Tag Archives: Tar Sands

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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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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How Neil Young gets it right (and wrong) on oil

Oil is everywhere and everything?

Oil is everywhere and everything?

Fossil fuels make hypocrites of every environmental activist in the world.

The bright ones know that as consumers in the unavoidable petro-economy, they are just as culpable as anyone for climate change; but they push their planet-saving agenda anyway. After all, why remain silent on strategies for using oil and gas to transition to a cleaner, more sustainable future?

The dimmer ones, who never seem to suffer from a loss of words, prattle on about “us versus them” in apparent ignorance of the enormously complex socio-economic web this and other nations have spun with the products of refined dinosaur bones. Forget transforming the world; let’s just shut it down.

Thanks to celebrity big mouths and the media’s even bigger appetite for controversy, the question of the moment is: Into which camp does Canada’s legendary folk-rocker Neil Young fit? Is he a shining light or a broken bulb? A not entirely unrelated question is: Does it matter?

The Prime Minister Office seems to think it does. Why, otherwise, would it have dispatched its spokesman Jason MacDonald to defend Alberta’s curiously vulnerable tar sands against Mr. Young’s vituperative attack on them last Sunday night during the launch of a countrywide tour. At that time, the Grammy Award winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer said, using his outside voice:

“To me, it’s a basic matter of integrity on the part of Canada. Canada is trading integrity for money. That’s what’s happening under the current leadership in Canada, which is a very poor imitation of the George Bush administration in the United States. It’s lagging behind on the world stage and it’s an embarrassment to Canadians.”

To which, Mr. MacDonald responded: “Canada’s natural resources sector is and has always been a fundamental part of our country’s economy. . .The resource sector creates economic opportunities, and employs tens of thousands of Canadians in high wage jobs, contributing to a standard of living that is envied around the world, and helping to fund the programs and services Canadians rely on. . .Even the lifestyle of a rock star relies, to some degree, on the resources developed by thousands of hard-working Canadians every day.”

For Mr. Young, overall, so far so good. Whether or not you agree with his characterization of political leaders who are almost giddy at the prospect of selling their country – and First Nations communities in Alberta – down the river for a bag of bucks, you must, at least, acknowledge that he takes a principled stand.

More than this, perhaps, he is keenly aware of his stature, an effective weapon in the public relations battle to win friends and influence people (though methinks the man has already won enough hearts and minds for one life).

But, then, a funny thing happens on Mr. Young’s way to mainstream credibility regarding oil and gas. In his response to Mr. MacDonald’s jab about rock stars‘ reliance on natural resources, “Shaky” gets a little. . .well, shaky.

“Of course, rock stars don’t need oil. I drove my electric car from California to the tar sands and on to Washington DC without using any oil at all and I’m a rock star,” he says. “My car’s generator runs on biomass, one of several future fuels Canada should be developing for the Post Fossil Fuel Age. This age of renewable fuels could save our grandchildren from the ravages of Climate related disasters spawned by the Fossil Fuel Age; but we have to get started.”

He’s right. We do have to get started. But if, as he insists, rock stars don’t need oil, is he suggesting his life is a petroleum-free zone? For, if it is, that would be a neat trick, indeed.

According to one calculation from Ranken Energy Corp., “Americans consume petroleum products at a rate of three-and-a-half gallons of oil and more than 250 cubic feet of natural gas per day each.”

In fact, oil is in just about everything, from floor wax to bicycle tires to golf bags and purses. “Anything that’s not iron or steel or metal of some sort has some petrochemical component,” West Virginia University chemistry professor Dady Dadyburjor told The Associated Press not long ago.

This, one presumes, includes the chassis of Mr. Young’s electric car.

Of course rock stars need oil. We all do. And owning up to our collective addiction is the first step on the royal road to recovery from hypocrisy.

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