Alberta Canada: Don’t cheer the new premier yet. Demand she break the oil barons’ vice-grip

Repost from The Guardian
[Editor:  Significant quote: “…investment in oil and gas creates fewer jobs than practically any other industry. Investment in the clean energy sector, on the other hand, creates 7 to 8 times more work. The oil barons aren’t essential “job creators”; they’re economic suppressers.”  – RS

Don’t cheer Alberta’s premier yet. Demand she break the oil barons’ vice-grip

Alberta’s climate plan falls far short of what’s possible: unleashing a green economy that creates hundreds of thousands of jobs and transitions off the tar sands

By Martin Lukacs, 24 November 2015 14.12 EST, updated 25 November 2015 10.28 EST
The Syncrude Oil Sands site near to Fort McMurray in Northern Alberta. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Alberta’s new climate plan is drawing praise from sources that have rarely got on with the oil-exporter – Al Gore, labour unions and some of North America’s biggest green groups. At first glance, it’s not hard to see why: Alberta is promising an accelerated phase-out of coal, increased funds for renewable energy and impacted workers, and a price on carbon. It’s a major step hard to imagine scarcely a year ago, when the province was still under a multi-decade Conservative reign.

So why then are the oil barons celebrating? Beaming with pride, the heads of Canada’s biggest tar sands companies flanked Premier Rachel Notley during Sunday’s announcement.

Their hope: that Alberta’s globally tarred reputation will suddenly be scrubbed clean. Despite the lofty rhetoric, the government has committed only to bringing emissions below today’s levels by 2030 – making it even less ambitious than what Stephen Harper’s federal petro-state offered. This might be what the Premier meant when she promised that new pipelines – which companies desperately need to export tar sands – would soon benefit from “creative lobbying and advocacy efforts.”

The tar sands now has a glossy new sheen. Alberta’s plan sets a cap on their emissions – an acknowledgement that tar sands will no longer grow infinitely. Except it’s so high as to allow a staggering forty percent increase over the next fifteen years. And if a Conservative government returns to power, could it abandon the policy and ensure nothing is accomplished? In other words, this is a cap big enough to drive a three-story tar sands truck through.

Here’s the other reason the oil barons are cheering: they know they could be getting squeezed a hell of a lot more. After all, Alberta’s New Democratic Party got elected with a mandate for bold change. Albertans were tired of oil-soaked politicians who let companies vacuum up billions in profit amidst skyrocketing inequality and deteriorating public services. And the oil price crash made clearer than ever before the cost of a boom-and-bust economy built on a single volatile commodity.

Climate science backs that mandate for rapidly transforming our economy: it tells us that since we’ve delayed for so long, small reforms will no longer suffice. And Albertans understand the scientific reports that the vast majority of fossil fuels need to stay in the ground to avert dangerous climate change – the impacts of which they’ve already experienced in flooded Calgary and a drought-parched countryside. But while good times fueled denial, the ecologically suicidal politics of the establishment could be ignored. When the oil shock hit, they also started looking economically reckless.

As the oil barons thrash about in a self-induced crisis, this should be the time to part ways with them. Exxon is being investigated in the United States for having discovered the lethal consequences of climate change in the 1970s, then lied about it for decades while doing everything to make this catastrophe a reality. Low oil prices – which don’t look to be going away – have already forced the cancellation of extraction projects and created a thaw in investment throughout Alberta’s oil patch. The cost of renewable energy has dropped at incredible and unexpected speed. And just weeks ago, President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline. It was not, as Premier Notley put it, a “kick in [Alberta’s] teeth.” But you couldn’t pick a better moment to kick the oil barons to the curb.

None other than the Economist – not exactly a radical menace to big business – has argued that the oil price collapse offers a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to transform a dysfunctional energy system.

The Alberta government could start by vanquishing the myth that the oil barons are economically indispensable. As the oil industry has thrown almost forty thousand people out of work, they have proved their interests never aligned with Albertans. The facts always told a different story: investment in oil and gas creates fewer jobs than practically any other industry. Investment in the clean energy sector, on the other hand, creates 7 to 8 times more work. The oil barons aren’t essential “job creators”; they’re economic suppressers.

So why – and this applies equally to Prime Minister Trudeau – fixate on building cross-country pipelines, when you could create more jobs in clean energy? Tackling climate change could be not just a public relations strategy to finesse the exporting of Alberta’s bitumen. It could be a chance to massively boost and transform the economy – making it more healthy, just and humane.

Look at what Germany – a similar, industrialized nation – has accomplished. In just over a decade, Germany has generated 30 percent of their electricity through renewables and created 400,000 good jobs in clean energy, much of it community-controlled and run by energy cooperatives. Using the right policies, Alberta could make this transition happen even more quickly, with greater benefits for First Nations, workers, and those getting the worst deal in the current economy.

It’s not too late to seize the historic opportunity. The NDP could still put forward a plan to create 200,000 good, green jobs over the next several years. Reports have laid out how this could happen with targeted investment: in accessible public transit, in energy-saving housing retrofits, in eco-system restoration, and by taking advantage of Alberta’s incredible potential for renewable energy. Nature didn’t make Alberta an oil province. Erect new signs: welcome to solar, wind and geothermal country.

How should Alberta pay for this transition? By putting their hands on the enormous profits of the industry that created the crisis in the first place. The new carbon tax – and the royalty hike the government must vigorously pursue – should be raised to send a stronger message to the market to jump-start a transition off oil.

Economists have shown a fair and effective tax would look more like $200 a tonne. $20 or $30 a tonne will not cut it – especially when half of the revenue generated will return as subsidies to oil and gas companies and dirty electricity generators. At this rate, most oil companies will be spending barely $1 more per barrel of oil. Polluters should be paying, not being paid off. The only message this will send the market is to “dig, baby, dig.”

Rolling out a plan to create a new, cleaner economy that’s more just and prosperous would convince voters there is an alternative to the oil economy. At that point the NDP could initiate a debate on a moratorium on tar sands development that has been called for by a hundred of North America’s top scientists. Scientific studies show we could get all of our electricity from renewables by 2030, not just 30 percent as Alberta now promises; and an economy entirely run by renewables by 2050. When popular movements can build pressure for such a transition, one thing will be sure: oil barons won’t be hand-clasping on the stage – they’ll be howling from the sidelines.

These movements, with Indigenous communities leading the way, have pushed the Alberta government this far. Now they must push them farther, and faster. It’s not time yet to cheer Alberta’s premier. Demand instead she break the oil barons’ vice-grip on our future.

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    Oil train safety concerns cast shadow over cross-border rail deal

    Repost from McClatchyNews
    [Editor:  Note the significant section on bridge safety – “In downtown Milwaukee, Canadian Pacific’s oil trains cross a 99-year-old steel bridge over South 1st Street that shows visible signs of deterioration. Some of beams supporting the structure are so badly corroded at the base that you can see right through them.  In Watertown, just west of the derailment site, the railroad crosses Main Street on a bridge with crumbling concrete supports embedded with its date of construction: 1906.”  – RS]

    Oil train safety concerns cast shadow over cross-border rail deal

    HIGHLIGHTS
    • Merger would create largest railroad on continent
    • Canadian Pacific, Norfolk Southern transport oil
    • Derailments, bridges under scrutiny in Wisconsin

    By Curtis Tate, November 25, 2015
    Norfolk Southern and Canadian Pacific locomotives lead an empty oil train west at Richmond, Va., on Oct. 14, 2014. The Canadian railroad last week made public its offer to take over Norfolk Southern. The $28 billion deal, if approved by shareholders and regulators, would create the largest railroad in North America.
    Norfolk Southern and Canadian Pacific locomotives lead an empty oil train west at Richmond, Va., on Oct. 14, 2014. The Canadian railroad last week made public its offer to take over Norfolk Southern. The $28 billion deal, if approved by shareholders and regulators, would create the largest railroad in North America. Curtis Tate McClatchy

    WATERTOWN, WIS. – Concerns about the safety of crude oil trains loom over a proposed rail takeover that would create the largest rail system in North America.

    Last week, Alberta-based Canadian Pacific made public its plan to acquire Virginia-based Norfolk Southern. The $28.4 billion deal would need to be approved by company shareholders and federal regulators, a process that could take at least 18 months.

    The railroads are key players in the transportation of crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale region to East Coast refineries. Currently, Canadian Pacific transfers the shipments to Norfolk Southern at Chicago. The combined company could offer a seamless path the entire distance to the East Coast.

    Though both companies have so far escaped the most serious crude by rail incidents involving spills, fires and mass evacuations, they are likely to face fresh scrutiny of their safety practices and relationships with communities if they agree to a deal.

    In Wisconsin, the railroad has clashed with environmental groups and elected officials over the condition of its aging bridges. And in spite of calls from members of Congress and the Federal Railroad Administration, the railroad refuses to share its bridge inspection documents with local officials, citing “security concerns.”

    “I’ve reached out to (Canadian Pacific) personally to try to get them to be better neighbors,” said Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis. “The response hasn’t been that good.”

    Two Canadian Pacific trains derailed earlier this month in Watertown, a city of 24,000 about an hour west of Milwaukee.

    The first occurred on Nov. 8 when 13 cars of an eastbound oil train bound from North Dakota to Philadelphia derailed and spilled about 500 gallons. About 35 homes were evacuated for more than a day. Then on Nov. 11, a second train derailed at the same spot as the first. Though no one was injured, the back-to-back incidents shook residents.

    “If safety was really important, you wouldn’t have two trains derail in one town in one week,” said Sarah Zarling, a mother of five who lives a few blocks from the track and has become an activist on the issue.

    THE FEDERAL SURFACE TRANSPORTATION BOARD, WHICH REVIEWS RAILROAD MERGERS, HAS BEEN SYMPATHETIC TO CONCERNS FROM THE PUBLIC ABOUT THE IMPACTS OF INDUSTRY CONSOLIDATION.

    In a statement, Canadian Pacific spokesman Andy Cummings said the railroad was the safest in North America for 12 of the past 14 years.

    “It is good business for us as a railroad to operate safely,” he said, “and the statistics clearly show we are doing that.”

    In downtown Milwaukee, Canadian Pacific’s oil trains cross a 99-year-old steel bridge over South 1st Street that shows visible signs of deterioration. Some of beams supporting the structure are so badly corroded at the base that you can see right through them.

    In Watertown, just west of the derailment site, the railroad crosses Main Street on a bridge with crumbling concrete supports embedded with its date of construction: 1906.

    Cummings said both bridges are safe and that their appearance doesn’t indicate their ability to safely carry rail traffic. Still, he said the company is working on a website that would explain its bridge management plan and offer a way for the public to raise concerns.

    “We do understand that we have an obligation to reassure the public when questions arise about our bridges,” he said.

    Railroads carry out their own bridge inspections under the supervision of the Federal Railroad Administration. In September, Administrator Sarah Feinberg sent a letter to railroads urging them to be more open about their bridge inspections and conditions.

    Addressing a rail safety advisory panel in early November, Feinberg said her phone was “ringing off the hook” with concerned calls from the public and lawmakers.

    “They are frustrated, and frequently they are scared,” she said, “because the absence of information in this case leaves them imagining the worst.”

    $340 Million – Amount of settlement for survivors of 2013 Quebec oil train disaster. Canadian Pacific was the only company that declined to contribute.

    Much of the concern about the condition of rail infrastructure stems from series of derailments involving crude oil and ethanol. Including the Watertown derailment this month, there have been 10 derailments with spills or fires this year in North America.

    In the worst example, an unattended train carrying Bakken crude oil rolled away and derailed in the center of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in July 2013. The subsequent fires and explosions leveled dozens of buildings and killed 47 people.

    Canadian Pacific was the only company among roughly two dozen that declined to contribute to a $340 million settlement fund for the survivors. The railroad denies any responsibility in the disaster, though it transported the derailed train from North Dakota to Montreal, where a smaller carrier took control.

    While the railroad last month dropped its opposition to the settlement, it could still be in court. A Chicago law firm has threatened to bring wrongful death lawsuits against the railroad in the next 18 months.

    Cummings said the company “will continue to defend itself in any future lawsuits.”

    While it’s not clear what issues will ultimately decide the fate of proposed merger, the federal Surface Transportation Board, which reviews such transactions, has been sympathetic to concerns from the public about the impacts of industry consolidation.

    In 2000, the three-member panel rejected a similar cross-border bid by Canadian National and BNSF Railway to create what would have been the largest North American railroad at the time. The deal failed partly because a series of mergers in the 1990s had created a colossal rail service meltdown.

    Because of those problems, and complaints from shippers and members of Congress, the Surface Transportation Board imposed a moratorium on new railroad mergers. There hasn’t been a major rail deal since.

    In a cautious statement earlier this month acknowledging Canadian Pacific’s offer, Norfolk Southern responded that any consolidation of large railroads would face “significant regulatory hurdles.”

    But speaking to a conference of transportation companies in Florida this month, Canadian Pacific CEO Hunter Harrison sounded confident that shippers would not oppose the deal and that the decision to press forward was largely in the hands of shareholders.

    “If the shareholders want it, it’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s just that simple.”

    Read McClatchy’s award-winning coverage of oil trains
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      Three derailments are three too many

      Repost from the Winona Post

      Three derailments are three too many

      By Kat Eng, Honor the Earth volunteer, 11/23/2015
      Train derailment, Alma, Wisconsin << CBS Minnesota

      It’s hard to believe Andy Cummings, spokesperson for Canadian Pacific Railway, when he says CP Rail feels it is “absolutely” safe to resume the transportation of oil in the wake of the three derailments last week in Wisconsin.

      The first derailed (BNSF) train hurled 32 cars off the tracks outside of Alma, Wis., pouring more than 18,000 gallons of ethanol into the Mississippi River upstream of Winona. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report notes that ethanol (denatured alcohol) is flammable and toxic to aquatic organisms and human life — and it’s water soluble. Though the EPA and Wisconsin DNR admitted they could not remove the toxic product from the water; site coordinator Andy Maguire claims that since they cannot detect concentrated areas of ethanol, it is not negatively impacting the surrounding aquatic life. This was the third derailment on the Upper Mississippi River Wildlife Refuge in the last nine months, according to the community advocacy group Citizens Acting for Rail Safety (CARS).

      The next day, 13 DOT-111 tankers with upgraded safety features derailed in Watertown, Wis., spilling crude oil and forcing residents to evacuate from properties along the CP tracks. Four days later, another train derailed a mere 400 feet from that spill site.

      Train derailment, Watertown, Wisconsin << fox6now.com

      How can we possibly feel safe with ever-greater amounts of toxic products hurtling down inadequately maintained infrastructure every single day? A report released last week by the Waterkeeper Alliance found that “[s]ince 2008, oil train traffic has increased over 5,000 percent along rail routes … There has also been a surge in the number of oil train derailments, spills, fires, and explosions. More oil was spilled from trains in 2013 than in the previous 40 years combined.”

      Emergency management has become routine rather than remedial. Teams show up, “contain” the spills, replace some track, and the trains roll on. With forecasts that Canadian oil production will expand by 60,000 barrels per day this year, and an additional 90,000 barrels per day in 2016, toxic rail traffic shows no signs of decreasing.

      Energy giant Enbridge has taken this as its cue to size up northern Minnesota and plot pipeline (through Ojibwe tribal lands and the largest wild rice bed in the world) between the North Dakota Bakken oil fields and refineries in Wisconsin and Illinois. Its momentum depends on us puzzling over the false dichotomy of choosing to move oil by pipeline or by rail. At the June 3 Public Utilities Commission hearing, it admitted the proposed Sandpiper/Line 3 pipeline corridor will not alleviate railway congestion but rather potentially reduce “future traffic.” It uses this assumption of unregulated growth to make people today think they have no choice but to sell out the generations of tomorrow.

      Proponents of the line want us to choose our poison: will it be more explosive trains or more explosive trains and leaky pipelines? What if an oil tanker derailed on Huff Street in the middle of rush-hour traffic and we became the next Lac-Mégantic (where an oil train exploded downtown killing 47 people)? What if a hard-to-access pipeline spewed fracked crude oil into the headwaters of the Mississippi River?

      The real harm is in the delusion that we should accept and live with these risks. It is delusional that despite repeated derailments and toxic spills, business should continue as usual. It is delusional to think the oil and rail industry have our communities’ best interests at heart.

      We have the vision, the intelligence, and the technology to choose a way forward that does not compromise our resources for the generations to come. As Winona Laduke says, “I want an elegant transition. I want to walk out of my tepee, an elegant indigenous design, into a Tesla, into an electric car, an elegant western design.” Fossil fuels are history. We need to keep them in the ground and pursue sustainable energy alternatives or risk destroying the water and habitat on which all our lives depend.

       

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