Application to comment at the NEB Kinder Morgan enquiry

FrankejamesI have submitted an application to comment at a hearing of  the National Energy Board (Canada’s national energy regulator). The hearing  is about the proposal to greatly expand Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain pipeline, which runs from Alberta to Vancouver and will transport diluted bitumen to export markets in Asia. Once completed, the pipeline will carry more dilbit than either the better known Northern Gateway or the Keystone XL projects, some 890,000 barrels per day. In my opinion, the Northern Gateway project will probably get bogged down for years  in court challenges from aboriginal groups and  Kinder Morgan’s project is more likely to start construction first.

This was written on behalf of the Salt Spring Island Climate Action Council Society, of which I am the President. I have no illusions that this submission, which is just an application to be considered as a commenter, will be accepted. The terms of reference of the review panel have been narrowed to the extent that comments on the upstream and downstream environmental consequences of the project are deemed inadmissible. This is so arbitrary and obviously prejudicial that many people expect that the laws underlying these restrictions will be struck down by Canada’s courts. Challenges are already underway on the Northern Gateway review process. The NEB writes:

The Board does not intend to consider the environmental and socio-economic effects associated with upstream activities, the development of oil sands, or the downstream use of the oil transported by the pipeline.

As if the bitumen could be transported, without first being produced. As if the bitumen would be transported, if it were never to be consumed. It is like arguing that there’s no harm in falling off a cliff, just so long as you don’t hit the ground.

References, links  and more details can be found in my post Pipelines cause climate change, let’s talk about itHere’s what I wrote to the NEB.

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Protest the pipelines

Originally published in the Gulf Islands Driftwood on November 13th, 2013.

The version of the article below is fully referenced.

Faced with the prospect of hundreds of oil tankers every year passing through the waters off the Gulf Islands as a result of Kinder Morgan’s proposed expansion of their pipeline, concerned Salt Spring Islanders plan to rally at Centennial Park at 12:30 on Saturday November 16th as part of a nationwide protest “Defend Our Communities, Defend Our Climate”

A major oil spill in the waters of the Salish Sea would be unthinkable, with devastating and persistent effects on the coastlines and the marine wildlife that make the Gulf Islands a special place for residents and visitors alike. But just as bad will be the effects on the planet’s climate.

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Pipelines cause climate change, let’s talk about it

Stephen Harper’s government does not want Canadians to talk about climate change when considering the environmental impact of new pipelines to move bitumen from Alberta to foreign markets. Buried in the provisions of the Omnibus Bill C-38, the  Conservative government has placed clauses that restrict citizens’ rights to make submissions on climate change when testifying at environmental impact hearings.

We should contrast this with the consideration being given to climate change in the evaluation of the Keystone XL pipeline in the United States. In June 2013, President Barack Obama said:

“The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on the climate will be absolutely critical to deciding whether this project goes forward,”

It is astonishing that an environmental  impact considered “absolutely critical” in the US decision-making process, is not even allowed to be mentioned at hearings  within Canada.

Fortunately, this restriction is being challenged in the courts by the environmental advocacy group  ForestEthics and by author Donna Sinclair,  The legal team is being led by civil rights lawyer Clayton Ruby. He is quoted as saying:

“Through legislative changes snuck into last year’s Omnibus Budget Bill C-38, the Conservative government has undermined the democratic rights of all Canadians to speak to environmental issues that impact them,” explained Mr. Ruby. “We’re challenging the legislation because it violates fundamental free speech guarantees enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

The Government may argue that climate change impacts of oil transportation projects are not relevant to National Energy Board (NEB) hearings, because these effects are not the direct and local environmental effects of the pipelines and tankers themselves. However, as noted energy economist Mark Jaccard has pointed out, building new oil infrastructure does indeed have a direct effect on climate change. Pipelines facilitate and accelerate the production and consumption of petroleum, that’s the whole point of them; connecting producers to consumers, enabling both.

As Jaccard noted, global effects like climate change are just local effects that occur everywhere.

Jaccard has submitted a sworn affidavit on behalf of ForestEthics and Donna Sinclair, which details how further development of the  Alberta oil sands will contribute to climate change. He concludes:

I understand that the NEB [National Energy Board] has refused to hear submissions about “the environmental and socio-economic effects associated with upstream activities, the development of oil sands, or the downstream use of the oil transported by the pipeline.” It is my view that the exclusion of these issues skews its regulatory assessment in favour of pipeline approval and ignores the most important costs and non-costed impacts that every responsible and honest society should be considering on behalf of people living today and in future.

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Terminology: Tar Sands or Oil Sands?

Generally speaking, people who are opposed to the extraction of bitumen in NE Alberta prefer to refer to the sands as “tar sands”. The oil companies and the governments of Alberta and Canada prefer the sound of “oil sands”.   “Bitumen sands” is in some ways more correct, but it’s a mouthful and not everybody will know what you are talking about. The one thing that everyone seems to agree upon is that “oil sands” sounds cleaner and nicer than “tar sands”.

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Living in Denial in Canada

Originally posted at Skeptical Science.

In an earlier article, I reviewed sociologist Kari Norgaard’s book Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions and Everyday Life in which she records the response of rural Norwegians to climate change. She analyzes the contradictory feelings Norwegians experience in reconciling their life in a wealthy country that is at once a major producer and consumer of fossil fuels and, at the same time, has a reputation of being a world leader in its concern for the environment, human development, and international peace.

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Alberta’s bitumen sands: “negligible” climate effects, or the “biggest carbon bomb on the planet”?

Originally posted at Skeptical Science

  • The climate effects of bitumen development are significant once viewed in the perspective of probable emissions over the rest of this century.
  • The climate impact of coal consumption is greater than that of bitumen, particularly when non-mineable coal is considered.
  • Accelerated expansion of bitumen extraction will make climate mitigation efforts much more difficult.
  • Because of its high carbon emissions and high extraction costs, further bitumen development would not be viable if stringent global emissions policies were adopted.

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