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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.
“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.
Dec. 13, 2010 A leader who gave the Pembina Institute room to grow
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.
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.
April 7, 2011 Alberta's draft plan misses the mark on protecting land and species in the Lower Athabasca
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.
April 9, 2013 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.
April 22, 2010 Alberta’s ask-questions-later oilsands strategy not working
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.
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.
July 20, 2010 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?
July 10, 2014 Auditor General’s scathing review ups pressure to improve Alberta’s weak climate policy
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.
June 25, 2012 Being a Smarter Driver pays off – and now I’m hooked
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.
July 13, 2010 Blowout shines spotlight on in situ’s impacts
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.
March 30, 2012 Budget 2012: Canada won’t spare a penny for clean energy
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.
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.
April 8, 2011 Cap-and-trade: Canadian after all?
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.
Jan. 17, 2013 Climate concerns are key in Keystone XL pipeline debate
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.
July 22, 2010 Coal power company breaks promise to Albertans
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.
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.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has shed new light on the dangers of shipping raw oilsands through pipelines today.
This major U.S. environmental organization's findings have implications for both the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline to the U.S. and the Enbridge Northern Gateway proposal, and should be heeded by governments and the public alike.
If you're buying a new home in Alberta, there's a good chance that very same home wouldn't be allowed on the market in Ontario.
If you think 567 pages of emissions data would make a boring read, this week's news just proved you wrong. Canada's most recent report to the UN's climate change convention has proven surprisingly controversial, not so much for what's in it as for what was left out.
June 1, 2010 Dispatch from the Great Bear Rainforest: On the scene of a battle shaping up to be bigger than Clayoquot Sound
Kitamaat Village, B.C. — Sometimes it takes tar balls washing up on beaches, as the people of the Gulf coast are experiencing due to the BP oil spill, before we really get the environmental risk we've allowed to threaten our land, air and water.
But that's not the case here on B.C.'s North Coast, in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest and home to a growing opposition to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway oilsands pipeline.
Nov. 8, 2013 Documents raise concern over industry influence on delayed oilsands emissions regulations
This week, the Pembina Institute reviewed a package of documents obtained under Alberta’s Freedom of Information legislation about future Alberta and federal greenhouse gas regulations.
No new coal and no new oilsands projects if you can't prevent the carbon going into the atmosphere. That is the message that eminent climate scientist Dr. James Hansen brought to Alberta, the heart of the oil industry in Canada, yesterday.
March 5, 2013 Draft U.S. environmental assessment understates significance of Keystone XL for oilsands expansion and climate emissions
Late last Friday, the U.S. State Department released its draft assessment of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline’s environmental impacts, marking a significant milestone toward the impending White House decision on the project’s fate.
Burning coal to make electricity is a dirty habit. We’ve known for years that it’s bad for our health, bad for our kids and bad for the climate. When it comes to air pollution and carbon intensity, coal plants are Canada’s worst electricity source. Yet many parts of the country still rely heavily on coal for electricity.
Despite the controversy over the federal government’s overhaul of environmental laws in Bill C-38, which recently passed third reading in the House of Commons, federal ministers have stuck to the script, insisting that cutting back on federal environmental oversight is the key to ensuring resource development happens in an efficient and “responsible” manner. However, the recent revision of an application by Shell Canada to expand an oilsands mine illustrates the type of sensible environmental protection and sober reflection Canadians risk losing as a result of the changes outlined in the federal bill.
For those of you who follow the oilsands debate closely, a certain quote may have made you choke on your Corn Flakes this week. It came at the end of a visit by a 12-member European Union delegation and was uttered by United Kingdom member Philip Bradbourn.
With consideration of the Keystone XL pipeline proposal heading into the home stretch, a parade of Canadian politicians have been making the trek to the U.S. to try to convince the Obama Administration of the pipeline’s merits.
The good news is that the recent visitors — from Premiers Redford and Wall to federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver — now acknowledge that Canada’s environmental record is crucial to the upcoming U.S. decision.
The bad news is that there are some gaping holes in that record.
Oct. 20, 2010 Federal government failing to enforce laws in oilsands
You could be forgiven for missing an important oilsands announcement by federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice a few weeks ago, given it came in the aftermath of the media frenzy surrounding the visit of Hollywood director James Cameron to Alberta's oilsands.
But Prentice's announcement of an investigation into the industry-dominated water-monitoring program in the oilsands was an important one. It comes after years of the federal government downplaying its responsibility to ensure responsible environmental management of the oilsands.
Late on the Friday before the Thanksgiving long weekend, after many workers in the Eastern time zone had already called it a day, the federal government finally released its long overdue recovery strategy for the woodland caribou, the boreal population that ranges from Yukon to Newfoundland. Herds living in northern Alberta are currently listed as ‘threatened’ populations under the Species at Risk Act.
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