Sunday , 19 May 2024

Canada’s Oil Sands: "The World’s Dirtiest Commodity"? (+2K Views)

When you think of Canada, which qualities come to mind: the world’s peacekeeper, the friendly nation, a liberal counterweight to the harsher pieties of its southern neighbour, decent, civilised, fair, well-governed? Think again. This country’s government is now behaving with all the sophistication of a chimpanzee’s tea party.

So amazingly destructive has Canada become … I am watching the astonishing spectacle of a beautiful, cultured nation turning itself into a corrupt petro-state. Canada is slipping down the development ladder, retreating from a complex, diverse economy towards dependence on a single primary resource, which happens to be the dirtiest commodity known to man. The price of this transition is the brutalisation of the country … Until now I believed that the nation that has done most to sabotage a new climate change agreement was the United States. I was wrong. The real villain is Canada.” The Guardian, United Kingdom.

In further edited excerpts from a variety of articles Lorimer Wilson posts the following (Words: 1377):

“Canada, the Dudley Do-Right of the international community, insists on exploiting its vast and dirty oil reserves in the so-called “tar sands” under Alberta. The intro to an article by British eco-scold George Monbiot declared: said Jean Piette, chair of Ogilvy Renault’s environmental practice in Montreal.”Canada’s image lies in tatters. It is now to climate what Japan is to whaling.” The South Florida Sun Sentinel, United States

Is Canada’s Sullied Image Deserved?

Says Eric Reguly of Canada’s Globe and Mail: “Canada has had a rough ride at the Copenhagen climate-change summit. It is unloved, even despised, by the scientists, the environmental groups and most developing countries. It will leave the summit with a sullied image – the arrogant, rich country that is part of the problem, not part of the solution. This image is both deserved and undeserved. It is undeserved in the sense that Canada’s new emissions output target – 20 per cent less than 2006’s level by 2020 – is actually slightly more than the [17%] U.S. pledge. And get this: When you dig into the numbers, the drop between 2006 (to use Canada’s arbitrary base-year number) and 2020 is roughly the same as the European Union’s [20% – 30%]. Canada is also pumping small fortunes into clean-energy technology but the Americans and the Europeans will emerge from the summit as good guys, if not heroes. Not the Canadians.”

The Pros and Cons of Canada’s Actions

Julius Melnitzer of Canada’s Financial Post reports that [from the get-go] Canada was not prepared to act independently of the U.S. on climate change legislation but that: “rather, our policy will always closely parellel U.S. law [because] when push comes to shove, we have little choice.”

“It’s hard to imagine Canada not following on the U.S. lead because we desperately need to get inside their carbon market and we desperately need to ensure that their laws don’t work against the interests of our exporters,” said Gray Taylor of [the law firm] Bennett Jones in Toronto.

“Harmonization will be critical not so much from the perspective of regulatory ease but from the perspective of financial necessity,” said Elizabeth DeMarco, who leads Macleod Dixon’s energy practice in Toronto.

“Whatever and whenever the U.S. decides what it is going to do, Prime Minister Harper will follow suit,”said Jean Piette, chair of Ogilvy Renault’s environmental practice in Montreal.

Be that as it may Reguly goes on to say (with Nathan Vanderklippe) in an edited excerpt from another article: “Of the almost 200 countries who attended the recent Copenhagen conference few of them had [and still have] a more blackened image [than Canada]… What shocks some countries is Canada’s response to Kyoto. When it ratified the treaty in 2002, then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien vowed that Canada would reduce emissions by 6 per cent by 2012 over the 1990 base year [yet] they are up 26 per cent or more instead as a result of the turbo-charged expansion of the Alberta oil sands, one of the single biggest sources of planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions.”

“Canada did not take its Kyoto obligations seriously, particularly under Stephen Harper, and that goes against Canada’s image… Prime Minister Stephen Harper has committed to a 20 per cent reduction by 2020, but from a new base year – 2006 – when the Canadian economy was on fire. [To emphasize its position] in late 2007 Canada blocked a Commonwealth resolution to support binding emissions targets for industrialized countries.” said Saleemul Huq, a lead author of the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, the United Nations scientific body that assesses climate change.

Sarah Powell of Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg also believes Ottawa could have done more. “The government originally said it was going to establish a Canadian regime and then harmonize it instead of just being a follower. They haven’t gone about it that way and that’s not acceptable because the government’s stumble means that Canadian business, which could have had the advantage of domestic experience with GHG regulation and a carbon market, will be left behind once the Americans gear up.”

Shabby Image Not Entirely Justified

Not everyone thinks Canada’s shabby image is justified, however. Matthew Bateson, director of energy and climate for the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (whose members include B.C. Hydro and Canadian oil sands giant Suncor) says: “It’s unfair to paint Canada with a black brush. [in spite of the fact that Canada only generates 2% of the world’s greenhouse gases,] “Canada is one of the world leaders in developing carbon capture and storage (CCS), a new technology that strips carbon dioxide from the flue gases of coal-burning plants or refineries and buries it underground. CCS is one of the technologies needed to transition to a new, low-carbon economy and Canada is putting its money where its mouth is” [and the oil sands are just 4% of Canada’s total emissions with transportation accounting for the highest GHG percentage right across the country].

Reguly concludes that: “much of Canada’s task lies in trying to dab green onto the grubby oil sands – or at least convincing others that some green exists but its efforts have been decidedly low-key and ineffectual. To the public, the image of the oil sands has been shaped by Greenpeace campaigners. Indeed, even some of Canada’s respected business leaders acknowledge that they have fallen behind in the image campaign.” [Even the Premier of Ontario, Canada’s largest and most populous province, has chimed in recently suggesting that Canada’s moral authority in the world has been damaged by the lack of leadership on the climate file and that “when it comes to the climate change debate we’ve been punching below our weight.”]

Says Murray Edwards, vice-chairman of oil sands miner Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. of Calgary: “The industry has to accept some responsibility. It has not been as pro-active as it should have been or could have been over the last decade in making sure the public understands the balance in the oil sands between the economy and the environment.”

One company, Cenovus Energy Inc., has bought TV spots aimed to show the benefits of its products. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers delivers representatives to various debates to help shape the “conversation” and works to correct inaccuracies in anything written about the oil sands but even strong voices aren’t getting much attention.

1606 Dead Ducks and Counting

Concludes Niraj Dawar, a professor of marketing communications at the Richard Ivey School of Business, “This clearly has the hallmarks of being a situation in which the reputation is under siege and it needs to be managed. A picture of a dead duck [1,606 died in an oil sands tailings pond] is far more powerful than the data or information that they can provide. What they need to come up with is pictures of their own.”



  1. Harper shamed Canada, in Copenhagen, and the U.N. We are not speaking of money. We are speaking about the worst pollution ever in Canada, and, no doubt in much of the world. The Alberta tar sands, is the shame of Canada. Rare cancers associated with, exposure to petroleum. 51 cases of cancer, in a small First Nations community. The pollution is in the air, water and the land. The caribou are dying. There are deformed fish in, Lake Athabasca. They have found oil, in the mighty Athabasca River. The Athabasca watershed is contaminated. Another flock of ducks landed in the filthy sludge. The pollution in the air, lands on top of the snow. As the snow thaws, the pollution leaches into the eco system. We dammed well can’t drink oil. There was a program on TV, regarding, the horrible mess of the tar sands. I want Harper to drink the water from, Lake Athabasca for one year. Do you think?

  2. By Glenn B :
    on Tue Jan 19 2010 12:54:44 CST
    It really appears as though this article was written by the likes of Greenpeace or another similar liberal enviromental group. As far as the Canada’s “government is now behaving with all the sophistication of a chimpanzee’s tea party” goes… WRONG. Canada has a Conservative government that has led in a fiscally and enviromentally conservative fashion (i.e. we had no Bank failures, etc.). Please look at the trillions of dollars of debt that the US government has poured into bad banks/companies and then tell me who is the chimpanzee!

  3. The following email was sent to me directly in response to my article on Canada’s oil sands.

    Mr. Wilson,

    Regarding your recent article concerning Albertas Oil Sands.

    I’ve worked for over 30 years as a professional in the oil and gas indusry in Alberta, many of those years spent directly in heavy oil and the oil sands, and many of those on-site. I can tell you very plainly that from what I have seen our governments are not concerned with pollution from the oil sands (nor are the corporations involved), they appear to be concerned with hiding any and all derogatory information from the people of this country, and every country. I am ashamed of the attitude, and very fearful for the ecology of my home province.

    Pollution from the tar sands, be it air pollution, water pollution, chemical pollution, is of a magnitute which should make every Albertan cringe, it is ENORMOUS.

    Our Alberta government is reported to have spent ( I have read) upwards of $20 million this year alone on propaganda. They should be thrown out of office, they are a disgrace.

    The aboriginal peoples who live downstream of Fort MacMurray are in very real danger of chemical induced cancers and many other serious health concerns, the reaction of the Alberta government appears to have been to villify the doctor(s) who try to publish this information.

    To try to obtain scientific data concerning this pollution is very difficult. This is because the government will not make public this information, you really have to dig to learn about it. But learn about we must,

    I have seen numerous excellent studies by reputable engineering firms, and by government agencies themselves, which paint a truly horrible picture. Recently, there was a written report which compared this pollution to a “major oil spill every year”. This would not be an exageration, environmental pollution from the oil sands is on a massive scale.

    A recent report on the state of soils in northern Alberta, by Trent University conducted by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, states that some soils are at their holding limit of acids. My humble interpretation of this is that large scale developments (as those proposed and fast-tracked by our premire) could push them over the limit, endangering all plant life in this part of the country. Do they care about that? Apparently not.

    Any person or government who seeks advice from Dick Chenny on how to manage this information ( hide it, alter it ) is morally bankrupt to begin with, but apparently Chenny has often been a guest of our premier and the results are apparent.

    I am appalled at the lack of concern, lack of honesty, and downright corporate ass-kissing by this government. It looks to me like virtually anything will be allowed here. Unfortunately, the Canadian and Alberta press hasn’t done much to enlighten the population to the situation.

    For what it’s worth, these are my observations and thoughts… Our world is fast approaching a no-turning-back period of time. There will be no chance to correct these types of massive problems after they are done, only by being proactive can we safeguard the healthy lives of our children, and theirs.

    Sincerely, Don Richards, Calgary Alberta

  4. The following email was sent to me directly in response to my article on Canada’s oil sands.


    In 2002 Jean Chrtien signed on a Kyoto target, to punish Western Canada, which was impossible to acheive, because Kyoto was a SCAM and would kill our energy industry. Thankfully Stephen Harper our current PM, recognized it for what it was, and smartly will coincide the policy with the Americans re reductions, after all if America does not want our dirty oil, then we should sell it to China,

    Democrats in the USA should think more about it as Mexico’s supplies runs out, of course you can always put a solar panel on your car, to power it, but you will have to buy the RE Metals from China to make the electric motors.

    Your article is short sighted as Cap & Trade is just another wall street scam re the trading of emission credits to enrich wall street, even the French threw it out. Hopefully Sarkozy will resign over it.

    Ogivly Renault, the most corrupt law firm in Canada has the most dirty clients in the world. Incorpoates Canadian Companies building dirty coal fired generating plants in China under the Kyoto Accord.

    Next time do your homework, and look up Maurice Strong and follow the money.