B.C. natives: Freighter grounding shows folly of shipping tar sands oil through coastal rainforest

A freighter's grounding in the labyrinthine back bays of northern British Columbia shows what a dumb idea it would be to ship oil from Alberta's tar sands area through the area in the Great Bear Rainforest, a band of natives says.

The Gitga'at First Nation pointed to the grounding of the 41,000-ton Petersfield, loaded with soda ash and lumber products, as evidence that supertankers carrying oil have no place in the fragile backcountry waters. The vessel is nearly as long as two football fields.

The best story on the whole affair comes from Mark Hume of the Globe and Mail, who traced it to a problem with the vessel's gyroscope that affected a number of systems on the bridge, including steering.  The Gitga'at observed in a press release:

The ship currently docked at Kitimat looking like a prizefighter with a broken nose is an ugly reminder of the threat posed by proposed pipelines and tanker traffic to the territory of the Gitga'at First Nation.

Canadian and American environmentalists have long  complained that developing Alberta's tar sands -- aka "oil sands" -- would unleash far too many greenhouse gases

Enbridge Pipelines, meanwhile, is planning  construct a pipeline to ship oil from Alberta to British Columbia, where it could be loaded onto tankers for transport to refineries on the West coast. Or, as became apparent recently when a Chinese government-owned firm bought into tar-sands development, the stuff could be shipped all the way to China.

Tar sands' greenhouse gas emissions underestimated, report claims

The amount of greenhouse gases to be unleashed in converting Alberta's tar sands into useable energy has been seriously underestimated, according to a new report by environmentalists.

Out in the last hour or so on the Edmonton Journal's site is a seven-paragraph story by the Financial Post on a report that says official estimates of the emissions fail to take into account that oil companies are knocking down a whole lot of boreal forest in the process. The forest stores tons -- literally -- of carbon.

The Financial Post says the report was done by Global Forest Watch Canada, and we were able to located a Sept. 23 report (PDF) that appears to be the subject of the story. Quoting from page 13:

 The bituminous sands Surface Mineable Area totals 488,968 (hectares) of northern Alberta's boreal ecosystems. In addition to surface mining, in situ bitumen production will occur over a projected area of 13,553,246 ha (Oil Sands Administration Area minus the Surface Mineable Area), although the availability of the entire area for bitumen industrial activities may change. Few, if any, of the biocarbon emissions resulting from land use change caused by the bituminous sands industrial activities in these areas are reported.

The whole report pretty much reads that way. It looks like a well-documented review of all the greenhouse gas emissions to be expected from mining the tar sands, aka the oil sands. It goes on to blame the counting rules of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, among other factors, for the undercounting.

No response from the industry in what's on the web so far.

State Dept sued over Alberta pipeline

A coalition of environmentalists and tribal groups sued the U.S. State Department on Thursday for allegedly failing to assess the full environmental impact of Embridge Energy's project to build a pipeline to pump 450,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day from northern Alberta to refining facilities in Superior, Wisconsin.

The nonprofit law group Earthjustice filed the suit on behalf of The Indigenous Environmental Network, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, National Wildlife Federation and Sierra Club.

The suit filed in the U.S. District Court for Northern California alleges that the State Department is ignoring the "serious environmental, climate, and human health impacts of tar sands oil" in a "departure from the Obama Administration's commitment to a clean energy future."

The State Department issued a permit for the Alberta Clipper pipeline on August 20th.  In its public statement, the department wrote:

Obama administration approves pipeline for Alberta tar sands, skirts climate issue

I'm not finding a lot of coverage of a really important decision made by the Obama administration yesterday to allow construction of a pipeline to help move synthetic crude oil from the Alberta tar sands into the United States.

[caption id="attachment_2997" align="alignright" width="226" caption="Suncor Millenium Mine north of Fort McMurray, Alberta. Photo by David Dodge, The Pembina Institute"]Suncor Millenium Mine north of Fort McMurray, Alberta. Photo by David Dodge, The Pembina Institute[/caption]

Perhaps it's just that the decision by the U.S. State Department was expected. Or maybe it's that a deputy to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton actually made the decision Aug. 3 but waited until  these doggiest of the dog days to let the world know.

In any case, Steven Mufson of The Washington Post has the best story I've been able to find this side of the border, while Sheila McNulty's daily was a worthwhile follow to her earlier in-depth reporting on the tar sands for the Financial Times (registration required). And for more background, don't miss National Geographic's treatment.

Folks, this is one to watch carefully. We're talking about the largest proven petroleum reserve outside Saudi Arabia.

B.C. plans on using natural gas revenue to boost economy

British Columbia is creating its own “stimulus package” by cutting royalties on drilling new natural gas wells in an attempt to boost its economy and combat Alberta, reports David Ebner of the Globe and Mail. From September through next June, all wells drilled in B.C. will be charged only 2 percent royalties, compared to a plan developed by Alberta earlier in the year that charges 5 percent. Energy Minister Blair Lekstrom says the program he dubs a “stimulus package” will generate revenue that will go toward education and health.

– Emily Linroth

Alberta: tar sands' carbon footprint not that big

The Alberta government has issued two reports suggesting that the development of petroleum products from its tar sands doesn't have the huge carbon footprint everyone has assumed. However, the reports do show that getting power out of the bitumen buried under the prairie produces 10 percent to 45 percent more greenhouse gases than other sources for the United States, a CBC story says. An American environmental activist calls the reports a ruse and predicts her countrymen will see through them.

Alberta to offer flu vaccine to all residents

The Alberta provincial government says it expects to provide to all citizens flu vaccines to fight three kinds of seasonal flu as well as the H1N1 strain, or swine flu, in the fall. The Calgary Herald reports that in the past, free vaccines were available only to those considered at high risk, although anyone could get a shot by paying for it at a doctor's office.

Calgary incomes fall hard in recession -- more than Vancouver

Credit-card bills, loans and a diving stock market sent Calgary residents' household debt into the stratosphere and reduced their net worth at rates even greater than high-flying Vancouver, an analysis shows. Jason Markusoff's story  in the Calgary Herald reminds us that Calgarans are a risk-taking lot. Some even took out loans to buy oil and gas stocks that continue to disappoint. Even with the bad news, Calgarans and other Albertans continue to have the highest levels of discretionary incomes and net worth, compared to other provinces.