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 . 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 protected]
When: February 9, 5:30 to 7:30 pm
Where: Fox and Feather Pub & Grill, 283 Elgin street
Earthgauge interviews with James Hansen, Bill McKibben and Maude Barlow from Keystone XL protest in Washington, D.C. [#nokxl]
Click the audio players below to hear my interviews from the Keystone XL protest in Washington, D.C. last weekend with NASA scientist James Hansen; author and activist Bill McKibben and the Council of Canadians’ Maude Barlow.
It was a rare pleasure to have the opportunity to speak with Dr. James Hansen, renowned NASA scientist and one of the world’s leading climatologists. He heads the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, a part of the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. He is also an adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University.
Right click here to download the interview (3:18).
If there is one individual who can be credited with building the U.S. climate change movement to the level of influence it has reached today, it is Bill McKibben. In addition to being an author and journalist, McKibben has been a tireless environmental and climate activist. He is the author of several books and is a frequent contributor to various magazines including The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Orion Magazine, Mother Jones, The New York Review of Books, Granta, Rolling Stone, and Outside. He is also a board member and contributor to Grist Magazine.
Right click here to download the interview (1:55).
Maude Barlow is another person I’ve been trying to interview for some time. In our discussion, she is refreshingly upbeat in her assessment of the prospects of stopping both Keystone XL and the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipelines. Sure enough, mere days after the Keystone protest in D.C., President Obama announced that he would be delaying until 2013 his decision on whether or not to grant a permit to TransCanada to construct the pipeline.
Maude Barlow is the National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians and chairs the board of Washington-based Food and Water Watch. She is the recipient of 11 honorary doctorates as well as many awards, including the 2005 Right Livelihood Award, the Citation of Lifetime Achievement and the 2009 Earth Day Canada Outstanding Environmental Achievement Award. In 2008/2009, she served as Senior Advisor on Water to the 63rd President of the United Nations General Assembly and was a leader in the campaign to have water recognized as a human right by the UN. She is also the author of dozens of reports, as well as 16 books, including the international bestseller Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and The Coming Battle for the Right to Water.
Right click here to download the interview (2:50).
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.
WikiLeaks cables: Saudi Arabia cannot pump enough oil to keep a lid on prices | The Guardian.
“The US fears that Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest crude oil exporter, may not have enough reserves to prevent oil prices escalating, confidential cables from its embassy in Riyadh show.”
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.
Check out this infographic below produced by URBN FUTR, which “outlines the science behind how solar energy is harnessed. With the potential to power a predominant amount of the world cities’ energy use in the future, it is of utmost importance that the concept and technicalities are understood by all so that it truly becomes commonplace.”
via The Science of Solar Energy | URBNFUTR | URBNFUTR.
Canadian Press is reporting that gas is bubbling and fizzing out of the grown in Weyburn, Saskatchewan where the world’s largest carbon capture and storage (CCS) facility is located. CCS had been hailed by some as the panacea to climate change in that the technology is able to capture carbon dioxide and inject it underground rather than releasing it into the atmosphere.
Massive investments are being made in Alberta’s tar sands on CCS technology and any hope of reducing emissions is riding on the success of CCS. The federal government has even joined forces with the Alberta government to kick-start a plan for a $1.5 billion pipeline that would ship unwanted CO2 from utilities and oil sands production to old natural gas fields, and the Stelmach government in Alberta set aside $2 billion in the summer of 2008 for carbon capture and other mitigation projects.
But now, a Saskatchewan farm couple whose land lies over the Weyburn facility says greenhouse gases seeping from the soil are killing animals and sending groundwater foaming to the surface like shaken soda pop.
Skeptics of CCS have long-maintained that the technology is unproven and there is no way to guarantee that the carbon dioxide won’t leak at some point in the future thereby presenting serious health risks and undoing any emissions reductions that may have been realized. It’s expensive, unproven, and according to researchers at Duke University, there’s the troubling possibility that captured carbon could leak into groundwater aquifers, potentially rendering water undrinkable.
This latest bad news for proponents of CCS adds to doubts about the technology’s effectiveness, particularly in the tar sands. A government report from 2008 stated that that just a small percentage of the carbon dioxide released in mining the sands and producing fuel from them can be captured.
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.
Tough Energy and Environmental Questions for 2011.
A good article by Rafe Mair of the Common Sense Canadian to start 2011. It is always interesting to read comments such as the following from a former member of the B.C. Legislative Assembly (as Mair was under the conservative-leaning Social Credit government).
“…with our governments money talks and big time money talks big time. It must be remembered that corporations don’t give a rat’s ass about the environment. They would pollute all water, destroy wildlife, and desecrate the environment generally. Every tiny bit of environmental restraint has been and always will be imposed by government and it will be resisted and ignored by the corporate world.”
Cheerful words to brighten your new year! Worth a read. Happy 2011!
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’.
Hot off the press, the International Energy Agency has just released the 2010 edition of its World Energy Outlook. The report projects global energy production and consumption out to 2035 based on three scenarios: current policies; policies promised since the agreement of the Copenhagen Climate Change Accord last December; and the IEA’s best case scenario of limiting carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere to 450 parts per million (we are currently sitting at roughly 390 ppm and rising fast).
There’s a lot to chew on in a report of this magnitude. And although you can’t actually read it without paying a fee, you can read an executive summary and early excerpt by clicking here and scrolling down to find the download.
It is worth noting one quite startling assertion in this year’s report: the IEA maintains that abolishing fossil fuel subsidies would in fact boost the world’s economy, environment and energy security. And to what extent are fossil fuel industries subsidized you might wonder? According to the IEA, which is the respected energy watchdog to 28 industrialized countries, such subsidies were estimated to be $312 billion in 2009 compared with $57 billion for renewable energy. Fossil fuel subsidies are on course to reach $600 billion by 2015.
In this age of energy insecurity, air pollution, oil spills and climate change, it is simply incredible to think that we are spending 6 times more on subsidies to the oil, coal and gas industries than we are on clean, renewable energy technologies.
Without taking any other action to mitigate climate change, the IEA estimates that eliminating fossil fuel subsidies alone by 2020 would cut global energy demand by 5 percent and reduce carbon emissions by nearly 6 percent.
So what are we waiting for?