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August 16 2012


Enbridge Video Stunningly Misleading

For compulsive watchers of Enbridge Inc., the spill-crazy pipeline company that wants to pipe tar sands crude to the Canadian West Coast - or just for students of the barefaced lie - this video can't be beaten.

It purports to show the pipeline route, including an open sea exodus where tankers will pass from the proposed Kitimat, British Columbia oil port.

But as this video documents, the Enbridge auteurs airbrushed out 1,000 square kilometres of islands and rocks within the exit channel.

Given the criticism, the company has added a note saying, "The animation is for illustrative purposes only. It is meant to be broadly representational, not to scale."

Broadly representing a completely false image.

August 09 2012


Was Scott Walker Chosen to Headline Heartland Institute Gala Due to His Bradley Foundation Ties?

Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker will keynote the Heartland Institute's 28th Anniversary Benefit Dinner this evening at Navy Pier in Chicago, IL

Walker recently won the Kochtopus-funded Americans for Prosperity George Washington Award. Now, two months after his recall election steamrolling of Democrat Tom Barrett, the climate change denying group famous for its Unabomber billboard will embrace Walker with much fanfare

Heartland, whose internal documents were published this past spring by DeSmogBlog, sings praises for Walker's union-busting agenda and his recent recall victory in promoting the event

This year’s keynote speaker, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, is the nation’s most influential and successful governor. Elected in 2010 to balance a budget that was billions of dollars in deficit without raising taxes, he did exactly that, winning the passionate support of taxpayers, business owners, and consumers across the state. After years of economic stagnation caused by high taxes and excessive regulation, Wisconsin is growing again.

To balance the state’s budget, Gov. Walker took on powerful public sector unions, reining in their collective bargaining privileges and requiring that public-sector workers start to contribute toward their retirement and health care benefits. Unions fought back, and after they failed to block legislation implementing Walker’s plan, they tried to recall him in a special election. On June 5, 2012, they failed, as Walker won reelection and a solid mandate to stay his course.

The trove of leaked Heartland documents exposed the Institute's current climate change denying agenda and revealed whose money supports this reality-denying agenda. But DeSmogBlog neglected to talk about the details of "Operation Angry Badger" in the documents, as at the time, we thought it was outside the scope of our mission.

Turns out, we were wrong.

The WI-Bradley Foundation-Heartland Institute Nexus

A significant chunk of the Heartland Exposed documents discussed the Heartland Institute's "Operation Angry Badger." These documents laid out the role Heartland would play in serving as a messaging machine for the forthcoming Wisconsin gubernatorial recall election. 

The Center for Media and Democracy's Brendan Fischer broke down the "Angry Badger" details (emphasis mine):

Leaked documents show that the Chicago-based Heartland Institute is planning to spend $612,000 supporting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.


The leaked documents propose a $612,000 campaign to include print ads, mailers, web ads, and blog posts that would promote the "successes" of Wisconsin Act 10 and portray Wisconsin teachers as overpaid and schools as underperforming. Act 10 — also known as the "budget repair bill" — included Governor Walker's plan to curtail collective bargaining for public employees, which its proponents said would result in cost-savings for school districts and make it easier to fire bad teachers. 

Why was Heartland - a 'free-market' think tank most well-known for its role in peddling climate change denial - so invested in supporting Walker in the recall election? And given the controversy surrounding Heartland's Unabomber billboard failure, why is Walker - who is also set to keynote the Republican National Convention later this month - interested in associating with such an extreme group by serving as the keynote speaker at Heartland's Annual Dinner?

Just follow the money and the personnel for some indications. 

Milwaukee, WI-Based Bradley Foundation Gives Big Bucks to Heartland

The Milwaukee, WI-based conservative Bradley Foundation gave $648,000 to Heartland between 1986-2009, according to Media Matters.

The Foundation's President and CEO, Michael Grebe, served as Chairman for Walker's 2010 gubernatorial race, in which Walker handily dispatched his challenger, Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett.

Grebe is also the Chairman of the Board of Philanthropy Roundtable, which, according to the Center for Media and Democracy's Sourcewatch, "was established by the Bradley Foundation to help facilitate conservative grantmaking." 

Bradley gave Philanthropy Roundable $2,585,000 between 1993-2009, according to Media Matters.

Compared to its close allies, the Koch Family Foundations - the funding epicenter of the Kochtopus empire and another Heartland funder - the Bradley Foundation has largely operated beneath the public's radar, particularly in the national media. The veil of secrecy Bradley enjoys was lifted when Wisconsin's biggest daily newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, published a lengthy investigation in November 2011, "From local roots, Bradley Foundation builds conservative empire." 

Walker's first meeting as Governor-Elect was not with the Koch Brothers, but with upper-level management of Bradley, explained the Sentinel:

Less than a week after being elected governor, Scott Walker and his wife met privately with one of the most powerful philanthropic forces behind America's conservative movement.

It wasn't the Koch brothers - the bogeymen for the American left.

On Nov. 8, 2010, the Walkers broke bread at the upscale Bacchus restaurant in the Cudahy Tower with the board and senior staff of the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

The Bradley Empire has actually doled out far more money to conservative causes (not including electoral efforts) in the past decade than has the Koch Empire.

"It receives a fraction of the attention given the billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch and the Scaife family," wrote the Sentinel. "But the Bradley Foundation is in a different league: From 2001 to 2009, it doled out nearly as much money as the seven Koch and Scaife foundations combined."

The Bradley Empire Uses Walker to Push Post-Recall Agenda

Foundation money doesn't grow on trees. It comes from various donors who share mutual ideological and fiduciary interests. In the case of the Bradley Empire, these interests are multi-tentacled, but the thread that ties the interests together is that they're always in the interest of corporations.

The $612,000 funneled to Heartland to work the "Operation Angry Badger" Walker recall effort could be looked at as a small down payment investment. Walker's victory now gives him the mandate to push the corporate agenda full-steam ahead - and push this agenda he has.

With the recall complete, and the national spotlight shifting away from Walker, he got to work creating numerous committees and working groups to service private interests ahead of the public interest, both now and long into the future. This is best highlighted in an ongoing investigative series by The Progressive magazine's Rebecca Kemble.

Two of the key working groups, The Council on Workforce Investment and the College and Workforce Readiness Council, "are working closely with Competitive Wisconsin, an alliance of politically connected businesses organized by Jim Wood, president of their family PR firm Wood Communications," according to Kemble's reporting.

Competitive Wisconsin, Kemble went onto to explain, launched something called the "Be Bold Campaign" in 2010. This campaign called for the creation of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), a public-private partnership that eventually was turned into reality as WI Act 7 (also known as Special Session SB 6 and Special Session AB 6) on February 9, 2011. This was merely two days before Walker announced he would be pushing the union-busting "Budget Repair Bill." 

Competitive Wisconsin spent 95% of its lobbying time in the first half of 2011 making the case for Act 7, according to the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board. This ran at a cost of $3,750 - or roughly three-fifths of the money ($4,875) it spent on lobbying for the half-year period. 

The WEDC, in turn, is currently putting together an influential study set to be released after Labor Day, according to a press release. "The $300,000 study is being funded by grants from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., the Bradley Foundation, and corporate donations," wrote The Wisconsin State Journal

The study is titled "Be Bold 2," a sequel to the study that created the WEDC to begin with.

A "Bold" Push For Jobs in Wisconsin's Growing Oil and Gas Industry?

"Be Bold 2" will be released under the auspices of Competitive Wisconsin, though it is co-funded by the WEDC and the Bradley Foundation. Competitive Wisconsin's "strategic counsel" is Jim Wood, President of Wood Communications Group

Wood Communications Group is a self-described "full-service public relations firm, providing problem solving and communication tools that work in the real world." Importantly, one of its clients is Murphy Oil Corporation

Murphy has a refinery in Superior, WI, which is refining tar sands crude that makes its way into the state via the Enbridge Alberta Clipper Pipeline, approved by the Obama Administration in August 2009.

In late July, the Alberta Clipper Pipeline spilled 1,200 barrels of oil near Grand Marsh, WI, according to Enbridge. Not even two weeks after the spill, Enbridge was given the go-ahead to restart pipeline operations

Wisconsin is also home to four Koch Industries tar sands refineries, owned by its subsidiary, Flint Hills Resources. Koch PAC donated $43,000 to the Walker campaign in 2010, while James Kowitz, Manager of the Murphy Oil Superior refinery gave Walker $800 prior to his 2010 victory.   

"Operation Angry Badger" A Wild Success

Of course the fossil fuel industry-funded Heartland Institute doesn't want Wisconsin citizens to think about how the tar sands crude that flows through the pipelines and refineries in their state causes climate change. 

After a close look at the tight ties that bind Walker to the Bradley Empire, its anti-union initiatives in Wisconsin, and Bradley's ties to the Heartland Institute, one can see that Walker's speaking gig at Heartland's 28th Annual Dinner actually makes perfect sense. 

And coming full circle, by the looks of it, "Operation Angry Badger" has been nothing short of a wild success for its special interest backers.

Photo CreditMegan McCormick | WikiMedia

July 24 2012


Breaking Up With Keystone XL and Dirty Energy - It's Not Us, It's You [Video]

This is a guest post by Heather Libby.

A new video from the Post Carbon Institute pokes fun at the Keystone XL pipeline’s tendency to reappear no matter how very little we want it around - much like an ex-boyfriend who won’t get the hint.

Like many in the environmental movement, I was thrilled when President Obama denied the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. I really thought it was the end of the Keystone XL. Silly me.

Within weeks, Republicans were looking for new ways to resubmit the Keystone XL plan. Mitt Romney has said he’ll make approving the Keystone XL a priority for his first day in office if he wins.

Seeing all of this, I was frustrated and felt disenfranchised. So I did what I always do in that situation: write comedy. 

All I could think of was how much pipeline companies like Transcanada, Enbridge, Shell and Kinder Morgan reminded me of guys who simply won’t take no for an answer. They're going to keep coming back no matter what we tell them, unless we cut them off for good - and remove their subsidies.

Fortunately there are many organizations - including 350.org and Oil Change International who are working hard to convince governments that eliminating subsidies is the right thing to do for our energy future. 

Don’t you think it’s time we end this dirty relationship?

We Quit You, Keystone XL

April 30 2012


Report Finds Pipeline Oversight Wanting

Current federal rules do not take into account the long-term risks and environmental impacts of new pipeline routes, a report commissioned by the National Wildlife Federation argues.

January 25 2012


Built to Fail: National Energy Board Muzzles Environmental Scientists In Enbridge Northern Gateway Hearing

The Obama Administration’s recent decision to deny TransCanada’s application to build the Keystone XL pipeline is monumental. Alongside the rousing display of public environmental activism sparked by the proposed pipeline, the US government finally showed its environmental assessment process has a backbone. And given this timely announcement, which coincides with the Enbridge Joint Panel Review of the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline, it might be cause for some optimism. That is, it would be if the Enbridge hearing wasn’t built to fail.

But the hearings are built to fail. The National Energy Board (NEB), the federal body tasked with overseeing the Enbridge hearing, issued a general directive one year ago designed to exclude input from prominent environmental groups critical of the astonishingly rapid expansion of the tar sands – an expansion that only stands to increase with the proposed pipeline. 

According to the NEB, information regarding the cumulative environmental impacts of the tar sands – including climate change impacts – is irrelevant to the hearing, which is intended to consider information regarding the pipeline alone.

The NEB’s muzzle tactics affected groups like the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, the Living Oceans Society and Forest Ethics, all prominent organizations critical of the environmental threats posed by the tar sands. Facing the board’s enforced censorship, these groups teamed up with EcoJustice to appeal the directive.

Paul Paquet, biologist and senior scientist with the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, headed up the organization’s submission to the NEB. The group's plan to discuss the pipeline in the context of the tar sands ran aground with the release of the January 2011 NEB directive entitled “Panel Session Results and Decision." Their submission “became a major issue,” Paquet told DeSmogBlog, “because of course we were looking at the tar sands.”

It looked to Raincoast like the NEB had responded to their application, and others, by issuing a gag order. And indeed, they had.

Nobody has been silenced directly; only by the directive that came from the NEB…And that’s right across for everybody, not just us," said Paquet. "I think it's scandalous.”

The NEB justifies the exclusion - which denies some of Canada's leading environmental scientists the right to talk about climate change, greenhouse gasses and Canada's energy future throughout the hearing - rather crudely:

…we do not consider that there is a sufficiently direct connection between the [Pipeline] Project and any particular existing or proposed oil sands development, or other oil production activities, to warrant consideration of the environmental effects of such activities…Subject to consideration of cumulative effects…we will not consider the environmental effects of upstream hydrocarbon production projects or activities in our review.” [emphasis mine]

To an environmental scientist like Paquet, the full significance of the directive was shockingly obvious:

it was a general directive in order to try to constrain the hearings…including issues of cumulative effects or sustainable development that are supposed to be looked at. You can hardly talk about sustainable development that relates to the pipeline by excluding a discussion of the tar sands,” Paquet told DeSmogBlog.

But when EcoJustice began investigating the energy board’s hearing strategy they realized that was exactly what was slated to happen: a hearing crafted to overstate the benefits of the pipeline by ignoring the inherent costs of the tar sands. Although the NEB hasn't been entirely consistent in their rationale. Apparently when it comes to the tar sands, not all opinions are equal.

Duplicitous Directive

Though the NEB termed Raincoast’s treatment of the tar sands irrelevant to the pipeline, the Pipeline Partnership’s treatment of the tar sands was fair game – a little inconsistency EcoJustice thought pertinent to mention in its appeal.

According to Barry Robinson, the EcoJustice lawyer representing the three environmental groups, the hearing is strategically biased. "We generally see this as an unbalanced approach," he told DeSmogBlog, "to consider the economic benefits but not the environmental impacts."

And if you're going to include the one you should, as a matter principle, be open to including the other. "Since Enbridge is relying on the economic benefits of the oil sands and its one of the reasons to approve this then you must equally consider the environmental impacts of the oil sands," he continued.

The premise of Enbridge's Project Application submitted by the Northern Gateway Pipelines Limited Partnership falls entirely upon the benefits the pipeline will bring to tar sands development. The pipeline is in no way a standalone project; its contribution to the tar sands economy is its only measure of success.

And that is why the Partnership's application relies so heavily on the projected economic benefits the pipeline will bring to the tar sands.

In the words of the Partnership:

There is a clear opportunity to link, by new pipelines and marine transportation, regions of rapid demand growth with new, secure supplies of oil, such as those that are increasingly available from Canada’s oil sands. The Enbridge Northern Gateway Project (the Project) will create that link by connecting to suppliers of oil delivered at the Edmonton hub…”

…As nations continue to develop and grow, oil sands supply will continue to respond by increasing production. It is critical, however, that oil sands producers can access new global markets to support their development so that Canada obtains full value for its secure oil production…”

…Enbridge’s Gateway Project is an important part of Canada’s energy future and will help ensure there is enough capacity to transport new oil from Canada’s oil sands in the years to come…”

EcoJustice challenged the NEB’s disingenuous claim that there is no “significant direct connection” between the Northern Gateway proposed pipeline and “existing or proposed tar sands development.”

But EcoJustice's appeal is something the National Energy Board refused to reconsider, twice. 

"Early in the panel process we formed a letter on behalf of the three groups [pushing] that the environmental impacts…should be considered…Then the panel came out with…the panel decision and they declared that 'no, we are not including upstream impacts.' We subsequently submitted a formal motion to the panel, arguing that the upstream impacts should be included…and they once again decided that the impacts are outside the scope of what the hearing will consider,"Robinson told DeSmogBlog.

The apparent double standard on NEB's part here is clear: Gateway supporters are welcome, while critics who bring up the larger issue of the tar sands are muzzled.

From a legal perspective, says Robinson, "the panel, particularly in its role as a National Energy Board panel, has to decide if the project is in the public interest…and they are required to balance both the benefits and the burdens of the project."

Legality, however, might have little to do with it, says Paquet. “It's just one of those issues where justice and the law aren’t necessarily going to be the same.”

Image: Burning oil in the Gulf of Mexico. Used with permission from Kris Krug.

January 18 2012


Unaccountable Oil: Is Enbridge Already Polluting the Canadian (Political) Environment?

If the pipeline giant Enbridge Inc. is content to cower behind a 20-something blog manager rather than acknowledge its role in the recent attack on the patriotism of Canadian environmentalists, what hope have we that the company would ever stand accountable for the accidents that will occur – inevitably – if Northern Gateway ever gets built?

That’s a rhetorical question, but a pressing one, given the environmental time-bomb that Enbridge proposes to lay out between the Canadian tar sands and the pristine B.C. coastline.

We actually don’t know for sure that Enbridge is behind the so-called Ethical Oil Institute, a phony grassroots organization that was established by Ezra Levant and run for most of its first year by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s current Director of Planning, Alykhan Velshi. But you might come to your own conclusions by watching this clip or reading the transcript below.

It comes from an interview on the CBC show Power and Politics, in which the host, Evan Solomon, asks current EthicalOil.org manager Kathryn Marshall a question she just can’t bring herself to answer:

Solomon: Some have said that Enbridge, which is building the pipeline, is a funder of Ethical Oil and that they’re using your group to disempower environmentalists that oppose this. Does Enbridge support or give your organization money?

Marshall: Look, we’re a small grassroots advocacy organization. This is about foreign special interests and their puppet groups who are trying to hijack a Canadian process. … This isn’t about our money, this is about foreign special interests who are trying to hijack the process.

We don’t take any foreign money. We take no foreign money. We are 100 per cent Canadian.

Solomon: Are you taking money from Enbridge?

Marshall: We’re a small grassroots organization. Our average donor is a regular hard-working Canadian who gives us 20 or 30 dollars through our website.

Solomon: I am not trying to disparage your donors. I’m trying to understand if the company that is building the pipeline is also funding you. If we’re talking about who is funding and the influence of that, I think it’s fair to be transparent about that.

Marshall: This is about foreign influence. EthicalOil.org is 100 per cent Canadian. Let’s talk about foreign money.”

[Minutes later, the host asks again.]

Solomon: You keep calling these other groups puppet groups. People will ask, are you a puppet group of Enbridge? Let me ask you again. Does Enbridge fund you to have a campaign against these other groups? Does Enbridge give your organization money?

Marshall: Look Evan, I am not going to respond to conspiracy theories, we are a small grassroots organization.  (Garbled by interruptions)

Solomon: Just to be fair. It’s not a conspiracy theory. If they don’t give you money, you could say they don’t. If they do, fine.

Marshall: I don’t respond to conspiracy theories. But look, this is about foreign interests trying to hijack a Canadian process.

Solomon: Ok, I can’t get an answer. I don’t know why that’s a conspiratorial question. If Enbridge funds Ethical Oil, I’d love to know.

Is this the kind of transparency that would give you confidence in how Enbridge might account for itself in the wake of an out-of-sight oil spill?

For that matter, do Marshall’s well-rehearsed talking points even make sense? The portion of income that any large Canadian environmental groups receive from foreign sources seldom changes – and seldom tops about 10 per cent. Yet Enbridge, which reports more than double that level of foreign ownership (23%) appears to be accusing others of having “special interests” or “foreign influence.”

Here you have a PR person who is prepared to embarrass herself, painfully and repeatedly on national TV rather than answer a simple question about Enbridge funding. We have a $5.5-billion project that has already attracted huge offshore support; we have a tar sand scar across northern Alberta that is increasingly owned by Chinese buyers (who really want this pipeline). And yet everyone from Prime Minister Stephen Harper to this hapless PR professional is saying it’s the Canadian environmental community that is somehow biased by its diversity of support.

Does this conform to your definition of “ethical”?

Take one more moment to think about what Enbridge is proposing. Northern Gateway would stretch 1,172 kilometres through some of the last untouched temperate rainforest in the world. Bearing in mind that Enbridge pipelines have leaked a recorded 132,000 barrels of hydrocarbons in 610 recorded spills between 1999 and 2008, are we convinced that Enbridge would account for every “little oops” that occurs deep in the BC wilderness? Or, after this incident, do you think they might rather hire Kathryn Marshall to tell us that she had no personal evidence of any spill – and that anyone who says different is probably being put up to it by foreigners?

Worse, what would Enbridge or their PR team say when the first oil tanker does an Exxon Valdez in Hecate Strait?

This whole Ethical Oil dodge is just one more reason to slam the door on this whole project.


Image credit: Henrik Lehnerer | Shutterstock

January 13 2012


Cozy Ties: Astroturf 'Ethical Oil' and Conservative Alliance to Promote Tar Sands Expansion

As the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project Joint Review Panel begins hearing over 4,000 comments submitted by community members, First Nations, governments, and environmental groups, the tar sands front group EthicalOil.org has launched its latest PR offensive in support of the pipeline. OurDecision.ca, the new astroturf ad campaign, is another dirty PR attempt to undermine the real and growing grassroots opposition to Big Oil’s plans to ram through this destructive pipeline. 

The controversial Northern Gateway project is opposed by 70 First Nations and a majority of British Columbians, who fear the inevitable oil spills that will accompany tar sands expansion, and in particular the threat of offshore tanker accidents on BC’s coast.

Viewers of Ethical Oil’s disingenuous new ad campaign aren’t being told about the intricate web of industry influence peddlers behind the effort and their connections to the Harper government and oil interests. In the middle of this web is Hamish Marshall, a Conservative strategist deeply connected to oil interests as well as both the Conservatives and ultra-right wing Wildrose Alliance Party. In this case, the lines between politics and big business interests are so blurred, it is nearly impossible to distinguish them.

OurDecision.ca is the Ethical Oil Institute's attempt to dupe northern BC citizens into supporting the Northern Gateway pipeline and tanker infrastructure, claiming that it’s “our choice” as Canadians to exploit the tar sands and pipe it to foreign export terminals. The fact that the oil boom will actually enrich foreign investors from China, Europe and the multinational oil companies with a major stake in Alberta oil patch is nowhere to be seen in Ethical Oil’s propaganda. (The hypocrisy of their arguments here is reminiscent of their previous attempt to claim the mantle of women's rights to greenwash the tar sands.)

Since the overwhelming public opposition to the project is hard to argue with directly, Ethical Oil decided to change the subject entirely by claiming a foreign conspiracy because some of the environmental organizations working to oppose tar sands expansion receive funding from U.S. foundations. 

Stephen Harper was quick to echo EthicalOil.org’s talking points by decrying the foreign influence that is “overloading” the Northern Gateway review process. Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver took a page from Harper's playbook, writing that environmental groups "threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda," using funding from "foreign special interest groups."

The “foreign special interests” in question are progressive American foundations that fund a wide range of initiatives: from education and infrastructure in developing countries, to the performing arts and urban poverty in North America and around the world.

Since climate change recognizes no political borders, the foundations have supported the efforts of a wide range of Canadian and American groups to raise awareness about the consequences of expanding tar sands development. This is a global issue, no doubt about it, and that's why people from all over the world are watching Canada and weighing in on this. Tyler Mccreary covers this point well today at Rabble.

Yet, Ethical Oil's OurDecision.ca website refers to these foundations and environmental groups as “foreigners and their local puppets.”


Ethicaloil.org is a classic case of dirty energy industry astroturf. Visit OurDecision.ca’s donation page, and you’ll be linked to a PayPal account for the Ethical Oil Institute. As previously noted, the Ethical Oil Institute was incorporated to the Edmonton law firm McLennan Ross, which has many tar sands industry clients.

The Ethical Oil Institute's Board of Directors has two members, Ezra Levant (the creator of the 'Ethical Oil' myth) and Thomas Ross, Levant’s lawyer and a McLellan Ross partner. Thomas Ross is also one of ten lead partners in McLellan Ross’s OilSandsLaw.com initiative, a “slick new oilsands cross-selling strategy" and marketing campaign.

But that's just the beginning of the connection. The websites of both OurDecision.ca and EthicalOil.org are hosted on exactly the same server and IP address as strategicimperativesonline.com. Normally this wouldn’t be surprising – it's common for many websites to be hosted on the same server. But this isn't a coincidence. Strategicimperativesonline.com is registered to GoNewClear Productions, a business incorporated in British Columbia to Travis Freeman, Brendan Jones, and Hamish Marshall.


Hamish Marshall is the President and COO of GoNewClear Productions. He is a well-known strategist and activist trainer within Conservative circles, and also served as one of two British Columbia representatives on the federal Conservatives' national council between 2008 and 2010.

He started his political career working for Canadian Alliance MP Joe Peschisolido from 2001-2002, and for the Conservative Party doing outreach for the Office of the Leader of the Official Opposition from 2002-2003. He then left his position at the Conservative-Party connected NaiKun Energy in 2006 to work in the Prime Minister's Office as Harper's Manager of Strategic Planning until September 2007. In 2008, he managed polling for the Conservative re-election campaign.

The Ethical Oil-Harper government revolving door doesn’t end there. Hamish Marshall is married to EthicalOil spokeswoman Kathryn Marshall, who took over last fall when her predecessor Alykhan Velshi moved into the Prime Minister’s Office as the director of planning.

Hamish Marshall, through strategicimperativesonline, has registered 32 websites. Nearly all are connected to EthicalOil.org, the Conservative Party of Canada, and the right wing Alberta Wildrose Alliance Party.

Both ethicaloil.org's americans4opec.com and chiquitaconflict.com are hosted on the server, as is Kathryn Marshall’s personal website, kathrynmarshall.ca.


The web gets really interesting when you look at the other sites registered on Marshall's server.

Conservative Party candidates with websites hosted on Hamish Marshall’s server include Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, one of the most vocal proponents of the tar sands. Oliver's open letter last week refers to the "environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade". See the WhoIs profile for www.JoeOliver.ca.

Pierre Poilievre's www.ResultsForYou.ca website is hosted on the strategicimperativesonline server as well. A Calgary-school graduate, Poilievre is Harper's former Parliamentary Secretary, and is currently the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. Poilievre also worked for Jason Kenney, whose site www.JasonKenney.com is hosted on the same server. 

Former EthicalOil.org spokesman Alykhan Velshi used to serve as the Director of Communications for Kenney. And Velshi's mother, Rumina Velshi, was just appointed by John Oliver to the national nuclear safety commission, raising ethics questions among critics. 

For the pro-tarsands Wildrose Alliance Party, Hamish Marshall hosts both the official party websites, wildroseallancecaucus.ca and wildrosecaucus.ca, as well as numerous Wildrose Party candidate websites. This includes former leader Paul Hinman, and candidates Doug Cooper, Corrie AdolphDave Yager, Heather Forsyth, and Richard Dur. Dur is also the Chairman of Policy for Jason Kenney’s Conservative Party constituency association.

Toronto City Councillor John Parker's website is also hosted on Marshall's server. 

Back in BC, Marshall hosts the website of former BC Liberal candidate Kevin Falcon. After working on Falcon’s unsuccessful run for BC Premier, Marshall went to work for BC Conservative leader hopeful John Cummins as his campaign manager. His website is also registered on Marshall’s server. Hamish Marshall is now one of the directors of the BC Conservative party

Finally, Marshall’s server hosts a website that makes campaign signs for Conservative MPs, as well as the website of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Association (OPCCA), the campus youth wing of the PC Party of Ontario is hosted on this server (campuspc.ca).

This is certainly only the beginning of an expansive web of connections between EthicalOil.org and the Conservative Party. The dizzying connections between them suggest that EthicalOil.org and the Ethical Oil Institute are acting as shadow arms of the Harper government and its desire to protect tar sands interests ahead of the public interest.

(Update: See DeepClimate's extensive look at this entangled web.)

What is most disingenuous about EthicalOil.org’s campaign is its work to systematically discredit the hard-working individuals in the Canadian environmental movement who work to protect public health, robust ecosystems and the global climate from the tar sands threat. The real threat to Canadian sovereignty is the greedy foreign corporations and governments buying up financial stakes in the Alberta oil patch, and EthicalOil.org’s support of them.

Ask yourself: who are the real patriots in this scenario?

Will the Harper government and ethicaloil.org own up to their cozy connections and finally recognize the importance of a rapid transition away from an oil-addicted economy towards a clean energy economy that relies on the robust, renewable resource of Canadian ingenuity and sustainability know-how? The clock is ticking.

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January 10 2012


Oil Sands Foes Are Foes of Canada, Minister Says

Denouncing opponents of the Keystone XL project, Canada's environment minister says they are financed from abroad.

November 29 2011


Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline: New Report Spotlights Incredible Threats

In the wake of the State Department’s announcement to delay the Keystone XL decision, another proposed tar sands pipeline is coming under closer scrutiny. The Northern Gateway Pipeline, proposed by Canada’s Enbridge Energy, would stretch nearly 750 miles across Alberta and British Columbia before reaching an inland port. (DeSmogBlog has been following the Northern Gateway Pipeline story in detail.)

A report released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Pembina Institute, and the Living Oceans Society documents the enormous risk — environmental, economic, and social — to communities and regions along the pipeline and tanker paths, specifically to valuable salmon-bearing rivers and coastal ecosystems, including the habitat of the endangered Spirit Bear. 

The impacts anticipated by the "Pipeline and Tanker Trouble" report include:

  • Compromising the lifestyles of First Nations who depend on the region’s lands and waters for their livelihoods, culture, and health.
  • Threatening the economic well-being of thecommunities of British Columbia that depend on fisheries and forests.
  • Potential devastation from a major oil spill from the pipeline or an oil supertanker, which could destroy economically important salmon habitat, as well as the habitat of Spirit Bears and grizzlies, and whales, orcas, and other marine life that depend on these rich coastal waters.
  • Harm from an oil spill to the Great Bear Rainforest thatthe province and First Nations have worked hard toprotect from unsustainable forestry practices and to shift to a conservation-based economy.

Before getting into the details of the report, a quick bit of background. After tar sands are extracted from Alberta’s Athabasca boreal region, the sticky, heavily viscous muck must be diluted, shipped, and refined to be of any use. Right now, major pipeline systems operated by companies like TransCanada and Enbridge cart a big share of the tar sands crude down to inland refineries in places like Cushing, Oklahoma and Patoka, Illinois.

According to their own literature, suppliers and refiners are desperate to connect the tar sands supply with coastal refineries where the DilBit can be refined into diesel, which fetches a higher price on the international market. In other words, coastal refineries are necessary for exporting the tar sands product, and exporting the tar sands product would be most profitable for the energy companies.

This ultimate export goal was struck a major blow when, as we’ve covered here on DeSmogBlog, a State Department decision on approval of the Keystone XL extension of TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline system was delayed. Keystone XL would have linked the tar sands supply with Valero refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas, where the low grade diesel could then be shipped overseas to a booming international diesel markets.

Which brings us to the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline. The route's risks come in two parts: the pipeline itself, and then the waterways that must be navigated by big supertankers to deliver the tar sands crude to refineries.

As the report makes clear, the threats to the region and its residents along both the pipeline and waterway paths are very real, and quite serious.

First, the pipeline. If constructed, it would cross at least 785 rivers and streams, and the headwaters of three of the most important watersheds — the Mackenzie, the Fraser, and the Skeena — in North America, before reaching an inland port on the Kitimat River.

(Click on the map for a larger PDF version.)

Of the route, report co-author Susan Casey-Lefkowitz wrote, “The geology of this area is complex, and destructive landslides are common.”

Tar sands pipelines seem to be more susceptible to ruptures and spills, and when DilBit does spill, the impacts are even worse than regular crude spills.

Just last year, an Enbridge tar sands pipeline ruptured in Marshall, Michigan, and even twelve months later the town was reeling from the impacts.

After the DilBit is delivered from the pipeline onto supertankers waiting on the Kitimat River, the route that these shipments must take is incredibly precarious. Casey-Lefkowitz writes:

Once it reaches the coast, the tar sands would be transported by supertanker to refineries in Asia, California, or elsewhere. However, first the supertankers would traverse 185 kilometres of inner coastal waters, including the Douglas Channel, before reaching open ocean in the unpredictably dangerous Hecate Strait, Queen Charlotte Sound and Dixon Entrance. There is a reason that large oil supertankers have not used these waters in the past: the route poses many navigational challenges for large vessels, even under ideal conditions.

Echoing this point was Katie Terhune of the Living Oceans Society. “History has shown that oil tankers come with oil spills,” said Terhune. “It is not a question of if, but when, a spill will happen.”

The report gets into even more detail:

The risk of an oil tanker spill is elevated along the B.C. coast because the unique topography and poor weather conditions make navigation difficult. The coastline is punctuated by narrow inlets and fjords, dotted with thousands of rocky outcroppings and islands, lined with underwater ledges and shoals, and rife with unmarked hazards. This coast is often battered by winter storms with gale to storm force winds, 10-metre waves, and freezing sea spray. Precipitation and fog often reduces visibility to less than three kilometres. The Hecate Straight—a main body of water for the proposed tanker route—is considered the fourth most dangerous body of water in the world because of quickly changing winds and sea states. Marine vessel incidents along the coast are not uncommon. Between 1999 and 2009, there were 1,275 marine vessel incidents along Canada’s Pacific coast,including collisions, explosions, groundings, and sinkings. The narrow passages of the coast allow little room for error.

With Keystone XL's path to the Gulf Coast now on hold, pressure is mounting to find new coastal outlets for this tar sands crude. While the big oil companies stand to profit enormously from exporting diesel to booming overseas markets, the communities along the pipeline and tanker routes stand to assume all the risks. As this new report makes crystal clear, these risks are enormous, and practically inevitable.

November 11 2011


August 02 2011


If You Build It, They Will Spill: Dene First Nation Opposes Enbridge Tar Sands Pipeline

The proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline spans a massive stretch of provincial territory from Edmonton, Alberta to Kitimat, B.C. Over 50 percent of the planned pipeline and tanker routes snake through First Nations territory, which prohibits such development according to their traditional laws.

“With over 100 pipeline spills and accidents recorded in Canada over the past two years there is only one thing to say about pipelines; they will spill.” These words, from Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus, marked the passing of a resolution, unanimously signed by 35 Chiefs of Denendeh, to oppose the pipeline’s construction.

The Yinka Dene Alliance expressed in May that, under no circumstance, were they interested in negotiating with Enbridge.

Now, this powerful front of aboriginal nations are demonstrating their solidarity with the Yinka Dene Alliance. “These Nations now have the support of Dene from northern Alberta to the Arctic coast,” says Erasmus.

The Dene National Assembly solidified their support at their 41st Annual Assembly held in Fort Providence, Denendeh in the Northwest Territories. The Enbridge project “is also a direct concern for members of the Dene Nation and the communities of the Denendeh, the Northwest Territories, who are feeling the effects of tar sands expansion,” the Dene said in a press release.

The $5.5 billion Northern Gateway project would create a grand thoroughfare for the tar sands, extending its transport capacities by carrying a projected average of 525,000 barrels of petroleum per day. Opposed First Nations insist that the proposal is an affront to their territorial and social sovereignty.

“We know this pipeline will enable further development of Alberta’s destructive tar sands projects, which are contaminating the waters of Denendeh, and which are a growing source of greenhouse gas pollution responsible for climate changes that are impacting our communities, cultures, and ways of life,” Erasmus said. “We are also concerned about the potential for a spill from this pipeline, which would run through the headwaters of the Mackenzie River watershed.”

These First Nations groups are no strangers to the inherent threats posed by pipeline construction, especially where relations with the oil industry are already strained. In May, Dene hunters discovered a massive Enbridge spill north of Fort Simpson, N.W.T.

“We are currently experiencing the impacts of an oil spill from Enbridge’s Norman Wells pipeline in the Deh Cho region,” said Erasmus, adding, “the company failed to detect this estimated 63,000 gallon spill.”

Enbridge states that the company has “a long history of working with Aboriginal groups” and “is committed to working with First Nations and Métis groups along the pipeline route to create meaningful economic opportunities and to incorporate traditional knowledge in the planning and operations of the project.”

“A measure of our success will be our ability to accomplish these goals.”

Despite Enbridge’s attempts to rally First Nations support, there remains an irreconcilable gap between industrial and aboriginal ‘goals.’ Enbridge can try to dress up the Northern Gateway project as an “Aboriginal Partnership,” but as the Dene Nations have demonstrated with this resolution, it is nothing of the kind.

Image Credit: Andrew Frank

July 29 2011


The Many Problems With Tar Sands Pipelines

Note: This post is part of an ongoing series about North American pipelines. For an introduction and links to the wide-ranging coverage--from safety to legal issues to the business and economics to vulnerabilities--see this regularly-updated intro post.

On Monday, the House passed a bill that would force the Obama administration to make a final decision on TransCanada's controversial Keystone XL pipeline by November 1. The Keystone XL project (which regular DeSmogBlog readers should be familiar with) would funnel tar sands oil from Alberta's massive reserves down to Gulf Coast refineries in Texas.

This isn't the place to discuss in too much depth the various and plentiful problems with Alberta tar sands itself -- from extraction to transportation to refining to combustion, it's the dirtiest oil on the planet. From a climate perspective, the Alberta tar sands contain enough carbon to lock the planet into climate chaos. In the words of NASA climatologist Jim Hansen, "if the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over."

Because Keystone XL is so controversial, and because its construction could be such a tipping point in the climate fight, a broad and diverse coalition of scientists and activists are digging in their heels for a big fight, and planning a multi-week action at the White House. (Here's more on how to get involved.)

But since this is a post about pipelines, I'm going to focus on how tar sands pipelines are different than those that carry conventional crude, how they're much more prone to leaks and spills, and how those spills are particularly bad for the environment.

First, you need to understand what -- physically and chemically --  tar sands actually is. According to the Bureau of Land Managment, tar sands

...are a combination of clay, sand, water, and bitumen, a heavy black viscous oil. Tar sands can be mined and processed to extract the oil-rich bitumen, which is then refined into oil. The bitumen in tar sands cannot be pumped from the ground in its natural state; instead tar sand deposits are mined, usually using strip mining or open pit techniques, or the oil is extracted by underground heating with additional upgrading.

Once upon a time, the tar sands oil that flowed through North American pipelines was in the form of a synthetic crude. In other words, the sticky, viscous tar sands bitumin was upgraded to a more free-flowing form of crude before entering the pipes. But recently, the industry has found it cheaper and easier -- if not as safe or stable -- to dilute the bitumen with liquid natural gas, creating a substance called diluted bitumen, or "DilBit."

A joint report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Pipeline Safety Trust, the National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club, released in February, spotlights the specific hazards of pipelines carrying this tar sands "DilBit."

The report describes DilBit as "a highly corrosive, acidic, and potentially unstable blend of thick raw bitumen and volatile natural gas liquid condensate."

Testifying this past Tuesday in front of the House Energy and Commerce's Energy and Power Subcommittee, NRDC expert Anthony Swift laid out the specific risk of this DilBit to the pipelines themselves:

By itself, bitumen is virtually solid at room temperature - to move it through a pipeline, producers must diluted it with light, highly volatile natural gas liquids. The thick, abrasive mixture, called diluted bitumen, is then pumped through pipelines at high pressure - generating enough friction to reach temperatures of 150 degrees Fahrenheit.

Besides the heat, both Swift's testimony (PDF) and the joint pipeline report warn that DilBit has higher sulfur and chloride salt contents, both of which can lead to corrosion and cracking. There's also high levels of quartz, rutile, and pyrite particles, all of which are highly abrasive. The "Tar Sands Pipeline Safety Risks" report specifies that diluted bitumen:

  • is more acidic, thick, and sulfuric than conventional crude oil;
  • is up to seventry times more viscous than concentional crudes;
  • contains fifteen to twenty times higher acid concentrations than conventional crudes and five to ten times as much sulfur as conventional crudes, and that "the additional sulfur can lead to the weakening or embrittlement of pipelines."

What's more, due to an unfortunate quirk of DilBit's chemical composition, underground leaks can be much more difficult for monitors to detect. (If you're curious about the finer points of this chemistry, check out the joint Tar Sands Pipeline Safety Risks report (PDF).)

So enough with the unfortunate chemistry of DilBit; we also have some empirical evidence to look at. With even a relatively short history, there are already plenty of spills and leaks involving DilBit, many of which have been covered here on DeSmogBlog.

The Keystone I pipeline (the first in TransCanada's Keystone system that could eventually include Keystone XL) has infamously spilled 12 times in under a year of operation. (This despite assurances from the company that leaks would occur from Keystone only "once every seven years.")

A May breach at a North Dakota pumping station spewed over 500 barrels, like a geyser, into the air. Local landowner Bob Banderet noted the discrepancy between TransCanada's predictions and the reality: "They said this couldn't happen," Banderet said. "It's a once in a thousand year occurence, and here it is right in front of you."

There's more. In 2006, corrosion in Alberta's Rainbow pipeline caused over 343,000 gallons of oil to leak near Slave Lake, as Emma Pullman reported earlier here. Almost exactly a year ago this week, roughly 800,000 gallons of DilBut spilled into the Kalamazoo River in Western Michigan from a pipeline owned by the Canadian company Enbridge. In fact, in 2010, Enbridge's Lakehead system spilled over a dozen times, accounting for more than half of all crude spilled in the United States last year.

Even that recent, awful Exxon Mobil spill that spoiled the "last great river," the Yellowstone River, has ties to tar sands. Exxon Mobil officials admitted earlier this month that the Silvertip pipeline "routinely transported" tar sands oil. 

Finally, after the tar sands oil does inevitably spill, cleanup is a heck of a lot harder than normal crude spills. There's proof in Western Michigan. Reporter Kari Lydersen traveled to Marshall, Michigan to report on cleanup efforts a year later that Enbridge spill. Her report for OnEarth is sobering:

When that combination, known as DilBit, spilled out of the ruptured pipeline, the benzene and other chemicals in the mixture went airborne, forcing mandatory evacuations of surrounding homes (many of which were later bought by Enbridge because their owners couldn't safely return), while the thick, heavy bitumen sank into the water column and coated the river and lake bottom, mixing with sediment and suffocating bottom-dwelling plants, animals, and micro-organisms.

Surface skimmers and vacuums were no help, and a full year later, EPA officials and scientists are still working on a plan to remove submerged oil from about 200 acres of river and lake bottom. EPA officials had given Enbridge an August 31 deadline to get all the oil out, but they now say a full cleanup could take years.  "Where we thought we might be winding down our piece of the response, we're actually ramping back up," said Mark Durno, one of EPA's on-scene coordinators. "The submerged oil is a real story -- it's a real eye-opener. ... In larger spills we've dealt with before, we haven't seen nearly this footprint of submerged oil, if we've seen any at all."

Setting aside all the other threats and hazards posed by tar sands, there remains the basic, physical truth that contemporary pipelines simply cannot safely and securely transport its diluted bitumen form. And when the DilBit does spill, it is a much bigger problem than the already devastating impacts of spilled crude. 

Still, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers' numbers, American imports of DilBit have increased five fold over the past decade. If the Keystone XL project is approved and built, that number will only rise, and so will the number of spills, and the public costs of dealing with them.


Here is a map put together by NRDC of the existing and proposed tar sands DilBit pipelines:
NRDC Tar Sands DilBit Pipelines

For a closer look at the network of existing and proposed tar sands pipelines and refineries, download this map [PDF] put together by NoDirtyEnergy.org.

Photo credit: National Transportation Safety Board

June 02 2011


Tar Sands Industry Has Its Eyes On Vancouver For Asian Export Terminal

In recent months, opposition to Enbrige's Northern Gateway Pipeline has mounted as citizens, environmental groups and First Nations groups have protested the $5.5 billion dollar pipeline that would bring as many as 220 supertankers to Kitimat, B.C., to ship dirty tar sands oil to hungry energy markets in Asia.

While opposition to this project has grown, it's curious that we haven't heard anything about an alternate project to route tar sands oil through Vancouver. 

The recent application to the National Energy Board (NEB) comes from Trans Mountain Pipeline, a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan that operates the 300,000 barrel per day (bpd) pipeline from Alberta to B.C. and Washington State. Their project would vastly expand oil tanker traffic through the waters of Vancouver's Burrard Inlet, and make Vancouver the major conduit of tar sands crude and bitumen to China.<!--break-->

According to Mitch Anderson at the Tyee, Kinder Morgan has requested permission to divert more Alberta crude and bitumen from existing land-based refineries in B.C. and Washington to the Westbridge tanker terminal in the Burrard Inlet. This would expand crude capacity through Vancouver from 52,000 bpd to 79,000 bpd.

Because of growing opposition, the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline is still years away. But Kinder Morgan may have found a way around this. Expanding the existing line to Vancouver will be $1.5 billion cheaper than the Enbridge pipeline, and avoids the growing opposition to constructing a new line to Kitimat. 

Kinder Morgan Canada, in a power point presentation for investors, stated their oily intentions for this project:

  • They plan to dredge Second Narrows channel to allow larger Suezmax tankers that can carry 1 million barrels of crude -- four times as much as spilled from the Exxon Valdez;
  • These larger vessels will save shippers $1.50 per barrel;
  • Tanker transits through Vancouver will increase to 216 per year in 2016, up from 71 in 2010 and 22 in 2005;
  • Port Metro Vancouver is apparently "supportive of expansion."

With this project looming, I have many unanswered questions. Why has there been so little public awareness of this project? According to Anderson, of 18 legal interveners in Kinder Morgan's application, 17 are from oil companies, and not one is from an environmental or citizen's group.

Here's another question that needs to be answered: Why did the B.C. government specifically decline to be involved in the decision that would scale up tanker traffic through the province's largest city?

For Vancouverites, this project could prove disastrous. Its no mystery that tar sands crude contains more heavy metals, and is more acidic and sulphuric than conventional crude oil. A tar sands spill off Vancouver's coast would be devastating. The shallowness and strong tidal currents, of the waters below Vancouver's Second Narrows bridge are tricky to navigate, according to safety experts. I despair for the beautiful coast and beaches that I call my home, and worry for my community, my city, and its future. 

Head over to The Tyee to read the full story, and stay tuned for updates on this growing story. 

March 31 2011


European Union Pushing Back on Canada's Taxpayer Funded Tar Sands Lobbying

Canada does not - as yet - export much tar sands oil to Europe. So why, you might ask, have the Canadian and Alberta governments been working overtime using tax dollars to fund a massive misinformation and lobbying campaign on the other side of the Atlantic?

There's a clue in this press release from January announcing Alberta Energy Minister Ron Liepert's $40,000 lobbying jaunts to the US and Europe: "The European Union is not currently a major market for Alberta’s oil sands products, but any legislation or tariffs adopted by the union’s government can serve as a model for individual nations around the world. We want to continue to share our story with the legislators so they have the facts about our clean energy strategies"

(I'll let the "clean energy strategies" rubbish slide for now.)

It's not about protecting existing markets. At the moment the vast majority of exported tar sands oil goes to the US. For the most part, it's not even about securing a regulatory environment in Europe that protects future potential markets (although that is no doubt a contributing factor). I'll tell you why the Canadian and Albertan governments are so worried that they've been applying pressure on European legislators to a degree at least one EU parliamentarian has declared "unacceptable".

It's about precedent. And they're scared.


The EU is on the verge of what will effectively amount to a ban on tar sands oil. This will have very little impact on Europe's oil supplies, but will set a global precedent, sending a huge message to the rest of the world that Canada's tar sands are producing a product that is too dirty, unethical, unwanted, and unneeded. This is what Suncor, BP, TransCanada, and their extremely close friends in the Canadian government are most concerned about.

Here's what Liepert had to say when asked by the Globe and Mail to comment on the EU developments:

"We think it’s important to look at these things scientifically and comprehensively"

Actually I couldn't agree more.

Scientific research published last month backs up the EU's proposal that tar sands oil be assigned an emissions value of 107 grams per megajoule, a measure of how much global warming gas is produced for each unit of energy you get when the fuel is burned. That's far greater than conventional crude oil's 87 grams per megajoule.

The reason for this difference is no secret. Huge amounts of heat are needed to extract bitumen from the sand, increasing the total emissions from tar sands oil far beyond just what's released when the refined fuel is eventually burned. At issue is whether or not the EU's Fuel Quality Directive will recognise this, and specify appropriately higher emissions figures for tar sands oil than conventional crude.

The EU is trying to base their decision on science. Canada is trying to arm-twist them into basing it on what's most politically expedient for the billion dollar companies strip-mining Alberta.

It was looking like Canada's bullying and misinformation campaign on behalf of the tar sands mega-corporations might be working until last week when the EU's Climate Change Commissioner Connie Hedegaard announced her intention to push ahead with targeting tar sands and shale oil as high-carbon fuels.

The directive wouldn't actually prohibit countries from importing tar sands oil, but by simply labeling it accurately as a high-carbon fuel, EU commitments to reduce emissions would effectively make it economically unviable to import, shutting the tar sands out of European markets.

But remember this was never primarily about European markets. The real reason for Canada's desperate lobbying efforts is much closer to home.

Pressure is mounting on US legislators to put in place similar low-carbon fuel regulations, and opposition to TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would pump tar sands oil to Texas refineries and the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline that would take tar sands crude west to Asian markets continues to grow.

A precendent set now by the European Union would make it far more politically feasible for the United States to follow suit, and might just be enough to tip the balance permanently against Canada's dirty tar sands oil.

Image: UK Tar Sands Network

March 20 2011


Yes Men Take On Enbridge With Creative Activism

A flurry of cryptic emails last weekend brought out the usual crowd of Vancouver environmental activists to Enbridge’s doorstep, but something is different. There’s no angry chanting, no snide slogans – not a fighting word within earshot. At the height of lunch hour on suit row, protesters are clogging the street and the atmosphere is, well, light. With free haircuts and mock reporters, the community has come out to help set the record straight. The message? An oil spill is inevitable and Enbridge doesn’t have a plan.

The Yes Men–inspired MyHairCares Initiative invited salons across Canada to donate their hair clippings to help Enbridge prepare for future oil spills with “super-absorbent hair booms.” Greenpeace’s Rex Weyler responded by slamming Enbridge for the paucity of the [fake] initiative. The story was initially picked up by major media outlets across Canada, but as the haze of confusion cleared, the stories were pulled from their websites.

Will the real Enbridge please stand up?
Enbridge retaliated with threats of legal action against the organizers, calling the hoax a “cynical attempt to take advantage of public concern about the environment.”

But that was just the bait. The pranksters released their own fake statement on behalf of Enbridge, condemning the hoax and committing to creating a $20 billion liability fund for the Northern Gateway Pipeline development, their idea of a reasonable risk management plan. 

The nut: some truths are more ridiculous than the most outrageous ruse.

Satire is as old as politics. With their unique brand of creative activism, Yes Men Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno have revamped the satirical tactics of yore for our post-modern times. They are self-professed culture jammers out to build popular opposition to unethical practices by “correcting identities.” By impersonating corporations and governments, they lie their way to the truth. Their outlandish spoofs are wake-up calls, intended to remind the public of “what's wrong, what could be right, and what's in store if we don't change our ways.”

For activists like Sean Devlin and Jolan Bailey, a little madness goes a long way. As part of the troupe that pulled off the MyHairCares hoax, they were trained at the Yes Men’s Yes Lab for creative activists. There they learned that creative power has real currency when you are up against the formidable economic resources of the corporate sector. Capturing the public’s imagination can be an incredibly potent way to highlight just how ludicrous reality can be. They also learned how to sustain themselves as activists by making the battle enjoyable.

Anti-corporate activist-pranksters? Gonzo political activists? However you label them, the Yes Men and their ilk are undeniably effective when it comes to getting their message out loud and clear. They also know how to have a good time.

In their words, “Who knew fixing the world could be so much fun?”

MyHairCares Enbridge Vancouver

January 17 2011


Why We Need to Stop Calling Tar Sands Oil "Ethical Oil"

There are few terms in the Canadian vernacular that irk me more than "ethical oil".  Since Ezra Levant's 2010 book "Ethical Oil" hit the scene, it's become the favourite language for government newspeak, and the media.  Worst of all, its given tar sands proponents and the Conservative Government fodder for their debunked argument that tarsands oil is good for us

Levant's book looks at the ethical cost of our addiction to oil, and argues that Alberta tar sands oil is more ethically responsible than oil imported from despotic regimes in the Sudan, Russia, and Mexico, where human rights issues are of concern. 

Though neither Harper nor our new Minister of Environmental Destruction have read the book, the term was exactly what the Conservatives needed to bolster the much-maligned tar sands.  Prior to the echochamber that ensued after the publication of Levant's book,  tar sands oil was often characterized as "dirty" and "controversial" - much to the ire of the government.

 Levant may well have learned the at of spin early in his career while spending the summer in an internship arranged by the libertarian and clean energy/climate change enemy Charles G. Koch Foundation, or through his work with the Fraser Institute.  Levant himself coined the term "ethical oil" in 2009 after being involved in a panel on tar sands oil.  The spin doctor finished the 90-minute debate having not managed to convince his audience of the merits of the toxic oil.  Without admitting defeat, Levant quickly realized that he was going to have to find a different way to sell the dirty oil apart from economic arguments which just weren't resonating with people. 


Levant calls his term a "debate changer". I would go further, and call it a debate stopper.  Deploying the terminology of ethics in this controversial environmental issue evokes an emotional response in people.  It makes people forget about the environmental impacts and devastation it has caused and makes people focus on despotic regimes in other countries.  Psychologically, people forget the environmental problem when this type of argument is used.  That is why it is so dangerous.

Sure, Canadians love to be considered ethical - historically we have been peacemakers, peacekeepers, and are generally well-perceived in the world.  The stain on our reputation recently has consistently been due to the controversy over Alberta's tar sands.  In reframing the debate in 'ethical' terms, Levant has enabled our government to shirk the environmental embarrassment at Copenhagen and Cancun, and enabled them to evade responsibility to take measures to halt climate change and invest in a clean energy future.  The term is certainly effective for that reason.  And that is exactly why we must stop calling tar sands oil "ethical oil". 

Tar sands oil is not ethical.  The acid content of tar sands oil is 15 to 20 times higher than typical oil products, and contains 5 to 10 times as much sulphur.  In Northern Communities and First Nations communities, residents have begun to see the health impacts of tar sands oil, and are witnessing that the tar sands are having an irreversible impact on indigenous culture

You can no more argue the tar sands are ethical to First Nations communities than you can to the people of Michigan, ravaged by the Michigan Kalamazoo spill.  The 400,000 watershed residents across 19 cities, 11 villages and 107 townships are still dealing with the after-effects of the spill. It's estimated that roughly 1 million litres of oil have yet to be cleaned up from the environment. 

Perhaps we "don't kill gays" or "stone women to death" as Levant emotionally argues.  So we're not buying (as much) oil from Saudi Arabia or Iraq where there are human rights abuses.  That's beside the point.  Gitz Crazyboy, a member of the Blackfoot/Dene First Nation vehemently disagrees that tar sands oil is ethical.  According to him, the environmental impacts of dirty oil are damaging his people's health, and are causing increased cancer incidences and even death. 

Calling the oil "ethical" is damaging to the debate because it shuts off debate.  It creates a space where those who argue against tar sands oil are unethical, or hate freedom and democracy.  Reframing the debate in this way fails to get at the true crux of the problem: we have a dirty oil addiction, and the oil industry is inadequately regulated to the detriment of people's health.  Alberta's "Ethical oil" fails to get us out of this paradigm.  It's still oil at the end of the day, and dirty oil at that. 

Ezra, I think it's time we dropped the "ethical oil" language. For everyone's sake.

December 14 2010


Legislation Introduced To Ban Oil Tanker Traffic On B.C.’s North Coast

Today, Liberal MP Joyce Murray introduced legislation to Canada's House of Commons to formally ban oil tanker traffic on B.C.’s North Coast. This comes days after a successful House of Commons motion demonstrated support for a legislated ban on oil tankers.

Despite last week's victory, the motion is not binding, and formal legislation such as the one proposed today will have to be passed to legislate a formal ban.  The Conservative government maintains that a ban is unnecessary since a long-standing, informal moratorium on oil tankers has been in effect since 1972.  Without a legislated ban, however, opposition parties fear the Tory government could allow tanker traffic in order to profit from growing Asian energy markets.<!--break-->

A 2010 Mustel poll for Forest Ethics demonstrated that 80 percent of British Columbians support a ban on crude oil tankers in B.C.’s coastal waters.  51 percent of Canadians oppose the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, and those who strongly oppose the ban far outnumber proponents.  Support for a ban has been growing since 2008 when 72 percent supported a ban.

The proposed legislation will be debated and voted on in Canada's House of Commons in 2011.  It would amend Part 9 of the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 to prohibit the transportation of oil by oil tankers in the areas of the sea adjacent to Canada’s Pacific North Coast known as Queen Charlotte Sound, Hecate Strait and Dixon Entrance.  It also allows the Governor in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, to designate other areas of the sea in which the transportation of oil by oil tankers is prohibited. 

Any formal legislation would put a lid on Enbridge's plans to develop a $5.5 billion 1,170-kilometre pipeline to carry tar sands bitumen from Alberta's tar sands to Kitimat, B.C., to be loaded onto supertankers destined for hungry energy markets in Asia.

There has already been widespread criticism for Enbridge's Northern Gateway project including the 61 First Nations groups from the Fraser Watershed who issued a declaration banning oil pipelines and tankers.  To date, no First Nations group has publicly declared support for the project. 

According to Enbridge’s own Corporate Social Responsibility Report, they have a glowing record of environmental performance, safety and fairness, and public disclosure.  This record is somewhat fulsome if you consider their spill record.  According to the Polaris Institute, Enbridge caused 713 spills between 1999 and 2009.  These spills released approximately 21.3 million litres (133,856 barrels) of hydrocarbons into the environment.

Perhaps as a consequence of their spill record, Enbridge has been hard at work in B.C. to build 'grassroots' support for their pipeline project.  According to information secured by the Prince George Citizen, Enbridge has been footing the bill for a Astroturf front group to build support for their pipeline project.  The Northern Gateway Alliance is the work of Enbridge who fears opposition to their profitable pipeline.  Former Prince George mayor Colin Kinsley is he chair of the Astroturf Alliance and on Enbridge's payroll. 

Will the House of Commons legislate a formal ban on oil tanker traffic in B.C.'s North Coast? Review the legislation introduced today here [PDF]. 

Image Credits: Dogwood Initiative

December 08 2010


Canada Votes to Ban Tar Sands Oil Tankers off BC Coast; Enbridge Front Group Exposed

Today, Canada's House of Commons approved a motion calling for a permanent ban on oil tankers off British Columbia's coast.  The passed NDP motion introduced by MP Nathan Cullen urges the government to immediately propose legislation to "ban bulk oil tanker traffic" through the Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound, off the north coast of B.C.  The bill received Parliamentary support in a tight a vote of 143-138, with all opposition parties supporting it and Conservatives opposed.

British Columbia is now one step closer to having a full legislated ban on supertankers off its north and central coasts. The opposition is sending a clear message to the Conservatives to legislate a formal moratorium. 

Today's ban could seriously impact Enbridge, who has plans to develop a $5.5 billion 1,170-kilometre pipeline to carry dirty tar sands bitumen to Kitimat, B.C., where it would be loaded onto supertankers bound for growing energy markets in Asia.<!--break-->

Enbridge has already been hard at work to ensure that the ban did not succeed today. According to information secured by the Prince George Citizen, Enbridge is footing the bill for a northern front group to create community support for its pipeline project.   The Northern Gateway Alliance is the brainchild of Enbridge who fear opposition to their profitable pipeline project.   The chair of the astroturf Alliance, former Prince George mayor Colin Kinsley, is even on Enbridge's payroll. 

According to estimates by Environment Canada, 100 small, 10 moderate and 1 major spill is predicted every year based on current levels of tanker traffic in Canada.  In addition, one catastrophic spill is predicted every 15 years.  If the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline proceeds, oil tanker traffic on the BC coast will increase from only a few tankers per year to as many as 220.  That will significantly impact the possibility of oil spills off BC's coast.  Each supertanker is longer than the Eiffel Tower and holds hundreds of millions of litres of oil. 

An oil spill of any size is devastating environmentally, and an supertanker spill of this magnitude could spell game over for fragile coastal communities, First Nations communities, and the 20 species of marine mammals, 120 species of marine birds, and many species of fish that call B.C.'s coast home.

If Enbridge's track record is any indication, we have serious cause for concern. They are responsible for the recent Michigan Kalamazoo spill which spilled over three million litres of tar sands crude into Michigan waterways (nearly 4 million litres, according to the EPA).  Enbridge tried to conceal the fact that the spill was tar sands crude. Compared to traditional oil products, tar sands crude is infused with more heavy metals, sulfur and pollutants. 

Though the propaganda pipeline has hit a potential hurdle today, the motion is not binding, and the Conservative government maintains that a ban is unnecessary since a long-standing, informal moratorium on oil tankers off B.C.'s coast has already been in effect since 1972.  Without a legislated ban, however, the Tory government could allow tanker traffic in order to profit from new Asian markets for Alberta crude.

The National Energy Board is currently assessing the environmental impacts of the proposal.  Only once have they rejected a major project under their review -- that being the Sumas 2 energy plant near the B.C.-Washington border.  Despite this, there is no doubt that the Enbridge-funded Astroturf will ramp up their efforts to ensure the pipeline  project is successful.  Though the will of Canadians and and House has been articulated today, now we must play the waiting game to see if a bill will be introduced.  And of course, despite today's decision by the lower house, we can never discount the ability of our unelected Senate to employ its infinite wisdom and strike down environmental legislation in the name of progress. 

November 25 2010


Alberta and Canadian Governments Complicit in Killing Climate Policy in EU & U.S. to Support Toxic Tar Sands

The Alberta government's multi-million dollar public relations campaign to spin dirty tar sands production in a positive light has by now received quite a bit of critical attention (see also here and here too). 

They haven't just been investing in $56,000 advertisements and op-ed pieces. The governments of Canada and Alberta are also engaged in something much more insidious: a concerted effort to weaken climate policies in other countries, with the aim of ensuring that no impediments exist to Canada’s filthy tar sands. 

The shocking report released by Climate Action Network Canada shows that the Alberta and Canadian governments have been complicit with industry in efforts to undermine climate legislation in the EU and U.S.  The report highlights three devious efforts by industry and government to oppose or weaken energy policy abroad: California's low-carbon fuel standard, which encourages cleaner fuels and discourages burning dirty fuels; Section 526 of the U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act, which stops departments from buying the dirtiest kinds of fuels and the European Union's Fuel Quality Directive, an effort to lower CO2 emissions and move toward cleaner-burning fuels.

Government and industry are behind "a concerted effort to weaken climate policies outside our borders, with the aim of ensuring that no doors are closed to Canada's highly polluting tar sands," the report's authors write. This is the heart of corporate-government complicity, with the secret oilsands advocacy strategy being led by the Foreign Affairs Department, with officials working in both the U.S. and the European Union.  The report's authors fear that these examples appear to be just the tip of the iceberg. <!--break-->

In the U.S., the Alberta government and industry have worked tirelessly to fight the U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act — particularly the contested Section 526 — which requires the government buy fuels that meet an environmental performance standard. Essentially, the measure makes it tougher to find markets for fuel derived from dirty tar sands.

The Alberta government sees Section 526 as a threat to their bottom line, and as as such been paying lobbyists handsomely to debate the provision fiercely.  According to lobbying disclosure records that Climate Action Network accessed, former Michigan governor and former U.S. ambassador to Canada (1993, 1996) James Blanchard, along with others at his firm, DLA Piper participated in over 80 interactions with U.S. officials and politicians in the year beginning March 1, 2009, on behalf of the Government of Alberta.

In exchange, he billed over $300,000 US in fees.

Blanchard, conveniently, sits on the board of Enbridge who is  responsible for the Michigan Kalamazoo spill in which nearly one million litres of crude were spilled. It's also their pipelines that import the lion's share of filthy tar sands crude flowing to the U.S.  Curious that Blanchard is simultaneously on the payroll of the Alberta government whilst sitting on the board of an energy company making huge profits off of tar sands oil. 

Enbridge is also part of the reason why tar sands proponents want to lobby against the EU Fuel Quality directive. They fear a nasty precedent being set for clean energy legislation in the European Union.  So why is that a threat to tar sands development?  One of the reasons is Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.

The report decries Alberta and Canadian government's shameful efforts to pull other counties away from clean energy futures.  Canada and Alberta are stacking their chips up on the tar sands, while stacking the deck to ensure that nothing gets in their way - including the pesky climate.  In that gamble, we all lose.

Download the full text of the Climate Action Fund report [PDF] to learn more about the Alberta and Canadian government's devious efforts to kill clean energy policy in the EU and U.S.

September 16 2010


Pipelines and Anxiety: What Next?

There may be a lasting political impact from recent accidents, especially because memories of the BP spill in the gulf are still fresh.
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