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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.

Pipeline fighters resist climate catastrophe

By Carl Sack - Socialist Action, July 8, 2016

Humanity is faced with a worsening climate catastrophe. In June, levels of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere topped 400 parts per million at the South Pole, a concentration not seen on this planet in the last four million years. Scientists at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, which is registering 407 ppm carbon dioxide as of this writing, say that the concentration there is now probably permanently above 400.

The significance of this milestone is massive. NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen has written that 350 parts per million is the upper limit of Earth’s carbon dioxide concentration, “if humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted.” Carbon dioxide concentrations were last at 350 ppm around 1985.

Human-induced climate change is already wreaking havoc. May 2016 marked the 13th consecutive hottest month on record in global average temperature, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The permanent drought and major wildfires in the western U.S., the huge Horse River Fire that destroyed parts of Fort McMurray in far northern Alberta, Canada (ironically the epicenter of Canada’s tar sands oil boom), the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia, the killer heat wave in India, and many more unfolding disasters are all attributable to a warming world.

Yet, the world’s capitalist rulers are actively pouring gasoline onto the climate fire. U.S. politicians from President Barack Obama on down have cheered on the expansion of fracking for oil and natural gas, which has only slowed slightly in the face of a historic fossil fuel glut. Fracking continues to be exempted from most federal environmental regulations, despite its routinely poisoning of local air and water supplies, causing earthquakes, and releasing huge amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas over 80 times as powerful as carbon dioxide over a 20-year time span.

Last December, with the support of both Republicans and Democrats, Congress quietly lifted the country’s 40-year-old ban on crude oil exports, allowing fracking for oil in the Bakken fields of North Dakota and Montana to go full speed ahead even when domestic demand can’t keep up. In June, the Democratic Party’s Platform Committee reiterated that party’s support for fracking, rejecting a proposal to call for a national moratorium on it.

In Canada, the federal government continues to actively promote the development of tar sands. Tar sands oil is the dirtiest energy source on the planet. Mixed in with soil, it takes huge amounts of energy to extract and refine, and has resulted in massive deforestation and pollution in the boreal forest region of Alberta. James Hansen has called the full development of the tar sands “game over for the climate.”

Laws limiting fossil-fuel production at the source are necessary to combat climate change, yet the agenda of Democrats and Republicans, Conservatives and Liberals alike seems to be just the opposite. In their calculus, short-term profits for U.S. and Canadian fossil fuel companies trump the future livability of the planet. Likewise, the representatives of the global capitalist class utterly failed to implement meaningful limits on greenhouse gas emissions through the most recent international climate accord, the Paris Agreement, signed last December.

In a June 30 article in the journal Nature, several climate scientists warn that all of the non-binding pledges for greenhouse gas reductions made by countries as part of the agreement, if fully implemented, would result in a disastrous global temperature increase of 2.6-3.1 degrees Celsius by 2100. The agreement aspires to hold global temperatures to “well below 2 degrees Celsius,” a number which would still mean famine and displacement for millions.

There is hope in the climate justice movement, which continues to build its power to stop fossil fuels even in the face of long odds. Activists are fighting back against the expansion of pipelines used to carry oil and gas from the point of production to refineries and export terminals—and in some cases they are winning.

Although plenty of oil and gas are getting to market, pipelines represent a choke point for future production. The 2016 Crude Oil Forecast from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, which represents Canada’s tar sands industry, concludes that “Canada’s oil supply will soon greatly exceed its current pipeline capacity.” Denying the fossil fuel industry this capacity is a symbolic blow against the industry and shows that it is vulnerable to movement pressure.

Much of the growing pipeline resistance has also been driven by more local concerns. If a line bursts, it can devastate farmland, ecosystems, and waterways. This nightmare visited Michigan in 2010, when an Enbridge Energy pipeline ruptured and spilled 1.1 million gallons of heavy tar sands crude into the Kalamazoo River, the largest inland oil spill in the U.S. to date. Tar sands oil is heavy and thick and pumped at high pressure, putting a large amount of stress on the pipes. Along natural gas pipelines, compressor stations release large amounts of methane, along with toxins such as benzene, toluene, sulfuric oxide, and formaldehyde.

The most famous pipeline battle to date was over the Keystone XL line, which would have cut across the central U.S., bringing 800,000 barrels per day of tar sands oil from northern Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast. In the face of a national groundswell of opposition, the Obama administration denied the pipeline’s permit to cross the Canadian border, killing the project. Now activists are fighting to keep Keystone’s successors at bay.

Report Reveals Cost Cutting Measures At Heart Of Lac-Megantic Oil Train Disaster

By Justin Mikulka - DeSmog Blog, August 19 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.

Today the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) released its final report on the July 6th, 2013 train derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. The report produced a strong reaction from Keith Stewart, Greenpeace Canada’s Climate and Energy Campaign coordinator.

“This report is a searing indictment of Transport Canada’s failure to protect the public from a company that they knew was cutting corners on safety despite the fact that it was carrying increasing amounts of hazardous cargo. This lax approach to safety has allowed the unsafe transport of oil by rail to continue to grow even after the Lac Megantic disaster. It is time for the federal government to finally put community safety ahead of oil and rail company profits or we will see more tragedies, Stewart said.”

Throughout the report there is ample evidence to support Stewart’s position and plenty to show why the people of Lac-Megantic want the CEO of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA), the rail company responsible for the accident, held accountable in place of the engineer and other low level employees currently facing charges.

At the press conference for the release of the report the TSB representatives often noted that they had found 18 factors that contributed to the actual crash and they were not willing to assign blame to anyone, claiming that wasn’t their role.

But several critical factors stand out and they are the result of MMA putting profits ahead of safety and Transport Canada (TC), the Canadian regulators responsible for overseeing rail safety, failing to do its job.

Indigenous Resistance Grows Strong in Keystone XL Battle

By Crysbel Tejada and Betsy Catlin - Waging Nonviolence, May 8, 2013

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.

On cloudy days, heavy smoke fills the air of Ponca City, Okla., with grey smog that camouflages itself into the sky. The ConocoPhillips oil refinery that makes its home there uses overcast days as a disguise to release more toxins into the air. These toxins are brimming with benzene — a chemical that, according to the Centers for Disease Control, can cause leukemia, anemia and even decrease the size of women’s ovaries. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2008 the ConocoPhillips refinery released over 2,000 pounds of this chemical into the air in Ponca City.

“Of the maybe 800 of us that live locally, we have averaged over the last five to seven years maybe one funeral a week,” explained Casey Camp-Horinek, a Ponca woman and longtime activist. “Where we used to have dances every week, now most people are in mourning.”

The refinery is located only 1,000 yards behind Standing Bear Park, which is named after the Ponca chief who, in 1877, led his people on their Trail of Tears, from the Ponca homelands in northern Nebraska to present day Oklahoma. But the park is more than a memorial to the distant past. In 1992, the oil giant’s tank farm spilled and contaminated ground water in a nearby predominantly Ponca neighborhood. As a result, ConocoPhillips agreed to purchase the contaminated land and tear down the 200 homes that were on it. In its place, the company built Standing Bear Park — a bitter testament to the Ponca people’s history of forced relocation and genocide.

“We live in a situation that could only be described as environmental genocide,” said Camp-Horinek. Beyond the refineries, she explained, “We also have had the misfortune of living on top of a spider web of pipelines as a result of ConocoPhillips being here.”

Some of these pipelines are transporting Canadian tar sands bitumen, which carries chemicals such as natural gas, hydrogen sulfide, benzene and toluene. This highly toxic diluted substance runs through large pipelines such as Enbridge’s Pegasus line, which recently burst in Mayflower, Ark., and would also flow through TransCanada’s contested Keystone XL pipeline if completed.

“It will not only come through the original territory of the Ponca people [but] it will follow the Trail of Tears of the Ponca people from the 1800s,” said Camp-Horinek. “As a Ponca woman these things are not far removed from us. My own grandfather, my mother’s father, was on this Trail of Tears of the Ponca.”

Northern Gateway Pipeline Protesters Lock Doors To Tory MP Offices

Staff Report - Huffington Post BC, June 24, 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.

Chains and padlocks greeted workers at the constituency offices of two B.C. Conservative MPs Tuesday, as opponents of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline called for the politicians to "vacate their posts."

The Port Moody office of Industry Minister James Moore and the North Van office of MP Andrew Saxton were targeted by a citizens' group calling itself "Settlers on Stolen Land."

Unist’ot’en Clan Refuse All Pipeline Projects: A Video Message

By Unist'ot'en Clan - Unist'ot'en Camp, June 18, 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.

Amid threats of a raid and impending pipeline approvals, the Unist’ot’en Clan of the Wet’suwet’en Nation are prepared to continue to defend their territories against the incursion of government and industry. A soft blockade was erected in 2009, which remains today, to insure that pipeline projects which violate Wet’suwet’en Law would not trespass onto Wet’suwet’en territories to develop projects without their consent.