Environmentalists say Harper administration has little chance of meeting the 2030 goal while tar sands expansion continues
By Will Nichols, 19 May 2015
Canada has pledged to tackle its rising carbon emissions, but environmentalists have claimed the goal is unattainable while the country continues to exploit its tar sands oil reserves.
Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced late last week Canada would aim to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, as part of the country’s contribution to a global carbon reduction deal that is set to be signed at the UN climate conference in Paris later this year.
The commitment falls short of the US pledge to cut emissions up to 28 per cent against 2005 levels by 2025 and the EU goal of 40 per cent emissions reductions below 1990 levels by 2030.
However, the country’s government insisted the pledge was “in line” with other major industrialised countries.
“This target is fair and ambitious, an ambitious commitment based on our national circumstances, which includes a growing population, a diversified growing economy and Canada’s position as a world leader in clean electricity generation,” Aglukkaq said.
“Achieving this ambitious goal will require actions from all levels of government and we will continue to work together, cooperatively with the provinces and the territories’ goals.”
Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions have risen steadily since 2009, when it joined the US in pledging 17 per cent reductions by 2020, mainly due to growth in tar sands oil production in the province of Alberta. Currently, Canada is only expected to get halfway to the 17 per cent goal, with Alberta alone expected to account for 40 per cent of the country’s carbon pollution by the end of the decade.
Environmentalists said that without scaling back its long-standing plans to expand tar sands production it is difficult to see how Canada will meet the new emissions goal, even given that provinces such as Ontario have announced targets far in excess of the Federal goal.
“The Harper government has not only ignored its existing reduction target, but the pro-tar sands policies it has adopted are taking us in the opposite direction,” said Keith Stewart, climate campaigner for Greenpeace Canada. “Until today’s announcement is backed by a commitment to enacting policies that can actually achieve this new target, it isn’t worth the paper it is written on.”
Canada follows the US, EU, Russia, Mexico, Switzerland, Norway, Gabon, Liechtenstein, and Andorra in officially submitting its climate action plan, or Intended National Determined Contributions in the UN parlance, to the body’s climate change secretariat in readiness for December’s Paris Summit.
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.
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.
Repost from McClatchyDC [Editor: Bloomberg adds coverage of NTSB comments on the inadequacies of the CPC-1232 tank cars. – RS]
NTSB: Equip oil trains with fire protection within 5 years
By Curtis Tate, McClatchy Washington Bureau, April 6, 2015
The National Transportation Safety Board on Monday called for the nation’s fleet of railroad tank cars hauling crude oil and ethanol to be equipped with fire protection within five years in an effort to eliminate the large explosions associated with recent accidents.
The NTSB cited the performance of tank cars in four recent oil train derailments, two in the U.S. and two in Canada, where fire exposure weakened the bare steel tanks and increased the pressure inside the cars beyond what they were designed to sustain.
The agency called on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to require tank cars carrying oil and ethanol to be equipped with a ceramic blanket and high-capacity pressure-relief devices.
The NTSB also for the first time endorsed a five-year timeline for retrofitting or replacing the tank cars, including the goal that 20 percent of the fleet be made compliant per year. Industry groups representing oil producers and refiners have pushed for a 10-year timeline.
“We can’t wait a decade for safer rail cars,” NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart said in a statement. “The industry needs to make this issue a priority and expedite the safety enhancements, otherwise, we continue to put our communities at risk.”
In January, the NTSB added tank cars to its “ Most Wanted” list of safety improvements. But at the time, Hart wouldn’t say what the NTSB considered an appropriate timeline for making the fixes.
The independent board, which has only advisory power, has been recommending upgrades to the nation’s workhorse tank car, called the DOT-111, for more than 20 years.
The car’s design became an issue after railroads across North America began hauling exponentially larger volumes of crude oil and ethanol. An oil train derailment that killed 47 people in Quebec in July 2013 galvanized a new effort on both sides of the border to improve the cars.
In February, the Transportation Department sent a package of proposed regulations to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review. They include requirements for thermal protection on the tank cars and are similar to a tank car design the Canadian government proposed last month. The final rule is scheduled for publication next month.
In the meantime, four trains carrying different types of crude oil derailed in the span of four weeks. The derailments, two in Ontario, and one each in West Virginia and Illinois, led to spills, fires and evacuations.
Oil industry groups have called for more attention to preventing derailments and less emphasis on the cars and what’s in them. But the tank car improvements have widespread support from lawmakers, regulators, mayors and governors, the rail industry and the NTSB.
In statements Monday, Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Peter DeFazio, both Oregon Democrats, praised the NTSB’s recommendations.
“I am very happy to see that they recommended thermal protection for cars carrying hazardous materials, an aggressive retrofit or replacement schedule, and a transparent, publicly available reporting mechanism to report tank car replacement,” DeFazio said.
“It is my hope that the next step from the administration will be a strong DOT rule that will get these cars upgraded quickly, or get them off the tracks completely,” Wyden said.
The railroad industry’s leading advocacy group in Washington echoed those calls.
“The freight rail industry supports an aggressive retrofit or replacement program and believes final regulations on new tank car standards will provide certainty and chart a new course in the safer movement of crude oil by rail,” said Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for the Association of American Railroads, in a statement.
Christopher McKenzie, the LCC’s executive director, already has sent a letter March 6 on behalf of its board of directors to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony R. Foxx, asking that his department make LCC’s recommendations part of federal policy in governing rail safety.
“The continued increase in the transport of crude oil by rail, combined with recent rail rail accidents involving oil spills and resulting fires, have served to heighten concerns about rail safety among many of our member cities,” McKenzie wrote.
Rail safety, particularly in transport of crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken fields, has become a growing concern nationwide and elsewhere.
The California Environmental Protection Agency has been presenting a series of forums on the matter, one of which took place March 26 in Crockett, a meeting attended by several Benicia residents who oppose delivery of oil by train.
In another development this week, WesPac Midstream has dropped the crude-by-rail component of its intent to transform a Pacific Gas and Electric tank farm into a regional oil storage site.
In explaining the move Project Manager Art Diefenbach cited uncertainties about prospective changes in regulations of oil shipping by rail, a series of protests and falling crude prices that have made shipping by train less attractive. Should the project be completed, oil would arrive either by ship or pipeline, which Pittsburg Mayor Pete Longmire suggested would make the operation safer and less controversial.
In his letter, McKenzie cited incidents that prompted the LCC to express its own safety concerns and to offer recommendations that might reduce the potential for accidents.
“Specifically, two derailments accompanied by fires involving unit trains (100 or more tank cars) carrying crude oil in West Virginia and in Ontario, Canada, earlier this month have greatly increased public anxiety about what steps the relevant federal regulatory agencies are taking to improve rail safety and on what timetable,” he wrote.
He said the LCC wanted to make three points: First, that improvements that are required of participating industries should be mandates, not recommendations; second, that the mandates should have a hard deadline for implementation; and third, that the Department of Transportation should include the LCC’s recommendations in the final rule for Safe Transportation of Crude Oil and Flammable Materials.
McKenzie wrote that the LCC wants all federal agencies involved in regulating crude-by-rail shipments to require electronically controlled braking systems on trains carrying the sweeter crude from the North Dakota Bakken oil fields, and to set a sooner date for phasing out or retrofitting the older DOT-111 tanks.
More federal money should be directed toward training and equipment for first responders who are sent to hazardous materials accidents, he wrote, and how the funding is to be distributed needs to be defined. In addition, trains should have maximum speed limits in all areas.
His letter said the LCC wants the number of tank cars that trigger a California Energy Commission and State Emergency Response Commission report lowered to 20 from 33, which in turn would lower the trigger point from shipments of 1.1 million gallons or more to those of 690,000 gallons or more.
Priority routes for positive train control, a technology that incorporates geopositioning tracking to slow or halt trains automatically to reduce collisions, should be identified, McKenzie wrote, and parking and storage of tank cards need regulating, too.
He further wrote that railroads should be forced to comply with their Individual Voluntary Agreements with the US-DOT, because currently there is no requirement for them to do so. Those pacts involve reducing speed limits for oil trains that use older tank cars and travel through urban areas; determining the safest rail route; increased track inspection; adding enhanced braking systems; improving emergency response plans and training; increasing track inspections; and working with cities and communities to address their concerns about oil transport by train.
“The League of California Cities understands that this area of regulation is largely preempted by federal law,” McKenzie wrote. “That is why we are urging specific and timely action by the federal agencies charged with regulatory oversight in this area. We do not expect that derailments and accidents will cease altogether, but we anticipate that stricter safety standards will reduce their numbers over time.”
The LCC also has supplied member cities with a sample letter patterned after McKenzie’s message, to customize before sending to Foxx.
In a report to Benicia City Council, City Manager Brad Kilger wrote, “The League Executive Director has requested that cities send letters to the appropriate federal rail safety rulemaking authority requesting that these measures be implemented.”
Since the preparation of the letter template, he wrote, the LCC has learned that any decisions on improved safety regulations would be made in the Office of Management and Budget.
“The mayor is requesting that the city send a letter on behalf of the Benicia City Council,” Kilger wrote.
Consideration of the letter won’t conflict with future consideration of a request by Valero Benicia Refinery to extend Union Pacific Railroad tracks onto its property and make other modifications so it can substitute rail delivery for tanker ship delivery of crude oil, a highly contentious proposition that is currently undergoing environmental review.
“In that the city is currently processing the use permit and EIR (environmental Impact Report) for the Valero Crude-by-Rail Project, I asked the city attorney to determine whether sending a letter requesting rail safety improvements would in any way create a due process issue for the city,” Kilger wrote.
He said City Attorney Heather McLaughlin informed him there would be no conflict because the letter doesn’t take any position on the Valero project or the adequacy of the ongoing environmental review.
“The letter simply urges the adoption of more stringent federal standards for the transportation of crude by rail,” Kilger wrote.
If the Council agrees the letter should be sent to Foxx, it would be signed by Patterson as mayor, and copies would be sent to California’s two U.S. senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, all members of California’s delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Federal Railroad Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, the Solano County Board of Supervisors, the Solano Transportation Authority, Kilger, McLaughlin and members of the Council.
The Council will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Council Chamber of City Hall, 250 East L St.