16 september 2009

Protesters target oil sands before Harper meets Obama

Reuters, 15 September, by Ayesha Rascoe and Jeffrey Jones

WASHINGTON/CALGARY - Environmentalists shut down a Canadian oil sands mine on Tuesday in a series of protests on the eve of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's visit with President Barack Obama, aimed at pressing their case that the projects undermine the fight against climate change.

Green groups accused Harper's government of trying to hamper U.S. efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions by seeking protections for Canada's oil sands industry, a major supplier of crude oil to the United States.

Harper meets with Obama at the White House on Wednesday, with climate and environmental issues expected to be on the agenda.

In northern Alberta, Royal Dutch Shell Plc suspended production at its Albian Sands Muskeg River mine after 25 activists from Greenpeace blockaded a massive dump truck and mining shovel to protest against oil sands development.

Shell, which owns 60 percent of the 155,000 barrel a day operation, said it temporarily shut down operation to ensure that the activists and its staff did not get hurt.

"Shell's No. 1 concern is their safety and our preference is for a negotiated end to this demonstration," the company said in a statement. "We have invited the group into our administrative building to sit down with management to discuss their concerns."

It said Greenpeace has not tried to contact Shell to discuss environmental initiatives it is employing at the site.

Numerous Canadian and U.S. environmental groups have intensified campaigns against oil sands development, which they say is damaging to air, land, water and local communities.

"It's very clearly priority number one for our federal government to lobby the United States administration to give the tar sands a break," Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defense Canada, said on a conference call with reporters. "Our hope as Canadians is that the U.S. administration resists our government's lobbying."


At 173 billion barrels, Canada's oil sands represent the largest source of crude outside the Middle East. But unlike conventional production, the extra-heavy crude is mined in open pits and separated with hot water and chemicals, or heated with steam to allow it to flow to the surface.

Environmentalists warn of soaring carbon emissions with oil sands production expected to nearly double by 2015.

The industry counters that it is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in land reclamation and such new technologies as carbon capture and storage.

Smith said Ottawa has floated climate plans that would give oil sands producers special treatment and lobbied against U.S. provisions that would run counter to the industry's interests.

Obama has made addressing climate change a key mission. The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation earlier this year to cap emissions by requiring companies to acquire permits for the greenhouse gases they emit into the atmosphere. But the bill has stalled in the Senate.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department also announced Tuesday proposals to strengthen vehicle fuel economy standards and reduce carbon emissions.

Despite these efforts, the White House has not taken a tough stance against the development of Canada's massive oil sands reserves.

Much to the chagrin of activists, the U.S. State Department recently approved Enbridge Inc's $3.3 billion Alberta Clipper pipeline project, which will mostly transport crude from the oil sands.

"We should really be thinking about whether we want to be building an infrastructure that is going to lock us into an economic reliance on tar sands oils for next 20 to 50 years," said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, Canada program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Elsewhere on Tuesday, activists hung a 70-foot (21-meter) banner above Niagara Falls on the Canada-U.S. border showing arrows that point forward to a "clean energy future" and backward to "tar sands oil".

(Editing by Rob Wilson)

[The following item from the Greenpeace Canada website by Dave Martin, in underlining the significance of CCS for the official rhetoric concerning the tar sands scandal, supplements the Reuters dispatch above

Tar sands were the Elephant in the Oval Office

Dave Martin, Greenpeace Ca, September 16th, 2009

Greenpeace activists have already made the point by occupying a Shell tar sands mine in Alberta that “climate leaders don’t buy tar sands”.

Because Canada is America’s largest supplier of oil, the elephant in the Oval Office, when Harper and Obama met at the White House in Washington on September 16th, was Alberta’s tar sands.

The tar sands are the reason that Canada has become the largest single national supplier of oil to the United States – exceeding Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Nigeria. The tar sands are Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions…production of synthetic crude oil from tar sands results in three to five times more greenhouse gas than conventional crude.

In parliament on September 15th, Stephen Harper said that he is committed to “clean development” of the tar sands, but the reality is that there is no such thing – the tar sands produce the world’s dirtiest oil.

The official statement from Harper/Obama meeting contained no mention of tar sands; no mention of caps on greenhouse gas emission reductions for the medium-term (2020); and no indication of any progress on national or international emissions trading programs. Yet they had the temerity to say “they reiterated the urgency of taking aggressive action to combat climate change”.

The only justification for any mention of climate and energy was the release of a document entitled: “US-Canada Clean Energy Dialogue Action Plan” [PDF].

This document claims that “The United States and Canada have announced ambitious emissions reduction goals for 2050…” That’s simply not true. The Canadian target for 2050 is only 50 to 60 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050. Scientists have called for a minimum reduction 80 per cent by industrial countries, and as close to zero as possible.

The Harper government’s target for 2020 is only 3 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. The KYOTOplus Campaign, supported by Greenpeace and more than 80 other Canadian organizations, calls for a minimum reduction of 25 per cent.

The main thrust of the so-called “Action Plan” is the promotion of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). The oil and gas industry touts CCS as the silver bullet solution to the massive greenhouse gas emissions from the tar sands and from coal-fired electricity. There are only four test sites in the entire world that are actually sequestering carbon dioxide underground. Aside from numerous technical and environmental problems, we can be sure of only one thing — CCS is prohibitively expensive and can only be realized with massive government subsidies… therefore the Clean Energy Dialogue!

By pushing Carbon Capture and Storage, the Clean Energy Dialogue is only putting a fig leaf over the huge environmental impacts of the tar sands. It will ultimately be too expensive and come too late to make a serious impact on the climate crisis. Worse, the huge expenditures on the CCS will prevent investment in the truly effective solutions for global warming – renewable energy and energy efficiency. The Alberta government has already committed about $2 billion in provincial taxpayer subsidies to CCS, and the Harper government has committed about $1 billion… of OUR money. [4C emphasis]

The bottom line is that the Harper government has refused to take the climate crisis seriously. The fate of the earth is going to be decided at the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen in December 2009. It’s time to get serious.

Dave Martin is the Climate and Energy Coordinator for Greenpeace Canada

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