Can Enbridge be trusted to build and operate the Northern Gateway oil sands pipeline in a safe and sustainable manner? Judging from today’s scathing National Transportation Safety Board report on Enbridge’s horrendous pipeline spill in Michigan two years ago, the answer would appear to be a resounding “No”! But that’s just one of the difficult questions faced by Enbridge today.
“Canada’s message: The world and its climate be damned”. That headline on Jeffrey Simpson’s scathing commentary on Canada’s pending formal withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol said it all. Writing in the Globe and Mail, Simpson touched on several themes that have become staples at Deep Climate: the Canadian government’s hypocritical excuses for lack of action, the intellectually dishonest “ethical oil” argument, and the continued sly pandering to a political base of “climate deniers and skeptics”. These are all worthy topics to explore in the coming months, especially that last one.
But I want to turn today to an analysis of the Conservative government’s putative alternatives to Kyoto, namely the 2009 Copenhagen agreement, as well as the GHG reduction plans put forth in 2008 by Canada and the province Alberta (home to the oil sands and Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper). That analysis confirms the contention of Jeffrey Simpson and others that the government of Canada is “mocking” the 2020 target agreed to only two years ago; the promised 17% reduction in annual GHG emissions (relative to 2005) is already out of reach. A big reason for this is an Alberta target (itself very unlikely to be met) that calls for a rise in GHG emissions until 2020. Not only that, but Alberta’s 2050 target, predicated on massive expansion of oil sands operations, is only 14% below 2005 levels, and sets Canada on a path that can not possibly be reconciled with the Harper government’s own stated long-term target, let alone any reasonable goal compatible with Canada’s responsibilities.
The illogical (not to mention deceitful) framing of Alberta oil sands development as a supposed choice between “ethical oil” and “conflict oil” continues to fall apart. In the latest fiasco playing out at Huffington Post Canada, Ben Amunwa, a prominent critic of Shell Oil’s environmental record in Nigeria and the Alberta oil sands, has shredded EthicalOil.org spokesperson Kathryn Marshall’s ridiculous assertion that he is on the “same page” regarding the ethics of oil production (h/t Holly Stick).
So far, however, controversy has centred overwhelmingly on the distracting “ethical vs conflict oil” arguments and less on the equally misleading statements on the real environmental issues in the oil sands from EthicalOil.org (a.k.a. the Ethical Oil Institute). So today I’ll take a detailed look at the Ethical Oil position on the oil sands carbon footprint, as seen in former spokesperson Alykhan Velshi’s error-filled and confused post entitled Mythbusting: Are the Oilsands Major greenhouse Gas Emitters?, part of his “Myths and Lies” series.
I’ll focus on the two most significant problems in Velshi’s piece:
- Velshi’s original premise was that not only are oil sands greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions relatively insignificant, but that they are actually declining. This has been partially corrected, presumably in response to my initial commentary on this issue, but in such a way as to render his argument completely illogical. And Velshi’s conclusion still repeats the utterly mistaken assertion that oil emissions “are falling”, whereas in fact they are rising at a rapid rate.
- Ethical Oil’s credibility is further damaged by misleading statements concerning the supposedly tiny contribution of oil sands emissions when compared to total global human and natural emissions. This echoes barely veiled climate “skeptic” arguments in Ezra Levant’s 2009 book that started the whole “ethical oil” rebranding effort. And an examination of Levant’s previous statements on climate science would appear to confirm that a strong anti-science stance is not far from the surface, despite the efforts of Ethical Oil spokespersons to hide it.
Here is part of a high-minded statement of purpose from a Canadian non-profit organization; see if you can guess which one.
The objects for which the Company is established are:
(a) To support and encourage research and education respecting the following:
(i) the use and development of natural resources including, without limitation, the extraction, production, development, conservation, protection, and distribution of natural resources, and other related matters, throughout Canada and the World;
(ii) conservation and protection of the environment;
(iii) ethical issues and considerations in respect of the items described in subparagraphs (i) and (ii) including, without limitation, issues and
considerations of environmental responsibility, peace, treatment of workers, democratic rights, and human rights; ….
Suzuki Foundation? Nope. Well then, how about the energy think tank Pembina Institute? Wrong again, although this newer organization is also based in oil rich Alberta.
Say hello to – wait for it – the Ethical Oil Institute. Today I’ll take a first look at the hitherto unknown entity behind the latest push to defend the Alberta oil sands (a.k.a. tar sands). I’ll review the emerging roles of the Conservative-linked masterminds behind the initiative, namely pundit and author Ezra Levant and government spokesperson turned blogger Alykhan Velshi. And I’ll introduce Levant’s silent partner in the Institute: Calgary lawyer Thomas Ross,who also happens to be a partner at oil patch law firm McLellan Ross and one of the leaders of the firm’s OilSandsLaw.com initiative. All of this belies the studiously cultivated image of Ethical.org as a “grassroots” organizational effort; indeed, it looks more and more like industry sponsored astroturf.