STOP: Stop Tar Sands Operations Permanently

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Tar Sands: Environmental justice, treaty rights and Indigenous Peoples

Posted by mhudema on March 10, 2008

Clayton Thomas-Müller

Canadian Dimension magazine, March/April 2008

The application of treaty rights as a legal strategy implemented by the First Nations themselves must be the key focus in efforts to challenge Big Oil in Alberta. Resources and effort must be placed into building the knowledge and capacity amongst First Nations and Métis leadership, including grassroots, elders and youth, to engage in both an indigenous-led corporate-finance campaign and in decision-making processes on environment, energy, climate and economic policies related to halting the tar-sands expansion. Canadian policy makers need to understand that there is an inextricable link between indigenous rights and energy and climate impacts.

The Tar Sands: What, How, For Whom?

The tar sands lie beneath more than 141,000 square kilometres (54,000 square miles) of northern Alberta forest. In 2003, thirty square kilometres (160 square miles) of land had been disturbed by tar-sands development. By the summer of 2006, that number had grown to 2,000 square kilometres (772 square miles) — almost five-fold within three years. These tar sands are the second-largest oil deposit in the world, bigger then Iraq, Iran, or Russia, and exceeded only by Saudi Arabia. If current, approved projects go forward, 3,400 square kilometres (1,312 square miles) will be strip-mined, destroying a total area as large as the state of Florida. The current process limit of 2.7 million barrels of oil per day is estimated to increase to six million barrels per day by 2030. Current and future high oil prices make the extraction and processing of bitumen very profitable.

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Those touched by cancer on Alberta reserve tell their stories at legislature

Posted by mhudema on March 3, 2008

EDMONTON — Janelle Vermillion owns a house in the tiny northern Alberta community of Fort Chipewyan. Her family, including her brother, still lives there. She considers it home.But the 27-year-old woman says she will never again feel safe living there.

“I just want to move back home,” she said, fighting back tears as she gestured to the pink-clad six-month-old baby in the stroller in front of her.

“But this is my daughter, and I don’t want to bring her back.”

Vermillion was one of about 200 people who rallied on the steps of the Alberta legislature Saturday calling on the provincial government – whatever form it takes after Monday’s election – to pay more attention to rates of cancer and illness in the community 600 kilometres north of Edmonton.

Many people believe oilsands development and major forestry mills in Fort McMurray, which is upstream from Fort Chipewyan, have led to contamination of the water and wildlife in the region.

Emotions ran high as the crowd listened to stories from people who have lost loved ones to cancer. The community of 1,200 has seen six deaths in the past month. Some who planned to attend the rally were instead at home attending a wake.

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Fort Chip. residents rally at legislature

Posted by mhudema on March 3, 2008

March 1, 2008

By The Canadian Press

People rally at the Legislative grounds to support the people of Fort Chipewyan. Increasing numbers of people from the aboriginal community in Fort Chipewyan have been diagnosed with cancer and other auto-immune diseases. (Jack Dagley/Special to Sun Media)

EDMONTON — People who have lost multiple family members and friends to cancer on a northern Alberta reserve choked back tears as they told their stories at a rally Saturday in front of the Alberta legislature.About 200 people, many of whom who made the 800-kilometre drive down from Fort Chipewyan, stood before the legislature steps holding signs with slogans such as “Water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.”

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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.

© 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

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

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.


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