Tag Archives: British Columbia Canada

Alberta’s possible pivot to the left alarms Canadian oil sector

Repost from Reuters

Alberta’s possible pivot to the left alarms Canadian oil sector

By Scott Haggett and Nia Williams, May 4, 2015 7:07am EDT
Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley meets with Mayor Naheed Nenshi in his office in Calgary, Alberta, April 30, 2015. REUTERS/Todd Korol

(Reuters: CALGARY, Alberta) – Canada’s oil-rich province of Alberta is on the cusp of electing a left-wing government that can make life harder for the energy industry with its plans to raise taxes, end support for key pipeline projects and seek a bigger cut of oil revenues.

Polls suggest Tuesday’s election is set to end the Conservative’s 44-year reign in the province that boasts the world’s third-largest proven oil reserves and now faces recession because of the slide in crude prices.

Surveys have proven wrong in Canadian provincial elections before and voters may end up merely downgrading the Conservatives’ grip on power to a minority government.

Yet the meteoric rise of the New Democratic Party and the way it already challenges the status-quo of close ties between the industry and the ruling establishment has alarmed oil executives. The proposed review of royalties oil and gas companies pay the government for using natural resources and which could lead to higher levies, is a matter of particular concern.

“Now is not the time for a review of oil and natural gas royalties,” Tim McMillan, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the country’s top oil lobby, said in a statement.

A 2007 increase in the levy was rolled back when the global financial crisis struck and oil executives say today the time is equally bad to try it again.

Yet the left’s leader Rachel Notley, a former union activist and law school graduate, has shot up in popularity ratings in the past months advocating policies that have been anathema for many conservative administrations.

She says she would not lobby on behalf of TransCanada Corp’s controversial Keystone XL pipeline or support building of Enbridge Inc’s Northern Gateway pipeline to link the province’s oil sands with a Pacific port in British Columbia. Citing heavy resistance from aboriginal groups to the Enbridge line, Notley says Alberta should back those that are more realistic such as TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline to the Atlantic ocean.

PACKING UP?

Notley also advocates a 2 percentage point rise in Alberta’s corporate tax rate to 12 percent to shore up its budget that is expected to swing from a surplus to a C$5 billion deficit in 2015/2016 as energy-related royalty payments and tax revenues shrink.

Even with the proposed corporate tax hike Alberta’s overall taxes would remain the lowest nationally. Oil executives warn, however, that any new burdens at a time when the industry is in a downturn, shedding jobs and cutting spending, could prompt firms to move corporate head offices out of the province.

“Business is mobile,” said Adam Legge, president of the Chamber of Commerce in Calgary where most of Canada’s oil industry is based. “Capital, people and companies move.”

Ironically, the challenge the oil industry and the Conservatives face is in part a by-product of Alberta’s rapid growth fueled by the oil-sands boom.

The influx of immigrants from other parts of Canada and overseas has changed the once overwhelmingly white and rural province. Today Alberta is one of the youngest provinces and polls show younger and more diverse population is more likely to support left-wing causes such as environment and education and more critical of big business. The New Democratic Party still only got 10 percent of the votes in the 2012 vote, but an election of a Muslim politician as a mayor of Calgary in 2010 served as an early sign of the changing political landscape.

The Conservatives themselves and their gaffe-prone leader Premier Jim Prentice also share the blame for the reversal of fortunes with one poll showing them trailing the left by 21 percent to 44 percent.

Prentice angered voters when he told Albertans to “look in the mirror” to find reasons for the province’s fiscal woes and then passed a budget in March that raised individual taxes and fees for government services but spared corporations.

Scandals – Prentice’ s predecessor left last year because of a controversy over lavish spending – and blunders added to the party’s woes.

The NDP vaulted to the top of the polls after Notley’s strong performance in an April 23 televised debate, when Prentice, former investment banker, drew fire for suggesting his rival struggled with math.

Then there is voter fatigue with a party seen as too comfortable and scandal-prone after decades in power.

“It’s still the same gang, the same policy, same procedures, the same concept of entitlement,” said one executive at a large oil and gas producer who declined to be named because he is not authorized to talk to the media. “I know some extremely neo-conservative guys who have said enough is enough.”

(Additional reporting by Julie Gordon in Vancouver and Mike De Souza in Ottawa; Editing by Amran Abocar and Tomasz Janowski)
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    NRDC Attorney: The tar sands invasion that can be stopped

    Repost from NRDC Switchboard, Danielle Droitsch’s Blog

    The tar sands invasion that can be stopped

    Danielle Droitsch
    Danielle Droitsch, senior attorney with NRDC, Canada Project Director, International Program.

    By Danielle Droitsch, April 28, 2015

    Many across the United States are aware of the tar sands threat posed by the proposed Keystone XL pipeline but what many may not know is the U.S. faces a looming threat that is bigger than just this one pipeline. We call it a tar sands invasion. The plan would be to complete a network of pipelines (both new and expanded), supertankers and barges, and a fleet of explosive railway tank cars. What is at risk? San Francisco Bay, Puget Sound, the Great Lakes, the Hudson River and other places we all call home. While the threat of this invasion is already here with the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the good news is that citizens across North America are rising up to respond and repeal the assault with a clear message: Not by pipeline, not by rail, not by tanker. The good news is that public opposition to tar sands oil is rising and projects like Keystone XL and Northern Gateway have been delayed. The tar sands assault is not inevitable. In fact, the U.S. doesn’t need this dirty form of fuel and neither does Canada. The time has come to limit tar sands expansion in favor of a cleaner and brighter energy future.

    Tar Sands Invasion Map 4-27-15.jpg

    A new report released by NRDC reveals that the amount of tar sands crude moving into and through the North American West Coast could increase by more than 1.7 million barrels per day if industry proposals for pipelines, tankers and rail facilities move forward. For more information about this new information see posts by my colleagues Anthony Swift and Josh Axelrod. Why the west coast? With the majority of the world’s heavy oil refinery capacity, the United States including the west coast is a critical market for the tar sands industry. To be clear, Keystone XL still remains at the heart of the industry plan to expand tar sands and gain access to the global market. But industry is still pushing hard for other ways to expand especially as KXL flounders. It is important to keep in mind the tar sands industry – which currently produces about 2 million barrels per day (bpd) – plans to triple production to exceed 6 million bpd in the next fifteen years. The oil industry has made clear it needs all of its rail and pipeline proposals to achieve its massive production goals.

    We know that the tar sands industry and Canadian government has long had a plan to quadruple or more tar sands extraction in Canada. KXL has always been a huge part of that. But it is now very clear that they also plan to access the U.S. and global market through every means possible.

    This threatened invasion puts our communities, waters, air and climate in jeopardy. The Tar Sands Solutions Network has done an outstanding job outlining many of the different campaigns that are emerging across North America. This plan threatens to expose communities from California to New York to health, safety and environmental risks unless the public rallies to stop it. Here are some of the specific impacts that North America faces as a result of the tar sands invasion:

    • Across the West Coast, tar sands laden tanker and barge traffic could increase twenty-five fold, with a projected 2,000 vessels along the Pacific West Coast– including the Salish Sea and the Columbia River–shipping nearly two million barrels of tar sands crude every day.
    • A dozen proposed rail terminals would substantially increase tar sands by rail traffic going through densely populated American citizens like Los Angeles and Albany New York risking explosive derailments of hazardous crude unit trains
    • Nearly a million barrels of tar sands would be destined for California and Washington refineries, exposing fenceline communities in Anacortes, San Francisco and Los Angeles to increasing toxic air pollution.
    • In the Midwest, the pipeline company Enbridge is moving to nearly double the flow of tar sands moving through the Great Lakes region, an area that already has suffered from a 2010 spill of more than 800,000 gallons of the tar sands into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan sending hundreds of residents to the hospital. Four years later, the cleanup, which has cost more than $1 billion, is still unfinished.
    • On the East Coast, the tar sands industry is seeking to build the Energy East pipeline across Canada. The pipeline would run from Alberta east across Canada to New Brunswick and Quebec, carry 1.1 million barrels of tar sands oil per day and require hundreds of oil tankers traveling along the East Coast and Gulf Coast annually, through critical habitat of the extremely endangered Right Whale.
    • In Albany, New York, a proposed oil transfer facility could lead to the shipment of tar sands oil on barges down the Hudson River or rail cars along the river destined for facilities in the New Jersey and Philadelphia areas.
    • In Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire, the constant threat of a proposed reversal of the aging Portland-Montreal Pipeline is likely to arise again as Enbridge completes work on a pipeline reversal that will connect the tar sands directly to Montreal this summer.
    • This network of pipelines will feed refineries that produce millions of tons of hazardous petroleum coke waste – known as “petcoke” – which are piling up in residential neighborhoods like Chicago.
    • In Canada, pipeline companies are trying to access the west and east costs with pipeline proposals that would ship the heavy tar sands oil across pristine landscapes in British Columbia or across the Prairies into Ontario and Quebec. Communities are raising concerns about the threat of a spill to waters from the pipeline or tankers leaving the Bay of Fundy of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
    • And last but not least, communities in Alberta at ground zero have been facing the enormous consequences of tar sands development which has brought about significant contamination of water, air, and land. Increasingly, there are calls for a moratorium on development.

    Targeting at risk communities

    The tar sands invasion puts a high toll on low-income and aboriginal communities located in railway corridors, near oil refineries, and next to petcoke waste sites. In refinery fence-line communities, emissions associated with tar sands are suspected to be even more detrimental to human health than existing harmful emissions from conventional crude. Derailments of tar sands unit trains – mile long trains carrying over a hundred tankers full of explosive tar sands crude – pose a catastrophic risk for communities throughout the country. And as more tar sands oil is refined in the United States, the public will also face increased health and environmental risks from massive piles of petroleum coke, a coal-like waste full of heavy metals that results from tar sands oil refining and can cause serious damage to the respiratory system.

    Industry would like for you to believe that tar sands development is inevitable and there is nothing that can be done. Wherever they turn today they are being faced with public opposition. Expansion is not inevitable, especially because of this growing and formidable opposition.

    A climate problem

    It is clear that tar sands reserves – some of the world’s most carbon intensive – are at the top of the list of reserves that must remain in the ground. Mounting scientific and economic analysis shows that the tar sands industry’s proposed expansion plan is incompatible with global efforts to address climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that 75% or more of discovered fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground in order to limit warming to the international two degrees Celsius goal. The clear inconsistency between tar sands expansion and efforts to address climate change have made opposition to tar sands expansion projects a clear rallying point for a broad group of allies advocating for action on climate.

    A water problem

    A tar sands spill from train, pipeline, or tanker could devastate local economies, pristine wilderness, harm human health, and lead to an especially costly and challenging cleanup. Tar sands spills have proven more damaging than conventional spills, as heavy tar sands bitumen sinks below the water surface making it difficult to contain or recover. A spill from shipping the tar sands crude could devastate communities, contaminate freshwater supplies or marine habitats and damaging local economies.

    Undermining efforts to grow our clean energy economy

    The growing exploitation of Alberta’s tar sands threatens to undermine North American efforts to build a clean energy economy and combat global climate change. Because most tar sands crude is destined for the United States, its expansion would create a greater dependence on the world’s dirtiest crude oil and undermine our transition to environmentally sustainable energy and a cleaner transportation fleet. Responding to the tar sands invasion will require solutions reduce fossil fuel use and spur low-carbon transportation and energy solutions such as broadened electric vehicle use and development of renewable and clean fuels.

    This tar sands invasion can be stopped: Clean Transportation Solutions

    The good news is this tar sands invasion can be stopped starting with leadership from government officials to embrace climate and sustainable transportation solutions. NRDC’s report for the west coast outlines detailed recommendations for decision-makers at all levels. The first step is for decision-makers at all levels to become familiar with the unique issues associated with tar sands oil and then to actively identify the full range of solutions to confront this problem. Without action, the U.S. will unintentionally become a thoroughfare for this oil undermining climate policies and presenting risks to communities and water. With support for regional clean energy policies, we can prevent the influx of tar sands crude and build the green infrastructure and public support necessary to begin transitioning to a clean energy economy.

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      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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