Postmedia's Mike De Souza reported today on a newly released internal document from Environment Canada that shows the federal government was concerned with the preference of Canada's largest oil and gas lobby body, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), when crafting last year's 2012 Omnibus budget bill that overhauled or eliminated some of the nation's most significant environmental laws.
A briefing document drafted for Environment Canada's associate deputy minister, Andrea Lyon, in preparation for a CAPP gala event in Alberta noted the lobby group's preference for a legislative overhaul, rather than a formal piecemeal examination of environmental laws in Parliament.
As De Souza explains, "the briefing scenario…suggested that oil and gas companies didn't want a series of separate legislative changes, but rather an 'omnibus' approach."
In email correspondence obtained by DeSmog, De Souza asked CAPP to declare the organization's position on the legislative changes.
Documents obtained by Postmedia News under the Access to Information Act indicate that Environment Canada was telling the Assembly of First Nations one story and industry groups another in the run-up to the introduction of last year’s controversial Bill C-38, purposefully working to dispel First Nations’ fears regarding changes to the environmental reviews, even as it was seeking support from industry to make huge revisions to that process.
A brieffor a January 24th meeting with National Chief Shaun Atleo and a delegation of chiefs from across Canada encouraged the ministers in attendance, including Minister of Environment Peter Kent, to play up the government’s willingness to work with First Nations on environmental concerns and downplay fears of sweeping changes to legislation.
It stated, “Any changes to the government’s environmental assessment or project approvals regime that you may have heard of through the media are (i) speculative at this point as legislation has not been introduced to the House of Commons; (ii) will respect our duties toward Aboriginal peoples.”
This message is a stark contrast to the scenario brief for a February 2nd meeting between Environment Canada representative Michelle Rempel and Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL) VP Bill Clapperton, which indicated the Ministry of Environment was already working toward the sweeping changes to the environmental assessment process.
One year after plans were announced for a new system to monitor the environmental effects of the Alberta tar sands, there is still no sign of any formal data.
In February of 2012, the federal government, in partnership with the government of Alberta, announced plans for a new three-year environmental monitoring system to collect information on the Alberta tar sands. Touted as world-class by environment ministers at both the federal and provincial levels, the three-year plan is meant to track data on water, air, land and wildlife, and provide annual reports for the first three years, followed by a comprehensive peer review in 2015.
“We will make the system highly transparent. We will ensure that the scientific data that is collected from our monitoring and analysis is publicly available with common quality assurances and common practices in place,” Environment Minister Peter Kent said a year ago, at a joint news conference with Alberta Environment Minister Diana McQueen.
The plans indicated that scientists would release information on an ongoing basis in some cases, and on three and six-month schedules in others. Officials anticipated the first round of information would be released before the end of last year.
The massive tailings ponds holding billions of litres of tar sands waste are leaking into Alberta's groundwater, according to internal documents obtained by Postmedia's Mike De Souza.
An internal memorandum prepared for Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver and obtained through Access to Information legislation says evidence confirms groundwater toxins related to bitumen mining and upgrading are migrating from tailings ponds and are not naturally occurring as government and industry have previously stated.
"The studies have, for the first time, detected potentially harmful, mining-related organic acid contaminants in groundwater outside a long-established out-of-pit tailings pond," the memo reads. "This finding is consistent with publicly available technical reports of seepage (both projected in theory, and detected in practice)."
This newly released document shows the federal government has been aware of the problem since June 2012 without publicly addressing the information. The study, made available online by Natural Resources Canada in December 2012, was still "pending release" at the time Minister Oliver was briefed of its contents in June.
The Harper government knew in early 2012 that proposed regulatory reforms tabled in the contentious Omnibus Budget Bill C-38 would be "very controversial." As a result a parliamentary secretary to the minister of Environment Canada was directed to seek the cooperation of a major tar sands developer, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL), regarding the proposed changes, saying "the reforms, when introduced, may be very controversial. I hope we can count on your support."
Companies responsible for two separate oil spills in Alberta failed to provide adequate oversight for their operations, according to federal government documents released by Environment Canada through Access to Information legislation.
The documents detail how Devon Canada and Gibson Energy violated environmental laws, including the federal Fisheries Act, when their operations cause two oil spills into fish-bearing waterways in 2010.
Gibson Energy, a midstream pipeline operator, spilled a few hundred litres of oil into an Edmonton creek after failing to properly abandon an unused pipeline. According to a warning letter issued to the company from Environment Canada, "Gibson Energy ULC made a business decision to keep the Kinder Morgan lateral full of crude oil and to not purge it with nitrogen."
The federal government has repeatedly decided to forego prosecution for oil, gas and pipeline industry violations, according to Environment Canada documents released to Postmedia News through Access to Information legislation.
According to the documents the federal government issued 'warning letters' to companies like Devon Canada, a tar sands oil producer, and Gibson Energy, a midstream pipeline operator, after two separate oil spills proved the companies' respective facilities were in violation of the federal Fisheries Act. Violations of this sort can attract fines of up to $1 million, or three years imprisonment, the letters warned.
According to Postmedia's Mike De Souza, letters of this kind were sent to several companies in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Quebec for various offenses including the pollution of air and water as well as inadequate emergency preparedness and shoddy record keeping.
Environment Canada indicated warning letters are effective in gaining industry's attention. Prosecutions, on the other hand, are both expensive and time consuming. Yet, the released documents suggest that when it comes to monitoring and enforcement of industry's actions, the government may not be acting in the public's interest.
Senior scientist Derek Muir, who presented some of the findings at Wednesday's conference, said the contaminated region is "potentially larger than we might have anticipated." The 'legacy' of chemicals in lake sediment gives evidence that tar sands pollution has been traveling long distances for decades. Samples show the build up of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, known to cause cancer in humans and to be toxic to aquatic animals, in 6 remote and undisturbed lakes up to 100 kilometers away from tar sands operations.
The pollutants are "petrogenic" in nature, meaning they are petroleum derived, and have steadily and dramatically increased since the 1970s, showing the contaminant levels "seem to parallel the development of the oilsands industry," Muir said.
The Canadian federal government deliberately excluded data documenting a 20 percent increase in annual pollution from Alberta's tar sands industry in 2009. That detail was missing from a recent 567-page report on climate change that Canada was required to submit to the United Nations.
According to Postmedia News, Canada left the most recent numbers out of the report, a national inventory on Canada’s greenhouse gas pollution. The numbers are used to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions and prevent catastropic climate change. It is certainly not the first time that Canada has dragged its feet on its international climate obligations, but omission of vital information is a new low, even for them.