David Suzuki: Fracking is neither a climate solution nor an economic blessing

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The rush to exploit and sell fossil fuels as quickly as possible before the reality of climate disruption becomes too great to deny or ignore has generated some Orwellian rationalizations. Somehow a bitumen pipeline has become part of Canada’s plan to tackle the climate crisis. Another fossil fuel, fracked gas, is being touted as a climate solution.

It’s twisted logic that exposes a lack of honesty, imagination, and courage from many of those we elect to serve us. Pipeline proponents say we need the money to fund the transition to green energy. That’s like saying we have to sell cigarettes to fund lung cancer research. It’s also premised on the idea that “we can’t get off fossil fuels overnight”—something I’ve been hearing since I started talking about climate change decades ago, during which we’ve done little to get off them at all.

Natural gas, which now almost always means liquefied fracked gas, is being vaunted as a climate remedy because it burns cleaner than coal. In Canada and the U.S., governments are so intoxicated by the dollars that they’re helping industry build as quickly and massively as possible. As research in Canada and the U.S. shows, it’s not a climate solution; it’s another way to keep fossil fuels burning.

Natural gas is mostly methane, a greenhouse gas about 85 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. It’s responsible for about a quarter of atmospheric warming, and emissions are rising. Scientists estimate about 40 percent is from natural sources, while 60 percent is human-caused—from agriculture, landfills, coal seams, and oil-and-gas-industry leakage. Even some natural emissions are indirectly caused by human activity. For example, human-caused global heating is causing permafrost to melt, which releases methane.

Research by the David Suzuki Foundation and St. Francis Xavier University revealed methane pollutionfrom B.C.’s oil-and-gas industry is at least 2.5 times higher than reported by industry and government. Studies in Alberta and the U.S. reached similar conclusions.

New research from Global Energy Monitor, a U.S. nongovernmental organization that tracks fossil-fuel development, found even greater problems with the recent fracking frenzy. Its report, The New Gas Boom, found that the 202 LNG terminal projects being developed worldwide—including 116 export terminals and 86 import terminals—represent warming impacts “as large or greater than the expansion of coal-fired power plants, posing a direct challenge to Paris climate goals”. Canada and the U.S. account for 74 percent of these developments.

The report also questions the long-term viability of this gas rush, cautioning that many developments could become “stranded assets”, given rapidly falling renewable-energy costs. It points out that because only eight percent of terminal capacity under development has reached the construction stage, “there is still time to avoid overbuilding”.

Beyond its climate impacts, fracking comes with a range of environmental and health problems, including earthquakes, contaminated water, excessive water use, and health issues. A recent review of more than 1,500 scientific studies, government assessments, and media reports by the Concerned Health Professionals of New York and Physicians for Social Responsibility concluded that fracking contaminates air and water with chemicals that can cause serious health problems—especially in children, pregnant women and other vulnerable people, as well as industry workers—including cancer, asthma, and birth defects.

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Energy democracy: taking back power

Energy democracy: Coal to wind

Executive summary

Electric utility (re)municipalization is gaining popularity as a strategy to shift away from a reliance on fossil fuel extraction in the context of combating climate change. Across the world—from Berlin to Boulder—communities have initiated campaigns to take back their power from investor-owned (private) utilities and create publicly owned and operated utilities. Moreover, such efforts are increasingly taking on the perspective and language of energy democracy.

Energy democracy seeks not only to solve climate change, but to also address entrenched systemic inequalities. It is a vision to restructure the energy future based on inclusive engagement, where genuine participation in democratic processes provides community control and renewable energy generates local, equitably distributed wealth (Angel, 2016; Giancatarino, 2013a; Yenneti & Day, 2015). By transitioning from a privately- to a publicly owned utility, proponents of energy democracy hope to democratize the decision-making process, eliminate the overriding goal of profit maximization, and quickly transition away from fossil fuels.

Utilities are traditionally profit-oriented corporations whose structures are based on a paradigm of extraction. Following the path of least resistance, they often burden communities who do not have the political or financial capital to object to the impacts of their fossil fuel infrastructure. Residents living within three miles of a coal plant, for instance, are more likely to earn a below-average annual income and be a person of color (Patterson et al., 2011); similar statistics have been recorded for natural gas infrastructure (Bienkowski, 2015).

These utilities are in a moment of existential crisis with the rise of renewables. From gas pipelines to coal power plants, their investments are turning into stranded assets, as political leaders and investors realize that eliminating fossil fuels from the energy mix is paramount to creating healthy communities and stemming climate change. MORE

Robyn Allan: An open letter to Rachel Notley and Jason Kenney


Left, file photo of Alberta Premier Rachel Notley by Alex Tétreault. Centre, photo of Alberta oilsands by Andrew S. Wright. Right, photo of United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney by Alex Tétreault

Dear Rachel Notley and Jason Kenney,

Whichever one of you is entrusted with the opportunity to lead Alberta into the future after the provincial election, here is what you need to know to navigate the most challenging issue in your province’s history — the era of stranded assets in the oilsands.

The Alberta oilsands sector is a mature sector, not a growth sector. It has entered the phase in its lifecycle where corporate boardroom discussions have transitioned from the inevitability of rapid oilsands expansion to how best to sustain current production. In this phase of the oilsands lifecycle, Trans Mountain’s expansion is obsolete.

No amount of market intervention or increased oil industry subsidization can alter the course these captains of industry are on. However, that will not stop them from angling for taxpayer handouts by pretending another wave of oilsands investment is just beyond the horizon. The more taxpayer money they can convince all levels of government to transfer to their corporate treasuries, the easier their transition off fossil fuels becomes.

The idle promise of further oilsands investment is the likely motivation behind the Trudeau government quietly negotiating such a sweet toll rate deal for Trans Mountain’s shippers last fall. Despite Finance Minister Morneau’s promise to Canadians that it would not happen, Trans Mountain has agreed to provide oil producers who use the existing line with a $2 billion toll subsidy over three years mounting to a $3.4 billion toll subsidy over five years. . MORE

Trudeau’s oilsands supply outlook reflects a future that doesn’t exist


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to reporters at a news conference in Ottawa on June 20, 2018. File photo by Alex Tétreault

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is relying on an aggressive and outdated Western Canadian crude oil supply outlook to re-approve Trans Mountain’s expansion. Trudeau’s outlook seriously contradicts the supply forecast oilsands producers support as commercially viable.

The outlook Trudeau is clinging to was prepared in early 2015 when Stephen Harper was still prime minister. It predicts that by 2035 there will be an increase in oilsands supply of more than two million barrels a day from its current level of three million barrels a day, taking total oilsands supply to five million barrels a day. Trudeau expects an increase in oilsands supply of almost 70 per cent in little more than 15 years. This is a future that no longer exists.

Ottawa seems not to have noticed that major multinationals have pulled out of the oilsands selling to mainly Canadian-based producers whose debt loads are too high to satisfy investors that it’s financially prudent for them to expand. Overpaying for reserves that are threatened to become stranded assets makes sophisticated investors skittish. MORE