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PostPosted: December 21st, 2010, 5:26 pm 
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I've just been listening to John Baird comment on the report that (surprise, surprise) says that there is a severe lack of environmental monitoring on the Athabasca River. We have almost no baseline data on the environment of the Athabasca and almost no baseline data on human health in the Athabasca basin in spite of decades of intense industrial development. We've had a string of Conservative governments in Alberta and now in Ottawa so we shouldn't be surprised that they have not been properly monitoring the environment. They don't want to do anything to get in the way of business, even at the expense of the environment and the health of the people. If you don't monitor, then you have plausible deny-ability. You can feign surprise, promise immediate action and blah, blah, blah. Now that it has been publicly revealed that the emperor has no clothes, all Conservatives are "committed" to developing a World Class Monitoring System. Of course, they can't act until that is in place and then they can't act until the results of that monitoring are known and then they can't act until they study what can be done and then they can't act until they decide which of the options from the study they will implement and on and on and on. In the meantime, it's business as usual. I wonder where this commitment was for all of the decades that they have been allowing industry to have its way with the environment?
Thoughts?
Ralph


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PostPosted: December 22nd, 2010, 8:24 am 
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We have almost no baseline data on the environment of the Athabasca and almost no baseline data on human health in the Athabasca basin in spite of decades of intense industrial development.


Part of the problem with monitoring the Athabaska is it flows through the oil sands deposits and has always carried some of the pollutants that oil extraction adds to the river. But the atmospheric fallout from industrial activity in the area adds even more so monitoring snow and spring meltwater has produced some results.

Another problem with past monitoring was that it was done by private contractors and it seems their standards weren't rigorous enough, although the Alberta government seemed satisfied. The monitoring will now be overseen by Environment Canada, and standards should be improved.

The political pressure to expand tar sands oil production is high since the North American economy runs on oil. So some amount of environmental damage will have to be taken on to keep the pipelines' oil flowing south.

If there are health risks to local populations from toxins escaping from tar sands development, there could be compensation paid out, by government or the oil industry... eg. fish consumption restrictions might take effect and compensation paid out for that loss.

Once the new oversight is in place, it'll be interesting to see what they determine is an acceptable amount of damage and what isn't, and how they define "acceptable".

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PostPosted: December 22nd, 2010, 6:13 pm 
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Frozentripper, you are correct in that the Athabasca flows through the area where the oil sands are located. It may contain contaminants just because of that. The problem is that a government chose not to take baseline data and chose not to monitor changes. Without the baseline data and without the on-going monitoring we will never know if there have been changes over the years that the oil sands plants have been operating. We will never know what part of any contaminants which may be found are from natural sources and what part are from oil sands development As I said, not monitoring gives the Progressive Conservative government of Alberta plausible deny-ability. Not monitoring also give the Conservative government of Canada plausible deny-ability. Now that there is a "plan", no action will take place for an extended period to allow for the monitoring that should have taken place years ago and, since there is no baseline data, the results will be unclear so real, positive change is very unlikely - business as usual.
I find this kind of shirking of responsibility coupled with "sincere concern" and some "righteous" action plans to be unbelievably frustrating.
Sorry for the rants but this kind of disingenuous behaviour sends me over the top.
Ralph


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PostPosted: December 22nd, 2010, 8:20 pm 
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There's been something moving behind the scenes. First the report that Prentice had commissioned and that points out that our governments (fed and Alta) have been badly remiss in their environmental responsibilities, and now a revelation via Wikileaks about Prentice's clear understanding of the damage that Canada has sustained on account of the tar sands. They sure have managed to keep a tight lid on it...
Here's the Star's article drawing on Wikileaks:
Quote:
Canada ‘too slow’ to deal with oilsands backlash


OTTAWA—Canada was “too slow” to respond to the damage done to the country’s reputation by the Alberta oilsands, then-Environment Minister Jim Prentice told the American envoy in Ottawa a meeting last year.

Despite the brave public face of the Conservative government, Prentice told U.S. ambassador David Jacobson that he was stunned by backlash around the world to carbon-intensive Canadian oil and was prepared to correct the damage done with stringent emissions-cutting regulations.

Prentice, who has since left Ottawa to become vice-chairman and senior vice-president of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, made the admissions at his first meeting with Jacobson on Nov. 5, 2009 in Ottawa.

The gravity of Canada’s predicament first came clear to the respected cabinet minister during a trip to Bergen, Norway, where he attended a carbon capture and storage conference in late May, 2009. Norway, then in the run-up to a parliamentary election, was debating the involvement of government-owned Statoil in the Alberta oilsands, which had been deemed a source of “dirty oil.”

“As Prentice relayed it, the public sentiment in Norway shocked him and has heightened his awareness of the negative consequences to Canada’s historically ‘green’ standing on the world stage,” said a U.S. embassy cable that recounts the meeting.

The cable, marked “Sensitive” is one of more than 250,000 obtained by WikiLeaks. Fewer than 2,000 have been released so far.

“Calling himself ‘conservationist-minded,’ Prentice said he would step in and regulate the sands if Canada’s image in the world gets further tarnished by negative coverage,” the diplomatic memo said.

The cable hints at tensions between Prentice and Lisa Raitt, then the natural resources minister, and quotes the Alberta MP as saying that “he felt the government of Canada’s reaction to the dirty oil label was ‘too slow’ and failed to grasp the magnitude of the situation.”

It goes on to say that Prentice “made clear that he was constantly monitoring the situation” and would step in if industrial oilsands operators didn’t heed voluntary regulation and the Alberta government didn’t put “more stringent” rules in place.

That sentiment appears to have been short-lived, though. Prentice had promised to set regulations in the fall of 2009 that would force industries, including the oilsands producers, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which scientists say contribute to global warming.

In the lead-up to a United Nations-sponsored climate change conference that December in Copenhagen, however, he changed course and said regulation of Canadian emissions would have to wait until the United States established similar rules with which the federal government could harmonize.

More than a year later, regulations to cut emissions have not materialized in either country despite identical commitments to reduce greenhouse gases to 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020.

It is difficult to tell if Prentice was saying what he thought the ambassador wanted to hear or whether he was simply trying to cozy up to Jacobson, a Chicago attorney, key fundraiser for U.S. President Barack Obama and former special assistant to the president.

Bill Rodgers, who was communications director for Prentice before filling the role for his successor, John Baird, refused to explain what he said were “private discussions.”

But the tone of the cable suggests Prentice was trying to endear himself to a diplomat with a direct line to the U.S. president.

“From the onset of the lunch, Minister Prentice was clearly making every effort to establish a connection with Ambassador Jacobson, outlining his respect for the (Obama) administration and his interest in President Obama’s ‘back story,’ persona and goals,” the cable states.

Prentice, who could not be reached for comment, told Jacobson about his three daughters, life in Alberta and his “love for the outdoors.”

He also asked for help setting up a meeting with Democratic Senator John Kerry to discuss Canada’s concerns about U.S. climate change legislation, for assistance promoting the idea of a North American carbon-trading market.

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PostPosted: December 23rd, 2010, 10:24 am 
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Prentice's resignation from the environment ministry to a relatively squeaky-clean bank is an indication that something stank badly in Ottawa. There may have been bigger forces at work, such as the need to maintain secure oil reserves and national economies.

Compared to that, the need to save a few fish in the Athabaska may have been a minor consideration. But Prentice enjoyed canoeing and maybe seeing the entire rotten affair moving forward without environmental safeguards became too much to cope with.

The flow of oil from Alberta's tar sands south isn't going to end anytime soon - the evidence on the ground is in this massive pipeline that's being being planned to run from the tar sands to Gulf of Mexico refineries. Although the pipeline isn't a sure thing yet, the Obama administration has indicated they are inclined to approve it.


Quote:
Giant oil pipeline in the works from Alberta to the Gulf

By Steve Hargreaves, senior writer

December 23, 2010: 5:16 AM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- In the coming weeks, the Obama administration will decide if it wants to significantly increase the amount of oil the country imports from Canada's controversial Alberta oil sands.

The State Department is set to issue what could be a final ruling to allow a massive new pipeline expansion from central Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. A decision is expected early in the new year.

Known as Keystone, the project is an expansion of an existing pipeline that now terminates in Oklahoma. Stretching over 1,600 miles -- four times the length of the Trans-Alaska system -- the new pipeline would be one of the biggest in the country.

Canada's oil sands have drawn numerous critics who say the way the oil is extracted harms the environment.

But they are also the United States' largest single source of foreign oil, contributing over 1 million barrels a day. If built, the pipeline would boost that number by a third.

The pipeline would also be the oil sands' first major access to a deepwater seaport, opening up access to worldwide markets.

Supporters say the Keystone pipeline would create jobs and let the country replace Venezuelan or Middle Eastern imports with well-regulated, dependable Canadian crude. They also say if the United States doesn't want the oil, the Chinese will gladly take it.

Opponents, who have just wrapped up a $500,000 ad campaign in the D.C. area, say the project would bind the country to an unnecessary and dirty form of oil for decades to come.

The State Department is expected to issue an environmental impact statement on the pipeline early in 2011. State must also determine whether the pipeline is in the national interest -- weighing economic, environmental and energy considerations.

Opponents aren't necessarily against the pipeline itself. Instead, they oppose the expansion of oil sands production it would allow.

"We see this as a disaster on many levels," said Ryan Salmon, energy policy advisor at the World Wildlife Fund, one of several environmental groups fighting the pipeline.

The chief knock against oil sands is that they create more greenhouse gasses than regular oil.

Oil sands are just that -- sand mixed with a heavy form of crude. They are found in Canada's Alberta province, covering an area roughly the size of Texas. They are either mined like coal or produced with wells like oil.

If they are mined, vast amounts of water and heat are necessary to separate the oil from the sand. If they are extracted by well, it's often necessary to heat up the rock to get the thick oil flowing.

Either way, extracting oil sands is considerably more energy intensive than pumping normal oil.

On a lifecycle basis, from the extraction process on through to burning the stuff in a motor vehicle, oil sands are estimated to emit 5% to 30% more carbon dioxide than regular oil.

Oil sand extraction is also tough on the landscape, especially if it's mined. The mines are huge, roughly the size of Rhode Island. They have resulted in deforestation of hundreds of square miles of wilderness, at least until the sites are replanted.

Processing the oil also requires thousands of acres of ponds filled with toxic mine tailings. Birds are prone to landing in these ponds, Salmon said, and thousands are killed each year. The runoff can also pollute nearby waterways.

"At the site itself, you're looking at basically wholesale destruction of the ecosystem," said Salmon.

For Salmon and others opposed to the project, the country would do better to put its resources into alternative technology or conservation measures.

Supporters say the companies producing oil sands and the Canadian government are getting better at protecting the environment but a recent Canadian government report says more monitoring is needed.

They note that much new oil sands production is done using techniques similar to normal oil drilling, which minimizes the land disturbance and the need for so much water.

Others point out that Canada's oil comes relatively free of the taint of the complications that arise from oil that comes from unstable parts of the world.

"It's not blood oil," said Peter Tertzakian, chief energy economist at ARC Financial, a Calgary-based private equity firm. "It's clean from a political perspective."

The company that wants to build the pipeline, TransCanada, didn't want to comment on the issues involving production.

But it did highlight the economic benefits -- 13,000 construction jobs, millions in taxes to the communities it crosses, and $20 billion ultimately injected to the U.S. economy over the lifetime of the project.

"This is going to be new additional crude oil for domestic use," said Terry Cunha, TransCanada's spokesman.

And with oil supplies dwindling, the United States is not the only country eyeing Canada's oil sands.

The Chinese, or some other Asian country, will ultimately build their own pipelines to tap that oil, said Tertzakian, the oil industry economist.

Canada's oil sands producers, aware of the hostility their product faces in the United States and of the fast-growing Asian markets, are dying to diversify.

And the Asians are helping them along, investing over $16 billion in Canadian energy projects in the last 16 months alone.

"With this investment is a certain expectation that they will have access to this resource," he said.


http://money.cnn.com/2010/12/23/news/ec ... _pipeline/

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