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Posts Tagged ‘duck’

Dirty Oil Raises its head

Posted by mhudema on July 8, 2008

‘Dirty Oil’ raises its head at an odd time
BY GEORGE ABRAHAM

8 July 2008

With the price at the gas pump at record highs, could there be anything like “Dirty Oil”? Yes, there might well be, going by a resolution passed by an assembly of American mayors in Miami late last month.

While the mayors appear to have been targeting the environmental impact of a mixed bag of fossil fuels, oil originating in the Canadian province of Alberta — analogous to the Abu Dhabi’s dominant share in the UAE’s exports — came in for particular mention.

“The production of tar sands oil from Canada emits approximately three times the carbon dioxide pollution per barrel as does conventional oil production and significantly damages Canada’s Boreal forest ecosystem — the world’s largest carbon storehouse,” said the resolution. As if that was not enough, the Democratic nominee for the American presidential elections, Barack Obama, came out swinging in the same week against what he called “a 19th century fossil fuel that is dirty, dwindling, and dangerously expensive.”

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Dead Duck Decision Expected Soon

Posted by mhudema on July 7, 2008

500 dead ducks could cost Syncrude $1M if Alberta goes ahead with charges

EDMONTON — The Alberta government has wrapped up an investigation into how 500 ducks died in the toxic sludge of an oilsands tailings pond last spring.

“The probe is complete. We’ve compiled all the evidence,” Alberta Environment spokesman Josh Stewart told The Canadian Press on Friday. “Right now we’re going through it to evaluate whether or not we’ll be passing charges along to Alberta Justice.”

The decision on charges against the company that operates the pond, Syncrude Canada Ltd., is expected to be made by the end of August, said Stewart.

“The maximum penalty for this under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act is a $1-million fine,” he said.

Syncrude spokesman Bob Nyen was guarded in his reaction to the investigation being complete.

“All I can say is we’ll continue to co-operate with the government investigation,” he said. “We haven’t seen anything yet.”

NDP environment critic Rachel Notley said that even a $1-million fine would be paltry compared to the billions of dollars in profits that major oil companies are taking from the oilsands.

“We need to recraft our environmental legislation so that there is a true cost to not abiding by the rules,” said Notley. “We need to have more inspectors and much more significant penalties.”

Most of the ducks and other waterfowl that landed on the tailings pond at the end of April died within a few days, including the handful of birds that were rescued and brought to cleaning stations.

Company officials explained that noisemakers used to scare off birds had not yet been deployed because of a spring snowstorm. Syncrude later bought full-page newspaper ads to issue a public apology.

But the dead ducks were a major blow to Alberta’s efforts to defend its environmental record against growing international criticism, including suggestions by some in the United States that the oilsands are a “dirty” source of energy.

Greenpeace spokesman Mike Hudema said pictures of the dead and dying ducks were circulated around the world through the media and on the Internet.

“It was really the first time that some of these images got out to the rest of the world,” he said. “This incident is really the tip of the tarsands iceberg.”

People across Canada were shaken by the dead ducks and voiced their concerns on talk shows and in letters to newspapers. Prime Minister Stephen Harper described the deaths as preventable and conceded that Canada’s reputation had been harmed.

Hudema said new information began surfacing days later on other environmental problems in the oilsands region of northern Alberta.

“We’ve now heard that there are over a dozen open investigations into the tarsands,” he said. “We’ve heard about illegal water discharges into the Athabasca River.”

The story that the world is starting to hear is that the Alberta government doesn’t have a good handle on the situation, said Hudema.

“The devastation is really beyond what anybody imagined.”

Liberal environment critic David Swann said the dead ducks have resulted in international pressure on the Alberta government to clean up the oilsands, starting with giant toxic tailings ponds.

“This is threatening the very industry that they seem to be bent on protecting,” Swann said in an interview. “We’ve had 35 years of unrestricted development without any conditions really, and no oversight in the monitoring of the actual sites.”

The province requires oilsands operators to take measures to prevent birds from landing on tailings ponds, including scarecrows and noisemaking devices that sound like shotguns.

The Syncrude spokesman says the company is being vigilant to prevent any future waterfowl deaths.

“We’ve deployed all our noise cannons and the scarecrows on all our ponds and we continue to patrol them,” said Nyen. “And the operators that are working in those areas are constantly reminded to report any wildlife in the area.”

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Duck disaster sinks Alberta government’s credibility

Posted by mhudema on May 4, 2008

Graham Thomson
Calgary Herald

If they ever dredge Syncrude’s toxic tailings ponds to recover the bodies of this week’s 500 dead birds, they might also discover something else: the Alberta government’s credibility on oilsands development. It’s lying at the bottom of the tailings ponds, as much a victim of deadly waste and questionable environmental policies as the ducks themselves.

It’ll take more than a good soap-and-water scrubbing to restore any lustre to this tarnished credibility, let alone life. When dealing with what even the environment minister deemed to be a “tragedy,” the government has been by turns secretive, defensive and combative — when it should have been simply sorry, sorry, sorry.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, on the other hand, seems to understand the political effectiveness of throwing yourself at the mercy of the court of public opinion. “It’s obviously a terrible tragedy and I think we and a lot of people are upset about it,” Harper told reporters at a news conference in Edmonton on Thursday.

“I think we expect better, to be quite honest. This kind of thing shouldn’t be happening.”

Harper wasn’t making excuses or downplaying the seriousness of the incident. You got the impression he understood the public outrage and was sincerely interested in helping find ways to stop it happening again. Interestingly enough, that’s actually how the Alberta government first responded on Tuesday in a news conference with Premier Ed Stelmach and Environment Minister Rob Renner.

The two looked upset and made a point of saying they were alerted to the disaster not by Syncrude, but by an anonymous tip. Stelmach promised to take tough action if the company had broken government regulations.

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