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Mounting evidence that tar sands activity is causing health problems | Danielle Droitsch's Blog | Switchboard, from NRDC

Mounting evidence that tar sands activity is causing health problems | Danielle Droitsch’s Blog | Switchboard, from NRDC.

Danielle Droitsch’s Blog

Mounting evidence that tar sands activity is causing health problems

Danielle DroitschPosted February 26, 2014

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer from California has connected the dots and is pointing to growing evidence that communities living near tar sands mining and drilling operations, pipelines, and refineries are showing serious health risks and problems.  An issue brief published by NRDCTar Sands Crude Oil:  Health Effects of a Dirty and Destructive Fuel, profiles some of the latest evidence including scientific research that tar sands activity is causing increasing levels of air and water pollution that are then linked to health problems including cancer.  Tar sands development affects communities across North America and includes a network of mining, drilling, and upgrading operations, pipelines and refineries.  This network spans from northern Canada to refineries in California, the Gulf Coast, and the Midwest.  The science is mounting but state, provincial, and federal governments have done too little to protect public health.  This scientific evidence was not considered by the State Department’s environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline.   This mounting evidence shows there are considerable risks with expanding the tar sands industry.

NRDC’s new issue brief reviews the latest scientific literature on this important issue.

Air pollution from tar sands operations in Alberta

Studies by the National Academy of Sciences have noted that expanding tar sands activities have  increased air pollution near Fort McMurray (the epicenter of tar sands development) and just outside Edmonton, Alberta.  The most recent 2014 study looked at polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which are chemicals known to damage DNA, are carcinogens, or cause developmental impacts.  This study found that environmental impact studies drafted by the tar sands industry have systemically underestimated levels of this pollution.  A 2013 study noted elevated level of hazardous air pollutants coming from upgrading facilities north of Edmonton noting elevated rates of leukemia and other cancers in areas surrounding these operations north of Edmonton.

Water pollution from tar sands operations

Researchers have confirmed the presence of elevated levels of toxic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which can be traced directly to expansion of tar sands production.  Some waters in Alberta exceed Canadian standards for chemicals linked to cancer, genetic damage, birth defects, and organ damage.  Scientists have also found that tar sands development is leading to increasing amount of methylmecurcry in Alberta’s waterways including an exponential increase within 30 miles of tar sands upgraders.  Methylmercury is a potential neurotoxin causing development and behavioral problems.

Tailings ponds which now cover an area the sized of Washington DC contain multiple toxic chemicals including arsenic, benzene, lead, mercury, naphthenic acid, and ammonia.  As much as 2.9 million gallons of toxic tailings leak into the environment every day.  A 2014 study showed that extreme concentrations of PAHs present in tailings may be evaporating into the air and then deposited into water.  New federal research by Environment Canada released in February 2014 confirms that leaking tailings ponds are leaching into groundwater and then into the Athabasca River.

Rising cancer rates in First Nations communities

Scientists have confirmed increased incidences of cancer in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta.  There, scientists have noted an increased cancer rate from 1995 to 2009 – 30 percent higher than would be typically expected.  Dr. John O’Conner, an Alberta physician, has for years called for further investigation of cancer incidences.  To date, there has not been an independent study of these cancers despite repeated called by First Nations. Dr. O’Conner was invited by Senator Boxer to speak in Washington to share his observations.]

Tar sands pipeline spills

Large quantities of tar sands were spilled from leaking pipelines into two communities in Marshall, Michigan  in 2010 and Mayflower Arkansas in 2013.  After the spill in Michigan, 320 people suffered adverse health effects including cardiovascular, dermal, gastrointestinal, neurologic, ocular, renal and respiratory impacts according to the Michigan Department of Public Health.  In Arkansas, air monitoring showed significantly increased levels of benzene.  Raw tar sands is mixed with diluting agents to move the substance through pipelines.  The specific content of diluting agents are unknown as they are proprietary but most formulations include natural gas liquid condensate containing volatile hydrocarbons such as benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylene. So far, the federal government in both Canada and the U.S. has failed to study or adopt regulations to deal with the chemical export of the unique tar sands mixture flowing through pipelines and has not commissioned any studies regarding the long-term human impacts of spills.

Tar sands refinery emissions

Chemicals in tar sands may be released as air pollutants during the refining process.  Diluted tar sands contain 102 times more copper, 11 times more nickel and 5 time more lead than conventional crude oil. Diluted bitumen from tar sands has notably higher levels of certain sulfur compounds called mercaptans that are highly volatile and linked to central nervous system problems. Diluted bitumen also contains higher levels of naphthenic acids which can significantly increase the corrosive properties of crude oil at high temperatures during the refining process.  Low quality crudes like tar sands have been identified as a contributing factor in a major  refinery accidents like the one at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California which sent 15,000 residents to area hospitals and endangered the lives of 19 workers.

Petroleum Coke impacts – a byproduct from tar sands refining

The refining of tar sands creates a by-product called petroleum coke which contains relatively high concentrations of metals including mercury, lead, arsenic, chromium, selenium, and nickel which people are exposed to when they breathe dust blown from piles of petroleum coke.  This metal-laden dust can contaminate nearby homes and yards where it can accumulate.  The dust is composed of particulate matter, which is recognized by the U.S. EPA to contribute to a number of negative health effects.  Many of the metals in petroleum coke piles are carcinogens and linked to other health problems.

Health Concerns Deserve More Attention

Federal, state, provincial, agencies should evaluate all of the potential impacts of tar sand crude.  In Canada, governments should conduct independent investigations into the health impacts on locally affected communities particularly Fort McMurray, Fort Chipewyan, and Edmonton, Alberta.  New proposals for tar sands operations and infrastructure including pipelines and refineries must consider human health impacts especially as the tar sands industry seeks to triple production.   The Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline did not adequately consider these issues.  Until there is a better understanding of how these projects will cumulatively impact human health, efforts to expand the tar sand industry should stop.  This means rejecting the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Go to StopTar.org to ask President Obama to reject the pipeline.

Mounting evidence that tar sands activity is causing health problems | Danielle Droitsch’s Blog | Switchboard, from NRDC

Mounting evidence that tar sands activity is causing health problems | Danielle Droitsch’s Blog | Switchboard, from NRDC.

Danielle Droitsch’s Blog

Mounting evidence that tar sands activity is causing health problems

Danielle DroitschPosted February 26, 2014

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer from California has connected the dots and is pointing to growing evidence that communities living near tar sands mining and drilling operations, pipelines, and refineries are showing serious health risks and problems.  An issue brief published by NRDCTar Sands Crude Oil:  Health Effects of a Dirty and Destructive Fuel, profiles some of the latest evidence including scientific research that tar sands activity is causing increasing levels of air and water pollution that are then linked to health problems including cancer.  Tar sands development affects communities across North America and includes a network of mining, drilling, and upgrading operations, pipelines and refineries.  This network spans from northern Canada to refineries in California, the Gulf Coast, and the Midwest.  The science is mounting but state, provincial, and federal governments have done too little to protect public health.  This scientific evidence was not considered by the State Department’s environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline.   This mounting evidence shows there are considerable risks with expanding the tar sands industry.

NRDC’s new issue brief reviews the latest scientific literature on this important issue.

Air pollution from tar sands operations in Alberta

Studies by the National Academy of Sciences have noted that expanding tar sands activities have  increased air pollution near Fort McMurray (the epicenter of tar sands development) and just outside Edmonton, Alberta.  The most recent 2014 study looked at polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which are chemicals known to damage DNA, are carcinogens, or cause developmental impacts.  This study found that environmental impact studies drafted by the tar sands industry have systemically underestimated levels of this pollution.  A 2013 study noted elevated level of hazardous air pollutants coming from upgrading facilities north of Edmonton noting elevated rates of leukemia and other cancers in areas surrounding these operations north of Edmonton.

Water pollution from tar sands operations

Researchers have confirmed the presence of elevated levels of toxic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which can be traced directly to expansion of tar sands production.  Some waters in Alberta exceed Canadian standards for chemicals linked to cancer, genetic damage, birth defects, and organ damage.  Scientists have also found that tar sands development is leading to increasing amount of methylmecurcry in Alberta’s waterways including an exponential increase within 30 miles of tar sands upgraders.  Methylmercury is a potential neurotoxin causing development and behavioral problems.

Tailings ponds which now cover an area the sized of Washington DC contain multiple toxic chemicals including arsenic, benzene, lead, mercury, naphthenic acid, and ammonia.  As much as 2.9 million gallons of toxic tailings leak into the environment every day.  A 2014 study showed that extreme concentrations of PAHs present in tailings may be evaporating into the air and then deposited into water.  New federal research by Environment Canada released in February 2014 confirms that leaking tailings ponds are leaching into groundwater and then into the Athabasca River.

Rising cancer rates in First Nations communities

Scientists have confirmed increased incidences of cancer in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta.  There, scientists have noted an increased cancer rate from 1995 to 2009 – 30 percent higher than would be typically expected.  Dr. John O’Conner, an Alberta physician, has for years called for further investigation of cancer incidences.  To date, there has not been an independent study of these cancers despite repeated called by First Nations. Dr. O’Conner was invited by Senator Boxer to speak in Washington to share his observations.]

Tar sands pipeline spills

Large quantities of tar sands were spilled from leaking pipelines into two communities in Marshall, Michigan  in 2010 and Mayflower Arkansas in 2013.  After the spill in Michigan, 320 people suffered adverse health effects including cardiovascular, dermal, gastrointestinal, neurologic, ocular, renal and respiratory impacts according to the Michigan Department of Public Health.  In Arkansas, air monitoring showed significantly increased levels of benzene.  Raw tar sands is mixed with diluting agents to move the substance through pipelines.  The specific content of diluting agents are unknown as they are proprietary but most formulations include natural gas liquid condensate containing volatile hydrocarbons such as benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylene. So far, the federal government in both Canada and the U.S. has failed to study or adopt regulations to deal with the chemical export of the unique tar sands mixture flowing through pipelines and has not commissioned any studies regarding the long-term human impacts of spills.

Tar sands refinery emissions

Chemicals in tar sands may be released as air pollutants during the refining process.  Diluted tar sands contain 102 times more copper, 11 times more nickel and 5 time more lead than conventional crude oil. Diluted bitumen from tar sands has notably higher levels of certain sulfur compounds called mercaptans that are highly volatile and linked to central nervous system problems. Diluted bitumen also contains higher levels of naphthenic acids which can significantly increase the corrosive properties of crude oil at high temperatures during the refining process.  Low quality crudes like tar sands have been identified as a contributing factor in a major  refinery accidents like the one at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California which sent 15,000 residents to area hospitals and endangered the lives of 19 workers.

Petroleum Coke impacts – a byproduct from tar sands refining

The refining of tar sands creates a by-product called petroleum coke which contains relatively high concentrations of metals including mercury, lead, arsenic, chromium, selenium, and nickel which people are exposed to when they breathe dust blown from piles of petroleum coke.  This metal-laden dust can contaminate nearby homes and yards where it can accumulate.  The dust is composed of particulate matter, which is recognized by the U.S. EPA to contribute to a number of negative health effects.  Many of the metals in petroleum coke piles are carcinogens and linked to other health problems.

Health Concerns Deserve More Attention

Federal, state, provincial, agencies should evaluate all of the potential impacts of tar sand crude.  In Canada, governments should conduct independent investigations into the health impacts on locally affected communities particularly Fort McMurray, Fort Chipewyan, and Edmonton, Alberta.  New proposals for tar sands operations and infrastructure including pipelines and refineries must consider human health impacts especially as the tar sands industry seeks to triple production.   The Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline did not adequately consider these issues.  Until there is a better understanding of how these projects will cumulatively impact human health, efforts to expand the tar sand industry should stop.  This means rejecting the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Go to StopTar.org to ask President Obama to reject the pipeline.

Transport Safety Board Releases Safety Recommendations for Oil By Rail Shipment | DeSmog Canada

Transport Safety Board Releases Safety Recommendations for Oil By Rail Shipment | DeSmog Canada.

The federal agency investigating the Lac-Megantic oil train derailment and explosion that killed forty-seven people released recommendations last week to improve the safety of shipping crude oil by rail. If the recommendations are implemented by the federal government they will serve as a strong step forward in protecting communities living along railway lines.

“The federal transport minister has a clear choice: protect public safety or secure profits of oil companies,” says Keith Stewart, a climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace Canada.

One of the country’s most active lobby groups – the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) – responded to the recommendations earlier this week. CAPP asked the federal government “to ensure their implementation does not interrupt service and respects the competitiveness of transporting our products by rail.” In other words, new regulations should not interfere with business as usual for the oil industry.

“Companies have to pay the price for safety. Their profits cannot come before communities, the environment and general safety,” John Bennett, director of the Sierra Club Canada told DeSmog Canada.

The Transport Safety Board (TSB) made three recommendations to Transport Canada improve safety of oil-by-rail shipments: tougher standards for the susceptible-to-rupturing DOT 111 tank cars, strategic routing of oil trains that considers the environment and communities, and emergency response plans for rail lines transporting large volumes of oil.

Greenpeace and the Sierra Club welcome the recommendations. Both organizations have been pushing for stricter oil by rail transport rules since before disaster struck Lac-Megantic, Quebec on July 6th of last year. Rail company CN also supports the TSB’s recommendations. Rail tank cars are owned either by shipping companies or oil producers. Rail companies on the other hand own the rails, and are liable for derailments.

The recommendations focus on tank cars, not the rails themselves, which is one of the shortcomings of the recommendations. Improvements on both are needed.

Recommendations cannot protect the public if they are not implemented. Bennett is not very optimistic the recommendations will be applied by the federal government. Many TSB recommendations in the past, he says, have “just sat there” and were not adopted, like rail line improvement recommendations made after the Lake Wabamun derailment in Alberta in 2005.

Stewart speculates the federal government will wait to see what the U.S. does, something he thinks is very problematic.

“Lives are at risk. Canada should be taking a leadership role,” Stewart told DeSmog from Toronto.

The TSB and the U.S. National Transport Safety Board announced their safety recommendations for oil-by-rail intentionally at the same time. Transport Canada has ninety days to reply to the TSB’s findings. Upon release of the recommendations in Ottawa on January 23rd, TSB chair Wendy Tadros insisted “change must come and it must come now.”

If adopted, applying the recommendations may prove to be difficult. Rerouting oil tank cars away from densely populated or environmentally sensitive areas is difficult due to Canada’s limited rail options.

Emergency response plans also require greater communication between shippers in the public, especially regarding large oil shipments. Shippers have been reluctant to do this in the past.

“Canadians need to ask themselves why are we doing this? Transporting oil more – whether by rail or pipeline – is a risk with little to no benefits for communities because it is going for export,” says Bennett, who is based in Ottawa.

“We already have enough infrastructure to meet our own oil consumption needs,” Bennett told DeSmog Canada.

Oil tank car shipments in Canada have dramatically jumped from five hundred carloads in 2009 to 160,000 last year, but Canada’s consumption of oil has declined during the same period. All of the recent pipeline proposals in Canada are destined to export oil out of the country with the exception of the Line 9 pipeline in Ontario and Quebec.

“The federal government would be more than happy for this debate to be rail versus pipeline oil shipments,” says Stewart.

“The debate should really be between dirty energy and clean energy and why we continue to invest billions in infrastructure for the fossil fuel industry when that money should be used to fight climate change and reduce our dependence on oil,” Stewart told DeSmog Canada.

The oilsands boom in Alberta and the Bakken shale oil boom in North Dakota coupled with stiff opposition to new pipeline approvals have been blamed for the massive increase in oil-by-rail transport in North America. In the US, oil tank carloads went from 10,800 in 2009 to 400,000 in 2013.

Image Credit: Transportation Safety Board

David Suzuki: Rail versus pipeline is the wrong question : thegreenpages.ca

David Suzuki: Rail versus pipeline is the wrong question : thegreenpages.ca.

Photo: Rail versus pipeline is the wrong question

The question isn’t about whether to use rail or pipelines. It’s about how to reduce our need for both. (Credit: Dieter Drescher via Flickr)

By David Suzuki with contributions from Ian Hanington, Senior Editor

Debating the best way to do something we shouldn’t be doing in the first place is a sure way to end up in the wrong place. That’s what’s happening with the “rail versus pipeline” discussion. Some say recent rail accidents mean we should build more pipelines to transport fossil fuels. Others argue that leaks, high construction costs, opposition and red tape surrounding pipelines are arguments in favour of using trains.

But the recent spate of rail accidents and pipeline leaks and spills doesn’t provide arguments for one or the other; instead, it indicates that rapidly increasing oil and gas development and shipping ever greater amounts, by any method, will mean more accidents, spills, environmental damage — even death. The answer is to step back from this reckless plunder and consider ways to reduce our fossil fuel use.

If we were to slow down oil sands development, encourage conservation and invest in clean energy technology, we could save money, ecosystems and lives — and we’d still have valuable fossil fuel resources long into the future, perhaps until we’ve figured out ways to use them that aren’t so wasteful. We wouldn’t need to build more pipelines just to sell oil and gas as quickly as possible, mostly to foreign markets. We wouldn’t have to send so many unsafe rail tankers through wilderness areas and places people live.

We may forgo some of the short-term jobs and economic opportunities the fossil fuel industry provides, but surely we can find better ways to keep people employed and the economy humming. Gambling, selling guns and drugs and encouraging people to smoke all create jobs and economic benefits, too — but we rightly try to limit those activities when the harms outweigh the benefits.

Both transportation methods come with significant risks. Shipping by rail leads to more accidents and spills, but pipeline leaks usually involve much larger volumes. One of the reasons we’re seeing more train accidents involving fossil fuels is the incredible boom in moving these products by rail. According to the American Association of Railroads, train shipment of crude oil in the U.S. grew from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 234,000 in 2012 — almost 25 times as many in only four years! That’s expected to rise to 400,000 this year.

As with pipelines, risks are increased because many rail cars are older and not built to standards that would reduce the chances of leaks and explosions when accidents occur. Some in the rail industry argue it would cost too much to replace all the tank cars as quickly as is needed to move the ever-increasing volumes of oil. We must improve rail safety and pipeline infrastructure for the oil and gas that we’ll continue to ship for the foreseeable future, but we must also find ways to transport less.

The economic arguments for massive oil sands and liquefied natural gas development and expansion aren’t great to begin with — at least with the way our federal and provincial governments are going about it. Despite a boom in oil sands growth and production, “Alberta has run consecutive budget deficits since 2008 and since then has burned through $15 billion of its sustainability fund,” according to an article on the Tyee website. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation says Alberta’s debt is now $7 billion and growing by $11 million daily.

As for jobs, a 2012 report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows less than one per cent of Canadian workers are employed in extraction and production of oil, coal and natural gas. Pipelines and fossil fuel development are not great long-term job creators, and pale in comparison to employment generated by the renewable energy sector.

Beyond the danger to the environment and human health, the worst risk from rapid expansion of oil sands, coal mines and gas fields and the infrastructure needed to transport the fuels is the carbon emissions from burning their products — regardless of whether that happens here, in China or elsewhere. Many climate scientists and energy experts, including the International Energy Agency, agree that to have any chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change, we must leave at least two-thirds of our remaining fossil fuels in the ground.

The question isn’t about whether to use rail or pipelines. It’s about how to reduce our need for both.

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The Kochs Have Bet Big That The Earth Is Doomed | Eric Zuesse

The Kochs Have Bet Big That The Earth Is Doomed | Eric Zuesse.

The Kochs have bet big that the earth is doomed. (And Obama is fighting for them to win that bet).

Forbes magazine noted, way back in 2006, that though the Koch brothers – David and Charles – could sell Koch Industries and live happily ever after (on the proceeds from selling what was then the world’s largest private company), Charles, who actually runs the firm, told them straight out, that selling it would be “literally over my dead body.”

In other words: they won’t do that.

What, then, is such an extraordinary business plan, that keeps them from simply retiring as two of the world’s richest people? The answer seems clear:

Petroleum has been their firm’s base, ever since their dad, Fred Koch, started Koch Industries in 1940 (on the proceeds he had earned mainly during 1929-32 from helping Stalin build the Soviet Union’s crucial oil-infrastructure). However, Koch Industries has been diversifying recently. In 2004, they paid $4.2 billion for Dupont’s fibers businesses, including Dacron and much else. Then, in 2005, they paid $21 billion for Georgia-Pacific, the paper and wood-products manufacturer.

But their chief business continues to be petroleum: not just the pipelines to transport it, but increasingly also the raw oil in the ground, and the dirtier the oil the better. They now own two-thirds of the world’s dirtiest oil: Alberta Canada’s tar sands. And they are lobbying and propagandizing heavily for President Obama to allow construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline (which pipeline they would own 25%) in order for that deeply land-locked Canadian oil to be transported to two of their own Texas refineries, which have been especially adapted for the purpose. Not only would they be deriving about $1 billion per year from operating the pipeline, but they would also be marketing the tar sands, two thirds of which are on land that is owned by Koch Industries. That’s the two-thirds of Alberta’s tar sands oil that the Kochs actually own.

However, one of the world’s biggest banks, HSBC, came out with a study, on 25 January 2013, “Oil & Carbon Revisited: Value at Risk from ‘Unburnable’ Reserves,” which reported that in order for this planet to have even as much as a 50% chance of avoiding the climate’s going haywire, “only around 1,000 Gt [Gigatons] or a third of current proven reserves can be ‘burned’.” Furthermore, “Embedded ‘carbon’ in coal is three times the amount bound in oil and over four times that in gas.” This report acknowledged that, “It is clear that reduced usage of coal [whose usage is soaring in China and already causing massive health-problems in Chinese cities] is the key to stabilising and eventually reducing annual carbon emissions. However, we believe that reductions in oil demand … can be delivered more quickly than coal through improvements in transport fuel economy.” In other words: forcing a reduction in oil-use is absolutely essential, in order for our descendants not to lose the planet quickly.

On page 16 of that report was a stunning calculation, titled “Break-evens for selected high-cost oil projects,” and the researchers actually calculated there the price that a barrel of oil would need to fetch on the global market in order for each type of petroleum to be able to be produced without the sellers losing money on that oil. For “Deepwater” projects, it ranged from $49.40 up to $64.00. On “Heavy oil,” it was $54.70. And on “Oil sands” (Alberta’s oil, the dirtiest in the world), it was $75.50.

In other words, the Koch brothers (via their private firm) own two-thirds of the world’s dirtiest petroleum, which consequently is so costly to process, that it becomes utterly worthless at a global per-barrel price of $75.50. All other oil would still be profitable at that price, but not the oil that now constitutes the biggest speculative (and by far the riskiest) portion of the Koch brothers’ (or of Koch Industries’) massive investment portfolio.

Whereas other oil companies have focused on the lowest-cost petroleums to get to market, the Kochs have focused instead on the highest-cost petroleum to get to market. They bought it cheap, because it’s so dirty and land-locked.

Their business-plan (other than diversifying into non-petroleum industries) is simple: Drive their costs to produce their filthy oil down from the existing $75.50 per barrel, in order to make it more competitive (since they own two-thirds of the estimated 874 billion barrels of this stuff).

How can they drive that cost down? Right now, President Barack Obama is negotiating, behind the scenes, through his U.S. Trade Representative, to get Europe to weaken its anti-global-warming standards, so as to enable the world’s dirtiest oil to become more price-competitive.

On 24 September 2013, Kate Sheppard at Huffington Post bannered “Michael Froman, Top U.S. Trade Official, Sides With Tar Sands Advocates,” and she reported that the Obama Administration was threatening Europe with retaliation at the World Trade Organization if Europe didn’t eliminate its distinction between high-CO2 oil and regular oil – between tar-sands-derived oil, and ordinary petroleum. The U.S. Trade Representative told Congress that the issue he had here didn’t concern climate change, but only “inadequate transparency and public participation in the European Commission’s regulatory process.” Then, Sheppard herself asked one of his aides, who simply reiterated that by saying, “The United States shares the EU’s objective of reducing greenhouse gas intensity, but we have raised concerns with respect to inadequate transparency and public participation in the European Commission’s regulatory process.” Sheppard, at least as far as her news report indicated, asked no follow-up question, such as: “‘inadequate’ in what way; and how can you even be talking about that since the issue here is global warming?” So: the President and his Representative have not been confronted publicly on this matter.

Barack Obama’s public statements against global warming were belied by his actions in private, and yet his hirees, such as the U.S. Trade Representative, Michael Froman, formerly a Managing Director of Citigroup, were turning the table and accusing the EU of “inadequate transparency” – as if the future of this planet weren’t the issue, and a vastly more important one.

If President Obama can force Europe to lower their anti-global-warming standards in order to enable the Kochs to export their super-dirty oil to Europe via the Kochs’ Corpus Christi Texas refineries, then a significant portion of the existing cost-disadvantage of the Kochs’ super-dirty oil (as compared to cleaner oil) will be absorbed ultimately by the planet itself, in the form of added global warming. “These refineries have a combined crude oil processing capacity of about 300,000 barrels per day. While one potential purpose of the KXL Pipeline for Koch Industries could be to provide access to Canadian tar sands for its Corpus Christi refineries, this benefit appears relatively insignificant compared to their massive potential profits from producing tar sands crude oil.” (See page 11 there.) In other words: President Obama is negotiating behind the scenes in order to transfer these harms onto everyone else, so that the benefits will go to the Kochs for their having paid dirt-prices for each and every one of the two million acres of tar sands they own. (That’s on page 7.) Consequently, there would be, for the Koch brothers (as stated in the report’s Executive Summary), “$100 billion in potential profits due to KXL.” Their destroying this planet would thus be very profitable for them.

Apparently, this is the business plan that they are so eager to pursue that it’s more attractive to them than simply retiring: Instead of their being each tied with the other as being the6th-wealthiest person on this planet, they’d probably be by far the wealthiest two people of all individuals on Earth. (The report estimates that their joint existing fortune of roughly $80 billion will be enhanced by yet another $100 billion, for a total of $180 billion, or $90 billion apiece.) Apparently, the Kochs are doing this for sheer status. (They couldn’t possibly consume all their wealth even if they wanted to.) It thus seems that their motivation is basically similar to that of their father’s great benefactor, Stalin. His status was based on communist values; theirs is based on fascist values; but the motivation is status, just the same.

And Barack Obama, against whom the Kochs bundled more campaign cash than any other two people, for Mitt Romney and for Republicans in Congress and in the state houses, is fighting against the European Union, in order to assist the Kochs to achieve this, their dream. Perhaps that’s the only thing in this story that doesn’t make sense, but it is certainly the case, up till now. And (if there is another thing that doesn’t make sense) the massively ignorant American public wants them to win.

Obama’s excuse for trying to force Europe to buy the Kochs’ filthy oil might be called ludicrous. However, since this excuse proves that he is a hypocritical liar, and the stakes that are involved here are enormous for the entire world, it is, instead, tragic, if is not outright catastrophic.

Perhaps Obama, too, is chiefly driven by status. Then, all of this insanity on the part of the elite might make sense – in an insane sort of way. Maybe status-addicts are actually the type of people who most tend to rise to the top, anywhere. Hitler, Stalin, Capone, Koch, Obama, Bush: what’s the difference, really, other than their “personality”?

———-

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

‘Ethical Oil’ Launches Neil Young Attack Site

‘Ethical Oil’ Launches Neil Young Attack Site.

Famed singer Neil Young holds a news conference on Jan. 12, 2014, in Toronto. (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

A controversial pro-oil pressure group has launched an attack site against Neil Young following the rocker’s recent tour criticizing the oilsands.

EthicalOil.org, a political group founded by Alykhan Velshi, an advisor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has launchedNeilYoungLies.ca, which attempts to debunk Young’s comments on the oilsands during his recent “Honour the Treaties” tour, which wrapped up Sunday in Calgary.

The site doesn’t miss a beat in tearing down Young, even denying the rocker’s Canadian roots with a reference to Young’s “home state of California.” The website urges visitors to “help us fight back against foreign celebrities and their slander.”

Young was born in Toronto and grew up in Manitoba, but has lived in California since the 1960s.

The website accuses Young of hypocrisy on environmental issues, displaying pictures of Young’s “monstrous” diesel-burning tour bus.

“Neil Young has a massive environmental footprint,” the site says. “He owns a 1,500-acre California estate, plus homes in Florida and Hawaii.”

On a page titled “Who Paid Neil Young To Lie,” the site links Young’s tour to international environmental groups, though some of the links are rather thin, such as a $55,000 payment to Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation by the Tides Foundation.

The site notes that Young’s tour had only one listed sponsor, the Lakota People’s Law Project, which it describes as “the main project of the California-based Romero Institute.”

The Lakota People’s Law Project is a campaign helping South Dakota aboriginals who have had their children taken away by the state.

EthicalOil.org has stirred controversy in the few years it has been campaigning. The group first came to prominence in 2011, when it released a series of ads arguing Canadian oil is “ethical” because buying it doesn’t put money into the pockets of dictators around the world.

The group’s founder, Alykhan Velshi, works as director of issues management in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Though the campaign is clearly allied with Canada’s conservatives, it often uses liberal and progressive arguments in support of Canadian oil, often pointing out the poor women’s rights records among oil-exporting Middle Eastern countries.

Climate activists like Al Gore often argue that “there is no such thing as ethical oil,” given the energy source’s emissions and the environmental degradation caused by its extraction.

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

Northern Gateway pipeline report draws lawsuit – British Columbia – CBC News

Northern Gateway pipeline report draws lawsuit – British Columbia – CBC News.

A coalition of B.C. environmentalists is worried about the pipeline's impact on the northern environment, and says the Joint Review Panel report recommending approval for the pipeline is flawed.A coalition of B.C. environmentalists is worried about the pipeline’s impact on the northern environment, and says the Joint Review Panel report recommending approval for the pipeline is flawed. (CBC)

A coalition of environment groups has filed a lawsuit in Federal Court alleging serious flaws with the Joint Review Panel’s final report that recommended the pipeline be approved because “Canadians will be better off with this project than without it.”

The group is seeking a court order to prevent the federal cabinet from acting on the panel’s report to approve the proposed pipeline.

Ecojustice lawyers representing ForestEthics Advocacy, the Living Oceans Society and the Raincoast Conservation Foundation allege the Joint Review Panel’s 419-page report contains legal errors and that its approval is based on insufficient evidence.

“The JRP did not have enough evidence to support its conclusion that the Northern Gateway pipeline would not have significant adverse effects on certain aspects of the environment,” said Ecojustice staff lawyer Karen Campbell, in a statement released on Friday.

“The panel made its recommendation despite known gaps in the evidence, particularly missing information about the risk of geohazards along the pipeline route and what happens to diluted bitumen when it is spilled in the marine environment.”

Serious flaws alleged

In its lawsuit, the environmental coalition says the panel concluded that diluted bitumen is unlikely to sink in an ocean environment even though it says a federal study released earlier this week suggests otherwise.

The lawyers say the review panel did not consider the federal recovery strategy for Pacific humpback whales, whose critical habitat overlaps with the proposed tanker route, or identify mitigation measures for caribou populations.

The lawsuit also alleges the panel refused to consider the environmental impacts of upstream oilsands development and permits Enbridge to assess landslide risks during instead of before construction.

Northern Gateway pipeline politicsPipeline construction is currently awaiting cabinet approval, which is expected sometime within the next six months. (CBC)

Ecojustice says the battle over Northern Gateway is about more than just one pipeline project. Campbell says it’s the epicentre of the debate over Canada’s energy future and Canada needs to get it right.

“There is simply too much at stake. Any decision about Northern Gateway must be based on the best available science. That’s why the panel’s incomplete and flawed report cannot stand as the final word on whether Northern Gateway is in the national interest,” says Campbell in the release.

A cabinet decision on whether to accept the panel’s recommendation and approve the pipeline is expected sometime in the next six months.

Under the new environmental assessment framework contained in the 2012 spring omnibus budget bill, cabinet has final decision-making power over Northern Gateway but is bound by the 209 conditions laid out in the Joint Review Panel report.

Keystone XL ‘limbo’ needs to end soon, Baird tells U.S. – Politics – CBC News

Keystone XL ‘limbo’ needs to end soon, Baird tells U.S. – Politics – CBC News.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird speaks at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Washington, Thursday. He told the business audience that Canada is looking for a decision soon on the Keystone XL pipeline project even if it's not the 'right' one.Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird speaks at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Washington, Thursday. He told the business audience that Canada is looking for a decision soon on the Keystone XL pipeline project even if it’s not the ‘right’ one. (Cliff Owen/Associated Press)

Baird speech to U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Baird speech to U.S. Chamber of Commerce17:03

Tom Mulcair interview

Tom Mulcair interview 15:47

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird wants a decision soon on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, even if it’s not the one the federal government is counting on from the U.S. administration.

Baird told an audience at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C., on Thursday that building Keystone XL would create thousands of jobs and prompt economic growth on both sides of the border.

“With the construction season coming up, I don’t want a single unemployed worker sitting at home when they could get a knock on the door saying ‘we’ve got a great job for you,’” Baird said.

 

“So if there’s one message I’m going to be promoting on this trip, it is that the time for Keystone is now. I’ll go further — the time for a decision on Keystone is now, even if it’s not the right one,” said Baird. “We can’t continue in this state of limbo.”

 

Baird outlined three key reasons why the TransCanada pipeline that would carry oil from Alberta to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico should get the green light from President Barack Obama. He said there would be “no significant environmental impact,” that Canadian oil would offset imports from other sources and that carrying oil by pipeline is favourable to carrying it by rail.

“U.S. energy independence is too important; the environment is too important; and our economic growth is too important,” Baird said about the need for a decision to be made one way or the other.

Baird is in Washington for the North American ministerial meeting with his counterparts Secretary of State John Kerry and Mexico’s Jose Antonio Meade. The meeting is Friday but he arrived early and had multiple meetings with American lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Wednesday and Thursday and with others including National SecurityAdviser Susan Rice.

 

It is Kerry’s department that is currently finishing off a final environmental assessment report on the Keystone XL proposal and Baird said he hopes that will be completed in the coming weeks. Then the final decision rests with Obama.

 

“We’ll be making a strong case that this is a priority for an important friend and ally of the United States,” Baird told reporters about his meeting Friday with Kerry.

 

He wouldn’t elaborate on any contingency plans if Obama rejects the pipeline project and said his government is focused on getting it approved. Baird said a number of safety improvements have been made to what was already a safe project and that the proposal has been thoroughly studied by a number of agencies in the U.S. capital.

 

“We believe that decision-time is upon us. We look forward in the coming weeks for the State Department to release its final report and for the president to make a decision,” Baird said. “This matters to Canada. We’re a close friend, we’re a close ally and we want to see this project go forward and that’s a big part of our visit to talk to folks here in Washington about.”

Baird also addressed other bilateral issues including trade and streamlining regulations through the Beyond the Border initiative during his remarks to the chamber of commerce.

Harper recently suggested the U.S president had “punted” a politically uncomfortable dilemma by adding additional steps to the regulatory process. Harper also told a US audience in New York last September that Canada would not take “no” for an answer on the Keystone XL pipeline.

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.

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