Trudeau’s Pipeline Doublespeak


The intention of my blog hasn’t been to attack the fossil fuel industry, but rather to promote the development of renewables. However, I can’t ignore the Canadian government’s approval of two pipelines this week together with their recent approval of the Pacific Northwest LNG pipeline for B.C. Desmog reported that, in his approval of the project Trudeau stated, “Today’s decision is an integral part of our plan to uphold the Paris Agreement to reduce emissions while creating jobs and protecting the environment.”

The nightmare returns

What???? Did I reawaken in Harper’s Canada?

How can he claim that his approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline is part of Canada’s climate plan? His spin makes my head spin. And I thought Harper was the uncontested master of doublespeak.

There are so many things wrong with his statement.

  1. This pipeline will increase Canada’s emissions. Oil Change International has revealed that Canada’s current pipeline capacity can handle all of the Canadian oil industry’s needs. Increased pipeline capacity is only required if bitumen production is increased to the point where Canada’s Paris emissions commitment can’t be met.
  2. The Asian markets for the oil from Canada’s bitumen are doubtful and almost certainly won’t be paying higher prices than Few refineries in Asia (none in China) can process this heavy oil.
  3. According to Reuters, Vancouver harbor can only accept medium-sized tankers (Aframax) with a capacity of 500,000 to 700,00 barrels. Because of port restrictions, these vessels can only be loaded to 80 percent capacity. How can tankers with around 550,000 barrels compete price-wise with the one-million-barrel (Suezmaxes) or the two-million-barrel (VLCC) tankers? Only if the crude is low-priced.
  4. Bitumen doesn’t act like most crude oil when a spill occurs. Because bitumen is so thick, diluents must be added to it. The pipeline companies don’t like to tell us what’s in the diluent, but some of them contain benzene, a known carcinogen. Once the diluents evaporate, the bitumen sinks in water, which vastly increases the difficulty of recovery. Just ask the victims of Enbridge’s 2010 pipeline leak in Kalamazoo, Michigan.oilpiccred-marinephotobankflickr
  5. Kinder Morgan likes to refer to the safety record of the current Trans Mountain pipeline that’s been operational since 1953. The original hasn’t been without spills: Here’s the record before Morgan Kinder’s ownership and after its purchase in 2005.
    1. From 1961 – 69 oil spills
    2. Since 2005 – 13 spills
  6. One tanker spill could ruin the ecology of the BC coast and the Salish Sea—an area with many salmon-spawning rivers and endangered Orcas. The tanker traffic could increase from 5 to 34 per month. The response to the leaking oil from a tug that ran aground off the Northern B.C. coast on October 13 was termed totally inadequate by B.C. Premier Christy Clark. The spill response was hampered by weather conditions that were normal for the time of year. If the response is inadequate for a tug with just under 1200 barrels on board, imagine how unprepared they are for a tanker spill of 550,000 barrels.

In this photo taken July 31, 2015, an orca whale breaches in view of Mount Baker, some 60 miles distant, in the Salish Sea in the San Juan Islands, Wash. The Southern Resident killer whales living in the area have lost about 20 percent of their population since the 1990s, likely because of dwindling food sources and contamination. This particular group of whales, now numbering at 81, is endangered. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Can we make sense of this decision?

This decision makes no sense from an economic perspective or an environmental one.

Was Trudeau’s announcement about speeding up the closing of coal-fired power plants meant to soften the response by environmental groups to his pipeline approval? If so it seems to have failed. There has been considerable backlash to this announcement. And Trudeau is breaking his promise to rebuild the Canadians government’s relationship with indigenous people through consultation. Trudeau has essentially rubber stamped three projects with minimal indigenous consultation: Site C, the B.C. LNG pipeline, Morgan Kinder Trans Mountain Pipeline, and the Line 3  replacement from Alberta to Wisconsin. Was the cancellation of the Northern Gateway a sop to First Nations and environmentalists?

So, Trudeau if you’re going to make decisions that we don’t like, stop using doublespeak as a justification. We’re smart enough to know that approving projects that increase emissions does not decrease emissions.


Does the Saskatchewan pipeline spill tell us anything?

Nice_dayAccording to the Huffington Post, a gathering pipeline for the Husky Oil upgrader in Lloydminster apparently developed a leak on the morning of July 21, 2016. This leak spilled crude oil into the North Saskatchewan River near Maidstone, Saskatchewan. Husky’s attempts to block the dispersal of between 200,000 and 250,000 litres of oil with booms and skimming failed.

Oh if it had only missed the water!

The spill forced the city of North Battleford—whose source of drinking water is the North Saskatchewan River—to shut down its water intake plant and severely limit water use. Further downstream on the North Saskatchewan, the same spill forced the city of Prince Albert to run a 30-km emergency water line from the South Saskatchewan River. Many rural residents in the area were forced to find alternate water sources. All of these temporary fixes come at considerable cost including the income losses suffered by out-of-work employees laid off due to water shortages. Seasonal industries, which depend on a good summer season, were especially hit hard.

Husky’s muddled story

Husky issued conflicting versions of how the spill unfolded.

  • Originally the Canadian Press stated that Husky claimed it found the leak of up to 250,000 litres of blended crude oil at 8 p.m. on July 20, and notified the Saskatchewan government about 14 hours later.
  • Then, Husky’s report to the province said the breach was discovered at 10 a.m. on July 21and they informed the province about 30 minutes later.
  • Yet again, in the following week, Husky changed its story. This time it said, “ it found ‘pressure anomalies’ on the evening of July 20 and shut down the line the next morning.”
The spill spreads
  • The Winnipeg Free Press pointed out that many businesses especially car washes and laundries have lost significant money and that North Battleford and Prince Albert weren’t sure when water plants could start to draw water again because they weren’t equipped to deal with hydrocarbons
  • The Toronto Star reported that some of the Husky water tests from 60 locations indicated they met Canadian water standards. However, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall insisted that more tests were necessary. Husky’s testing methods were called into question and Sask Water security Agency wanted to do more testing.
  • The National Observer noted that the Saskatchewan Government announced that, ” it is ‘unlikely’ that the clean-up effort will be able to remove all of the oil.”
Obfuscate if you can

As of August 22, the Saskatchewan Government reported that 800 people were still involved in the cleanup and that the “shoreline clean up on the most heavily impacted area is complete. However, on Aug 16 the Saskatchewan Ministry of the Environment, in the Financial Post, stated that, “it’s unlikely that all the oil can be cleaned up.” The ministry spokesperson said this refers mainly to oil that will sink to the river’s bottom. The ministry spokesperson went on to say that it will be a long time before the river is clean again. Also, the oil on the bottom could be churned up by moving ice in next spring’s thaw.

The average reader may not notice the difference between bottom clean-up (not mentioned in their status report) and shoreline cleanup.

Ask the right questions
  • Why such a poor response in to a small amount in such an accessible area? According to the Toronto Star the amount leaked is quite small, ” …mixed with thinning agents—it would fill about two rail tankers.” Imagine the consequences of a large spill in the mountains where access is extremely limited and the recovery would have to deal with rapids and waterfalls.
  • Why the differences in the detection story? Is Husky trying to do damage control and hide their poor detection capacity ?
  • Is the Saskatchewan pipeline regulatory system weak? According to SASKOIL, the province,  “is moving to ‘regulation by declaration’ in the oil industry”, which is going to make the situation even worse. SASKOIL claims that this spill is only one of 18,000 since 1990. If the spill had occurred only on land nobody would have heard of it.
  • Will Premier Wall take any responsibility? Alberta Politics says that Wall disappeared for a week and refused to talk about the environmental disaster when he did finally show up. Wall has been the great proponent for pipelines and within hours, just before his disappearance, was going on about pipelines being the safest way to transport oil. Then he said that he would get into the debate about pipelines—”at a later date.”
What does it mean?

What does this say about pipelines being the safest way to transport oil? Maybe we need to skip that question. Do you think that oil is the problem—NOT the transportation method?