Subject: [SocialistWorker.org] The Tar Sands gas rush
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Analysis: Roger Annis
======== THE TAR SANDS GAS RUSH ==============================================
Roger Annis reports on the drive by Canadian government officials--including
members of the Green Party--to step up tar sands drilling.
July 18, 2012
A FOUR-page report  by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board
(NTSB) into the disastrous pipeline break by Enbridge Crop. in Michigan last
year is probably a final nail in the coffin of the company's proposed
"Northern Gateway" tar sands bitumen pipeline across northern British
Columbia to an export terminal in Kitimat.
The NSTB concurred with investigators' findings that the Canadian pipeline
builder knew for years about cracks that ruptured in July 2010 and caused
more than 800,000 gallons of tar sands oil to spill into the Kalamazoo River
in Michigan. The cleanup has cost about $800 million, and counting. Several
dozen lawsuits against the company have been launched.
In releasing the report, on July 10, the NSTB had harsh words for the
company, which claims to have an exemplary safety record. "Learning about
Enbridge's poor handling of the rupture, you can't help but think of the
Keystone Kops," said Deborah Hersman, chair of the NTSB. The report says
pipeline operators took 17 hours to shut down the pipeline after the break
was first reported.
But any celebration of the possible demise of Northern Gateway should be
tempered by the fact that an Enbridge rival, TransCanada Corp., is well on
the road to winning approval for an even bigger tar sands prize--the
"Keystone XL" pipeline that would deliver tar sands goo to refineries in
Texas. That proposal is bogged down in a dispute with U.S. regulatory
officials over the precise routing of the line. But the line continues to be
built as its contested sections are discussed and resolved.
There is stiff opposition to Keystone XL in Canada and the U.S. But can it
prevail over the fossil fuel industry and its paid hirelings in the U.S. and
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A RECENT article in the daily /Vancouver Sun/  explains some of the
political fallout in British Columbia of the likely collapse of the Northern
Gateway pipeline. The trade-union based New Democratic Party (NDP) is leading
polls in the province, both federally and in anticipation of a provincial
election next year. It has opposed the pipeline since it was first announced
several years ago and is unlikely to suffer from its demise.
But of note in the NDP stance is the absence of opposition to the Alberta tar
sands behemoth and the grave threat to the planet's climate that it
represents. "Of course" we should be promoting the sale and further
development of tar sands product, said party leader Tom Mulcair recently in
Mulcair has been publicly quibbling with the tar sands industry because he
wants to see it operate on a more "sustainable" basis. He wants to slow the
frantic pace of production and expansion in the tar sands patch. For this, he
has been criticized by the industry and its hangers-on, but the non-dinosaurs
in the industry realize that Mulcair's views should be heard and discussed.
The NDP position is mirrored by the Green Party. It wants to see a
"moratorium" on tar sands expansion. Following the halt to a section of the
Keystone XL line by the U.S. government last January (a section running
through Nebraska), party leader Elizabeth May declared in a party statement
, "We should now pause and re-think shipping our unprocessed crude to
either the U.S. or China. We can refine that oil here and use it domestically
or export the finished product, creating jobs in the process and ensuring
environmental controls. It is critical to freeze any new growth of the oil
sands [note: not "tar" sands], allowing value-added processing."
The statement said the party "is advocating increased environmental
responsibility of oil sands developers and placing a moratorium on further
oil sands development (i.e. increases in annual production). Slowing the
overheated economy will allow refineries to be built in Alberta."
The Green position favoring tar sands refineries is a nod to the long-held
position of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, one of
Canada's largest industrial unions. (It is currently engaged in merger talks
with the Canadian Auto Workers union.)
For both parties, the idea of shutting down the tar sands is anathema, for
they are wedded to the capitalist system as the only possible basis to run
society. The alternatives to a society of expanding fossil fuel consumption
must necessarily be radical and anti-capitalist in nature if they are to have
any chance of success.
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THE FAILURE of the environmental policies of the NDP and Green Party is
underlined by their failure to speak out against plans for a massive
expansion of natural gas extraction, including fracking, in Alberta and
northeast British Columbia (BC). Industry consortiums are applying for
construction of gas pipelines across northern BC and the construction of at
least three natural gas liquefaction complexes and export terminals in
Kitimat, on the northern BC coast.
The BC NDP supports  the industry's plans. "We've been fracking in BC for
decades and we do it fairly well. I've been to a number of frack sites, and
I'm comfortable with the technology," BC NDP Energy Critic John Horgan told
the /Vancouver Sun's/ Vaughn Palmer last month.
Federal Green leader Elizabeth May is apparently silent. She and her party
oppose gas fracking in BC, but have not spoken out on the proposed
pipeline-liquefaction-export labyrinth that fracking and more "conventional"
gas extraction will feed.
Natural gas is purported to be a less environmentally harmful fossil fuel by
those who earn money from its extraction and sale. But this is a myth, long
established by scientific study. This is once again highlighted, rather
politely in this case, by a new study entitled "Greenwashing Gas."  A team
of researchers at the University of Victoria in BC have published the paper
in the peer-reviewed journal Energy Policy.
They conclude there is much uncertainty about the level of greenhouse gases
emitted from the "production" (i.e., fracking) of shale gas and its
transformation into liquefied natural gas. Emissions could be only slightly
higher than those of conventional natural gas, or as high as those from coal.
"Instead of applying labels such as 'climate friendly,' we should be asking:
what types of natural gas, under what conditions, can contribute to a more
sustainable energy future?" asks Dr. Karena Shaw of the School of
Environmental Studies at the university.
The issue of comparative emissions of natural gas fracking is only one part
of the story of the hallucinatory plans for natural gas production and export
in northern BC. The annual amount of energy input required to operate the
proposed liquefaction plants in Kitimat is roughly equal to half the present
production of energy in the province and five times the present electrical
consumption of the region of Vancouver.
British Columbia already imports electricity each year from the United States
at peak demand moments, notwithstanding its very substantial hydroelectricity
resources. So where will it get the huge amounts of energy to liquify natural
gas? One option is to dam more rivers. Coincidentally, a new, mega-dam, "Site
C," has been proposed for some time along the Peace River. But even that
would not suffice. So an additional option is none other than to building
natural gas-fired power plants.
The timing of the "Greenwashing Gas" paper is interesting because it comes
just one month after a declaration by BC Premier Christy Clark  that, lo
and behold, the burning of natural gas will henceforth be declared a "clean"
source of energy if it is used to liquefy natural gas.
Gas was rightly declared a dirty fuel by the vapid and deceptive
environmental policies of Clark's Liberal Party predecessor, Gordon Campbell.
His government went so far as to close down a gas-burning power plant located
in the port of Vancouver. So Clark's policy departure is highly symbolic.
But it's also consistent with the Liberals' environmental policy because that
has largely consisted of deception, notwithstanding the award that many of
Canada's largest environmental groups presented to Campbell at the UN
environmental conference in Copenhagen in 2009. (The award  was based
largely on his introduction of a "carbon tax" in 2008--from which the oil and
gas extraction industries were exempted!)
The NDP's Horgan says there should be "public consultation" before the
premier's pro-gas, policy change is confirmed.
Billions of dollars of quick, easy money are at stake in the natural gas
plans. Meanwhile, the tar sands pipeline story is far from over in the
province. Kinder Morgan Inc., the fourth largest energy company in North
America, wants to triple the capacity of its existing tar sands pipeline,
Trans Mountain, that already brings 300,000 barrels of bitumen crude daily to
Vancouver's harbor for export.
/First published at A Socialist in Canada /.
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