Alberta oil sands

UN timber deal would OK “a new form of colonialism," critics charge

By Alexander Kelly

COPENHAGEN – Clayton Thomas-Muller hails from Ontario, Canada -- a First World nation that’s loaded with timber. Ana Filippini comes from nearly the opposite end of the Western Hemisphere, Uruguay, a developing country with vast grasslands known as pampas.

Despite the differences in their homelands, both made their way here to deliver a message to a United Nations conference on climate change:

Your plans to save the Earth could kill our people.

Specifically, they fear for indigenous people who depend on natural forests and grasslands.

A United Nations proposal being negotiated here this week to govern cutting of forests – which accounts for an estimated one-fifth of the human-caused global warming – fails to distinguish between natural and manufactured forests. It’s an omission that would enable timber corporations to log virtually any intact forest on the planet, replacing it with immense swaths of industrial farmland containing only one type of tree, critics charge.

An indigenous Brazilian man addresses a forum on deforestation and native peoples at the UN climate summit in Copenhagen that ends Friday. InvestigateWest photo by Mark Malijan. 

Although the world is likely to hear on Friday that an agreement on slowing deforestation is one of the few bright spots to emerge from two weeks of UN talks on a climate treaty here, indigenous activists see the agreement as anything but a success.


Changing the political system = saving the Earth, say protesters at Copenhagen climate talks

COPENHAGEN – T-shirts. Banners. Picket signs. Chants. Those were the weapons most demonstrators wielded to get across their plea as tens of thousands rallied to send a message to United Nations climate-treaty negotiators meeting here.

Their overriding point was probably best summed up in one placard: “Change the politics, not the climate.” Another frequently seen sign: "There is no Planet B:" The Copenhagen march was echoed by an international campaign of demonstrations.

[caption id="attachment_7155" align="alignleft" width="240" caption="InvestigateWest photo by Christopher Crow."]InvestigateWest photo by Mark Malijan.[/caption]

The protesters targeted a proposal emerging from global negotiations here that wouldseek to reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide by putting a price on the right to pollute. A similar system has worked well to control acid rain in the United States, by most accounts. But critics say exporting that concept to a worldwide climate treaty is foolhardy because it privatizes the right to pollute. (Jim Tankersley of the LA Times has an interesting look at what goes on inside the negotiations versus what's transpiring outside.)

The Saturday protest, billed as the largest likely during the climate talks, was not without violence. A few hundred of the 30,000 or more demonstrators tossed bricks at police, smashed windows and set off homemade explosives near the end of the march.

Tar sands' greenhouse gas emissions underestimated, report claims

The amount of greenhouse gases to be unleashed in converting Alberta's tar sands into useable energy has been seriously underestimated, according to a new report by environmentalists.

Out in the last hour or so on the Edmonton Journal's site is a seven-paragraph story by the Financial Post on a report that says official estimates of the emissions fail to take into account that oil companies are knocking down a whole lot of boreal forest in the process. The forest stores tons -- literally -- of carbon.

The Financial Post says the report was done by Global Forest Watch Canada, and we were able to located a Sept. 23 report (PDF) that appears to be the subject of the story. Quoting from page 13:

 The bituminous sands Surface Mineable Area totals 488,968 (hectares) of northern Alberta's boreal ecosystems. In addition to surface mining, in situ bitumen production will occur over a projected area of 13,553,246 ha (Oil Sands Administration Area minus the Surface Mineable Area), although the availability of the entire area for bitumen industrial activities may change. Few, if any, of the biocarbon emissions resulting from land use change caused by the bituminous sands industrial activities in these areas are reported.

The whole report pretty much reads that way. It looks like a well-documented review of all the greenhouse gas emissions to be expected from mining the tar sands, aka the oil sands. It goes on to blame the counting rules of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, among other factors, for the undercounting.

No response from the industry in what's on the web so far.

Alberta tar sands energy firm pleads not guilty in birds' deaths

Syncrude, an Alberta oil sands giant, pleaded not guilty Monday in the deaths of approximately 1,600 ducks in one of its tailings ponds in April 2008, reports Sarah O'Donnell in the Edmonton Journal. The migrating ducks landed in a pond near Fort McMurray, were coated in oil residue, and sank to the bottom. Only eight survived, five of which went to Edmonton's Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. The remaining three were released. The deaths in what's also known as the Alberta tar sands region violate the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act and the Alberta Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act. Syncrude says it is doing all it can to make avoid a repeat case. Syncrude lawyer Robert White had this to say:

Syncrude is not above the law. However, the law has recognized for a long time that when people do their best to avoid something, that isn't a matter for charges. That is a matter of fix-up... And it is not possible for anybody to do more than Syncrude has done to ensure it never happens again.

The company is still fighting the charges.

North of Fort McMurray, Greenpeace activists have seized a giant dump truck and shovel from Shell's Albian Sands open-pit-mine, reports Richard Warnica in the Edmonton Journal. More than 25 people chained together pickup trucks to block off the dump truck, then climbed to the top and chained themselves down. Spokesman Mike Hudema says the group is prepared to stay until people listen to the message proclaimed on its banner: "Tar Sands: Climate Crime." The protest comes one day before Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's meeting with U.S.

State Dept sued over Alberta pipeline

A coalition of environmentalists and tribal groups sued the U.S. State Department on Thursday for allegedly failing to assess the full environmental impact of Embridge Energy's project to build a pipeline to pump 450,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day from northern Alberta to refining facilities in Superior, Wisconsin.

The nonprofit law group Earthjustice filed the suit on behalf of The Indigenous Environmental Network, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, National Wildlife Federation and Sierra Club.

The suit filed in the U.S. District Court for Northern California alleges that the State Department is ignoring the "serious environmental, climate, and human health impacts of tar sands oil" in a "departure from the Obama Administration's commitment to a clean energy future."

The State Department issued a permit for the Alberta Clipper pipeline on August 20th.  In its public statement, the department wrote:

Chinese investment spurs Alberta tar sands and pipeline across the Rockies

Today brings another fascinating development in the saga of the Alberta tar sands, which is becoming one of our favorite topics here at InvestigateWest and shows signs of becoming a major geopolitical dispute as well as a massive fueler of global warming.

[caption id="attachment_3469" align="alignright" width="252" caption="Developing the tar sands leaves behind huge lakes of toxic waste, like this tailings pond. Photo courtesy of Greenpeace."]Developing the tar sands leaves behind huge lakes of toxic waste, like this tailings pond. Photo courtesy of Greenpeace.[/caption]

The big news today is that a Chinese state-owned company, PetroChina, has purchased a 60 percent stake in the Athabasca Oil Sands Corp.'s MacKay River and Dover projects for nearly $2 billion.

This is likely to boost the case for building a pipeline across the Rockies to unload oil-sands petroleum on the west coast of British Columbia, a  prospect completely unwelcome to native First Nations living in B.C.

For more on the environmental implications of the tar sands, see this recent Dateline Earth post. Or, just suffice it to say the impact is huge. 

The Calgary Herald's editorial writers missed a comma in the following excerpt, but it conveys the apprehensions some are feeling in Canada and the United States about PetroChina's move: 

Canadians should be deeply concerned about the relationship that would evolve, in which a foreign government increasingly makes important decisions about a premier Canadian industry and not necessarily with the free market in mind.