With Prime Minister Stephen Harper in New York courting US business leaders and promoting the Keystone XL pipeline, it's perhaps unsurprising to hear that his government has nearly doubled its spending on advertising the Albertan tar sands since last year.
Suzanne Goldenberg writes in the Guardian, that according to the Canadian Press agency, the Harper government "has increased its advertising spending on the Alberta tar sands to $16.5m from $9m a year ago." The government's strategy includes television advertising and "high-profile ad buys" like sponsoring Politico Playbook, an influential political journalism site frequented by administration officials.
As the public anxiously awaits the U.S. State Department’s final decision on the fate of the Keystone XL Pipeline, the discussion has largely ignored the elephant in the room: the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA.)
Thanks to NAFTA, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, the State Department will likely be able to do little more than stall the pipeline’s construction. In its simplest form, NAFTA removes barriers for North American countries wishing to do business in or through other North American countries, including environmental barriers. The goal of the agreement was to promote intra-continental commerce and help the economies of all involved in the agreement.
Concerned citizens blocked a highway in Ontario on May 6th to raise the alarm about Enbridge's controversial plans to ship tar sands bitumen through the 37-year old Line 9 pipeline.
The “90-for-90” blockade caused a temporary traffic delay where Line 9 intersects Highway 6 between Guelph and Hamilton. Forty people held the space for ninety minutes to represent the “ninety significant spills” Enbridge pipelines had in both 2009 and 2010.
Participants gave out homemade muffins to drivers held up by the blockade to apologize for the inconvenience.
“The blockade was a necessary step because the Canadian government has gone to extreme lengths to ensure that there is no public debate on Line 9,” says Elysia Petrone, media liaison and participant of the 90-for-90 blockade.
With Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline project still in the assessment phase and the Keystone XL pipeline proposal awaiting approval from down south, the government of Alberta is considering the possibility of sending its tar sands bitumen north via a pipeline through the Northwest Territories.
With a view to exporting the estimated $30 billion worth of oil left in the ground every year due to the transportation bottleneck, Alberta has hired Calgary consulting firm Canatec Associates International to determine the feasibility of transporting tar sands crude to the Arctic before sending it on tankers to Asian and European markets. The province has already invested $50,000 in the process.
This northern pipeline would move oil through the Mackenzie River Valley to Tuktoyaktuk, a town off the coast of the Northwest Territories.
According to a new study to be released today the risks associated with the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline are significantly higher than presented by the company in its project reporting. The study, conducted by Simon Fraser University's School of Resource and Environmental Management, found that in three categories - tanker transport, marine terminal facilities, and pipelines - oil spill predictions based on an international oil spill model (the US Oil Spill Risk Analysis, OSRA) are vastly greater than those based on Enbridge estimates.
In the category of tanker transport, the analysis predicted British Columbians can expect to see one oil spill every 10 years. Enbridge estimated such spills would only occur once every 250 years.
According to Enbridge, pipeline spills are only expected to occur 25 times over a 50-year span. The new analysis predicts 776 pipeline spills over the same period - 31 times more frequently.
Restrictions on public participation in energy decisions may actually backfire on the federal government.
Last week DeSmog Canada reported residents of Ontario and Quebec have to apply for permission to voice their concerns about Enbridge's plans to ship oil and bitumen from Alberta's tar sands through the 37-year old Line 9 pipeline.
People who manage to receive approval can only comment on issues the National Energy Board (NEB) – Canada's independent energy regulator – considers relevant to the pipeline. Climate change, tar sands industry expansion or air pollution from refineries are not relevant to Line 9 according to the NEB.
These public-participation restrictions were introduced in last year's federal omnibus bill C-38 to ensure pipeline projects are approved quickly. Things might not work out that way.
Canadians you will need to brush up on those resume writing skills and sharpen your pencils because it is time to fill out your 10-page applications to get permission to send in your comments about another oil pipeline.
And as of Monday, April 15th, you have less than five days left of the 14 days the National Energy Board (NEB) allows to do it. The deadline is noon on April 19th.
The permission-to-comment application consists of 10 pages of essay-style questions that should be submitted with a resume and references to backup your claim that you have a right to participate in the Line 9 pipeline public hearings.
Enbridge's 37-old Line 9 is being reversed to pump 300,000 bpd (barrels per day) of oil and bitumen from Alberta's tar sands through southern Ontario and Quebec.
“Since when does someone’s resume determine if they have the right to be concerned about what’s happening in their home community?” asked Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada.
Last Friday, as national attention turned to the massive Exxon Pegasus tar sands pipeline spill in Mayflower, Arkansas, another oil spill was occurring near Houston, Texas. Operators of a Royal Dutch Shell subsidiary's West Columbia pipeline, a 15 mile long, 16 inch diameter line, received warnings from the US National Response Center of a potential 700 barrel release (nearly 30,000 gallons) of crude oil on Friday, March 29.
Yesterday, representatives from the US Coast Guard acknowledged at least 50 barrels of oil had entered Vince Bayou, a waterway connected to the Gulf of Mexico.
On Monday, April 1, Shell spokeswoman Kimberly Windon told Reuters "no evidence" of a crude oil leak had been found. "Right now, we haven't seen anything," she said at the time. Investigators have since determined at least 60 barrels of the spilled oil had entered the Bayou. It is unclear at this time what kind of crude oil the pipeline carried.
DeSmog contacted Shell Pipelines US media relations department to inquire about the type and size of the spill but did not receive a reply by the time of publication.
Steven Lehman, Coast Guard Petty Officer told Dow Jones, "That's a very early estimate - things can change."
The depth of the Canadian government’s tar sands PR strategy was further revealed yesterday in a collection of nearly 1,000 pages of emails between Canadian diplomats in the United States. The correspondence dates back to August 2011 when protests movements focused on the Alberta tar sands began to spread across the continent. Toronto-based conservation group Environmental Defence obtained the documents through access to information legislation.
In an effort specifically designed to promote the Keystone XL pipeline south of the border, the government has been targeting journalists from major American news outlets, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Time and prominent trade publication E & E Daily, in order to “develop Canada’s network of reporters covering energy issues.” Canadian diplomats took reporters to lunch and then filed reports about strengthening the relationship between diplomats and journalists.
Chris Plunkett, a spokesperson for Canada’s Washington embassy, indicated these efforts were just par for the course when it comes to activities that have an impact on the Canadian economy. He said the Canadian government “strongly supports the expansion of the Keystone pipeline and the embassy continues to advocate for its approval which will contribute to energy security and economic growth for both Canada and the U.S.”
Adding emphasis to apparent intentions to sway American media, a series of emails going all the way up to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird shows the extent of the Conservatives’ response to negative media attention. An editorial in the New York Times that maligned the Keystone project prompted the department to draft a letter to the editor signed by Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer.
As the Obama administration revisits its decision on whether to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, DeSmog Canada decided to take a look at how the project became a cause célèbre.
We asked ourselves: Of all the environmental causes to fight, what was it that mobilized Hollywood celebrities, renowned scientists, environmental activists and a handful of Texans to face jail time protesting a proposed pipeline from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast?
What’s more: How did a decision on the project - which Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper once brushed off as a “no-brainer” - get sidelined by the U.S. government ahead of a crucial 2012 presidential election?
In fact, if the Obama administration decides to reject TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, the Harper government will need to face facts: Its own environmental policies and PR tactics will be largely to blame.