into the future.

The release of the 2012 edition of World Energy Outlook triggered a global frenzy of speculative reporting, much of it announcing a new era of American energy abundance. “Saudi America” was the headline over one such hosanna in the Wall Street Journal.  Citing the new IEA study, that paper heralded a coming “U.S. energy boom” driven by “technological innovation and risk-taking funded by private capital.”  From then on, American energy analysts spoke rapturously of the capabilities of a set of new extractive technologies, especially fracking, to unlock oil and natural gas from hitherto inaccessible shale formations.  “This is a real energy revolution,” the Journal crowed.

But that was then. The most recent edition of World Energy Outlook, published this past November, was a lot more circumspect.  Yes, shale oil, tar sands, and other unconventional fuels will add to global supplies in the years ahead, and, yes, technology will help prolong the life of petroleum.  Nonetheless, it’s easy to forget that we are also witnessing the wholesale depletion of the world’s existing oil fields and so all these increases in shale output must be balanced against declines in conventional production.  Under ideal circumstances — high levels of investment, continuing technological progress, adequate demand and prices — it might be possible to avert an imminent peak in worldwide production, but as the latest IEA report makes clear, there is no guarantee whatsoever that this will occur.

Inching Toward the Peak

Before plunging deeper into the IEA’s assessment, let’s take a quick look at peak oil theory itself.

As developed in the 1950s by petroleum geologist M. King Hubbert, peak oil theory holdsthat any individual oil field (or oil-producing country) will experience a high rate of production growth during initial development, when drills are first inserted into a oil-bearing reservoir.  Later, growth will slow, as the most readily accessible resources have been drained and a greater reliance has to be placed on less productive deposits.  At this point — usually when about half the resources in the reservoir (or country) have been extracted — daily output reaches a maximum, or “peak,” level and then begins to subside.  Of course, the field or fields will continue to produce even after peaking, but ever more effort and expense will be required to extract what remains.  Eventually, the cost of production will exceed the proceeds from sales, and extraction will be terminated.

For Hubbert and his followers, the rise and decline of oil fields is an inevitable consequence of natural forces: oil exists in pressurized underground reservoirs and so will be forced up to the surface when a drill is inserted into the ground.  However, once a significant share of the resources in that reservoir has been extracted, the field’s pressure will drop and artificial means — water, gas, or chemical insertion — will be needed to restore pressure and sustain production.  Sooner or later, such means become prohibitively expensive.

Peak oil theory also holds that what is true of an individual field or set of fields is true of the world as a whole.  Until about 2005, it did indeed appear that the globe was edging ever closer to a peak in daily oil output, as Hubbert’s followers had long predicted.  (He died in 1989.)  Several recent developments have, however, raised questions about the accuracy of the theory.  In particular, major private oil companies have taken to employing advanced technologies to increase the output of the reservoirs under their control, extending the lifetime of existing fields through the use of what’s called “enhanced oil recovery,” or EOR.  They’ve also used new methods to exploit fields once considered inaccessible in places like the Arctic and deep oceanic waters, thereby opening up the possibility of a most un-Hubbertian future.

In developing these new technologies, the privately owned “international oil companies” (IOCs) were seeking to overcome their principal handicap: most of the world’s “easy oil” — the stuff Hubbert focused on that comes gushing out of the ground whenever a drill is inserted — has already been consumed or is controlled by state-owned “national oil companies” (NOCs), including Saudi Aramco, the National Iranian Oil Company, and the Kuwait National Petroleum Company, among others.  According to the IEA, such state companies control about 80 percent of the world’s known petroleum reserves, leaving relatively little for the IOCs to exploit.

To increase output from the limited reserves still under their control — mostly located in North America, the Arctic, and adjacent waters — the private firms have been working hard to develop techniques to exploit “tough oil.”  In this, they have largely succeeded: they are now bringing new petroleum streams into the marketplace and, in doing so, have shaken the foundations of peak oil theory.

Those who say that “peak oil is dead” cite just this combination of factors.  By extending the lifetime of existing fields through EOR and adding entire new sources of oil, the global supply can be expanded indefinitely.  As a result, they claim, the world possesses a “relatively boundless supply” of oil (and natural gas).  This, for instance, was the way Barry Smitherman of the Texas Railroad Commission (which regulates that state’s oil industry)described the global situation at a recent meeting of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists.

Peak Technology

In place of peak oil, then, we have a new theory that as yet has no name but might be called techno-dynamism.  There is, this theory holds, no physical limit to the global supply of oil so long as the energy industry is prepared to, and allowed to, apply its technological wizardry to the task of finding and producing more of it.  Daniel Yergin, author of the industry classics, The Prize and The Quest, is a key proponent of this theory.  He recently summed upthe situation this way: “Advances in technology take resources that were not physically accessible and turn them into recoverable reserves.”  As a result, he added, “estimates of the total global stock of oil keep growing.”

From this perspective, the world supply of petroleum is essentially boundless.  In addition to “conventional” oil — the sort that comes gushing out of the ground — the IEA identifies six other potential streams of petroleum liquids: natural gas liquids; tar sands and extra-heavy oil; kerogen oil (petroleum solids derived from shale that must be melted to become usable); shale oil; coal-to-liquids (CTL); and gas-to-liquids (GTL).  Together, these “unconventional” streams could theoretically add several trillion barrels of potentially recoverable petroleum to the global supply, conceivably extending the Oil Age hundreds of years into the future (and in the process, via climate change, turning the planet into an uninhabitable desert).

But just as peak oil had serious limitations, so, too, does techno-dynamism.  At its core is a belief that rising world oil demand will continue to drive the increasingly costly investments in new technologies required to exploit the remaining hard-to-get petroleum resources.  As suggested in the 2013 edition of the IEA’s World Energy Outlook, however, this belief should be treated with considerable skepticism.

Among the principal challenges to the theory are these:

1. Increasing Technology Costs: While the costs of developing a resource normally decline over time as industry gains experience with the technologies involved, Hubbert’s law of depletion doesn’t go away.  In other words, oil firms invariably develop the easiest “tough oil” resources first, leaving the toughest (and most costly) for later.  For example, the exploitation of Canada’s tar sands began with the strip-mining of deposits close to the surface.  Because those are becoming exhausted, however, energy firms are now going after deep-underground reserves using far costlier technologies.  Likewise, many of the most abundant shale oil deposits in North Dakota have now been depleted, requiring anincreasing pace of drilling to maintain production levels.  As a result, the IEA reports, the cost of developing new petroleum resources will continually increase: up to $80 per barrel for oil obtained using advanced EOR techniques, $90 per barrel for tar sands and extra-heavy oil, $100 or more for kerogen and Arctic oil, and $110 for CTL and GTL.  The market may not, however, be able to sustain levels this high, putting such investments in doubt.

2. Growing Political and Environmental Risk: By definition, tough oil reserves are located in problematic areas.  For example, an estimated 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil lies in the Arctic, along with 30 percent of its untapped natural gas.  The environmental risks associated with their exploitation under the worst of weather conditions imaginable will quickly become more evident — and so, faced with the rising potential for catastrophic spills in a melting Arctic, expect a commensurate increase in political opposition to such drilling.  In fact, a recent increase has sparked protests in both Alaska and Russia, including the much-publicized September 2013 attempt by activists from Greenpeace toscale a Russian offshore oil platform — an action that led to their seizure and arrest by Russian commandos.  Similarly, expanded fracking operations have provoked a steady increase in anti-fracking activism.  In response to such protests and other factors, oil firms are being forced to adopt increasingly stringent environmental protections, pumping up the cost of production further.

3. Climate-Related Demand Reduction: The techno-optimist outlook assumes that oil demand will keep rising, prompting investors to provide the added funds needed to develop the technologies required.  However, as the effects of rampant climate change accelerate, more and more polities are likely to try to impose curbs of one sort or another on oil consumption, suppressing demand — and so discouraging investment.  This is already happening in the United States, where mandated increases in vehicle fuel-efficiency standards are expected to significantly reduce oil consumption.  Future “demand destruction” of this sort is bound to impose a downward pressure on oil prices, diminishing the inclination of investors to finance costly new development projects.

Combine these three factors, and it is possible to conceive of a “technology peak” not unlike the peak in oil output originally envisioned by M. King Hubbert.  Such a techno-peak is likely to occur when the “easy” sources of “tough” oil have been depleted, opponents of fracking and other objectionable forms of production have imposed strict (and costly) environmental regulations on drilling operations, and global demand has dropped below a level sufficient to justify investment in costly extractive operations.  At that point, global oil production will decline even if supplies are “boundless” and technology is still capable of unlocking more oil every year.

Peak Oil Reconsidered

Peak oil theory, as originally conceived by Hubbert and his followers, was largely governed by natural forces.  As we have seen, however, these can be overpowered by the application of increasingly sophisticated technology.  Reservoirs of energy once considered inaccessible can be brought into production, and others once deemed exhausted can be returned to production; rather than being finite, the world’s petroleum base now appears virtually inexhaustible.

Does this mean that global oil output will continue rising, year after year, without ever reaching a peak?  That appears unlikely.  What seems far more probable is that we will see a slow tapering of output over the next decade or two as costs of production rise and climate change — along with opposition to the path chosen by the energy giants — gains momentum.  Eventually, the forces tending to reduce supply will overpower those favoring higher output, and a peak in production will indeed result, even if not due to natural forces alone.

Such an outcome is, in fact, envisioned in one of three possible energy scenarios the IEA’s mainstream experts lay out in the latest edition of World Energy Outlook. The first assumes no change in government policies over the next 25 years and sees world oil supply rising from 87 to 110 million barrels per day by 2035; the second assumes some effort to curb carbon emissions and so projects output reaching “only” 101 million barrels per day by the end of the survey period.

It’s the third trajectory, the “450 Scenario,” that should raise eyebrows.  It assumes that momentum develops for a global drive to keep greenhouse gas emissions below 450 parts per million — the maximum level at which it might be possible to prevent global average temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius (and so cause catastrophic climate effects).  As a result, it foresees a peak in global oil output occurring around 2020 at about 91 million barrels per day, with a decline to 78 million barrels by 2035.

It would be premature to suggest that the “450 Scenario” will be the immediate roadmap for humanity, since it’s clear enough that, for the moment, we are on a highway to hell that combines the IEA’s first two scenarios.  Bear in mind, moreover, that many scientists believea global temperature increase of even 2 degrees Celsius would be enough to produce catastrophic climate effects.  But as the effects of climate change become more pronounced in our lives, count on one thing: the clamor for government action will grow more intense, and so eventually we’re likely to see some variation of the 450 Scenario take shape.  In the process, the world’s demand for oil will be sharply constricted, eliminating the incentive to invest in costly new production schemes.

The bottom line: Global peak oil remains in our future, even if not purely for the reasons given by Hubbert and his followers.  With the gradual disappearance of “easy” oil, the major private firms are being forced to exploit increasingly tough, hard-to-reach reserves, thereby driving up the cost of production and potentially discouraging new investment at a time when climate change and environmental activism are on the rise.

Peak oil is dead!  Long live peak oil!

Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left.  A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation.

The secret to fixing a pollution problem: Do something about it | – Environmental Defence

The secret to fixing a pollution problem: Do something about it | – Environmental Defence.

Canada has a problem. Our greenhouse gas pollution is soaring. With climate impacts hitting harder and closer to home (ice storms, polar vortexesfloods…), 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.

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