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February 14 2012

09:36

Unethical Oil: Why Is Canada Killing Wolves and Muzzling Scientists To Protect Tar Sands Interests?

In the latest and perhaps most astonishing display of the tar sands industry’s attacks on science and our democracy, the government of Alberta has made plans to initiate a large-scale wolf slaughter to provide cover for the destruction wrought by the industrialization of the boreal forest ecosystem.

In the coming years, an anticipated 6,000 wolves will be gunned down from helicopters above, or killed by poison strychnine bait planted deep in the forest. Biologists and other experts say the cull is misguided, and that their studies have been ignored or suppressed. Worse, they warn that although the government is framing the wolf cull as a temporary measure, it has no foreseeable end.

The Alberta government has already initiated the wolf cull in regions of Alberta heavily affected by industrial development. In the Little Smoky region, an area heavily affected by the forestry, oil and gas industries and just a few hundred kilometeres away from the tar sands region, a broad wolf cull has already begun, claiming the lives of more than 500 wolves.

Recently the Alberta government proposed a plan to open this brutal form of 'wildlife management' to other regions, suggesting an extensive and costly cull in place of more responsible industrial development.

This is clear evidence of the fact that Alberta’s tar sands oil is unquestionably conflict oil, despite the propaganda spouted by the “ethical oil” deception campaign. Aside from its desruptive affects on wildlife, tar sands oil is dirty, carbon intensive and energy inefficient from cradle to grave.

And that’s without mentioning the role the tar sands boom has played in Canada’s slide from climate leader to key villain on the international stage. Beyond its environmental consequences, tar sands extraction has negatively affected local tourism and recreation-based economies, impacted public health and torn at the rich fabric of cultural diversity and pride among Albertans and all Canadians. 

Behind the Harper administration’s unbounded drive to drown Canada’s reputation in tar sands oil pollution lies the political corruption characteristic of the classic petro-state. Free speech is being oppressed, while respected members of the scientific community claim they are being muzzled, ignored and intimidated.
 
Conservation and environmental groups are being falsely attacked as ‘radical ideologues' and 'saboteurs'. Neighbors are pitted against each other while important decisions about the future prosperity of all Canadians are rigged to favor the interests of multinational oil companies and foreign investors.
 
The wolf cull is ostensibly designed to protect northern Alberta’s woodland caribou, a species that in recent years has become critically threatened. But scientists have ridiculed the plan, saying this sort of ‘wildlife management’ turns the wolf into an innocent scapegoat, while the real culprit – the province’s aggressive timber, oil and gas development – is spared any real scrutiny or accountability.
 
According to this strategy, caribou and wolf alike fall prey to another kind of predator: multinational corporations.

read more

September 06 2011

23:39

New West Partnership Includes CAPP Lobbyists in Fracking Policy Development

The British Columbia Ministry of Energy was designated a “lead agency” in a backroom collaboration with Alberta and Saskatchewan to address water concerns for the province’s rapidly expanding shale gas industry. The New West Partnership, an undisclosed collaboration between Canada's three western provinces to expedite shale gas extraction, has held four secret meetings since July 2011 to discuss water issues related to fracking, according to a leaked briefing note, released today by the BC Tap Water Alliance (BCTWA).

The leaked document, including an attached directive, outlines the group’s strategies to streamline gas production across the West while minimizing public and stakeholder involvement. The partnership project, which is aimed to design streamlined policy regarding gas extraction including the controversial technique fracking, is also posed to curtail public concern with “proactive” public relations campaigns that will respond to the “ill-informed campaigns” of environmental NGOs, public media and local communities. 

The Project Charter outlines the New West Partnership’s intentions to manage public opinion with ‘consistent messages’ regarding environmental concerns which are “potentially problematic” for shale gas development. Despite the group’s pretense to stakeholder transparency and “enhanced communication,” the only external body consulted so far is Canada’s largest oil and gas lobby, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). According to the BCTWA press release, the internal meetings held by provincial regulators and government officials included three unregistered lobbyists representing CAPP, prompting a complaint from the Alberta Federation of Labour.  
 
After receiving a copy of the leaked documents the Alberta Federation of Labour filed an official complaint with Alberta’s Ethics Commissioner citing a “possible contravention of the Lobbyist Act.” Although CAPP is a registered lobby body, the Federation conceded, none of the present lobbyists were registered to lobby on behalf of CAPP. The in-house meetings, where government officials hosted government and public relations consultants from Encana Corporation, Canadian Natural Resources Limited and Shell Canada, caused some disquiet for the Federation, causing them to state: “it is our belief that the public interest has been undermined in this case.”
 
Shale gas extraction and fracking, although occurring at accelerating rates across the three provinces, have escaped much of the public approval process. In British Columbia especially, calls for an independent investigation into the process have gone largely unheeded. Similar demands in Alberta pose no exception.
 
“The leaked documents from Alberta are fundamentally disturbing, and challenge the core principles of our democracy” says BCTWA coordinator Will Koop. “The elected leaders and executive energy administrators of western Canada are caving into the petroleum industry, and are excluding public stakeholders from the fracking table.”
 
“If CAPP gets its way, not only will the public suffer from an ill-natured public relations scheme thrust upon it by its own government, but it will have to fund it as well.”
 
In an interview with DeSmogBlog, Koop went on to say, "I know from experience that the government has been ignoring our calls, calls from other groups, and from independent MLAs to investigate the process. This document and the information that is being leaked is going to help the public understand where the politics are going."
 
Part of the problem, says Koop, is that shale gas development tends to occur in remote areas. "I think in part the lack of public engagement has to do with where the fracking is occurring - its quite far removed from where the general public lives and there hasn't been enough critical coverage in the media over a period of a number of years to deal with these concerns."
 
"British Columbia is kind of being captured by the politics of Alberta and the issue of fracking hasn't really gotten the proper attention, evaluation and analysis by British Columbians." The government agencies in BC, continues Koop, are keeping their distance from the issue. The Ministry of Forests, he says, has not completed a thorough analysis of the lands being used and sold through the leasing process run by the BC Oil and Gas Commission.  And the Commission itself is dropping the ball. "What we need is a comprehensive evaluation of what is going on and it isn't there. The Oil and Gas Commission is not doing it and they are the ones with the mandate to do so."
 
The 2011 BC Oil and Gas Conference, slated to begin tomorrow, is meant to be hosted in the spirit of “Communities Leading Change,” yet the lack of community participation to date suggests that unconventional gas development is meant to occur with or without public consent. Like other jurisdictions, Canada’s western provinces need to find the community voice necessary to join the discussion and to ensure that more than just industry lobbyists are at the table.
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June 13 2011

19:43

Canada Hiding Its Carbon Emissions Growth Amidst Rapid Tar Sands Boom

Each year, in advance of United Nations (U.N.) climate discussions, governments around the world submit an inventory of their carbon emissions. This year, Canada is taking a unique approach to lower its reported emissions in preparing the annual carbon inventory – it has purposefully excluded information in order to give the false impression that when it comes to climate-altering tar sands pollution, “everything is fine.”

In reality, Canada’s carbon emissions have tripled since 1990, and Canada is making only minor progress to lower its carbon production 17% by 2020, according to Environment Canada’s own figures.

Last week, however, it was revealed that in the 567-page report detailing the country’s emissions, the Canadian government decided not to include 2009 data. Why? Perhaps because it documents a 20% increase in pollution from Alberta’s tar sands industry. The elusive data was only gradually released through emails in response to an investigation by Postmedia News. <!--break-->
Canada’s effort to hide tar sands pollution is frightening, greenwashing aside, for several reasons:

•    Tar sands makes up about 6.5% of the country’s total emissions, and is arguably the most important contributor to the country’s overall emissions (up 11% in 2009);
•    Canada is the world's sixth largest oil producer and tar sands production is expected to increase to 3.5 billion barrels of oil per day by 2015, to 4.2 billion barrels by 2020 and  rising to 4.7 billion barrels by 2025 – an increase of 68% by 2025;
•    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that carbon emissions from tar sands oil is approximately 82% higher than average oil.

The government’s most recent data reveals that the rules in place to control tar sands pollution are not effective, since the industry has failed to lower emissions intensity per barrel of oil, as required. Mark Johnson, spokesman for Environment Canada said the newly released 2009 figures showed that there is “very little change in the total emissions intensity in oilsands.” In fact, industry claims that emissions per barrel had improved 39% since 1990, have been revised to around 29%.

Previously, the tar sands industry responded to challenges on its environmental practices by cultivating an image that the tar sands represent “ethical oil” as compared to importing oil from countries like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela or Nigeria. Oil producers even commissioned Cambridge Energy Research Associates to prepare a report [pdf] suggesting that emissions from tar sands oil is merely 5-15% higher than traditional oil.

Now the dirty oil industry is not even trying to defend spiraling emissions growth. According to Travis Davies, spokesman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the industry believes it can still clean its operations through “incremental improvements” over the next five years.

Unfortunately, incremental steps will do little to help Canada achieve progress towards its lagging pollution-reduction goals, which are not aggressive enough to match the scientific evidence of anticipated climate change impacts.

In January, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy called [pdf] on Canada to stop waiting for the U.S. to take action on climate change. More recently, the Conference Board of Canada predicts continued failure on climate action in a highly critical report describing the lack of coordinated efforts between the Canadian federal and provincial governments.

At this month’s ongoing U.N. climate discussions in Bonn, Germany, Canada is being challenged by officials from Australia, China, Lebanon, the United Kingdom and the Philippines who are questioning government fossil fuel subsidies, tar sands emissions disclosure, the lack of low-carbon investments and the basis for the country’s weak emissions reduction target.

Peter Betts, the lead European Union negotiator and a director at the United Kingdom's Department of Energy and Climate Change, says he was “struck that the colleague from Canada didn't refer to the tarsands issue, or at least only once in passing…"

Canadian negotiators seem unfazed by the criticism, content to remain laggards on climate action. They not only admit but boast that the Harper-led government will not meet the emissions reduction commitments Canada agreed to under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Judith Gelbman, a member of Canada's delegation, sums up Canada’s politically-motivated position:

"Now that we've finished our election we can say now that Canada will not be taking a target under a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol."

November 30 2010

18:55

Advertising Standards Council finds tar sands tasty

The Canadian Advertising Standards Council (ASC) thinks it's just fine for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) to run advertisements describing tar sands as "essentially like yogurt," dismissing a complaint by the Sierra Club of Canada.

Even though CAPP lost its nerve (or found some integrity) and withdrew the ad as soon as the Sierra Club lodged its complaint, the ASC still considered the Sierra Club's objections and "the complaint was not upheld," ASC Communications Manager Danielle Lefrançois said today.

Yet, if you look, feel or smell them in large or small amounts, tar sands don't seem at all like a breakfast topping. “The recent deaths of ducks in (tar sand) tailings ponds clearly and accurately demonstrated the tailings are toxic and definitely not yogurt,” said John Bennett, Sierra Club Executive Director.<!--break-->

SCC alleged that CAPP had violated provision 1 of the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards:

"(a) Advertisements must not contain inaccurate or deceptive claims…. […] the concern is not with the intent of the sender or precise legality of the presentation. Rather, the focus is on the message as received or perceived, i.e. the general impression conveyed by the advertisement."

But, notwithstanding that tar sands are, uh, sandy and full of dangerous chemicals such as arsenic, mercury and poly aromatic hydrocarbons, CAPP and the people who set "standards" for Canadian advertising think the yogurt analogy is perfectly acceptable.

If this is the standard of accuracy deemed appropriate, it's no wonder that many people are still confused about climate change.

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