STOP: Stop Tar Sands Operations Permanently

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Archive for February, 2008

Cutting emissions won’t bankrupt us

Posted by mhudema on February 21, 2008

Current global greenhouse-gas emissions must be cut by 80 per cent by 2050 to avoid catastrophic climate change. For Alberta, which accounts for 30 per cent of Canadian emissions, to meet its share of the target would cost about $3.1 billion a year
Paul Boothe
Without strong leadership from the Alberta government to combat climate change, northern and mountain forests will be replaced by scrub bush and grasslands. Significant measures to prevent this can be taken without unduly disrupting the province's economy.
CREDIT: Shaughn Butts, The Journal, File
Without strong leadership from the Alberta government to combat climate change, northern and mountain forests will be replaced by scrub bush and grasslands. Significant measures to prevent this can be taken without unduly disrupting the province’s economy.

Recently, Premier Ed Stelmach told reporters that slowing oilsands development to actually cut emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) would have “dire consequences” for the Alberta and Canadian economies.

Stelmach proposed that we adopt so-called “intensity-based targets” — really just a polite way of saying that we intend to continue increasing the absolute level of emissions. He went on to say that he was unsure whether Alberta would ever actually reduce the GHG emissions that are causing climate change.

The scientific research is now clear. We need to reduce emissions from current levels by about 80 per cent if we are to avoid the risk of climatic catastrophe. For Alberta, a province that has some of the highest per capita emissions in the world, this is going to be a big job and Stelmach is right to worry about the effect it will have on Alberta’s economy.


Of course, political leaders have to rely on advisers to counsel them on the climate-change issue. Unfortunately, whoever is advising Stelmach that real reductions in emissions will wreck Alberta’s economy is dead wrong. A simple calculation will show why.

The most recent estimates of the economic effects of combating climate change were released in November by Dr. Nicholas Stern.

Stern, formerly the chief economist at the World Bank, assembled a group of economists, climatologists and other scientists to produce a comprehensive estimate of the economic effects of climate change. The best estimate of the global cost of reducing emissions sufficiently to avoid the risk of catastrophic climate change is about one per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) annually in 2050. This compares with costs of up to 20 per cent of annual global GDP to deal with the effects of climate change if we allow emissions to continue to grow.

What does this all mean for Canada and Alberta? To put these figures into perspective, global GDP in 2005 was about $44 trillion US. One per cent of global GDP is therefore $440 billion.

Canada’s share of global emissions is about two per cent. So Canada’s share of the global cost of combating climate change is about two per cent of $440 billion, or $8.8 billion per year.


Alberta is home to about 10 per cent of Canada’s population, but we produce about 30 per cent of Canadian emissions because of the oilsands and our reliance on coal-generated electricity.

Thus, Alberta’s share of the cost of reducing Canadian emissions is 30 per cent of $8.8 billion, or about $2.64 billion US per year or $3.1 billion Cdn.

Can Alberta’s economy afford to devote $3.1 billion a year to cut GHG emissions and combat climate change?

The simple answer is: yes, easily. Alberta’s 2005 GDP was about $220 billion and is projected to have grown by an additional $25 billion, to $245 billion in 2006. The $3.1-billion cost represents about 41/2 days’ worth of Alberta GDP in 2006, or about one-eighth of our growth last year.

Surely this is a small price to pay to avoid the massive costs that we will face if we do nothing.

We have calculated the costs of taking action on GHG emissions, but what about the consequences of inaction?

Stern tells us the cost may approach 20 per cent of annual global GDP, but different parts of the globe will face different effects. In October 2006, Norm Henderson of the Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative (PARC) presented research results at a public forum in Edmonton that looked at some of the consequences of climate change here in Alberta.

Under a business-as-usual scenario, by 2020 Edmonton’s average temperature is projected to rise by about two degrees — equal to the current average temperature of Calgary. Given past emissions, this rise is probably inevitable. Without global action on GHG emissions, temperatures will continue to increase. By 2050, our average temperature is projected to rise by an additional 1.5 degrees — equal to the current average temperature of Lethbridge.


Throughout Alberta, our climate will become progressively drier and droughts will become more frequent and severe. Water levels in rivers and lakes will fall significantly.

These changes in temperature and moisture will bring about major changes in the landscape. Northern and mountain forests will be replaced by scrub bush and grasslands, while central and southern Alberta will support only short-grass prairie or desert-like landscapes.

The calculations presented here are estimates and are only meant to help us understand the problem. Although they are based on our best estimate of global costs, the costs for Alberta could be higher or lower.

But even if they were higher — say double our estimate — we could still easily afford to drastically reduce emissions without a big disruption of our economy.

Combating climate change is urgent. Stern says if we don’t turn the corner on emissions in the next 10 years, it may be too late to avoid the catastrophic effects and costs of climate change in 2050 and beyond.

Almost all the key elements for action are in place. We already have the technology to move forward and more will develop as we turn our best minds to the problem. We know we can afford to do it.

Polls tell us that the environment is the top-of-mind issue for Albertans and all Canadians. All we need to add is political leadership.

Premier Stelmach, over to you.

Paul Boothe is professor and fellow at the Institute for Public Economics, University of Alberta

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Taking tarsands debate to the candidates

Posted by mhudema on February 21, 2008

In a bid to stop tarsands development, a coalition of diverse interest groups is taking their “No New Approvals” pledge directly to the candidates.

“We’ll be ambushing candidates at forums, challenging them to sign their support or say they won’t sign on,” announced Mike Hudema, climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace Canada, one of dozens of groups that make up the coalition.

Other signatories include the David Suzuki Foundation, the Pembina Institute, Toxics Watch Society and the prairie chapter of the Sierra Club of Canada, among others.

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The Tar Sands

Posted by mhudema on February 21, 2008

Matt Price and Allan Adam
Citizen Special
Heavy equipment mines the oilsands at Syncrude's Aurora mine near Fort McMurray, Alta.
CREDIT: Todd Korol, Reuters
Heavy equipment mines the oilsands at Syncrude’s Aurora mine near Fort McMurray, Alta.

Canadians are becoming familiar with the scale of destruction in the tarsands, something that First Nations of the region have known for some time now.

And people around the world are learning why our country has taken such an obstructionist role on global warming. Canada and the Bush administration stand alone against the rest of the world because with the tarsands we are housing the single most destructive project anywhere on Earth, and the Americans are getting the oil.

But who exactly is letting this destruction happen? Most Canadians assume we have environmental laws that should stop such damage and that the people we elect to office are generally on top of things.

So, who is allowing toxic tailings ponds so large that they can be seen from space with the naked eye? Engineers don’t know what to do with these misnamed “ponds” which are already leaking into the groundwater.

Who is letting increasing amounts of acid rain from the tarsands fall on neighbouring Saskatchewan, and sanctioning an explosion in the release of dangerous volatile organic compounds in the area?

Who is letting First Nations downriver and downwind from the tarsands live in fear of what poisons are in the fish and game that their ancestors have lived on for generations? And who has been persecuting their family doctor, who raised the alarm about abnormal disease rates there?

And finally, who is letting the tarsands hold Canadians hostage in their desire to tackle global warming?

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Oilpatch new international whipping boy

Posted by mhudema on February 19, 2008

CAPP aims to debunk impact of inaccuracies

Claudia Cattaneo

National Post

CALGARY – A new image of Canada–and particularly Alberta — is taking hold abroad, and it’s not a pretty one. Canada is increasingly being trashed as an environmental bum in highly unflattering portrayals in foreign media, while the oilsands deposits are painted as a freak show where Aboriginals are poisoned and the boreal forest wiped out.

An editorial in the Times of London on Feb. 1 described the deposits as “bituminous lakes” and urged the companies mining them to stop “this filthy habit.” A feature story in the Financial Times of London on Dec. 15 refers to incidents of bile-duct cancer among Fort Chipewyan Aboriginals and warns involvement in the oilsands will result in reputational destruction for oil majors. A Dec. 10 article in The Independent, another U.K. publication, about BP PLC’s return to the oilsands through its joint venture with Husky Energy Inc., is headlined: “Canadian wilderness set to be invaded by BP in an oil project dubbed ‘the biggest environmental crime in history’.” And an Aug. 19 article in the Boston Globe refers to the oilsands as “the new dirty energy.”

The environmental movement, which has been expanding or setting up operations in and around Calgary in the past year, goes even further with a publication called emagazine. com referring to Canada as “Nigeria of the North.”

While the debate in Canada about the merits of the oilsands has been raging for years, in contexts as diverse as climate change, energy security, wealth and power redistribution within the country and Alberta, it’s only in recent months that the deposits have been portrayed internationally as a global environmental catastrophe.

Indeed, they appear to be emerging as the new staple of the environmental movement, alongside causes like stopping the seal hunt and the destruction of the rain forest, though, given their huge importance to Canada’s economy, the implications of such a campaign are on a grander scale.

Greg Stringham, vice-president at the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, called the trend “a new level of awareness,” of the oilsands.

“The first round of awareness was, wow, it’s really big. We saw the international attention and people saying it’s second in size to Saudi Arabia, and that led to Washington paying attention, too. Following that we knew there would be a new wave based on the environmental impact.”

CAPP has made the environmental impact of the oilsands its major topic of communication this year, Mr. Stringham said.

Part of the communication strategy is to debunk what is being said as inaccurate. Far from being a huge “global” source of greenhouse gases, the oilsands produce 4% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, while transportation accounts for 27%, electricity and heat 18%, oil and gas without oilsands 19%, other industries 14%, agriculture 8%. In a global context, the oilsands are responsible for 0.1% of global emissions, while the United States as a whole is responsible for 21%, China for 20% and Europe for 17%, according to CAAP.

Only 20% of the deposits are close enough to the surface that they can be mined, while the rest is and will be produced through thermal processes or new technologies with far less surface impact.

BP’s oilsands project would use thermal technology, not building a mine. Contrary to the suggestion that development is moving ahead unfettered, industry and governments are making huge commitments to reduce their carbon footprint, whether through carbon capture and storage or developing new extraction technologies that require less energy.

Canadians involved in the business say the emerging portrait is so unfair it’s insulting to the country and its environmental record.

“As a Canadian, to read in European newspapers that we are a laggard on the environment is offensive,” said Bob Skinner, Calgary-based vice-president at StatoilHydro ASA, the Norwegian global leader in carbon capture and storage that entered the oilsands business last year.

“Canada has been a leader in acid rain, migratory birds, the species at risk, getting lead out of gasoline, DDT, dealing with ozone depletion, all these things. If you look at the history, [these changes] were not started in Europe, they were started in North America.”

Perceptions of the oilsands as “bad oil” are confronting those seen as figureheads for the deposits — from politicians to corporate leaders — when they venture abroad. Will Roach, president and CEO of UTS Energy Corp., a partner in the Fort Hills oilsands project, said the subject was No. 1 on the agenda when he met with institutional investors in Europe during a marketing trip last month.

“The first thing would be, ‘Tell me about the environmental impact, we hear it’s terrible’,” said Mr. Roach. “So they are positioned before they start.”

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach got an earful during a recent trip to Washington, where environmentalists condemned the oilsands’ environmental impact.

Mr. Stelmach acknowledged in a speech in Calgary that “there are well-funded environmental groups who are trying to influence U.S. trade policy to restrict development here in Alberta,” making it urgent for the Alberta government to move quickly on the climate change file.

Jan Rowley, spokeswoman for Royal Dutch Shell PLC, which has also been targeted for criticism by the European press for its oilsands involvement, said the deposits tend to be associated with climate change, “which in all facets are picking up speed and urgency, whether you are talking about regulation and government roles, or industry and consumers.”

“It has the attributes that makes it easy to feature in a cause, perhaps,” she said.

Observers said the new international image had several triggers. One was the opening of offices or expansion of offices in Alberta in the past year by international environmental groups such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund. Greenpeace spokesman David Martin warned in the media last June that environmental action in Alberta was about to enter a whole new era.

Since then, Greenpeace Edmonton-based activist Mike Hudema has been quoted frequently in the British press with comments such as: “In the tar sands you are looking at the greatest climate crime because not only will these developments produce 100 million tonnes of greenhouse gases annually by 2012, but also kill off 147,000 square miles of forest that is the greatest carbon sink in the world.”

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Greenpeace has Eddie’s number.

Posted by mhudema on February 19, 2008



Greenpeace has Eddie’s number.

The environmental group ambushed the premier for a second time on the campaign trail yesterday, dogging him over the Tory plan to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 14% over 42 years.


“Albertans have repeatedly told this premier that we can’t put any more tarsands projects online. That we need better balance and that the impacts are already too severe for Albertans to handle … in terms of their air, water and quality of life. But it’s something he has completely ignored,” Greenpeace protester Mike Hudema, 31, said, pausing briefly from using his bullhorn.

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Alberta Tories show their age after four decades in power

Posted by mhudema on February 19, 2008 – comment – Alberta Tories show their age after four decades in power

February 18, 2008

Provincial elections in Alberta are usually predictable affairs; solid Conservative majorities over and over again. It’s been that way ever since Peter Lougheed routed the Social Credit government way back in 1971.

Needless to say, a lot has happened since then. The price of oil has shot from $2.75 a barrel to almost $100. Alberta has become the country’s economic powerhouse. And the Prime Minister now hails from Calgary rather than Quebec.

But despite all the gains made on the Tories’ watch, the provincial election on March 3 may not prove to be as easy for them as past elections. Their age is showing. They’ve been in power now longer than Social Credit; for almost as long as the 42-year uninterrupted reign of the Ontario Conservatives.

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Voters cranky in Fort McMurray as Stelmach tours region

Posted by mhudema on February 18, 2008

Last Updated: Friday, February 15, 2008 | 11:30 AM MT

People in Fort McMurray are getting their chance to voice complaints about the roads and other services they need to Conservative Leader Ed Stelmach.

Many people in Fort McMurray are critical of the provincial government for not moving more quickly to twin Highway 63.Many people in Fort McMurray are critical of the provincial government for not moving more quickly to twin Highway 63.

On Friday, Stelmach was making his first campaign sweep through the region in advance of the March 3 Alberta election.

Dennis Lewis summed up what he sees as the government’s attitude towards the region Thursday as he watched his two sons play hockey at a local arena.

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Big Oil’s Math Doesn’t Add Up

Posted by mhudema on February 18, 2008

Big Oil’s math doesn’t add up
Charles Frank
Calgary Herald

I’m not all that good with numbers. Never have been.

Still, like a lot of mathematically challenged people, I’ve always managed to figure out how to add one and one together and get two.

Even when we’re talking about billions of dollars.

But try as I might, I haven’t been able to make sense of some of the numbers being bandied about the oilpatch this week — and I expect there are more than a few Albertans who find themselves in the same boat.

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Edmonton Centre – Tar Sands Pledge

Posted by mhudema on February 16, 2008

Up first the Edmonton Centre forum. All the candidates and our first chance to test the “No new approvals candidates challenge”.

The idea:
Step 1: Print out a copy of the “no new approvals candidate pledge” available at

Step 2: Take a copy of the pledge to an all candidates forum.
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Environmentalists’ report to call for Ottawa to act on oil sands

Posted by mhudema on February 15, 2008

From Friday’s Globe and Mail

OTTAWA — Alberta’s oil sands are the most destructive project on Earth, causing environmental damage well beyond provincial borders, a new report says.

From acid rain falling in Saskatchewan to toxic pollution spewing from Ontario oil refineries, a report to be released this morning by Toronto-based Environmental Defence calls on Ottawa to act where Alberta will not.

The environmentalists will be joined by two Alberta native leaders, who will describe first hand how oil sands pollution is affecting fish and water on their traditional lands.

Titled Canada’s Toxic Tar Sands, the detailed report argues oil sands projects are violating existing Canadian laws such as the Fisheries Act.

“Few Canadians know that Canada is home to one of the world’s largest dams and it is built to hold toxic waste from just one Tar Sands operation,” Rick Smith, the executive director of Environmental Defence, writes in the report’s introduction. “No matter where you live in Canada, your desire to tackle global warming is being held hostage by the Tar Sands.”

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