Tag Archives: Oil and gas

NDP, Civil Groups Slam Harper Government’s Approval of CNOOC Nexen Buyout


Read this story from Rabble.ca on the Harper Government’s announcement this past Friday that it is approving Chinese state-owned CNOOC’s proposed $15 Billion buyout of Canadian energy company Nexen and the criticism it has drawn from the Opposition and various civil groups. (Dec. 7, 2012)

At a press conference held late Friday afternoon, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that his government had approved the $15 billion takeover of Nexen by the Chinese Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC).

Reaction to Friday’s announcement was swift.

NDP Energy and Natural Resources critic Peter Julian, who recently held a social media Town Hall on the subject, call the decision “irresponsible” and “a farce.”

Two of the civil society organizations that have led a high profile campaign against the Nexen takeover, and against the Canada-China Foreign Investment Protection Agreement (FIPA), issued this statement.

SumOfUs.org and Leadnow.ca Slam Prime Minister Harper’s Approval Of CNOOC-Nexen Takeover 

Today, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the approval of the controversial takeover of Nexen by the Chinese National Offshore Oil Company. Harper called the Nexen decision and the prospect of further takeovers of oil sands firms “not the beginning of a trend, but rather the end of a trend.” 

This government’s decision to announce the takeover at 5pm on a Friday, and to say that they will limit future takeovers in our resource sector, shows that this government is feeling intense pressure from Canadians across the political spectrum to ensure Canadian control of our resources. However, the in-limbo FIPA deal raises serious questions about Harper’s statement, as it is designed to encourage China’s companies to invest in the Canadian resource sector.

“This decision makes the prospect of the Canada-China FIPA even more troubling,” said Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, executive director of SumOfUs.org. “Now that CNOOC will have control of a major Canadian fossil fuel giant, Canada can’t risk signing a treaty with China that will give CNOOC vast powers to stop Canadian government regulation.”

Read more: http://rabble.ca/news/2012/12/opposition-parties-civil-society-groups-condemn-government-approval-cnooc-nexen-takeove


Russia Completes First Delivery of LNG to Japan by Arctic Tanker Route


Check out this story from RT on Russia’s successful delivery of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) to Japan by way of arctic shipping route. With the world’s leading gas producer now able to reach Asian markets, BC’s plans to do the same look increasingly unlikely. (Dec. 5, 2012)

The tanker Ob River carrying natural gas has successfully completed a trip through the Arctic Ocean from Norway to Japan, becoming the first ship to try a safer trade route for gas supplies than the more risky routes in the Southern seas.

­The ship departed November 7 from the Hammerfest Snohvit LNG facility headed for the Japanese utility Kyushu Electric Power Co. Before that the tanker completed a test trip on the Arctic sea route empty. The journey took 20 days, three weeks less than the usual route though the Mediterranean Sea, the Suez Canal and around Asia.

“The trip was completed accident free and in accord with the timetable,” Russian gas major Gazprom said in a statement. The company said it has been preparing for the trip for over a year.

Gazprom Marketing and Trading Ltd., a unit of Gazprom chartered the ship with an international crew of 40 from the Greek Dynagas company. The Ob River can carry up to 150,000 cubic meters of gas which is chilled under pressure to turn it into a liquid. The ship has been accompanied by Russian nuclear-powered icebreakers “50 years of Victory”, “Rossya” and “Voigach” during the trip in the Arctic waters.

“Two trips of the Ob River have fully proved the technical and economic viability of the Arctic route for international LNG supplies,” Gazprom said.

With high-quality icebreaker protection, shorter delivery times, increased volumes of supply and no risks of military conflicts and pirate assaults it could be attractive and a safer solution for international trade”.

Chartering an LNG tanker can cost as much as $150,000 per day, companies that want to send gas from the North Sea to North Asia could save up to $3 million using the Arctic passage instead of Suez. The cost for hiring icebreakers is an added extra. The Arctic route is suitable for navigation only few months a year, casting a shadow on the profitability of the project.

But scientists say with climate change and a decreasing Arctic ice level it is likely the length of the sailing season could be extended and sea traffic across the Arctic sea route would grow rapidly. In September, scientists announced Arctic sea ice dropped to 3.4m square kilometres – 50% lower than the 1979-2000 average.

Read original story: http://rt.com/business/news/tanker-arctic-sea-route-complete-337/

A rally against Kinder Morgan's proposed pipeline and tanker expansion last year.

Public Will Soon Turn on Kinder Morgan…Will the NDP?


Mike Smyth had an interesting column in Sunday’s Province, dealing with the proposed second and much larger Kinder Morgan Pipeline to Vancouver, which would see a five-fold increase in tanker traffic through Vancouver’s harbour. In it he told us that the company was being very laid back compared with Enbridge, holding a series of public information sessions. Mr. Smyth, quite correctly in my view, said that the public, if only mildly involved now, would change its attitude toward Kinder Morgan.

Kinder Morgan will and indeed is being dishonest with the public. This is no different than Enbridge or any other pipeline – they all maintain that there will be no spills and that, if there are, they will be minor (which is what Enbridge said about Kalamazoo) and quickly cleaned up. This is nonsense and the public will very soon be letting Kinder Morgan know that.

We must all know that corporations simply do not tell the truth except by accident. Their face to the public comes from highly skilled public relations departments and highly skilled and expensive outside agencies.

As we have seen with BP in the Gulf of Mexico disaster, after the tragedy they are quick to find pictures of healthy birds and animals to show that all is well again.

Close to home, the Ashlu private river power project is of interest. Ledcor received its right to dam and divert the river on the basis that migratory salmon would not be interfered with. The permission was in these words:

A decision was taken on November 30, 2009 and was that the authority may exercise any power or perform any duty or function with respect to the project because, after taking into consideration the screening report and taking into account the implementation of appropriate mitigation measures, the authority is of the opinion that the project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects. (emphasis added).

To say that salmon have indeed been adversely interfered with is putting it very mildly indeed.

This report from the Wilderness Committee:

More than 3,000 pages of documents obtained separately by the Vancouver Sun and the Wilderness Committee through freedom of information requests show water-flow fluctuations caused by run-of-river hydro projects are killing fish — and the problem is not isolated.

While independent power producers insist their sector remains the cleanest energy option, the documents bolster environmentalists’ long-standing concerns about the industry.

“I’m seeing significant environmental problems,” said Gwen Barlee, policy director for the Wilderness Committee. “And that runs completely counter to what the companies are saying, which is essentially, ‘Trust us with your wild rivers and there won’t be any problems.’ ”

The documents detail repeated short-term fluctuations in water flows, resulting in the stranding and killing of juvenile fish downstream of two plants, Capital Power on the lower Mamma and Innergex on Ashlu Creek, another tributary of the Squamish.

In one incident on Ashlu Creek, on May 8, 2010, 166 salmon and trout fry became stranded due to rapidly dropping water levels. Fewer than half of the fry could be returned to the creek alive. Another 39 fry died during a stranding on April 20, 2011.

Neither hydro operation has been charged.

This happens all over the province – companies get government permission to dam a river, the understanding being that salmon runs will not be harmed, then the salmon runs are extensively damaged.

What is also endemic is the lack of any government surveillance of water used and released by the company. They promise, cross your heart and hope to die, that they will conform to the terms and when they don’t there are no consequences.

While Kinder Morgan isn’t into hydroelectricity, its pipeline will cross many streams and rivers and it too will cross its heart and promise that it will be so careful in fish habitat we have nothing to worry our pretty little heads about.


But there is much more. If this line goes through there will be upwards of 350 tankers leaving Burrard Inlet every year going through the very dangerous 2nd Narrows Bridge, loaded with deadly bitumen.

We will be assured that there won’t be any accidents and, if there are, why it will all be cleaned up spick and span and that there will be no residual damage.

This is bullshit and they know it.

Kinder Morgan’s Director of Engineering and Marine Development Mike Davies acknowledged at a recent debate in Vancouver that there have been more than 70 spills from the current Trans Mountain Pipeline over its 60 year lifetime. That includes a 2007 spill that drenched a Burnaby neighbourhood in oil – for which the company was found partially responsible and ordered to pay a $150,000 fine by the courts. Then, last week we learned from a National Energy Board report on the spill of 90,000 litres of oil from the company’s Abbottsford tank farm in 2011 that emergency alarms warning of a leak went ignored by operators for hours.

This takes me into politics.

Adrian Dix, the leader of the NDP, won’t take a stand on the Kinder Morgan line until it formally files its application.

This cop-out is raw cowardice. Dix knows as much as he ever will about this pipeline – enough to oppose it no matter how much they will ship.

This is causing us at The Common Sense Canadian to re-think our policy for next May’s election.

Dix is evidently worried that he will be seen as “against everything”. No one, least of all Damien Gillis and I want Dix to be against everything but only those projects that will damage our precious province and all the fauna and flora that our wilderness sustains.

In addition to damage done in any particular place there is the question of the cumulative impact of the half dozen or more oil, gas and condensate pipelines now proposed for BC. No environmental process, Provincial or Federal, has addressed this question.

In fact the process reminds one of a Soviet “show” trial. The result is certain but to make it look good, governments hold hearings where the desirability of the project is out of order, it already being  a “done deal”.

As it sits right now, as we survey the scene on environmental matters, there is little to separate the uncaring, corrupt Liberals from the gutless NDP.


‘Power & Energy’ Subject of Intergenerational Dialogue in Vancouver


Gen Why Media and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives are co-hosting an “intergenerational dialogue” in Vancouver on Tuesday, December 11 to explore various existing and proposed energy projects in Western Canada. Titled “Power & Energy: Connecting the Dots”, the program is the third in a series of “Bring Your Boomers” events, sponsored by Vancity, designed to debate key social issues from different generational perspectives.

In addition to musical performances and a keynote talk by the CCPA’s Marc Lee, the evening will feature a three-way dialogue, with each panelist representing a different generation. I have the privilege of representing Generation Y (a.k.a. “Millennials” – born from the late 1970s to early 2000s), while leading energy and public policy expert Ben Parfitt of the CCPA will represent Generation X. Rounding out the panel is Boomer Karen Cooling, National Staff Representative at the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada. Adding further generational depth to the discussion will be 11 year-old moderator and First Nations singer/songwriter Ta’Kaiya Blaney – a vocal critic of oil tankers on BC’s coast.

Cooling’s union represents workers in the energy sector, among other areas, and has actively raised concerns about proposed oil pipelines to export Alberta bitumen to Asia and the United States. Her colleague, union president Dave Coles, recently told a crowd of thousands gathered in Victoria to oppose pipelines and takers in BC, “these pipelines are job killers” because they export bitumen without refining it and threaten the environment.

Ben Parfitt has published a number of highly-regarded independent reports on hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, in BC. Fracking is also a key focus of a film I’m currently co-directing with Gen Why co-founder Fiona Rayher, called Fractured Land, which examines energy issues in northern BC and Alberta through the eyes of a young First Nations law student named Caleb Behn. The film will discuss the concept of the “Carbon Corridor” – an interconnected web of fracking and tar sands projects, dams, coal mines, oil, gas and condensate pipelines, and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plants and tankers on BC’s coast – designed to transform Canada into a major hydrocarbon provider to new markets in Asia.

Founded in Vancouver in 2010, Gen Why Media describes itself as “a production group that collaborates across disciplines to create media, events, workshops, public art and intergenerational dialogues that engage society in new forms of public engagement.” Says Tara Mahoney, Gen Why co-founder and organizer of Tuesday’s event, “Our goal with this dialogue is to engage a broader audience in a discussion about energy policy – a topic that isn’t always very accessible, particularly to young people. We hope to use culture as an entry point into a conversation about energy policy and to find ways different generations can work together to shape these issues going forward.”

Gen Why’s previous “Bring Your Boomers” events have examined topics such as technology, globalization, activism and intergenerational cooperation and featured an impressive list of speakers – including former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Phil Fontaine, journalist and activist Judy Rebick, filmmakers Nettie Wild and Nimisha Mukerji, Vision Vancouver Councillor Andrea Reimer, and LeadNow.ca Executive Director Jamie Biggar.

Tuesday’s “Power & Energydialogue will also feature a musical performance by popular Vancouver band Brasstronaut. The event takes place at the Rio Theatre – 1660 East Broadway, adjacent to Commercial-Broadway Skytrain Station. Door open at 6:30 and the event starts at 7 pm. Tickets can be purchased online here.


Report: Kinder Morgan Pipeline Operator Ignored Alarms During Recent Abbotsford Spill


Read this story from the Vancouver Sun’s Gordon Hamilton on a new report from the National Energy Board which reveals operators of an Abbotsford tank farm, connected to Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline, ignored alarms suring a recent spill for hours. (Nov. 28, 2012)

A National Energy Board report reveals that Trans Mountain Pipeline operators ignored warning alarms for three-and-a-half hours before responding to a gasket failure that resulted in a crude oil spill last January at its Sumas tank farm near Abbotsford.

It took six hours after the first warning sounded for Trans Mountain’s Sumas operator to arrive on the scene, where a spill was discovered. The crude oil did not escape from a containment area but noxious fumes were released into the atmosphere, affecting nearby residents.

The NEB estimates 90,000 litres of crude oil escaped.

This latest oil spill report comes at a time when pipeline owner Kinder Morgan is applying to expand the pipeline’s capacity from 300,000 barrels a year to 750,000 barrels to feed Asian markets. It has given the company a black eye, said Ben West, of the Wilderness Committee.

The report is critical of monitoring staff at Trans Mountain’s control centre at Edmonton, stating that the control centre operator failed to set an alarm within the required time limit of 15 minutes after an oil transfer had taken place at the Sumas tank farm the evening of Jan. 23, and then failed to respond to leak warning alarms that sounded every hour until the operator’s shift ended.

The NEB report finds that the leak was detected later than it should have been, the control centre operator did not follow procedures and there were improper alarm settings in a recently-installed data acquisition system. The board states Trans Mountain Pipeline has identified corrective actions to address the report’s findings.

“The board finds that these actions are appropriate to prevent the occurrence of similar incidents in the future.”

The report, which was released earlier this month, states that the operator assumed the alarms were being caused by high winds and did not send a field technician to investigate.
Further, the operator failed to understand that the volume in the tank was dropping.

Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/business/Trans+Mountain+Pipeline+operators+ignored+alarms+warning+Abbotsford+spill+report/7618958/story.html


Audio: Damien Gillis Talks Chinese FIPA, Fracking, Water on Nanaimo Radio


Damien Gillis appeared recently on Nanaimo’s CHLY Radio to discuss a number of key political and energy issues in Canada. Gillis and host Rae Kornberger of A Sense of Justice cover the controversial proposed Canada-China trade deal and how that relates to energy and environmental issues in BC particularly. Included amongst these is natural gas fracking in northeast BC and the enormous volumes of fresh water required for these operations. Listen to the interview in two parts – as well as one highlight clip dealing with proposed water licences for fracking. (recorded Nov. 28, 2012)

Highlight Clip: Water Licences for Fracking (6 min)

Full Interview – Part 1: Chinese FIPA

Full Interview – Part 2: Water, Fracking and Fort Nelson First Nation

A cow moose drinks from a pond. Another important water source for moose, mineral springs, are drying up. (photo: wikimedia commons)

Moose licks: mineral springs disappear amid drought and hydraulic fracturing


Amongst the willows lining the road just below where the tall poplar, birch, spruce and pine trees stand, there is a passage. A small party of hunters hopes it leads to a healthy mineral spring. But hunting in B.C.’s South Peace isn’t what it used to be. The hunters fear the mineral spring is gone: disappeared in the oil-and-gas rich area that saw one of its driest years on record in 2012.

There are no clear reasons why the springs, which are used by animals such as Canada’s iconic moose, are vanishing in the province’s northeast corner along the B.C.-Alberta border. These springs are known to hunters in the area as moose licks.

One hunter in the party stops to consider the disappearing mineral springs. “We hunted these licks since our childhood. My brothers and I would hunt them with our dad, and we travelled to them by foot over the years,” the hunter says. “There has been a change to how we access the trails to the licks; in some cases these changes have been made by the oil-and-gas companies. In many cases, the licks are gone when we do get to them.”

Resting at the northern tip of the Rocky Mountains, the South Peace is an embattled land where farming anchored the economy until a natural gas boom in recent decades changed things. The cultural centre of the region is Dawson Creek, B.C., a town of about 11,000 people that boasts the title “Mile Zero” of the Alaska Highway.

The area is situated 600 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, and about 1,200 kilometres northeast of Vancouver. The South Peace covers 32,000 square kilometres of land stretching north to Fort St. John, west to the Williston Reservoir, east to the Alberta-B.C. border, and south to the Pine Pass where the Rocky Mountains begin.

2012: a dry year

People hunt largely for subsistence in the South Peace, not to acquire trophies. This is a distinction proud hunters in the area will emphasize. Many South Peace hunters believe it’s their right to hunt for subsistence. Many hunters belong to families that have hunted for generations.

Métis elder Malcolm Supernault belongs to one such family. As a respected elder, former North East Métis Association president, and private security contractor, Supernault has hunted and trapped all his life. He enjoys talking about Canada’s icon, the moose – a hulking member of the ungulate family that can weigh up to 700 kg and measure more than 2 metres tall. Supernault is worried about the impact of consecutive droughts on moose that he says rely on mineral springs in summer for water.

“This year was a dry year,” Supernault says in a recent phone interview. “As a rule, moose licks are used in the summer. You’ll find those moose licks will dry up.” Supernault says human activity often pushes wildlife out of traditional mating areas. “Every cow moose has an area where they raise a calf, and unless they’re forced off, they will stay. It’s humans that have caused the most havoc. Industry is everywhere.”

It’s not all bad for moose licks though. Supernault says resource development often creates new areas where springs are able to bubble back to the surface as long as there’s enough moisture created from the ground below or air above. He explains not all moose licks are mineral springs; instead, many are swamps that dry up faster than mineral springs during droughts.

Supernault is cautious about placing blame on any one reason for the disappearing moose licks, but says he’s seen how resource activity affects water supplies. “Anytime you put equipment over a piece of ground, it impacts the moisture right away. Drilling as well, pretty soon the underground streams change. Now industry is starting to pay attention. Water is our lifeline,” Supernault says.

More natural gas than you can imagine

In April 2011, the Canadian National Energy Board and B.C. Ministry of Energy and Mines released a report entitled, “Ultimate Potential for Unconventional Natural Gas in Northeastern British Columbia’s Horn River Basin.” The report says there are 5.58 trillion cubic metres of natural gas deposits in the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin – an area spanning from the B.C.-Northwest Territories border to southern Alberta.

With large new discoveries continuing to emerge like Apache Corp’s play in the Liard Basin, west of the Horn River, that number will likely end up being much higher.

The report also says there are 3.09 trillion cubic metres of natural gas from this basin in Northeast B.C., with 2.21 trillion cubic metres of shale gas compared to .878 trillion cubic metres of conventional fields. This means there are many more shale gas deposits in B.C. requiring hydraulic fracturing, or fracking for short, to extract.

By comparison, Canada’s Lake Superior contains 1.21 trillion cubic metres of water, and is the third-largest freshwater lake in the world by volume, and the largest by surface area. Yet its water volume is only half the estimated volume of shale gas in Northeast B.C.

In the South Peace, where mineral springs are disappearing as severe droughts cause water supplies to vanish, the City of Dawson Creek saw its average water use spike to 9,464 cubic metres between August and September this year, whereas water use hovers around 5,678 cubic metres on average in other months.

This year the city and B.C. Oil and Gas Commission issued a water restriction in September on industrial use of water in the South Peace. In its 2011 provincial water use report, the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission indicates rivers where shale gas is extracted see an increase in water volume usage.

For instance, the Upper Petitot, East Kiskatinaw, and Kiwigana rivers see on average a .81 per cent use of annual water runoff compared to other rivers which fall far below this average. This may seem an insignificant amount of water, but when natural gas activity increases during summer months, these rivers’ annual runoff is much depleted by the time there’s a drought.

Drought response level 4

Outside of the regular problems associated with resource activity, such as loss of habitat for wildlife and pollution, fracking requires substantial amounts of water. In B.C., water-use permits are granted by municipalities, which supply much of the water the oil-and-gas industry in the area requires.

The B.C. Oil and Gas Commission, a regulatory agency, also grants short-term water permits (known as Section 8 permits) if companies apply to draw water from sources outside of municipal boundaries. These two institutions work together in times of drought by restricting the use of potable water by industry, as was the case this past summer.

For Dawson Creek Mayor Mike Bernier, it’s a balancing act because the oil-and-gas industry drives the local economy. In a recent phone interview, Bernier acknowledges severe droughts are changing the way city officials deal with water shortages. For instance, the municipality partnered with Shell Canada to build a water reclamation plant that uses waste water to feed natural gas fields.

The Kiskatinaw River, a tributary of the Peace River that branches off and travels southwest through resource-rich lands, is at its highest in spring when the snowpack melts. Bernier says the city is looking to build more reservoirs to store water collected when the city’s water source is at its peak.

“It has been quite something the last couple of years with four out of six as recorded drought years. This year was our driest year in recorded history,” Bernier says in the phone interview. “It’s always a balance with industry in the area so heavily dependent on water. We do work with different companies in the area and look for different ways to recycle. Companies are sensitive on issues around water shortages.”

This past summer, the city issued a Drought Response Level 4 advisory that required the city to obtain maximum reduction of water use as directed by the B.C. Drought Response Plan to avoid a loss of water supply. This cut off the oil-and-gas industry from both city and B.C. Oil and Gas Commission water-use permits. “It’s a last resort,” Bernier says. “We value our economy and jobs more than green lawns.”

Bernier explains city officials are working to further their understanding of the watershed. He says water issues are cyclical. The mayor compares 2012’s drought with 2010’s flooding that destroyed roads, homes, and entire hillsides all across Northeast B.C. “It’s been all over the map. This year, because of the drought, the river almost dried up to nothing,” Bernier says, adding there are times the Kiskatinaw River produces more water than the city needs. Now the municipality is looking at ways to increase the number of reservoirs in the area to ensure there’s always water in times of drought.

Water troubles further north

A five hour drive North from Dawson Creek, Fort Nelson First Nation is grappling with its own water challenges relating to shale gas development in the Horn River Basin. The nation’s new chief Sharleen Wildeman is quick to point out her members benefit from employment in the industry, but her community is concerned about 20 new long-term water licence applications on their territory currently before the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

“Fort Nelson First has worked with the natural gas industry and government to provide economic opportunities for our members and the entire province through responsible resource development. But our concerns regarding irresponsible, unsustainable water use have gone ignored,” the chief says during a delegation she led recently to Vancouver to raise these concerns.

These new licences mark a shift in water use for shale gas in both their long-term duration and in the enormous volumes of water they represent. For example, Encana is applying to draw up to 3 billion litres a year out of the Fort Nelson River for its nearby shale gas operations. Nexxen Corp.’s licence, the first and only  application to be approved so far, is for five years, but under the current Provincial Water Act, these long-term licences can extend for up to 40 years. Fort Nelson First Nation recently won the right to challenge Nexxen’s licence at the Environmental Appeal Board.

Fort Nelson First Nation is calling on the provincial Liberal government to halt the issuance of these new licences until the community and general public have been properly consulted and a responsible long-term water management plan is in place. The nation’s leaders put forth a series of additional demands, such as gathering proper baseline data, adequate monitoring and enforcement measures and the ability to make certain culturally sensitive rivers off-limits to development.

Watch a timelapse animation of increasing water withdrawals for shale gas in Fort Nelson First Nation territory.

Water shortages are no coincidence

For groundwater expert Dr. Gilles Wendling, water shortages in areas of heavy natural gas extraction are no coincidence. Wendling is managing director and director of the technical and professional division of the B.C. Groundwater Association. He’s also president and founder of Global Aquifer Development Foundation, a Canadian charity that helps create groundwater management systems in developing nations.

“The problem is most of the cyclical perception is anecdotal. We are seeing low flows in rivers. We have to take notice of what people are reporting, especially First Nations people who have a close connection with the land,” Wendling says in a recent phone interview.

“Surface and groundwater are intimately connected. Water can travel deep into the subsurface, 1, 2, 3 kilometres is possible. What they’re doing with fracking may affect the groundwater at that depth. If you start reducing groundwater, it can result in a drop of the water at surface. It may shut down springs.”

Wendling said when fracking occurs, holes are often drilled deep below ground to allow for the injection of water to free up natural gas. This water dissipates, leaving conduits from the surface to the natural gas layer that rests sometimes 3 kilometres deep. As the natural gas is extracted, there’s a potential for the creation of high-pressure zones near the surface where shallow water is contained below lakes, rivers, swamps and springs.

This creates a vacuum between low pressure areas at the natural gas reservoir level and the high pressure areas at the more shallow depth where there’s groundwater. “You end up with a depressurization with a drop in the water table of the groundwater shallow aquifers,” Wendling says.

This means subsurface aquifers supporting above-surface water, such as mineral springs, are depleted as the water moves deeper to low-pressure zones created by the fracking.

A fracturing debate

The leading scientific journal Nature published an article last year asking the question, “Should Fracking Stop?”

In the article, Cornell University engineering professor Dr. Anthony Ingraffea and Penn State Geosciences professor Dr. Robert Halwarth argue against natural gas fracking. The academics point out most fracking today occurs to obtain natural gas from shale gas plays. It’s shale gas deposits requiring fracking that make up most of the fields in Northeast B.C.

“Fracking also extracts natural salts, heavy metals, hydrocarbons and radioactive materials from the shale, posing risks to ecosystems and public health when these return to the surface. This flowback is collected in open pits or large tanks until treated, recycled or disposed of,” the authors write in the article “Should Fracking Stop?” (September 15, 2011).

The professors outline water concerns as well, referring to a peer-reviewed study that “[found] about 75 per cent of wells sampled within 1 kilometre of gas drilling in the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania were contaminated with methane from the deep shale formations.” As for drinking-water contamination, municipalities that handled waste from fracking operations have reported serious problems.

The article goes on to say pollution of water is also a problem. “[There] has been contamination of tributaries of the Ohio River with barium, strontium and bromides from municipal wastewater treatment plants receiving fracking wastes. This contamination apparently led to the formation of dangerous brominated hydrocarbons in municipal drinking-water supplies….”

Dr. Terry Engelder, who is a leading authority on the recent Marcellus gas shale play in the U.S., argues in the same Nature article that the benefits of burning natural gas far outweigh the negative effects of extraction using fracking methods. “Global warming is a serious issue that fracking-related gas production can help to alleviate. In a world in which productivity is closely linked to energy expenditure, fracking will be vital to global economic stability…,” Engelder writes.

Engelder admits one of the biggest causes for concern in fracking is water use. “Millions of gallons of water are required to stimulate a well…. Obtaining adequate water for industrial fracking in dry regions such as the Middle East and western China is a local concern, but is no reason for a global moratorium,” he writes.

According to the New York Times article, “Studies Say Natural Gas Has Its Own Environmental Problems” (April 11, 2011) by Tom Zeller Jr., the arguments for natural gas as clean energy are disputed. “The problem, the studies suggest, is that planet-warming methane, the chief component of natural gas, is escaping into the atmosphere in far larger quantities than previously thought, with as much as 7.9 percent of it puffing out from shale gas wells, intentionally vented or flared, or seeping from loose pipe fittings along gas distribution lines,” Zeller writes.

Many are gone

Ahead of the hunters, the forest opens up to reveal a healthy moose lick. There is a thick pattern of wildlife tracks in the muddy clay where water bubbles to the surface. Moose licks are shallow by nature, and are protected from humans by the fact that if a person walks into one, they end up sinking into mud up to their knees. And it isn’t the kind of mud that’s easy to walk out of. Many licks are littered with the boots of hunters who wandered too far into a spring.

The hunters make their way to the top of a perch overlooking the mineral spring. It stretches out before them. It’s one of the largest in the region according to a hunter, who smiles when he looks out over the lick. He’s happy this one remains. Many moose licks are gone.

As effects of global warming increase, it’s not just places such as the Middle East and China that experience the side effects. Already regions across the globe are experiencing unprecedented changes to weather patterns. This includes the consecutive summer droughts in places like the South Peace where the mineral springs are drying up.

With files from Damien Gillis.


TransCanada Announces Yet Another Proposed Gas Pipeline to Kitimat – May Skirt Environmental Assessment


Read this story from Larry Pynn in the Vancouver Sun on TransCanada’s proposed gas pipeline from Dawson Creek to Kitimat, BC, which leading environmental critics fear could avoid any environmental assessment under the new Harper regulatory regime – despite crossing 320 watercourses and affecting close to 300 different fish and wildlife species along the route. (Nov. 26, 2012)

TransCanada’s planned 650-kilometre natural gas pipeline to Kitimat would cross about 320 watercourses including the habitat of more than 100 species at risk, such as white sturgeon, woodland caribou and marbled murrelet, company documents show.

But under Conservative government changes to environmental laws, there’s no guarantee the Coastal GasLink project will undergo a federal environmental assessment.

“It’s a travesty of the public trust,” said Otto Langer, retired head of habitat assessment and planning for the federal fisheries department in B.C. and Yukon. “If we can’t have an environmental review on a project of this sort, this is proof we have gutted Canada’s environmental protection.”

The federal government is soliciting public comment on whether a federal assessment is warranted for the Coastal GasLink project.

Céline Legault, spokeswoman for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, said that even if the project is not subject to a federal environmental assessment, “all applicable federal legislative, regulatory and constitutional requirements must be fulfilled.”

TransCanada has also submitted its project description to Victoria in advance of an official assessment by the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office.

Langer dismissed the notion of a provincial assessment because the B.C. government is “giving the green light everywhere” to projects and that its environmental review process is too soft on industry.
“It’s pretty sad,” he said. “I don’t know how we slipped down this slope so quickly … and I don’t know where it will all end.”

B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office reported in August it had conducted assessments of 162 projects in the last 20 years. Only two were refused outright — Kemess North copper-gold mine in 2008, and the Ashcroft Ranch landfill project in 2011.

Coastal GasLink’s 1.2-metre-wide pipeline would extend from near Groundbirch, a community 40 kilometres west of Dawson Creek, to a proposed liquefied natural gas facility near Kitimat.

The buried pipeline would initially have a capacity of 1.7 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day, which could be expanded to five billion cubic feet per day.

TransCanada documents outlining the pipeline project say it would cross four major drainages — the Peace, Fraser, Skeena and Kitimat rivers.

Of 286 species identified along the pipeline corridor, about 37 per cent (107 species) are recognized as species of management concern, Trans-Canada says.

Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/technology/pipeline+TransCanada+British+Columbia+guarantee+envrironmental/7608045/story.html


Vancouver Sun Op-Ed: Rush to Deplete BC’s Gas Reserves Makes No Sense


Read this op-ed in the Vancouver Sun by Ben Parfitt of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and renowned geologist and energy expert David Hughes, calling into question the BC Liberal Government’s policy for dramatically expanding natural gas development. (Nov. 14, 2012)

British Columbia is no petro state. So why do our political leaders insist that we are a global energy power?

At the University of Calgary last month, Premier Christy Clark boldly asserted that B.C. could one day export four trillion cubic feet of natural gas per year, an amount that would put us on par with the output of Alberta’s oilsands industry.

Clark also said that over the next 30 years such exports “could add over a trillion dollars” to our province’s gross domestic product.

These sound like impressive numbers. But drill into them a bit, and they appear to be overstated, which raises critical questions.

What does exporting four trillion cubic feet of gas per year from B.C. actually mean, when viewed against what we have? What would the economic, energy security and climate consequences be of producing all that gas and more?

Consider the following facts.

Last year, B.C. produced a record 1.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas — among the most water-depleting and energy-draining gas on earth, due to the deployment of highly controversial fracking technology.

The bulk of that gas went to Alberta to assist in the most water-depleting and energy-draining oil production on Earth. The next biggest slice went to the United States. What was left we used here in the province.

Presumably, we would not simply shut off the taps on these markets in the event that five new liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals are built on our coast, and we begin shipping four trillion cubic feet of our gas to China, Japan and elsewhere. The government’s energy policies would therefore see gas extraction rates quintuple in northeastern B.C. — and probably a whole lot more because natural gas will likely be burned to power all those LNG plants.

What not enough of us have asked the government about is what such policies mean in terms of depleting our non-renewable fossil fuel resources and undermining our ability to meet our legislated greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.

Now is the time to do so. Here’s why.

According to British Columbia’s Oil and Gas Commission, our current reserves of natural gas total roughly 33 trillion cubic feet. Based on our premier’s projections of 4 trillion cubic feet per year of gas exports, we’d drain our entire reserves in just 8 years, or less if we continued to supply our own needs and those of our existing customers.

Now the likelihood is that we have far more gas. Estimated total resources for B.C. exceed 1,200 trillion cubic feet. But even optimistically assuming we can successfully extract one quarter of those resources, we’d be completely out of gas in 75 years — that is if we exported it all and left nothing for ourselves or for our neighbours.

Speaking of neighbours, Alberta’s Energy Resources Conservation Board projects a 35 per cent decline in its own gas production over the next decade. And according to Canada’s National Energy Board, total Canadian natural gas production is down nearly 20% today from its peak in 2002.

The only western Canadian jurisdiction whose reserves and production show growth is here in B.C. And our elected leaders’ vision is that we rush whatever we have out of the country.
Premier Clark and B.C. Energy Minister, Rich Coleman, call their gas export plans a “strategy”. Their choice of wording is an insult both to the English language and to basic economics.

Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/technology/Depleting+natural+reserves+makes+sense+British+Columbia/7549767/story.html


Enbridge’s Line 9: Shipping Tar Sands Crude East


This article is republished with permission from Watershed Sentinel.

In a move that could cost him significant political support, federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair has endorsed controversial west-to-east pipeline proposals that would move tar sands crude from Alberta through Ontario and Quebec to Atlantic Canada and points beyond.

During a Sept. 28, 2012 speech to the Canadian Club of Toronto, Mulcair said, “Let me be clear, New Democrats support recent proposals to increase West-East pipeline capacity. This is an initiative, led by industry,  that will pay economic dividends for every region of our country: new markets for [tar sands] producers in the West, high-paying value-added jobs and lower energy prices in the East.”

Mulcair called this a “pro-business common sense solution.”

With a bottleneck of crude at the storage hub in Cushing, Oklahoma, pricing discounts for diluted bitumen (dilbit) at US Midwest refineries, and strong opposition to tar sands export pipelines in both BC and the US, the industry has seized upon “eastern access” to Atlantic tidewater as a solution. Canada’s top two pipeline/utilities companies – Enbridge and TransCanada Corp. – are each developing plans to pipe crude east, while environmental groups across Ontario, Quebec and New England have been gearing up for a major fight on the issue.

The “Wrong Product”

Ironically, only hours before Mulcair’s speech, Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan issued a press release (Sept. 27) stating:  “The bottom line is Alberta is selling the wrong product [dilbit]. The glut of bitumen on the market is a result of bitumen looking for appropriate refineries. If the product was SCO [synthetic crude oil], we could be selling the product to any refinery in North America.” As well, many pipeline safety issues could be avoided (see March-April 2012 Watershed Sentinel).

Tar sands producers generally produce either “synthetic crude,” which has passed through an on-site upgrader, or dilbit, which is raw bitumen thinned with lighter petroleum products and proprietary chemicals. With increased production over the last few years, tar sands producers (which are mostly foreign-owned) are now piping out more dilbit in order to cut their costs. According to Alberta Energy, there are only five operating upgraders in Alberta, and in 2011, “about 57% of oil sands production was sent for upgrading to synthetic crude oil within Alberta,” a percentage that will rapidly decline as production vastly increases. Over the next decade, tar sands producers reportedly plan to triple the amount of dilbit they pipe.

On July 23, 2012, the US National Academy of Sciences began hearing expert briefings on whether dilbit increases the risk of pipeline spills, as environmentalists claim. Gil McGowan’s point is a crucial one: not all refineries in North America can handle dilbit, nor can all refineries in eastern Canada. That fact is significant to understanding who would benefit from “eastern access” pipelines plans.    

Line 9 Reversal

Enbridge is now moving quickly on a plan to pipe tar sands crude through Ontario, Quebec, and New England to Atlantic tidewater in Portland, Maine. From there it would be shipped by tankers to refineries in the US and elsewhere.

In May 2012, Enbridge announced a $3.2 billion expansion of its North American pipeline system, including expansion of its Lakehead system which pipes dilbit from Alberta to US Midwest refiners. Some of that dilbit also reaches refineries in Sarnia, Ont., via Enbridge’s Line 5 (which brings dilbit from Superior, Wisconsin, across northern Michigan to Sarnia), and Line 6B (which pipes dilbit from Chicago across Michigan to Sarnia). Both Line 5 and Line 6B extend from the tar sands across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba before entering the US at Superior, Wisc. According to rabble.ca (Sept. 11, 2012), in Sarnia “tar sands are already being refined [by Imperial Oil and Suncor] at an estimated rate of 225,000 barrels per day.”  

It was Enbridge’s Line 6B that ruptured in Michigan in 2010, spilling 20,000 barrels of dilbit into the Kalamazoo River. During repairs, Enbridge has quietly been increasing the capacity of that pipeline to 500,000 barrels per day (bpd). 

Enbridge also intends to reverse Line 9, which currently carries 240,000 barrels per day of imported conventional oil from Montreal to Sarnia. On July 27, Canada’s National Energy Board granted approval for the reversal of a portion (9A) of Line 9 between Sarnia and Westover, Ont. (where an oil hub is located that diverts crude to Imperial Oil’s refinery in Nanticoke, Ont. and to Pennsylvania refineries).      

Enbridge intends to file for the reversal of the remaining portion (9B) between Westover and Montreal this autumn. On Oct. 23, Enbridge filed a document with the NEB showing it plans to increase the capacity of Line 9 to 300,000 bpd and switch it to carrying “heavy crude,” which includes tar sands oil.

In order for tar sands crude to reach the Atlantic, another pipeline – the Portland/Montreal Pipe Line (PMPL – which brings imported conventional oil from Portland, Maine to Montreal) – would also have to be reversed. The PMPL passes through Quebec, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.

The Portland/Montreal pipe is majority-owned by Imperial Oil and Suncor. Officials with PMPL have reportedly been in talks for over a year to reverse that line.

Enbridge also intends to export tar sands crude from Portland, Maine. According to the Globe and Mail (June 1, 2012), “In a recent conversation with Streetwise, Stephen Wuori, Enbridge’s president of liquids pipelines, said his company believes it can export crude from the US without consequence. Asked if it would be possible to send oil to international markets from Maine, he said the answer is yes.”

More recently, the Globe and Mail reported (Sept. 6, 2012) that Enbridge “has met with officials from refineries in Quebec City and Saint John to discuss their appetite for Western Canadian crude. Companies could barge oil from Montreal to Quebec City, and then perhaps ship it by rail to Saint John.”  

TransCanada’s Mainline to the East Coast

TransCanada Corp.’s natural gas Mainline runs 14,000 kilometres from the Alberta/Saskatchewan border to where Quebec meets Vermont. The Mainline, which pipes natural gas to Ontario, has been operating at only half-capacity in recent months because of competition from US shale gas. Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. and others have been urging the company to switch to carrying crude in its gas Mainline. TransCanada Corp. is also one of the owners of Ontario nuclear power-generator Bruce Power, which has been pushing the nuclear option for tar sands/energy production in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

TransCanada Corp. has not disclosed much about its west-to-east pipeline project, but recently Globe & Mail reporters Nathan Vanderklippe and Shawn McCarthy provided (Sept. 6, 2012) some details on “a massive $5.6 billion new pipeline system that would carry large volumes of western crude to refineries in Ontario, Quebec, and beyond.”

Their news report states:

The East Coast project described to [us] by industry sources would involve converting roughly 3,000 kilometres of underused natural gas pipe – the Mainline is made up of a series of parallel pipes – into oil service. It would also involve building at least 375 kilometres of new pipe from Hardisty, the Alberta oil hub, to the Mainline at Burstall, Sask., and from near Cornwall [Ont.], at the other end, to Montreal. Another 220 kilometres would be required to reach Quebec City. Oil could be loaded onto ocean-going vessels either on the St. Lawrence River, or destined for American refiners via Portland, Maine, through a pipeline [PMPL] to Montreal whose flow could be reversed…The TransCanada proposal would send 625,000 barrels a day across the country to Montreal, Quebec City and potentially Saint John, NB, where Irving Oil Ltd. runs a large refinery. Tanker exports could then also take the crude to Europe or Asia.

In late July 2012, RBC Capital Markets urged that TransCanada Corp. stop focusing on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline to Texas and instead convert its Mainline to carry 900,000 barrels per day of tar sands crude to Sarnia, and then use Enbridge’s Line 9 to move it to Montreal.

So potentially, more than 1.4 million barrels per day of tar sands crude could be piped through southern Ontario and Quebec – the most populated area of Canada – to points east. The industry considers “eastern access” pipelines to be in addition to projects like Northern Gateway.  

Refining is currently considered a financially viable business in North America mainly for companies that both produce (“upstream”) and refine (“downstream”), largely because they can buy dilbit and other feedstock cheaply and then sell the refined petroleum products for a high price internationally.

In the tar sands, companies with both upstream/downstream facilities in North America include Imperial Oil, Suncor, Shell, Husky, Valero, Marathon, ConocoPhillips, Cenovus, BP, and Flint Hills Resources/Koch Industries. Many of these companies have already invested billions to convert their refineries in the US Midwest and Gulf Coast for processing tar sands crude. 

In 2010, Royal Dutch Shell closed its Montreal refinery and converted it into a fuel storage terminal. Imperial Oil put its Dartmouth, NS refinery up for sale on May 17, 2012, but is also considering converting it into a storage terminal. By the terms of its sale to Korea National Oil Corp., the North American Refinery in Newfoundland only refines the province’s offshore oil, with most of its refined petroleum products exported to the US. As of March 2012, Shell is considering upgrading bitumen at its Ontario refinery and Suncor is considering the same thing for its Montreal refinery. The resulting “synthetic crude oil” would still have to go to another refinery to be made into products like gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.

Peter Boag, president of the Canadian Petroleum Producers Institute – which represents the refining and marketing sector – told the Globe and Mail (Sept. 6, 2012), “Significant changes to the crude diet to really ramp up the volumes of western-based heavier crudes in Eastern Canada is going to require some significant investment in refinery reconfiguration.” As Gil McGowan put it, Alberta is selling “the wrong product.”
The Irving Empire

According to the University of Calgary’s Jack Mintz (Financial Post, Dec. 16, 2011), the only refinery on the Atlantic that can currently process “heavy sour diluted bitumen [dilbit]” is “the Irving Refinery” in New Brunswick. Otherwise, he said, “this type of crude cannot be processed in eastern North America.” 

Enbridge has been planning its “eastern access” pipeline since at least 2008. On March 11, 2008, Reuters reported that “Enbridge Inc. is looking at moving oil sands crude to the US Northeast and Eastern Canada,” and quoted Enbridge CEO Patrick Daniel: “If we move to reverse Line 9 [in Ontario], that could come before [Northern] Gateway [in BC]. If it is a large volume, 400,000 barrels a day, [Northern] Gateway would come first.” 

In 2011, Enbridge appointed to its board a director of Irving Oil, which now owns 50 per cent of an oil terminal in Portland, Maine.

The Globe and Mail reported (Aug. 23, 2012) that Irving Oil “unveiled a proposal three years ago to build [another] 300,000 barrels-a-day [refinery] facility to serve the northeast United States,” and later partnered with BP on the idea – which is currently shelved. According to the same newspaper (Sept. 6, 2012), the Irving Refinery in Saint John buys about $10 billion per year of imported conventional oil, refines it, and then sends “eighty per cent of the plant’s production” south of the border. 

Obviously, tar sands producers like Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. – which owns no downstream refineries – are eyeing that annual $10 billion in hopes that it will be used to buy crude piped east. Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. plans to greatly increase its tar sands production to one million barrels per day over the next decade. Frank McKenna – the former premier of New Brunswick and a current director of Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. – has been one of the most vocal proponents of west-to-east pipelines from Alberta, and has called for a new oil pipeline from Montreal to Saint John.

In mid-July, Canada’s Parliamentary Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources (with 7 Conservative and 5 Liberal members) endorsed west-to-east tar sands pipelines as a “nation-building” project.  

Besides Frank McKenna and the Senate Committee, other outspoken proponents include Derek Burney (a director of TransCanada Pipelines Ltd.), Eddie Goldenberg (a lawyer with Calgary law firm Bennett Jones), the “ethical oil” people, and now the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair. Some commentators consider the west-to-east pipeline plans to be the centre of Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s “national energy strategy.”
But the plans by Enbridge and TransCanada Corp. seem largely to be a strategy for Big Oil to get a higher price for dilbit by export via the Atlantic – most likely to the US Gulf Coast, where their downstream profits would be highest.   

Environmental organizations across Quebec, Ontario, and New England, along with some First Nations and landowner organizations residing along Line 9, have been rallying in opposition to these west-to-east pipeline plans.

All this is happening mainly because the Alberta government is too timid and subservient to require that all tar sands production be upgraded or refined on-site. Instead, it keeps allowing Big Oil to pipe out more and more of “the wrong product.” As a result, tar sands pipelines will continue to be fought across North America.


Joyce Nelson is an award-winning freelance writer/researcher and the author of five books.