Tag Archives: oil sands

Arrrrg word!


Is recession a natural phenomenon, attached to the human species the way the weather attaches to Earth, itself? Or, is it a conjurer’s trick of the imagination – a self-fulfilling prophecy – fated to repeat the more we utter its name?

Economic schools of thought are divided on the subject, though the literature and lore is abundant.

In a recent post to The Drum, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s online screed-fest, editorialist Greg Jerhico writes, “After such a long time without a recession, no treasurer would wish to be the one to preside over such an event. For (Australian Finance Minister) Joe Hockey, the path away from recession lies with his hope that the budget measures for small businesses will enliven investment in the non-mining sector. And given the current poor state of investment in that sector, his measures will need to work.”

Adds Mr. Jerhico: “Economists love to call recessions. The standard joke about economists and recessions is the one made by (the late American economist) Paul Samuelson that some economists have predicted nine out of the last five recessions. . .Australia has not had a recession since June 1991, which was the last time there were two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth in seasonally adjusted terms.

“Of course, such a definition is utterly stupid, and really should be thrown out as soon as possible. Any definition where an economy could shrink by 0.5 per cent in one quarter, rise by 0.1 per cent in the next, and then shrink by 0.6 per cent the quarter after and not be in a recession is complete lunacy.”

If this doesn’t sound familiar, it should. According to a Globe and Mail piece, headlined “Economy’s dip stokes recession fears”, last week, “The latest reading of Canada’s economic health suggests the economy’s oil-induced coma extended into the second quarter, renewing fears of a mild recession and casting doubt about the country’s capacity to recover from the severe oil price slump.

Statistics Canada reported Tuesday that real gross domestic product (i.e. adjusted for inflation) shrank by 0.1 per cent in April from March. The economy was hit by a 3.4-per-cent drop in oil and gas extraction – the sharpest one-month drop in nearly four years, adding to declines in March.”

Australia is the southern hemisphere’s Canada; both are great, global lodestones of natural resources.

The Aussies have their extraordinary reserves of precious metals, rare-earth minerals, iron ore, coal; whereas, we Canucks can dine out on the fact that we are the largest exporter of unrefined petroleum products in the western world.

But a funny thing happened to both nations on their way to their respective commodity markets: The stalls were closed.

Now, Canadian and Australian pundits are concurrently convinced that recession is, again, a virtual certainty in both nations. Although they are separated by about 12,000 kilometres of ocean, they still share practically every doomsday instinct that is the common weal of two peoples forged by Anglo-Saxon principles of crime, punishment and – not for nothing – blowing the biggest of free lunches geology and history ever displayed before man.

Do we extract natural resources and denude the good earth solely for private pillage, or do we leverage our talent for plunder to obtain better, more efficacious, ends? What safe, reliable, environmentally benign technologies can we invent – from the wealth we extract from the ground – that will preserve and protect the biosphere on which billions of species depend, including our own?

This is the dialectic our times, of our condition. The answer is either our progression or our final recession into oblivion.

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Green around the gills


He bet the nation’s country farm on the Alberta oil sands. But, my, how Stephen Harper’s expectations have tarred and feathered the petro-industry’s chickens who have lately come home to roost.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) now says that Canada’s western crude production faces a decade-long slide into something just this side of irrelevance – a condition no one saw coming down the pipeline of public relations even a year ago, when fossil fuel prices in this country first began to sink below levels thought possible, let alone reasonable.

Still, CAPP is fairly sure of itself this time:

“The Canadian crude oil industry is facing risks on multiple fronts in a market transformed by increased global crude oil supplies resulting in lower oil prices. Lower oil prices have challenged project economics and reduced capital spending intentions. These constraints have dampened the outlook for future production growth. Against this changed backdrop, highlights of this year’s outlook are”, well. . .not good. The organization expects the following calumnies:

“Total oil production continues to grow but at a slower pace than previously anticipated; total Canadian production grows from 3.7 million b/d in 2014 up to 5.3 million b/d in 2030, which is 1.1 million b/d lower than last year’s forecast; market diversity and access is still required to the U.S. Gulf Coast, the U.S. Midwest and Eastern Canada in North America.”

Meanwhile, “the timely development of infrastructure to obtain market access is a continuing concern. The in-service dates for many of the pipeline projects have already been delayed and could be even further delayed due to extended regulatory processes.”

All of which makes an Energy East Pipeline from the west, through Ontario and Quebec and, finally, into Saint John, a sudden long shot. And yet, here on the East Coast we’re still talking about it as if it were a sure thing, a done deal, from Ottawa (which cares less than nothing for Maritime fortunes) and Alberta (whose new NDP government is far more interested in further curtailing greenhouse gas emissions from the inconvenient truth of its underperforming bitumen deposits than it is in extending inter-provincial trade).

Indeed, it seems clear that the Conservative Government of Canada must now craft, in record time, a reason, other than resource extraction, to tie the country together and behind it – just as another federal election looms on the horizon. This may explain Mr. Harper’s unexpected, rhetorical withdrawal at the recent G7 Summit in Germany last week.

As Matthew Fisher of The National Post reported, “Although his children will not likely be around to see it. . . (Prime Minister) Harper committed fossil-fuel rich Canada to ending all production and use of carbon-based energy by the end of the 21st century. This cautious softening of the prime minister’s usual staunch defence of Canada’s energy sector was matched by the other G7 leaders in the closing declaration they issued at the end of their two-day summit. . .(Mr.) Harper seemed to have caught a break on Monday when a discussion on climate change that would have put Canada on the hot seat was cut to half an hour so that leaders could devote more time to global security.”

Obviously, those particular chickens have not yet come home to roost; but while we wait, it might behove our prime minister to acknowledge, finally, that climate-change politics is not merely the source of his own nausea.

It is also for a civilization that’s growing sick of all the fine-feathered friends of the earth it must endure.

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Fighting a bad case of pipeline paranoia


Time was when the Energy East Pipeline proposal was the least controversial and troublesome of all of New Brunswick’s options for fossil-fuel-based industrial development. In fact, it was a no-brainer.

Encourage line builder and operator TransCanada to reverse the flow in one of its existing pipes, build a bunch of extensions, including one into the Saint John refinery and, hey presto: instant construction jobs for at least a few years.

Those, of course, were the good, old days. Times change.

Last spring Maude Barlow, national chairperson for the Council of Canadians, told the North Bay Nugget in an extensive interview, “I want to let communities know not to be pressured to make a decision or risk not getting the benefits of the pipeline. I can tell you there are no benefits. There’s no argument for this pipeline. It’s an export pipeline and we don’t need it. . .We get the risk and (oil companies) get the reward.”

What’s more, she added, “I would like to know what are the big jobs, because this pipeline is for export. It’s about greed. They’re playing with a potential environmental catastrophe that environmentalists have been warning about. . .It’s so much more dangerous (than any other oil) and it’s crossing watersheds and many waterways around the Great Lake Region that are already being threatened. We certainly don’t need to add to that threat.”

To which TransCanada, ever sensitive to bad press, of which it sees a lot these days, replied on its own website:

“Quebec and New Brunswick currently import more than 700,000 barrels of oil every day – or 86 per cent of their refinery needs – from countries such as Algeria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria. At current oil prices, this is over $75 million drained out of the Canadian economy – every single day. Energy East proposes to connect Western Canada’s resources to Eastern Canada’s needs. Greater supplies of domestic crude would improve the financial viability of eastern Canadian refineries by giving them access to less-expensive, stable domestic supplies.”

That’s not all: “Once this primary purpose is served, Energy East will supply export markets. TransCanada has always been open about this and it is not something we are shying away from. Exports are a good thing for our country. They provide economic growth. They create jobs. They generate tax revenue that helps our provinces build new universities, resurface hundreds of kilometres of highways or provide our seniors with home care.”

None of which has prevented environmentalists from legally delaying the work in sensitive habitats along the St. Lawrence River.

Meanwhile, some major natural gas customers in central Canada want TransCanada to assure them they won’t be ripped off when (if?) the project is completed.

To some extent, this is part of national pattern of pipeline paranoia. Both the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway initiatives, which would send Alberta crude west to the sea and south to the United States, are mired in controversies and concerns about leaks and spills.

But the larger, existential issue is what these pipes represent. As the Green Party of New Brunswick’s election campaign platform explicitly stated: “Discourage increases in the production and use of fossil fuels by denying permits for new fossil fuel infrastructure such as the Energy East pipeline.”

That’s all well and good, but not especially practical. Our essential paradox is that we still need dreaded fossil fuels if only to help power our shift away from them – to drive many of the engines of ingenuity that will generate durable solutions to our sustainability problems.

Premier Brian Gallant should be commended for his sturdy support of Energy East. “I am quite confident we can do (this) in a very sustainable way,” he told a news conference in Saint Andrews, N.B., last week. “I’m also convinced the economic benefits are very exciting for our country and our province. So I am going to go around and speak to other provinces and within our province, to New Brunswickers, as to why this is important.”

Indeed, it’s a no-brainer.

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New Brunswick’s climate change talking points



Greenhouse gas emission targets, like New Year’s resolutions, are made to be broken. Still, as loyal supplicants of the state of denial otherwise known as New Brunswick, it behooves all of us to wish Premier Alward and company all the best with their new Climate Change Action Plan.

Luck? You’re going to need it. 

“To do its part under the Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers (NEG-ECP) 2013 Climate Change Action Plan,” the strategy, released on Monday, declares. “New Brunswick has committed to achieving greenhouse gas reduction targets of: Ten per cent below 1990 levels by 2020; and 75-85 per cent below 2001 levels by 2050.”

Apparently, this is perfectly doable. After all, as the report notes, the province managed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent between 2005 and 2010, even as it grew its economy by 19 per cent over that period.

Forget that in 2011, New Brunswick belched 18.6 million tonnes of 

CO2 equivalent, which amounted to the third-highest per capita emissions in the country, behind Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Forget, too, that as the plan clearly states, “New Brunswick’s economy faces challenges due to its high ‘carbon intensity’. In other words, the province consumes a relatively large amount of energy per dollar of economic production, and despite recent 

progress, much of the energy New Brunswick uses still comes from refined petroleum products. With the transition to a lower carbon economy well on its way, people around the world are making significant changes to the way they do business. As a province that exports much of what it produces, New Brunswick’s reputation and real performance in climate change may affect its trade competitiveness in international markets.”

All of which is another way of saying what U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman warned this week: If we don’t soon get our climate-change act together up here, north of the 48th, there will be economic consequences to pay elsewhere on the world stage.

“We need to continue (the) work together moving toward a low-carbon future, with alternative energy choices, with greater energy choices, with greater energy efficiency, and sustainable extraction of our oil and gas reserves,” he said in a speech in Ottawa on Monday. “This is not a task we can take on individually. It can only be successfully challenged together.”

Mr. Heyman made his remarks as his boss U.S. President Barack Obama’s unveiled sweeping, new plans to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30 per cent by 2030. 

Again, like New Brunswick’s targets, the number feels arbitrary. Who knows what can happen in five years, let alone 15 or 35? Almost no one foresaw the industrial output-killing Great Recession of 2008, which, incidentally, did more than all the earnest policy makers in the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Still, it’s a start, and that’s more than we can say for our own venerable leader Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose only response to criticism this week that he’s not moving fast enough to match US. initiatives on climate change was downright surly: “(Obama is) acting two years after this government acted and taking actions that do not go nearly as far as this government went.”

The unvarnished truth is, however, that the Yanks are on course to cut all of their emissions by 15 per cent by 2020. In contrast, we Canucks are more or less happily sitting with our heads stuck in the Alberta oil sands, where production dooms any hope of meeting our oft-stated reduction target of 17 per cent a scant six years from now.

In New Brunswick, several factors militate against the new action plan’s chances of success. Oddly enough, none of these has anything to do with tight oil and gas development, an as yet unrealized sweet dream, or wretched nightmare, depending on who’s doing the talking.

Without dramatic, even temporarily traumatic, changes to the energy mix in this province – without a concerted effort to cut back usage, conserve electricity and, finally, migrate to renewable sources for in situ consumption – all of our greenhouse gas reduction targets will remain, like so many of our other promises in New Brunswick, made to be broken.


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Catching the Tories in Bambi’s headlights


Canada’s freshly cobbled Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says that the nation’s laws oughtn’t transform charitable foundations, which pay virtually no income taxes, into shelter accounts for fraudsters, money-launderers, terrorists, and organized criminals.

To which, the proper response might be: “Well, duh.”

In advance of today’s federal budget, Mr. Flaherty – his new shoes dutifully acquired from Toronto’s Mellow Walk Footwear – declared to media, “There are some terrorist organizations, there are some organized crime organizations, that launder money through charities and that make donations to charities and that’s not the purpose of charitable donations in Canada. We are being increasingly strict on the subject.”

What’s more, he said, “If the critics of the government (policy to close the apparent loophole) are terrorist organizations and organized crime, I don’t care.”

Sure, but that’s not really the nontaxable sixty-four-thousand dollar question.

If it were, then citizens of this country would have every right to demand what, exactly, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and Communications Security Establishment Canada – not to speak of America’s Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency and the co-dependent operations of Britain’s Secret Intelligent Service – have been doing in the authentic age of surveillance.

I mean, are we or aren’t we fully, bloodily and bodily exposed? And if the critics of the government are, in fact, terrorist organizations, then shouldn’t our “friendly” spies and spooks care rather deeply, even if our finance minister does not?

No, this is not about terrorists or money launderers or organized criminals. This is about that hemp-clad, plackard-waving, fossil-fuel hating, trust-fund baby boomer (and his millennial acolytes) who has roundly peeved Conservative office-holders, lo these many years.

According to the Toronto Star and other news organizations, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is systematically auditing environmental charities that continue to make a connection between fossil fuel production in Alberta and global warming.

It wants to know whether the organizations – Pembina Foundation, David Suzuki Foundation, Tides Canada and Environmental Defence, among others – are running afoul of the 10 per cent rule, which refers to the percentage of a charity’s time and money that may be spent on political or advocacy work as long as the activities are non-partisan in nature (that is, not aligned to particular parties).

John Bennett of the Sierra Club of Canada calls this “a war against the sector.”  Marcel Lauzière of Imagine Canada laments the “big chill out there with what charities can and cannot do.”

All of which may be true, but CRA’s government-sanction audits illustrate, if nothing else, that the sector has struck a nerve in Ottawa. Who knew that Bambi’s tree-hugger brigade would scare the scat out of the establishment fat cats in Ottawa?

In fact, it’s been a pretty good past couple of years for environmental groups bent on countering the federal government’s fondness for the oil sands. The effects of coordinated and aggressive publicity campaigns are especially noticeable in the United States, where the Obama administration continues to drag its feet on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

One recent poll by USA Today indicates that only a slight majority of Americans surveyed supported imports of oil sands crude from Alberta. “About 56 per cent say they favor the northern leg of the billion-dollar, Canada-to-U.S. project and 41 per cent oppose it, according to the poll of 801 U.S. adults completed last month by Stanford University and Resources for the Future (RFF), a non-partisan research group,” the newspaper reported last month.

Still, any government that deliberately targets for censure organizations with which it doesn’t agree, and whose growing influence it fears, runs a perilously close risk of trampling on some very hallowed democratic ground.

After all, if you name your organization “Environmental Defence”, apply for and receive charitable status, do you not also assume that your right to criticize official policy   on said environment is protected?

And what utter nonsense is the 10 per cent rule, anyway. All charities fill the gaps in the public and private sector’s attention to social detail. They exist to do precisely what their critics and detractors revile: advocate.

By all means, go after the evil-dowers who distort our charities for larcenous ends. But for the rest of the sector, let’s holster our six guns.

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