Canada, from Green to Gray

from Wildlife Promise

Polar bear family in a snowstorm

Polar bears are iconic arctic species, threatened by global warming and big oil companies. (Image: Christy Mazrimas-Ott)

There was a time when Canada, symbolized by the maple leaf, was a “green,” environmentally conscientious neighbor. Remember, in the 1980s, Canada came knocking on America’s door, rightfully demanding that the United States curb the sulfur dioxide emissions causing the acid rain that was killing Canada’s lakes and streams.

But today, alarms are going off up north. Increasing capture by polluter interests, Canada’s sliding into shades of gray. Experts say Ontario could lose its beloved polar bears because of a warming climate. World polar bear expert Ian Stirling, University of Alberta, citing Arctic ice loss at 10 percent per decade since 1979, says it’s unlikely this iconic animal will survive on the Ontario and Manitoba shores of Hudson Bay in 20 to 30 years.

Another study predicts trouble for caribou. Some of Canada’s caribou face the possibility of local extinction because of industrial development in northeastern Alberta and the lack of effective habitat protection. Woodland caribou is listed as a threatened species, provincially and federally. “The recently released draft recovery strategy allows for 95 percent of woodland caribou habitat in northeastern Alberta to be lost in order to promote oil sands development,” the Pembina Institute has warned.

Then there’s cod. Canada had to impose a moratorium on cod fishing off the coast of Newfoundland because the cod fishery collapsed, some say because of lax government oversight, poorly-managed over-fishing and exploitation.

Is Canada asleep? No, Canada is in fact very much awake and very busy working on behalf of polluters.

Climate Blind

First let’s look at climate change.

Canada is one of the world biggest emitters of greenhouse gas pollutants. “After committing to targets in Copenhagen, Environment Canada’s projections show that Canada’s current federal and provincial policies will achieve only a quarter of the reductions needed by 2020 – leaving 75 percent of the work as a question mark….”  P.J. Partington has commented.

Canada ranks 54th out of 61 countries internationally – two points lower than the U.S. – earning a “very poor performance” label in the December 6 global climate performance assessment of world governments’ efforts to curb climate change.

In the negotiations in Durban, Canada pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change on December 12 to worldwide denunciation, citing the country’s previous commitment as a mistake. Environment Minister Peter Kent said, “It’s now clear that Kyoto is not the path forward to a global solution to climate change. If anything it’s an impediment.” China, once recalcitrant, agreed to limits on greenhouse gas emissions and called Canada’s decision “an excuse to shirk responsibility.”

Oozing with Oil

Tailings pond north of Syncrude processing facility and upgrader (Courtesy of the Pembina Institute)

Then there’s Canada’s warm embrace of Big Oil. The country is on a no-holds-barred trajectory to becoming a petro-state. It is the sixth largest oil producing country in the world at 3.5 million barrels per day in 2010, according to the CIA World Factbook. Imperial Oil head Bruce Marsh has said that Canada represents half of the global oil reserves that are open for private investment.” That is an enormous driver,” he told a reporter. (Let’s not forget that the energy-gobbling U.S. is Canada’s main oil export market.)

The latest chapter in Canada’s Big Oil binge is big bad bitumen, Canada’s exploitation of tar sands oil, one of the most polluting, highest-carbon, greenhouse-gas-causing fuels on the planet.

TransCanada and partners propose to build the Keystone XL pipeline, a 1,700-mile pipeline through five Midwestern U.S. states from Alberta to Texas and ship 700,000 barrels of tar sands oil a day for refinement into products likely to be exported.

According to Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate because it could lead to higher energy prices for Americans, the Keystone corporate interests are Canadian Natural Resources Limited, Conoco Phillips Canada Marketing & Trading ULC, EnCana Corporations, Shell Trading Canada, Total E&P Canada Ltd and Trafigura Canada General Partnership.

The environmental havoc already underway from extraction in Alberta is no secret. To produce one barrel, extractors level the forest, dig up four tons of earth, consume two to four barrels of fresh water, burn large amounts of natural gas and create toxic sludge holding ponds. Alberta’s booming tar sands production is polluting the Athabasca River and converting forests and farmlands to wastelands.

The Keystone XL pipeline will increase production of this dirty fuel by 50 percent. Some will argue that Canada only produces less than two percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, but by producing, shipping and exporting tar sands oil at an ever-escalating pace, Canada is promoting a dirty fuel to the rest of the world to burn, thus increasing emissions multi-fold worldwide.

Syncrude oil sands operations (courtesy of the Pembina Institute)

Keystone’s tentacles are embedded far and wide. Former U.S. ambassador to Canada, David Wilkins, lobbied for KXL when working for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.  At least 42 lobbying firms and companies are roaming the back halls and underground passageways of the U.S. Congress and U.S. federal agencies, trying to sweet-talk approval of this scheme. Koch Industries is funding Americans for Prosperity which is busy lobbying in Washington and Nebraska for the pipeline permit. Valero, a Keystone supporter and one of the world’s largest refiners, appears to be getting ready to receive, refine and export the Keystone tar sands oil, according to the Wall Street Journal, November 10, 2011.

Pro-pipeline pals in Congress have crafted legislative riders to usurp and overrule President Barack Obama, established review processes and science. Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper even got President Obama’s ear at the White House in early December and made his case for what he dubbed a “no-brainer.”

Talk about pulling out all the stops. Let’s get that oil flowing as the oil lobbyists oil the Washington skids!

And to rub yet more salt into the wounds, on December 8, the Canadian government approved yet more tar sands production by giving the go-ahead for the construction of the $8.9 billion Joslyn North Mine in northern Alberta.

And there’s more to come. Imperial Oil CEO Bruce Marsh said that his company, an Exxon subsidiary, is planning to start the Kearl oil sands mining project in Canada in 2012 and they expect to produce 110,000 barrels a day and maybe up to the 345,000 barrels a day the Canadian government has approved.

As they say on TV commercials: WAIT, there’s more!

Environment Canada has not implemented its long-term scientific research plan, a plan that undergirds the country’s work to mitigate air and water pollution and other environmental risks, charged Commissioner Scott Vaughan, of Canada’s Office of the Auditor General in early December and the department has stopped issuing many environmental reports. So they don’t know what the problems are or the effectiveness of their policies?

Vaughan also issued a recent audit showing that Environment Canada’s enforcement program is not ensuring adequate compliance with environmental regulations and is failing to target the biggest polluters.

Vaughan also found that several Canadian government agencies do not enforce safety regulations for shipping chemicals on highways and railroads and for pumping oil and gas in the country. He reported an average of two accidents a week involving the transport of dangerous materials across Canada. He concluded, for example, “Management has not acted on long-standing concerns regarding inspection and emergency plan review practices,” for transporting dangerous goods.

Accompanying a map of numerous approved and proposed oil and gas pipelines across Canada, Vaughn wrote, “These pipelines, which are located in both rural and urban areas and across different terrains, require ongoing surveillance and maintenance to ensure that they continue to operate according to the National Energy Board Act, its regulations, and standards such as the Canadian Standards Association’s Oil and Gas Pipeline Systems standard. Pipeline incidents, such as gas leaks and oil spills, have occurred across Canada.” Exhibit 1.4 shows over 50 pipeline incidents. This comes against a backdrop of confident assurances from TransCanada that the Keystone pipeline would traverse the U.S. safely. Huh?

A Graying Canada

Canada, the second largest country in the world after Russia, has vast landscapes – three oceans, the tundra, plains, mountains, boreal forests, wetlands, rivers, lakes and coastline. Given its bounty, Canada should be proud and protective of its natural resources. National motto: From Sea to Sea.

But somewhere along the way, Canada has lost its conservation conscience, as it propels itself into an oil-producing, carbon-crazy frenzy.

Polar bears and caribou on the road to extinction. Cod struggling to thrive in the north Atlantic. Does Canada care? Does Canada prefer gray to green?