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tar sands

A Call for Federal Leadership: Stand with oil sands workers calling for renewable energy

By Lliam Hildebrand - Iron and Earth, March 4, 2020

The workers of Iron & Earth are urging the federal government to show bold leadership to put Canada on the fast track to a net-zero economy now. This week we wrote to Prime Minister Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Freeland and asked them to enact a plan that will put us to work building the new economy.

The Teck mine cancellation could represent a historic milestone, marking the moment that Canada shifted collectively towards a prosperous net-zero economy. But in order to move in this new direction, we need visionary federal climate policy that includes urgent investments across the country, with special attention to Alberta and Saskatchewan. Here is the text of our letter:

March 4, 2020

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau
Office of the Prime Minister of Canada
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2

The Right Honourable Chrystia Freeland
Deputy Prime Minister of Canada
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON, K1A 0A6

Re: the cancellation of the Teck Frontier project and building the new net-zero economy

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland,

Iron & Earth is a not-for-profit organization led by fossil fuel industry and Indigenous workers, whose aim is to help build the policies and infrastructure required to meet climate targets. We are concerned about the increasingly polarized conversation and contexts around energy development in Canada and the significant economic shifts that the recent Teck project cancellation represents. We are writing to urge you to show bold leadership to put us decisively on track to a net-zero economy.

Oil politicians only care about fantasy jobs, not real jobs

By Doug Nesbitt - Rank and File, February 27, 2020

Across the country, the right-wingers are outraged once again about the loss of thousands of potential jobs in the Alberta oil sands. Teck Resources, the Vancouver-based energy company, pulled its proposal to develop a new massive oil sands mine north of Fort McMurray. Jason Kenney wasn’t the only politician choking for air after getting the news.

Teck claimed their “Frontier” mine would produce 7,000 short-term construction jobs, 2,500 operating jobs, and generate tens of billions in government revenues. Naturally, these figures are highly suspect coming from an industry known to bury the truth as often as it buries bodies.

Whatever the case, we know a lot of jobs would have been created and we also know the costs to the global environment would have been immensely bad. Teck’s decision to pull the application reflects a trend of oil sands divestment by financial powers and energy corporations. They’re even beginning to invest in renewables.

Meanwhile, over the decades, oil companies have saddled Alberta with 100,000 orphan wells, countless toxic tailings ponds, and a whopping $70 billion clean-up bill for the public. With Teck’s decision to run away from their big Alberta mine, Big Oil and the banks are spelling big trouble for Kenney and the countless politicians who have staked their lucrative careers on the oil sands.

And so Kenney loudly proclaims his incredible concern for jobs – as he axes real jobs. Kenney is overseeing devastating cuts to healthcare and government services, and his party estimates between 6,400 and 7,400 public sector jobs will be eliminated. Ah right, the public sector is the big problem, not the decades of low royalties allowing huge oil wealth to flood out of the province.

The Future of Alberta's Oil Sands Industry: More Production, Less Capital, Fewer Jobs

By Ian Hussey - Parkland Institute, March 2020

Major restructuring and consolidation of the Alberta-dominated Canadian oil and gas industry has been taking place since 2014 (Hussey et al. 2018), when the lower-for-longer oil price scenario in which the province still finds itself began.

This report explores the employment, capital spending, and operational spending implications of the ongoing restructuring and consolidation of the industry. More specifically, the report explains that oil sands industry maturation—which was significantly advanced over the latest commodity cycle—means there has been a recent shift in the industry from its growth phase (2000–2018) to its mature phase (2019 onward).

Read the report (Link).

Our Climate is a Public Trust

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, October 20, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Can an ancient legal principle with roots in Roman law serve as a tool for the climate protection movement?

On October 23, Alec Johnson, aka “Climate Hawk,” is scheduled to go on trial for locking himself to a construction excavator in Tushka, Oklahoma as part of the Tar Sands Blockade campaign to block the route of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. He intends to argue that resisting the pipeline was necessary in order to protect the public trust – the common property right of the people to essential natural resources. Johnson will be the first defendant anywhere to make a necessity defense based on the duty of government to protect the climate under the public trust doctrine.

In a speech in Nacogdoches, TX on the day of the 2014 Peoples Climate March, Johnson said, “When it comes to our commons, to our public property, we the people have rights in a public trust.” The public trust doctrine means “we have rights when it comes to how our public commons are administered.” He will argue that his blockade of Keystone XL pipeline construction was necessary because the pipeline threatens our atmospheric public trust and state and national governments are failing to protect us against that threat.

Meanwhile, last week a petition was filed with the US Supreme Court by five youth plaintiffs seeking a decision that the Federal government is obligated to protect public trust assets like the atmosphere and the climate that under the public trust doctrine belong to the people. Behind this case lies a unique organizing effort by the group Our Children’s Trust, which has brought together young people and their legal supporters to file suits and petitions not only in Federal court but in every state in the US and several other countries. Then-sixteen-year-old Alec Loorz, founder of Kids v. Global Warming and lead plaintiff in the federal lawsuit, explained its public trust claim: “The government has a legal responsibility to protect the future for our children. So we are demanding that they recognize the atmosphere as a commons that needs to be preserved, and commit to a plan to reduce emissions to a safe level.”

And at a Climate Justice Tribunal across the street from the UN climate summit last month a judicial panel, after hearing evidence of devastating impacts of climate change around the world, declared that governments have a duty under the public trust doctrine to halt climate destruction. Organized by the Climate Justice Alliance and inspired in part by the International War Crimes Tribunal organized during the Vietnam War by renowned philosophers Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre, the Tribunal’s judicial panel found that “Based on the evidence we have heard here today, the nations of our world are in violation of their most fundamental legal and constitutional obligations.” It called on governments to honor their duty to protect the atmosphere, which belongs in common to the world’s people, and halt their contribution to climate destruction.

Some courts are already starting to apply the public trust doctrine to protecting the atmospheric commons. Last December the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned a law that prevented local communities from blocking fracking. The plurality opinion held that public natural resources are owned in common by the people, including future generations. Because the state is the trustee of these resources, it has a fiduciary duty to “conserve and maintain” them. The state has “a duty to refrain from permitting or encouraging the degradation, diminution, or depletion of public natural resources.”

Will courts force governments to fulfill that duty? So far several state courts have accepted important parts of the youth plaintiffs’ argument, but none have ordered a government to act. But in the meantime, thousands of people are sitting-in and blockading to halt climate-destroying activities. The judicial panel of the Climate Justice Tribunal declared that “those who blockade coal-fired power plants or block tar sands oil pipelines are committing no crime.” Rather, they are exercising their right and responsibility to protect the atmospheric commons they own along with all of present and future humankind. They are acting to prevent a far greater harm — indeed, “a harm that by virtue of the public trust doctrine is itself a violation of law on a historic scale.”

Alec Johnson says that “we the people” are “armed” by the public trust doctrine to demand that governments “recognize their responsibilities as trustees and exercise their fiduciary responsibility to act with the highest duty of care” to sustain the resources necessary for society to endure. “Enforcing our children’s rights to climate justice is no crime.”

Jeremy Brecher is a historian of social movements, a founder of the Labor Network for Sustainability, and author of Climate Insurgency: A Strategy for Survival (Paradigm Publishers, January 2015).

President Obama: Keystone XL Pipeline “Would Not Serve National Interest”

By Staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, November 6, 2015

National Nurses United rally against Keystone X-L, Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, 2013

President Obama has announced his support for US Secretary of State John Kerry’s rejection of the long-proposed Keystone XL Pipeline project, which would have brought Canadian tar sands oil to the Texas south coast for shipping overseas. Supporters of real action to address climate change and energy democracy are celebrating the announcement.

US Trade Union Opposition to Keystone XL:

Research has shown the pipeline posed serious threats to the environment, safety and economies of communities along its route, while promises that the project would be a major creator of jobs were unfounded. For more on these issues, please see:

Winds of Change: Public Opinion on Energy Politics in Saskatchewan

By Andrea Olive, Emily Eaton, and Randy Besco - Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives - April 2018

Energy politics are controversial in Canada. Debates over pipelines, from the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion to TransCanada’s Keystone XL, are often splashed across newspaper headlines. In Saskatchewan, however, the Saskatchewan Party government and the official NDP opposition have rarely disagreed about the importance of defending the province’s oil industry from anti-pipeline activists and federal climate change policies. Most recently, the interim leader of the NDP sided with Alberta Premier Rachel Notley in the dispute between Alberta and British Colombia over Kinder Morgan.1 Although Saskatchewan produces no bitumen itself, the NDP joined Premier Notley in condemning BC Premier Horgan’s announcement that British Colombia will place restrictions on the shipment of bitumen through its territory.

Given the seeming political consensus that defending the oil industry is consistent with defending the province’s interests, one might assume that Saskatchewan people are relatively united in their support for fossil fuel extraction. In this report we present some surprising results of public opinion polling that we conducted on issues of oil extraction, environment, and climate change in the province. Our results show that people living in Saskatchewan support a transition away from fossil fuels and agree that the government should invest more in solar and wind power while strengthening environmental regulations.

Read the report (PDF).

Alberta is Losing Out on Millions in Natural Gas Revenue. Here's Why

By James Wilt - DeSmog Canada, January 25, 2018

Alberta oil and gas companies are wasting so much natural gas each year that Albertans are losing out on up to $21 million a year in provincial natural gas royalties.

Oil and gas companies let an estimated $253 million worth of natural gas escape through undetected leaks and the practice of venting annually.

According to Progress Alberta, a progressive advocacy group, the lost royalties could pay for five new schools, 84 new playgrounds or 36 new nurses.

This is a valuable resource that Albertans own and it’s money that should be going to things Albertans want and need that’s just being lost to the atmosphere forever,” said Duncan Kinney, executive director of Progress Alberta, in an interview with DeSmog Canada.

In addition to the lost royalties, the potent greenhouse house is leaked into the atmosphere without paying the province’s $30/tonne carbon levy, which results in a further loss of up to $1.4 billion in revenue, according to a new analysis by the Pembina Institute. When that carbon price increases to $50/tonne, as Premier Rachel Notley has indicated it will, those lost revenues rocket to $2.25 billion.

So why is this valuable resource disappearing into thin air?

Alberta underestimating methane leakage by 25 to 50 per cent

Reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector is considered to be one of the easiest ways to quickly reduce emissions. Methane has 34 times the “global warming potential” as carbon dioxide over a century.

And Alberta’s oil and sector emits a lot of it, with 31.4 megatonnes of methane entering the atmosphere in 2014 — although a recent study by Carleton University suggestedthe province is underestimating pollution by between 25 and 50 per cent, meaning annual emissions are more likely around the 45 megatonnes per year mark (which is about how much we thought all of Canada was emitting in 2016).

Fouty-five megatonnes a year is the greenhouse gas equivalent to 240,899 vehicles on the road.

Oil and gas companies have resisted changes that would require them to limit the leaking and venting of natural gas, arguing that it would result in job losses.

However, the federal government has committed to reducing methane emissions by 45 per cent below 2012 levels by 2025. Those reductions can be achieved through things like limiting the intentional “venting” of methane, using optical gas imaging cameras to detect unintentional leaks and installing flares to combust methane into carbon dioxide.

Federal draft regulations were released in May 2017, and proposed delaying full implementation of new rules by three years to 2023, instead of 2020. It was expected that Alberta would release its own version of regulations in November.

Industry  won a major concession from government in not having to pay any carbon tax on fuel used in the production of conventional oil and gas until 2023, including vented and flared gas.

The delay of action on reducing methane emissions ultimately impacts the entire country.

What Alberta does will really make or break the ability to meet that [methane] target at the end of the day,” said Andrew Read, senior analyst with the Pembina Institute and report author.

What’s the plan?

By Hannah McKinnon - Oil Change International, November 1, 2017

Why we can’t hide from the discussion about a managed decline of fossil fuel production.

It is clear that the end of the fossil fuel era is on the horizon. Between plummeting renewable energy costs, uncharted electric vehicle growth, government commitments to decarbonization enshrined in the Paris agreement, and a growing list of fossil fuel project cancellations in the face of massive public opposition and bad economics, the writing’s on the wall.

The question now becomes: What does the path from here to zero carbon look like? Is it ambitious enough to avoid locking in emissions that we can’t afford? Is it intentional enough to protect workers and communities that depend on the carbon-based economy that has gotten us this far? Is it equitable enough to recognize that some countries must move further, faster? And is it honest enough about the reality that a decline of fossil fuels is actually a good thing?

In short – will this be a managed decline of fossil fuel production, or an unmanaged decline? What is the plan?

Let’s take a closer look:

The Case for Phasing out Alberta’s Tar Sands

By Gordon Laxer - Resillience, May 23, 2017

Proponents call them oil sands while opponents call them tar sands. Whatever they’re called, Alberta’s bitumen reserves are so massive, James Hansen warns that it could be game over for the world’s climate if all are extracted and burned.[i] We can’t do that and possibly keep the world below the Paris target of a two degrees Celsius rise above pre-industrial levels.

What to do about Alberta Sands oil is an issue for Americans as well as Canadians. The US imports over 3 million barrels of oil a day from Canada, accounting for 38% of US oil imports, outpacing the combined imports from the four next largest sources – Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Mexico and Columbia. Sands oil comprise the majority of US oil imports from Canada.

The future of Sands oil imports became an American issue after more than 1,200 people were arrested in 2011 in front of the White House protesting the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Shortly after, President Obama blocked and then banned the XL line to take mainly Sands oil to the Gulf coast. President Trump overturned that decision in March, allowing the Keystone XL line to be built, a move applauded by Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau.

Big Oil faces huge obstacles getting Sands oil to major markets. In the context of today’s low international oil price, the Sands are among the costliest to produce on the planet. They emit massive amounts of extra greenhouse gases because they are heated by huge amounts of natural gas to separate oil from sand. To get from remote, landlocked northern Alberta to tidewater, Sands oil must cross political barriers – through one or more Canadian provinces or cross the border to the US. That means they need a social license – public and government support – to get to market. The future viability of the Sands then greatly depends on politics.

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