It was a Victoria day like any other until I found out the Canadian government has been vigorously spying on several Canadian organizations that work for environmental protections and democratic rights. My colleagues and I had been wary of being spied on for a long time, but having it confirmed still took the wind out of me.
In addition to the Keystone XL which would increase total capacity of the pipeline to 1.1 million barrels of diluted bitumen per day, Enbridge filed plans to Monday to build the $2.6B Sandpiper pipeline project across northern Minnesota. If approved, the project will move 225,000 barrels per day of unconventional oil to Minnesota, and 375,000 barrels to Wisconsin.
Could rail realistically provide an alternative to the Keystone XL, aiding in the expansion of Canada's highly-polluting tar sands? The Keystone XL will undoubtedly support tar sands production, promote continued tar sands investment, and contribute to Canada's already-significant greenhouse gas output.
According to new figures released by the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) the total amount of bitumen emulsion - a mixture of tar sands heavy crude and water - released on Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.'s (CNRL) Cold Lake Site is now more than 1.5 million litres, or the equivalent to more than 9600 barrels of oil.
A draft version of a new investigative report released this week by Global Forest Watch and Treeline Ecological Research argues the series of underground leaks currently releasing a mixture of tar sands bitumen and water into a surrounding wetland and forest on the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range is related to a similar set of spills caused by Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL) in-situ operations in 2009. The cause of the 2009 seepage was never determined and details of an investigation by the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), then called the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), weren't made public until last year, four years after the initial incident.
"Here," said a Heiltsuk friend as we began the walk, "put this in your pocket, it will help protect you." She handed me a piece of dried Devil's club bark, medicine from the B.C. coastal rainforest to carry with me as we walked by Alberta's tar sands facilities. Strong medicine was definitely in order as my lungs hurt, heart ached, and eyes welled up with tears with all that I witnessed.
Some fifteen years ago, at a Peace Gathering, an elder shared a prophecy. A baby boy would be born in a teepee on a buffalo robe, his birth signalling that now is the time to act. Last Thursday, on the eve of the 4th Annual Healing Walk in Fort McMurray, Alberta, a young woman went into labour. Her contractions came closer together. Grandmothers and mothers gathered to pray. And, at the stroke of midnight, inside a teepee, a healthy boy was born on a buffalo robe.
"We don't know what the hell is going on under the ground". That's what Crystal Lameman, a member of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation told me this morning. On June 27, an oil spill occurred at Canadian Natural Resources Limited's Primrose operations. The spill happened on the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range, located in a region The Royal Canadian Airforce calls "the inhospitable wilds of northern Alberta and Saskatchewan." This 'inhospitable' region happens to be in her community's traditional hunting territory where her family traditionally hunted and trapped and where her elders are buried.
What the hell indeed is going on in Fort McMurray, you might ask. How did I get to spend time talking to Malcolm Gladwell, and Bill Cosby? What is bringing these people so far north? Well, what is bringing them is the Northern Insights speaker series from the Fort McMurray Public Library - but I think what is really drawing them in is the narrative of this community.
Fact is, Alberta's red-ink budgets have much more to do with real per-capita program spending being near historic highs. This also explains why so many Albertans "hiss" at the notion of a sales tax. To understand why the spending side of the government ledger deserves more attention, consider some statistics about Alberta's program spending, ones that take into account Alberta's population growth and inflation rate.