Alberta pipeline oil spills, gas emissions stain Canada’s green reputation

TORONTO, Canada — Three oil spills in a month isn’t the track record Alberta wanted while peddling a major tar sands pipeline to Americans.

The spills have the provincial government and the oil industry scrambling to control the damage to both the environment and their credibility.

As many as 400,000 gallons of oil have leaked in three separate incidents from the end of May to the end of June. The worst has been a pipeline rupture near Sundre in central Alberta in mid-June, when some 132,000 gallons spilled into the Red Deer River and tainted a reservoir that provides drinking water to thousands of people

The spills come as the Alberta and federal governments are lobbying for US approval of the KeystoneXL pipeline, which would transport up to 900,000 more barrels of Alberta’s tar sands oil a day to US refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.

Both governments are also pushing to build the Northern Gateway pipeline. That would bring tar sands oil to a proposed supertanker port on the Pacific coast of British Columbia, and from there to markets in Asia and the United States. The pipeline would be built by Enbridge, which owns a pumping station where one of the Alberta spills occurred.

The proposed pipelines already face determined opposition from environmentalists on both sides of the border. They denounce Alberta’s massive tar sands development — bitumen collected from open pit mines that destroy huge tracts of forests, produce millions of gallons of toxic sludge and increase greenhouse gas emissions — as “dirty oil.” The Alberta spills give opponents further ammunition to describe pipelines as unsafe, and government oversight as lax.

“When it comes to pipelines the question is not if they will spill but when they will spill and create the next ecological disaster,” argues Mike Hudema, of Greenpeace Canada.

Alberta’s premier, Alison Redford, is considering a safety review of the province’s almost 250,000 miles of pipelines. She insists spills are rare. But the government agency regulating Alberta’s oil industry reported 687 pipeline failures in 2010. All but 43 of them leaked either “produced water” or liquid hydrocarbons.

Credibility has taken a greater beating at the federal level, ever since the ruling Conservative government announced last December that Canada would pull out of the Kyoto international accord to fight greenhouse gases. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has since waged war against what it calls environmental “radicals.” At the Rio+20 conference in Brazil last month, environmentalists sharply criticized Canadian officials, accusing them of undermining international efforts to fight climate change.

At home, the Harper government has been accused of pandering to the oil industry with changes that speed up the approval process for pipelines, reduce the monitoring of Canada’s air and water, and cut the government emergency staff that deals with oil spills.

Perhaps most embarrassing is a report last month by the federally appointed National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, an independent group of academics, environmentalists and business leaders mandated by Parliament to advise governments since 1988.

Prepared at the request of Environment Ministry Peter Kent, the report analyzed federal and provincial policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It concluded that “Canada is not on track to achieve the federal government’s 2020 reduction target of 17 percent below 2005 levels.” That lower target was adopted after it became clear Canada would fail to meet its Kyoto target of a 6 percent reduction from 1990 levels by 2012.

The report noted that Alberta — Canada’s most populous prairie province with more than 3.6 million people — has the highest greenhouse gas emissions in the country. Moreover, Alberta’s provincial targets would see it produce more greenhouse gases in 2020 than it did in 2005. For Canada to hit its target, Alberta’s oil and gas industry must reduce its emissions, the report said.

“The analysis shows that Canada’s 2020 target is a challenging goal that will require significant and more stringent policies to drive increasingly high cost reductions,” the report said.

“A gradual process of trying to capture only the lowest cost emission reductions will not be successful,” it concluded.

The report noted that provincial policies have been far more effective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions than federal ones. And it urged the Harper government to do more.

In May, shortly before the report was released, the Harper government announced it was abolishing the agency. In the House of Commons, Foreign Minister John Baird was blunt: the agency is being shut down, he said, because the government doesn’t like its advice on climate change.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Chris Brown on 07/09/2012 - 02:11 pm.

    Harmless biodegradable organic hydrocarbons.

    According to the EPA, “A single dairy cow produces about 120 pounds of wet manure per day, which is equivalent to the waste produced by 20–40 people.” Further it has been estimated that globally domesticated livestock release about 130 times more excrement than is produced by the entire global human population every year.

    Manure and urine from livestock is not flushed down toilets and treated either in septic systems nor sewage treatment plants, rather it lays on the ground to evaporate into the air we breathe, washed into the earth entering the food we eat, and into the freshwater we drink untreated.

    Livestock manure and urine contain pesticides, herbicides, pathogens, heavy metals, hormones, antibiotics, ammonia, organic matter, sediments, and volatile chemical compounds. Excess nitrogen and phosphorus from livestock excrement can result in or contribute to low levels of dissolved oxygen (anoxia), eutrophication, and toxic algae blooms. These conditions may be harmful to human health and, in combination with other circumstances, have been associated with outbreaks of microbes such as Pfiesteria piscicida.

    Animal wastes flushed into fresh and saltwater can reduce oxygen levels known to cause fish kills. Pathogens, such as Cryptosporidium, Ecoli, Salmonella and other drinking water pathogens in manure can also create a food safety concern if manure is applied directly to crops, or washed into water supplies like most recently in Walkerton Ontario. In addition, pathogens are responsible for some shellfish bed closures. Nitrogen changed into the form of nitrate, can contaminate drinking water supplies drawn from ground water.

    Agricultural chemicals (or agrichemicals) refer to the wide variety of chemical products used in agriculture, such as pesticides (including insecticides, herbicides and fungicides), as well as synthetic fertilizers, hormones and antibiotics. Farmers spray agricultural chemicals onto food grown for animals in order to kill bugs, rodents, weeds, and other organisms that would otherwise supplant or eat the grain grown for the animals. They also apply these substances directly to animals’ skin, fur or feathers to combat insect infestation.

    Many of the agricultural chemicals used by ranchers and farmers contain ingredients that are known carcinogens, while others cause severe allergies, birth defects and various health problems. Livestock manure and urine also contain residues from the massive doses of non-therapeutic antibiotics and artificial growth hormones that animals are routinely fed or injected with to prevent illness and accelerate weight gain.

    Hydrogen sulfide gas released from livestock manure, and urine as it lays on the ground, which in sufficient quantity cause headaches, dizziness,respiratory, cardiac or pulmonary distress, and even death. Particulate matter and bacterial toxins also have been found in high concentrations at and around animal facilities. Ammonia from waste slurry lagoons breeds bacteria, which creates acid that evaporates and combines with nitrous oxide from fertilizers and industrial pollution to form nitric acid rain which in turn leaches nutrients from the soil, despoils forest habitats, and kills fish by releasing toxic minerals from the earth that flow into aquatic ecosystems. Even though agricultural fertilizer emissions are the leading cause of nitric acid rain (after motor vehicles and coal plants), they remain virtually unregulated in the U.S.

    In addition, animal agriculture is responsible for more than half of humanity’s total greenhouse gas emissions largely created by using arable land to grow food for animals, animal belching and flatulence, and chemical emanations from manure). This includes 37 percent of anthropogenic (i.e., human-made) methane, and methane gas is 23 times more potent a climate change agent than carbon dioxide.

     A pipefull of biodegradable oil that has been freshly bathed in warm, soapy water certainly doesn’t seem to be toxic at all. In fact any of the minute traces of what may be considered toxic are steamed out, contained, and treated back at the oil sands mine sites where there already has been at least 7.5 million new trees planted. How many new trees have been planted in your state recently?

    Here is a link demonstrating how to clean up after an oily accident video:

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