Leaked audit suggests B.C. environment rules for energy industry being ignored

The report about caribou protection was sent anonymously to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. The audit, conducted in 2014, looked at whether oil and gas companies near Fort Nelson were following provincials rules put in place to protect declining caribou herds. (Brennan Linsley/The Associated Press)

VICTORIA — A leaked audit of oil and gas practices in northeastern British Columbia suggests rules to reduce the impact of industry on caribou habitat are being routinely ignored.

“The audit identified a number of issues with the (interim operating procedures) and a trend of non-compliance with the measures contained within it,” says the 2014 audit conducted for the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission.

The audit was never released and only came to light after it was leaked to Ben Parfitt, an energy researcher with the left-leaning Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives think tank.

The information’s release comes as the province continues its fight against the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion from Alberta on environmental grounds.

“I think there’s a great deal of inconsistency here,” Parfitt said Monday. “There is real ongoing ecological damage being done in the northeast, and the province, so far, has failed to do anything about that.”

The audit examined dozens of wells, pipelines, roads and seismic lines in the Montney area around Fort Nelson. It used aerial surveys and on-site visits to find out how closely energy companies were following guidelines developed by the province and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers for development on caribou habitat.

The guidelines are part of the province’s caribou recovery plan for what is considered a species of special concern. They govern the size of well pads, width of roads, seismic lines, sight lines for predators and treatment of shores and banks.

A commission spokesman said the audit wasn’t released because it was undertaken before some of the new rules were brought in. Phil Rygg said it also didn’t distinguish between the size of multi-well pads and single-well pads, although the document clearly addresses that issue.

“The commission continues to actively work to protect B.C.’s boreal caribou habitat using evidence-based practices that support wildlife protection while meeting the province’s energy plan goals,” said Rygg.

Almost $8 million has been invested in caribou research over the last four years, he added.

The audit said it was limited by its short time span and weather conditions. Performance also varied in different areas and between different companies, it noted.

But, overall, the audit found none of the pipelines or roads and 38 per cent of well sites followed guidelines.

Well pads routinely exceeded the two-hectare limit. Although the auditors were told those pads were for multiple wells, few had more than two wells and those were often suspended.

Pits were often dug immediately adjacent to the pads, making them as large as seven hectares. The auditors found little evidence of interim remediation at the sites.

While seismic lines were conforming to the rules, roads and pipelines were built side by side, which created long, straight lines through the forest up to 80 metres wide. Developments ran right up to water bodies with no buffer zones.

The audit also found the rules had no way of measuring or limiting development’s cumulative effects.

“Not only was compliance low in general, but often these measures were not prescriptive enough, allowing companies to avoid them or seek exemptions from them,” the audit said. “Long-term cumulative effects are not addressed and cannot be addressed as the current (regulation) is laid out.”

Parfitt pointed out the audit isn’t the first document to raise questions about B.C.’s environmental sincerity.

He said his research has found 92 unlicensed dams operating in the area to store water for fracking. Some are as tall as seven storeys. In another case, a report on how drilling and fracking for natural gas was contaminating groundwater near well sites was posted on the commission’s website the day after a reporter with a leaked copy started asking about it.

“This is the third instance where information has come to light where it appears rules were being broken and not much was being done about it,” Parfitt said.

“We have a government here that is making an awful lot of noise about the environmental impact of a proposed pipeline. Meanwhile, ongoing significant ecological damage is occurring and we have a government that is encouraging even more of that activity.” SOURCE

As Western premiers blow smoke on carbon tax, youth organize for climate justice

Image: Spence Mann
Image: Spence Mann

Justin Trudeau’s re-election has unleashed political outrage in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is talking about Alberta’s being “betrayed” while Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe sent a letter to Trudeau demanding the cancellaiton of the federal carbon tax, support for various pipelines, and a renegotiation of the formula for equalization payments.

I’ll withhold detailed comment on equalization payments, other than to say that for many years, Saskatchewan was a “have-not” province that relied heavily upon them. But let’s look more closely at Moe’s letter as it relates to the carbon tax and pipelines. Moe’s strident demands are likely based upon the election results in Saskatchewan and Alberta, where the Conservatives won 47 of 48 seats. On the other hand, parties supporting a carbon levy won almost two-thirds of the seats and popular vote across Canada.

It is significant, too, that the results in Alberta and Saskatchewan were not monolithic. In Alberta, 28 per cent of those casting ballots voted for the Liberals, NDP or Greens, and these parties all support a carbon tax. In Saskatchewan, 34 per cent of the electors voted for those three parties. If we had purely proportional representation rather than our flawed first-past-the-post electoral system, parties other than the Conservatives would have 10 seats in Alberta and five in Saskatchewan. So Kenney and Moe cannot say that they are speaking on behalf of all their constituents.

 Carbon tax haters are delayers and deniers

Kenney, Moe and others constantly repeat the mantra that the carbon tax will be a “job killer” and according to Doug Ford will lead to a recession. But these claims have been challenged. In a February, three independent experts, including the highly respected Don Drummond, concluded: “Economists are virtually unanimous in the view that carbon pricing reduces greenhouse gas emissions at the lowest possible cost to the economy.” British Columbia, Quebec and California are all using some form of carbon tax and their economies are humming along.

If Moe and others are opposed to a carbon tax, what is their suggestion, if any, for a means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? There’s the rub. While Moe, Kenney, Ford and Andrew Scheer rail against the carbon tax, or demand that various pipelines be built, they usually avoid any mention of the climate crisis.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which includes the world’s best climate scientists, has been issuing reports for years. The IPCC reports of late are increasingly urgent in tone. The IPCC now says that global carbon dioxide emissions will have to fall by 45 per cent in 2030, and to reach a net of zero by 2050 to avoid catastrophic damage.

The Trudeau government — implausibly, many suggest — has promised that it is on course to meet those targets and that a carbon tax is the rightful centerpiece of that effort. Ottawa believes the tax will encourage a market shift away from fossil fuels toward renewable sources of energy.

The strategy of the tax’s opponents has shifted from denying the reality of climate change, which is no longer credible, to tactics of delay. During the election campaign, Conservatives said they would require large polluters to pay into a research and development fund for green technology. That plan appeared suspiciously akin to what was being proposed by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the oil industry’s main lobby, which has a close relationship with Andrew Scheer. Tellingly, the proposal contained no associated targets or timetables for reducing emissions, and was described by one analyst as simply “a plan to expand fossil fuel production.”

Support on the street

While premiers Moe and Kenney attempt to delay, there is growing support on the street for climate action. On September 27, hundreds of thousands of people — 500,000 in Montreal alone — marched in climate strikes that took place in 200 Canadian cities and towns. Many of the organizers were youth, and they were participating in a global day of action to demand that our political leaders do more to confront the climate crisis. These youth organizers are looking to the future. Premiers Moe and Kenney are staring into the rear-view mirror. SOURCE

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As Western premiers blow smoke on carbon tax, youth organize for climate justice

Image: Spence Mann
Image: Spence Mann

Justin Trudeau’s re-election has unleashed political outrage in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is talking about Alberta’s being “betrayed” while Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe sent a letter to Trudeau demanding the cancellaiton of the federal carbon tax, support for various pipelines, and a renegotiation of the formula for equalization payments.

I’ll withhold detailed comment on equalization payments, other than to say that for many years, Saskatchewan was a “have-not” province that relied heavily upon them. But let’s look more closely at Moe’s letter as it relates to the carbon tax and pipelines. Moe’s strident demands are likely based upon the election results in Saskatchewan and Alberta, where the Conservatives won 47 of 48 seats. On the other hand, parties supporting a carbon levy won almost two-thirds of the seats and popular vote across Canada.

It is significant, too, that the results in Alberta and Saskatchewan were not monolithic. In Alberta, 28 per cent of those casting ballots voted for the Liberals, NDP or Greens, and these parties all support a carbon tax. In Saskatchewan, 34 per cent of the electors voted for those three parties. If we had purely proportional representation rather than our flawed first-past-the-post electoral system, parties other than the Conservatives would have 10 seats in Alberta and five in Saskatchewan. So Kenney and Moe cannot say that they are speaking on behalf of all their constituents.

 Carbon tax haters are delayers and deniers

Kenney, Moe and others constantly repeat the mantra that the carbon tax will be a “job killer” and according to Doug Ford will lead to a recession. But these claims have been challenged. In a February, three independent experts, including the highly respected Don Drummond, concluded: “Economists are virtually unanimous in the view that carbon pricing reduces greenhouse gas emissions at the lowest possible cost to the economy.” British Columbia, Quebec and California are all using some form of carbon tax and their economies are humming along.

If Moe and others are opposed to a carbon tax, what is their suggestion, if any, for a means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? There’s the rub. While Moe, Kenney, Ford and Andrew Scheer rail against the carbon tax, or demand that various pipelines be built, they usually avoid any mention of the climate crisis.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which includes the world’s best climate scientists, has been issuing reports for years. The IPCC reports of late are increasingly urgent in tone. The IPCC now says that global carbon dioxide emissions will have to fall by 45 per cent in 2030, and to reach a net of zero by 2050 to avoid catastrophic damage.

The Trudeau government — implausibly, many suggest — has promised that it is on course to meet those targets and that a carbon tax is the rightful centerpiece of that effort. Ottawa believes the tax will encourage a market shift away from fossil fuels toward renewable sources of energy.

The strategy of the tax’s opponents has shifted from denying the reality of climate change, which is no longer credible, to tactics of delay. During the election campaign, Conservatives said they would require large polluters to pay into a research and development fund for green technology. That plan appeared suspiciously akin to what was being proposed by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the oil industry’s main lobby, which has a close relationship with Andrew Scheer. Tellingly, the proposal contained no associated targets or timetables for reducing emissions, and was described by one analyst as simply “a plan to expand fossil fuel production.”

Support on the street

While premiers Moe and Kenney attempt to delay, there is growing support on the street for climate action. On September 27, hundreds of thousands of people — 500,000 in Montreal alone — marched in climate strikes that took place in 200 Canadian cities and towns. Many of the organizers were youth, and they were participating in a global day of action to demand that our political leaders do more to confront the climate crisis. These youth organizers are looking to the future. Premiers Moe and Kenney are staring into the rear-view mirror.

Eyeing federal election, Canada’s oil lobby has been arming itself with personal data


This year, for the first time, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has registered with Elections Canada as a third-party advertiser. Illustration by Louise Reimer

Canada’s largest oil and gas lobby group wanted to know more about its supporters.

Their music tastes, the cars they liked, their age, their race, how far they’d go in supporting the energy industry. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) blasted the survey out to its email list in July 2018, but didn’t include terms and conditions and has since declined to say how it planned to use the detailed personal data.

This summer, as the federal election drew closer, CAPP paid for promoted Facebook ads linking to a website that asked for data in the form of a pledge. That link asked CAPP supporters to sign a “pledge to Vote Energy” — signalling support for a seven-page “Vote Energy Platform” — by entering their name, email and postal code. CAPP poured tens of thousands of dollars into sponsored Facebook posts linking to the pledge.

“Canada’s only credible path to meeting its Paris commitments is through increased exports of Canadian natural gas,” reads one part of the platform. (Experts would disagree.)

It’s not clear how CAPP — an extraordinarily powerful and well-resourced lobby group whose membership list is dominated by foreign-owned companies — is using the data it collects. It didn’t answer specific questions from National Observer, and hasn’t divulged its reasoning publicly. But CAPP’s methods mirror political strategies used by American lobbyists to halt climate policy, a National Observer investigation has found.

Experts consulted by National Observer said such data could be used to shape public opinion. By “micro-targeting” members of the public who the data suggests will be sympathetic to CAPP messaging, the lobby could build a network of industry-coordinated grassroots support in key battlegrounds in the federal election, the experts said.

“CAPP is using techniques that we saw developed, to be frank, in Brexit and in the U.S. around the 2016 presidential election and adapting that to the Canadian context” – @MelaneeLThomas

CAPP’s American counterpart already uses these techniques to block climate action, and in 2015, CAPP said in a now-archived press release that it planned to adopt them. Such techniques used “north of the border could make a material difference in the public discourse over energy issues like pipeline development and hydraulic fracturing,” CAPP said at the time.

“(Data collection and micro-targeting) are a key part in building the social-media echo chambers that make people more vulnerable to one-sided messaging that reinforces highly selective and one-dimensional views of Canada and the world,” said Shane Gunster, a communications professor at Simon Fraser University who researches the oil industry’s use of social media.

In this year’s federal election, the climate crisis is a top issue for the first time. The public increasingly supports taking action on the issue, which, at the level of federal policy, has given rise to a nationwide price on carbon as well as stricter air pollution regulations. At the same time, CAPP is campaigning for the opposite: it wants the removal of emissions standards and more government support for the expansion of the fossil fuel industry, the group’s Vote Energy Platform says.

Advocacy groups of all political stripes have always tried to sway the electorate in favour of causes they support, and well-resourced ones like CAPP have always been particularly good at it, said Melanee Thomas, a political scientist at the University of Calgary and Eakin Fellow at McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.

But the data collection aspect of CAPP’s activities is an “escalation of that trend,” Thomas said. Though that escalation has been visible in the U.S. in recent years, it hasn’t yet been widely seen in Canada, she added….

Canada’s largest oil and gas lobby group wanted to know more about its supporters.

Their music tastes, the cars they liked, their age, their race, how far they’d go in supporting the energy industry. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) blasted the survey out to its email list in July 2018, but didn’t include terms and conditions and has since declined to say how it planned to use the detailed personal data.

This summer, as the federal election drew closer, CAPP paid for promoted Facebook ads linking to a website that asked for data in the form of a pledge. That link asked CAPP supporters to sign a “pledge to Vote Energy” — signalling support for a seven-page “Vote Energy Platform” — by entering their name, email and postal code. CAPP poured tens of thousands of dollars into sponsored Facebook posts linking to the pledge.

“Canada’s only credible path to meeting its Paris commitments is through increased exports of Canadian natural gas,” reads one part of the platform. (Experts would disagree.)

It’s not clear how CAPP — an extraordinarily powerful and well-resourced lobby group whose membership list is dominated by foreign-owned companies — is using the data it collects. It didn’t answer specific questions from National Observer, and hasn’t divulged its reasoning publicly. But CAPP’s methods mirror political strategies used by American lobbyists to halt climate policy, a National Observer investigation has found.

Experts consulted by National Observer said such data could be used to shape public opinion. By “micro-targeting” members of the public who the data suggests will be sympathetic to CAPP messaging, the lobby could build a network of industry-coordinated grassroots support in key battlegrounds in the federal election, the experts said.

“CAPP is using techniques that we saw developed, to be frank, in Brexit and in the U.S. around the 2016 presidential election and adapting that to the Canadian context” – @MelaneeLThomas

CAPP’s American counterpart already uses these techniques to block climate action, and in 2015, CAPP said in a now-archived press release that it planned to adopt them. Such techniques used “north of the border could make a material difference in the public discourse over energy issues like pipeline development and hydraulic fracturing,” CAPP said at the time.

“(Data collection and micro-targeting) are a key part in building the social-media echo chambers that make people more vulnerable to one-sided messaging that reinforces highly selective and one-dimensional views of Canada and the world,” said Shane Gunster, a communications professor at Simon Fraser University who researches the oil industry’s use of social media.

In this year’s federal election, the climate crisis is a top issue for the first time. The public increasingly supports taking action on the issue, which, at the level of federal policy, has given rise to a nationwide price on carbon as well as stricter air pollution regulations. At the same time, CAPP is campaigning for the opposite: it wants the removal of emissions standards and more government support for the expansion of the fossil fuel industry, the group’s Vote Energy Platform says.

Advocacy groups of all political stripes have always tried to sway the electorate in favour of causes they support, and well-resourced ones like CAPP have always been particularly good at it, said Melanee Thomas, a political scientist at the University of Calgary and Eakin Fellow at McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.

But the data collection aspect of CAPP’s activities is an “escalation of that trend,” Thomas said. Though that escalation has been visible in the U.S. in recent years, it hasn’t yet been widely seen in Canada, she added.

(Top) A screenshot of a question CAPP asked Energy Citizen supporters in summer 2018; (bottom) A screenshot of the number of people who have taken CAPP’s Vote Energy pledge as of Sept. 26, 2019.

In an August 2018 email, Chelsie Klassen, a spokesperson for CAPP, didn’t answer specific questions about the motivation behind the survey, how many people responded and how the data would be used. The survey “was sent to Canada’s Energy Citizens (CEC) members to help us better understand their interests and improve our content,” she said.

CAPP also didn’t respond to repeated, detailed questions sent in early September 2019 about the Vote Energy pledge and how data collection fits with the lobby group’s election strategy.

“We do not respond to media requests from the National Observer,” a CAPP spokesperson said in response to a different story earlier this month.

All of this raises alarm bells, Thomas said: “Why would they need that kind of information?”

‘The same type of thing that political parties do to win’

At a Calgary event in April 2015, CAPP hosted an official from the oil lobby’s U.S. counterpart, the American Petroleum Institute (API), who made a presentation about micro-targeted campaigns. Deryck Spooner, then the senior director of external mobilization at API, was there to teach CAPP how to implement campaign strategies he tested in the U.S.

“We have won,” Spooner said, in everything from restrictions on oil and gas to climate change regulations.

In one case, an API-led group successfully opposed an attempt by environmentalists to block Canadian oil from being shipped through a harbour in South Portland, Me., CAPP said in a now-deleted press release. API also campaigned in favour of a shipping terminal for liquefied natural gas in Cove Point, Md., near Chesapeake Bay, a project that was approved by federal regulators in 2014.

In an audio recording of his speech at the event, Spooner outlined how API did it. They started by gathering detailed voter profiles through electoral records, surveys and online consumer data, he said, allowing API to micro-target its campaigns — through social media, flyers and other efforts — to areas where it could most effectively elect oil-friendly politicians and defeat policy measures addressing climate change.

“To date, we have about 32.8 million (voter profiles) in 34 states across America,” Spooner said. “That’s important because this is the same type of thing that political parties do to win… This is how we’re actually able to apply pressure on elected officials.”

Through this, Spooner said, API could “impact” 275 members of the U.S. Congress and 34 state governors, along with “thousands” of local governments. Armed with detailed voter profiles, API also built a “grassroots” pro-oil group called Energy Citizens that could mobilize to vote on key issues, Spooner said.

API grew the Energy Citizens base in part by enlisting its member companies to help recruit their employees, investors and other supporters, according to a leaked memo obtained by the environmental advocacy group Greenpeace in 2009.

In a now-archived press release about the speaker series, CAPP praised Spooner’s methods and announced its intent to adopt them.

“CAPP has begun down this road with the creation of its own Energy Citizens campaign,” the 2015 press release said.

“While it will take time to build the kind of numbers API has, it is affirming at these early stages to see what kind of a difference true grassroots engagement can make.”

Ever since public opposition to Northern Gateway — led by First Nations, local communities and environmental groups — resulted in the cancellation of the energy project, CAPP and the fossil fuel industry as a whole have worried that their traditional tools of influencing public policy and governments aren’t as effective as they once were, said Gunster.

“They’ve put lots of resources into supplementing them with public outreach initiatives, to subsidize the participation of pro-oil constituencies in media and public debates about energy, climate and environmental politics,” Gunster said by email.

“Collecting data about Canadians who can be politically mobilized in support of the fossil fuel industry has been a central objective of CAPP’s public outreach campaigns over the last several years.”

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Climate change and biodiversity should be top headline news

We are ill served by traditional media. A list of reliable sources is found here

Image: Philip Bump/Flickr

When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a special report in October warning of how quickly we’re advancing toward irreversible climate chaos, it led the news — for a day. A massive study in May by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services about rapid wildlife extinction met a similar fate.

In Canada, issues like legalization of recreational cannabis pushed aside the climate report, and news about the birth of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s baby buried the biodiversity report everywhere.

In early April, I read front-page stories in the Vancouver Sun about Brexit and the SNC-Lavalin scandal. The third page had a single column headlined, “Grim climate report released,” about an Environment and Climate Change Canada review by 43 scientists showing Canada is warming at twice the global average rate, even faster in the North.

Why aren’t these reports dominating front pages, financial sections and newscasts, highlighting the enormous societal and economic implications? British Columbians know well that climate change is real. We’ve seen glaciers that supply much of our water retreatingmountain pine beetle outbreaks destroying billions of dollars’ worth of trees, smoke from massive wildfires darkening skies for weeks, acidified oceans killing shellfish, and rising seas threatening coastlines.

In an April speech to the Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation‘s Covering Climate Now conference in New York, respected U.S. broadcaster Bill Moyers pointed to research showing, “The combined coverage of climate change by the three major networks and Fox fell from just 260 minutes in 2017 to a mere 142 minutes in 2018,” and “about 1,300 communities across the United States have totally lost news coverage, many from newspaper mergers and closures.”  MORE

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