Tag Archives: Alberta boreal forests

Wolves Shot From Choppers Shows Oil Harm Beyond Pollution

Repost from Bloomberg News

Wolves Shot From Choppers Shows Oil Harm Beyond Pollution

by Rebecca Penty, April 22, 2015 5:00 PM PDT
Wolves Shot From Choppers Shows Oil Sands Harm Beyond Pollution
British Columbia killed 84 wolves in the hunt that ended this month. Alberta eliminated 53 this year, bringing its total killed through the program since 2005 to 1,033. Source: Universal Education/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Here’s one aspect of Canada’s energy boom that isn’t being thwarted by the oil market crash: the wolf cull.

The expansion of oil-sands mines and drilling pads has brought the caribou pictured on Canada’s 25-cent coin to the brink of extinction in Alberta and British Columbia. To arrest the population decline, the two provinces are intensifying a hunt of the caribou’s main predator, the gray wolf. Conservation groups accuse the provinces of making wolves into scapegoats for man-made damage to caribou habitats.

The cull carried out in winter when the dark fur of the wolves is easier to spot against the snow has claimed more than 1,000 animals since 2005. Hunters shoot them with high-powered rifles from nimble two-seat helicopters that can hover close to a pack or lone wolf. In Alberta, some are poisoned with big chunks of bait laced with strychnine, leading to slow and painful deaths that may be preceded by seizures and hypothermia.

“It’s an unhappy necessity,” Stan Boutin, a University of Alberta biologist, said of the government-sponsored hunt. “We’ve let the development proceed so far already that now, trying to get industry out of an area, is just not going to happen.”

The energy industry has delivered a death blow to caribou by turning prime habitat into production sites and by introducing linear features on the landscape that give wolves easy paths to hunt caribou, such as roads, pipelines and lines of downed trees created by oil and gas exploration.

A drop in drilling after oil prices plunged can’t reverse the damage. More than C$350 billion ($285 billion) spent by Alberta’s oil-sands producers to build an industrial complex that’s visible from space have made the province’s boreal herds of woodland caribou the most endangered in the country. Their population is falling by about half every eight years, according to a 2013 study in the Canadian Journal of Zoology.

Caribou Ranges

Since 2005, Alberta has auctioned the rights to develop more than 25,000 square kilometers (9,652 square miles) of land in caribou ranges to energy companies, according to the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, an Ottawa-based charity. That’s equivalent to about three times New York’s metropolitan area.

“When the oil industry goes in there and cuts those lines and drills and puts in pipelines, it helps the wolves,” said Chad Lenz, a hunting guide with two decades of experience based in Red Deer, Alberta. Lenz has watched caribou herds shrink as the number of wolves soar. “There’s not a place in Alberta that hasn’t been affected by industry, especially the oil industry.”

Home to the world’s third-largest proven crude reserves, Alberta depends on levies from the energy industry to build new roads, schools and hospitals.

British Columbia

British Columbia joined Alberta in sponsoring a wolf hunt this year as its logging and energy industries too are putting populations of woodland caribou at risk. Canada’s westernmost province is trying to erase its debt with revenues from the energy industry, as companies including Royal Dutch Shell Plc consider multibillion-dollar gas export projects along the Pacific Coast.

The provinces are widening their wolf cull — a stop gap poised to extend for years — as companies such as Devon Energy Corp. join in testing other radical measures to revive the herds.

British Columbia killed 84 wolves in the hunt that ended this month. Alberta eliminated 53 this year, bringing its total killed through the program since 2005 to 1,033.

Conservation groups have petitioned for the end of a program they deem unethical without aggressive habitat recovery, while the provinces keep selling drilling rights on caribou ranges.

‘Scapegoating Wolves’

“We do not support the current wolf kill,” said Carolyn Campbell, a conservation specialist at the Alberta Wilderness Association, a Calgary-based advocacy group. “It’s an unethical way to scapegoat wolves.”

The provinces are only poised to kill more wolves, though, as they prepare plans to reverse the population decline for each caribou range ahead of a 2017 Canadian government deadline.

Alberta is expected to continue the cull in the first of its range plans to be released this year, which will serve as a model for handling of the other herds, said Duncan MacDonnell, a spokesman for Alberta’s Environment and Sustainable Resource Development department. British Columbia’s 2015 cull was just the first of a five-year program.

Killing wolves is saving caribou from extinction while governments and energy companies consider new approaches, said the University of Alberta’s Boutin.

Industry Efforts

The energy industry has worked to reduce its impact on caribou by adding gates on roads to block access and by returning disturbed land to a more natural state, said Chelsie Klassen, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

After spending about C$200 million annually for 12 years to help revive the caribou and watching populations continue to fall, companies are finally seeing small successes, said Amit Saxena, senior biodiversity and land specialist at Devon.

Wolves tracked with collars are being deterred from areas where companies have replanted trees, Saxena said. At its Jackfish oil-sands project, Devon is monitoring a fenced patch of land to see if it can keep out wolves and bears attracted by bait. Until the lessons can be successfully applied to wider swaths of land, the wolf cull will have to continue, he said.

“Sustainability of caribou herds and oil and gas activity can go hand in hand on the landscape,” Saxena said. “If we can manage that predation level that is too excessive in some areas, then caribou can recover on an industrial, active working landscape.”

Habitat Recovery

The human impact can’t all be reversed for herds that each require about 30,000 square kilometers of mostly undisturbed land to thrive, Boutin said. The biologist advocates building pens for pregnant and newborn caribou and larger fenced-off areas for certain entire herds.

“Habitat recovery will be part of the toolbox but it will never be useful on its own,” Boutin said. If provincial governments don’t pursue radical ideas such as maternity pens, fences and predator control, “then they’re going to be wasting everybody’s time.”

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    San Luis Obispo Refinery Wants Oil by Train

    Repost from The Santa Barbara Independent

    SLO Refinery Wants Oil by Train

    Phillips 66 Runs into Public Resistance over Proposal to Lay New Tracks and Unload More Canadian Crude

    By Natalie Cherot, January 23, 2015

    Courtesy PhotoA slow-moving pipeline moves a haul of crude oil to a refinery just north of the Santa Barbara County border. Stand on the nearby coast’s 18,000-year-old sand dunes and look away from the sea, and a perfect view emerges of the expansive Phillips 66 Santa Maria Refinery. The name is a misnomer. The San Luis Obispo facility on the Nipomo Mesa is 17 miles northwest from the City of Santa Maria. Directly south is the Santa Maria River.

    Golden Sierra Madre mountains shimmer in the distance, and hearty sage scrub surrounds its perimeter alongside grazing cattle. The night sky around the facility is never dark; its aquarium lights border on festive. The illumination is necessary because the refinery is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It begins the process of turning crude into a finished product like gasoline, diesel, or jet fuel, and pumps the semi-refined batches 200 miles north to the San Francisco Bay Area plants for finishing.

    With oil prices dropping and California supplies both dwindling and facing harsh competition from North Dakota, much speculation swirls on the question of what kind of oil will arrive to the refinery on the dunes in the coming years. Right now it is “mostly used for California-produced oil,” said Phillips 66 spokesperson Rich Johnson.

    But as of 2013, Phillips 66’s newest product is Canadian tar sands, a thick, gooey combination of clay, sand, water, and viscous bitumen. It’s hard to control and expensive to process. The Kearl Lake tar sands field cuts through Alberta’s boreal forest and wetlands, and has been turned into a mined landscape. An estimated 170 billion more barrels are still available for the taking.

    In the summer of 2013, Phillips 66 submitted permit applications to San Luis Obispo County’s Planning Commission to add 1.3 miles of train track to its Santa Maria Refinery’s existing rail spur so crude can be delivered by train rather than by pipe. The proposed upgrades, which include five parallel tracks, an unloading facility, and new on-site pipelines, wouldn’t increase the amount of crude processed at the facility — volume is capped by the county’s Air Pollution Control District — but they reflect an increasing amount of oil train traffic across the country. BusinessWeek.com reported that it’s tripled in the last four years.

    According to the project’s draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR), the facility would be able to handle five train unloads a week for a maximum of 250 a year. Each train with about 80 tanks on board would carry between 1.8 million and 2.1 million gallons of crude.

    A first draft of the EIR — which indicated that both Canadian tar sands and North Dakota Bakken formation crude would be carried on the trains — was published that fall and received 800 public comments. The massive amount of feedback, much of it negative, prompted the Planning Commission to delay a final decision on the project. The commission issued a second 889-page draft EIR in October 2014, and a few weeks from now, a public comment period will take place. The date has not been finalized.

    The biggest contention in the first draft was about Bakken crude. “The bottom line is Bakken Crude likes to burn and it will not take much to get it going,” wrote Paul Lee, battalion chief for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection in a letter to the San Luis Obispo Planning and Building Department. For preparation of the second draft EIR, Phillips 66 requested the county “delete statements suggesting that the Bakken oilfield as the most likely source of crude oil.” The new draft EIR states no Bakken will arrive by rail. Phillips’s spokesperson Rich Johnson said the refinery can’t handle the sweeter, lighter Bakken crude, as it specializes in the ultra-heavy tar sands.

    Four accidents involving Bakken crude are mentioned in the latest report. A 30,000-barrel spill occurred in April 2014 in Lynchburg, Virginia, when a transport train derailed and erupted into flames. In November 2013, a train jumped the tracks in Aliceville, Alabama. Twelve tanker cars of Bakken spilled and caught fire. The next month, another oil train crashed in Casselton, North Dakota, where 20 cars of Bakken exploded and burned for 24 hours. Forty-seven people died when a train carrying the crude derailed and exploded in Quebec on July 2013.

    The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has issued a warning to move transportation of Bakken oil away from highly populated areas because of explosion risks. “Most think that Crude will not get going unless it gets warmed up first and in some cases that is correct, [but] Bakken Crude does not need to be aggravated to burn or even explode,” wrote Lee. “The NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) is concerned about its ability to explode so much in fact that there is a recommendation to have rail avoid populated areas.”

    Phillips 66’s rail expansion plan is part of larger national strategy to better accommodate tar sands coming out of the ground quicker than the current system of pipelines can handle. “Our real challenge that we have, or opportunity that we have, is to get advantaged crudes to the East Coast and West Coast,” said Greg Garland, chairman and CEO of Phillips 66, at the Barclays CEO Energy-Power Conference last year. “So we’re working that in terms of moving Canadian crudes down into California or building rail facilities.”

    Two thousands miles north in Alberta, Canada, the contentious Keystone XL pipeline would transport tar sands through Montana, Nebraska, Illinois, Oklahoma, and Houston. The pipeline’s foes claim the fuel is too emission-intensive and corrosive to pipelines. Supporters say if the Keystone XL is blocked, tar sands will come by the more dangerous transportation methods of boat or rail. Recent Philips 66 literature states: “Until new pipeline projects come online, rail is in many cases the easiest and most cost efficient way to get advantaged crude to some of our refineries.”

    Trains coming and going from Santa Maria Refinery would travel the path of the Union Pacific Rail, on tracks shared by Amtrak. They would make the journey north through the Nipomo Mesa, up the precarious Cuesta Grade through Paso Robles, Salinas, and San Jose. Then they head through Richmond, then Berkeley. Richmond and Berkeley city councils recently passed resolutions calling for stricter regulations on crude oil trains.

    The paths of the trains coming from the south — and carrying crude from any number of sources — are unclear and not ironed out in the draft EIR, but they would likely go through Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. A potential path indicated in the report heads through downtown Moorpark at the eastern edge of Ventura County after it passes through Simi Valley, but that potential route may have hit a glitch.

    On December 17, the Moorpark City Council voted to send a letter to the San Luis Obispo Planning Commission opposing Phillip 66’s proposal because of its potentially hazardous risks. “I feel strongly that we need to show a little bit of leadership here as a city to formally object to this,” said one councilmember. “Hopefully other cities along this track will as well.” According to the report, once the trains leave Moorpark they could head through Camarillo to Ventura and along the coast to Carpinteria, Santa Barbara, and Goleta.

    Johnson does not see much long-term job growth — or even stability — at the refinery given its current pipeline setup and a recent dip in statewide supplies. To stay competitive, company officials have argued, the refinery needs to revamp its intake methods so it can accept crude from other sources. “We are trying to keep the jobs we have,” Johnson said of the 200 people working at the plant. “Oil production in California is on the decline.” Rumors of a too-twisted and warped Monterey Shale formation from years of tectonic activity became a public reality in May when the government agency, Energy Information Administration, downgraded a predicted 13.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil to 600 million.

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