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Ottawa backs off oil sands assessments, concedes greenhouse gas targets not met


 

OTTAWA – The federal government has confirmed it is backing away from assessing the environmental impact of new oilsands projects, one day after acknowledging it won’t come close to meeting greenhouse gas reduction targets.

A final list of the types of projects that will require a federal environmental assessment was released Friday. The list contains no mention of in-situ oilsands mines, which are expected to be the industry’s most common type of development in the future.

“This is the largest single source of (greenhouse gas) growth in the country and yet the federal government is not going to be playing a role there,” said Keith Stewart of Greenpeace.

On Thursday, Environment Canada released a report concluding that Canada is on pace to get halfway to its 2020 emissions target under the Copenhagen accord.

In-situ mines involve heating underground bitumen deposits enough to soften them so they can be pumped up.

In some ways, they are considered more environmentally friendly. They require no vast open pits or lake-sized tailings ponds of toxic water.

Environmentalists have pointed out they still result in habitat fragmentation on the surface through seismic lines and roads to wellheads. But their most significant impact results from heating the bitumen, usually through steam. Generating that steam burns a lot of natural gas, increasing the carbon intensity of the resulting barrel of oil.

The industry’s gradual shift toward in-situ production is generally blamed for a recent rise in the average amount of carbon dioxide released per barrel of oilsands crude. About 80 per cent of the resource can only be recovered using in-situ methods.

Alberta government figures say in-situ production creates anywhere from one to 10 more kilograms of CO2 per barrel than open-pit mining.

Stewart said there are also unanswered questions about some in-situ techniques. He points to a Canadian Natural Resources project that has been leaking bitumen for months near Cold Lake, Alta., despite the company’s attempts to stop it.

Large expansions to existing open-pit mines will still be reviewed. As well, the federal environment minister has discretion to call a review into any project if the minister feels it is warranted. And all new oilsands projects will still be reviewed by Alberta.

Environmental lawyer Melissa Gorrie said the province seems to be tightening its idea of what needs to be reviewed. She said a recent decision means two in-situ projects won’t have any public review at all after the province ruled local aboriginal groups weren’t directly affected by them.

“There’s been a lot of problems even getting hearings triggered for in-situ projects in the province.”

A spokeswoman with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said industry welcomes the finalized list.

“The provincial government will still be doing a review and assessment and it’s equally stringent,” said Geraldine Anderson. “It’s basically a reduction in duplication.”

In background documents, Ottawa says the goal of the changes is to “achieve more predictable and timely project reviews, reduce duplication, strengthen environmental protection and enhance consultation with aboriginal groups.

“The amendments to the regulations ensure federal environmental assessment requirements are focused on those major projects that have the greatest potential for significant adverse environmental effects in areas of federal jurisdiction.”

Gorrie said it’s a mistake to think in-situ facilities don’t have significant impacts.

“Just because it’s not a big open-pit mine that everybody can see doesn’t mean that there aren’t significant impacts that need to be addressed and require an assessment.”

— By Bob Weber in Edmonton


 

Ottawa backs off oil sands assessments, concedes greenhouse gas targets not met

    • Not true, sorry. Have that talk.

        • And this chart illustrates Akasofu’s methodology fairly well.

          • The Pastafarians’ piracy correlation is at least as good as the CO2 correlation.

            They have as much credibility as the IPCC.

          • Sure, if you pretend that, like Akasofu and the Pastafarians, the IPCC’s position isn’t backed by physical laws.
            I get it – you’ll clasp onto anything that tells you what you want to hear. But stop pretending it’s science.

          • Heh heh heh… the IPCC is bolstered by the laws of politicking, and even the science that is tangential to the IPCC’s mandate does not have enough knowledge and precision of the physics being manipulated to be able to rely on their assumptions.

          • Well, that was a whole lot of nothing.
            I realize that it’s hard to cling to Akasofu’s magic curve-fitting when he can’t provide you with any physical basis to do so, while the physical properties of CO2 are indisputable, so let’s go back to my question:
            “Do you believe that if temperatures do not uniformly rise throughout the
            spring, that rising daylength has failed to predict rising
            temperatures?

    • I see the Koch bros love having dupes like you.

      but it won’t work

    • I guess ocean acidification is not happening also

  1. Why is this happening. How can this be my government disregarding its number one responsibility to the people of Canada. We have a bucnch of scoundrels and worst running our country. The public has been deceived and misled. Its bound to end ugly.

    • Because the fried chickens wont come home to roost on their watch

  2. While the issue of burning one hydrocarbon, relatively clean natural gas, to produce another, somewhat less clean bitumen, is a real one, two much more important factors have been ignored in this otherwise good article.

    The first is that almost no in situ bitumen is upgraded. Almost all of it is exported as dilbit. The economic loss to Albertans and other Canadians from exporting raw bitumen is truly staggering, in the many tens of billions per year – and that will only increase as in situ volumes build up.

    The second is that the additional GHG emissions of the bitumen extraction process compared to other crude oil sources is dwarfed by the GHG emissions produced by consumption of the end refined products. The real problem is not bitumen producton, it is the consumption and burning of refined products by consumers and industry.

    • The economic basis for upgrading bitumen depends on the spread in price between dilbit and synthetic oil, which is itself an indicator of the relative markets for each of those products.

      The capital investment required to build an upgrading facility, and the consequent risk, can only be justified if there is good reason to believe that a consistent profit can be made.

      But if there’s more of a market for dilbit than for synthoil, then upgrading to synthoil is going to result in a loss rather than a profit.

    • Which is why the US Canada and mexico have mandated the increased fuel efficiency of the fuel pigs the automobile corporations fooled people were economically, environmentally and ethically sustainable, The end of Hummer Dummer which went out of business and the inefficient 3 speed trucks and SUV has been legislated to END. Were you easy to fool that they were cool ?

  3. Point being…. anyone remember the enormous tailing ponds (lakes) that continue to leak toxic substances? The crazy increase in downstream cancer rates? The apocalypse-like landscape?
    Now all of that will disappear from view!!!! But of course it won’t disappear at all, it will just be left in the ground, uncontrolled, unconstrained and untreated, MUCH cheaper and MUCH more dangerous, although…no more embarrassing pictures.

    • Actually the reclaimed areas are not distinguishable from the surrounding mixed boreal forest, and the principal difference from previous to the oil sands operations is that the soil does not stink of hydrocarbons oozing up from below.

      Once the water is extracted from the tailings ponds they too will be reclaimed.

      Oh, and those crazy cancer rate increases have been demonstrated to be bogus.

      • Do you actually believe the petroleum corporations can remediate the damage they have done to water, peat and ecosystems ?
        When do they intend to begin remediating their carbon footprint?
        They have yet to remediate the Toxic tailing ponds then there is the monster pile of sulphur Who do you think will be stuck with that mess.

  4. Let me get this right CNRL site is leaking to date this has leaked 2 m liters? and in their wisdom the Harper Cons have determined accounting for the ecological, toxic, economic and climate impact is not necessary. Guess we will see that one in court for failure to protect Canadians

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