A Shell insider is behind LNG Canada’s disputed claim about reducing carbon pollution

Headlines of op-eds and sponsored content taken from Postmedia and the Canadian Energy Centre. Background image is handout photo of LNG Canada. Postmedia, Canadian Energy Centre screenshots, LNG Canada photo

A disputed environmental claim publicized by the fossil fuel firms backing a $40-billion liquefied natural gas project in B.C. can be traced back to a lifelong industry insider, who cautioned in interviews that his underlying calculations are “theoretical.”

Rob Seeley has been held up as an independent consultant who has demonstrated the green bona fides of natural gas coming from the proposed B.C. project, LNG Canada. The Coastal GasLink pipeline being built through unceded Wet’suwet’en Nation territory is meant to transport fracked gas to this terminal, where it would be liquefied, loaded onto ships and exported to Asia.

One particular claim by Seeley has taken on a life of its own. It appeared in a piece of sponsored content, or “advertorial,” that LNG Canada paid to have published in Postmedia’s Vancouver Sun in 2018. The claim has been quoted by everyone from federal Conservative finance critic and former cabinet minister Pierre Poilievre to pro-oil and gas websites including one run by Alberta’s energy “war room,” officially known as the Canadian Energy Centre.

Seeley’s claim is that if LNG Canada can ship liquefied natural gas from B.C. to China, and the Asian nation uses it to displace its coal-generated electricity, it would reduce carbon pollution by “60 to 90 million tonnes annually” — a stunning figure that is roughly equivalent to all of B.C.’s annual emissions.

This tantalizing piece of information would seem to underpin what both the federal Liberals and Conservatives have said in support of LNG Canada: that on top of the promised jobs and economic benefits, it could also help the environment. The Trudeau government is on board, chipping in $275 million to the project, while Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has blasted Coastal GasLink opponents.

But there’s a catch: Seeley’s heavily quoted figure represents a disputed conclusion about the benefits of natural gas, and he says he intentionally left out real-world factors in his calculations.

Other analysts point to the fact that natural gas exploitation releases methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas, while renewable energy sources are rapidly becoming cost-competitive with coal and gas in China. What’s more, the man behind the famous figure is not just a run-of-the-mill energy consultant. LNG Canada did not return a request for comment.

Rob Seeley appears in an advertisement from Shell Canada about exploiting oil in the oilsands. Wunderman Thompson Toronto screenshot

‘I was hired by LNG Canada’

In a series of interviews with National Observer, Seeley acknowledged that much of his career was spent with Shell Canada, the subsidiary of British-Dutch firm Shell that has the largest slice of the LNG Canada joint venture. Shell owns 40 per cent, Malaysia’s Petronas owns 25 per cent, Japan’s Mitsubishi and PetroChina own 15 per cent each, and the Korea Gas Corporation owns five per cent.

Seeley said he’s a chemical engineer with 40 years of experience in energy projects like gas plants and refinery retrofits, as well as oilsands development, and emissions management. At one point, he was even featured in a TV commercial for Shell. He retired in 2013 and moved into consulting — a year before the companies behind LNG Canada formalized their joint venture.

“I was hired by LNG Canada based on my experience and the leadership roles that I had held in my Shell career, including the role of general manager, sustainable development, for Shell Canada, which included greenhouse-gas management,” Seeley said. “Although I have not been directly involved in the article that you are referring to, (the) Vancouver Sun advertorial by LNG Canada, I have been providing analysis and advice to LNG Canada regarding GHG management.”

A disputed environmental claim that has been championed by pro-fossil fuel voices can be traced back to a lifelong industry insider, who cautions that his underlying calculations are “theoretical.”

Carol Clemenhagen@ottawaccarol

“…LNG…could reduce global GHG emissions by 60 to 90 million tonnes annually, equivalent to all of B.C.’s GHG emissions in a year…” 20 elected band councils approve. 5 hereditary clan chiefs don’t. http://business.financialpost.com/wcm/c65c5619-c6ed-4593-9f78-7d3e78d7dbff 

Philip Cross and Pierre Poilievre: Hey, woke folk: Coastal GasLink will help get China off coal

If protesters truly cared about the environment, they’d be demonstrating for projects like LNG Canada and Coastal GasLink, not against them

business.financialpost.com

Nor are these facts mentioned by Poilievre, who used Seeley or his consulting firm and the “60 to 90” figure in two op-eds promoting the benefits of natural gas: “Taxed green tomatoes” in the Toronto Sun on July 12, 2019 and “Hey, woke folk: Coastal GasLink will help get China off coal” in the Financial Post on Feb. 14, 2020, which he co-authored. Both newspapers are owned by Postmedia.

Nor are they mentioned in the Dec. 5, 2019 article posted on the website of the Alberta “war room,” titled “If you care about climate change, here’s why you should support Canadian natural gas.” Like the Poilievre articles, it just names Seeley and his consulting firm.

Another publication, the energy-industry-linked Canada Action, simply linked to the Vancouver Sun. And an article on the website of the Christian Labour Association of Canada union mentioned the “60 to 90” figure without reference to Seeley or his firm. Finally, the Conservative Party’s 2019 candidate for Ottawa Centre, Carol Clemenhagen, linked to Poilievre’s co-written article in a tweet where she also quoted the “60 to 90” figure.

It is possible Poilievre and the others did not know about Seeley’s background and his recent status with LNG Canada. “Taxed green tomatoes” links to an op-ed that Seeley contributed to the Vancouver Sun in June 2018 — six months before the LNG Canada-sponsored article appeared in the same paper — and that contains a version of the “60 to 90” claim. Like the advertorial, the op-ed does not mention Seeley’s formal associations with Shell or LNG Canada. Poilievre’s office did not return a request for comment.

B.C. Premier John Horgan tours the LNG Canada site in Kitimat, B.C. in January 2020. B.C. Government Photo

‘There’s a lot of sensitivities around it’

Seeley cautions that his “60 to 90” figure is not totally comprehensive. “I would call it a theoretical point or position,” he said.

He explained that he arrived at the figure by examining the hypothetical amount of energy that LNG Canada would produce, and then calculated what would happen if it was all offloaded in Asia and all used for producing electricity, essentially acting as a replacement for coal.

He pulled in part from International Energy Agency numbers, as well as a lifecycle analysis that he worked on in 2014-15 for Pace Global Energy Services, a consulting firm owned by Siemens, the manufacturing conglomerate. The report was prepared for the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas, a trade association of producers, shippers and others.

Seeley said he stands behind his calculations. “It’s still a pretty good anchor number,” he said. “I think those numbers are still strong, and in fact I think if you took a theoretical position on gas versus coal displacement for power, the numbers are probably even bigger.”

But he acknowledged his figure was “presented in a range to allow for many uncertainties in this type of analysis,” and that “there’s a lot of sensitivities around it.”

Those “sensitivities” are real-world factors, such as the fact that natural gas drilling, processing and transport releases large amounts of methane, which is 86 times as powerful as carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere over a 20-year period. A 2019 study in the journal Biogeosciences connected a rise in global methane levels since 2008 with the boom in fracking operations.

Scientists say this steep rise in atmospheric methane is jeopardizing the planet’s efforts to hold the global temperature rise to 2C above pre-industrial levels and slow the more extreme effects of climate change.

The oil and gas industry is the largest industrial contributor to methane emissions in Canada. The industry flares or vents methane into the atmosphere, and methane also leaks accidentally from oil and gas equipment. A 2017 peer-reviewed study in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics found that methane leaks from B.C.’s oil and gas industry were at least two and a half times higher than provincial estimates.

Wahiba Yaici, a research scientist at Natural Resources Canada, said that in a straight-up comparison between natural gas and coal, coal is clearly worse. Not only is it more carbon-intensive, it also releases particulate matter when it’s burned, as well as pollutants and heavy metals linked to asthma, cardiovascular problems and premature death.

Given that natural gas processing and transport releases methane, however, these sorts of comparisons are “exactly the challenge,” said Yaici, who studies how to reduce emissions from energy generation. She said converting systems to use hydrogen, which doesn’t emit carbon pollution, could be superior to either coal or natural gas.

Jinsheng Wang, another research scientist at Natural Resources Canada who studies unconventional oil and gas, confirmed that LNG could only result in less carbon pollution than coal if the methane emissions from increased natural gas exploitation were minimized.

Coal-to-gas or coal-to-renewables?

This minimization is exactly what Seeley is counting on. He acknowledged that accounting for methane is an important consideration, and the lifecycle analysis that he worked on does include an extensive description of methane leaks and how they can affect questions about carbon pollution.

But he also pointed to the Trudeau government’s commitment to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025. Ottawa has negotiated a draft deal with B.C. that would recognize its own methane regulations as contributing to that goal.

Foreign LNG-producing nations, like Nigeria, which signed a deal in December to boost its LNG output by over 30 per cent, won’t have such stringent regulations in place, Seeley warned.

“That’s the point that I’d really like to make. ‘Well, what about methane?’ or ‘what about this?’ or ‘what about that?’ — those questions are correct, they need to be asked. But Canada isn’t accountable for everyone else,” he said. “If we don’t develop our own highly-sustainable LNG, it just means more from Nigeria, Qatar and other places that really don’t have the same regulations. And so then we end up with carbon leakage.”

That’s not necessarily true, argued Keith Stewart, a senior energy strategist with Greenpeace Canada and University of Toronto part-time instructor who has worked on climate policy for almost 20 years.

Reuters reported last year that renewables are “set to compete on an equal footing with coal- and gas-fired electricity” in China, according to the country’s state planning agency. Wood Mackenzie Power and Renewables has also said the average levelized cost of electricity for solar and wind is already cheaper than gas in China, and will be competitive with coal by 2026.

“Natural gas is on balance better than coal, but I think that’s no longer the only choice,” said Stewart.

“A lot of these calculations were done when it was assumed that renewables were always going to be more expensive than coal. But now in many places it’s actually cheaper to build and operate wild and solar plants than it is to buy the coal to go into a coal plant.”

The Pembina Institute conducted similar research when it examined the pollution-saving claims of the former Pacific NorthWest LNG project. The think tank concluded that LNG from B.C. “would not only compete with carbon-intensive fossil fuels such as coal, but also with low- and zero-emitting sources of energy, including nuclear, hydro, solar, and wind.”

The most “likely scenario,” it found, is that B.C. LNG will actually “displace clean and renewable forms of electricity, resulting in a significant increase to global greenhouse gas emissions.”

LNG Canada did not return a request for comment as to why its advertorial does not disclose Seeley’s status, background, or “sensitivities.”

The ‘bridge to nowhere’

It is also not clear what the global gas market will look like down the road. Thanks in part to the fracking boom, the world is currently awash in cheap natural gas — so cheap that, in some places like the Permian basin in Texas, gas prices have fallen to negative numbers, meaning producers are paying others to take it off their hands. They are also flaring, or burning it off, at record levels.

Seeley acknowledged the difficulty of predicting gas demand. “Actual global greenhouse gas reductions from the sale of B.C. LNG to China would depend on the end use of the gas and what it will displace or replace,” he noted.

Over the past two years, he said, China has largely used LNG for industrial heat and for residential areas, as opposed to swapping it in to coal power plants, but this would still deliver 40 per cent lower emissions on a lifecycle basis.

In the end, Stewart argued, the issue boils down to corporations attempting to lock in fossil fuel emissions for decades by building large pieces of energy infrastructure, regardless of how much LNG might actually be in demand.

“Increasingly we’re seeing renewables coming in so cheap that if you’re investing in natural gas, you’re kind of blocking out renewables,” he said. “From Greenpeace’s perspective, we need to get off fossil fuels, and LNG is a bridge to nowhere.” SOURCE

RELATED:

Coastal GasLink broke B.C. pipeline rules more than 50 times

‘A desperate act’: Imperial Tobacco Canada under fire for ‘misinformation’ ad campaign

Health policy expert calls the campaign a ‘classic tobacco industry technique’

An Imperial Tobacco ad is seen in downtown Toronto on Feb. 20. Timothy Caulfield, a Canada Research Chair in health law and policy at the University of Alberta, says the ads are implying that a news story about the harms of vaping is ‘misinformation.’ (CBC)

A major Canadian tobacco company has come under fire for a national advertising campaign that appears to downplay the risks of vaping and accuse the media and anti-tobacco groups of intentionally spreading false information.

Imperial Tobacco Canada, which sells the Vype brand of e-cigarette and is owned by the world’s second largest tobacco company, British American Tobacco, recently launched the campaign in major Canadian newspapers, and on billboards and websites across the country.

The Canadian Press reported earlier this month that the campaign was under investigation by Health Canada and health officials in Quebec to determine if it violated advertising rules.

A spokesperson for Health Canada said this week that it deemed no further action was necessary, while Quebec’s Ministry of Health and Social Services says it has not yet made a decision on the advertisements.

The ads show headlines from news stories about vaping, with one of three slogans superimposed over them: “hypocrisy kills,” “quit the lies” and “the dangers of misinformation.”

The headlines used in the campaign are from media outlets largely in the U.S., including The Associated PressPolitico and The Hill, with none from Canada.

Local outlets were also targeted, including an NBC television station in Massachusetts that reported on a school district trying to combat a rise in youth vaping, and a newspaper in San Diego that wrote about county restrictions on vaping.

Ad campaign called a ‘Hail Mary’

Timothy Caulfield, a Canada Research Chair in health law and policy at the University of Alberta who studies health misinformation, calls the strategy used in the campaign a “classic tobacco industry technique.”

“They’re using the current conversation about misinformation, about fake news, in order to forward their agenda,” he said. “They are implying that a story about the harms of vaping is misinformation.”

Marketing expert Tony Chapman says he’s surprised the company moved forward with the campaign, calling it a “Hail Mary,” but says there is a deliberate strategy behind the move.

“The reason they’re taking the risk is vaping was their big play … and if vaping ends up in the same penalty box as smoking, you’re talking about billions of dollars of investment down the drain,” he said.

“So it’s a desperate act, and sometimes when you’re in danger of irrelevancy, risk is better than irrelevancy.”

In an interview with CBC News, a spokesperson for the company denied the ads were accusing the media of spreading misinformation, hypocrisy or lies and instead were “just a visual” aimed at regulators, adult consumers and anti-tobacco groups.

University of Waterloo researcher David Hammond says it’s ‘deeply ironic’ that Imperial Tobacco Canada would accuse others of spreading misinformation on the health risks of nicotine products. (CBC)

“We felt it was important to bring the other side of the story, so that both adult consumers and regulators can make informed decisions around vaping,” said Eric Gagnon, head of corporate and regulatory affairs for Imperial Tobacco Canada.

“Health Canada continues to believe that vaping — if you’re a smoker, you’re better off vaping.”

In a statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for Health Canada said it advises Canadians to seek out information from sources that are independent and rely upon scientific evidence, such as a physician or local, provincial or federal government health officials.

“The department recognizes that vaping is a less harmful alternative to smoking for adults who have a dependence on nicotine,” the statement says.

“However, it is important for Canadians to know that vaping does pose health risks and that the potential short- and long-term effects of vaping remain unknown.”

Some vaping-related illnesses tied to nicotine e-cigarettes

As of Feb. 18, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had recorded 2,807 hospitalizations related to vaping-related illness and 68 deaths.

There were 18 cases reported to the Public Health Agency of Canada as of Feb. 18. Six occurred in Quebec, four in Ontario, four in British Columbia, two in New Brunswick, one in Alberta and one in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Imperial Tobacco ad campaign also links to a “facts not fear” website that claims “impulsive regulations” by government and health groups “won’t do anything to reduce youth vaping” and “hysteria” in media coverage over vaping-related illness has “spilled over to Canada.”

Marketing expert Tony Chapman says the company took a risk with the ads because of huge investments in vaping products. (CBC)

 

It also says vaping-related illness has been linked to THC products and the harmful additive vitamin E acetate, which was identified as a “chemical of concern” by the CDC.

Yet in the U.S., 57 per cent of vaping-related illness cases reported using products that contain nicotine and 14 per cent reported exclusively using nicotine e-cigarettes. In Canada, 10 of the 18 cases reported using nicotine e-cigarette devices only.

The World Health Organization says e-cigarettes are “harmful to health and are not safe,” but it is “too early to provide a clear answer on the long-term impact of using them or being exposed to them.”

Researcher Timothy Caulfield says the goal of ad the campaign is to create doubt about the relevant science around vaping-associated harms, while exploiting the lack of long-term research on vaping.

“There is an international consensus that there are harms associated with vaping and there have been deaths associated with vaping,” he said.

“Their broad implication is more suggesting a fraudulent agenda behind the vaping research by using the term ‘misinformation.'”

Rise in youth vaping across Canada

University of Waterloo professor David Hammond, who researches youth vaping, found the number of Canadians aged 16 to 19 who reported vaping in the preceding 30 days rose from 8.4 per cent in 2017 to 14.6 per cent in 2018.

Rates of weekly use climbed from 5.2 per cent to 9.3 per cent over the same period. Hammond says his latest research is showing an even more dramatic increase.

“Most concerning, the prevalence of using e-cigarettes daily or near daily doubled between 2018 and 2019 alone,” he said.

“The increase in frequent use is consistent with the emergence of high nicotine salt-based products on the Canadian market.”

Imperial Tobacco Canada’s Vype e-cigarettes use nicotine salt technology to deliver high doses of the addictive drug to the user, much like those of popular U.S. company Juul.

Rob Cunningham with the Canadian Cancer Society calls the ad campaign ‘entirely hypocritical.’ (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

 

The maximum amount of nicotine content allowed in e-cigarettes in Canada is currently 66 milligrams per millilitre of vaping liquid, according to Health Canada. Vype products contain 57 milligrams per millilitre and Juul contains 59, while previous generations of e-cigarettes sold in Canada typically had upward of 20.

“It is deeply ironic that Imperial Tobacco would accuse others of spreading misinformation on the health risks of nicotine products,” Hammond said.

“I suspect that most people will regard this public relations campaign with the same level of credibility as the tobacco industry’s historical claims that nicotine isn’t addictive and smoking did not cause any serious diseases.”

Campaign is ‘standard tobacco industry doublespeak’

Gagnon, with Imperial Tobacco Canada, said health groups such as the Canadian Cancer Society and the Heart and Stroke Foundation “jumped on the opportunity” of the increase in youth vaping to push an “excessive regulatory agenda in Canada.”

“We have been wanting to meet with health officials across Canada. They do not want to meet with us. We would rather not do a campaign like that, if I’m honest with you,” he said.

“After looking at all the regulation that was coming up and what was being said and considered, we thought that we needed to get out and to try to balance the debate and influence a little bit what people believe around vaping.”

Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst with the Canadian Cancer Society, says the tobacco company has decades of experience in public relations strategies to “oppose effective regulation” and mislead the public.

He described the ad campaign as “entirely hypocritical.”

“Imperial Tobacco is laughing all the way to the bank with this whole new generation of young people addicted to e-cigarettes,” he said.

“This has been an incredible bonanza for them and they want to protect it. They’re in the business of protecting their sales. They have absolutely no credibility.”

Eric Gagnon, head of corporate and regulatory affairs for Imperial Tobacco Canada, says the company is trying to ‘balance the debate’ and ‘influence a little bit what people believe around vaping.’ (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

 

Dr. Andrew Pipe, board chair of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and a smoking cessation physician in Ottawa, called the ad campaign “standard tobacco industry doublespeak.”

“It just speaks to the degree to which the tobacco industry swaggers around with almost complete impunity because of the timidity that public agencies have shown for decades in terms of dealing with this industry, which kills 47,000 Canadians a year,” he said.

“The hypocrisy and duplicity of this industry is unparalleled and it continues to be expressed in these kinds of activities.” SOURCE

Ford government’s claim of spending ‘$1.2B more’ on education doesn’t add up

Every school in Ontario’s system closed Friday as all teachers’ unions strike

Teachers from the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board on strike outside Hopewell Avenue Public School. The Doug Ford government’s claim it is spending $1.2 billion more on education doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.(Francis Ferland/CBC)

Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s oft-repeated statement that his government is spending $1.2 billion more on education this year than last year doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

The spending claim is in the spotlight as a province-wide strike by four teachers’ unions puts some two million Ontario students out of class on Friday.

“We’ve increased education by $1.2 billion,” Ford said in question period on Wednesday. “I know math is not the NDP’s strength, or the Liberals’, but it’s $1.2 billion, more than any government in the history of Ontario.”

Ford’s Education Minister Stephen Lecce has made the same claim numerous times since the government issued its November fiscal update, which added $186 million to the education ministry’s budget.

  • “This year, we’re on track to spend $1.2 billion more than we did last year,” Lecce said on Dec. 3.
  • “Under this premier’s leadership, we are investing more than $1.2 billion more this year than we did last year,” he said on Nov. 25.
  • “This year we intend to spend $1.2 billion more than we spent last year in the defence and the improvement of public education,” Lecce said on Nov. 7.

WATCH: CBC Toronto’s Queen’s Park reporter Mike Crawley crunches the numbers

Queen’s Park reporter Mike Crawley explains why the Ford government’s claim they are spending $1.2 billion more on education this year than last year doesn’t add up. 1:58

 

Here are the basics of the government’s math:

    • $29.97 billion: the Ministry of Education’s base budget for 2019-20, stated in the government’s latest fiscal document, the fall economic statement.
    • $28.75 billion: the Ministry of Education’s actual base spending for 2018-19, found in the government’s expense sheet for the year, the public accounts.

That’s a $1.2 billion difference on the face of it. But when you dig a little deeper into the spending, and compare apples to apples, it becomes apparent that the Ford government is not telling the whole truth. The bulk of that $1.2 billion extra is not destined for schools and classrooms.

A key reason for the discrepancy is that the Education Ministry’s overall budget also includes child-care programs. Nearly half of the $1.2 billion difference is accounted for by increased spending on child care, particularly $390 million budgeted for a new child-care tax credit.

CBC Toronto will bring you special live coverage of the teachers’ strike action at Queen’s Park starting at 12 p.m. ET. You can stream the special on the CBC News app, cbc.ca/toronto and on CBC Gem.

(CBC)

 

Two thirds of the additional $186 million announced for the ministry’s budget in November is allocated “to help municipal partners provide child-care programs.”

To find out just what the government is actually spending on the school system, you have to look beyond the Education Ministry’s bottom line into the detailed budget documents. This means setting aside the $2.2 billion in child-care spending, as well as far smaller amounts on ministry administration and TVO.

Ford has said his government has increased education funding ‘more than any government in the history of Ontario.’ (Michael Wilson/CBC)

 

The real amount spent on schools is found in those documents, called the expenditure estimates, under one line labelled, “Elementary and secondary education program: Policy and program delivery.”

    • The amount budgeted in 2018-19 for this program was $25.029 billion.
    • The amount budgeted for 2019-20 (including $64 million added last fall): $25.163 billion.
    • The difference: about $133 million, far less than the $1.2 billion claimed by the Progressive  Conservatives.

Another way of comparing school spending is to look at the province’s annual “grants for student needs,” which is the funding the ministry provides to school boards. The amount in 2019-20 is $24.66 billion, while the amount the previous year was $24.53 billion, an increase of about $130 million, or 0.5 per cent.

When you factor in enrolment growth, the amount spent per student this year is actually down from the previous year. The per-pupil grant is $12,246, down from $12,300 in the 2018-19 school year.

Boards across the province have cancelled classes on Friday, as teachers take part in an Ontario-wide one-day strike. (Raphael Tremblay/CBC)

 

Asked repeatedly on Thursday how much of the $1.2 billion extra is actually being spent in schools, Lecce did not give a direct answer.

“We want to see more money being spent in schools,” Lecce responded. “When 80 cents of the dollar in the public education system goes to compensation, it makes the case that we want to see more investment in the priorities of working people, which I would argue is mental health, STEM education and math.”

Asked a second time about how much extra spending is going to schools, Lecce said the government is “on track” to spend $1.2 billion more and added “more particulars will be found in the public accounts on that.”

“It’s a shell game,” said NDP education critic Marit Stiles.

“For the minister to try to present this as if he’s somehow increasing funding by $1.2 billion, I think he is intentionally misleading Ontarians.”

SOURCE

 

Doug Ford’s government has made ‘next to no progress’ on plan to cut carbon emissions: report

Environmental Defence examines Ontario’s promised moves to reduce greenhouse gases


Ontario is ‘not on track’ to achieve its own targets for reducing carbon emissions, according to a new report from Environmental Defence. The report points to decisions by the government of Premier Doug Ford that have slowed the pace of electric vehicle sales and have delayed a push for more renewable content in fuel. (CBC)

Premier Doug Ford’s government has done almost nothing on the bulk of the promises in the greenhouse-gas reduction plan Ontario introduced last November, according to a new report by an environmental watchdog group.

The report published Thursday by Environmental Defence examines the seven key actions Ontario pledged to cut carbon emissions in the province, and finds that little or no progress has been made on all but one.

The actions were laid out in the “Preserving and Protecting our Environment for Future Generations,” the plan unveiled after the Progressive Conservatives scrapped the Wynne Liberal government’s cap-and-trade program.

“The government has acknowledged that the climate crisis is real, human-caused, and must be addressed,” said Environmental Defence in its report. “Ontario’s failure to act is a broken promise.”

Environment Minister Jeff Yurek was unavailable for an interview Wednesday.


Environment Minister Jeff Yurek’s office has told CBC the province ‘has already made significant progress toward further consultation and implementation’ on 19 commitments in its environmental plan. (CBC)

CBC News requested information about the government’s actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Yurek’s press secretary, Andrew Buttigieg, said in a statement the government “has already made significant progress toward further consultation and implementation” on 19 commitments in its environmental plan.

However, few of those commitments have anything to do with reducing emissions. They include “appointed a special adviser for Ontario Parks” and “released a discussion paper on reducing plastic litter and waste.”

The Environmental Defence report says the government is already “not on track” to achieve its own emission reduction targets, in part because of decisions that have slowed the pace of electric vehicle sales and delayed a push for more renewable content in fuel.

“So far, we haven’t seen any meaningful steps to reduce carbon pollution and fight climate change in Ontario,” said Sarah Buchanan, clean economy program manager for Environmental Defence.

“We’re quite concerned that Ontario isn’t taking its obligations seriously and is breaking its promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without a price on carbon,” Buchanan said in an interview.

The signature piece of the government’s plan — an emission performance standard for large industrial polluters — will actually increase greenhouse gas emissions rather than decrease them, according to the report.

It says the system is too lenient and offers too many exemptions to big polluters, and there’s no evidence to support the government’s forecast that the standard will contribute 15 per cent of the province’s overall target for cutting greenhouse gases.

MORE

RELATED:

Doug Ford’s government broke the law when it scrapped cap-and-trade, court rules

 

 

A data-based dismantling of Jason Kenney’s foreign-funding conspiracy theory

Every core tenet of the Alberta premier’s paranoid policy is flatly and demonstrably false.


Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks at the NASCO conference in Columbus, Ohio on Sept. 20, 2019. Twitter photo

As long as the foreign funding conspiracy theory was a lone researcher’s crusade, this thing had a great run.

Underdogs are popular, and suspicion of foreign plotting is a guaranteed box office winner.

Now that it’s official Alberta government policy, however, things are about to get a lot trickier.

The foreign funding conspiracy theory is a house of sand, where every pillar crumbles to the touch.

At its core, this theory, which Jason Kenney has adopted as the Alberta government’s, is that the province has been targeted by a cabal of American foundations led by the Rockefellers in a deliberate campaign of economic sabotage.

By directing money and influence to an anti-pipeline movement called the Tar Sands Campaign, these foundations seek to advance American energy interests by landlocking Canadian oil.

As I wrote earlier in September, the sham outrage over foreign money is just a cynical ruse. Unscrupulous governments are employing it around the world to discredit, silence and intimidate environmental dissent, and ultimately to choke off resources to activist groups.

Nobody cares about foreign money, least of all Jason Kenney.

No sooner did the premier release the terms of his foreign funding inquiry than he set off for New York, cap in hand, to raise more foreign money for the oil industry.

The Canadian oil and gas industry, jauntily waving the maple leaf, is loaded with over a hundred billion dollars in foreign ownership. It sells millions of barrels of oil to foreigners every day, and now wants a pipeline to increase the foreign markets it can sell to.

And all of this is cheered on daily in a foreign-controlled national newspaper chain.

That’s just by way of a little perspective.

The claim of conspiracy is an accusation of fraud

The direct or indirect claim of conspiracy, at its heart, is an accusation of fraud and breach of trust, based entirely on circumstantial evidence. It’s the suggestion that charitable dollars are diverted for a covert purpose and that multiple organizations are colluding in that deception.

A scheme like this would necessarily involve senior foundation leadership acting in concert, and with malice, to subvert the bona fide charitable objectives of their organizations.

That’s a serious claim that has inflamed public opinion, and damaged reputations and community trust within Canada. It should not be made lightly or on thin evidence, and should be treated with special skepticism when advanced by government leaders.

Not least because we’re in a climate emergency and have better things to do than discredit those working hardest to address it.

Curiously, Kenney’s public inquiry terms of reference are far more cautious than his fiery rhetoric. Despite tarring foundations and environmentalists as “anti-Alberta,” they sidestep entirely the issue of motive or intent, which is central to the allegation of conspiracy or bad faith.

The public, having been led to believe that charitable foundations are corruptly working against the public interest, is entitled to a deeper analysis of motive than the inquiry will examine.

That’s what we’ll look at here.

Background review

To assess the conspiracy theory’s veracity, I reviewed data from Candid, America’s most comprehensive foundation and charitable monitoring site.

With a $29-million budget and staff of 140, Candid gathers and maintains detailed data and statistics on hundreds of billions of dollars in grants by 155,000 U.S. and international charitable foundations, non-profits and all U.S. federal agencies. Public tax returns recorded and accessible. Most, but not all, major international funders are included.

The material is cross-referenced, tabulated and readily searchable.

So I searched it.

For the last nine months.

I surveyed tens of thousands of grants totaling well into the billions of dollars, looking for patterns, practices and organizational cultures. I double-checked for errors in coding and data entry (yep, found some). Looking for the network effect, I examined partnership constellations, funding pathways and changes over time.

A lot of superficially significant data often turns out to be just noise. It’s only with exposure to high volumes of data that one begins to discern materiality.

Candid’s data is not a substitute for detailed grant reviews — it’s best employed for detecting large patterns and trends.

My research took me further, to reviewing the backgrounds of directors and key employees of multiple foundations, and examining years of financial statements. I was looking for indicators of weak governance or undue influence within each of the impugned organizations. Family foundations have a tendency toward having family members in lead governance roles, whose priorities and biases can show up in granting patterns.

I checked whether the founder is alive and active in governance and oversight (two major funders are). I reviewed for direct or indirect evidence of impropriety — for instance, claims of misconduct by former employees or independent witnesses. I studied media reports, scholarly and industry research, and spoke to experts in the non-profit world, as well as to parties directly involved or who had personal knowledge of the circumstances.

I then reviewed the oil and gas sector.

What follows below is a distillation of that research.

Overall, there are variances in culture between philanthropic organizations and some steadfast consistencies. Some are very conservative and apolitical, even among the most environmentally committed. Others are more supportive of activism.

In reviewing thousands of grants, these patterns become more evident over time.

The foundations funding the Tar Sands Campaign bore no markers of fraud or unscrupulous conduct within leadership. All of them appeared to be transparent and fully compliant with all legal requirements. There is no direct evidence of misconduct.

But there were surprises. MORE

 

True leaders work for us, not the fossil fuel industry

 

The Kochs, ConocoPhillips, and PetroChina have profited enormously from the tar sands ecocide and the planet has paid an enormous price as carbon emissions threaten our human existence. They were and are actively supported in this environmental rape by successive neoliberal governments. You and future generations will be left with the debt. Unless…

Image: Melbourne Water/Flickr
Image: Melbourne Water/Flickr

Some politicians believe protecting a sunset industry’s interests is more important than looking out for the citizens who elected them. In Australia, the coal industry holds sway over government policy. In Canada, bitumen and fracked gas rule. In the U.S., it’s all of the above. Fortunately, many people, especially youth, are heeding the rational voices of those who acknowledge the tremendous opportunities in cleaner energy and economic diversification.

Politicians often justify their undying support for the fossil fuel industry by claiming they’re looking out for jobs and the economy — but those claims don’t hold up.

Despite assertions of some political representatives in Australia and the U.S., coal doesn’t have a bright future and “clean coal” doesn’t exist. In Canada, pipeline opponents, Indigenous communities, and environmental groups aren’t putting bitumen jobs at risk; automation, market forces, and change in the face of the climate crisis are behind the declines.

Calculations of “energy return on energy invested” — the amount of energy output over the amount required to produce it — shows one reason for bitumen’s lower price compared to conventional oil. The latter historically delivered 30 units or more for each unit invested, although that’s declining as easily accessed sources become depleted. Recent research shows wind energy can also reach this level, while solar is closer to 9:1 or higher. Oilsands bitumen is 5:1 or lower, because large amounts of energy are required to extract, process and refine it, which makes it costly, inefficient and much more emissions-intensive than conventional oil.

But instead of a rational debate about how to shift from fossil fuels to cleaner energy with minimal disruption to workers and society, media and short-sighted politicians inundate us with logical fallacies and absurd conspiracy theories about who’s funding the people and organizations that want a prosperous future with clean air, water and soil and a stable climate.

True concern for workers means helping them find new ways to employ their skills, including offering retraining and incentives for jobs in the growing clean energy sector — a process Canada’s government recently started with its Just Transition Task Force for Canadian Coal-Power Workers and Communities. All political parties should find ways to reform employment policies to reduce waste, inequity and rampant consumerism, including improved work-life balance with shorter workweeks.

Decision-makers who care about the people they represent and understand science, social trends and technological potential know that a low-carbon future offers better health, livability and economic resilience. The fossil fuel industry is still the most profitable (and among the most destructive) in human history, but those days are coming to an end. True leaders understand this. SOURCE

HOW THE MEDIA LAUNDERS FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY PROPAGANDA THROUGH BRANDED CONTENT

A jogger runs past the Scattergood power plant Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019, in Los Angeles. Los Angeles will abandon a plan to spend billions of dollars rebuilding three natural gas power plants as the city moves toward renewable energy, Mayor Eric Garcetti said Monday. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)A jogger runs past the Scattergood natural gas power plant on Feb. 12, 2019, in Los Angeles. Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

THERE IT WAS in black and white ­— or black, white, and a palette of gentle greens and blues. With a headline predicting that natural gas “will thrive in the age of renewables,” the article made the case that there are limitations on solar and wind power and that — as a subhead spelled out in aquamarine type — natural gas “is part of the solution.” Why was the Washington Postweighing in on the need for continued production of this fossil fuel in the face of climate change?

Or was it? On closer inspection, the report wasn’t coming from the D.C. paper’s newsroom. Though the link takes you to a page published by WashingtonPost.com, the story is actually a publication of WP BrandStudio, the paper’s branded content platform. In other words, the article is really an advertisement, and the copy was paid for by the American Petroleum Institute. The tagline — “Content from American Petroleum Institute” — is plain to see if you’re looking for it, though easy to miss if you’re not.

It’s not surprising that the trade group representing the oil and gas industry would want to leap to the defense of natural gas now. The notion that the energy source is a “bridge fuel” that will somehow safely deliver us to wind and solar — and past the threat of climate change — has been vaporized by recent science. MORE

Opinion: Fact-checking Alberta’s pipeline ads


Alberta Premier Rachel Notley unveils an ad they will be running in B.C. about the pipeline expansion in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday, May 10, 2018. JASON FRANSON / THE CANADIAN PRESS

As an Alberta-born-and-raised earth scientist who has made a career studying fossil fuels and energy issues, I am dismayed at the bombardment of ads from the Alberta government on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

One ad tells us:

“Canada’s economy loses out on an estimated $80 million dollars in economic benefits every day that the expansion is delayed. Trans Mountain changes that, providing an $80 million-a-day economic boost to our country, supporting thousands of jobs from coast to coast to coast.”

Every day? In fact, the earliest Trans Mountain could be completed is 2022. Two other pipelines under development, Enbridge’s Line 3 (due in late 2019) and Keystone XL (due in 2021) will provide twice the export capacity of Trans Mountain to higher-priced U.S. markets. Trans Mountain is intended to unlock new Asian markets.

The Trans Mountain delay is costing Canada nothing given that pipeline bottlenecks will be eliminated without it. Yet, a counter on the Alberta government’s Keep Canada Working website shows that (as of Feb. 15) the court-ordered shutdown has cost Canada $13.5 billion.

The differential between Alberta heavy oil (Western Canada Select/WCS) and the North American price (West Texas Intermediate/WTI) is normally about $15 per barrel. This is because WCS is priced at Hardisty and incurs a transportation cost of $7 via pipeline to Cushing, Okla., where WTI is priced. And because WCS is lower grade oil than WTI, it incurs a further quality discount of about $8 per barrel as it is costlier to refine. MORE

 

‘Making this up’: Study says oilsands assessments marred by weak science

Image result for 'Making this up': Study says oilsands assessments marred by weak science

EDMONTON — Dozens of oilsands environmental impact studies are marred by inconsistent science that’s rarely subjected to independent checks, says a university study.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” says University of British Columbia biology professor Adam Ford, who published his findings in the journal Environmental Reviews.

“You would have to go out of your way to make it this bad”

“You would have to go out of your way to make it this bad. It’s just a symptom of the state of the industry and it’s definitely a signal that we can do better.”

In 30 different assessments filed between 2004 and 2017, Ford found each study considered different factors in different ways. Few independently checked their conclusions. And those who did were notably less confident about the industry’s ability to restore what it had disturbed.

Time to stop blaming “foreign funded” environmentalists for the oil industry’s woes


Big Oil’s problem isn’t international philanthropy – it’s a changing market in the face of climate change

Fear mongering about cross-border funding for environmental groups has ramped up in recent weeks and months, increasingly making its way into news stories, social media feeds and political rhetoric. Led by proponents of the oil and gas industry, these divisive statements and exaggerated claims are nothing but an attempt to distract Canadians from the real issues – such as the urgency of the climate crisis and the need to shift our economy away from fossil fuels.

Critics point to the success of Canadian environmental organizations at garnering support from international donors as evidence that outsiders are having an undue influence on Canadian policies concerning energy and the environment. Some go so far as to suggest that “foreign-funded” environmental campaigns are part of a conspiracy that unfairly targets Canadian oil companies, to the benefit of oil producers south of the border.

This type of misinformation and the unwarranted attacks on environmental groups are undermining democracy, and Canadians deserve better.

For the sake of setting the record straight, let’s address a few of the most glaring holes in the arguments against environmental groups and international funding. MORE