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Freshly minted Environment Minister Peter Kent made no apologies for the oilsands' environmental record when speaking with media outlets including the Globe and Mail and CBC's Evan Solomon this week, calling the industry "ethical in every sense of the word."
It's a familiar argument, drawn from the playbook of Conservative pundit Ezra Levant — and a classic case of the rhetorical device called bait-and-switch.
Amid all the controversy over pipeline projects recently, one critical fact is being overlooked: government regulators have already approved more than 5 million barrels per day of oilsands production, and we could reach that milestone just over two decades from now.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.” Though originally written as a social criticism of the period leading up to the French Revolution, Charles Dickens’ words seem an equally appropriate characterization of the past year for energy and environment issues in Canada.
If Premier Stelmach chooses to implement the Royalty Review Panel's full set of recommendations and delivers Albertans’ their fair share, this is what I think my first son might have to say 23 years from now...
It's an impressive run by any measure. Under the leadership of Marlo Raynolds the Pembina Institute doubled its budget, doubled its staff, improved its media presence three-fold and almost quadrupled its output of reports and ideas for a sustainable energy future.
Today marks a landmark shift in opposition to continued expansion of oilsands development, with the start of a hearing into the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s (ACFN) constitutional challenge against Shell Canada’s application to expand the Jackpine Mine oilsands project. The first of its kind in Alberta, the constitutional challenge is based in part on concerns that Shell’s project will impact the ACFN’s ability to exercise treaty rights such as hunting and fishing in a meaningful way into the future.
There is no doubt energy will be on the agenda for Prime Minister Stephen Harper's visit with U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday. Whether talking about climate change or oil, the two countries are closely intertwined. And Harper might want to think carefully before promoting Canadian leadership on climate change or oilsands development.
The Government of Alberta reported this month that air quality in areas near oilsands development in Northern Alberta was recorded as exceeding warning levels in 2012. While investments in air quality monitoring are beginning to pay off, this data will place a new Premier in a difficult position.
As a second wave of oiled ducks created outrage about the consequences of oilsands tailings lakes, another oilsands story broke last week that impacts far greater numbers of waterfowl.
On Friday, Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner announced that the Alberta government is not planning to implement the recommendations of the Alberta Water Council.
Over the months ahead, expect to hear frequent references to a new report released Wednesday comparing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with oilsands production to emissions from other sources of crude oil used in Europe. We took a close read of the report, prepared for the Government of Alberta by Jacobs Consultancy, and there seems to be a problem: the report’s findings about how oilsands compare to conventional oil do not tell the full story, and government documents appear to misinterpret the implications of those findings.
Alberta released its draft plan for the Lower Athabasca Region earlier this week, and there was certainly no shortage of drama as commentators digested what it all means — with sometimes comical degrees of accuracy.
Tuesday's breathless headlines — including reports that Alberta oilsands companies were "stunned" by the plan, and a bizarre and factually inaccurate press release by Alberta's Wildrose Alliance Party arguing that protecting land (in an area that has virtually no oil potential) represented a "devastating assault" on the province's economy — have since been followed by more sober assessments.
We've all seen the photos: northern Alberta's boreal forest marked by open pit mines, polluting smokestacks and growing tailings lakes. It's what oilsands mining looks like. With this big mess comes a big price tag and it looks like Alberta taxpayers might be left on the hook for the lion's share ($10 to $15 billion) of the cleanup bill, according to a report recently released by the Pembina Institute.
We're told not to lose sleep over oilsands reclamation though. After all, oilsands mine operators are required to clean up the land they disturb. Just in case operators don't follow through with that reclamation, the Government of Alberta collects what amounts to a security deposit to cover reclamation costs.
The problem is, it doesn't look as though the Government of Alberta has been collecting enough money to cover the cleanup - not anywhere near enough money.
Albertans don’t just pay to ride the resource rollercoaster — they risk having to clean up once the carnival leaves town
There’s a carnival in town, and everyone is talking about its main attraction — the mighty resource rollercoaster that is taking Alberta’s and Canada’s economies for a wild ride. Albertans are already paying a premium at the ticket booth, but few have noticed the fine print on the bottom of the receipt: once the carnival leaves town, ticketholders may be left paying for the cleanup costs.
I had a little bit of U.S.-envy as I read an article describing a delay by our neighbours to the south in leasing land for natural gas production while the greenhouse gas implications of the decision were considered. I was envious because Alberta doesn't follow any such process for oilsands development.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper cited Alberta's version of carbon pricing as a model that could be applied at a national scale. Our analysis has found that an Alberta-style model could work at the national level — but it wouldn’t be ideal.
Next week, an important piece of legislation will continue through its third reading in the Alberta legislature. Bill 31, the protecting Alberta’s environment act, would establish the Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency (AEMERA) to obtain relevant scientific data and information regarding the condition of the environment in Alberta.
While the bill is essential to establish an independent monitoring agency — a goal we support — the proposed legislation has some basic flaws. Even more concerning, the government has been surprisingly closed-minded in responding to amendments proposed in the legislature that would enhance the bill.
After eight years of deliberation, Alberta has essentially handed industry a free pass when it comes to compensating for the loss of wetlands in the oilsands region. Given the pressure the government is under to show its environmental scruples these days, you’d think it would have seized this opportunity. Instead, the policy gave the oilsands industry at least a two-year exemption from taking any responsibility for wetlands.
In a drastic move to contain an on-going and unstoppable bitumen blowout in Cold Lake, Alberta, the province’s department of environment has ordered Canadian Natural Resource Ltd. to drain two thirds of a 53-hectare lake. According to CNRL, some of the removed water will be stored in the remaining one third of the lake, with the rest piped to a nearby pit and wetland.
Are the oilsands prepared for a worst-case scenario? Research assignment turns into wild goose chase
I recently went looking to see what kinds of plans were in place in case of an emergency involving 840 million cubic metres (equivalent to 330,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools) of toxic liquid tailings waste deposited by oil sands mines north of Fort McMurray . The problem is, instead of finding what I was looking for, I was sent on a wild goose chase, leading me to wonder: Does anyone know what happens if something goes wrong?
This week, the Alberta Auditor General released the scathing results of his review of the province’s climate change strategy. Despite recommendations from two previous audits, the report found the government still lacks a definitive plan to meet its climate targets and to report progress.
I have become a fuel economy junkie.
I can no longer drive without obsessing over the fuel economy gauge in the centre of the dashboard. The LCD display provides real-time information on the amount of fuel being used to propel the car that I am driving. My spirits rise and fall with its every movement. When the number falls — 4.7, 4.6, right on, 4.2! — I’m on a high! When the number climbs — 6.7, 7.5, no, 9.2! — I’m crestfallen.
For 36 hours this past weekend, a stream of high-temperature water and oil shot 12 metres into the air after a wellhead blew out at an in situ oilsands site just eight kilometres from the town of Conklin in northeastern Alberta. This incident points to the fact that in situ, contrary to industry claims, is not a benign or risk-free extraction method.
Over the past several years, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government have been doggedly selling Canada as a “clean energy superpower”. While those words have always rung hollow to anybody tracking the global rise of the $1 trillion clean energy economy, after yesterday’s federal budget they simply ring false.
Canada has a bright future in green energy, success stories show Green Energy Futures now at Pembina.org
Pembina's Green Energy Futures episodes are now featured at Pembin.org
With the passage of the omnibus budget bill, the Harper government has begun downloading oversight and dismantling environmental protection in order to expedite oilsands development and pipelines to new markets. Harper’s cabinet ministers frequently remind Canadians that increased oilsands development is needed to generate the tax revenue needed to support delivery of the services and programs we all hold dear, like education and healthcare.
But over the past several months that mantra has been challenged, with various think-tanks, analysts and pundits fuelling an important discussion about the economic impacts — both positive and negative — of booming oilsands development.
By Steven Guilbeault, Co-founder and Deputy Executive Director of Équiterre and Marlo Raynolds, Executive Director of the Pembina Institute.
While Canadians take pride in having a positive international reputation, this is quickly being tarnished as we become increasingly known for producing "dirty oil" and taking a head-in-the-sand approach to global warming.
Historically speaking, Canadian energy issues haven’t always played as prominently on the global stage as they do today. In 2006, the oilsands were just an emerging story, known principally to investors on the hunt for returns (although Pembina has been working on oilsands issues since the mid-1980s). It took Ralph Klein, then-premier of Alberta, parking an oilsands heavy hauler within eyesight of the U.S. Congress for the broader environmental community to get well and truly fired up over oilsands development. Within a few short years, Canada’s bitumen mines would be making front-page headlines worldwide.
Canada’s financial sector appears to be enjoying its own ‘mine truck’ moment.
At a news conference earlier this week, federal cabinet minister John Baird called the Liberal Party's cap-and-trade proposal "incredibly divisive" and "un-Canadian."
It's a surprising statement, and not just because Minister Baird's own government said it supported cap-and-trade as recently as 2009. Nearly 80 per cent of Canadians currently live in provinces whose premiers support cap-and-trade: British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Québec have all expressed interest in joining with U.S. states in the Western Climate Initiative cap-and-trade system.
The premiers of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan have pledged to meet with the federal government to discuss a national energy strategy and the related issue of regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Before that meeting happens, let’s examine their efforts to price carbon, a critical component of any cost-effective approach to dealing with climate change.
What was Premier Ralph Klein thinking when he announced that 50% of Alberta's electricity is produced using "clean coal"?
Canada is quietly emerging as a renewable energy leader, but it will take the same political focus currently being put toward oilsands to ensure we retain and grow the jobs that are being created in the country's emerging clean energy sector.
Cleaning up its act Canada lays out a plan to monitor the oilsands, but will the government act when the alarm sounds?
While we commend the Government of Canada on finally committing to install an oilsands "smoke alarm," Canadians need to know if the government will heed the call to action when the alarm sounds.
To help inform the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline, the Pembina Institute has produced a backgrounder about the climate impacts associated with the proposed pipeline. The backgrounder features new analysis showing that producing enough bitumen to fill the Keystone XL pipeline would lead to a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions, and inhibit Canada’s ability to meet its climate targets.
Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL) has come as close as it likely ever will to admitting that the design of the Primrose Cyclic Steam Stimulation project has failed, and that this failure led to the four bitumen and steam emulsion blowouts that were discovered several kilometres apart just over one year ago.
In 2002, the Alberta body that regulates energy agreed to let a power company build a new coal-fired power plant outside Edmonton, with one key environmental condition: the company would make good on a voluntary commitment to cut the plant's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in half.
At the time, the power company's voluntary commitment represented an uncommon display of corporate leadership and environmental responsibility. For the company, it simply made good business sense: the power sector believed that the province was set to unveil tough new climate change regulations, and since coal is a much higher-polluting energy source than alternatives such as natural gas, the company could undercut objections to using coal by promising to reduce the plant's net emissions (through purchasing offsets) to a level comparable to natural gas power generation. This solution removed one of the obvious reasons to block the use of a high-polluting source of energy, while positioning the company as a leader in the industry — it seemed like a win-win.
A slow-motion disaster has been unfolding for months at an oilsands extraction site a few hours north of Edmonton. Provincial authorities and media reports have called it a series of “releases” or “spills”, but a more accurate description would be another uncontrolled — and so far unstoppable — blowout in the oilsands reservoir deep underground.
In a column published earlier this week, I explained how there are some economic downsides to oilsands expansion that need to be part of the conversation, as well as the upsides.
Today I want to point out the real elephant in the room for any discussion about the oilsands and Canada’s future: climate change. Until we see far stronger government policies to curtail greenhouse gas pollution, oilsands expansion plans simply can’t be reconciled with a responsible Canadian effort to tackle climate change.
When a tailings dam burst at an alumina plant in Hungary, more than 700,000 cubic metres of red toxic sludge was released into a river, killing eight people, injuring 120 and forcing the evacuation of 800 residents.
Sadly, the tailings dam failure in Hungary is not unique. Every year between two and five of the more than 3,500 tailings dams in the world experience major failures.
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