Alberta’s Energy Regulator Blasted for Conflicts, Mismanagement and Misusing Millions

It’s no surprise, say critics of agency responsible for regulating oil, gas and coal production.

Oil well
Critics of the energy regulator’s performance on issues like cleanup of abandoned well say that reports the agency was mismanaged are no surprise.

Three separate Alberta government investigations have slammed the controversial Alberta Energy Regulator for mismanagement, the misuse of millions of public dollars and conflict of interest.

Separate reports by Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler, Public Interest Commissioner Marianne Ryan and Auditor General Doug Wylie detailed how senior members of the AER set up a private organization called the International Centre for Regulatory Excellence (ICORE), initially described as non-profit.

The centre’s original mandate was to promote “best in class” regulatory practices. But it later set out to become an international training centre for regulators.

Trussler was blunt and scathing in her report, saying the scheme was intended to benefit CEO Jim Ellis and three other AER employees. Ellis retired in November.

“The primary motivation behind ICORE Energy Services (NFP) was to create future employment or remuneration for Mr. Ellis,” Trussler reported. “He thus furthered his private interests.”

The auditor general found that ICORE consumed at least $5.4 million of AER funding between 2017 and 2019. Approximately $3.1 million has been recovered.

The auditor general’s report noted that about two years ago, AER staff started to worry about “time spent on non-Alberta regulatory activities, efforts to commercialize AER intellectual property, and the belief that some of the efforts were in pursuit of personal benefits by a few individuals.”

It concluded the regulator acted outside of its mandate, spent public money inappropriately and failed to prevent conflict of interest.

It also noted the “tone at the top at AER did not support a strong control environment or compliance with policies.”

Revelations by a whistleblower last year sparked the investigations.

The Alberta Energy Regulator, an industry funded agency responsible for regulating oil and gas activity and coal mining in the province — including oil sands development and fracking — has frequently been criticized for failing to provide proper oversight.

The reports described it as out of control and unaccountable, despite supposed government oversight.

“I found a culture at the senior management level at the Alberta Energy Regulator that promoted a wrongful manipulation and omission of facts designed to mislead both the board and the government,” Trussler reported. “I found those actions to mislead both troubling and unacceptable.”

Shaun Fluker, an associate University of Calgary law professor who has written extensively about the regulator, found the reports alarming but not surprising.

“It is troubling, to say the least, that the CEO of Alberta’s Energy Regulator can scheme to this extent — and for so long — about using public time and money for private gain with very little apparent concern about any of this ever being revealed,” said Fluker in an email to The Tyee.

“This raises serious questions about the extent to which there is any real ministerial or cabinet oversight over the operations of the AER,” he added.

The reports also cast doubt on the AER’s overall performance, Fluker added. MORE

‘Indicative of a truly corrupt system’: government investigation reveals BC Timber Sales violating old-growth logging rules

Two investigations, released under Freedom of Information laws, show a government agency ignored best practices and available data when auctioning cutblocks in the Nahmint Valley — home to some of Vancouver Island’s last remaining stands of unlogged ancient forest — where clearcutting continues to this day

Nahmint-Valley-Douglas-Fir-Clearcut
Ancient Forest Alliance campaigner TJ Watt surveys a sprawling clearcut filled with rare, old-growth douglas fir trees. Watt told The Narwhal that despite multiple and ongoing investigations into BC Timber Sales’ auctioning of ancient forest in the Nahmint Valley, he worries the agency will “just continue on with business as usual.” Photo: TJ Watt

Vast stands of old-growth douglas firs and cedars, toppled. A grim-looking individual, perched atop a stump, staggering in size, its history harkening back to pre-colonial times, sap oozing beneath their feet.

British Columbians are near-immune to such images these days, with old-growth clearcutting a common sight and common practice. But something about the images coming out of Vancouver Island’s Nahmint Valley struck a chord.

photo gallery posted by the Ancient Forest Alliance to Facebook in May of 2018 became a near-immediate viral sensation, being shared more than 4,800 times.

The organization, during an ancient forest expedition with the Port Alberni Watershed-Forest Alliance, found exceptionally large douglas fir, including the fifth and ninth widest ever recorded in B.C., scattered among the remains of an extensive clearcutting operation.

The groups documented old-growth cedar stumps measuring a staggering 12 feet (3.7 metres) in diameter.

29543060_1764129970348249_5355189877212184576_n.jpg (533×800)Photo: Ancient Forest Alliance

Something felt wrong about the scope and scale of the logging operations in the Nahmint Valley to the expeditioners.

‘Indicative of a truly corrupt system’: government investigation reveals BC Timber Sales violating old-growth logging rules

Two investigations, released under Freedom of Information laws, show a government agency ignored best practices and available data when auctioning cutblocks in the Nahmint Valley — home to some of Vancouver Island’s last remaining stands of unlogged ancient forest — where clearcutting continues to this day

Some of you may have already seen the pictures.

Vast stands of old-growth douglas firs and cedars, toppled. A grim-looking individual, perched atop a stump, staggering in size, its history harkening back to pre-colonial times, sap oozing beneath their feet.

British Columbians are near-immune to such images these days, with old-growth clearcutting a common sight and common practice. But something about the images coming out of Vancouver Island’s Nahmint Valley struck a chord.

photo gallery posted by the Ancient Forest Alliance to Facebook in May of 2018 became a near-immediate viral sensation, being shared more than 4,800 times.

The organization, during an ancient forest expedition with the Port Alberni Watershed-Forest Alliance, found exceptionally large douglas fir, including the fifth and ninth widest ever recorded in B.C., scattered among the remains of an extensive clearcutting operation.

The groups documented old-growth cedar stumps measuring a staggering 12 feet (3.7 metres) in diameter.

Something felt wrong about the scope and scale of the logging operations in the Nahmint Valley to the expeditioners.

And they were right.

Nahmint Valley red cedar

Ancient Forest Alliance campaigner Andrea Inness walks beside an enormous, freshly fallen western red cedar in a BC Timber Sales-issued cutblock in the Nahmint Valley near Port Alberni. Photo: TJ Watt

Before-After-9th-Widest-Douglas-Fir-Nahmint-1024x765.jpg (1024×765)
Before and after images of a massive douglas fir tree in the Nahmint Valley. According to the B.C. Big Tree Registry, this douglas fir was the ninth-largest of its kind in Canada. Photo: TJ Watt

Investigations point to government agency at heart of B.C.’s old-growth logging

Following their expedition, the Ancient Forest Alliance submitted a complaint to the compliance and enforcement branch at B.C.’s Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

The findings of two subsequent investigations would confirm a deep-rooted suspicion that BC Timber Sales (BCTS), the government agency responsible for auctioning provincial logging permits, was thwarting protection rules and violating the principles of old-growth management plans. MORE

One Thing You Can Do: Talk to Your Children About Climate Change


Tyler Varsell

Last month, young people around the world skipped school to join global climate strikes. Children of all ages marched, chanted and carried signs with slogans like, “You’ll die of old age, I’ll die of climate change.”

Dark messages like that highlighted the worry many young people feel about climate change.

Climate change and related natural disasters can take a toll on mental health, according to a 2017 report by the American Psychological Association. That can include depression and anxiety.

Children may be one of the hardest-hit groups. According to a poll by the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than seven in 10 teenagers and young adults in the United States say climate change will cause harm to their generation. That includes young people who identify as Democratics and Republicans.

In order to lighten that anxiety, experts say, parents should talk to their children.
To address these fears, find a calm moment to ask your child what they’ve seen or heard about climate change and how that makes them feel, said Dr. Lise Van Susteren, a psychiatrist in Washington and a founder of the Climate Psychiatry Alliance. She said parents should gently correct irrational fears but not downplay anxieties just to make children feel better. That could just make the child feel she can’t trust adults to be honest with them on this topic.
“Talk about the problem, then pivot to the solution,” Dr. Van Susteren said.
Once you’ve discussed your child’s climate fears, talk about people and organizations that are already working on large-scale climate solutions, said Maria Ojala, a psychologist at Orebro University in Sweden who studies young people and climate change.
If possible, talk about solutions in a personal context. Highlight steps you’ve already taken as a family or as individuals to reduce your carbon footprints and brainstorm new ideas together. Taking action can be an empowering antidote to fear, Dr. Van Susteren said. Encourage your child to take action with her peers as well, like joining a group at school or volunteering with a local organization. Collective action has mental health benefits, according to Dr. Ojala. “We are social beings and it’s very good for our well-being to work together with others and be part of a group,” she said.
You probably won’t get rid of your child’s fears altogether, and that’s O.K., Dr. Ojala said. The goal is to help your child cope with her fears in a constructive way to avoid hopelessness.
Finally, think about your own personal choices and lead by example, Dr. Van Susteren said. Your children are probably watching. SOURCE

Drug companies in opioid epidemic settle with Ohio counties, avoiding 1st federal trial

Some 400,000 U.S. overdose deaths between 1997 and 2017 linked to opioids


AmerisourceBergen Corp., Cardinal Health Inc., McKesson Corp. and Israel-based drugmaker Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. have reached a legal settlement over their role in the opioid addiction epidemic. (George Frey/Reuters)

Four big drug companies have reached a last-minute, $260-million legal settlement related to the U.S. opioid addiction epidemic, averting the first federal trial that was scheduled to start Monday morning in Cleveland.

The settlement covers drug distributors AmerisourceBergen Corp, Cardinal Health Inc., McKesson Corp. and Israel-based drugmaker Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., and ends lawsuits by two Ohio counties.

Hunter Shklonik, a lawyer for Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County and Akron’s Summit County, said Teva is paying $20 million in cash and will contribute $25 million worth of Suboxone, an opioid addiction treatment.

The settlement contains no admission of wrongdoing by the defendants.

Across the U.S., the pharmaceutical industry still faces more than 2,600 other lawsuits over the deadly epidemic. Participants in those cases said the Ohio deal buys them time to try to work out a nationwide settlement of all claims.

On Friday, talks collapsed aimed at reaching a broader $48-billion US settlement covering thousands of lawsuits filed by counties, towns and states from across the country over the crisis. MORE

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The Opioid Crisis Should Be a Key Election Issue: Here’s Where the Parties Stand

 

Ford’s bill changes won’t save you a dime

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The Ford government thinks playing with your hydro bill layout – by breaking out the large provincial subsidy introduced by the Wynne government – will make you feel better about electricity costs. But what they’re not transparent about is their failure to deliver on their promise to cut electricity bills by 12% – on the contrary, rates have actually increased.

What would really make people feel better would be if the government ACTUALLY REDUCED BILLS instead of merely playing with the look of our hydro bills. It can do that by taking Quebec up on its repeated offer to sell Ontario low-cost water power to replace nuclear power that costs 3 times as much.

Image result for transmission linesBuying low-cost hydro energy from Quebec would reduce hydro bills substantially.

It’s time for the Ford Government to stop protecting our bloated nuclear industry and instead make a sensible deal for some of the lowest-cost power available anywhere – water power from Quebec.

Tell your MPP (and cc me) that you don’t just want more transparency, you want actual savings. SOURCE

The World Can Make More Water From the Sea, but at What Cost?

The main desalination plant at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia.
The main desalination plant at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia. Credit: Photographs by 

THUWAL, Saudi Arabia — Desalinated seawater is the lifeblood of Saudi Arabia, no more so than at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, an international research center that rose from the dry, empty desert a decade ago.

Produced from water from the adjacent Red Sea that is forced through salt-separating membranes, it is piped into the campus’s gleaming lab buildings and the shops, restaurants and cookie-cutter homes of the surrounding planned neighborhoods. It irrigates the palm trees that line the immaculate streets and the grass field at the 5,000-seat sports stadium. Even the community swimming pools are filled with hundreds of thousands of gallons of it.

Desalination provides all of the university’s fresh water, nearly five million gallons a day. But that amount is just a tiny fraction of Saudi Arabia’s total production. Beyond the walls and security checkpoints of the university, desalinated water makes up about half of the fresh water supply in this nation of 33 million people, one of the most water-starved on Earth.

Worldwide, desalination is increasingly seen as one possible answer to problems of water quantity and quality that will worsen with global population growth and the extreme heat and prolonged drought linked to climate change.

“It is a partial solution to water scarcity,” said Manzoor Qadir, an environmental scientist with the Water and Human Development Program of United Nations University. “This industry is going to grow. In the next five to 10 years, you’ll see more and more desalination plants.”

Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa are at the center of this growth, with large new desalination projects planned or being built. Renewable water supplies in most of these countries already fall well below the United Nations definition of absolute water scarcity, which is about 350 gallons per person per day, and a 2017 report from the World Bank suggests that climate change will be the biggest factor increasing the pressure on water supplies in the future.

Yet the question remains where else desalination will grow. “In low income countries, almost nothing is happening,” Dr. Qadir said.

The primary reason is cost. Desalination remains expensive, as it requires enormous amounts of energy. To make it more affordable and accessible, researchers around the world are studying how to improve desalination processes, devising more effective and durable membranes, for example, to produce more water per unit of energy, and better ways to deal with the highly concentrated brine that remains.

A sheaf of reverse-osmosis membranes, unfurled to show the layers that separate salt from water.
CreditJamie Smith for The New York Times

There are no water distribution pipes in this part of Jeddah, so the desalinated water is distributed by truck.

 

Renewable power will grow 50% in next 5 years, IEA says

Solar power will account for nearly 60% of growth, followed by onshore wind


The International Energy Agency predicts global renewable power capacity will grow 50 per cent in the next five years, with 60 per cent of the growth coming from solar and 25 per cent from onshore wind. (CBC News)

Global renewable energy capacity is set to rise by 50 per cent in five years, driven by solar photovoltaic (PV) installations on homes, buildings and industry, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Total renewable-based power capacity will rise by 1.2 terawatts (TW) by 2024 from 2.5 TW last year, equivalent to the total installed current power capacity of the United States.

Solar PV will account for nearly 60 per cent of this growth and onshore wind 25 per cent, the IEA’s annual report on global renewables showed.

The share of renewables in power generation is expected to rise to 30 per cent in 2024 from 26 per cent today.

Falling technology costs and more effective government policies have helped to drive the higher forecasts for renewable capacity deployment since last year’s report, the IEA said.

“Renewables are already the world’s second largest source of electricity, but their deployment still needs to accelerate if we are to achieve long-term climate, air quality and energy access goals,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director.

“As costs continue to fall, we have a growing incentive to ramp up the deployment of solar PV,” he added.


A vehicle drives past the solar panels near wind turbines at a wind and solar energy storage and transmission power station of State Grid Corporation of China, in Zhangjiakou of Hebei province, on March 18, 2016. The share of renewables in power generation is expected to rise to 30 per cent in 2024 from 26 per cent today. (Jason Lee/Reuters)

The cost of generating electricity from distributed solar PV (PV systems on homes, commercial buildings and industry) is already below retail electricity prices in most countries.

Solar PV generation costs are expected to decline a further 15 per cent to 35 per cent by 2024, making the technology more attractive for adoption, the IEA said.

However, policy and tariff reforms are needed to ensure solar PV growth is sustainable and avoid disruption to electricity markets and higher energy costs, the report said.  SOURCE

Climate change has turned permafrost into a carbon emitter

Tundra plants can’t absorb enough carbon in summer to make up for carbon released in winter


People ride all-terrain vehicles on the tundra as the sun sets near the Arctic community of Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, on Aug. 20, 2013. Scientists have measured carbon dioxide emissions of 1.7 billion tonnes a year from Arctic permafrost, about twice as high as previous estimates. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Research has found Arctic soil has warmed to the point where it releases more carbon in winter than northern plants can absorb during the summer.

The finding means the extensive belt of tundra around the globe — a vast reserve of carbon that dwarfs what’s held in the atmosphere — is becoming a source of greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change.

“There’s a net loss,” said Dalhousie University’s Jocelyn Egan, one of 75 co-authors of a paper published in Nature Climate Change.

“In a given year, more carbon is being lost than what is being taken in. It is happening already.”

The research by scientists in 12 countries and from dozens of institutions is the latest warning that northern natural systems that once reliably kept carbon out of the atmosphere are starting to release it.


Wild blueberries and lichen grow on the tundra in the Northwest Territories. Arctic plants are thought to take in just over one billion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere every year during growing season. That means Arctic permafrost has a net emission of 700 million tonnes a year. (Susan Taylor/Reuters)

Until now, little was known about winter emissions from permafrost and the soil above it. Even scientists assumed the microbial processes that release the gases came to a halt in the cold.

“Most people think in the winter, there’s no respiration, that the microbes eating the carbon that produce these emissions aren’t active, which isn’t actually the case,” Egan said.

The scientists placed carbon dioxide monitors along the ground at more than 100 sites around the circumpolar Arctic to see what was actually happening and took more than 1,000 measurements.

They found much more carbon was being released than previously thought. The results found carbon dioxide emissions of 1.7 billion tonnes a year are about twice as high as previous estimates.

Arctic plants are thought to take in just over one billion tonnes of the gas from the atmosphere every year during growing season. The net result is that Arctic soil around the globe is probably already releasing more than 600 million tonnes of CO2 annually.

Scientists previously thought carbon absorbed by tundra plants during the summer more or less made up for what was emitted in the winter as well as for what was released from melting permafrost during warm months.

That’s not what’s happening, said Egan.

“We’re seeing that the value emitted in the winter is larger than the net uptake for the growing season.”

Emissions speeding up

What’s more, the pace of the emissions is likely to increase.

Under a business-as-usual scenario, emissions from northern soil would be likely to release 41 per cent more carbon by the end of the century.

But the Arctic is already warming at three times the pace of the rest of the globe. Even if significant mitigation efforts are made, those emissions will increase by 17 per cent, said the report. MORE

Understanding The Science Of Climate Change: Earth’s Survival

Made in consultation with the IPCC and world-leading climate scientists, this groundbreaking documentary explains the headlines that are addressed in the Fifth Assessment Report in 2015, and how we may be in the middle of the most crucial moment of Earth’s history.

It decodes thousands of pages of scientific data into digestible, easy to understand science, punctuated in places by clever, creative CGI. VIDEO: (51:17)

SOURCE