Sunday, August 23, 2009

As the supply of conventional oil declines energy companies are increasingly looking not just to unconventional areas for drilling (such as the Arctic Ocean) but also to unconventional sources such as the Alberta Tar/Oil Sands. Petroleum extraction from bituminous deposits is such areas is controversial for many different reasons-its effect on the local ecology being the primary question. In recent years the American government has looked at the Alberta Tar Sands as a potentially significant (there may be more oil in this area than under Saudi Arabia) and, above all "strategically safe" (given a couple of weeks the US Marines could probably walk to the area in question) source of petroleum. Reliance on this source, however, has met with considerable opposition, not just within Alberta but also within the USA itself. The simple fact is that petroleum extraction from areas such as the Tar Sands is inevitably the dirtiest way to get oil, both in its effect on the local ecosystem and in terms of its contribution to carbon dioxide emissions. The greatest barrier to the tar sands development is that there simply is not enough water available to meet the needs of even a fraction of the proposed (let alone the potential) development. This, of course, raises the question of whether some substantial water engineering projects- such as diverting much of the flow of the Mackenzie River south- may not be part of the hidden agenda of the oil companies and governments.
The opposition in the USA is now appealing the recent Presidential Permit for a pipeline to the USA from the Tar Sands. Here's the story from the Act Up in Saskatchewan website.
International Coalition Appeals Tar Sands Pipeline Permit:
Contributed by Jim Elliott
On August 20th, an international coalition of environmental and aboriginal organizations have vowed to challenge a permit given to a pipeline to bring the dirtiest oil on earth from the Tar Sands in Alberta to the United States.

“The State Department has rubber-stamped a project that will mean more air, water and global warming pollution, particularly in the communities near refineries that will process this dirty oil,” said Earthjustice attorney Sarah Burt. “The project’s environmental review fails to show how construction of the Alberta Clipper is in the national interest. We will go to court to make sure that all the impacts of this pipeline are considered.”

The groups involved in the challenge are Earthjustice, the Indigenous Environmental Network, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and Sierra Club of the United States. They pointed out in their statements today that this decision to allow the pipeline contradicts President Obama’s promise to cut global warming pollution and America’s addiction to oil while investing in a clean energy future.

The intended plan is to allow Enbridge, a Canadian company, to build the Alberta Clipper pipeline across northern Minnesota to Superior, Wisconsin and the Southern Lights pipeline to carry hazardous liquids back into Canada.

The continued support of the Tar Sands development in Alberta is creating an environmental catastrophe, with toxic tailings ponds so large they can be seen from space and plans to strip away the forests and peat lands in an area the size of Florida. In addition, greenhouse gas emissions from Tar Sands production are three times that of conventional crude oil and it contains 11 times more sulfur and nickel, six times more nitrogen and five times more lead than conventional oil. These toxins are released into the U.S. air and water when the crude oil is processed into fuels by refineries. So, in addition to the toxic mess and damage inflicted on Alberta and Saskatchewan, this proposal will expand the number of point sources for increased pollution.

“The tar sands pipeline connects U.S. refiners and consumers with the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive crude oil on earth,” said Kevin Reuther, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy’s legal director. “Tar sands crude is causing massive environmental degradation in Canada and results in significantly more greenhouse gas emissions. This is the absolute wrong step to take if we want to create a greener energy future.”

It is said that building this pipeline to the United States would be in the national interest of the United States. If fact, these pipelines would hurt the United States. By having this pipeline cross the border, it will entrench the United States to depend on this dirty oil for as long as it flows. It will also obligate Canada to continue to provide oil in the same proportion as it now provides for the forseeable future even when the Tar Sands are depleted.

“Importing dirty tar sands oil is not in our national interest,” said Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope. “At a time when concern is growing about the national security threat posed by global warming, it doesn’t make sense to open our gates to one of the dirtiest fuels on earth. This pipeline will lock America into a dirty energy infrastructure for years to come. This is exactly the kind of project the State Department should be protecting us from.”

Many of the same groups involved in this court challenge are also appealing the U. S. Forest Service permission to allow the pipeline to cross parts of the Chippewa National Forest in Minnesota. In addition, a group of tribal members have apparently gathered enough signatures on a petition to hold a referendum on the Leech Lake tribal council’s agreement to allow the line through tribal land.

"We are saddened by the news that the Presidential Permit was signed today,” said Marty Cobenais of the Indigenous Environmental Network, a Bemidji, Mn.-based non-profit. “The voices and rights of the Leech Lake Band members are not being listened to by the Obama Administration. According to the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe Constitution they are allowed to hold a referendum vote and allow the members to decide to accept the agreement with Enbridge or not. Nearly 700 signatures were obtained. If they vote against the agreement, the pipeline route would have to go around the boundaries of the Leech Lake Reservation, which would require a new Environmental Impact Study, plus other permits including a new Presidential Permit.

“This project is being approved without all the federal regulations completed. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is still waiting to receive a completed application from Enbridge Energy and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe to begin their approval process for allotment lands affected by these pipelines.”

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