Tzeporah Berman: Liberal government is getting the message from voters about climate change

Environmentalist Tzeporah Berman says the federal government’s recent COVID-19 bailout package for the oil and gas sector marks a turning point for climate change policy.

The Canadian government’s recent COVID-19 initiative for the gas and oil industry may signal Ottawa has reached a turning point and is responding to public pressure to address the climate crisis, noted environmentalist Tzeporah Berman says.

The federal government will spend a combined $2.5 billion to clean up thousands of contaminated oil and gas wells in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan and to cut a potent form of carbon pollution, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced April 17.

“I think this decision, this bailout package, was a shot across the bow of the oil industry,” said Berman, international program director for Stand.earth.

Ottawa is getting the message voters want climate change to be a priority, Berman told 500 participants on a Zoom event hosted by Canada’s National Observer Editor-in-Chief Linda Solomon Wood last week.

“It’s a recognition that we need to spend as much, if not more effort, supporting other industries that are truly cleaner and safer,” Berman added.

The environmental activist and campaigner, who is based in B.C. and lives part-time on Cortes Island, was discussing fossil fuel industry bailouts and how COVID-19 might open new possibilities to establish a green economy.

Trudeau’s stated goals for the oil and gas COVID-19 initiative was to support industry workers and their families, and help fossil fuel companies avoid bankruptcy, while meeting his government’s environmental objectives.

The federal government resisted enormous pressure from the oil and gas industry to roll back environmental regulation, Berman said, referencing a leaked memo obtained by Environmental Defence.

Additionally, the Alberta government wants Ottawa to provide cash bailouts of $30 billion to $40 billion to the fossil fuel sector to help companies survive the staggering price collapses caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic.

“I was really glad to see that (the federal government) didn’t cave … to those incredibly outrageous demands, because quite frankly … we have seen them cave in the past,” Berman said, referring to the Liberal government’s $4.5-billion buyout of Kinder Morgan’s struggling Trans Mountain pipeline.

Environmental policy crossroad

“I heard somebody say it’s like we are in a zero gravity moment. And when we land things will be different,” @Tzeporah Berman told @Linda_Solomon.

“I think it’s a turning point for politics in Canada … where we acknowledge the incredible mess that does need to be cleaned up,” Berman said.

A second indicator Ottawa is shifting ground around the environment is the decision not to proceed with the Teck Frontier oilsands project, Berman said.

That decision was due to the fact the federal government faced massive opposition to the project from the public and environmental scientists, she said.

“Teck pulled out because they knew they weren’t going to get the decision they wanted,” Berman said. “Our governments are listening. They will respond and prioritize, in part, what they think voters are prioritizing.”

Tzeporah Berman@Tzeporah

This bailout announcement is a turning point for oil & gas politics in Canada. Supporting workers, addressing climate change, cleaning up orphan wells all measures that align with netzero by 2050 and the need to wind down this industry to do that. Hard but necessary.

Taxpayers footing oilwell cleanup bill

However, Berman stressed, taxpayers shouldn’t be paying to clean up the dregs left behind by the oil and gas sector.

There are 6,000 orphan wells and 90,000 inactive wells that could fall into that category across B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan, said Berman.

Abandoned wells can leak pollutants such methane, brine or heavy metals and can contaminate groundwater, surrounding land or the atmosphere.

Estimates to clean up the well problem range between $70 billion and $200 billion, Berman said.

“So that’s a strategy, get all the oil out, make the profits … go bankrupt and leave the cleanup to taxpayers,” she said. “So, should taxpayers’ dollars be going to pay for the mess the industry left behind? Actually no. Regulations and laws and policy should make sure we’re not left this mess.”

But, the federal decision to contribute to the cleanup of wells has led to increased awareness about the problem, Berman noted.

“The interesting thing is this decision really elevated in public consciousness and in politics in Canada … that our laws lag behind other jurisdictions,” she said.

North Dakota, California and Texas all have limits for how long a well can be inactive before being cleaned up, Berman said.

Setting limits on how long a well can be inactive and requiring companies to post bonds, or pay money up front, for their cleanup would solve future problems in Canada, she added.

Canada’s environmental disconnect

Despite Canada’s preferred self-image as a green leader with talk about national carbon pricing and the phase out of coal, the country is actually increasing oil and gas production, and its carbon pollution is going up according to the latest national greenhouse gas inventory report, Berman observed.

“Oil and gas production is now the single largest component of Canada’s emissions and the fastest-growing,” Berman said.

The math simply doesn’t add up for Canada to reach its stated goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, she added.

Even before the COVID-19 crisis and its attendant plunge in oil prices, the oil and gas industry was facing record bankruptcies, with Canada’s sector being in more trouble than most, Berman said.

Now is the moment to diversify the Canadian economy and to wind down and end oil and gas production to meet the government’s 2050 goals, she said.

“The oil industry is never going to go back to those big boom days. … COVID-19, the price drop, and climate action around the world have changed oil demand forever,” Berman stressed.

“What we decide to build with these new stimulus and bailout packages will decide what our economy looks like and also whether or not we have a stable climate.”

It’s vital that Canada begins to align its energy projects with its climate targets, said Berman, referring to the federal government’s support of pipelines.

“It’s like the right hand isn’t talking to the left hand right now. We have a climate plan, and then over here, we have infrastructure and project development and that’s not being led by our climate priorities.”

Plan for fossil fuel wind down

Canada isn’t going to stop using fossil fuels overnight, but there’s enough supply and above-ground storage to meet demand during the wind down, especially if efficiency measures focused on electrified and renewables systems are put in place, Berman said.

“We need to acknowledge as a nation that we can not expand it. No new projects whatsoever,” she said.

Planning for the decline of the oil and gas industry would ease turmoil at an economic and individual level, Berman said.

“If we do that, then there will be fewer casualties. Then we can ensure we’re retraining people and that we’re leaving no one behind,” she said. “It’s going to happen by design or default.”

Berman said the pandemic has demonstrated what government and the public can achieve if everyone acts collectively and listens to the science.

“I heard somebody say it’s like we are in a zero-gravity moment. And when we land, things will be different,” she said. “I think it has given us all time to reflect on what kind of economy we want in the future.” SOURCE


Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative

‘No imminent risk’ that Athabasca River floods will reach oilsands tailings ponds, regulator says

Though floodwaters have overwhelmed Fort McMurray, the Athabasca River, shown here near a Suncor facility, remains clear of jams near the oilsands, the Alberta Energy Regulator says. Photo courtesy Alberta Environment and Parks

Rising floodwaters along northern Alberta’s Athabasca River are not in danger of breaching the massive ponds holding toxic waste from the oilsands, the province’s energy regulator said Wednesday.

Several rivers in the region are flooding this week as chunks of spring ice melt and block waterways, a phenomenon known as an ice jam. The swelling waters have flooded downtown Fort McMurray, upstream of the oilsands, raising concerns about what could happen if the rivers breach the ponds where oilsands “tailings,” or waste, are stored.

“Staff are on site conducting field verifications and gathering information,” the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) said Wednesday.

“At the present time, and based on current information, there is no imminent risk of floodwater breaching any tailings ponds.”

Oilsands tailings are a thick, yogurt-like mixture left over from the process of mining and extracting bitumen. The goop is toxic, containing hazardous naphthenic acids alongside clay, water and leftover remnants of bitumen.

Oil companies store the rapidly accumulating waste — with a total volume of more than one trillion litres — in reservoirs that now cover an area larger than the city of Vancouver.

Some tailings are stored in former mine pits, while others are enclosed by earthen dams, which industry says are secure.

Spring ice jams are common along the Athabasca River, which flows through Fort McMurray and the oilsands before emptying into Lake Athabasca in northeastern Alberta. But this spring’s floods are exceptionally bad, with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney calling them a once-in-a-century event.

Kavi Bal@kavibal25

Two maps that compare the location of oil sands tailing ponds and flood zones that are continuously studied in the area.

Left – Tailing ponds – including dry tailings (orange) and wet tailings (light yellow)

Right – Fort McMurray flood zones

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Flooding in Fort McMurray has raised concerns that the rising waters could breach toxic oilsands tailings ponds. The Alberta Energy Regulator says all tailings ponds are intact, however, and teams are monitoring them closely. #ableg

There was an ice jam near Fort McKay, a First Nations and Métis community in the oilsands north of Fort McMurray, that flooded some low-lying areas, Alberta Environment and Parks said. That blockage cleared on April 28, though the area remains under an “ice jam watch.”

The floodwaters may rise before the river fully clears, but experts say the tailings ponds are not expected to be at risk, the AER said Wednesday.

fortmacflooding_stopsigns.jpg (790×525)
Flooding from the Athabasca and Clearwater rivers covered downtown Fort McMurray on April 27, 2020. Photo from Jason Kenney/Twitter

Floods expected to increase with climate change

Downstream of the oilsands, the Athabasca River empties into the Peace-Athabasca Delta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its wood bison herds and its importance for flocks of migratory birds. And many of the Cree, Dene and Métis people in the region hunt and trap along the river.

Some Indigenous people in the area are worried about what could happen if these floodwaters or any future ones were to reach the oilsands, as several tailings ponds are relatively close to the river, said Jesse Cardinal, the interim executive director of Keepers of the Water, an Indigenous-led conservation group.

“Because of climate change, we’re going to start seeing more flooding,” Cardinal said. “Really, what could you do if a tailings pond breaches?”

A breach could be even more devastating because more Indigenous people are relying on hunting and trapping to avoid using grocery stores during the COVID-19 pandemic, Cardinal said.

“We’re directly tied to the land. We’re tied to the environment,” she said. “So what happens to the land, happens to us.”

Though studies have suggested for years that oilsands tailings may be seeping into groundwater and the Athabasca River, a full breach of an oilsands tailings dam hasn’t happened. Industry says the dams are safe and a collapse would be very unlikely.

Tailings dams have breached in other Canadian mining industries.

In 2014, a tailings dam of Imperial Metals Corp.’s Mount Polley copper and gold mine collapsed, sending 25 billion litres of contaminated slurry into nearby waterways. And in 2013, a tailings dam broke at the Obed Mountain Mine in Hinton, Alta., sending 670 million litres of wastewater into tributaries of the Athabasca River.

The Obed spill in particular shows how dangerous a similar incident in the oilsands could be, said Cardinal. “It was so big, it flooded out some of the forest,” she added.

“The lesson from Mount Polley is that those dams can breach,” said Dale Marshall of Environmental Defence, a green non-profit.

If it were to happen in the oilsands, he said, toxic materials would likely remain in the water and sediment at the bottom of the river and accumulate up the food chain.

“The big picture on this is that there are really negative impacts to oil and gas development that should be taken into account as we think about future energy development,” Marshall added.

“It does further reinforce the need to transition away from these energy sources that have all kinds of risks, environment and health.”

A fence blocks off a Suncor oilsands tailings pond north of Fort McMurray, Alta., on Sept. 13, 2018. Photo by Codie McLachlan/StarMetro Edmonton

Regulator says tailings dams are safe

The Alberta Energy Regulator inspects tailings dams annually, and says a breach of any of them would have “extreme consequences.”

In 2018, the most recent year for which inspection results are available, the regulator said it found one breach of its rules at an oilsands dam, and companies voluntarily disclosed three other issues (it wasn’t clear if the issues were identified on tailings dams or other types of dams in the oilsands). None of the problems posed a significant risk, the regulator said.

The same year, the regulator audited dam safety at five oilsands facilities. All were rated “very good,” the regulator said.

The regulator also requires companies to have emergency response plans ready in case of a breach and says it has crews ready to help if the unimaginable was to happen. Those protocols aren’t posted publicly, however, which Cardinal said adds to the uncertainty.

The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation — in Fort Chipewyan, about 200 kilometres north of Fort McMurray along the river — has been conducting its own flyovers to ensure the tailings dams haven’t breached, Cardinal said. (A spokesperson for the First Nation said they were busy supporting members affected by the floods and dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, and weren’t able to respond by publication time.)

Oversight of companies’ management of oilsands tailings have been an issue in Alberta for decades.

Despite years of promises that the ponds would stop growing, they have continued to swell. And successive governments have allowed industry to pursue unproven techniques for dealing with the toxic mess, an indication that officials have no idea how to effectively clean up the waste.

Occasionally, tailings ponds make headlines after flocks of migratory birds die after landing on the toxic lakes, mistaking them for natural bodies of water. They can also emit air pollutants.

In August 2018, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation — a NAFTA organization composed of officials from the U.S., Mexico and Canada — announced it would investigate tailings ponds and the threat they pose to surrounding groundwater and rivers.

The cost to clean up the oilsands mining operations facilities could reach an estimated $130 billion, with tailings ponds making up the largest but unknown amount of the figure, according to internal AER calculations revealed in a joint investigation by the StarGlobal News and National Observer. That’s $100 billion more than the province had disclosed publicly.

The AER later apologized, saying the estimate had been an “error in judgment.”  SOURCE

RELATED:

Call for military to assist Fort McMurray due to flooding

Billionaires Are the Pandemic’s Villains, Not Its Heroes

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos at the National Press Club on September 19, 2019 in Washington, DC. Paul Morigi / Getty

More than twenty-four million US workers have applied for unemployment benefits in the last five weeks. That figure represents more than one in seven workers. For comparison, in pre-coronavirus times, one million workers applied in a five-week period.

A freeze on normal economic activity is necessary to keep as many people home as possible and stop the spread of the virus. But mass economic devastation is not an inevitable result.

In Western and Northern European countries, for example, governments have taken aggressive action — often at the urging of the Left and labor unions — to protect workers’ jobs during the crisis so they’ll be waiting for them when it’s safe to return to business as usual, and providing adequate relief in the interim. Researchers at the Economic Policy Institute call this approach “deep-freezing the economy,” the idea being that it can be thawed out and quickly restored when the pandemic is over. Yes, it costs money, but so does an interminable economic slump.

The United States has chosen not to go this route. Congress has authorized trillions in spending, but with one exception — the airline industry, and even then only because the flight attendants’ union pushed for it — it hasn’t taken any direct payroll guarantee measures, instead allowing mass layoffs to occur unimpeded. Those jobs will not necessarily be available when economic activity resumes, likely guaranteeing high unemployment for a long time to come.

Backdrop of Austerity

In the meantime, while the federal government has extended unemployment insurance, workers in the United States struggle with inadequate welfare infrastructure. Last summer, the National Employment Law Project published a paper titled “Are State Unemployment Systems Still Able to Counter Recessions?” The answer, they concluded, was no: instead many state unemployment systems were intentionally dysfunctional, designed to make it difficult to apply for and receive aid, a kind of austerity by paperwork. The authors of the study recommended major anti-austerity overhauls in order to prepare for the inevitable next recession.

But now it’s too late. In the worst-offender states, like Florida and North Carolina, broken unemployment infrastructures “are wreaking havoc with the claims filing process. As a result, workers who need benefits are unable to access them.” Beyond them, many other states “that have designed programs to fail may collapse under the weight of the surge of new claims.”

As a result of these and other errors — none of them accidental, all undertaken with the interests of wealthy taxpayers in mind — the US working class, not yet back on its feet since the last devastating economic crisis just over a decade ago, is in for a lot of unnecessary misery. A great deal of pain could have been avoided with adequate social spending and anti-austerity program design, but instead US lawmakers continued to shred the nation’s already threadbare safety net while inequality has skyrocketed and the wealth of the nation’s richest people has soared.

Billionaire Bonanza

So how are the mega-rich fairing in these trying times? The Institute for Policy Studies’s annual Billionaire Bonanza report was just released, and it finds many of them doing better than ever. Thirty-four US billionaires have seen their wealth surge by tens of millions of dollars since the beginning of 2020. Eight of them have seen their wealth grow by over a billion dollars. The combined wealth of all billionaires in the United States has increased nearly 10 percent.

“This spring, in the face of a global pandemic, headlines are trumpeting the beneficence of billionaires who are donating what amounts to as little as 0.00001 percent of their fortunes to help their fellow humans in need,” write the authors of the report. They note that Forbes even published a fawning issue titled “Agents of Change: How the World’s Billionaires Are Using Their Wealth to Reinvent Their Businesses and Provide Aid Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic.”

These are the same people who lobby and pressure and dangle donations in front of politicians in order to bring down taxes on the rich. As a result of their efforts, billionaire taxes have been slashed 79 percent in the last four decades, and the sum total of US billionaire wealth jumped from $240 billion in 1990 to nearly $3 trillion today.

All of this has come, of course, at the cost of austerity and the expense of public programs. In other words, these are the same people who convinced politicians to design unemployment insurance programs to fail working-class people. They’re not the heroes of the crisis — they’re the villains.

The King of Tax Avoidance

The biggest pandemic profiteer is Jeff Bezos. “The closure of hundreds of thousands of small businesses is giving Amazon the opportunity to increase its market share, strengthen its place in the supply chain, and gain more pricing power over consumers,” note the study’s authors.

While it’s true that Amazon is selling and shipping useful goods during the shutdown, it’s also true that Bezos has subjected his employees to dangerous pandemic-related working conditions, which they aren’t permitted to avoid unless they want to miss a paycheck. As a result, Amazon warehouses all over the country have become hotbeds of COVID-19. When workers have stood up for their safety and that of the public, they’ve faced retaliation, including being fired and even publicly smeared.

Over the course of the crisis, Bezos’s wealth has increased $25 billion, more than the annual GDPs of eighty-eight countries. In demonstration of his philanthropic largesse, he gave $100 million of that to the charity Feeding America.

Of course, Bezos is also the king of not paying taxes, the very habit of the mega-rich which has brought the welfare state to its knees, compounding the mass working-class suffering caused by the economic shutdown. But don’t let that distract you. SOURCE

Pandemic pauses pollution. But what’s next for climate?

In the pandemic, people worldwide are proving they can make personal sacrifices that benefit others. Researchers say now’s the time to push for more policies requiring similar efforts for climate change.
The snowcapped Dhauladhar range of the Himalayas are clearly visible in Dharmsala, India, April 10, 2020. Cleaner air during India’s closure of schools, industries, and transport is one bonus during the pandemic, in the country with six out of 10 of the world’s most polluted cities.

Earlier this month, health care experts from across the United States gathered to address hundreds of journalists and policymakers by webinar. But their focus was not testing, nor vaccines, nor “herd immunity.” It was not even COVID-19, really. Instead, their focus was climate change.

“While many see issues like climate change and biodiversity loss as far from what’s going on right now … I see this as the time to talk about it,” said Aaron Bernstein, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School. “Climate solutions are, in fact, pandemic solutions.”

A few days later, economists and policy experts with the World Resources Institute held their own panel discussion. The message was similar, and the audience one of the largest in the organization’s history. The experience of and response to COVID-19, proclaimed expert after expert, was intricately tied to climate.

Indeed, increasing numbers of researchers and policymakers, scientists and health care practitioners, are looking at the coronavirus through an ecological lens. Whether they are focused on consumer behavioral shifts, changes in emission outputs, or policy decisions that might help or hurt long-term goals for green infrastructure, they are seeing in this moment a pivotal chance to address climate change.

“As we respond to the very imminent economic and health crisis, can we also tackle the climate and sustainability crisis?” asked Manish Bapna, WRI’s managing director and executive vice president.

A holy presence

There have been a number of short-term environmental shifts connected with how the world is coping with the pandemic. China’s carbon emissions dropped 18% between the beginning of February and mid-March, according to data compiled by the website CarbonBrief. Pollution over India has decreased dramatically, according to satellite images from NASA’s Earth Observatory. And in the U.S., a dramatic decrease in air travel, as well as a drop in vehicular travel, has also lowered emissions.

Mike Blake/Reuters
In Encinitas, California, April 2, 2020, about 100 miles south of Los Angeles, residents are experiencing air quality that one study says is about 20% better than normal in the southern part of the state. Gov. Gavin Newsom on March 19 restricted nonessential activity for nearly 40 million people.

But many of these changes are temporary, researchers say, and may barely register on any long-term analysis of global carbon emissions. The drop in China’s carbon output, for instance, came alongside a lockdown over much of the country and a related plunge in factory operations. As the country reopens, says Fang Li, chief representative of the World Resources Institute in Beijing, emissions are expected to rebound along with the economy. After the global financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, Dr. Fang and others point out, global emissions grew rapidly.

Renewing a focus

For many climate advocates, this is a reason to push green initiatives now. Environmentalists worry that unless policymakers focus on climate as part of their economic packages, the pandemic could lead to policy shifts that would undermine years of hard-won climate victories. Indeed, the Trump administration in late March announced that it would weaken Obama-era fuel standards that mandate increased fuel efficiencies for automobiles. It also announced last month that the Environmental Protection Agency will not enforce environmental regulations during the pandemic.

“What we have to worry about is whether … policy changes are going to be long term or short term,” says Christopher Jones, director of the CoolClimate Network at the University of California, Berkeley. “If we roll back standards and they remain in place when the economy comes back, we are going to have a real problem.”

Researchers say that a green economic stimulus package could both help the U.S. ensure long-term sustainability and rebound from the crushing economic impact of the pandemic. (More than 26 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits since March 15, according to the U.S. Labor Department.) Many environmentalists look at the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the stimulus package signed by President Barack Obama in 2009, as an example of how government initiatives can spur climate-friendly industry. That bill, which earmarked some $90 billion to promote green energy, is widely credited with launching the widespread renewable energy sector in the U.S.

“Economic measures should focus on climate as well as jobs and livelihood,” Mr. Bapna said during the WRI panel.

But as Kenneth Gillingham, a professor at Yale University and a research fellow at the National Bureau of Economics Research, points out, the pandemic itself has slowed renewable energy efforts.

“There’s a slowing down of building new solar farms, of new wind facilities,” he says. “Some projects are hitting the pause button. Other projects may not happen for a long time.”

And while there is hope for a green renewal, he suspects the future will be a good deal more nuanced.

“Entirely rebuilding our economy as a green economy? It’s a wonderful vision, but I don’t believe that’s what we’ll likely see,” he says.

Inequality, exacerbated

But a move toward environmental sustainability, says Dr. Bernstein, is going to be crucial not only for combatting a climate crisis, but for helping some of the people most impacted by the coronavirus. As he points out, both the pandemic and the impacts from climate change disproportionately affect people of color and other marginalized groups.

There is, he and others say, a hopeful lesson to be taken from the massive lifestyle and economic shifts seen across the globe in response to COVID-19.  For years, popular wisdom has said that people simply would not engage in the sort of behavior changes necessary to fight climate change; that they wouldn’t stop traveling, wouldn’t stop consuming, wouldn’t sacrifice material comforts and help save others who are most immediately at risk from climate change. Now, the response to the pandemic suggests otherwise.

“We are able to mobilize the entire global economy and population for an imminent threat,” says Dr. Jones. “Both climate change and this pandemic both affect the most vulnerable. But everybody is willing to make personal sacrifices to protect the most vulnerable. I think that’s quite new.”

The question, he and others say, is whether people will be able to see climate change as a similarly “imminent threat,” deserving of action. While climate researchers look at the world’s increasingly frequent and severe natural disasters and see a direct connection to human behavior, research shows that most everyday people still feel disconnected from both the impacts and causes of climate change.

“We don’t experience risk properly,” says Katharine Hayhoe, professor and director of the Texas Tech University Climate Science Center.

But with the coronavirus, researchers say, there is a chance to shift. SOURCE

‘It’s not like milk, you can’t dump it’: As oil storage runs out in Canada, desperation sets in

As storage tanks fill up, producers search for any other solution that can help them keep their oil rather than pay someone to take it off their hands. JACK DAGLEY/SUN MEDIA

The scenario that many oil executives feared is starting to play out: Storage space is filling up and there’s nowhere to put their oil.

“It’s not like milk, you can’t dump it into the fields,” said Elias Foscolos, a Calgary-based analyst with Industrial Alliance Securities Inc. “There’s people looking at doing anything possible… somebody’s probably calling up every single independent closed service station and saying, ‘Hey is there a storage tank there? We’ll pay you.”

The historical proportion of the current oil market imbalance and the fears about running out of oil storage came into sharp relief last week when the price of WTI crude for delivery in May fell to negative US$40 per barrel — meaning one party pays another party to take a barrel of oil.

It marked the first time the price of oil dropped below zero and came amid social distancing measures meant to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Analysts estimate global demand for oil has dropped 30 per cent as people work from home and air travel all but stops. Now, even as oil producers dial back output, there is excess supply.

In Canada, there are already reports of oil producers searching for creative solutions as the amount of oil in tanks moves closer to the rims, including using rail cars that normally transport crude, or setting up temporary storage facilities in vacant fields, and using tanks that would otherwise hold fluids for fracking.

Dan Halyk, chief executive of Total Energy Inc., which normally services the energy industry, said the drop in demand has provided an opportunity for his company to “make some lemonade out of lemons.”

While companies have drastically cut back budgets for drilling new wells and other expansions, Halyk said that about a month ago, oil producers started inquiring about the cost of using his company’s tanks, which normally hold fracking fluids.

Since then, the calls have been increasing, he said, with companies attempting to set up temporary storage facilities.

“Nowadays, a tank is a tank,” said Halyk. “If you’ve got to pay someone to take your oil, it probably makes a lot of sense” to find a storage solution.

Each of his tanks only holds about 400 barrels, but he said the company can set up a system with 200 or 300 tanks with a temporary berm in a matter of days. Meanwhile, the regulatory and construction process to build a permanent storage facility can take more than a year.

“We call them tank farms,” said Halyk, adding, “We can go day to day, month to month. We’re in competitive bidding situations.” He declined to say which companies have used his company’s services or at what cost.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported Tuesday that a few oil traders in the U.S. are spending as much as US$100,000 per day to hire fuel tankers as storage vessels, and that, globally, storage capacity was at 85 per cent last week.

We have built Canadian energy to work on a ‘just in time’ system — the way Apple uses its supply chain

ELIAS FOSCOLOS, ANALYST, INDUSTRIAL ALLIANCE SECURITIES

Exactly how close Canada is to reaching its storage capacity is a matter of debate, given that there is little data on the topic.

According to Foscolos’ back-of-the-envelope calculations, about four million to five million barrels of oil was being produced in Western Canada daily before COVID-19 affected output. There are about 55 million barrels of oil storage capacity — about half of which is being used at any given moment, he said.

“We’re just talking about three to four days of capacity,” said Foscolos. “It’s not like we have weeks or months like a strategic reserve. We have built Canadian energy to work on a ‘just in time’ system — the way Apple uses its supply chain.”

He suggested that the Canadian energy sector may rethink its oil storage strategy after the current crisis.

At other storage hubs, such as at Cushing, Okla., a 500,000-barrel tank may be available on a short term or monthly basis, but Canada’s storage is already under long-term contract with producers. Other storage tanks are used to manage the flow of oil through pipelines, according to Foscolos.

“It’s like your sewer system in a sense,” he said. “It’s not designed to store, it’s designed to manage flow.”

Calgary-based Gibson Energy Inc., which claims that one in four barrels of oil produced in Western Canada passes through its facilities, controls 10 million barrels of storage capacity. In an April 2019 presentation on its investor day, it estimated that 80 per cent of its EBITDA, a measure of cashflow, comes from long-term contracts.

One industry source said Gibson is currently using its fleet of hundreds of railcars for storage. To put it in perspective, a storage tank typically holds at least 500,000 barrels of oil, while a rail car holds about 500 barrels.

While such measures may provide some cushion to absorb the drastic shock to oil demand, most analysts say reaching the storage limit is merely a prelude to shut ins.

Unless more production shuts down, the extracted oil will literally have nowhere else to be stored

BJORNAR TONHAUGEN, HEAD OF OIL MARKETS , RYSTAD ENERGY

“Based on announced and anticipated production cuts through the second quarter, we expected Western Canadian crude oil inventories to build beyond available capacity,” analyst Randy Ollenberger at BMO Capital Markets wrote earlier this month.

Once this happens, Ollenberger said, crude oil prices may well drop to zero, unless or perhaps until oil production drops closer to demand through shut-ins, cuts in output or mandated curtailment.

Western Canadian Select, the heavy oil benchmark, was trading down 28 per cent to US$4.86 per barrel Tuesday, having briefly slipped below zero earlier in the month.

Rystad Energy’s Head of Oil Markets Bjornar Tonhaugen wrote in a note Tuesday that the “greatest energy crisis in history” may be coming if producers don’t act more quickly to cut production, estimating that global storage would run out sometime in May.

“Unless more production shuts down, the extracted oil will literally have nowhere else to be stored,” Tonhaugen wrote. “Which implies a forced shutdown across several locations. This is not something the industry has ever seen or ever been prepared for, maybe that is why we see a slow reaction. A major shock is brewing for producers.”  SOURCE

Are we witnessing the death of the car?

Cities around the world are seeing dwindling numbers of fossil-fuel powered cars on their streets, and many are planning to keep it that way after lockdowns ease.

As global lockdowns keep most people at home, congestion-riddled, pollution-choked streets around the world have transformed into empty, eerily silent spaces. The most conspicuous absentee is the car, as personal vehicles remain parked in driveways and side streets.

This lack of cars has contributed to a sudden drop in emissions of carbon dioxide, pollutants like nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter. Its effect on oil prices has been not so much a drop as an implosion. Some cities have temporarily turned emptier streets into walking and cycling-only zones to enable socially distanced exercise. Meanwhile, Milan – the epicentre of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak – announced it would transform 35km (21.7 miles) of its streets for cycling post-lockdown. Could this pandemic, a global emergency, actually catalyse an ongoing movement towards cleaner air – and might Milan’s scheme form a blueprint for cities that have repeatedly tried to tackle the domination of the car?

The pandemic’s impact on the environment has been staggering. Carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are heading for a record 5.5-5.7% annual drop. From mid-January to mid-February, China’s carbon emissions fell by around 25%. In Delhi, a city with often the worst air quality in the world, pollution caused by PM2.5s reduced by roughly 75% as traffic congestion dropped by 59%. A 70% reduction in toxic nitrogen oxides was reported in Paris, while satellite imagery showed nitrogen dioxide levels in Milan fell by about 40%. In the UK, road travel has decreased by as much as 73% and in London, toxic emissions at major roads and junctions fell by almost 50%.

Although car use has decreased, so has public transport use. Services have been reduced, the need for travel has declined, and a public fear of using it has grown, now that proximity to strangers has become synonymous with infection risk. Some Chinese cities, including Wuhan – where the coronavirus outbreak began – shut down public transport entirely to reduce risk of contagion. The urban mobility app Moovit reported that public transport ridership has dropped on average by 78% worldwide, with Milan and Rome, for example, seeing a decrease of 89%.

Images from the European Space Agency show NO2 emissions in Paris in March 2020 were down significantly compared with the same period in 2019 (Credit: Reuters)

Where car, bus and train journeys have been dwindling, bicycles have been picking up the slack. As a form of isolated transport that doubles as exercise – that is much easier given the wealth of empty streets – cycling has become more appealing in a number of cities. In March, use of bike-share systems increased by roughly 150% in Beijing and 67% in New York, where cycling on main thoroughfares increased by 52%. Meanwhile, cycling traffic increased by 151% on trails in Philadelphia and in April Dundee saw cycling traffic increase by 94%.

Cities that seize this moment to make it easier for people to walk, bike and take public transport will prosper after this pandemic and not simply recover from it – Janette Sadik-Khan

To accommodate streets now busier with bikes, as well as facilitate social distancing, some places have installed temporary cycle lanes or closed streets to cars. Pop-up bike lanes have appeared in cities including Berlin, Budapest, Mexico City, New York, Dublin and Bogotá. Governments from New Zealand to Scotland have made funding available for temporary cycle lanes and walkways amid the pandemic. In Brussels, the entire city core will become a priority zone for cyclists and pedestrians from early May for the forseeable future. Meanwhile, temporary street closures to cars have taken place in Brighton, Bogotá, Cologne, Vancouver and Sydney as well as multiple US cities including Boston, Denver and Oakland. In England, restrictions have been lifted to enable and encourage councils to more quickly close streets to cars.

But these, of course, are temporary measures. What will happen as lockdowns are lifted?

There are widespread concerns that as travel resumes, people will avoid public transport amid continuing fears of the virus and instead turn to private cars, clogging roads and causing pollution, perhaps even more so than before. Chinese cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, are already seeing this happen(Read more about how air pollution exacerbates Covid-19.)

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The easing of lockdowns has not meant a flood of people returning to public transport in China, where many stations remain quiet (Credit: Getty Images)

It is with this in mind that Milan announced its plan to make changes in the wake of the pandemic that support alternatives to driving. “In order to prevent an excessive use of private cars, with the consequent increase in air pollution, the city of Milan will encourage the use of bicycles,” its announcement states. As travel restrictions are lifted, the government will begin construction on the cycle lanes – all of which take space away from cars – alongside implementing reduced speed limits and widened pavements.

This is far from a ban on cars, but it does suggest a shift towards more sustainable forms of transport in the long term, catalysed by the pandemic. So could other cities follow suit?

Janette Sadik-Khan, a former transportation commissioner for New York City and principal with Bloomberg Associates, is working with Milan and other cities on their “transport recovery” programmes. “The pandemic challenges us, but it also offers a once-in-a-lifetime chance to change course and repair the damage from a century of car-focused streets,” she says. “Cities that seize this moment to reallocate space on their streets to make it easier for people to walk, bike and take public transport will prosper after this pandemic and not simply recover from it.”

In the Colombian city of Bogotá, mayor Claudia López closed 117km (72.7 miles) of streets to cars in order to make cycling and walking easier during the coronavirus lockdown. Though these streets are typically closed every Sunday – in the long-running, pro-cycling initiative Ciclovía – Lopez has extended the closure throughout weekdays too, as well as added 80km (49.7 miles) of cycle lanes to the city’s existing network of 550km (341.7 miles).

The mayor of Bogotá, Claudia López, has extended closures of streets to cars and opened additional cycle routes during lockdown (Credit: Getty Images)

“Covid-19 safety now piles up with all the other advantages to cycling in Bogotá, and we are exploring other measures, in addition to new cycle lanes, that should increase not only infrastructure but also access to bicycles and other safe and clean transportation alternatives,” explains Bogotá’s environment secretary Carolina Urrutia Vásquez. “Hopefully these will remain primary transportation choices, as well as ‘last mile’ alternatives, past the current crisis.”

We have the opportunity to see what would our cities look like when we are designing for people, not cars – Samu Balogh

In Paris, where mayor Anne Hidalgo’s Plan Vélo had already promised to make every street cycle-friendly by 2024 and remove 72% of Paris’s on-street car parking spaces, a post-lockdown plan was announced that includes creating temporary cycle lanes following metro line routes, for those hesitant to return to public transport. The planned construction of permanent cycle highways has also been accelerated in response to the crisis.

At the national level, Pierre Serne – president of cycling association Club des Villes et Territoires Cyclables – was asked by French minister Élisabeth Borne to coordinate a sustainable post-lockdown mobility plan. “We anticipate a lot of people will chose cycling instead of public transportation,” says Serne. “It could potentially mean millions of new bikes in streets and therefore we have to be able to provide adequate facilities. If we failed, the only alternative might be millions more cars and that would be a nightmare in terms of pollution and congestion. I am willing (and rather confident) to see these temporary measures become permanent because, pandemic or not, cycling is one of the cleanest and healthiest ways to move, especially in urban areas.”

In Budapest, new temporary cycle lanes are due to last until September – but maybe further. “We are constantly monitoring the use of the temporary bike lanes, and we are hoping that a good many of them could remain in place,” says Samu Balogh, the mayor’s chief of staff. “The pandemic has changed transport globally… We have the opportunity to see what would our cities look like when we are designing for people, not cars.” Such thinking builds upon existing efforts from the city to eliminate road deaths, which includes decreasing car numbers and lowering speed limits.

“In the long term we are working towards implementing traffic-calming measures and new bike lanes so we can create a more inviting environment for cycling and walking,” says Balogh.

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Rare sights like blue skies in Delhi have shown that “dramatic change is indeed possible,” says the World Institute’s Claudia Adriazola-Steil (Credit: Getty Images)

In the UK, London mayor Sadiq Khan has made clear that the capital’s cleaner air should not be temporary and that the ongoing challenge is to “eradicate air pollution permanently”. Xavier Brice, chief executive of the walking and cycling charity Sustrans, believes the country’s recovery “can be a catalyst for positive, long-lasting change in the way we live and move around” and hopes that temporary cycling and walking measures – which Sustrans lobbied for – “inform future road space planning, after lockdown is lifted”.

The future will be very different, and I’m convinced it will be much more local – Shannon Lawrence

It seems this may take effect in Manchester. “When restrictions are lifted, rather than returning to business as usual, we need to take the opportunity to see how we can support more people to choose to walk or cycle, instead of travel by car,” says city councillor Angeliki Stogia, who leads Manchester’s environment, planning and transport strategy. There are also developments at the national level, as the government’s recently published De-Carbonising Transport report outlines a strategy for reducing car use in order to tackle climate change, in line with the country’s commitment to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. It has also committed to ban the sale of new petrol, diesel or hybrid cars in the UK from 2035 to help achieve this.

Which brings up an important point: it is petrol and diesel cars, rather than electric vehicles (EVs) that contribute to carbon emissions and toxic air in cities. Electric vehicles have steadily increased in popularity over the last decade: BloombergNEF reported in 2019 that more than two million EVs were sold in 2018, up from just a few thousand in 2010. It predicts sales will rise to 56 million by 2040. But EVs are not problem-free: they are expensive, require sufficient and widespread charging facilities, and still contribute to congestion on city streets. In a low-carbon future, however, electric cars – especially those that are shared – could form one part of a multi-modal transport infrastructure.

So in these cities’ efforts to ensure healthier air, outright bans on cars don’t feature as a core approach. But, if their plans are successful, combustion-engine cars may well become a rarer sight.

The approach in many cities has not been to ban the conventional combustion-engine car, but to make healthier and more sustainable options more convenient (Credit: Getty Images)

It’s hard to say what will happen next, especially as we don’t know when “next” will be. But the sudden drop in pollution and improvement of air quality around the world has been a wake-up call, not least in light of studies showing that pollution makes Covid-19 more deadly and could even contribute to the spread of the virus. The coronavirus pandemic struck at a time of climate emergency, an emergency caused in part by the huge amount of greenhouse gas emissions released into the atmosphere – much of which comes from cars. This pandemic may have inadvertently triggered an environmental reprieve, but it has not stopped climate change.

On 22 April, Earth Day catalysed calls for the current crisis to be a turning point in our relationship with nature. “We must act decisively to protect our planet from both the coronavirus and the existential threat of climate disruption,” says UN Secretary General António Guterres. “We need to turn the recovery into a real opportunity to do things right for the future.” Just like viruses, he noted, greenhouse gases do not respect national boundaries either.

Tackling air pollution and climate degradation is high on the list for the new Global Mayors Covid-19 Recovery Task Force, coordinated by C40 Cities, which sees mayors worldwide collaborate to achieve a climate-friendly economic recovery from the pandemic. “The future will be very different, and I’m convinced it will be much more local – more cycle deliveries, more working from home and more school runs made by bike or walking,” says Shannon Lawrence, C40’s director of global initiatives. “All of which means fewer cars on the road, which in turn means improved air quality, better public health and a major contribution to tackling the climate crisis.”

This Covid-19 crisis is allowing us a glimpse of what a changed world looks like with far fewer cars and much cleaner air – Claudia Adriazola-Steil

Implementing restrictions on cars has different practical and political limitations around the world, however. In places like Milan, Bogotá and Paris, there have long been bottom-up and top-down efforts towards more sustainable mobility – from car-free days to successful bike-share systems. Change is perhaps easier in these places, although not simple.

Space is of course political, and so supporting and ensuring sufficient space for non-motorised transport and the spectrum of users who have livelihoods dependent on space(s) is crucial,” says Rashiq Fataar, chief executive of Cape Town-based NGO Our Future Cities, which works with cities across the African continent. “Transport options which are safe, clean, less crowded and more efficient should be the benchmark, but transport planning must begin to see itself as part of a system providing economic and social ‘access’ in our cities.”

Indeed, a decline in car use cannot be expected unless people have efficient, accessible and affordable alternative options. But as Fataar points out, mobility is linked to every aspect of life in cities, and a change in car use may only be possible if issues around housing, public services and work culture are addressed too. Such huge volumes of commuting, for instance, may not be necessary if working from home is made easier, services are more equally distributed geographically or people can afford to live within walking distance of their work.

Policy and behaviour change may take a long time, but there exists a building momentum across the world that recognises car-free streets as a critical way of tackling the urgent climate crisis, as well as a strategy to improve health and wellbeing. This pandemic has resulted in countless forced changes to our lifestyles, economies and environments. Seeing what’s possible can lead to change – the question is how to ensure the change resulting from this global emergency improves health for people and planet.

We are a long way off from the demise of the car, but as the world seeks to recover from the collective trauma of the Covid-19 pandemic, perhaps the willingness to tackle another deadly emergency – outdoor air pollution causes  – will get stronger.

“This Covid-19 crisis is allowing us a glimpse of what a changed world looks like with far fewer cars and much cleaner air,” says Claudia Adriazola-Steil, deputy director of the Urban Mobility Program at the World Resources Institute. “Dramatic change is indeed possible.” SOURCE

Paris Has a Plan to Keep Cars Out After Lockdown

As the city prepares to end lockdown, Mayor Anne Hidalgo plans to use bike lanes, buses, and social distancing to keep more cars off the roads and reduce pollution.

The Rue de Rivoli, a central route in Paris, will be devoted mostly to bike and pedestrian traffic after lockdown is lifted. Cyril Marcilhacy/Bloomberg

Returning to a Paris dominated by cars after lockdown ends is “out of the question,” according to the city’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo. Speaking Tuesday at a special session of the Paris City Council on transitioning after France’s national lockdown eases on May 11, Hidalgo was emphatic about maintaining the anti-pollution and anti-congestion measures introduced during her tenure, even as cities rethink transportation policies to avoid Covid-19 transmission.

“I say in all firmness that it is out of the question that we allow ourselves to be invaded by cars, and by pollution,” she said. “It will make the health crisis worse. Pollution is already in itself a health crisis and a danger — and pollution joined up with coronavirus is a particularly dangerous cocktail. So it’s out of the question to think that arriving in the heart of the city by car is any sort of solution, when it could actually aggravate the situation.”

During the height of lockdowns around the world, car traffic slowed to a trickle and air pollution plummeted with it. But as cities consider how to reopen while avoiding crowding on public transportation, it remains unknown how intense the surge in car use will be. This adds new urgency to Hidalgo’s pre-pandemic agenda to dramatically reduce the footprint of cars on the city. And she is joining several other European city leaders in strengthening commitments to cultivate other modes of transportation, particularly biking.
Hidalgo’s assertion of a link between Covid-19 and pollution is not without foundation. Already in the pandemic’s infancy, studies have suggested a link between poor air quality and Covid-19 deaths. Researchers at Harvard found that an increase in particulate pollution of just one microgram per cubic meter could increase a sufferer’s chances of dying by 15%. Air pollution is also known to exacerbate conditions such as asthma that may make the risk of Covid-19 mortality higher.

Hidalgo’s anti-car program is focused on remodeling the city core to make more space for pedestrians and cyclists, while barring older, more polluting cars from entering the city. This process has seen major thoroughfares for motor vehicles pedestrianized and the steady phasing out of car lanes and parking spots to create wider sidewalks and greenery. Earlier this year, Paris adopted a 15-minute neighborhood blueprint for future development that would see yet more of the city’s surface area taken away from car lanes and repurposed as community spaces.

Hidalgo’s statement shows a clear refusal to backtrack on this push. It may also be a hint of new forthcoming plans to restrict car access. The end of lockdown on May 11 will not mean the return of normal transit habits nationally: Anyone wishing to travel beyond a 100-kilometer zone around Paris, pictured in the image tweeted below, will require official permission from national authorities. Even if it does not affect commuters, this restriction should still mean that motor traffic in Paris will not immediately return to pre-pandemic levels.

Tom Liard – #LostInConfinement@Thomas_Liard

Comment savoir si vous respectez bien la zone des 100 kilomètres, après le déconfinement du 11 mai ? 🧐http://www.oalley.fr/map/7rj6 

View image on Twitter
The tracks were already in the pipeline before the pandemic, but they’ve been expedited as an emergency measures so that more people across Greater Paris can commute by bike. Within Paris itself, the new broad cycle paths will be carved out from road space to shadow the route of three metro lines. For the immediate future,  the axial Rue de Rivoli will become a space almost entirely for pedestrians and cyclists, with buses and taxis circulating only along a narrow central strip of the road. SOURCE

Climate experts call for ‘dangerous’ Michael Moore film to be taken down

Planet of the Humans, which takes aim at the green movement, is ‘full of misinformation’, says one online library

A new Michael Moore-produced documentary that takes aim at the supposed hypocrisy of the green movement is “dangerous, misleading and destructive” and should be removed from public viewing, according to an assortment of climate scientists and environmental campaigners.

The film, Planet of the Humans, was released on the eve of Earth Day last week by its producer, Michael Moore, the baseball cap-wearing documentarian known for Fahrenheit 9/11 and Bowling for Columbine. Describing itself as a “full-frontal assault on our sacred cows”, the film argues that electric cars and solar energy are unreliable and rely upon fossil fuels to function. It also attacks figures including Al Gore for bolstering corporations that push flawed technologies over real solutions to the climate crisis.

Planet of the Humans has provoked a furious reaction from scientists and campaigners, however, who have called for it be taken down. Films for Action, an online library of videos, temporarily took down the film after describing it as “full of misinformation”, though they later reinstated it, saying they did not want accusations of censorship to give the film “more power and mystique than it deserves”. A free version on YouTube has been viewed more than 3m times.

letter written by Josh Fox, who made the documentary Gasland, and signed by various scientists and activists, has urged the removal of “shockingly misleading and absurd” film for making false claims about renewable energy. Planet of the Humans “trades in debunked fossil fuel industry talking points” that question the affordability and reliability of solar and wind energy, the letter states, pointing out that these alternatives are now cheaper to run than fossil fuels such as coal.

Michael Mann, a climate scientist and signatory to Fox’s letter, said the film includes “various distortions, half-truths and lies” and that the filmmakers “have done a grave disservice to us and the planet by promoting climate change inactivist tropes and talking points.” The film’s makers did not respond to questions over whether it will be pulled down.

Planet of the Humans has been shown at Moore’s Traverse City film festival, where the producer said it was “perhaps the most urgent film we’ve shown in the 15-year history of our film festival”. Jeff Gibbs, who wrote and directed the film, has suggested that unrestrained economic and population growth should be the target of environmentalists’ efforts rather than technological fixes.

Climate activist Bill McKibben, one of the targets for the film for allegedly being influenced by corporate money and for supporting the burning of biomass such as wood chips for energy, said the characterisations are untrue. McKibben has previously changed his views on biomass energy, which he now sees as being detrimental to climate action, and claims he has “never taken a penny in pay” from any environmental group.

“I am used to ceaseless harassment and attack from the fossil fuel industry, and I’ve done my best to ignore a lifetime of death threats from rightwing extremists,” McKibben said. “It does hurt more to be attacked by others who think of themselves as environmentalists.”

Renewable energy has long been portrayed as expensive and unreliably intermittent by oil and gas companies and their lobby groups, which have spent several decades questioning the veracity of climate science and undermining efforts to radically reduce planet-heating emissions.

In fact, the technology used for wind and solar energy has improved markedly in recent years, while the costs have plummeted. While electric cars often require fossil fuel-generated energy to produce them and provide the electricity to fuel them, research has shown they still emit less greenhouse gas and air pollutants over their lifetime than a standard petrol or diesel car.

Generating all power from renewables will take significant upgrades of grid infrastructure and storage but several researchers have declared the goal feasible, most likely with carbon-capture technology for remaining fossil fuel plants. Scientists say the world must reach net zero emissions by 2050 to head off disastrous global heating, which would likely spur worsening storms, heatwaves, sea level rise and societal unrest. SOURCE

Michael Moore, filmmakers respond to criticism of new bombshell environmental film

Academy award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore and associates discuss their new documentary, ‘Planet of the Humans,’ a documentary that says we are selling out the green movement to wealthy interests and corporate America.