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Archive for February, 2008

Environment trumps oilsands: poll

Posted by mhudema on February 28, 2008

Darcy Henton
The Edmonton Journal
Suncor's on-site oilsands refinery as seen from the air.
CREDIT: Calgary Herald, file
Suncor’s on-site oilsands refinery as seen from the air.

EDMONTON – Nearly two-thirds of Albertans say the government should limit greenhouse gas emissions produced by oilsands development, even if it means some projects would be delayed or cancelled, according to a new poll.

The Leger telephone poll, commissioned by the Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald, also suggests 57 per cent of Albertans believe the Tory government isn’t doing enough to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

But the same poll suggests 40 per cent of Albertans plan to vote for the Tories on March 3 — enough to give the party an 11th majority government.

Sixty-two per cent of respondents favoured a limit on oilsands emissions.

“Environment is important to them,” said Leger vice-president Marc Tremblay. “They want the government of Alberta to be more active in reducing Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions.”

The opinions expressed in the poll run contrary to Premier Ed Stelmach’s plan to gradually curb the harmful emissions over the next four decades.

But David Taras, a political analyst at the University of Calgary, says the poll’s contradictory message indicates Albertans are miffed with the government, but not enough to toss it out over the issue.

“It seems that the public is very, very concerned and has sharp differences with the Stelmach government on this, but it doesn’t translate into an election issue. Why? I don’t know,” Taras said.

“There’s a disgruntled public at odds with the government, but willing to elect it again.

“The government will be able to skate away from it — at least for now.”

Stelmach’s plan, which doesn’t call for greenhouse gas reductions to begin for another 12 years, aims to cut emissions to 14 per cent below 2005 levels by 2050.

Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan says that’s bad for Albertans, environmentally and economically.

“We think that taking action on greenhouse gases is not just a social and environmental imperative. We also think it is an economic imperative,” said McGowan, whose organization represents 27 unions and 140,000 workers.

“We’re afraid that if the Stelmach government doesn’t get serious with dealing with climate change, Alberta may be shut out of its major market because states like California, New York and Michigan are introducing very strict greenhouse gas initiatives.”

McGowan fears that as Alberta’s biggest customers get “greener and cleaner” they’ll shun oilsands products.

Stelmach has refused to put the brakes on oilsands development despite advice to do so from people like former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed, and has maintained that “hard caps” on carbon dioxide emissions would cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.

But Leger’s Tremblay says Albertans are telling all party leaders that they’re willing to make sacrifices to help Canada reduce emissions that are believed to cause global warming.

“It’s a delicate balance to strike,” Tremblay said. “You have to make sure you are not discouraging investment.”

A new Statistics Canada report released Wednesday shows just what is at stake. It predicts that investment in Alberta’s oilsands will continue to soar this year, and for the first time in the country’s history, will exceed spending in all of manufacturing across Canada.

The poll numbers suggest three-quarters of Albertans disagree with the Liberals plan to phase out natural gas rebates.

“It’s not political suicide, but in a campaign where all the parties are doing as much as they can to attract votes, anyone coming out and saying they want to eliminate natural gas rebates would not be scoring any points with Albertans,” Tremblay said.

The poll also suggests that Albertans are divided over whether the province should adopt public auto insurance. Forty-six per cent said no to the proposal and 41 per cent supported it.

Far more Edmontonians (48 per cent) support the idea than Calgary residents (37 per cent).

Despite controversy in Alberta over soft tissue injury caps, Stelmach has said public auto insurance is a non-starter in Alberta because he believes it has been a failure in other provinces.

The poll also suggests that 53 per cent of Albertans now support Stelmach’s compromise royalty regime, up from 47 per cent in an online Leger poll last October.

The Leger Marketing poll was conducted Feb. 21-25 by telephone among 900 randomly selected Albertans. It is considered accurate with plus or minus 3.3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

dhenton@thejournal.canwest.com

© The Edmonton Journal 2008
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Reining in oil sands

Posted by mhudema on February 28, 2008

Election Day in Alberta is six sleeps away and the fight has been mostly quiet, not even generating front-page news every day in the province, which pretty much means investors outside Alberta aren’t paying attention at all.

But they should. For years, Alberta has allowed energy development to proceed at a breakneck pace, basically as fast as possible. This was accepted by the citizenry at first, given the boom-bust history of this place and the general sentiment of not messing with a good thing. But with a lack of government planning, that good thing has turned bad: overcrowded hospitals, a shortage of housing, the highest inflation rate in the country. And Albertans know it all stems from the unbelievable building boom in the oil sands, so many billions of dollars being poured in each year, bringing high-paying jobs to some but distorting life for many.

The pace of development, never questioned by the Conservative government, is now a serious front-page issue. Savvy investors should take note. Yes, the topic is still simmering, rather than exploding, but for investors pegging X barrels a day in their spreadsheets, set to start producing in 20XX by ABC Oil Sands Corp., the pace of regional development around Fort McMurray is now a business risk.

That’s why some big oil companies are actually calling for a slowdown, asking the government to restrict the sale of new exploration leases in three fringe areas. The slowdown is an obvious smokescreen, which my colleague Derek DeCloet explains in greater length in Tuesday’s Report on Business. The oil companies are trying to head off something worse, so they offer three non-prospective areas for “protection” for a couple years while continuing to mine and develop everything else with abandon.

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Why Big Oil discovered its love of trees

Posted by mhudema on February 26, 2008

Headshot of Derek DeCloet

ddecloet@globeandmail.com

Everybody loves a no-lose proposition. Some people make a career out of searching for them: the investor who pays $10 for stock in a company with $11 per share of cash in the bank; the acquisitive CEO who buys a struggling competitor, strips out the best asset and sells the rest at a profit. No-lose deals are hard to find, but the shrewd exploit them – and never let it be said that the big oil companies aren’t shrewd.

Big Oil has a big public relations headache. It’s called climate change and, as far as the public is concerned, the major oil sands producers have already been charged and convicted for their role in it. About six in 10 Albertans say that the breakneck expansion of new oil sands mines is harming the planet, according to a recent poll by the Strategic Counsel; an equal number think the province’s economy has been developing too quickly. Remember: This is what the home team says. You can imagine what the Mueslix-eating yuppies in Toronto think.

Oil executives are not dumb. They can see this. They can also see that B.C. just introduced a carbon tax and dread the thought of the feds doing the same. So what better way of greening their image than to call for a halt to new oil sands plays in Athabasca?

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Prime Minister Harper should take a tar-sands tip from Premier Campbell

Posted by mhudema on February 26, 2008

Susan Riley
The Ottawa Citizen
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is becoming increasingly isolated on the critical issue of climate change, splashing around in a toxic backwater with charisma-challenged Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach. By following the lead of B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell instead, he could ride the issue to his much-coveted majority.

That doesn’t mean embracing a carbon tax, as Campbell did last week, although any such move by Harper would leave his Liberal rivals sputtering in impotent rage, which must make the prospect tempting.

What he could do, instead, is make his long-awaited limits on industrial, greenhouse- gas emissions much tougher than expected. This seems unlikely: Tory policy so far has been to save the “hard” caps on pollution until after every last drop of dirty, energy-intensive crude (and profit) has been squeezed from the Alberta tar sands.

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Alta. chiefs call for moratorium on new oilsands development

Posted by mhudema on February 26, 2008

THE CANADIAN PRESS
CALGARY – Aboriginal leaders in Alberta issued a call Monday for a moratorium on new oilsands development.
Chiefs from Treaties 6, 7 and 8 met last week and unanimously agreed that the Alberta government shouldn’t let any new oilsands projects go ahead until First Nations have approved watershed and resource development plans.
Chief Allan Adam of the Fort Chipewyan First Nation, which is located in the oilsands region of northern Alberta, said thresholds have to be put in place that will protect the ecosystem and human health.
“It seems like the Alberta government doesn’t want to listen to our concerns in the community,” Adam said.

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Unanimous passing of No New Oil Sands Approvals resolution at the Assembly of Treaty Chiefs Meeting.

Posted by mhudema on February 25, 2008

Unanimous passing of No New Oil Sands Approvals resolution at the Assembly of Treaty Chiefs Meeting.
 
Calgary  – From Wednesday to Friday of last week, Treaty Chiefs representing the Treaties 6,7 and 8 nations of Alberta met and passed a resolution, unanimously, to support the calls for no new oil sands approvals until Treaty First Nations have approved a comprehensive watershed management plan and resource development plan for the region.
 
“It is time for the Alberta Government to feel the pressure that our communities have been feeling for so long, the tide has turned in our favour,” said Chief Allan Adam of the Fort Chipewyan First Nation, “Thresholds have to be put in place that will protect ecosystem and human health along with the well being of our land.”
 
The Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan Dene First Nation and member of the Keepers of the Athabasca brought forward the resolution moved by Chief Janvier of the Cold Lake First Nation and seconded by Chief Laboucan of the Driftpile First Nation. After a few minor additions to the resolution it passed, on Friday, unanimously. 
 
“The cumulative impacts of oil sands development has all but destroyed the traditional livelihood of First Nations in northern Athabasca watershed.  The law is clear that First Nations must be consulted whenever the province contemplates action that may negatively affect Aboriginal and treaty rights,” explains Keepers of the Athabasca member Vivienne Beisel (B.A., LL.B., LL.M), ” The province has continued to issue approvals for new developments without obtaining their consent or consulting with First Nations in a meaningful and substantial way.  This is in direct breach of Treaty 8 First Nations’ treaty-protected Aboriginal rights to livelihood, and thus a violation of s.35(1) of the Constitution and Articles 26 and 27 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’, and international agreement which Canada, along with three other nations, has refused to sign.”

Keepers of the Athabasca is a new non profit organization working to unite the peoples of the Athabasca River and Lake Watershed to secure and protect water and watershed lands for ecological, social, cultural and community health and well-being.  

“We came to the Treaty Chiefs of Alberta meeting last week to request an inquiry into the lack of consultation by all levels of government and our peoples regarding the impacts of oil sands development.,” states Chief Albert Mercredi of the Fond du Lac First Nation, located on the eastern shores of Lake Athabasca, “Pollution from the developments do not stop at the political borders between Alberta and neighbouring provinces.  The Federal Government and the Governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan have a legal duty to consult and accommodate around the uncertainties associated with development and their impacts on our right to livelihood.”
 
Gaining the support of the Treaty Chiefs is an important step for the Keepers of the Athabasca, as there are 15 directly affected First Nations reserve-based communities as well as numerous other indigenous communities. 
 
“In passing a resolution for no new oil sands approvals, the chief’s of Alberta have shown great leadership,” says Peter Cyprien, co-chair of Keepers of the Athabasca, who was present at the passing of the resolution, “it is our hope now, as citizens of Fort Chipewyan, that the Government of Alberta and Canada will show the same leadership,”
 
The Keepers of the Athabasca are committed to completing a community-based watershed management plan based on the interests, rights and needs of the residents living throughout the basin.  They have planned to visit communities along the Athabasca River this summer and with the goal of completing a report on the state of the Athabasca River and Lake Basin.
 
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Greenwasher of the decade….

Posted by mhudema on February 25, 2008

And the greenwasher of the decade is …

… no, it’s not Toyota (but don’t get me started). And no, it’s not Wal-Mart (I’ll be doing a piece on them later). No, it’s not GM, though they are trying hard, really hard. No, the winner, which has all the others over the proverbial barrel, is British Petroleum.

bp-subvertpreview.jpg

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Tory leader panned over pipeline

Posted by mhudema on February 25, 2008

Jason Fekete and Gordon Jaremko; With files from Heath McCoy, Calgary Herald, and Archie McLean, Legislature Bureau.
Calgary Herald; Edmonton Journal
A Greenpeace activist protests the oilsands at a campaign stop by Tory Leader Ed Stelmach in Hinton on Saturday. Stelmach came under fire from critics who say he's failing to protect Alberta's resource industry, following approval of a pipeline to ship bitumen to refineries in the United States for processing.
CREDIT: Jenelle Schneider, Calgary Herald
A Greenpeace activist protests the oilsands at a campaign stop by Tory Leader Ed Stelmach in Hinton on Saturday. Stelmach came under fire from critics who say he’s failing to protect Alberta’s resource industry, following approval of a pipeline to ship bitumen to refineries in the United States for processing.
CREDIT: Chris Schwarz, Edmonton Journal
Liberal Leader Kevin Taft, centre, campaigning in Wainwright on Saturday, said the Tories are “letting Albertans’ wealth go south of the border.”

HINTON – Conservative Leader Ed Stelmach was criticized Saturday for failing to stem the flow of bitumen to the United States after regulatory approval was given to a pipeline project that will ship the product south.

The National Energy Board’s approval late Friday of the $3-billion Alberta Clipper pipeline will initially see up to 450,000 barrels of bitumen per day shipped to Wisconsin when it becomes operational in mid-2010, with the potential to reach 800,000 barrels per day.

The pipeline is one of several projects announced or approved in the past year that will see bitumen upgraded or refined in the United States, sending potentially billions of investment dollars and thousands of value-added jobs down the pipeline.

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What’s the matter with Canada?

Posted by mhudema on February 22, 2008

Ah, those crazy Canadians, always banging on about the benefits of socialized medicine, ice hockey, and even – God help them – poutine. It’s true, of course, that our northern neighbors have plenty to be proud of; still, when it comes to the environment, even the most fervently patriotic Canuck will admit that the country has some pretty serious problems.

Back in the ‘90s, Canada was a model of environmental good behavior, playing a key role in the battle to protect the ozone layer, pushing for international measures to protect endangered species, and readily signing up for the Kyoto treaty. But it’s been downhill since then: A decade of apathetic Liberal leadership has been followed, since 2006, by a Conservative government that has proved abjectly unwilling to take action.

The result is that Canada is falling well short of its Kyoto goals; in 2005, one study found that Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions were 20 percent higher than they had been in 1990, and that on a range of environmental measures – from sewage handling to water consumption – the country ranked a miserable 28th out of 30 industrialized nations, beating only Belgium and the US.

The biggest problem, though, is in Alberta, where high energy prices have helped spark a boom in tar-sand processing. The sludgy sands contain up to 173 billion barrels of oil – but processing the gunk produces triple the greenhouse emissions of regular oil, and has created toxic-waste ponds visible from space. The industry has also been linked to acid rainfall in neighboring provinces and increased cancer and autoimmune-deficiency rates in local communities; worryingly, one study found that moose meat from the region contained 453 times the safe level of arsenic.

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Stelmach hounded by protestors

Posted by mhudema on February 21, 2008

CHR sounds $115M alarm
Board takes Tories to task over funding
Jason Fekete, with files from Michelle Lang and Tony
Calgary Herald
Premier Ed Stelmach speaks to Greenpeace protester Anna Gerrard at Planet Organic Market in northwest Calgary on Tuesday.
CREDIT: Jenelle Schneider/Calgary Herald
Premier Ed Stelmach speaks to Greenpeace protester Anna Gerrard at Planet Organic Market in northwest Calgary on Tuesday.

Conservative Leader Ed Stelmach weathered another political storm on Tuesday, dogged by protesters, tight poll results in Calgary and warnings the health system is nearing its breaking point.

Stelmach’s economic diversification announcement in Calgary was overshadowed by Calgary Health Region officials demanding $115 million from the province to pay off its deficit and ease a health staffing and bed crisis.

“We won’t be able to move forward without their support,” health region CEO Jack Davis said Tuesday at a board meeting. “There is really not, at this stage, an acceptable alternative.

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