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January 23 2012


American Petroleum Institute's Jack Gerard Fact Checked By Activists During Speech

Guest post by Connor Gibson, cross-posted from Polluterwatch.

Two days ago, President Obama denied the permit for the destructive Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, much to the dismay of Big Oil's top lobbyist and propagandist. Speaking at the National Press Club to an audience dominated by oil, coal and nuclear representatives and lobbyists, American Petroleum Institute (API) president Jack Gerard continued to lash out at President Obama over the pipeline decision. However, activists attending their event fact checked Jack's big oil talking points.

Shortly after asking the president, "what are you thinking?!" a group of activists stood and delivered a call-and-response "fact check" over Gerard's speech — see the full Fact Check video. After the event, PolluterWatch's Connor Gibson approached Jack Gerard on camera and repeatedly asked him how much the American Petroleum Institute (API) is spending on its new "Vote 4 Energy" advertising campaign (which, as Mr. Gerard has absurdly claimed, is "not an advertising campaign"). Jack refused to answer:

Vote 4 Energy, which was mocked by a parody commercial during its public release, is the American Petroleum Institute's newest money dump to pretend that most Americans support politicians who represent Big Oil more than their own constituents. Wrapping its talking points in patriotic rhetoric, API's real intent is to continue getting billions of taxpayer dollars each year to corporations like ExxonMobil, Shell and Chevron, which rank among the most profitable companies in the world

Vote 4 Energy sets the stage for API to push its key priorities—unlimited offshore drilling, including in the Arctic, hydraulic fracturing for gas, pushing the rejected Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and keeping those massive taxpayer subsidies
On E&E TV yesterday, Jack Gerard was asked to address the fact that Keystone XL serves as a tool to export large amounts of Canadian tar sands to foreign markets after pumping it across the US. Rather than being able to echo API's dishonest claims of "energy security" through increased access to Canadian oil, Gerard was forced to acknowledge that Keystone XL could be used to boost foreign exports.
Despite a rocky week and an advertising campaign mocked by the spoof Vote 4 Energy commercial, Jack Gerard will continue working to increase Big Oil's influence on our election. Numerous API advertisements are airing across the country and API is holding "Energy Forums" in key states, peddling their energy lies to American voters. What voters should keep in mind is that Big Oil's Vote 4 Energy advertising campaign is really about a Vote 4 Big Oil.


Guest post by Connor Gibson, cross-posted from Polluterwatch

June 30 2011


Canada Causes Cancer: Government & Industry Collude to Keep Asbestos Off UN Hazardous Chemical List

Last week, the Canadian government successfully and unilaterally stonewalled efforts to list chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous chemical at a United Nations conference in Switzerland. 

According to Michael Stanley-Jones of the UN Environment Program, “[Canada] intervened in the chemicals contact group meeting ... and opposed listing". This is the third time that Canada has derailed efforts to list the deadly mineral under the Rotterdam Convention.

Following Canada's lead, the only countries that opposed listing asbestos under the convention were Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Vietnam. Even India, one of Canada's largest asbestos customers and the leader behind efforts at COP 4 against listing, changed its stance.

Asbestos is a potent carcinogen, and is known to cause pleural plaques, asbestosis, mesothelioma, as well as cancers of the lung, esophagus, and colon. For over 100 years, scientific evidence has demonstrated the dangers of asbestos.

Canada is the only advanced industrialized country that exports asbestos, and does so predominantly to the developing world where there are few health and safety standards. The Canadian position is widely considered hypocritical because the country exports a mineral banned in domestic construction, and have spent millions ridding parliamentary buildings in Ottawa of the toxic substance, all while lobbying extensively to ensure that asbestos remains unregulated. 

The centre of controversy currently is a new asbestos mine proposed in Quebec that would export 5 million pounds of asbestos to Asia.

How can Canada conscionably export cancer-causing asbestos to the developing world given the overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrating that asbestos is carcinogenic? The key to that question lies in an extensive government and industry-backed lobbying and misinformation campaign that operates on an international scale, with Canada at its centre.

Like Big Tobacco did years before with the Council for Tobacco Research, the Montreal-based Asbestos Institute was founded in 1984 amidst growing opposition to the industry and its health implications. Asbestos had such a bad rap that the industry chose to fight tooth and nail to salvage its profits by spending millions on misinformation and to fight bans. The asbestos industry colluded with the Canadian government in an effort to use various means to pressure, threaten, and intimidate Brazil, Chile, France, Lebanon, South Africa and South Korea not to regulate or label asbestos as hazardous. 

In 2003, recognizing that it was increasingly difficult to peddle a known carcinogen, the Asbestos Institute was rebranded to drop the key word that the public recognized as dangerous and deadly.  The Chrysotile Institute (CI) was born with a mandate to market chrysotile asbestos as safer, and to suggest that it was not carcinogenic like amphibole asbestos. Though 95% of the world's asbestos is chrysotile, industry figured the name sounded safer - sort of like Big Tobacco did with "light" cigarettes. Still deadly, just slightly less so, and the profits keep flowing. Instead of recognizing that the product is too dangerous, the industry and government simply engaged in image control.

The Chrysotile Institute alleges that chrysotile asbestos can be used safely and responsibily, and that it can be broken down and eradicated from the body. Industry-backed lab rat studies allege that chrysotile asbestos does not cause cancer. This directly contravenes prevailing scientific literature from the World Health Organization, the International Labour Organization and the Canadian Cancer Society, all of which argue there is no way to use asbestos safely.

The Chrysotile Institute's go-to "expert" is David Bernstein, who has received funding from the Canadian government, Chrysotile Institute, Union Carbide and Georgia Pacific in addition to the Brazilian asbestos institute. In fact, Bernstein has been accused of mispresenting his credentials, and is apparently not qualified as an epidemiologist, industrial hygienist, medical doctor, or pathologist, and not a single scientific body anywhere agrees with his views.

Despite these inconvenient facts about the industry's favorite expert for hire, his talking points are parroted widely as fact. Even Dimitri Soudas, Harper's communications director, argues that "All scientific reviews clearly confirm that chrysotile fibres can be used safely under controlled conditions”.

In reality, only industry-funded studies suggest that chrysotile asbestos does not cause cancer. The Chrysotile Institute's stance reads like a page out of the big tobacco playbook: defer responsibility, create doubt, and encourage inaction. Doubt truly is their product, only in this case, it is developing and poor countries that will bear the true costs of the misery that is being exported by Canada.

The federal government funds the Chrysotile Institute to the tune of $250,000 annually to lobby on behalf of the asbestos industry, and the Quebec government matches that.  Since its inception, it has received over $50 million in public funds. The group maintains that they promote the safe use of asbestos, and work to track regulatory developments relating to asbestos around the world.

Rather than promoting the safe use of asbestos abroad, the Chrysotile Institute is at the centre of the global lobbying effort of the asbestos industry. According to a report from International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the institute funds a dozen sister organizations around the world. These organizations then influence science and policy in their own countries. ICIJ tracked $100 million in public and private money spent since the mid 1980s in Brazil, Canada, and India, all to keep asbestos on the market.

The Chrysotile Institute also insist that they promote the “controlled” use of asbestos and the adoption of appropriate safety measures. But it’s not an accurate picture of the industry by any means. Reporting by the Globe and Mail and ICIJ found inadequate protection measures and widespread exposure to asbestos dust.

Now, to return to the question of the new asbestos mine that would export 5 million tonnes of asbestos to Asia. Quebec’s Economic Development Minister Clement Gignac is championing the government’s decision to expand the mine. A 2004 Institut National de Santé Publique (INSPQ) report found rates of mesothelioma among men in Quebec nearly 10 times greater than for the rest of Canada and the rate for women to be among the highest in the world. It is also believed that asbestos disease is under-reported.

Not only is Canada's asbestos killing Canadians, it is killing people in the developing world. For the 400 jobs that the asbestos industry creates, why is Canada risking its international reputation and the health of millions to export cancer to the developing world? Will it move forward with a toxic mine, or follow the prevailing scientific evidence and help curb a worldwide epidemic of painful lung diseases and cancers?

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. 

June 01 2011


TransCanada says Their Eleventh Leak Proves Keystone is Safe

UPDATE: The 1,600 figure we reported yesterday was an early and apparently erroneous estimate. The most recent figure, from The National Response Center, is closer to 8,000 litres. According to the Montreal Gazette, over 110,000 litres of oil have spilled along TransCanada's Keystone line in the last year alone.

Today, TransCanada shut down its Keystone oil pipeline following its second pump station leak in less than a month. The most recent spill dumped nearly 1,600 litres of oil at a pumping station in Kansas over the weekend. With two spills in the last month, and ten more over the course of the last year, how can TransCanada convince U.S. authorities to trust the safety of its controversial expansion plans?  

As DeSmogBlog recently reported, spills are far more common than industry would have us realize. A 2007 report by the Alberta Energy Utilities Board recorded a whopping 5,000 pipeline spills between 1990 and 2005 in Alberta alone

The string of spills over the past year have only heightened public worries about the safety of North America’s vast pipeline network, and provide evidence that the proposed Keystone XL and Northern Gateway lines should be blocked.

The Montreal Gazette reports that over 110,000 litres of oil have spilled along TransCanada's Keystone line in the last year.

To top it all off, TransCanada has somehow managed to spin its treacherous spill record and suggest - and you're not going to believe this - that it's doing a great job. <!--break-->

How do they figure? Simple.  

"We’ve demonstrated we have built a very safe pipeline system because we haven’t had a leak on our pipeline," says Terry Cunha, a spokesperson for TransCanada. Apparently "oil releases" at pump stations mean the pipeline is safe.  

I know I don't buy it, but others do. 

Steven Paget, an analyst with First Energy Capital Corp., argues that TransCanada’s string of spills will not hinder its chances of regulatory approval to extend the line to refineries in the Gulf Coast.

Paget likens these spills to "new car issues" - petty and small. 

I hardly think we can liken environmentally devastating oil spills to car problems. But if my car leaked eleven times in one year, you'd better believe I'd get a refund. 

Head on over to the Canadian Press and Globe and Mail to read more. 

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