No pedal to floor: Experts say no government can bring back Alberta bitumen boom

The oilsands’ investment problem won’t be easily fixed, they warn

Energy experts warn Alberta’s boom times are unlikely to return, no matter who takes power of the provincial government on election night. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

…some of Canada’s top energy thinkers — as well as international experts — warn there’s no pedal any premier can stomp to make that engine rev like it used to.

“No policy of any Alberta government can change things,” said Mark Jaccard, an energy economist at British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University, who has advised governments on climate policy and helps write reports for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“If Albertans are unwilling to accept a steady oilsands output, with the resulting employment, I fear for them.”

The University of Manitoba’s Vaclav Smil, one of Canada’s most widely quoted energy analysts, said any move to renewable energy will take decades, not years. The transition, however, may be felt sooner.

“All energy transitions are slow,” he said. “Oil will be with us for decades to come — but not necessarily with high annual growth rates.”

They’re very high-cost, capital-intensive projects. Why would you invest in that when oil prices have been so volatile and there are demand threats on the horizon?– Andrew Grant of Carbon Tracker

The world has changed, said Andrew Grant of the London-based research group, Carbon Tracker.

“Companies [are] much more reluctant to invest capital in projects that require very, very high capital outlay and take years and years to pay back. That encapsulates the oilsands.” MORE


Climate emergency declarations spread across UK after Extinction Rebellion

The Extinction Rebellion and the Sunrise Movement  are both prompting governments in the UK to move quickly to achieve a net-zero emission target. And in Canada?  Hmm…

 Scotland, Wales and many councils have adopted the language of climate urgency, now Labour is pushing the national government to follow suit

Sunrise over the Extinction Rebellion activist camp at Oxford Circus, London (Pic: Flickr/Andrew Tijou)

After weeks of mass demonstration, Extinction Rebellion’s demand that the government “tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency” has moved from the streets of London to the corridors of power.

The Labour Party is now pressing the Conservative government to declare a national climate emergency in a show of how far Extinction Rebellion’s asks have infiltrated mainstream politics.

And in the last week, both the Scottish and Welsh governments have declared climate emergencies, following the lead of dozens of councils across the country, hoping to trigger “a wave of action” commensurate with a crisis.

On the streets, the sense of urgency to act on climate change remains strong. A recent poll carried out by Opinium Research for Greenpeace found that 63% of respondents agreed that “we are facing a climate emergency.”

This language, inspired by activist Greta Thunberg, the school climate strikes and the Extinction Rebellion movement, may indicate a shift in public awareness, suggests Robin Webster, a senior engagement strategist at Climate Outreach, a charity specialising in climate communication.

Fear for the future and the sentiment of crisis have been effective in motivating thousands across the UK to take part in civil disobedience actions. For Webster, Thunberg’s analogy of the planet as a “house on fire”, which if left to burn will turn to ash, has “started to resonate as authentic with some people by pushing the issue into the present”.

Larch Maxey, a climate campaigner from Devon who was inspired by the Extinction Rebellion protests to stand as a Climate and Ecological Emergency Independents candidate at the upcoming European election, admitted that the messaging may appear “counterintuitive” and breaks a tradition in the climate movement to focus on the positive.

“There is an idea that if you start scaring people they will put their heads in the sand. But concerns are shifting. A climate emergency is an honest philosophy and allows people to start making informed decisions about what is needed to tackle this emergency,” he said.

“This is not about what is convenient but what is necessary.”

Leading climate lawyer arrested after gluing herself to Shell headquarters

However, Webster argued that while Extinction Rebellion’s alarming imagery and messaging spoke powerfully to part of society, different communities may need to be addressed with a more nuanced message of fear and hope in order to engage.

“Declaring a climate emergency without taking action is like saying the house is burning down, but not putting out the fire,” he said.

For Webster, of Climate Outreach, people are able to cope with the emergency declaration “if it is paired with a sense of hope and action is available for people to express their negative emotions”.

At a political level, Webster argued it would be “irresponsible” for politicians to make this strong statement and fail to act, which she said could be “really disempowering for people who can be overwhelmed with negativity without the potency of action”.

While there is a general drive for science to inform the UK’s decarbonisation policy, the debate about how far, how fast, remains.

Leaks of the Committee on Climate Change’s latest official advice to the government suggest that it will recommend a new climate target of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions without using international offsets mechanisms by 2050, with Scotland able to target net-zero by 2045.

The term “net-zero” is shorthand for the need to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to zero. This can be through using negative emissions technologies that not only capture emissions but can also offset more than the amount emitted through natural climate solutions such as tree planting.  MORE


Climate emergency declarations spread across UK after Extinction Rebellion

Climate Activist Naomi Klein: ‘We’re Not Even Sure We Deserve to Survive’

“Swinging for the fence ambition” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says, starts with “imagining what we have the courage to be.” In the video below, we look back from year 2050 and celebrate what we have achieved. We “pierce the feeling of inevitability” through imaging a better future. Watch the video.

Anti-capitalist, and self-proclaimed “rabble-rousing leftist” climate activist Naomi Klein took liberal guilt complexes to a new level at a conference to compel a transformation in climate change media coverage.

Speaking on a panel about the Green New Deal at the Columbia Journalism Review event on April 30, Klein said what was holding people back from taking action on climate was a “sense of doom” and “self-loathing.”

“Having covered this for a really long time, uh, I know that one of the strongest forces we are up against is the sense of doom, inevitability, but also kind of a self-loathing,” Klein said. “Like we’ve been told for so long that all we are are selfish, that all we are are short-term thinkers. We get messages like the huge cover story in the New York Times Magazine that blames the whole thing on human nature.”

She continued, “So I really do think there is a deep feeling of ‘We’re are, we’re not even sure we deserve to survive.’”

She said a video she created with the Intercept and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., was designed to try to “pierce the feeling of inevitability.”

The video, “AOC’s message from the future,”included a Democratic socialist vision for the future — of massive government spending and mandates. She argued there are only 12 years to “change everything.”

“The only way to do it was to transform our economy which we already knew was broken,” Ocasio-Cortez says in the video. We only have 12 years to change everything. MORE

Tsilhqot’in leaders get standing ovation at United Nations forum in New York City

First Nations have to go to the UN to try to implement their 2014 Supreme Court of Canada title victory, attain jurisdiction, and secure basic human rights. The Trudeau government continues to try to define and implement reconciliation in a purely colonial framework. 

The opportunity allowed the chiefs to advocate for the Tsilhqot’in people on the international stage

Chief Joe Alphonse speaks at the United Nations’ Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) in New York City Wednesday, May 1. Photo submitted

Representatives from the Tsilhqot’in Nation took centre stage Wednesday in a rare opportunity to speak before the United Nations — and they knocked it out of the park.

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter


The Tsilhqot’in Nation was proud to take the floor at the @UN Permanent Forum on Issues, honouring their ancestors and the sharing their spirit and culture with Indigenous Nations from around the world.

“I was taken back by the responses from all the delegates that were in attendance as I (the Tsilhqot’in) got the loudest applause and a standing ovation,” TNG Tribal Chair Chief Joe Alphonse said Thursday, thrilled by the response of the crowd.

“Our case gives hope beyond what we could have ever imagined on a world stage.”

Alphonse presented to the Permanent Forum and to hundreds of visiting Indigenous Nations, countries and UN Delegates, speaking about how the Tsilhqot’in War Chiefs of 1864 continue to guide and give strength to the Tsilhqot’in as they seek to implement their 2014 Supreme Court of Canada title victory, and to secure recognition of title and jurisdiction to their Territory.

Alphonse said the chiefs attended the UN to advocate for the Tsilhqot’in people on the international stage, forge alliances and hold the governments accountable for fully implementing their title, jurisdiction and human rights. MORE

Bankrupt oil companies are saddling Alberta landowners with ‘orphan wells’


At a cost of between $40 to $70 billion, taxpayers will eventually be stuck with reclaiming orphan wells. This is just another hidden subsidy added to the heavily subsidized oil and gas industry. These corporations trash the environment, grab the profits, and leave the public to clean up the mess. Take action!

The Orphan Well Association is tasked with cleaning up the environmental messes left behind, but it’s having trouble keeping up as oil companies collapse

A de-commissioned pumpjack at a well head on an oil and gas installation near Cremona, Alta. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

Established in the 1990s, the industry-financed OWA is tasked with trying to clean up the environmental messes left behind by bankrupt oil companies that walked away from their wells. By definition, an “orphan” well is one that no one actually owns after a company goes bankrupt.

READ: What happens when the demand for Alberta oil goes away?

When a well is orphaned, the OWA is supposed to step in to decommission it and restore the land to its original condition. But it’s having trouble keeping up with the growing number of orphaned wells in the province. In its most recent quarter, from last January to the end of March, some 1,574 wells were turned over to the OWA, mostly due to the collapse of three companies. As of mid-April, the organization listed 3,172 wells as orphaned—and that may prove to be a drop in the barrel. According to a recent government estimate, of more than 300,000 wells in the province, at least 167,000 are inactive, abandoned or orphaned.

…Critics accuse the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER)—an industry-run organization that funds the OWA—of failing to force firms to properly clean up their abandoned or orphaned wells. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of Canada reaffirmed that companies can’t escape their regulatory obligations just by declaring bankruptcy. That’s expected to put the regulator under increasing pressure: with oil prices stagnating, more companies will struggle to meet their clean-up obligations.

But such moves seem puny compared to the scale of the problem. In April, a new coalition of former regulators, researchers and landowners called the Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project stepped up the fight to make the oil and gas industry do more. Using freedom of information laws, it dug up internal AER documents that revealed the estimated cost of cleaning up Alberta’s oil and gas wells would be between $40 billion and $70 billion. That’s far more than the $18.5 billion the AER has publicly suggested. MORE


Wildly Underestimated Oilsands Emissions Latest Blow to Alberta’s Dubious Climate Claims

This blows out of the water any notion any idea that the Trudeau government is a ‘climate leader’ responding to the climate emergency in a robust fashion, protecting Canadians and the planet. Neoliberal governments protect corporations and investors’ profits before consideration of the public’s clear wish for robust action on climate change. Write to parliamentarians and voice your anger.

As disaster looms, petro province lets industry call the shots.

Whether or not the rest of the oil patch has as wretched a record of accuracy remains to be seen, but the missing 17 megatonnes thus far unearthed are enormous — equivalent to the entire carbon output of Toronto or Seattle.’ Photo by jasonwoodhead23, Creative Commons licensed.

Trust us. That has long been the message from the oil sector to the Alberta public, which seems to have little choice in the matter.

In a bizarre arrangement, the Alberta oil patch pays for its own oversight through the Alberta Energy Regulator — a regulatory body 100-per-cent funded by the fossil fuel sector. What could go wrong?

The latest boondoggle was revealed by an Environment Canada study published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications. It showed the methodology that energy companies have used for years to calculate carbon dioxide and methane emissions from oilsands surface mining operations underestimated contributions to global warming by a whopping 64 per cent.

This eye-popping number was the result of airborne sampling over four of the largest bitumen mines in 2013 to test the accuracy of the industry’s self-reporting methods. The company figures are based on “bottom-up” calculations using the measured amount of fuels consumed in their operations. The “top-down” sampling by Environment Canada was based on actual measurements of carbon dioxide levels collected over these projects.

…Similar airborne sampling by Carleton University researchers in 2017 assessed methane leaks from Alberta oil and gas operations and found that overall emissions were “likely at least 25 to 50 per cent greater than current government estimates.”

The oil industry enjoys a special deference from the mainstream media and regulators, so it is not surprising that the Environment Canada findings weren’t extrapolated to the rest of the bitumen industry. MORE