The "Tar Sands" Campaign and the Suppression of North America's Energy Potential
By William Walter Kay
Environmentalism is attacking Alberta’s oil sands industry. Their “Tar Sands” campaign is best understood when placed within the grand crusade to suppress North America’s energy potential.
Canada and USA have combined oil reserves of several trillion barrels. Over 2 trillion barrels are recoverable with existing technology at current prices. Combined Canadian and American petroleum consumption is 10 billion barrels a year. These countries possess centuries of oil supply.
The oil sands are not the only oil reserve besieged by environmentalists. The kerogen beds of Colorado, the conventional oil reservoirs under the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, and the deposits off British Columbia’s coast are among the many mammoth reserves kept from development by environmentalists.
The “Tar Sands” campaign involves hundreds of environmental groups animated with millions of dollars from a few dozen foundations, corporations, and government agencies. Between 2006 and 2011 these groups planted 4,000 misinformation-laden anti-oil sands articles into the mainstream media.
10% of the oil imported into North America comes through two dynasties, the Irvings and the Pews – both major benefactors of environmentalism.
A 2011 US Chamber of Commerce report identified 351 environmentalist activist campaigns blocking specific American energy proposals. The Sierra Club was leading over 100 local campaigns against coal-fired electricity. Solar power industry front man, David Gelbaum, gave the Sierra Club $200 million.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
THE TAR SANDS CAMPAIGN
Three Alberta-based Anti-Oil Sands Activists: Nikiforuk, Timoney, and Schindler
The Tar Sands Campaign
Aboriginals and Oil Sands
Tar Sands Propaganda
THE TAR SANDS CAMPAIGN IN CONTINENTAL CONTEXT
The East Coast Refinery Lobby
Other North American Oil Reserves Under Environmentalist Attack
The Frontline of the Second American Civil War: The US Energy Permitting Process
THE TAR SANDS CAMPAIGN
Officially, of Alberta’s 171.3 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, 169.9 billion consist of bitumen lodged in the sandy soils of three vast deposits: Athabasca, Peace, and Cold Lake. There are 3 trillion barrels of bitumen in the “Sands.” The official estimate that 170 billion are recoverable is conservative. Most commentators use figures twice as high, while the author of the most recent book on the Sands believes over 1 trillion barrels are recoverable.
(The environmentalist phrase “tar sands” is a pejorative misnomer. Tar is a by-product of coal oil. Bitumen, or “pitch,” is dense petroleum.)
Athabasca-area aboriginals waterproofed their canoes with bitumen. European explorers of the Athabasca River stumbled upon bitumen pools that a 20-foot raft pole could not reach the bottom of. They found 100-yard stretches of blackened river bank where they would sink into bitumen past their ankles. The water tasted bitter and the air smelled of sulphur.
In 1888 the Canadian Senate learned the Athabasca valley held one of the world’s largest petroleum deposits.
In 1893 the Commons authorized a geological survey of the petroleum resources of the Athabasca Sands. Initially, the Sands were eyed as a source of asphalt.
In 1915 the Mellon Institute refined 99.7% pure bitumen by boiling raw Athabasca sand in acidified water, then pressing the froth through a sieve. Similar processes are used today.
In 1930 the Canadian Northern Oil Company began working an oil sands lease (now Syncrude’s site).
In 1950 J. Howard Pew’s Sun Oil began drilling along the Athabasca.
The Great Canadian Oil Sands Ltd. (GCOS) was incorporated in 1952 and recruited two other Sands-active companies within a year. Pew bought into GCOS in 1954 and attained majority ownership in 1963.
In 1959 Oklahoma’s Cities Service Oil Co. entered the Athabasca arena. In 1962 they formed Syncrude, with Imperial Oil, ARCO, and Royalite Oil, to build a 100,000 barrel per day (bpd) operation with a pipeline to Edmonton.
In 1964 Alberta’s Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), fearing Sands oil might flood conventional oil markets, approved only one Sands plant. GCOS’s $190 million 45,000 bpd proposal beat out the Syncrude bid and another bid from Shell.
On September 30, 1967 a fleet of light aircraft flew 600 dignitaries to Fort McMurray for an inaugural ceremony where they ogled GCOS’s huge bucket-wheel excavators. Production began in 1968 but swooned into a seven-year regulatory and construction nightmare wherein costs ballooned to $240 million.
The ECRB approved Syncrude’s proposal in 1969. Construction began in 1971, but in 1974 ARCO pulled out. The remaining partners informed politicians that, as costs had doubled; they needed a bail-out. The Federal, Ontario, and Alberta governments begrudgingly bought shares in Syncrude. In 1978 Syncrude completed a 50,000 bpd plant and got the go-ahead for a 129,000 bpd, $1 billion expansion.
Shell’s oil sands consortium, launched in the mid-1970s, collapsed along with oil prices in the 1980s. A decade later Shell revived its plan as the Athabasca Oil Sands Project. AOSP’s $5.7 billion, 155,000 bpd plant opened in 2003.
In the seven years prior to 1995, $5.5 billion was spent on oil sands projects. In the seven years after 1995, $24.5 billion was spent.
In the 1980s bitumen mining projects replaced the drag-line, bucket-wheel excavator system with giant shovels and dump trucks.
Today, bitumen less than 75 metres deep is mined. Bitumen below 75 metres is accessed through drilling methods called in situ because steam is used to separate the bitumen underground (“in the site”). The old in situ method, Cyclic Steam Stimulation, is giving way to Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD). The first SAGD experiment occurred in 1987. SAGD bitumen hit the market in 2001.
SAGD consists of drilling two horizontal wells, up to 800 metres long, one 5 metres above the other. The drill stems are perforated. Steam injected into the top pipe creates a bitumen-melting steam chamber with a turnip-shaped profile. Gravity drains bitumen to the bottom of this steam chamber along which runs the lower pipe. Bitumen seeps into the lower pipe and is pumped to the surface.
Research is being done on enhancing SAGD by adding solvents to the steam. Collateral research is being done on bitumen-dissolving nano-catalysts and on bitumen-straining molecular sieves. One firm is lowering giant electronic stove elements underground to melt bitumen.
In 2011 it cost $32 to mine a barrel of bitumen. SAGD production costs are around $20 a barrel. (All bitumen needs a $15-a-barrel upgrade before it can be sent to a conventional refinery.)
In 1980, when Canada produced 1.5 million barrels of oil per day, Sands oil accounted for 100,000 barrels. In 2010, when Canadian production hit 2.8 million bpd, Sands oil accounted for 1.4 million barrels.
In 2010 $10 billion was invested in the Sands. $16 billion will be invested in 2011. Oil sands royalties contributed $1.9 billion to Alberta’s treasury last year. The Sands, directly and indirectly, employ 112,000 Canadians.
The Athabasca Sands lie within the 68,000 square-kilometre Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which has Fort McMurray as its largest settlement. In 1964 Fort McMurray’s population was 1,300. Today 77,000 live in ‘Fort Mac’ and 12,000 of them work in oil sands production. Fort Mac’s median household income is $130,000 – one of the highest in the world.
Three Alberta-based Anti-Oil Sands Activists: Nikiforuk, Timoney, and Schindler
Calgary-based Andrew Nikiforuk has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Maclean’s, and Canadian Business. He is a regular CBC Radio commentator and a fixture on the enviro-lecture circuit. In 2009 he testified before a parliamentary committee on the oil sands.
Nikiforuk considers Alberta to be a “petrotyranny” and Canada to be a “dysfunctional petro-state” run by a “Communist gang.”
Although he was furious when the National Post called him an “environmental lobbyist,” Nikiforuk was paid by Greenpeace to write their Dirty Oil report. His book, Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent (winner of a 2009 Society of Environmental Journalists award), was commissioned by the David Suzuki Foundation. In 2009 Tides Canada bankrolled a Nikiforuk speaking tour to rally opposition to an oil sands pipeline.
Also in 2009, Greenpeace paid Nikiforuk expenses when he travelled with their delegation to Norway to lobby Statoil to divest from the Sands. While he was in Norway, the CBC introduced him on their Alberta-wide radio show as “our environmental commentator” before giving him nine minutes to trash oil sands extraction. CBC policies prohibit regular commentators from accepting free travel. CBC policies require show hosts to identify guests as lobbyists if there are lobbyists. This interview violated both policies. Nikiforuk gave interviews to other media outlets about Greenpeace’s lobbying of Statoil without identifying himself as part of the project.
The anti-oil sands campaign relies heavily on Kevin Timoney, Ph.D. – owner of an Edmonton-based eco-research firm. His reports get serious treatment in the press. Sample headlines include: “New Report Finds Elevated Arsenic Risk at Fort Chipewyan” and “High Levels of Poisons found in Water Downstream of Oil Sands.”
Timoney fancies himself as an “ecosopher.” Here are some of his published quotes:
“Humans have spread across the entire planet, some would say like a metastasized cancer, destroying not only organisms but the Earth’s ability to create and support life.”
“… the ecosphere has an inherent right to carry on its evolutionary destiny. We feel that the Earth should not be degraded, landscapes and life forms not destroyed; that we should love the planet, its trees, oceans, soil and birds, frogs everything. We place the ecosphere above ourselves.”
Timoney’s latest “study” of oil sands area fish consisted of his eating fish, then commenting on their taste and texture. The study is larded with keen observations like “perhaps a rare cancer.”
Timoney won’t reveal the identity of the scientists who review his work nor will he divulge the nature of his relationship with Greenpeace, although he appears in their videos.
US-born David Schindler was an engineering school drop-out in the 1960s when, smitten by the writings of Charles Elton and Rachel Carlson, he embraced ecology. After attaining a Ph.D. from Oxford, he got a teaching gig at Ontario’s Trent University, thus commencing a 45-year run as an eco-activist on the Canadian taxpayer’s dime. He hopped from car to car on the enviro-scare gravy train: phosphate detergents, acid rain, dioxin, climate change. His inaugural article for the US National Academy of Sciences (2002) warned of global warming and over-population. He is currently University of Alberta’s Killam Memorial Professor of Ecology – a prime spot from where to milk his latest Cause: “the rate at which the boreal forest is being savaged” (curious verb choice). Schindler’s three children and second wife are career biologists.
Schindler’s first oil sands report was financed by the Gordon and Tides foundations. The report, which relied on Timoney and other environmentalists, accused oil sands operations of spreading carcinogens. The report was hyped by the CBC. The Alberta government countered that the concentrations of the chemicals in question were both harmless and consistent with natural levels.
Schindler’s second salvo, Oil Sands development contributes elements toxic at low concentrations to the Athabasca River and its tributaries (2010) was again financed by the Gordon and Tides foundations and relied on Timoney, Global Forest Watch, and Environmental Defence. In this study Schindler’s team took 30 snow and water samples at varying distances from oil sands operations. They found higher than natural concentrations of industrial chemicals like copper and nickel at sites near large industrial plants. The study makes no comparison between the concentrations of industrial chemicals near oil sands operations and areas near other refineries, smelters, or open-pit mines. Given the engines, furnaces, and earth-movers at any mine or refinery, it is a no-brainer that surrounding areas would have higher than normal concentrations of industrial chemicals. The study does not allege oil sands emissions cause human health problems; however, it makes two oblique references to cancer at Fort Chipeywan. Both Schindler’s studies thank aboriginals for their ecological knowledge.
To address controversies generated by Schindler’s studies, Ottawa dispatched the Royal Society of Canada. Their Expert Panel, in an equivocal report issued December 2010, conceded that oil sands development was NOT a current threat to the environment and was NOT a major source of air pollution. They did call for more research, more monitoring, and faster reclamation. The Panel was clear that:
“There is no credible evidence of environmental contaminant exposures from the oil sands reaching Fort Chipeywan at levels expected to cause elevated human cancer rates.”
The Tar Sands Campaign
Environmentalism’s metastasising edge consists of thousands of Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations (ENGOs) doing contract work for hundreds of philanthropic foundations connected to oligarchic dynasties.
New York-based Environmental Grantmakers Association’s 200 members do not include many of the movement’s largest funders. In 2008 the EGA boasted their members owned assets of $200 billion and disbursed $600 million a year to ENGOs. However, the Ford, Packard, Hewlett, Moore, and Pew foundations are not EGA members. Cumulatively, these five funds regularly give over $600 million a year to ENGOs.
The Canadian Environmental Grantmakers Network (CEGN) lists 61 members. The overall annual giving of the Canadian enviro-grantmakers, CEGN members and otherwise, is about $100 million per year.
In 1998 the European Foundation Centre (EFC) mapped out 154 philanthropies and 36 corporations funding the European environmental movement. This data is dated, as is the EFC list of 40 European environmentalist funders who handed out $230 million in 2006. Hundreds of foundations now fund Euro-environmentalism. Five funds: Deutsche Bunderstifting Umwelt, Fondazione Cariplo, Fundacio la Caixa, Heinrich Bohl, and Oak cumulatively give$300 million a year to the movement.
As for grant-receiving ENGOs – the 2011 Statistical Abstract of the United States (using 2005 data) found 12,400 ENGOs in the USA with collective expenses of $10.3 billion. Philanthropic giving to environmental/wildlife groups was estimated at $7 billion (2007); however, not all this money came from big foundations. According to the Urban Institute (2008 data) there were 15,290 “environmental charities” in the US with gross revenues of $13.9 billion.
The Canadian Environmental Network (CEN) has 600 ENGO members including ten provincial and territorial associations. About 500 of the ENGOs listed as members of provincial associations are not CEN members. The resulting sum of 1,100 conforms to a 2007 CEGN estimate of 1,066 enviro-grant recipients.
The number of European ENGOs probably conforms to per capita ratios found in North America. While almost all ENGOs are European or North American, there are thousands elsewhere.
There are about 30,000 ENGOs in the world. Several hundred large foundations supply about a third of all ENGO finances.
Hundreds of ENGOs are involved in the “Tar Sands” campaign. At the forefront are international ENGOs with Canadian affiliates such as: World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Greenpeace, Ducks Unlimited, Sierra Club, Rainforest Action Network, Friends of the Earth, Global Forest Watch, Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC), Indigenous Environmental Network, Tides, and Corporate Ethics International.
Foundations financing “Tar Sands” activism include: Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Pew Charitable Trusts, Moore Foundation, Bullitt Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, Wilburforce Foundation, Gordon Foundation, and Oak Foundation.
Canadian ENGOs prominent in the “Tar Sands” campaign include: David Suzuki Foundation, Pembina Institute, Kairos, Council of Canadians, Polaris Institute, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Parkland Institute, West Coast Environmental Law, South Alberta Land Trust Society, Dogwood Initiative, Driftwood Foundation, Canadian Parks and Wildlife Service, Water Matters, and Environmental Defence.
Corporate Ethics International (CEI) consists of Michael Marx and four staff. Marx was a Communications Prof at Wisconsin U before he set up a public relations business in San Francisco. A decade later he landed a four-year contract with Rainforest Action Network (RAN) to coordinate their Mitsubishi boycott. Marx then became executive director of Coastal Rainforest Coalition (RAN, Greenpeace, NRDC, Sierra Club, etc.) for the Great Bear Rainforest campaign to enclose vast areas of British Columbia’s coast. After this campaign’s successful conclusion, he reorganized the Coalition’s remnant into ForestEthics, which he directed until 2003. CEI (est. 2003) was involved in anti-Wal-Mart campaigns until 2008 when Wal-Mart introduced a series of green reforms.
In 2007 CEI was approached by several US foundations to organize an anti-oil sands campaign. CEI boasts this “multi-million dollar campaign” involves “nearly 100 organizations.” The “Tar Sands” section of CEI’s website lists 39 supporting ENGOs. This section also lists 164 anti-oil sands articles and eight “reports” (one each from Timoney, Schindler, and Greenpeace and five dealing with global warming).
The Environmental Grantmakers Association’s 2008 fall retreat featured a presentation entitled: “Tar Sands: Stopping an Environmental Catastrophe” – a funding solicitation by Marx and Tzeporah Berman (then of ForestEthics). The brochure describes oil sands development as “one of the greatest threats to air, land and water in North America” and mentions how “grassroots and indigenous groups in Canada and US have recently joined forces to block tar sands development and use.”
CEI received cheques from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) in the following amounts in the following years: 2007 ($250,000), 2008 ($200,000), 2009 ($500,000), and 2010 ($300,000). Each grant was explicitly for anti-oil sands activism.
(In 2006 RBF gave $100,000 to both West Coast Environmental Law and Pembina Institute “to prevent a pipeline and tanker port that would endanger the Great Bear Rainforest protected area.” RBF gave $195,000 to the Canadian Climate Project and $20,000 to desmogblog.)
CEI coordinates the Rethink Alberta and No Keystone XL sub-campaigns. Rethink Alberta made a splash in 2010 with an international billboard blitz discouraging travel to Alberta. Rethink Alberta has 13 ENGO partners (RAN, UK Tar Sands Network, Friends of Earth, Polaris, Earthworks, Indigenous Environmental Network, ForestEthics, etc.).
Tides Foundation was created by Drummond Pike in 1976 and was managed by Pike until 2010. Pike was a middle man between philanthropies and ENGOs. Tides allocated $2 billion to 800, mostly environmentalist, projects. Tides Foundation and its affiliate, Tides Center, currently spend $200 million a year, half in grants. 80% of its grants go to US groups; much of the rest goes to Tides Canada.
Tides Canada’s 2009 expenditures were $14.7 million. Tides Canada funds hundreds of groups, but the bulk of their budget goes to 30 ENGOs. Tides Canada receives funds from many foundations, corporations, and government agencies, but the largest cheques come from major American foundations (Moore, Hewlett, Packard, Wilburforce, Rockefeller Brothers, etc.). Tides Canada also receives funds from Canadian enviro-foundations (Donnelly, Gordon, EJLB, Ivey, Donner, etc.).
Between 2001 and 2009, Tides Canada disbursed $112 million. During these years they took in $150 million. $40 million was received in 2007/8 for the Great Bear Rainforest campaign.
In 2008 Tides Foundation (USA) launched its Tar Sands Collaborative “to combat the environmental devastation caused by the exploitation of the Canadian Tar Sands.”
Summarizing Vivian Krause’s data: in 2009 Tides Foundation/Tides Canada gave $4.3 million to 32 American and Canadian ENGOs for anti-oil sands activism. The main recipients were: Corporate Ethics International ($750,000), NRDC ($200,000), Sierra Club ($200,000), Rainforest Action Network ($225,000), Western Organization of Resource Councils ($175,000), Earthworks ($100,000), Indigenous Environmental Network ($115,000), Fresh Energy ($110,000), ForestEthics ($286,000), Environmental Defense ($205,000), Boreal Songbird Initiative ($285,000), Ducks Unlimited Canada ($200,000), Southern Alberta Land Trust Society ($195,000), Greenpeace Canada ($186,000), WWF-Canada ($160,000), U of Toronto Governing Council ($133,000), and Sierra Club of Canada ($110,000).
According to Krause, between 2004 and 2010, US foundations spent $18 million de-marketing Alberta oil. $9 million of this was channelled through Tides. Pembina received $4 million. Corporate Ethics International received $1.2 million.
At least three enviro grantmakers deleted references to anti-oil activism from their websites. Wilburforce Foundation gave $50,000 to Headwaters Initiative and $25,000 to Dogwood Initiative for activism against the Northern Gateway oil sands pipeline. They later erased references to the pipeline from their website. In 2009 Bullitt Foundation deleted from its description of a grant to Dogwood Initiative the phrase: “mobilize urban voters for a federal ban on coastal tankers.” In 2008 Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) granted $50,000 towards creating a website persuading American tourism companies to boycott Alberta because of oil sands development. Subsequently, they deleted their motive for this grant from their website.
European foundations are also involved. Of the $25 million the Swiss-based Oak Foundation disbursed to ENGOs in 2009, $700,000 went to “raise the visibility of the tar sands issue and slow the expansion of tar sands production” and $5 million went to the Global Campaign for Climate Action to “mobilize civil society and public opinion in Canada.”
The money did not stop in 2009. In 2010 the Hewlett Foundation gave $2 million to Tides “to reduce environmental impacts of oil and gas development in Northern Canada.”
WWF-International made its opposition to oil sands development clear in a 2008 report co-produced with Co-operative Investments: Unconventional Oil: Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel. WWF-Canada (2009 revenues, $22.6 million) has 108 anti-oil sands articles on its website. Multiple WWF orgs have participated in “Tar Sands” projects.
Greenpeace embraced the “Tar Sands” campaign in June 2007 by mustering 50 youth at a farm south of Edmonton for a five-day confab whereat veteran eco-activists gave orders on how to protest oil sands development. This was prep for dozens of subsequent banner unfurlings, trespasses, and disruptions. In 2009 Greenpeace goons gained entry to a mine disguised as employees, chained themselves to a heavy hauler, hung up ‘dirty oil’ banners, and loaded smart-phone pictures onto the Internet.
Global Forest Watch (GWF) is an international network with 12 staff and ample funding from major foundations and government agencies. GWF was created by World Resources Institute in 1997. GFW-Canada was created in 2000 under the supervision of WWF, Sierra Club, NRDC, etc. GFW-Canada’s four staffers are in Edmonton. Their sole oil sands report is authored by Timoney.
ForestEthics’ 27 staffers are deployed at four Canadian and American offices. Their main project is a corporate boycott of oil sands oil. To date Walgreens, Whole Foods, Concord Shipping, LUSH, Avon Products, and the City of Bellingham have joined the boycott. ForestEthics also claims credit for getting various businesses to pledge to reduce their carbon footprints.
UK Tar Sands Network is a small ENGO engaging in mild direct action protests, maintaining a website, and organizing speaking tours. Indigenous Environment Network (IEN) facilitates these speaking tours by supplying real live Indians. Three recent aboriginal speakers were respectively employees of: Greenpeace, RAN, and IEN. Tar Sands Network members include: New Internationalist, People & Planet, Ethical Consumer, and Platform.
Platform (est. 1984) is funded by large foundations. High society scions Peter Roderick and Zac Goldsmith are marquis supporters. Platform’s dozen staffers became involved in “Tar Sands” campaigning in 2009 to support “indigenous First Nations Indians.” (All British ENGOs brandish the same “the blood of Fort Chipeywan people is on the companies’ hands” quote of a former Mikisew Cree Chief.) Platform organizes oil sands divestment campaigns with Co-operative Investments, WWF, Greenpeace, Unison, Friends of the Earth, and the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility.
The Canadian church coalition, Kairos, has 20 staffers and an annual budget of $4 million. 4% of their budget goes to anti-poverty activism. Their passion is for Energy Justice. They prophesize an economy based on wind and solar power. In 2008 Kairos declared its opposition to oil sands development in Christian Faith and the Canadian Tar Sands. They damn the oil sands for luring people away from the East Coast. After taking their stand, Kairos dispatched fact-finding missionaries to Alberta.
Additional divine activism came from Catholic Bishop Luc Bouchard – author of a report claiming a forest the size of Florida will be cleared by oil sands operators (a 40-fold exaggeration) and that oil sands CO2 emissions were 80 megatons (a 2.5-fold exaggeration). Luc’s gospel concludes: “The integrity of creation in the Athabasca Oil Sands is clearly being sacrificed for economic gain.”
Alberta’s Pembina Foundation (PF) and Pembina Institute (PI) strain to appear to be buttoned-down think tanks and not as hairy activist groups. PF is a reconstituted ENGO originally called Gaia Foundation. PI staff work as consultants to corporations. Their GreenLearning project, funded by oil firms, indoctrinates youth with environmentalism.
As PF is a registered charity, any donations they receive are tax deductible. Of the $2.17 million PF received in 2008, 95% went to PI for nakedly political purposes. Canada’s Commissioner of Lobbying records that PI lobbied the Federal Government dozens of times in 2009 regarding CO2 emissions, aboriginal relations, etc.
PI has 53 staff and revenues of $5 million (40% from PF). In 2008 PI and WWF-Canada co-published the 72-page Under-mining the Environment: The Oil Sands Report Card. Among several glossy reports issued by PI in 2009 were: Oil and Salmon Don’t Mix (opposing the Northern Gateway pipeline; paid for by the Moore Foundation); The Water that Binds Us: Trans-boundary Implications of Oil Sands Development (funded by the Gordon Foundation); and Clearing the Air on Oil Sands Myths (Hewlett Foundation). Each report’s release received national media hype.
PI considers oil sands extraction “a nasty and dirty business.” PI’s Simon Dyer calls it “the worst project in the world.” Yet, while Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network call for shutting down the Sands, PI generously calls for a moratorium on new projects and for a hobbling of existing projects with ever-more regulations. PI is devoted to replacing fossil fuels with wind and solar power.
In early 2009 Maude Barlow, Chair of the Council of Canadians, helicoptered over the oil sands, then compared the landscape to Mordor. She was in the process of helping Sierra Club organize a Tar Sands Film Festival at Ottawa University in advance of President Obama’s visit. Films included Radford’s Tar Sands: The Selling of Canada and the Council’s own The Dark Side of the Boom: Canada’s Mordor.
Barlow collaborates closely with Polaris Institute’s Tony Clarke, author of Tar Sands Showdown: Canada and the New Politics of Oil in an Age of Climate Change (2008). Polaris runs a “Tar Sands” website and produced the documentary Tar Nation (2009).
These are part of a blitz of anti-oil sands books, documentaries, and websites.
William Marsden’s diatribe, Stupid to the Last Drop (2007), became a national bestseller thanks to the marketing of his publisher, Vintage Canada (a Bertelsmann subsidiary). Stupid relies on Timoney for scientific evidence. To Marsden, oil sands development’s main crimes are global warming and the under-pricing of Canadian petroleum.
The low budget documentary, Toxic Alberta, produced in 2007 by an independent New York firm, was plugged by CNN in June 2010. Toxic Alberta claims 66% of Canada’s greenhouse gases (GHGs) are emitted around Fort McMurray – a 20-fold exaggeration.
The most successful anti-oil sands documentary, Greenpeace’s Petropolis (2009), benefited from movement-publicized screenings and award nominations.
ENGOs recruit celebrities into “Tar Sands” activism. Actress Neve Campbell was one conquest, but the coup was director James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar).
The documentary, Tipping Point: The Age of the Oil Sands, chronicles how aboriginal eco-activist Francois Paulette recruited Cameron. Tipping Point’s producer, Tom Radford, a National Film Board exec since 1980, has produced documentaries for BBC, CBC, PBS, and National Geographic. His first enviro-documentary, protesting the Bennett Dam, was released in 1972. Tipping Point was Radford’s second anti-oil sands flick. For scientistic veneer, Tipping Point uses Schindler. Oozing emotive rhetoric and misinformation, Tipping Point was broadcast twice on national television by the CBC in early 2010. The documentary is now a road show with Paulette giving introductory sermons about cancer at Fort Chip.
In 2009 over 40 mainstream media articles associated Avatar with the oil sands – not surprising given that Cameron designed his props after oil sands technology and given the film’s innocent-aboriginals-versus-rapacious-industry storyline. For decades now the international environmental movement has systematically mobilized backward indigenous tribes to thwart hinterland development, or as the Ford Foundation puts it: “helping traditional peoples preserve territorial land rights.” (The review Avatar’s Green Fascism draws a clear line from Cameron’s romanticized tribalism and demonized industry to the pioneering work of celebrated Nazi cinematographer Leni Riefenstahl.)
Cameron’s denunciations of the oil sands compelled Alberta Premier Stelmach to invite Cameron up for a tour. After the October 2010 tour Stelmach claimed Cameron as a convert, but in a subsequent interview on MSNBC (about Alberta’s “toxic lagoons”) Cameron called for “putting the break on” oil sands development. Cameron quoted Schindler about carcinogenic emissions, he claimed 140,000 square kilometres would be strip-mined, and he called for more ecological analysis. During the trip he promised to raise millions of dollars from his Hollywood buddies to support aboriginal legal obstruction. Cameron’s objection to oil sands development is based on global warming arguments and on alleged negative impacts on aboriginal’s hunting and fishing. His anti-oil sands commentary refers to Mother Earth, Nature’s Laws, and aboriginal ecological wisdom. He calls global warming deniers “scum.”
Three sub-campaigns besiege the oil sands.
US ENGOs’ tenacious fight to prevent Imperial Oil from shipping over-sized equipment to its Kearl oil sands plant. Imperial purchased two hundred 260-tonne, 64-metre long modules from Korea. They shipped them to Seattle, presuming they could truck them along Idaho and Montana highways and up to Alberta. However, the latter part of this journey requires road-widening and the burial of overhead electrical lines, things the Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, and their local allies claim to be ecologically harmful. With the matter tied up in the courts, Imperial is disassembling modules at $500,000 a pop. Other oil sands companies are also having their equipment supply lines blocked.
After US ENGOs failed to stop the Alberta Clipper pipeline (which delivers 400,000 barrels of diluted bitumen a day to Chicago), a larger campaign was mounted to block TransCanada’s Keystone XL – a $13 billion, 2,700-kilometre, 36-inch diameter, 1.1 million barrel a day pipeline. Keystone XL will run from Alberta to Nebraska where it will hook up with the existing Keystone Phase II line to Oklahoma. From there, Keystone will pipe diluted bitumen to refineries in Texas. Being a trans-border project, Keystone XL requires State Department approval, something Hillary Clinton is reluctant to provide.
A February 4, 2011 letter to President Obama opposing the “dirty Tar Sands oil” pipeline was signed by 86 ENGOs, including the newly minted STOP (Stop Tarsands Oil Pipeline). Leading the campaign are Corporate Ethics International, NRDC, Sierra Club, Public Citizen, and Friends of the Earth. Their propaganda adds to the standard oil sands myths the following: a) diluted bitumen is more corrosive and toxic than conventional oil; b) Keystone XL pipe is made of thin, weak steel; c) the diluted bitumen in the pipeline is super-heated; d) there are no emergency spill plans; e) the oil is destined for China; f) Keystone will increase US fuel prices; and g) TransCanada is applying undue duress on landowners along the route– all lies.
A similar battle is being waging against Enbridge’s plans to pipe bitumen to British Columbia’s northern coast. Northern Gateway will be a 1,172-kilometre, 36-inch diameter, 525,000 barrel a day pipeline from Alberta to Kitimat, B.C. Construction will create 62,700 person-years of employment. Operating the proposed Kitimat Marine Terminal will create 165 permanent jobs in Kitimat. Enbridge hoped to have Northern Gateway approved by 2012, under construction in 2013, and operational by 2016.
Environmentalists opposing Northern Gateway claim to be maintaining an oil tanker ban on BC’s coast but oil tankers have been loading up at the Burnaby, B.C. terminus of the Transmountain Pipeline since 1953. Some opposition to Northern Gateway comes from Kinder Morgan, Transmountain’s owner.
The main opposition to Northern Gateway is led by Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, Dogwood Initiative, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, West Coast Environmental Law, Living Oceans, and several new “grassroots” groups from towns on B.C.’s northern coast. Vicky Husband, veteran field marshal of B.C. eco-activism, has declared, “Canada’s conservation community is unanimous in its opposition to the pipeline.” Greenpeace is organizing a province-wide petition. A “Pipe up against Enbridge” website serves as a mobilizing hub. A full-page ad opposing Northern Gateway appeared in the Globe and Mail on March 23, 2010, signed by 150 ENGOs and First Nations councils, and by David Suzuki, Margaret Atwood, Neve Campbell, etc.
The executive of Coastal First Nations opposes Northern Gateway, as do the B.C. Union of Indian Chiefs. This is a consequence of the cash pipeline connecting US foundations to B.C. aboriginals.
The US foundation-financed ENGO Headwaters Initiative is building a conservation community among B.C. aboriginals. Another ENGO, Pacific North Coast Integrated Area Management Initiative (PNCIMA), recently received $8.3 million from the Moore Foundation to fuse north coast aboriginals and ENGOs into an eco-lobby. Turning Point Initiative, set up in 2000 as an aboriginal outreach for the Great Bear Rainforest campaign, now does “Tar Sands” activism. The Coastal Opportunities Fund received $60 million from six foundations (Hewlett, Moore, Packard, Rockefeller Bros., Tides Canada, and The Nature Conservancy). These funds were matched by the B.C. and Federal government and placed into two endowments; one devoted to rallying a legion of aboriginal eco-activists and the other devoted to “sustainable economic diversification” in north coast aboriginal communities.
In 2010 Moore gave CPAWS-BC $420,000 and WWF-Canada $710,000 for PNCIMA-related work. They also gave $1.5 million to Skeena Wild, whose main function is opposition to the “tar sands” pipeline. They also gave Tides Canada $1.7 million “for timely small grassroots activities.”
The Northern Gateway proposal is currently before a three-member Joint Review Board (National Energy Board and Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency). In January 2010 the Joint Review Board, after a year of public hearings, demanded more information from Enbridge regarding environmental impacts and assorted aboriginal issues. In March 2010 Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency awarded $2.4 million to 20 B.C. First Nations groups and $440,000 to nine ENGOs so they could participate in the pipeline review process. All these groups oppose Northern Gateway.
Aboriginals and Oil Sands
Anti-oil sands activists speak much of the plight of the Beaver Lake Cree First Nation, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, and more nebulously the “Cree People of Fort Chipewyan.”
In the vicinity of Alberta’s three oil sands areas there are 17 First Nations settlements (combined population 16,000) and six Metis settlements (combined population 6,000).
In 2009 aboriginal-run firms received $810 million in contracts from oil sands companies. Suncor has paid $1 billion to aboriginal firms since 1992. Syncrude has paid $1.5 billion to such firms since 1993.
The Fort Mackay Group of Companies, owned by the Fort Mackay First Nation (population 862), has revenues of $100 million a year.
The 6,400 aboriginals living on reserves in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo receive $500 million a year in oil sands money. Many aboriginal households enjoy six-figure incomes where not long ago most were on welfare.
The oil sands are the biggest single-area employer of aboriginals in Canada. 1,600 aboriginals work full-time in oil sands industries. 10% of the oil sands workforce has some aboriginal ancestry.
Oil sands firms and governments pay several million dollars a year to aboriginal-staffed Industry Relations Corporations – permanent town hall meetings ensuring aboriginal consultation.
Fort Chipewyan was founded by British fur traders in 1798. Its current population of 1,200 makes Fort Chip the second largest settlement in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. Fort Chip’s residents are Metis, Dene, Europeans, Cree et al. Fort Chip has no permanent road link. Its main industry is “government services.” Fort Chip is 200 kilometres from any oil sands industry.
In 2009 Academy Award-nominated director Leslie Iwerks released the documentary Downstream with the storyline: “A doctor’s career is jeopardized as he fights for the lives of the aboriginal people living downstream from one of the most polluting oil operations in the world.” (Iwerks followed this documentary with a longer version, Dirty Oil, narrated by Neve Campbell.)
Dr. John O’Connor, a general practitioner, diagnosed abnormal cancer rates, including six cases of a rare bile duct cancer, among Fort Chip residents. O’Connor became an enviro-folk hero due to articles written about him by Nikiforuk.
The publicity attracted the attention of the Alberta Cancer Board (ACB) whose months-long investigation was positively reviewed by top international medical institutes. ACB found that of O’Connor’s 6 alleged bile duct cancers, 2 were real, 3 were more common types of cancer, and 1 was not cancer at all. ACB found 47 Fort Chip residents with cancer. The average for a town its size is 39 cancer sufferers; hence, the rate was within the normal realm. ACB speculated that the slightly higher incidence of cancer was due to heightened detection resulting from O’Connor’s scare. ACB found no connection between oil sands activity and cancers at Fort Chip.
O’Connor claimed the ACB report vindicated him.
Health Canada filed a complaint with Alberta’s College of Physicians and Surgeons accusing O’Connor of “causing undue alarm.” O’Connor refused to hand over his files to Health Canada, as required by law, while accusing the government of a cover-up. The College completed its investigation (February 2009) but could not release their report without O’Connor’s consent, which he refused to give. O’Connor spoke about the investigation but vetoed a joint statement that would have allayed fears in Fort Chip.
O’Connor told the media he had been cleared by the investigation.
When the College’s report was leaked, it exposed O’Connor as having committed serious ethical breeches. Of his 12 alleged cases of colon cancer, only three were real. His tale of a 33-year-old dying of colon cancer was a complete fabrication. The report said O’Connor’s media statements were filled with “mistruths, inaccuracies and unconfirmed information.” The report accused O’Connor of deliberately obstructing Health Canada and ACB investigations.
O’Connor then toured Europe lecturing on the cancer epidemic at Fort Chip.
In 2008 Fort Chip kids found a fish, a Goldeye, with what appeared to be a second jaw. This “mutant” was presented at a Fort Chip ‘Keepers of the Water’ conference as evidence of oil sands pollution. One Fort Chip resident, and conference organizer, said such mutations were now common. A compatriot bemoaned, “What happens to the wildlife and the fish is eventually what is going to happen to us.” The “freakish” “two-jawed” creature made international news.
Goldeyes have bony tongues that during decomposition sometimes protrude through the lower jaw, giving a two-jaw appearance. As was incontrovertibly confirmed, this Goldeye was normal.
At the same Keepers of the Water conference, “a pall was cast over the last day” when organizers rolled in the casket containing Maryanne Wanderingspirit – a local cancer victim. An aboriginal leader sermonized on how her death “shouldn’t have happened.”
Maryanne was 93 years old.
Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s “registered population” is either 931 or 728. Only 12 live on their 350 square kilometre reserve lands. The Nation’s Fort Chip office employs a Chief, four councillors and nine staff. A few hundred members live in and around Fort Chip but most have moved on.
Athabasca Chipewyan Chief Allan Adam is from Edmonton. He dropped out in grade 7, then worked intermittently before getting hired at a government-run construction project in Fort Chip. At age 39 he ran for Chief under the militant enviro banner. (There is no telling how many voted, although such elections are notorious.) Since being elected, Adam prefers to be called Yiyo. His ill-founded lawsuit against Shell did not hurt his standing among environmentalists. Yiyo was used a prop when Pembina Institute and Environmental Defence executives met US Congressional heavyweights Nancy Pelosi and Ed Markey at the US Embassy in Ottawa in September 2010. Yiyo’s eco-activism won him a Boreal Award from the Canadian Boreal Institute. He was recently acclaimed head of the Athabasca Tribal Council. Yiyo can be counted on for a militant response to any oil sands policy announcement.
Beaver Lake Cree Nation’s treaty area covers 61 square kilometres near Lac La Biche, Alberta. The Nation’s “registered population” of 870 have mostly moved on. The Nation has 98 houses and 325 residents. (In 1908 the Nation’s population was 105.) “Government services” is the main industry. The band council employs 14 officials. The reserve school employs nine. The reserve runs a tourist resort, and some members are involved in farming, ranching, and oil-field work. Nevertheless, a myth persists that this is a pristine hunting and gathering tribe. Al Lameman has been Chief for almost 30 years.
In 2009 UK’s Co-operative Investments ($25 billion portfolio) gave Chief Al $80,000 to sue oil sands operators and $70,000 to record the testimony of elders concerning environmental damage. Co-operative hopes to raise millions of dollars for the Beaver Lake Cree legal fund. Towards these ends, Co-operative paraded Lameman around London in ceremonial headdress. The noble savage shtick was part of an anti-oil sands campaign Co-operative co-launched with WWF.
In their 704-page Statement of Claim against the Canadian and Albertan governments, the Beaver Lake Cree demand the de-industrialization of an area the size of Britain so they can hunt bald eagles, trap mountain lions, collect crane eggs, and fish for suckers.
Co-operative Investments claims oil sands investments are “environmentally and economically unstable and can only serve to undermine international efforts to combat climate change.” Oil sands are a “hostile energy source” that “push us closer to climate disaster.”
Co-operative owns stock in: Total (an oil sands investor), International Power (a coal burning colossus), RPS (oil sands), Exelon (America’s largest nuclear company), E.ON (coal and nuke), Iberdola (coal and nuke), and BP. As Cooperative explains:
“As a shareholder we can exhort pressure and lobby business at every opportunity to improve their ethical and environmental performance, whilst those companies that proactively adopt commendable initiatives are publically applauded.”
Ethical funds lure investors with sanctimonious promises in cliché riddled brochures. Globally, ethical funds are worth $5 trillion. Contrary to popular belief, these funds invest in resource extraction/high emissions corporations.
There is ample evidence of this in Canada. Ethical Funds labels oil sands oil “the world’s dirtiest
” and has calls for a moratorium yet owns shares in several oil sands operators. Their line is: “It’s not about whom you own – it’s about engaging companies to improve their performance
.” Clean Environment Fund’s largest investment is in oil sands pioneer Petrobank. Meritas owns shares in several oil sands companies while Desjardins’ Environment Fund is particularly fond of the Sands.
Tar Sands Propaganda
Enviro-journalists call oil sands extraction “the biggest environmental crime on the planet” and “the worst environmental disaster in history.” Al Gore calls oil sands development “a threat to our survival as a species.” Environmental Defence issued a booklet entitled, Canada’s Toxic Tar Sands: The Most Destructive Project on Earth”.
In one year, May 2009 to April 2010, there were 4,015 oil sands media stories. 53% were on web media. 37% were in mainstream Canadian media. 10% were in mainstream international media. 55% were negative. 31% were positive. 14% were neutral. “Environmental” stories outnumbered “business” stories 2 to 1. In the Canadian conventional media this ratio was 4 to 1. ENGO press releases were more widely covered in the mainstream media than were industry press releases. Oil sands media coverage was triggered by ENGO protests, ENGO report and documentary releases, and ENGO-prompted divestment meetings. There was a burst of anti-oil sands stories during the Copenhagen Climate summit.
This propaganda campaign has been going strong since 2006. The negative stories have but one source.
The environmental movement has, since 2006, made approximately 6,000 anti-oil sands web postings and planted approximately 4,000 anti-oil sands pieces in the mainstream media.
A National Geographic cover story, The Canadian Oil Boom (March 2009), was clearly intended to disparage the Sands. The Globe and Mail followed suit with Shifting Sands. Both features deployed unsettling photographs of industrial moonscapes and monster machines tearing at the Earth in what has become the “tar sands porn” genre. Such photos are invariably accompanied with astronomical exaggerations about the scale of the mining operations and their impact on forests, air, and water.
A bitumen mine looks much like any open pit mine. Every mine, open pit or shaft, produces tailings or a waste rock pile. Environment Canada’s National Pollutant Release Inventory monitors 85 mines. They estimate oil sands mines (Canada’s most lucrative) produce less than 10% of national mining waste.
20% of oil sands oil will be extracted by mining. 80% will be extracted from in situ drilling. Of 91 active oil sands leases, four are mines, 87 are in situ. Land disturbance of in situ is much less than that of mining.
Of Canada’s 3.2 million square kilometres of boreal forest, 660 square kilometres have been disturbed by oil sands mining. 12% of mined land has been replanted with native grasses and trees. True, only a small patch has been certified “reclaimed,” but the meaning of “reclamation” is controversial.
The 160,000 acres set aside for current and future oil sands mines covers 0.012% of Canada’s boreal forest.
The Alberta Biodiversity Management Institute (a consortium of government, industry, academic, and environmental groups) has declared that, after 40 years of oil sands extraction, Alberta’s boreal forests’ biodiversity remains 97% intact. The Athabasca Sands (the site of most economic activity) has a “species intactness index” of 94%.
90,000 square kilometres of Alberta’s boreal forest is protected from any form of development.
Anti-oil sands activists rely on climate change arguments.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 180 billion tonnes of CO2 are released into the atmosphere from natural sources every year. Humans release 30 billion tonnes. Canada’s 600 million tonnes equal 2% of global human emissions. Oil sands industry emits 37 million tonnes or 6% of Canadian emissions, or 0.1% of human emissions, or 0.016% of total CO2 emissions.
America’s coal-fired power plants emit 44 times more CO2 than do all oil sands operations.
Canadian agriculture emits 60 million tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Canadian livestock farts (23 million tonnes) rival oil sands emissions.
ENGOs claim oil sands oil production emits 300% more GHGs per barrel than does conventional oil. This 300% figure is repeated more often in the media than government estimates putting oil sands oil emissions at only 5% to 15% higher than conventional oil.
Any practical wells-to-wheels assessment of oil industry emissions accepts that 75% of emissions come from the tailpipes of gasoline or diesel burning vehicles. The origin of the fuel is of lesser importance.
Moreover, environmentalists substitute “conventional oil” for actual oil. True, there are shallow deposits of light crude that can be pumped and processed with less energy than bitumen requires, but these are not the only oils on the market.
The US Government’s GREET standard (Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions, Energy use in Transportation) measures all emissions arising from fuel production processes including flared gas, fuel burned by oil tankers, etc. Based on GREET standards, oil sands oil has a 20% smaller carbon footprint than Nigerian oil mainly because Nigerian producers flare 600 billion cubic feet of gas per year.
US Government’s National Energy Technology Laboratory believes Venezuelan heavy oil production emits more GHGs per barrel than does Alberta oil sands production.
Draft Californian laws banning oil sands oil are careful to exempt Californian heavy oil (66% of state output) because it has higher GHG emissions rates than oil sands oil.
Deep offshore drilling often requires pumping up five barrels of water for every barrel of oil. Water is heavy. This pumping burns a lot of fuel.
Offshore oil, Nigerian oil, and Venezuelan and Californian heavy oil are all sold in North America. Oil sands GHG emissions are only 6% higher than the average actual oil used in North America.
Alberta is the only jurisdiction penalizing companies for failing to meet emission CO2 reduction targets.
Since 1990 oil sands operators have reduced emissions by 38% per barrel.
Provincial and municipal government agencies monitor air quality 24/7 from over 100 oil sands area locations. The air receives highest quality ratings 95% of the time. There has been no appreciable air quality deterioration since the advent of oil sands production. Hydrogen sulphide levels at Fort McMurray are at the same harmless levels as those in Calgary. Nitrous oxide levels over the oil sands are half those found over Toronto. Fort McMurray’s air quality is better than Toronto’s or Seattle’s.
Water is needed for all economic activity; oil sands production is no exception. 2.5 barrels of water are needed to mine one barrel of oil. Half a barrel of water is needed for each in situ barrel.
In situ production requires neither tailing ponds nor river water. Imperial Oil’s in situ Cold Lake operation recycles 95% of its water. The other 5% is drawn from saline aquifers.
Cumulatively, over 80% of water used in oil sands operations is recycled. Most new water is drawn from the mighty Athabasca River. Only 4% of the Athabasca’s annual 23 billion cubic metres of flow is made available for human use. Half of this is allocated to the oil industry, and they use less than half of that. In 2009, of the 179 million cubic metres of water drawn by the oil sands industry, 107 million cubic metres came from the Athabasca River – under 0.5% of the river’s total flow.
Northern Alberta is no desert. The unused Peace River, north of the Athabasca, has three times the flow of the Athabasca. The Athabasca and Peace converge to form one of the world’s largest fresh water deltas. Lake Athabasca spans 7,850 square kilometres.
Tailings ponds are dam-and-dike operations providing mines with water for bitumen separation. Tailing pond water is recycled. Tailing ponds cumulatively cover 170 square kilometres. The ponds consist of water, sand, clay, bitumen residue, organic compounds, and trace solvents. There is no significant seepage from the ponds.
Alberta’s Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program maintains dozens of water-monitoring stations in the Athabasca River watershed. They examine 2,500 fish per year for pollution. They have found no deterioration in water quality or biotic health resulting from oil sands production. The variance between pre-development baseline measurements and 2008 measurements was “negligible to low.” They have found little difference between areas around oil sands operations and untouched areas. Water downriver from oil sands operations is becoming cleaner due to reduction of natural bitumen seepage.
The December 2010 report of the Royal Society of Canada panel affirmed that current industrial water use does not threaten the viability of the Athabasca River system.
In April 2008 some 1,600 ducks drowned in a Syncrude tailing pond. The ducks were forced down by a freak freezing rain. Syncrude’s bird-repelling devices had not been activated for spring migration due to stormy weather. Syncrude was charged for violating Canada’s Migratory Birds Act and Alberta’s Environment Protection Act.
The calamity proved a bonanza for environmentalists. The media immediately pounced on the story, and there were 25 feature stories in the CBC, CTV, Globe and Mail, National Post, and New York Times during the lengthy trial. Media accounts invariably came with photos of oiled ducks. MSNBC published photos with Greenpeace logos still on them.
Syncrude was found guilty and fined an unprecedented $3 million. The loot was largely divided between the U of A’s Biology Department ($1.3 million), Keyano College’s environment program ($500,000), and the Alberta Conservation Association ($900,000).
Capitalizing on the clamour, Pembina Institute issued a press release screaming “more than 160 million” birds in Canada’s boreal forests would die from oil sands development. This factoid came from a study that: a) counted every minimally oiled bird as a fatality; b) presumed every mining project would run full tilt for 50 years; c) counted as fatalities any bird displaced by oil field noise; and d) counted bird fatalities at US plants where Sands oil is refined. Their final tally was actually “6 to 166 million” dead birds. The author relied on “studies” by enviro-activists and quoted aboriginal elders whose ecological knowledge came from listening to loons talk.
Bird corpses litter the landscape. Millions die each year after flying into office towers. The American Bird Conservancy estimates wind turbines across the US kill 160,000 birds a year. California’s Altamonte Pass wind farm has killed more birds than Syncrude ever will. 100 million North American birds die annually from flying into transmission lines. 100 million are hit by vehicles. Hunters kill millions. These bird body counts are dwarfed by the numbers killed by natural predators, parasites, and harsh winters. To North American wild fowl, the oil industry is the least of worries. Disproportionate attention given to oil-related bird deaths betrays an environmentalist bias in the media and the state.
THE TAR SANDS CAMPAIGN IN CONTINENTAL CONTEXT
The East Coast Refinery Lobby
Like the blind men describing the elephant, critics of the anti-oil sands campaign relay starkly different portraits of the beast. Krause describes a campaign run by protectionist US foundations. Levant wrote a 240-page book on the campaign without mentioning a foundation. Sweeney makes passing references to foundations but, like Levant, points his prime accusatory finger at the Saudi lobby.
Neither Levant nor Sweeny actually link Arab oil monarchs to the anti-oil sands campaign or even to environmentalism. Their evidence is circumstantial: The oil sands are a major competitor to Arab oil. The oil monarchs are an influential lobby. Al Gore and George Soros have Saudi links...
Another facet of the oil importing system is neglected. East coast refineries import petroleum, turn it into fuel and other commodities, then sell them through vertically integrated business enterprises. These conglomerates seldom produce oil. They have no stake in North American oil production. Domestic oil producers are their competitors. With their capital sunk on the East coast, they have no interest in a booming North or West. These conglomerates support environmentalism.
The Irving family’s New Brunswick-centred empire was founded by K.C. Irving in 1925. The Irvings employ 8% of New Brunswick’s workforce. (New Brunswick has a population 730,000 and a landmass of 78,000 square kilometres, 80% of which is forested.) The Irvings own most New Brunswick newspapers and radio stations. While they own scores of businesses, their main money-maker is Irving Oil.
Irving Oil’s core asset is a refinery at Saint John built by K.C. in 1960 but since upgraded to a 300,000 barrel a day 1,400-employee operation. It is one of the ten largest refineries in North America, the largest in Canada. The Irvings own a fleet of ocean-going oil tankers and a deep-water off-loading terminal near Saint John. This refinery imports petroleum from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. This oil is refined into gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, propane, and asphalt, then shipped out in coastal tankers. Irving Oil’s 800 gas stations and truck stops, equipped with convenience stores and food outlets, are found across Atlantic Canada, Quebec, and New England.
J.D. Irving Ltd. employs 15,000 workers in dozens of firms involved in: forestry, lumber, paper, shipbuilding, food processing, construction supplies, trucking, engineering, and security.
The Irvings own 725,000 forested hectares in New Brunswick, 105,000 hectares in Nova Scotia and 500,000 hectares in Maine. Their American landholdings are the second largest in the country, behind Ted Turner. Consolidation in the retail gasoline market left the Irvings with innumerable prime parcels of urban real estate.
For 50 years Irving Oil has led the industry in embracing and exploiting environmental regulations. Irving was the one the few oil giants to endorse the Kyoto Protocol. Irving corporate propaganda is filled with discussions of CO2 emissions. Irving Oil celebrates Canada Environment Week by having their employees volunteer to do roadside trash pickup.
The Saint John refinery was the first refinery to win a Clean Air Award from the US EPA. J.D. Irving Ltd. has won four major conservation awards including one from the Government of Canada. Irving companies sponsor the New Brunswick Energy Efficiency Awards, and Irving companies win them.
Irving Oil began their partnership with Ducks Unlimited Canada in 1976 with an initial investment of $2.5 million. Irving Oil donated 250 acres near its refinery to Ducks Unlimited to manage as a wetland. Arthur Irving was President of Ducks Unlimited in the 1980s and has been an honorary director since 1995.
The Irvings formed habitat conservation partnerships with WWF-Canada and Environment Canada. Irving Oil partners with the New England Aquarium to protect Right Whales.
Irving companies have planted more trees than any other Canadian business group. The Irvings have created 300 small private ecological preserves. The Irving Nature Park covers 600 acres near Saint John. This park, and the Irving Eco-centre (a 12 kilometre dune), host 10,000 eco-tripping students per year. The Irvings sponsor the Enviro-thon annual science contest.
When Arthur Irving was Chancellor of Acadia University, 1996 to 2010, he oversaw the founding of the K.C. Irving Environmental Science Centre, the 6 acre Harriet Irving Botanical Garden, and the Arthur Irving Academy for the Environment. Irvings are financing several academic enviro-research projects.
Sunoco (formerly Sun Oil Co.) is a diversified Pennsylvania-based company worth about $12 billion. While Sunoco operates metallurgical coke and petrochemical businesses, their main line is transportation fuels, gasoline and diesel, which they market through 4,900 Sunoco-branded outlets located mostly in eastern USA. Several hundred Sunoco-owned A-Plus convenience stores are attached to their busier gas stations. Sunoco refineries, at Marcus Hook and Philadelphia, PA, import over 500,000 barrels a day. These refineries are the centre of a web of 7,000 miles of Sunoco-owned pipelines connecting to Sunoco-owned distribution hubs.
(Although Sun Oil pioneered oil sands production, Sunoco divested from the oil sands in the early 1990s. Its oils sands operations were taken over by the independent firm Suncor.)
The Sierra Club named Sunoco the world’s greenest oil company. Sunoco was the first major company to sign the CERES Valdez Principles. Sunoco ushered many large businesses into the corporate social responsibility movement. Sunoco has long been a “global warming” booster.
Sun Oil Co. was founded by J.N. Pew in 1886. Upon his death, Sun Oil was owned and operated by J.N. Pew Jr. (1886-1963) and J. Howard Pew (1882-1971). Their sisters, Mabel and Mary, also owned stock.
The Pew Charitable Trusts are seven trusts managed by the Glenmede Corporation. The Trusts were established between 1948 and 1979 by J.N. Pew Sr.’s four children. The first endowment consisted of 880,000 Sun Oil shares. All subsequent endowments were of Sun shares. Dividends were often collected in shares. In the 1970s, the Federal government began demanding that tax-exempt philanthropies disburse an amount equal to 5% of their asset base each year. In response, the Trusts liquidated some of their non-Sun Oil holdings and increased their grant giving. Even complying with the 5% rule, the Trusts grew. In 2010 the Trusts had $4.9 billion in assets and revenues of $567 million.
Among the Pew Charitable Trusts’ 14 directors are: J. Howard Pew Jr., J.N. Pew IV, Mary Pew, R. Anderson Pew, Sandy Ford Pew, Arthur E. Pew III, and J.N. Pew III.
Rebecca Rimel, also a director, is the Trusts’ top philanthropy executive. Her salary in 2009 was $1,031,996. Twelve of the Trust philanthropy execs had salaries over $300,000.
Glenmede Corporation is a private business managing an $18 billion portfolio. $6 billion of the assets under management are owned by 200 foundations. On Glenmede’s board one finds: G. Thompson Pew Jr., James S. Pew, J.N. Pew III, J.N. Pew IV, J. Howard Pew Jr., and Richard F. Pew. Chairman, R. Anderson Pew, joined Glenmede’s board in 1967.
The Pews have major real estate holdings, details of which are sparse. They were first in line when Sunoco divested itself of its surplus real estate and when Sun Shipbuilding Co. disbursed its enormous oceanfront properties.
J. Howard Pew made most, but not all, Pew philanthropic decisions from 1948 to 1971. Mary Pew (1884-1979) spent most of her life among Lutheran nuns running a small hospital. Mabel Pew (1889-1972) was a devoted follower of Anthroposophy founder Rudolf Steiner, whose obsession with declining soil fertility and hostility to industrial agriculture she shared. Mabel began financing Anthroposophist (Waldorf) schools in 1947 and did so throughout her life.
J. Howard Pew never gave a damn about, or a dime to, conservationism or environmentalism. His charity went to Christian churches, the Red Cross, hospitals, medical research, and advanced education. The Trusts’ foray into environmentalism began after his death and corresponded with an increase in the amount of giving. In the 1960s the Trusts gave out under $6 million per year. In 1975 they gave away $33 million, in 1979 $50 million, in 1989 $146 million.
R. Anderson Pew, the senior figure in the Trusts (and in Sunoco) from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, transformed the Trusts into an enviro-leviathan.
The scale of the Trusts’ role in environmentalism is illustrated in this passage, from the Trusts’ official history, concerning forest conservation:
“…a results orientated program launched by the Trusts and funding partners in 1992 developed regional and national coalitions involving more than 500 conservation organizations aimed at promoting old-growth and wilderness areas in key regions of the USA and Canada. Trusts staff worked closely with the environmentalists to design regional public education programs which identified specific results in terms of protected acreage. All used state-of-the-art communications tools to elicit public patronage... As of September 2000, more than 100 million acres of the targeted land, a total approximately the size of California, had been protected.”
Under R. Anderson Pew’s watch, the Trusts’ “focus on decreasing the emissions causing global warming” led to the launch of the Pew Center for Global Climate Change and the Business Environment Leadership Council. Pew medical philanthropy was re-oriented toward ailments allegedly caused by environmental pollutants, mainly asthma and cancer. Their official history bemoans:
“…it remains a formidable challenge to prove the suspected links between environmental factors and chronic disease in the general population.”
From 2000 to 2010, Trusts expenditures averaged $250 million. The amount flowing through the Pew Environmental Group is not clarified but is probably $100 million a year. Of the Group’s 30 ongoing environmental campaigns, the one most impacting the oil sands is the campaign to protect boreal forests. (The oil sands are under boreal forest.) This effort involves the International Boreal Conservation Campaign, Canadian Boreal Initiative, Boreal Songbird Initiative, Boreal Leadership Council, and the Boreal Business Forum. Their objectives, as spelled out in the Boreal Forest Conservation Framework, are to suppress development, including oil extraction, in 50% of Canada’s boreal forest. The Trusts’ boreal campaign is supported by the Ivey, Hewlett, Tides, and Lenfest foundations.
In 2006 Pew Environmental Group gave NRDC $700,000 to help set up the International Boreal Conservation Campaign. The IBCC assembled a 14-member “Science Panel.” Every member is a career conservation biologist, ecologist, or global warming expert. The token Albertan is David Schindler.
In 2007 Pew Environmental Group launched the Seattle-based Boreal Songbird Initiative (BSI) with a $1.2 million cheque. BSI’s eight staffers and well-connected board work toward suppressing the Mackenzie Valley pipeline and “Tar Sands” development. BSI makes much use of the global warming argument; i.e. boreal forests sequester CO2.
Pew interest in the boreal actually dates to a 1999 grant of $1.7 million to WWF-Canada for forest activism in the Yukon and Northwest Territories. This was topped up by $1.1 million in 2001.
In 2002 the Trusts farmed out their Canadian boreal operations to Ducks Unlimited (DU) of Memphis, Tennessee. In both 2003 and 2004 the Trusts gave $4.5 million to DU for protection of the Canadian boreal. Also in 2004, the Canadian Boreal Initiative became a separate funding envelope with a $12 million endowment, administered by DU. In 2005 two grants totalling $2 million went to DU for the Canadian Boreal Initiative. This was repeated in 2006 for $6.4 million, in 2007 for $11.9 million, and in 2009 for $11.2 million. In total, Pew Environmental Group channelled over $52 million to Ducks Unlimited for Canadian boreal forest activism between 2002 and 2010.
The Canadian Boreal Initiative is the “national convener” of Canadian boreal forest activism and the secretariat of the Boreal Leadership Council – a coalition including: Ducks Unlimited, WWF-Canada, ForestEthics, Pembina Institute, The Nature Conservancy, and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, three major timber companies, several ethical investment firms, four native groups, and Suncor.
This cluster of groups scored a major coup in May 2010 with the signing of the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement. This deal, brokered by Pew’s Steve Kallick, saw the Forest Products Association of Canada agree to suspend logging in 75 million acres of boreal forest in exchange for an end to the boycotts of Canadian forest products being organized by environmentalists.
In a letter dated October 5, 2010, Steve Kallick warned Canadian petroleum producers that if they did not follow the lead of the Canadian timber industry, “oil sands controversies can only grow.”
Other North American Oil Reserves Under Environmentalist Attack
Alberta’s oil sands are not the only North American petroleum deposit targeted by environmentalists. Some deposits have been so successfully black-balled few people know they exist.
Compromised government agencies often issue ridiculously conservative (conservationist) estimates on petroleum deposit size. The US Department of Energy did not include Alberta’s oil sands, the world’s second largest deposit, in its global oil reserve assessment until 2004.
Oil reservoir estimates are political footballs. Environmentalists will argue a particular reserve contains insignificant amounts of oil and thus is not worth the ecological disturbance. Environmentalists also low-ball global oil reserves to make the transition to alternative energy seem inevitable.
Case in point is the Bakken Formation – a 30,000 square mile reservoir mostly under North Dakota. In 1995 the US Geological Survey (USGS) claimed the Bakken held 151 million barrels. In 2010 annual production from the Bakken exceeded 160 million barrels!
In 2008 the USGS upped its Bakken estimate to 3.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil. The North Dakota Geological Service estimates the Bakken holds 300 billion barrels with 10 billion to 150 billion being recoverable.
The USGS is yet another government agency half-captured by Big Green. Much USGS work falls under the headings: Climate Change and Land Use; Carbon Sequestration, Climate Effects Network, Ecosystems, Environmental Health, and Wildlife Service Center.
In July 2009 President Obama appointed Marcia McNutt as USGS Director. McNutt’s advanced education consisted of a several-year stint at the very eco Scripps Institution of Oceanography. More importantly, McNutt was CEO of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute from 1997 to 2009. Monterey Bay, a powerful ENGO, is 75% financed by the Packard Foundation. Green princess Julie Packard is Monterey Bay’s Vice Chair. In 2010 the Packard Foundation gave grants to Monterey Bay totalling $36,706,000. In addition to running a public educational (enviro-indoctrination) facility, Monterey Bay is at the forefront of anti-aquaculture and anti-offshore oil campaigns.
USGS Director McNutt’s statements read like Greenpeace press releases. One statement, issued October 2010, reduced the official estimate of Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve (NPR) from 10.6 billion barrels to 896 million barrels. NPR’s reservoirs were suddenly found to contain unusual amounts of gas, as opposed to oil, but the gas reservoir estimate was also reduced.
Alaska’s NPR is not be mistaken with the neighbouring Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. ANWR was declared in 1980, but awareness of a monster petroleum reservoir under its coastal plain led to the designation of a grey area, governed by section 1002 of the ANWR Act, where oil exploration might be permissible. A 1987 survey guessed Area 1002’s reserves at 5 to 30 billion barrels “in place” and between 600 million to 9.2 billion barrels “recoverable.” A 1998 USGS survey increased Area 1002’s recoverable oil to between 6 and 16 billion barrels. The 1998 analysis contains this gem:
“At prices less than $13 per barrel no commercial oil is estimated, but at a price of $30 per barrel, between 3 and 10.4 billion barrels are estimated.”
(This refers to only a portion of Area 1002.)
The quote demonstrates that the “recoverable” estimate of a reserve is the amount that can be profitably extracted at current prices with current technology.
In the 1990s the oil prices hovered around $20 a barrel. In July 2008 they hit $145. While they quickly plummeted, they soon rebounded to maintain an average of around $80 per barrel over the last several years. Even adjusting for inflation, oil prices are three times higher than they were in the 1990s.
As oil-field technology has also advanced since the 1990s, the ANWR assessment is due for an upgrade.
Environmentalists have stymied oil production in ANWR. They claim to be saving the caribou, but the central arctic herd, grazing around Alaska’s comparable Prudhoe Bay and Kupiruk oil fields, increased from 3,000 to 23,000 during large-scale oil development. Environmentalists claim to be protecting ANWR’s tourist industry, but the park averages three tourists a day, few of whom venture into Area 1002.
Great oil reserves exist north of NPR-ANWR, beneath the Beaufort and Chukchi seas and beneath Alaska’s Outer Continental Shelf. Official estimates for the Arctic Ocean are: 90 billion recoverable barrels with 25 billion of those barrels lying under US territorial waters. Shell Oil claims there are 66 billion recoverable barrels under Alaska’s Outer Continental Shelf alone. Shell invested $3.5 billion towards developing this “world class resource.” They were poised to begin drilling in 2011 after spending ten years obtaining 30 permits in the face of delays, ENGO lawsuits, and struggles with the EPA. Further obstruction thrown up in the wake of BP’s Gulf of Mexico spill led to a suspension of drilling plans. There has been no drilling in this area since 2003. Shell’s proposal would create 35,000 jobs.
A mammoth petroleum deposit lies off British Columbia’s north coast; between Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlottes. The commonly bandied guess as to its size is 10 billion barrels in place. This estimate comes from a 1998 Canadian Geological Survey study based on a few ill-placed 1960s drilling experiments. Oil prices at the time this study was published were $20 a barrel, and offshore drilling technology has advanced considerably since then.
Oil consultant Henry Lyatsky has studied this region more than anyone. He has a wonderful collection of rocks gathered from surrounding shores which ooze oil if cracked with a hammer. He describes numerous natural oil seeps. He contends this reserve could hold 100 billion barrels. The reserve is beneath shallow, ice-free waters rarely hit by storms.
In the early 1970s environmentalists pressured both B.C. and Canadian governments to place moratoria on developing this reserve. While the B.C. government increasingly sounds amenable to drilling, the Feds, who prohibit even exploring in the area, do not.
The real game-changer is America’s 6 trillion barrel oil shale reserve. Shale oil is “kerogen” – immature petroleum affixed to rock. Oil shale is found across the US but is highly concentrated in the Green River Formation’s several basins straddling the Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah borders. The richest basin, the Piceance, covers 3,000 square miles of northwest Colorado. Parts of the Piceance hold 1 million barrels per acre.
The latest word on oil shale is a much-quoted 2004 Oil and Gas Journal study. An oil shale reserve is deemed economically exploitable if the bed is 15 feet thick and contains at least 15 gallons of kerogen per ton. The Green River Formation holds 1.8 trillion barrels of so-defined economically exploitable oil. The author’s narrower definition of “proven” reserves takes into account political and environmental constrictions. Still, they recommend 100 billion barrels be considered “proven.”
Again, oil prices have risen since 2004 and technology marches on. The Green River Formation’s recoverable reserves have been estimated at 800 billion barrels in the Oil Shale and Tar Sands Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement and even by enviro-groups like WWF.
Oil Shale Exploration Co., owner of the lone Federal oil shale lease in Utah, was recently acquired by Estonia’s Enefit, who have plans for a 59,000 barrel per day plant. The Estonians, world leader in oil shale technology, have been burning crushed oil shale for electrical generation for decades. During World War II the Germans engaged in large-scale kerogen extraction for motor fuel.
Just as the price of oil determines the size of a reserve, so too does the prevailing enviro-regulatory regime. Conventional oil shale production involves strip mining and crushing immense amounts of rock, then cooking the powder in airless ovens. While oil shale mines would be happy to get one barrel per tonne of rock, modern mining operations can extract over 2,000 tonnes of rock per worker per shift. This means large open pit mines and mountainous waste rock piles; things deemed environmentally unacceptable even in the desolate, unpopulated wastelands above the Green River Formation. As with the oil sands, oil shale engineers are experimenting with less disruptive in situ methods of heating the kerogen underground.
80% of the kerogen in the Green River Formation lies beneath Federal government-owned land. Recent Federal administrations have shown little interest in oil shale development.
The above examples are far from a comprehensive list of under-utilized petroleum deposits in North America. For instance, there are oil sands deposits outside Alberta. There are oil shale deposits outside the Green River Formation. The Mackenzie Valley area of northern Canada holds uncounted billions of barrels of conventional crude. There are billions of barrels off the Californian coast. North America’s untapped outer continental shelf contains vast reserves.
Trillions of barrels of oil lie in and around North America, centuries of supply. This oil is being kept from development by the environmental movement.
The Frontline of the Second American Civil War: The US Energy Permitting Process
The suppression of North American oil must be placed in the context of the suppression of the North American energy industry in general.
On March 10, 2011 the US Chamber of Commerce issued a report, the first of its kind, assessing the environmental movement’s suppression of American energy projects. The report excluded oil, gas, and coal extraction in order to concentrate on electrical generation and transmission projects.
The authors spotted 333 energy projects stalled, recently killed, or otherwise profoundly burdened by enviro-activism. Several transmission lines had multi-state permit applications that were being obstructed separately in each state. Thus, in total, 351 energy project obstructions were considered.
Twenty-two nuclear power plants were being stymied, and the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage facility, after a 13-year struggle, had been indefinitely suspended. Twenty-one transmission lines were being tied up. Thirty-eight natural gas facility proposals were being obstructed as were 111 coal-fired electrical and coal-to-liquid fuel projects.
Twenty-nine of the above projects are multi-billion-dollar electric power proposals promising over 2000 MW per project.
A surprising number of renewable energy projects (wind, solar, bio-mass, and ethanol) were not spared by environmentalists. One-hundred-and-forty renewable energy projects (including 89 wind farms and 29 ethanol refineries) were being opposed.
Constructing these 351 energy projects would deploy $577 billion. The economic spin-off would be $1.1 trillion. Construction would take several years and would create 1.9 million jobs per year. Operating these facilities would require $100 billion a year for 20 years.
The study did not factor in the value of the loss of potential cheap energy.
Hundreds of environmental non-government organizations (ENGOs) are involved in this energy obstruction crusade. Each obstructionist endeavour involves an alliance between one of more national ENGOs and several local NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) groups. Often a project-specific coalition ENGO is chartered.
The Sierra Club is leading 124 such campaigns. Club chapters from Kentucky, Iowa, South Carolina, New Jersey, Oregon, Mississippi, and Nevada are each leading campaigns.
Sierra Club (SC) has 500 full-time staff. SC is headquartered in San Francisco but has an office in Washington DC and one for each of its 65 chapters. SC claims 1.4 million “members and supporters” but does not define “supporter.” Only 45,000 voted for the last board elections. Membership dues are as little as $15, and that fetches a complimentary rucksack and a 12-month subscription to the glossy Sierra magazine. SC, not being a registered charity, is not forthcoming with financial info, but clearly membership dues are not the driving source of revenue.
“Climate Recovery Partnership” is an SC-led initiative of 32,000 entrepreneurs and activists aiming to raise $400 million by 2014. $130 million of this will be dedicated to suppressing America’s coal industry. The Partnership aims to “end our dependence on coal and oil.” Their anti-coal propaganda focuses on global warming but also mentions wilderness destruction and air pollution. In 2010 the Partnership organized over 130,000 “actions” (defined as writing letters, collecting signatures, attending meetings, etc.) in defence of the EPA.
The “Beyond Coal Team” is an internal SC initiative launched in 2003 with an annual budget of about $6 million. They take credit for the defeat of 115 coal plant proposals in their first six years. The Team launches an anti-coal lawsuit every ten days. In 2009 the Team regrouped and set out to:
“…ensure that none of the 100 remaining conventional coal plant proposals begin construction… [and] Retire at least 1000 megawatts (MW) of aging coal capacity through focussed litigation and administrative advocacy…”
Under the heading “Crushing Coal’s Infrastructure” SC’s 2010 Annual Report reveals plans to undermine the coal industry’s railways, roads, and ports “through a combination of local grassroots organizing, litigation and national outreach.”
The same Report boasts of how, during the BP oil spill, “our media team placed 900 stories in major media markets.” During this ‘crisis’, SC’s online media team helped organize a nationwide day of anger against Big Oil, attracting 100,000 protesters across 800 locations.
The Sierra Club Foundation (SCF) channelled most of its $47 million in tax deductible donations (2009) to the SC. The SCF also bankrolls dozens of “grassroots” groups. In the fight against coal-fired electricity, many “local citizens groups” are clearly SCF puppets. A few hundred corporations and foundations fund SCF.
Over the last decade, solar power front man David Gelbaum gave over $200 million to SC/SCF. Between 2005 and 2009 he made $48 million in “anonymous” donations to SCF. Three solar power executives are SCF directors.
The Chamber of Commerce report cites National Resource Defence Council (NRDC) as being a leader of 14 campaigns, Environmental Defense Fund as leading 10, and Center for Biological Diversity 8.
The 42-year old NRDC strains to appear populist. They claim 1.3 million “members and supporters” but membership is 535,000. Membership dues are as little as $10 (with complimentary reusable tote bag). “Membership and contributions” are said to account for half their $114 million budget, but they do not detail “contributions.” As well, fundraising/member recruitment cost NRDC $9 million per year. They deceptively boast that foundations covered only 1% of “operating income” in 2010. In fact, NRDC received $17.6 million from foundations and $4.2 million from bequests in 2010. NRDC also owns a $200 investment portfolio which generates around $10 million a year.
In December 2010, the NRDC-centred “Partnership for the Earth” completed a five-year fundraising campaign with $500 million in the pot.
NRDC listed its key victories of 2010 as: preventing drilling in the “Polar Bear Seas” (coastal Alaska); cancelling a $4 billion coal-fired electrical plant in Ohio; and bogging down a $6.9 billion coal-to-liquids plant, also in Ohio. Another 2010 highlight occurred when President Obama chose NRDC President Frances Beinecke to sit on his BP oil spill committee.
NRDC’s 400 employees include “the largest and most comprehensive energy staff of any non-profit group.” Their litigation team employs ten lawyers. Several NRDC trustees represent large law firms.
Robert Kennedy Jr. is NRDC’s senior attorney. Laurence Rockefeller Jr. and Susan Crown sit on NRDC’s board, as does Alan Horn (President of Warner Bros.).
New York City-headquartered Environmental Defence Fund (EDF) has a staff of 340 scientists, attorneys, and economists and annual budgets of $100 million. In 2009, membership dues brought in $11.7 million, foundation grants brought in $76.7 million. Their board is adorned by Susan Ford Dorsey, Anne Doerr, several philanthropists, Roger Enrico (Chair of DreamWorks Animation, former Chair of Pepsi) and E. John Rosenwald (Vice-Chair Emeritus of J.P. Morgan).
EDF’s primary mission is “weaning the US off fossil fuels.” Towards these ends they co-sponsored the first major international conference on global warming in 1987. More recently they lobbied private equity giants KKR and TPG to divest from, and hence kill, eight coal-fired power plant proposals.
Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) is a younger (est. 1993) and more radical ENGO. CBD’s 50 staffers include 18 lawyers. Their main legal platforms are the Federal Endangered Species Act and Clean Air Act. In 2011 CBD intervened in an Alaskan lawsuit to block drilling in 128,700 square miles of “critical polar bear habitat.” As elsewhere, their arguments blend global warming with species loss.
CBD’s 2009 Annual Report lists $1.4 million in foundation grants – about 20% of revenue. CBD also benefits from workplace giving programs undertaken by employees of foundations. The same Report boasts of indefinitely postponing a major coal project through protracted litigation.
To combat over-population, CBD hands out free condoms with endangered animal photos on their packages.
Other ENGOs listed in the Chamber of Commerce report are (the number in parenthesis refers to the number of campaigns each is involved in):
Public Citizen (7), Western Resource Advocates (7), Audubon Society (5), National Parks Conservation Association (4), Earth First, Valley Watch (4), Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (4), Nuclear Information Resource Service (5), Florida Green Party (2), NAACP (2), Blue Ridge Environmental Defence League (5), Wilderness Society (2), Defenders of Wilderness, The Nature Conservancy, Beyond Nuclear (2), Piedmont Environmental Council (3), Coastal Conservation Alliance (2), Surfrider (3), PIRG, Greenpeace, Union of Concerned Scientists, and Friends of the Earth.
ENGOs tackle energy projects from several angles. The most effective strategy is vexatious litigation. Central on this front are:
Conservation Law Foundation, Turner Environmental Law Center, Pace Law School Energy Project, Legal Environmental Advocates Foundation, Southern Environmental Law Society, and Earthjustice.
From 1971 to 1997 Earthjustice (EJ) was the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund. The group dates to a specific activist project launched by the Sierra Club in 1965. With the motto, “Because the earth needs a good lawyer,” EJ provides free legal services to hundreds of ENGOs, none more than the Sierra Club.
EJ’s 2009 tax form claims gross receipts of $40 million. The same document lists as expenses costs incurred in numerous lawsuits including two against oil shale development and one against the Alberta Clipper “tar sands” pipeline.
EJ has 70 lawyers on staff. EJ’s board is packed with bigwigs from major law firms. Another board notable, Reginald Black, is the recently retired Chair and CEO of Time Inc.
In 2009 EJ earned court-awarded attorney fees totalling $2.9 million. In 2010 NRDC received $5.3 million in such awards. In 2009 “legal returns” were 15% of CBD’s income.
Elected politicians from all levels of government, usually from the Democratic Party, support ENGO energy suppression campaigns. Support also comes from government agencies such as: New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, US Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Game, etc. In one instance, the National Park Service was drawn into activism after an ENGO coalition sent 3,300 letters to its Director complaining of an impending wetland disturbance.
Established regional electrical utilities, fearing competition, often support campaigns opposing new power projects.
Environmental legal challenges often require the opponent of a proposed project to have “standing” or a vested interest in the matter in dispute. Such litigation is launched on behalf of local residents. To attain legal standing, ENGOs employ professional community activists to marshal locals. Such recruits can also be used for mandated public input provisions, town council meetings, petitions, and demonstrations. ENGOs mobilize: hunting clubs, sport and commercial fishermen, town councils, tourist resort owners, local wildlife activists, county officials, landowners, farmers’ unions, Indian tribes, and municipal buyers of electricity.
Often the pivotal legal issue is whether a proposed energy project conforms to existing land use/zoning laws. ENGOs have attacked energy projects because their proposed location was: designated as a conservancy, zoned for agricultural use, too close to a park, too close to an historical battlefield, etc.
Often promoters of an energy project need to have a site rezoned. ENGOs will then mobilize locals against this rezoning by spreading scares of: air pollution, water contamination, loss of scenic beauty, unpleasant smell, increased road traffic, noise, and declining property values.
Modern administrative law allows almost any decision by government officials to be appealed up the bureaucracy. Where legislation attempts to block such appeals, remedies are often accessible through the civil court system. Energy projects require numerous permits. Each permitting decision can be challenged. ENGO legal strategy is to drag out the permitting process as long as possible. This can be highly effective if a collateral campaign is undertaken to scare investors, shareholders, and ratepayers.
Northern Star National Gas Inc. proposed a liquid natural gas terminal in Bradwood, Oregon. Northern Star spent five years and $100 million fending off legal challenges to their permit applications before going bankrupt. A spokeswoman for the Sierra Club proudly took credit for the bankruptcy.
One tactic successfully used by the Sierra Club to scare away ratepayers, financiers, and shareholders is to claim that investing in a CO2-emitting power project may, at some future time, expose them to climate change liability.
Numerous state and federal environmental laws can predicate attacks on energy projects.
The “environmental justice” card can be played if the proposed project is near a locale inhabited by visible minorities. On several occasions NAACP, United Latino, etc. have joined anti-energy project campaigns.
A separate slate of legal attacks is launched on behalf of endangered species. Such litigation does not require conventional legal standing. Lawsuits are launched on behalf of gophers, bats, wolves, and lizards – animals until recently considered pests.
ENGOs have also undermined energy projects by blocking government financial support such as federal loan guarantees.
Some permitting processes, particularly those involving nuclear power, liquid natural gas, or inter-state transmission lines, require the developer to prove the project is necessary.
Lawsuits opposing nuclear proposals probe the intricate details of engineering plans and cost estimates. Permitting processes drag on for years, even for the 14 proposed nuclear projects that are mere enhancements of existing, previously approved, facilities.
Coastal liquid natural gas (LNG) terminals ignite a unique set of scares. Environmentalists claim: LNG is inherently unclean; LNG increases foreign energy dependency; marine ecosystems are damaged by the dredging LNG projects require; the use of sea water for ballast in LNG tankers, or as a coolant for the LNG power plants, kills fish; and LNG plants are vulnerable to earthquakes and terrorists.
Transmission line proposals are entangled because many state laws discourage lines not for local use. It is easy to rally local opposition to such lines. Arguments against transmission lines are often based on subjective aesthetics or ludicrous health claims. No one has been able to build a transmission line in Northern California for 16 years and the current system is maxed out.
Often an energy project is denounced for being “economically hazardous” or for “undermining renewable energy.” In a surprising number of cases, an energy proposal was impugned on the grounds that it might negatively impact the rural character of the area. On two occasions opponents stated point-blank that they simply did not want to see their area “industrialized.”
The North American economy haemorrhages hundreds of billions of dollars a year paying for oil imports. Tens of billions are spent on military operations ensuring access to foreign oil. If this money were re-directed to the domestic oil patch, North America would boom. Protectionist petroleum policies are tempting, but all that is needed is a throwing open of existing petroleum reserves and an unshackling of domestic oil producers. Wilderness preservation, Climate Change, and Peak Oil should not be a break on oil production. Despite environmentalists’ emotional posturing, these rationales are pretexts. Blocking hinterland development and preventing a fast-growth, cheap-energy North American economy are not unfortunate by-products of environmental policies but their main aim.
Peak Oil and Climate Change are an odd couple. On the one hand, why worry about atmospheric damage caused by burning oil if we are running out of oil? On the other hand, Peak Oil and Climate Change share the underlying motive of replacing oil as an energy source. Both are lies. Climate Change is the greatest scientific fraud in history. Warnings of the exhaustion of oil reserves are 100 years old. Oil reserves have grown, not shrunk, because oil extraction technology races forward. The Stone Age did not end because we ran out of rocks.
The starting pistol for the global warming of Climate Change was fired in 1978 when UN Secretary General Waldheim called for an UN-led scientist-environmentalist alliance to push for phasing out oil. Coal was soon added to the energy hit list. In the ensuing years the natural gas industry, led by BP and later by T. Boone Pickens, exploited Climate Change to lobby for policies favouring gas. We are to replace oil with natural gas as transportation fuel even though natural gas is inferior in terms of volatility per volume and ease of handling. We are to replace coal with gas for electrical generation even though coal is cheaper. Their latest ruse is hype about “shale gas” as the new super-abundant energy store. Shale gas solves two non-existent problems. There is no oil shortage, and if adding CO2 to the atmosphere has any measurable effects, they are on balance beneficial.
Contemporary North American ENGO propaganda is notably defensive. Cries for new laws and new agencies have given way to slogans like “Keep your Paws off our Laws” and “Defend the EPA.” This demonstrates the extent of their institutionalization. The existing legal framework and the existing array of state agencies, combined with a parallel state of litigious ENGOs and enviro-media men, are sufficient to gradually impose the New Ecological Order. The defensiveness betrays a view from atop the political turrets. The ball is now in the court of those favouring industry, progress, markets, and democracy. Laws must be repealed, agencies must be disbanded, or North Americans will descend into a de-industrialized hell ruled by unelected eco-zealots.
The effectiveness of the “Tar Sands” campaign was evident in April 2011 when the Alberta government recently unveiled its Lower Athabasca Regional Plan. This plan, the first of seven environmentalist-driven watershed plans, covers a 93,000 square kilometre area encompassing the Athabasca oil sands and much of the Cold Lake oil sands. Provincial ministers speak as though enclosing 22% of this area is a divine commandment. Absent oil sands development, this Siberian Outback would have 10,000 inhabitants; only 5% of it is used agriculturally. The plan calls for large Conservation Areas totalling 20,000 square kilometres where oil sands extraction, commercial forestry, and mining will be prohibited in order to facilitate traditional land uses and to preserve biodiversity, especially the majestic caribou. The 24 oil and gas companies owning leases in the proposed Conservation Areas are girding for a fight over compensation. Alberta taxpayers will pay dearly so their oil companies do not produce oil. Greenpeace, Pembina, and Chief Yiyo complain the plan does not protect enough land.
This essay relied heavily on the three sources listed in Section I:
Facts about the oil sands, other oil deposits, and other aspects of the petroleum industry came mainly from government and industry sources listed in Section II.
Facts about environmental groups, corporations, foundations, and government agencies overwhelmingly come from their own websites. These are listed in Section III.
Additional reports and news articles are listed in Section IV.
If you have any questions about sources, etc., please inquire through the “contact” link on the main page.
Section I: Top Sources
http://fairquestions.typepad.com (Vivian Krause’s website)
Levant, Ezra; Ethical Oil, The Case for Canada’s Oil Sands, 2010, McClelland and Stewart, Toronto.
Sweeny, Alistair; Black Bonanza, Alberta’s Oil Sands and the Race to Secure North America’s Energy Future, 2010, Wiley and Sons, Mississauga, Ontario.
Section II: Industry and Government
www.uschamber.com see also www.projectnoproject.com
Section III: ENGOs, Foundations, and Corporations
Section IV: Other Reports
Burger, James; Crawford, Peter; Johnson, Harry; Is Oil Shale America’s Answer to the Peak-Oil Challenge; Oil and Gas Journal, August 9, 2004.
Alberta conservation plans stun oil patch; Globe and Mail, April 5, 2011 (updated April 9).
Citing Delays, Shell Ends Plans for Arctic in 2011; New York Times, February 3, 2011.
Co-operative Gives 53,000 pounds to Canadian Cree, Guardian, July 20, 2009.
Crusading to Drill Offshore B.C.; Mike Byfield, Oil and Gas Inquirer, February 7, 2011.
Estonian Company plans Utah oil shale development; Oil and Gas Journal, March 10, 2011.
Five Decades of doing Science, Advocating environmental policy, CBC.ca, October 18, 2010.
Fuhr, Joseph and Pociask, Steve; Progress Denied: A Study of the Potential Impact of Permitting Challenges Facing Proposed Energy Projects; 2011, US Chamber of Commerce.
Gibbins, Dan; Blackened Reputation: A Year of Coverage of Alberta’s Oil Sands, Canada West Foundation, July 2010.
Hannigan, P. K. et al, Canadian Geological Survey; Petroleum Resource Potential of Sedimentary Basins of the Pacific Margins of Canada; 1998.
McGraw-Hill Encyclopaedia of Science and Technology, 10th edition, 2007, New York (volumes 9 and 12).
Morris, Ed; Avatar’s Green Fascism; (www.good.is/post/avatar-s-green-fascism/)
New Chief Prepares People for Oil Sands Fight, Edmonton Journal, August 19, 2008.
New Drilling Methods Open Vast US Oil Fields, Fox News, February 10, 2010.
Oil Shale and Tar Sands Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement; US Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, 2008.
Oil sands adding Carcinogens to Athabasca River: study; CBC.ca, December 8, 2009.
Should the Moratorium on B.C. Offshore Exploration be Lifted; www.cpac.ca January 13, 2009.
The 10 billion Barrel Battle, CBC.ca, November 20, 2009.
US Census Bureau; Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2011; (130th edition) Washington DC.
USGS; Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, 1002 Area, Petroleum Assessment, 1998.
USGS lowers NPR in Alaska by 90%. CNN October 27, 2010.
You’d Never Know he was a Sun King, New York Times, May 9, 2010.