Category Archives: Tar Sands

Alberta doctors avoid linking health issues to Tar Sands-report

Alberta doctors avoid linking health issues to Tar Sands: report


Alberta doctors avoid linking health issues to Tar Sands-report

by Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

EDMONTON – Opposition politicians are raising concerns over a report done for Alberta’s energy regulator that suggests doctors are reluctant to draw links between health problems and the energy industry.

“We do have a culture in this province which actively diminishes healthy and important debate about the health and environmental effects of our dominant industry,” NDP critic Rachel Notley said Monday.

David Swann, a Liberal member of the legislature, said the government doesn’t even want to know the truth. Said Swann, who lost his job as a public health doctor for speaking out on climate change during the Tory government of Ralph Klein:

[quote]It’s clear the government doesn’t really want to know the best science in some of these areas. They haven’t funded it, and they haven’t disseminated the knowledge appropriately to the physician population.[/quote]

Hearing begins into health effects from oilpatch operations

On Tuesday, a hearing is set to begin in Peace River, Alta., about the source and effects of odours that landowners blame on the local oilpatch, particularly the operations of Baytex Energy.

Baytex uses an unusual method of heating bitumen in above-ground tanks to extract the oil. Residents say the fumes from those heated tanks are causing powerful gassy smells and leading to symptoms that include severe headaches, dizziness, sinus congestion, muscle spasms, popping ears, memory loss, numbness, constipation, diarrhea, vomiting, eye twitching and fatigue.

Labs refuse to study health effects of petrochemical exposures

Among the reports commissioned for the hearing by the Alberta Energy Regulator is one from Margaret Sears, a doctor in chemical engineering, who has testified on environmental contamination for many bodies including the Royal Society of Canada.

Sears wrote that even though most health professionals believe petrochemical emissions affect health, Peace River doctors seemed unwilling to consider if the conditions their patients complained of were caused by long-term exposure to petrochemicals.

“There were reports from various sources that physicians would not diagnose a relationship between bitumen exposures and chronic symptoms, that physician care was refused for individuals suggesting such a connection,” she wrote.

Even medical labs refused to conduct an analysis when told it was to be used to try to establish such a link, said Sears.

Doctor refers patient to lawyer instead of offering treatment

One doctor, in a medical report released as part of the hearing, advised his patient “to go through environmental lawyers” and did not prescribe treatment.

Sears confirmed to The Canadian Press that her conclusions were based on interviews with both patients and doctors.

She wrote that the physicians’ reluctance stemmed in part from a lack of research they could use to form a credible opinion and in part from “fear of consequences.”

Conor not surprised

“I’m not surprised,” said Dr. John O’Connor, a doctor who was disciplined in 2007 for raising cancer concerns in the oilpatch community of Fort Chipewyan. The Alberta Cancer Board has since found elevated levels of four different cancers in the community.

“It has been said to me many a time over the last few years, or words to that effect,” he said.

[quote]It’s not easy. You set yourself up as a moving target.


Allan Garbutt, president of the Alberta Medical Association, said he couldn’t comment on the specific concerns in Sears’ report.

“I certainly agree that physicians must not feel intimidated in exercising their advocacy role,” he said.

“There would also be merit in exploring the report’s suggestion that better research on the impact of oil and gas emissions on patients and communities is needed for strong policy development. Better information, training and support for physicians to help diagnose their patients would always be welcome.”

Health Ministry downplays concerns

Matthew Grant, spokesman for Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne, downplayed Sears’s suggestions.

“No concerns of this nature have been forwarded to our office. We would always expect physicians to inform the government of any public health concerns they may have.”

Notley said the province has consistently avoided conducting research that could answer the kind of questions being raised in Peace River.

“The status quo is to believe that nothing’s wrong and all industry has to do is say, ‘Show us a mountain of evidence,'” she said. “It’s very imbalanced, and that imbalance works against people without the resources to build those mountains of evidence.”

Swann said Alberta public health doctors aren’t trained enough to be able to diagnose health complaints caused by environmental contamination.

“We haven’t been trained to do the physical assessment, order the right blood tests and put together the exposure with the health systems,” he said. “We’re working in ignorance, and there is the fear of challenging both government and industry in such a dominant industry activity here.”

Swann said his experience was widely noted among his colleagues.

“I paid a price, 10 years ago. I think the lesson most physicians took from that is that you speak up at your risk.”

Oil lobby tries to tar Neil Young

Oil lobby tries to tar Neil Young


Oil lobby tries to tar Neil Young

CALGARY – The president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers says rock legend Neil Young’s anti-oilsands statements are irresponsible and do a disservice to the aboriginals he’s trying to help.

Dave Collyer made his remarks ahead of Young’s fundraising concert in Winnipeg.

The Friday concert will be the second stop on a four-city circuit in support of a First Nation that lives downstream from the oilsands.

Collyer says the musician’s statements show a lack of understanding about the oilsands and the economic benefits they bring.

Collyer says he’d be happy to meet with Young on the final stop of the “Honour the Treaties” tour in Calgary this weekend.

Conservative Manitoba MP Candice Bergen has released a statement criticizing the anti-oilsands stance of — quote — “champagne socialists” who “hypocritically” use products made from oil.

Young’s tour is meant to raise money for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, which is in a legal battle to protect traditional territory from further industrialization.

Read: Neil Young amps up national oil sands debate

Neil Young amps up national oil sands debate

Neil Young amps up national oil sands debate

Neil Young amps up national oil sands debate
Neil Young at a benefit concert in Toronto on Sunday (Mark Blinch/AP)

When Neil Young first wandered into Canadian energy politics last year, comparing Fort McMurray to Hiroshima following a trip to the northern industry town in his biomass-powered car, it provoked a handful of rebuttals from conservative columnists. But the legendary Canadian-born rocker’s latest wading into that political and geological morass known alternately as the Alberta oil sands or Tar Sands has been a very different story.

Young’s Canadian concert tour, in support of an oil sands-related legal challenge by the Athabasca-Chipewyan First Nation, has somehow struck a nerve. The media has been rife with stories on Young’s provocative critique of Canadian energy policy and treatment of First Nations, eliciting a tidal wave of responses from everyday citizens, journalists, political pundits, industry advocates and top Harper Government officials.

A google news search of “Neil Young, oil sands” at the time of this writing yielded a staggering 34,000 news items from around Canada and the world.

If the comments posted on this site and others are any indication, Young has somehow fostered a frank debate about the kinds of economic choices we’re making for our future.

Round 1: Harper underestimates Young

The Harper Government underestimated Neil Young from the get-go, beginning with a juvenile rebuttal from a spokesperson for the PMO this past weekend: “Even the lifestyle of a rock star relies, to some degree, on the resources developed by thousands of hard-working Canadians every day.”

Apparently, to the Harper Government, two wrongs do make a right.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver – the Conservative pitbull on critiques of the government’s energy agenda – also chimed in with a rather lame response:

[quote]We don’t go ahead with any project unless it’s safe for Canadians and safe for the environment – it’s a a very rigorous, objective and independent review. We rely on that rather than an entertainer – no matter how talented – who compares Fort McMurray to Hiroshima, which is deeply insulting to the people of Fort McMurray and is both a travesty and a wild exaggeration.[/quote]

This from a government that has spent the past few years gutting environmental laws (most recently handing over fish protection along pipelines to our Calgary-based energy regulator) and “streamlining” and politicizing environmental assessments to facilitate its energy agenda.

Young fires back

Mr. Young – flanked on the four-city tour by First Nations leaders, David Suzuki, and climatologist-cum-BC Green Party MLA Andrew Weaver – wasted no time firing back at Harper and co. through a statement issued yesterday:

[quote]Our issue is not whether the natural resource sector is a fundamental part of the country, our issue is with the government breaking treaties with the First Nation and plundering the natural resources the First Nation has rights to under the treaties…There are better jobs to be developing, with clean energy source industries to help make the world a safer place for our grandchildren.[/quote]

Despite the polarizing nature of his earlier comments about the oil sands as Hiroshima, in his statement yesterday, he expressed compassion for everyday Canadians facing tough choices in today’s economy. “As to the thousands of hard working Canadians, we have respect for all working people,” Young emphasized. “The quandary we face is the job they are working on. They are digging a hole that our grandchildren will have great trouble digging their way out of.”

Canadians chime in

The complex and essential conversation which Young has stoked shows up in the comments section of the many well-read stories appearing on the subject. The sheer volume of responses provides a telling glimpse at the power of Young’s voice. Sure, there are plenty of the simplistic barbs that typically pepper Canadian energy stories – on both sides of the conversation. But there is also much heartfelt grappling with what has become perhaps the defining Canadian question: What role should fossil fuel development play in our economic future?

One oil sands worker simultaneously defends Fort Mac and illustrates the plight many Canadian workers face as a result of the country’s economic policies: “There is no other place in Canada that you will be able to make the type of money to provide for your family, even without any education.”

Another counters:

[quote]Our choices are more like oil vs. electric cars/solar power/biofuels/mass transit expansion/conservation investment/etc. There are so many different paths we could be walking…It’s short-sighted, destructive and counterproductive to progress where we need it.[/quote]

Is it because it’s Neil Young that this debate has suddenly blown up – or because it’s a conversation with which Canadians are about ready to engage? Perhaps it’s a bit of both. While it remains to be seen the longterm legacy Mr. Young’s tour will leave on the public discourse, for the time being, at least, it’s amping up an urgent national discussion.

This site has also seen a fair share of “Neil Young for PM!” comments. That maybe a bit of a stretch –  but, hey, if the whole music thing doesn’t work out, Mr. Harper may want to watch his back.

New federal study: Oilsands bitumen sinks when mixed

New federal study: Oil sands bitumen sinks in water

New federal study: Oilsands bitumen sinks when mixed
2011 Rainbow Pipeline diluted bitumen leak in Alberta (Rogu Collecti/Greenpeace)

VANCOUVER – A new federal government study has concluded that diluted bitumen — the product that would be transported by the Northern Gateway pipeline — sinks in seawater when battered by waves and mixed with sediments.

However, when free of sediments, the molasses-like crude floats even after evaporation and exposure to light.

The report also says that the commercial dispersant, Corexit 9500, used in previous clean-up efforts had a limited effect on dispersing diluted bitumen.

The study examined two blends of crude, the Access Western Blend and Cold Lake Blend, which represent the highest volume of bitumen products transported by pipeline in Canada between 2012 and 2013.

Conducting research on how the oil would behave in a marine environment was one of the 209 conditions announced by a review panel that approved the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline in December.

The pipeline, if approved by the federal government, would carry diluted bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands to tankers on the British Columbia coast.

Read Engineers poke holes in Enbridge tanker safety

New study shows Canadian industrialization in graphic detail

New study shows Canadian industrialization in graphic detail

New study shows Canadian industrialization in graphic detail
A visualization of industrial impacts across Canada as of 2010 (Global Forest Watch)

A national study suggests that Alberta has disturbed more natural landscape than any other province.

The analysis by Global Forest Watch adds that Wild Rose Country also has two of the three areas in Canada where the rate of disturbance is the highest.

“There were at least three major hotspots, two in Alberta,” said report author Peter Lee.

The report (download here) combines government data, satellite imagery and cropland maps to look at human intrusions in the last decade into all major Canadian ecozones. Those disruptions included everything from roads to seismic lines to clearcuts to croplands.

“We took all the available credible data sets that we could find and combined them all,” said Lee. “We ended up with what we believe is the best available map of human footprint across Canada.”

Alberta leads in the amount of land disturbed at about 410,000 square kilometres. Almost two-thirds of the province — 62 per cent — has seen industrial or agricultural intrusion.

Saskatchewan, at 46 per cent, is second among the larger provinces. Quebec comes nearest in area with 347,000 square kilometres.

The Maritime provinces actually have the highest rate of disturbance. The human footprint in Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia is 94, 85 and 72 per cent respectively of each province’s total area. But those provinces are so relatively small that the actual amount of disturbed land is dwarfed by totals elsewhere.

When Lee compared the current map to one developed about 10 years ago, he found two of three areas where the rate of development was highest were in Alberta as well —​ one was in the oilsands region; the other along the eastern slopes of the Rockies.

The third area is in a heavily logged part of northern Quebec. New intrusion in northeastern British Columbia, where there is extensive energy development, is almost as heavy.

Lee said development in the three top zones is pushing into previously untouched land at the rate of five to 10 kilometres a year.

The report’s calculations include a 500-metre buffer zone, which corresponds to the distance animals such as woodland caribou tend to keep between themselves and development.

Duncan MacDonnell of Alberta Environment said the government has plans to set aside about 20 per cent of the remaining boreal forest, which covers the northern third of the province.

That includes about 20,000 square kilometres in the oilsands region. MacDonnell said Alberta plans to eventually combine old and new protected areas to create the largest connected boreal conservation area in North America.

Those plans haven’t been implemented and all are the subject of controversy with area aboriginals.

MacDonnell said the province is developing land-use plans for the entire province which are intended to balance pressures on the landscape.

Representatives from the federal government were not available for comment.

Lee notes his findings come at a time when Canadian and provincial policies on development are being increasingly scrutinized, whether they involve forestry, energy or agriculture. He said this sort of basic, common-sense data-gathering should be done by Ottawa.

“It’s those sort of general questions that the person in the street asks,” said Lee. “Where are all the disturbances in Canada? Where are the pristine areas?

“This is a simple monitoring analysis that should be done and could very easily be done by the feds … (but) they’re not doing it.”

Yet another CNRL leak probed by Alberta regulator in Cold Lake

Yet another CNRL leak probed by Alberta regulator in Cold Lake

Yet another CNRL leak probed by Alberta regulator in Cold Lake
An earlier CNRL leak in Cold Lake, Alberta (Chester Dawson / Wall Street Journal)

COLD LAKE, Alta. – The Alberta Energy Regulator is investigating another leak from a Canadian Natural Resources (TSX:CNQ) bitumen well near Cold Lake.

The regulator says 27,000 litres of crude bitumen were released underground on Jan. 3 at the company’s troubled Primrose field.

But agency spokesman Darin Barter said the leak has been stopped.

“There was no release to surface,” Barter said Friday. “There’s no aquifers that have been impacted by this incident.”

Barter said the release has been definitively attributed to a failed well casing, setting this leak apart from an earlier one in the same field last summer that also remains under investigation.

In that leak, more than a million litres of bitumen has so far seeped to the surface. The spill continues, although cold weather has slowed the amount to almost nothing.

CNRL has said the earlier leak was also due to a well failure.

“We don’t necessarily share that view of the incident,” said Barter.

The regulator is investigating whether the bitumen escaped through cracks in the rock above the deposit and was driven to the surface by high-pressure steam pumped underground to soften it before being extracted. The company has been ordered to reduce the pressure of the steam it uses.

The first leak remains the subject of a $40-million cleanup effort from CNRL.

Barter said there’s no indication when the regulator’s report on that leak will be complete.

There were also bitumen leaks at the Primrose field in 2009. The regulator concluded those leaks were at least partially caused by high volumes and high pressures of steam.

Mike Hudema with Greenpeace Canada said it is “incredible” that CNRL is still allowed to continue its operations. Said Hudema in a press release:

[quote]If the Alberta government is serious about protecting Alberta’s environment, it has to pull CNRL’s approval for their Cold Lake operations. How many more spills will it take before we see real action?[/quote]

Alberta faces onslaught of oilsands lawsuits

Alberta faces onslaught of oilsands lawsuits

Alberta facing legal onslaught over oilsands
ACFN Chief Allan Adam outside an Alberta court in 2012, challenging Shell’s Jackpine development

by Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

EDMONTON – Simmering disputes over the oilsands between Alberta aboriginals and the provincial and federal governments will break into the open in 2014 as virtually every one of the many recent changes in oversight of the controversial industry comes under legal and political attack.

“All litigation, all the time, is what I see on the horizon,” said Larry Innes, lawyer for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.

Over the last 18 months, Ottawa and Edmonton have rewritten the book on resource development. Everything from how aboriginals will be consulted to land use planning to oilsands monitoring to the basic ground rules for environmental assessment has been changed.

Governments say the new regime is more efficient, predictable and transparent. Aboriginals say it violates their rights and ignores their recommendations.

So as aboriginal groups in British Columbia prepare for an expected attack on the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal, Alberta aboriginals are pushing back with a long list of lawsuits either now or soon to be before the courts.

Alberta First Nations line up with oilsands lawsuits

The Fort McKay First Nation is appealing an approval of Brion Energy’s plans for a 50,000-barrel-a-day operation northwest of Fort McMurray. It says the province has violated the constitution by setting up an energy regulator expressly forbidden to hear arguments based on aboriginal rights.

The Mikisew Cree and Frog Lake First Nation are before the courts arguing that Ottawa’s recent amendments to the Fisheries and Navigable Waters Acts run afoul of their rights.

The Beaver Lake Cree is fighting both levels of government in a case that seeks to force them to consider the cumulative effects of oilsands development when issuing new permits.

A total of 17 First Nations from around Alberta are trying to get legislation on access to public lands tossed out in a long-running case expected to go to trial this year.

The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation plans to file a lawsuit in January attacking Ottawa’s new environmental assessment legislation after the approval of a major oilsands expansion that it says will violate both treaty rights and federal laws.

At the same time, the Alberta government’s other major oilsands initiatives are running into heavy weather.

All six First Nations in the oilsands area have requested a statutory review of the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan, the government’s attempt to balance development and environmental values. Those same bands, along with many others, have also rejected the province’s plans to centralize and control aboriginal consultation.

One major band — the Fort McKay First Nation — has pulled out of the Joint Oilsands Monitoring program, the showpiece federal-provincial effort to monitor environmental change in the oilsands.

Even the Lubicon Cree First Nation are back in court, with another try in a decades-long attempt to win a reserve and get some royalties on energy extracted from what they say is their land.

Alberta Environment and Minister Robin Campbell declined to be interviewed.

“We work with aboriginal leaders and communities in a variety of areas and will continue to do so,” said spokesman Kevin Zahara. “We will not speculate on possible legal challenges.”

Treaties don’t guarantee development

A big part of the problem is simply the scale of development, said Nigel Bankes, professor of resource law at the University of Calgary.

“In the oilsands area, it’s really the intensity of the development,” he said.

[quote]The treaties give the province the power to take up lands and the argument is there must be a limit to that. That can’t be an entitlement to take away all lands (to) which First Nations have historically exercised hunting rights.[/quote]

Those concerns grow as governments narrow who has the right to air concerns and what concerns they’re allowed to raise.

“I think that’s a fair characterization,” said Bankes, who said that process has been going on for years. “(There’s a) very narrow and stringent standing test and I think that does mean there’s a level of frustration out there.”

Not only are bands barred from raising aboriginal rights at regulatory hearings, two have recently been denied the right to even speak at ones concerning oilsands projects on their doorstep. Lawsuits happen when discussion fails, said Joe Jobin, chief operating officer of the Fort McKay First Nation.

“First Nations have always tried to work with the government on developing a policy that works for First Nations and for industry,” he said.

[quote]The frustration is that the input is not being meaningfully considered. It’s almost like this attitude, ‘Well, if you don’t like it, take us to court.'[/quote]

The result is higher costs for everyone and uncertainty for industry, said Bankes. He added Alberta is increasingly resembling lawsuit-happy British Columbia, which has few treaties.

“What we’re seeing now is the same sort of litigation that we’ve been seeing in B.C. for a long time. This is now being transplanted to the treaty context of Alberta.

“Government has said to itself, ‘Things are clearer here, there’s more security precisely because we’ve got treaties.’ I guess what the litigation that we’re seeing now is calling into question is, is that really true?”

Innes said Alberta bands that have traditionally preferred to negotiate are increasingly through with talking.

“First Nations who have been investing in the process find the process is stacked against them,” he said.

“Things are coming to a head.”

Industry seeks right to release water from oilsands tailings ponds

Industry seeks right to release water from oilsands tailings ponds

Industry wants right to release water from oilsands tailings ponds
Syncrude tailings pond (photo: David Dodge, Pembina Institute)

EDMONTON – Oilsands producers are talking with the federal and Alberta governments about conditions under which water from the industry’s tailings ponds could be released into the environment.

Officials say releases would only involve treated water and wouldn’t happen until the end of a mine’s life.

Environmentalists are watching the discussions closely and warn that quality standards for released tailings water should be high.

“If they’d be willing to take the water and dump it in the Bow River near Calgary, then perhaps,” said Keith Stewart of Greenpeace.

Alberta has a zero discharge policy for the oilsands. No water affected by processing is allowed back into the Athabasca River and even rain that falls on developed sites must be collected and stored.

Most of that water is kept in tailings ponds.

Companies failing to meet regulations for tailings ponds

The ponds — covering 170 square kilometres with a toxic blend of hydrocarbons, silt, salts and heavy metals — have been a lingering headache for the industry. Alberta’s energy regulator has already had to relax on enforcing regulations about cleaning up the ponds after companies pleaded they would simply be unable to meet their targets.

But as the province develops new tailings regulations, there is general acknowledgment that something will have to be done with the water currently filling the ponds once contaminants have been removed and stored at the bottom of so-called end-pit lakes. Said department spokeswoman Nikki Booth in an email:

[quote](Alberta Environment) is consulting on a tailings management framework with industry and First Nations. Included in that consultation are discussions about introducing tailings water (free of the tailings) back into natural waterways at the end of a project.[/quote]

Those discussions have been occurring for some time. Documents obtained under Access to Information laws refer in the summer of 2012 to “the industry request for tailings release as a management option.”

Federal environment spokesman Mark Johnson confirmed that reference.

“A small number of oil and gas stakeholders … have expressed an interest in a science-focused dialogue with experts from Environment Canada and Alberta Environment and Sustainable Development on the environmental considerations of water management, including release of tailings ponds water by the oilsands sector.”

Industry downplays concerns

Greg Stringham of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said the only interest he’s aware of involves water in tailings ponds at the end of a mine’s life.

“We’re going to have extra water left over that needs to be treated and processed and put back into the environment in some sense. We’ve started talking about how that will happen at the end of the mine life.

“There’s no current request to release anything in place.”

That’s small comfort, said Stewart. He points out that the reason the tailings ponds have been such an intractable problem is because it’s so difficult to get impurities such as salts and heavy metals out of the water. Stewart notes:

[quote]The problem they’ve had is that they can’t get the stuff out of the water and they’ve been trying for 40 years. For 40 years we’ve been hearing we’re just about to solve this problem and we haven’t.[/quote]

Not only is the cleanup proving difficult, it’s also expensive, Stewart said. He fears industry is lobbying government to allow it to release some level of process-affected water back into the environment.

Stringham said any released water would meet government standards.

“What we’re looking at is the water that would be liberated from tailings during the reclamation process that would then be treated to meet all the environmental criteria, and then put back into the environment.”

Booth suggested Alberta is approaching the idea with caution.

“More work is needed on treatment technology and science,” she said. “If potential technology is developed that may allow for tailings water to be released into the natural environment, then it may be something government would consider at that time.”

Harper Government approves-Shell oilsands mine, despite significant adverse effects

Harper Govt approves Shell’s Jackpine oilsands mine despite ‘significant adverse effects’

Harper Government approves-Shell oilsands mine, despite significant adverse effects
ACFN Chief Allan Adam outside an Alberta court in 2012, challenging Shell’s Jackpine development

Shell Canada’s Jackpine oilsands mine expansion plan has received the go-ahead from Ottawa, despite the environment minister’s view that it’s “likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects.”

In a statement late Friday, environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq concluded that the effects from the 100,000-barrel-per-day expansion are “justified in the circumstances.”

The nearby Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation has said the project will violate several federal laws covering fisheries and species at risk, as well as treaty rights.

They said they had received so little information on how Shell plans to live up to conditions imposed on it by a federal-provincial panel that they asked Ottawa for a 90-day delay on the decision — originally expected Nov. 6 — to work some of those issues through.

They were granted a 35-day delay, but Friday’s decision didn’t even wait until that period was up.

Allan Adam, chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, was outraged that the federal decision came as the government was still supposed to be in talks with the band about how the project’s effects were to be mitigated, declaring:

[quote]They just kept us in the loop and strung us along and played games with us. To them it’s all a game.[/quote]

Although all 88 conditions the review panel placed on the project are now legally binding, Adam said neither the government nor the company has explained how those conditions will be met.

Adam said the government’s move to go ahead despite the serious environmental consequences of the project leave the band little choice.

“This government has to realize we’ll be holding them accountable,” he said. “We’ll be looking at legal action and we’ll pursue this through legal action.”

Greenpeace Canada issued a statement accusing the Harper government of putting the short term interests of oil companies ahead of environmental protection and First Nations treaty rights.

“Canada would be much better off diversifying its economy, investing in renewables, green jobs and projects that get us out of this madness not deeper into it,” the statement said.

[quote]How many more extreme weather events will it take till our Prime Minister realizes this is one problem he can’t mine his way out of?[/quote]

The Jackpine expansion would allow Shell to increase its bitumen output by 50 per cent to 300,000 barrels a day.

“We’re reviewing the recommendations and proposed conditions attached to the approval,” said Shell spokesman David Williams.

Williams added Shell must consult with the minority partners in the project — Chevron and Marathon — before making a formal decision to proceed.

A review panel concluded last July that the project was in the public interest but warned that it would result in severe and irreversible damage so great that new protected areas should be created to compensate.

The review concluded that the project would mean the permanent loss of thousands of hectares of wetlands, which would harm migratory birds, caribou and other wildlife and wipe out traditional plants used for generations. It also said Shell’s plans for mitigation are unproven and warned that some impacts would probably approach levels that the environment couldn’t support.

Shell has said Alberta’s new management plan for the oilsands area will provide more concrete data to assess and mitigate environmental impacts. The company has purchased about 730 hectares of former cattle pasture in northwestern Alberta to help compensate for the 8,500 hectares of wetland that would be forever lost.

Harper government spending $40 million to improve Tar Sands image

Harper government spending $40 million to clean up Tar Sands’ image

Harper government spending $40 million to improve Tar Sands image
Stephen Harper is trying hard to convince other nations not to shun Tar Sands bitumen (Adrian Wyld/CP)

by Bruce Cheadle

OTTAWA – The Conservative government is spending $40 million this year to advertise Canada’s natural resource sector — principally oil and gas — at home and abroad.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver revealed the figure Wednesday as his department seeks another $12.9 million to augment an international campaign designed to portray Canada as a stable and environmentally responsible source of energy.

That will bring NRCan’s 2013-14 ad budget to about $40 million — $24 million for advertising abroad and $16.5 million for the domestic market.

“The government has a responsibility to provide Canadians with facts to assist them in making informed decisions,” Oliver, under opposition questioning, told a Commons committee.

[quote]This engagement and outreach campaign will raise awareness in key international markets that Canada is an environmentally responsible and reliable supplier of natural resources.[/quote]

The entire federal government advertising budget last year was about $65 million, according to preliminary estimates, with $9 million allotted for Natural Resources.

In 2010-11, NRCan spent just $237,000 on advertising, according to the government figures.

Outside the committee room, Oliver justified the spending by linking it directly to winning over American public opinion in order to get approval of TransCanada’s controversial Keystone XL pipeline. The $5.4-billion project to carry Alberta bitumen to the Gulf Coast has become a lightning rod for environmental activists as it awaits a decision from U.S. President Barack Obama. Said Oliver:

[quote]Let’s understand what is at stake here,” Oliver said. “When we’re looking at Keystone, for example, we’re talking about tens of thousands of jobs.[/quote]

Asked to justify ad spending for one industrial sector that’s swallowing up almost two thirds of last year’s total government ad budget, Oliver was emphatic: “You justify it by what it’s going to achieve and there are billions, tens of billions of dollars, in play.”

Peter Julian, the NDP natural resources critic who teased out the ad spending at the committee, isn’t buying the government rationale.

“I don’t see how the Harper government can justify spending tens of millions of taxpayers’ money to do something that the private sector could choose to do,” Julian said after the hearing.

The New Democrat said the ads won’t work because the Conservatives, through their policy choices, have “killed the possibility of social licence” — getting public buy-in, essentially — for major resource projects.

He said that by slashing environmental assessments and limiting “meaningful public consultation” on pipeline proposals, the government has sparked a public backlash.

The backlash, Julian asserted, is “worldwide. Canada has a black eye. There’s no doubt.”

He cited the Obama administration, which has openly urged Canada to up its environmental game, and the European Union, which is targeting higher emissions from oilsands production.

Rather than millions on ads, said Julian, “the way the Harper government can start to gain back the social licence is by starting to make better decisions on the environment, on the economy and on the whole process of approving these new projects.”

To that end, the government is making an effort to establish a baseline of research on cutting edge oilsands technology.

Natural Resources has asked a panel of experts to help catalogue and chart a way forward for technologies that can help reduce the environmental footprint of oilsands development.

Oliver has asked the Council of Canadian Academies to turn its gaze on new and emerging technologies for extracting bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands.

A 13-member panel will study what’s currently working and has been asked to identify economic and regulatory hurdles that slow the spread of the most promising technologies.

“There’s a lot of rhetoric, there’s a lot of exaggeration,” Oliver said of the study.

[quote]People can come to different conclusions based on the facts, but let’s start all together. We should all start with the facts.[/quote]

The council was created in 2005 with a 10-year, $30-million government grant and is designed to provide peer-reviewed, science-based assessments to help inform public policy.

Canada is not on track to reach its international pledges for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2020, but the Conservative government has frequently held out hope that technological breakthroughs will alter that trajectory.

A spokeswoman for the academy, a not-for-profit corporation, says expert panels typically take between 18 and 24 months to report and do not make policy recommendations — but instead provide a base of solid evidence to use in the policy mix.

The panel is to be co-chaired by Eric Newell, the former CEO of Syncrude Canada, and by the head of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, Scott Vaughan.