Trudeau urged to reject pressure to champion expansion of tar sands operations, pipelines

by: Obert Madondo | Published April 27, 2016, by The Canadian Progressive

Canadian activists urge Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to freeze the expansion of the Alberta tar sands during a #ClimateWelcome sit-in protest outside his Rideau Hall residence on Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015. Photo credit: Obert Madondo/The Canadian Progressive / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Canadian activists urge Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to freeze the expansion of the Alberta tar sands during a #ClimateWelcome sit-in protest outside his Rideau Hall residence on Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015. Photo credit: Obert Madondo/The Canadian Progressive / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Lately, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and other Canadian political heavyweights have been ratcheting up the pressure on the federal government to champion the expansion of tar sands operations and pipelines. On Wednesday, over 40 Canadian groups wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal cabinet and urged them to reject the pressure.

The groups’ letter addresses “a number of problematic arguments” being made in favour of more pipelines at a time the call to ditch fossil fuels and embrace clean energy is getting louder and louder.

For example, a poll released by EKOS Research earlier this week found that the bold, controversial, forward-looking Leap Manifesto is supported by 40 per cent of Canadians. The Leap, which was endorsed by over 200 organizations and 35,000 signatories across Canada, is “a call for a Canada based on caring for the earth and one another”. It’s “a plan for how Canada can transition off fossil fuels in ways that change our country for the better.”

Here’s the full text of the groups’ letter, first published by the Council of Canadians:

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau and Cabinet members,

The economies and workforces of Alberta and Canada have been hit hard in recent months. There has been considerable pressure on the federal Liberal Cabinet to respond, including Premier Notley’s recent address in Kananaskis and former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s public comments urging Cabinet members to ensure major pipeline projects are approved.

This most recent push for new tar sands, or oil sands, export pipelines exhibits a number of problematic arguments that deserve response. Adding new pipelines will not solve economic woes caused by instability in world oil markets and a world that is rapidly – and necessarily – transitioning away from fossil fuels in order to safeguard our climate for future generations.

We must proceed with a fair review of pipeline projects that includes all scientific evidence, welcomes public participation and puts in place a climate test that ensures Canada doesn’t build infrastructure that makes the 1.5 degree limit of global temperature rise impossible. The review must include true consultations with Indigenous communities and respect the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

Oil to tidewater won’t fix tar sands troubles

As argued by Ross Belot, former senior manager with one of Canada’s largest energy companies, a new pipeline won’t solve Alberta’s woes because “…the problem a pipeline to tidewater was intended to address doesn’t exist anymore.”

The abundance of cheap fracked oil in the U.S. and the global oil crash have contributed to narrowing the price differential between North American crude (whose benchmark is West Texas Intermediate, “WTI”) and global crude (whose benchmark is Brent) to almost zero. As a result, the benefits Canadian tar sands producers once sought by trying to access higher returns on global markets have vanished. The discount that now exists for Western Canadian Select (WCS) relative to WTI is now due to inherent quality differences that make WCS more costly to refine. Building new pipelines to get tar sands crude to tidewater and foreign markets cannot overcome the quality discount.

New pipelines incompatible with our fair share towards a 1.5 degree world

The Kinder Morgan, Northern Gateway, Line 3 and Energy East pipelines would lock Alberta and Canada into producing and shipping heavy crude for many years to come, well beyond the 2050 deadline in the Paris climate agreement set as a goal for weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels. Building more pipelines conflicts with the expertise of more than 100 scientists in Canada who have publicly called for no further expansion in the tar sands.

With the realities of climate change intensifying, more people are demanding action and world leaders will need to respond. In an increasingly de-carbonized world, particularly carbon intensive forms of heavy oil, including tar sands crude, will become economic risks.

Uniting for the protection of our climate and water

These pipeline projects present significant risks not only to our shared climate, but to critical waterways along their paths. The proposed tar sands export pipelines would see diluted bitumen transported over, under and through critical waterways including the drinking water sources for millions of Canadians.

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recently released the most comprehensive study of diluted bitumen to date, affirming it substantially differs from other types of oil when spilled near or in water. Diluted bitumen creates a unique and complex spill scenario as bitumen sinks in water after a short period of weathering. The study concluded that special response strategies and tactics are needed to respond and cleanup diluted bitumen spills; however, these have not yet been fully developed in Canada or the U.S.

Respecting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

It has been suggested that Canadians must unite around a nation-building pipeline, and Prime Minister Trudeau must lead us to this, even before a fair review of these projects is complete. Doing so would require agreeing to force a pipeline through the lands of Indigenous communities that have raised clear concerns about the duty to consult, as well as the impacts these pipelines will have on their lands. Forcing a pipeline approval will be on a collision course with respect for the UN Declaration on the RIghts of Indigenous Peoples; be it Northern Gateway, Kinder Morgan Line 3 or Energy East.

Indicating support for one of these pipeline projects as requested would require ignoring the voices of major cities along the pipeline routes, countless communities wanting a fair review of these projects and stands to run in conflict with ongoing provincial reviews of certain projects.

There are solutions. Opposing new tar sands export pipelines isn’t anti-Albertan

Clearly workers and their families, even whole communities, are hurting in Alberta. No one wants this. But more of the same will not fix the problem.

A new poll asking Albertans how they would like revenue raised by a proposed carbon tax spent indicates that, by more than a two-to-one margin, people favour spending it on green energy projects, transit and energy efficiencies. 144,000 Albertan jobs can be created with government policies that encourage and invest in renewable energy, energy efficiency and public transportation.

Let’s unite around a better future, one we can be proud to hand to our children and grandchildren’s children.

Check out the full list of the letter’s signatories HERE.

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Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based progressive blogger, and the founder and editor of The Canadian Progressive. Follow him on Twitter: @Obiemad