How Canada made the Koch brothers rich

Author’s note: Until this past February, I worked as a contracted television producer for Global TV and its current affairs program,16×9. Last fall, I was commissioned to do a story for the program about the Koch brothers, their holdings in Alberta’s oil sands and their interest in getting the Keystone XL pipeline built. In January, two days before the 22-minute documentary was about to air on16×9, Global’s senior management pulled the story. After Jesse Brown’s Canadaland published a story about its sudden disappearance, Global fired me, although I was not quoted in that story or had any involvement with it. What you’re about to read includes some of the material that has not yet been permitted to be shown on Global.

The attacks were nasty.

In the winter of 2011, Karen Kleiss, a reporter with the Edmonton Journal, wrote a story about how Koch Industries Inc. had hired a lobbyist in Alberta. The story provided background on the Wichita, Kansas-based energy conglomerate, its presence in Alberta, and its American billionaire owners, Charles and David Koch.

Kleiss reported at the time that no one from Koch Industries addressed her questions. Nevertheless, after her story appeared, Koch Industries went on the offensive. On their website, – and in vivid red type – they lashed out at Kleiss’s article, claiming it was “slanted,” that it “parroted partisan political rhetoric and other distortions” and that its coverage of the Koch brothers registering a lobbyist in Alberta was a “purported story.” The Koch Industries representative summed up by saying:

“There is a place for opinion on the op-ed pages, on blogs, and on Twitter. It does not belong on the news pages of an objective journal.”

What the paragraph-by-paragraph rebuttal did not dispute was Kleiss’s assertion that Koch industries is “an American energy conglomerate owned by two powerful billionaire brothers who help fund the Tea Party and climate change denial movements in the U.S.”

The attack was so strong that Lucinda Chodan, editor-in-chief of the Journal at the time, felt compelled to write a lengthy response to Koch defending her reporter’s work. The company replied by taking further potshots at the newspaper and at Kleiss’s judgment.

Around the same time, a similar scenario was playing out after Reuters ran a story entitled “Koch Brothers Positioned To Be Big Winners If Keystone XL Pipeline Is Approved,” that also detailed Koch’s holdings in Canada. It discussed how the Koch brothers would benefit if the Keystone XL pipeline was built.

Written by David Sassoon, a journalist who runs InsideClimate News— a Brooklyn, NY-based, Pulitzer prize-winning website that covers climate change issues— the Reuters piece eventually elicited a ferocious response from Koch’s PR department. The company accused Sassoon of publishing “falsehoods” and of being an “environmental activist,” and Reuters of printing “advocacy journalism.”

Koch Industries even took out ads via Facebook and Google with a photo of Sassoon under the headline “David Sassoon’s Deceptions.”

Once again, a Reuters editor had to intervene with a lengthy letter to Koch defending their use of Sassoon’s reporting. These attacks went on for some months. Today, Kleiss and Sassoon refuse to discuss these events.

But at that time Koch Industries’ campaigns against the media were not unusual. Their website, KochFacts, criticized reporting in The New York TimesThe New YorkerMother JonesForbes.comThe Washington Post and Bloomberg’s Markets Magazine.

By 2011, the Koch brothers – currently the sixth richest people in the world, with US$42.3-billion apiece – were attracting attention because of their efforts at influencing the US political system, helping foster the Tea Party movement, and attacking attempts to curb climate change. They were also emerging as political kingmakers: two weeks ago, the brothers were in the news for endorsing Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, as their choice for the Republican presidential nominee (Walker is well-known for his attacks on labour rights in his state).

 Tax records show that since 2007 the Fraser Institute, one of Canada’s oldest conservative think tanks, has pocketed a total of US$765,000 from one of Charles Koch’s foundations.

Koch Industries, the second-largest private company in the US, has become infamous for playing hardball.

Yet the broadsides on articles linking the Koch brothers to Canada might have had another purpose: to direct prying eyes away from their company’s history in this country. After all, few people know how Canada and its oil riches have been central to creating their vast fortune.

And what a fortune it is: today, Koch Industries is a global behemoth with annual sales of US$115-billion and a presence in 60 countries and employing more than 100,000 people worldwide. It has invested US$70-billion in capital expenditures over the past 12 years. They produce a wide range of products, and not only from the 750,000 barrels of oil they process every day: fertilizers, drywall, windowpanes, carpets, Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, chemicals, and fibre optics.

As it turns out, Koch Industries also controls anywhere from 1.1 million to as much as two million acres of Alberta’s oil sands – or the equivalent of around 4,500 square kilometers – thereby guaranteeing the company’s prosperity for decades to come. The value of their oil sands holdings is in the tens of billions of dollars. MORE


Koch brothers go deep in Alberta tar sands

Few people know how central this country’s oil riches have been to the U.S. Big Oil billionaires’ vast fortune. Most of their tar sands holdings remain untouched, but that may soon change.


Electric school busses for kids

Saint-Jérôme manufacturer Lion Electric is providing a cleaner ride to school for students across North America

Over 500,000 school busses are used to transport kids to school across North America every day, performing a vital but oft-overlooked educational task. As these busses age, around 40,000 new and replacement vehicles are purchased by school boards each year.

While the vast majority of these new iconic yellow busses still run on carbon-emitting diesel fuel, a small but growing number are all-electric vehicles. Leading this market is Quebec manufacturer Lion Electric Company, which designs, manufactures and assembles all components out of its Saint-Jérôme headquarters north of Montreal.

Founded in 2008, the company has grown into one of the North American market leaders in the electric school bus industry segment. It also produces other specialized electric vehicles like delivery and garbage trucks.

Lion Electric has now sold around 100 electric school busses to school boards across Canada, as well as an additional 50 in the U.S. In July 2019, the California Energy Commission awarded a new contract to Lion Electric to help fulfil a new $70 million order to replace over 200 diesel school busses across the state.

School busses are uniquely well-suited for electrification, operating on reliable schedules across relatively short distances that allow for sufficient charging. The Lion Electric buses maintain a range of 90 to 150 km, depending on configuration.

The biggest barrier to adoption, for now, remains the larger up-front cost of the vehicles. The vehicles can cost up to three times as much to purchase as traditional diesel busses, dissuading a lot of school boards from making purchases for now. But according to the Quebec environmental organization Equiterre, there are a number of additional benefits of going electric.

The Quebec government already subsidizes diesel fuel for school busses above 60 cents a litre (current prices sit at $1.20). Going electric would eliminate the need for this subsidy. Electric buses are also quieter, reducing noise pollution in residential neighbourhoods. Most importantly, operating Lion’s electric busses costs up to 60% less due to cheaper electricity and reduced maintenance costs.

Equiterre calculated that electrifying 90% of the province’s school bus fleet would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2.37 million tonnes a year, create local jobs, reduce healthcare spending by $1 million and reduce annual oil imports by $67 million.

With growing understanding of the benefits of electrification, some provinces and states like California and Quebec are beginning to offer up-front subsidies for electric bus adoption or even setting hard targets for adoption. Reducing perverse subsidies that increase fossil fuel usage (like diesel fuel subsidies) and using their power of procurement are two of the most powerful tools governments have at their disposal. MORE

Building the country’s first geothermal power plant

A Saskatchewan town built on coal is ready for a future powered by clean energy

Canada’s national grid draws more than 80% of its power from emissions-free sources – a category encompassing everything from nuclear to hydropower to wind power. By comparison, the U.S. grid is under 40% emissions-free, providing Canada with a durable competitive advantage as the world looks to reduce carbon emissions and build up a low-carbon economy.

This remarkable Canada-wide figure is set to climb to 90% by 2030, due to a federal phase-out of traditional coal-fired electricity that will cut carbon pollution by an estimated 12.8 million tonnes. Coal-reliant provinces like Alberta, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia will need to find replacement sources of electricity, and fast.

For the southern Saskatchewan town of Estevan, coal has been king since the town’s founding. Often referred to as “Energy City,” the area around the town is home to a coal mine that feeds multiple local coal-fired power plants. With an economic transition away from coal now looking all but inevitable over the next decade or so, some entrepreneurs are looking to tap another local energy source lying underneath the ground: geothermal energy.

The most popular method for harnessing geothermal energy involves the use of steam from hot water located under the earth’s surface to spin a turbine to generate electricity. Unlike other countries located along the hot-earth zone known as the Pacific Rim of Fire, Canada has been slow to tap this nascent emissions-free source of electricity.

But things are looking rosier for the geothermal industry of late, with a private Saskatchewan company, DEEP, currently building the country’s first geothermal power plant outside of Estevan.

The company has already completed drilling the 3,530 metre test well, which will eventually generate five megawatts of power from the hot sedimentary aquifer below. That’s enough electricity to power 5,000 homes and offset 27,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, according to DEEP.

Slated to begin operations in 2021, the project will create 100 jobs during construction. Even more excitingly, the power plant has the potential to steadily expand outwards. It will eventually generate up to 200 megawatts of clean power and create more jobs in the future. Many of the same skillsets used in the oil and gas sector overlap significantly with geothermal development, offering substantial employment opportunities for workers looking to transition out of the volatile oil and gas sector. MORE


Wells, Wires, and Wheels – EROCI and the Tough Road Ahead for Oil

Post with image

New research, led by Mark Lewis, our Global Head of our Sustainability Research, shows that oil needs a long-term breakeven price of USD 10 – 20/barrel to remain competitive in mobility.

    • The economics of renewables are impossible for oil to compete with when looked at over the cycle
    • Renewable electricity has a short-run marginal cost of zero, is cleaner environmentally, could readily replace up to 40% of global oil demand
    • The oil industry should remember the fate of utilities

In a white paper, published this week, Mark introduces the concept of the Energy Return on Capital Invested (EROCI), focusing on the energy return on a USD 100 bn outlay on oil and renewables where the energy is being used to power cars and other light-duty vehicles (LDVs).

For a given capital outlay on oil and renewables, how much useful energy at the wheel do we get?

Our analysis indicates that for the same capital outlay today, new wind and solar-energy projects in tandem with battery electric vehicles will produce 6x – 7x more useful energy at the wheels than will oil at USD 60/barrel for gasoline powered light-duty vehicles, and 3x – 4x more than will oil at USD 60/barrel for light-duty vehicles running on diesel.

Accordingly, the research calculates that the long-term break-even oil price for gasoline to remain competitive as a source of mobility is USD 9 – 10/barrel, and for diesel USD 17 – 19/barrel.

Oil has a massive flow-rate advantage, but this is time limited

The oil industry is so massive that the amounts available for purchase on the spot market can provide very large and effectively instantaneous flows of energy. By contrast, new wind and solar projects deliver their energy over a 25-year operating life. Nonetheless, we think the economics of renewables are impossible for oil to compete with when looked at over the cycle. MORE

B.C. allows logging, mining companies to cut down thousands of endangered trees

Ottawa designated whitebark pine trees as an endangered species seven years ago, but British Columbia continues to sanction logging of the tree by forestry and mining companies

Whitebark pine

Tens of thousands of some of Canada’s most imperiled trees are being logged in British Columbia despite the federal government listing them as endangered seven years ago.

The companies doing the logging include a major forest company and an international mining giant. None have been ordered to curb their logging activities or faced penalties for doing so.

An investigation by The Narwhal shows that since 2012, the year the federal government formally designated whitebark pine as endangeredunder Canada’s Species at Risk Act, more than 19,000 cubic metres of the trees have been logged in B.C. If those trees were telephone poles, they would string a line from Vancouver nearly 800 kilometres north to Prince George.

Whitebark pine

A healthy whitebark pine tree in British Columbia’s Mount Robson provincial park. Photo: Iain Reid

The amount of whitebark pine logged is tiny compared to B.C.’s total log harvest. But given the dire threats the tree faces, any logging has“extreme” consequences, the federal government says.

The Narwhal used a provincial database to identify the trees. The database shows that since 2012 almost half of the endangered trees were logged by Canadian Forest Products Ltd., B.C.’s largest forest company. Significant numbers of whitebark pine were also logged by Canwell Timber Ltd. and mining giant, Teck.

“To be honest, I find this devastating. Watching a species decline in this province and not doing what we need to to reverse those trends, it really breaks my heart,” says Sally Otto, a biologist at the University of British Columbia and a member of a committee that advises the federal government on species at risk.

Otto noted that nearly three-quarters of the known range of whitebark pine is expected to shift with climate change this century, further increasing the already sobering challenges facing the species.

“Every single patch that we remove is basically removing one possible link from where the trees are now to where they need to be in order to survive,” Otto, who has advocated for stronger action by the provincial government to protect species, told The Narwhal.

Just how many of those patches are removed by logging is a vexing question because the information that is available — including that in the database analyzed by The Narwhal — likely understates the true extent of the losses.

In 2017, the federal government noted that the logging of whitebark pine is “notable” in B.C. and resulted in a “net loss” of the species. The federal government also warned that such logging “is not well tracked as records often group it with other species or ignore it.”

A perverse incentive to log an endangered species

The ongoing logging of whitebark pine in B.C. plays out against the backdrop of a company in Alberta being hit with one of the largest fines ever under the Species at Risk Act.

In 2013, Lake Louise Ski Resort, which operates inside Banff National Park, logged a patch of trees that included 38 healthy whitebark pine. The company subsequently plead guilty to the offence and was fined $2.1 million in 2018 for what Alberta court judge Heather Lamoureux called its “reckless” behavior. The company has appealed the fine that amounts to $55,000 for each whitebark pine tree it logged.

No similar fines have been issued in B.C. for the ongoing logging of the endangered species, however, because few lands within the province’s borders are under direct federal control. The whitebark pine trees that continue to be logged in Canada’s westernmost province typically come down on Crown or public lands that fall under provincial jurisdiction. The federal government has powers to step in to protect endangered species on provincially controlled lands but has rarely done so.

A draft “recovery strategy” for the species prepared by the federal government in 2017 suggests that identifying patches of forest where healthy whitebark pine trees are found and then protecting an additional area up to two kilometres away from the trees may be critical to their survival. MORE


100 companies are the source of over 70% of emissions. An ecocide law would stop them and hold them to account through a ‘legal duty of care’ to the planet.

Heartbreakingly, Polly Higgins passed away on April 21 before she could see the Ecocide law come to pass. Polly’s wish was to live to see a million Earth Protectors stand against Ecocide.

Polly Higgins put together a concept paper for how Ecocide could be implemented into international law by 2020, which was presented to every government in the world.

There is now a draft Ecocide Act which can be put into place by every country when this becomes an international law.

But to make that happen, governments need a public mandate.

A 2018 study by think tank Green Alliance found that politicians understand the need for action on climate change, but it’s not straightforward for them to make a case for it.

Climate change is seen as an ‘outsider’ issue – not part of the political mainstream – which means MPs might be reluctant to champion it.

According to the study, politicians also feel under very little pressure to act on climate change – reporting limited interest from their constituents.

To have a meaningful impact on climate change, we must add our voices to the movement.

124 states are currently signatories to the Rome Statute. The first step in making ecocide a crime is for one or more states to propose it.

Once presented, the amendment is then open to signatories, it cannot be vetoed, and if it achieves a 2/3 majority, it will become an international criminal law.

To make this happen, any member state can propose an amendment. This means we don’t have to persuade the nations profiting most from climate breakdown – the amendment can be proposed and supported by the member states most at risk.

The small island nations at the frontline of climate breakdown already have the power to make ecocide a crime. All they need is:

    • Expert legal support and practical assistance – which Polly’s non-profit, Ecological Defence Integrity, is providing
    • The safety of public support and visibility – which is where you come in.

You can become an Earth Protector in the next 5 minutes, which would add your voice to the public mandate and help make Ecocide illegal.

You can join the Earth Protectors Map and sign their trust fund document online, by making a small one-off or monthly donation.

This carries more weight and credibility than a petition because it’s been rubber-stamped by virtually every jurisdiction in the world as a valid document which can be presented in a court of law.

By signing up as an Earth Protector you are clearly stating that you believe that damage and destruction to the Earth and its inhabitants is a crime – and you will have a unique Trust Fund document in your name to show this, which carries legal weight.

This isn’t just another petition, it’s a powerful step in the legal process of making ecocide a crime. And with just a few clicks, you can be part of it.

Declare yourself as an Earth Protector on the website here.




From dumpster to diesel: How a pilot project in Whitby is turning plastic waste into fuel

Backers claim project can convert 5 tonnes of waste into 4,000 litres of fuel per day

A pilot project in Whitby, Ont., turns non-recyclable plastics into usable fuel, rather than having the waste sit in a landfill. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

A pilot project in Whitby, Ont., is using technology to give plastic waste a second life by turning it into diesel fuel and gasoline.

The technology, dubbed the Phoenix, can convert single-use items like plastic bags and Styrofoam — items that would otherwise end up in landfill.

John O’Bireck, president of energy investment company Sparta Group, says he sees plastic “as a resource, not a scourge.”

He says the fuel produced by Phoenix is already being used in his company’s fleet of trucks that transport industrial waste.

“Five tonnes of plastic can be converted into about 4,000 litres. And 4,000 litres can drive our whole fleet of 10 vehicles back and forth every day running 16 hours a day.”

O’Bireck says Phoenix uses a process involving pyrolysis — using heat to bring about decomposition — to upcycle plastics that can’t go into the recycling stream.

John O’Bireck, of Sparta Group, says fuel produced by Phoenix is already being used in his company’s fleet of trucks that transport industrial waste. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

“If you take plastic as it stands, it’s going to go in the ground and it’s going to sit there for a thousand years. By adding this technology, we are converting it so that we give it one more chance to go back out.”

The process shreds the plastic into smaller pieces and feeds it into a “cooker.” O’Bireck claims it’s not being burned; the material is in an airtight vessel and being heated in the absence of oxygen.

“There’s actually two gases formed: condensable and non-condensable gas. We’re distilling it down to take it from its gas to a liquid.”

O’Bireck says the goal is to expand to municipalities and bigger companies. MORE

Democrats’ newest climate platform: Hammering fossil fuel companies

The rhetoric from candidates like Sanders, Warren and even Biden echoes the fervor of the climate change activists backing the Green New Deal.

Jay Inslee
Democratic presidential candidates like Washington Gov. Jay Inslee have been increasingly assertive in their rhetoric over climate change. | Paul Sancya/AP Photo

Democratic White House hopefuls are getting increasingly aggressive on climate change — and calling for oil, gas and coal producers to pay for their role in climbing temperatures, rising seas and catastrophic weather.

The sharpened tone includes former Vice President Joe Biden’s promise to “take action against fossil fuel companies,” as well as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ charge that the businesses committed “criminal activity” by knowingly producing the greenhouse gases that worsen climate change. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposes legislation that could pave the way for lawsuits against the companies, while Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has accused fossil fuel producers of “killing people” and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand wants to create a fossil fuel “excise tax.”

The rhetoric echoes the fervor of climate change activists who have pushed Democrats to embrace an ambitious “Green New Deal” that would wean the U.S. off fossil fuels in a decade or more, and comes amid lawsuits from states, cities and citizens accusing the companies of hiding evidence that their products are harming the planet.

But Republicans say they welcome the trend, too, accusing Democrats of pushing a radical attack on an industry that has provided one of the brightest spots in the economy and has reduced U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

“The deeper and the longer the Democrats talk about this, the happier the Trump campaign is,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who speaks regularly with the White House and President Donald Trump’s reelection effort. “They see fodder not so much in the issue but in the solutions being proposed by the Democrats.” MORE


Climate change’s partial 2020 breakthrough