On Earthgauge radio this week, we’ll be talking about the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. Hearings of the National Energy Board looking into the pipeline proposal got underway in B.C. this month with over 4000 people scheduled to speak as intervenors. The oil industry in Canada and the federal government are pushing hard to see that the pipeline is built, yet opposition to the project, particularly among First Nations communities along the proposed pipeline route, is fierce. We take a look at the potential environmental impacts of the pipeline, the strategic energy security implications of liquidating tar sands oil, the economics of the project and the political context. Right click here to download the entire show.
We have 3 interviews on our special show today:
- Emma Gilchrist, Communications Director for the Dogwood Initiative
- Energy analyst and geoscientist, David Hughes
- Author and journalist, Murray Dobbin
If constructed, the Northern Gateway pipeline would transport heavy bitumen oil from the tar sands of northern Alberta to the north coast of BC. Although the National Energy Board hearings have just begun, already the federal government has weighed in before the environmental panel has even had a chance to do its work and make a recommendation on whether or not to proceed with the project. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has already said the pipeline is in the national interest and must proceed while federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver has labelled those opposed to the project, which includes environmentalists, fishermen, ranchers, ordinary citizens and First Nations, as foreign-funded radicals.
So what is this project all about? Well, basically the company Enbridge wants to build two 1200km pipelines – one would take 500,000 barrels a day of tar sands crude across the Rockies to Kitimat on the B.C. coast, where over 200 supertankers a year would take the oil for export to the U.S. and Asia. A second pipeline in the other direction would take a natural gas condensate back to the tar sands, which helps the oil flow through the pipe.
The pipelines would cross hundreds of rivers and streams and pass through a region renowned for its salmon, wolves, bears and other wildlife. It would also help to triple the production of tar sands crude, which is among the dirtiest and most destructive forms of energy, thereby greatly increasing Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Not surprisingly, the proposed project has sparked an eruption of opposition among those who see the possibility of an oil spill as a critical threat to the environment and the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people. Northern Gateway would have to cross the lands and waters of many BC First Nations, the vast majority of whom are opposed to the project, some maintaining that it must be stopped at almost any cost. In December, 130 aboriginal groups in B.C. said they were joining forces to use “whatever means necessary” to stop the project.
Meanwhile, industry and the Harper government say exploiting Canada’s abundant tar sands is vital for prosperity, particularly in light of a recent decision of US president Barack Obama to delay approval of the equally controversial Keystone XL pipeline which would transport tar sands crude to the Gulf of Mexico. Given this delay, Harper said recently that, “it is particularly essential for this country that we have the capacity to sell our energy products into the growing markets of Asia.”
One thing is for sure – a long and bitter fight lies ahead with some calling it the most significant environmental battle in Canadian history.
We’re taking a hard look at this project on Earthgauge today. First we hear from Emma Gilchrist of the organization Dogwood Initiative who talks about some of the possible environmental impacts of the project and updates us on the progress of the NEB hearings. Then we hear from the respected geologist David Hughes who discusses whether there is even a need for the project from the perspective of Canada’s strategic energy reserves. And finally for the political perspective I speak with the journalist Murray Dobbin who fills us in on how the federal government is manoeuvring to ensure that the project be approved despite all the opposition to it.
We also have our usual segment with Kathy of Ecology Ottawa who updates us on local environmental events and campaigns. I’ve listed a few of the upcoming events below and you can click here to see a complete list with full details.
Contact us at earthgaugeradio ‘at’ gmail.com. Please do get in touch if you have story ideas, a comment on something you’ve heard or want to get involved or contribute to the show. You can also download our podcasts on iTunes. Just type “earthgauge” into the search bar and you’ll find us.
January 31, 2012
City Council Meeting – Environment Committee
When: January 31, 9:30 to 11:30 am
Where: City Hall, Andrew S. Haydon Hall, 110 Laurier Avenue West
February 1, 2012
City Council Meeting – Transportation Committee
When: February 1, 9:30 to 11:30 am
Where: Champlain room, Ottawa City Hall
Phone: 613-580- 2424 ext. 21624
February 1, 2012
The World We Want – An evening with Francis Moore Lappé
USC Canada presents an inspiring evening with the visionary author of the groundbreaking Diet for a Small Planet (1971), Frances Moore Lappé. Based on her new book, EcoMind, Lappé confronts our current myths about markets, food, and environmental issues, challenging us to change the way we think so we can create the world we want.
When: February 1, 7:30 to 9:00 pm
Where: St. Brigid’s Centre for the Arts, 310 St. Patrick Street
Wednesday February 1 and 8, 2012
Weekly environmental choir rehearsals
Just Voices is Ottawa’s only environmental and social-justice theme choir. They have been singing at events around the capital since 2003. They welcome new members at any time, and prior musical experience is not necessary. For more information, visit http://www.justvoices.ca.
When: February 1, 7:00 to 9:00 pm
Where: The Bronson Centre, 211 Bronson Ave
February 6, 2012
City Council Meeting – Roads and Cycling Advisory Committee
When: February 6, 7:00 to 9:00 pm
Where: City Hall, Honeywell Room
February 9, 2012
City Council Meeting – Environmental Advisory Committee
When: February 9, 6:30 – 8:30 pm
Where: City Hall, Andrew S. Haydon Hall
February 9, 2012
Green Drinks Ottawa
Green Drinks is an open invitation to anyone interested/working/studying all things environmental. Come and join us for interesting, and inspiring conversation. We’re an informal, self-organizing network and meet every second Thursday of the month. For more information, contact: email@example.com.
When: February 9, 5:30 to 7:30 pm
Where: Fox and Feather Pub & Grill, 283 Elgin street
I was delighted to have the opportunity to speak with author, journalist and activist Naomi Klein when I attended the Keystone XL pipeline protest in Washington, D.C. this past weekend. Klein is the author of several books including The Shock Doctrine and No Logo. She is a contributing editor for Harper’s magazine and writes a regular column for the Nation and the Guardian newspaper. She has also written articles for Rolling Stone, the Huffington Post, the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Globe and Mail, among many other publications.
Click the audio player above to to hear my interview (3:05) or right click here to download.
Video interviews from Parliament Hill #tarsands protest September 26: George Poitras and Clayton Thomas-Muller
I attended the tar sands/Keystone XL protests in Ottawa on September 26 at which roughly 125 people were arrested. The protest was the embodiment of civil disobedience and was carried out in an extremely peaceful manner. Big thumbs up to the organizers and the hundreds who attended. Let’s hope this is the beginning of something.
During the protest, I had the opportunity to speak briefly with George Poitras, former Chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation in northern Alberta and with Clayton Thomas-Muller who is a tar sands campaigner with the Indigenous Environmental Network, an activist for indigenous self-determination and environmental justice and a member of the Mathais Colomb Cree Nation (Pukatawagan) in Northern Manitoba. Check out the video links below.
“The idea of wilderness needs no defense. It only needs more defenders.” –Ed Abbey
“I am here today because I have chosen to protect the people locked out of the system over the profits of the corporations running the system. I say this not because I want your mercy, but because I want you to join me.”
- Tim DeChristopher
In July of last year, I interviewed Tim DeChristopher – a 30 year-old activist from Utah who had been charged with the crime of posing as a false bidder (Bidder 70) at an auction that was leasing more than 100,000 acres of federal (i.e. public) land for oil and gas development. DeChristopher won the right to develop 22,500 acres of land for which, of course, he had neither the capability nor the intention of doing. His goal was simply to take the land out of the hands of oil and gas companies.
DeChristopher was convicted of the crime in March of this year and, just last week, he was handed his sentence: 2 years in jail and a $10,000 fine. The punishment was less severe than it could have been but, all the same, he is off to prison for trying to protect public lands from being exploited by the oil and gas industry. Leases for these lands, which were approved in the dying days of the Bush II Administration, were subsequently canceled by the Obama Administration.
During the trial, the judge refused to allow DeChristopher to discuss his motivation, that he had been compelled to act to prevent a greater evil: climate change. Because of that, and other reasons, his lawyers are launching an appeal. In his statement to the court before sentencing, DeChristopher said he had wanted “to stand in the way of an illegitimate auction that threatened my future.”
Support for DeChristopher has been pouring in and it goes without saying that Canadians who care about climate change, and there are many of us (current federal government excluded), should stand in solidarity with this young man’s courageous actions. As one commentator put it, “DeChristopher’s nonviolent act has galvanized the climate movement in a way that will be hard to ignore.” The well-known author and environmentalist Bill McKibben wrote in the Huffington Post that “the oil and gas under that ground needs to stay there. The carbon it contains is, we now know, ruinous — it’s what is heating the atmosphere, setting new temperature records every day. If you sweated through last week’s record heat, if your crops are withering in the southwest’s epic drought, if you watched the Mississippi swallow your town — then Tim DeChristopher acted for you.”
Campaigners from film-maker Michael Moore to scientist James Hansen denounced the sentence as excessive. DeChristopher’s civil disobedience organization, Peaceful Uprising, said last week it hoped to use the sentence to build momentum for protests in Washington next month against a proposed pipeline from the Alberta tar sands to Texas. “Consider this your call to action,” the group said on its website. Even legendary folk singer Peter Yarros has weighed in, saying “Tim is a hero to me, the kind of hero Peter, Paul and Mary stood up for consistently over the last 50 years. Throughout American history, acts of civil disobedience have led to change. Think about the Underground Railroad that helped escaped slaves to freedom, or about the courageous actions of people like Rosa Parks, who refused to stay in the back of the bus simply because of their skin color. Without this kind of defiance of unjust laws, our country would likely still be denying people of color basic freedoms.”
Even Canada’s own David Suzuki has chimed in, writing “DeChristopher’s ordeal exposes the massive power of the fossil fuel industry. Governments, including the U.S. and Canada’s, often do far more to promote the interests of this industry than to protect people’s rights and health. Those who violate the law and put the lives of citizens and their children and grandchildren at great risk through pollution and destructive industrial practices often get let off scot-free or receive a slap on the wrist, while those who use civil disobedience to challenge this imbalance are hit with the full force of the law.”
What can we do to support Tim? Well, first off he will need money for his appeal. This could be a precedent-setting case and a ground-breaking one for the climate justice movment. Make sure to follow the group he’s helped found, Peaceful Uprising. You can also contact Tim at the following address:
#2011 – 06916
c/o Davis County Correctional Facility
PO Box 130
Farmington, UT 84025
Maybe it’s also time for the rest of us to think about stepping it up in our own way. Letter writing, protests and international conferences just don’t seem to be getting the job done and are not commensurate with the urgency of the task at hand. Politicians and industry leaders still don’t seem to understand the scope of the problem or, worse, they do understand but still refuse to act.
Could Tim’s actions be the catalyst for a resurgence in non-violent, civil disobedience in our country as well? What will future generations say that Canadians contributed to the climate justice movement? How will we help to turn the tide against the powerful, grotesquely wealthy and immensely destructive fossil fuel industry? Our government is clearly not prepared to take any serious action but what can the rest of us do? Remember, two pipelines are in the works to transport crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands to the west coast of B.C. and the Gulf of Mexico. If built, these pipelines would mean a dramatic increase in the production of tar sands oil and, consequently, in greenhouse gas emissions as well. In a few weeks, supporters of tarsandsaction.org will be gathering in Washington DC for two weeks of civil disobedience against the proposed Keystone Pipeline to the Gulf of Mexico. If you’ve been thinking about laying it on the line, maybe the time has come. Check out ClimateDirectAction.org for more info.
As Tim wrote the night before his sentencing, “At this point of unimaginable threats on the horizon, this is what hope looks like. In these times of a morally bankrupt government that has sold out its principles, this is what patriotism looks like. With countless lives on the line, this is what love looks like, and it will only grow.”
I recently had the opportunity to interview Ben Powless, a young Mohawk from Six Nations in Ontario. Ben is a member of the Indigenous Environmental Network and a Founder of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition. Among other causes, he has been very active in the IEN’s tar sands campaign. He also sits on the board of the National Council for the Canadian Environmental Network, is on the Youth Advisory Group to the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, and is very involved in his local Aboriginal community.
In our interview he discusses the impacts of the tar sands on indigenous communities in northern Alberta, their campaign for a moratorium on future tar sands developments and how the IEN is trying to raise awareness internationally about what is going on in Alberta. He characterizes the tar sands as a violation of the constitutionally-guaranteed rights of First Nations people in Canada.
To download the interview, right click here and select ‘Save as’ or ‘Save target as’.
Perhaps it wasn’t surprising given the powerful interests at play, but last week the environmental activist Tim DeChristopher was found guilty of violating an onshore oil and gas leasing act and making a false representation stemming from a botched oil and gas auction in 2008. DeChristopher now faces sentencing, which could include up to 10 years in prison and a $750,000 fine.
His crime? Almost three years ago, DeChristopher went to an auction that was leasing more than 100,000 acres of federal (i.e. public) land for oil and gas development in Utah. The leases were approved in the dying days of the Bush II administration, despite the fact that the land in question bordered Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and Dinosaur National Monument.
Posing as a bidder, DeChristopher won the right to develop 22,500 acres of land for which, of course, he had neither the capability nor the intention of doing. His goal was simply to take the land out of the hands of oil and gas companies.
Despite the fact that officials in the Obama administration subsequently canceled leases on 77 parcels from the auction, effectively agreeing that the auction should never have gone ahead, DeChristopher was nonetheless being prosecuted, and now convicted, for his actions.
“We know now that I will go to prison,” he said following the verdict. “We know now that’s the reality, but that’s the job I have to do. … If we are going to achieve our vision, many after me will have to join me as well.”
In the face of overwhelming evidence of human-caused climate change, no one has ever been charged for polluting the atmosphere, yet now we are sending a man to prison for taking action to prevent oil and gas development from taking place. I think Bill McKibben puts in best in this article in Grist.
“So far, no bankers have been charged, despite the unmitigated greed that nearly brought the world economy down. No coal or oil execs have been charged, despite fouling the entire atmosphere and putting civilization as we know it at risk.
But engage in creative protest that mildly disrupts the efficient sell-off of our landscape to oil and gas barons? As Tim DeChristopher found out on Thursday, that’ll get you not just a week in court, but potentially a long stretch in the pen.
If you’re outraged by what happened to Tim, and if you’re inspired, make sure to follow the group he’s helped found, Peaceful Uprising. And if you’re thinking about laying it on the line, give us your name at ClimateDirectAction.org.”
And in this article in the Huffington Post, Jeff Biggers argues that DeChristopher deserves the medal of freedom. Click here to read the speech Tim delivered after his sentence was handed down. To lend your support, visit DeChristopher’s website Bidder70.org.
I interviewed Tim a few months ago, before his trial had begun. In light of recent developments, I am posting this interview once again. Just click the audio player above or right click here to download the mp3 file.
If you ever wonder why tar sands developments in northern Alberta are moving full speed ahead despite the pollution, carbon emissions, health impacts and all the bad publicity, check out this article from The Guardian about Saudi Arabia’s diminishing oil supplies.
The Alberta government and its federal conservative brethren in Ottawa under Stephen Harper know perfectly well that, as traditional oil supplies diminish, the demand for unconventional oil such as the tar sands will only skyrocket in the coming years. There is an absolute fortune to be made from dirty tar sands crude and the U.S. needs it more than ever. If our current political and corporate leaders have their way, nothing and no one will get in the way of the ongoing, rapacious expansion of the tar sands.
Interview with Danielle Droitsch of the Pembina Institute
It’s good to know our tax dollars are paying Canadian diplomats to fight the good fight in Washington on behalf of those hard-luck oil companies working in Alberta’s tar sands. Postmedia news is reporting that our diplomats have quietly asked oil-industry players such as Exxon Mobil and BP to help “kill” U.S. global-warming policies in order to ensure that “the oil keeps a-flowing” from Alberta into the U.S. marketplace.
Apparently unaware of either the climate change crisis or the exceedingly high levels of greenhouse gases emanating from the tar sands, the officials proposed instead to “kill any interpretation” of American energy legislation that would apply to the tar sands industry. “We hope that we can find a solution to ensure that the oil keeps a-flowing,” wrote Jason Tolland, from the Canadian Embassy in an exchange of emails with government trade lawyers Feb. 8, 2008.
The correspondence reveals that the Canadian diplomats had contacted officials from the American Petroleum Institute – an industry association – as well as from Exxon Mobil Corp., BP, Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips, Encana Corp. and Marathon Oil Corp. One email sent by Paul Connors, who at the time was an energy counsellor at the embassy, encouraged an official with Exxon Mobil to get involved in the political debate against the legislation.
The correspondence was released to the Pembina Institute who obtained it through an access-to-information request.
To find out more about this, I spoke with Danielle Droitsch, the Director of U.S. policy for the Pembina Institute, a Canadian not-for-profit think tank focused on developing innovative sustainable energy solutions. We also discussed the shifting political ground in the United States. With the Republican Party taking control of the House of Representatives this week, what does this mean for climate change policy in North America?
In his first two years on the job, President Obama has thus far failed to pass cap-and-trade legislation. Now his administration wants to introduce regulations to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Upon taking office, Obama directed the Department of Transportation to issue regulations that will raise Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for passenger cars and light-duty trucks to 35-miles per gallon by 2020 (6.7 litres per 100 km) from the current 27-mpg standard. Last year, Canada followed suit, issuing guidelines for 2011 model year vehicles that are identical to the U.S. CAFE standards.
And just this week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued new rules requiring all new industrial plants or major expansions to acquire permits for emitting carbon dioxide and other GHGs. The Obama administration has also announced plans to impose new emission rules on power plants and refineries.
Back here in Canada, the former Environment Minister, John Baird, indicated this week that Canada would not adopt a similar approach but will broadly match the U.S. regulatory approach. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has long indicated that Canada would harmonize emissions reductions efforts with the U.S. Now that the Obama administration is taking measures to regulate industrial emissions, what will the Harper government do? Was all the talk of harmonization simply empty rhetoric or will we see some action at long last? Time will tell.
And will Obama even be able to push through the proposed new regulations? The new Republican House Speaker John Boehner has already indicated that one of his party’s top priorities for the coming session will be to block the new EPA regulations however they can.
In my interview with Danielle Droitsch, she discusses what lies ahead for U.S. and Canadian climate policy given the recent political shifts.
Click the audio player to hear the first in a series of special Earthgauge podcasts produced for CKUT radio.
The first episode looks at the tar sands of northern Alberta from the perspective of the people who are most directly affected by these massive industrial projects: namely, the First Nations communities living in the region. These are the communities of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Fort McMurray and Fort McKay First Nations and the Chipewyan Prairie First Nation.
For this podcast, I spoke with several individuals who are familiar with the impacts the tar sands projects are having on First Nations communities: Clayton Thomas-Muller of the Indigenous Environmental Network; Inuit activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Sheila Watt-Cloutier; Shannon Walsh, director of the documentary H2Oil; and Dr. John O’Connor, the former physician in the community of Fort Chipewyan.
What do these First Nations communities think of having the largest industrial development on Earth in their own backyard? Some are dependent on the jobs and income that the tar sands have created. Others are angry about the severe health and environmental impacts their communities have suffered. And now they want justice.
To download the podcast, right click here and select ‘Save as’ or ‘Save target as’.
There’s been a lot of talk about the Alberta tar/oil sands of late (and deservedly so). Hollywood director James Cameron (Avatar, Titanic) recently paid a visit to the Athabasca region to witness the devastation for himself – and to talk with various political and petroleum industry leaders. [Aside: could the Ed Stalmach government of Alberta be any friendlier to the oil industry in Alberta? It's as if they speak with one voice. Governments surely want to create a business friendly environment but isn't it also their responsibility to ensure that human health and the environment are protected?]
Following his visit, Cameron, who is Canadian, ended up saying the oil/tar sands will become a curse for Canada without science-based regulations. His visit followed on the heels of other high-profile visits from the likes of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Lindsey Graham. Graham was so enamored with the beauty of open pit oil mines and devastated landscapes, he has since gone on to introduce a pro-Alberta oil sands bill in the U.S. Senate that would ensure unrestricted flow to United States.
Meanwhile, European Union MPs in Brussels have been debating a motion to classify the oil sands as a high-emissions fuel in the EU’s fuel quality directive that promotes use of greener energy. Not surprisingly, the Canadian government, in yet another nod to the beloved petroleum industry, is challenging the EU ruling in the World Trade Organization.
The EU vote has been put on hold for the time being but one thing is for sure: the issue of what to do about Canada’s tar sands is heating up as both sides become more and more entrenched. We surely haven’t heard the end of this story.