On June 17th, the government unceremoniously -- almost casually -- approved Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline with an innocuous press release.
Approval was given despite the negative findings of hundreds of scientists from across Canada and around the world who signed a letter to Prime Minister Harper in June. The world-leading academics wrote that the Joint Review Panel's recommendation to approve the proposed pipeline was based on a "flawed analysis of the risks and benefits to B.C.'s environment and society." The letter concluded, "we urge you in the strongest possible terms to reject this report." The decision was widely expected by opponents, who had long said the approval process was faulty and biased. Indeed, Harper could hardly reject a pipeline in his own country when he had told the most powerful leader in the world in September 2013 that he "won't take no for an answer" on the Keystone XL pipeline.
In the past decade, Enbridge has glopped an embarrassing hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil from hundreds of spills and leaks without much attention or controversy. Until a bad day in 2010 when they let 20,000 barrels of oil sands bitumen gush into Michigan's Kalamazoo River. The Kalamazoo spill is the most expensive inland oil spill in U.S. history, costing nearly $1 billion up to mid-2012. The evaporating toxic condensate from the bitumen made hundreds of people sick and coated more than 50 kilometres of the river bottom with tar. The entire river has had to be dredged. Upon hearing that it took the company 17 hours and 19 minutes -- three full shifts -- to turn off the gush of oil after a gas company employee notified them, Deborah Hersman, the chairperson of the inquiry into the spill said, "you can't help but think of the Keystone Kops. Why didn't they recognize what was happening? What took so long?"
Incredibly, as of July 2012, no Enbridge executive or employee had been reprimanded or punished for his or her role in the costliest inland pipeline spill in U.S. history. Far from contrite, just a few months later, Enbridge's 12 board members voted to raise their annual retainers by $30,000 and jacked up the salary of CEO and president, Patrick Daniel, to $8.1 million. CEO bonuses generally dwarf salaries. In October 2012, Enbridge was summoned back to Michigan to dredge about 100 acres of the Kalamazoo. The new dredging work could take up to a year.
In its report on Kalamazoo, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) wrote that Enbridge had a "culture of deviance" on safety matters. And this is the company that the Canadian government trusts to run a pipeline carrying highly toxic heavy oil over 1,000 kilometres through a Rocky Mountain and across a pristine watershed of immense ecological, cultural and economic value. The oilsands, by contrast, have only economic value.
Eons ago, northern Alberta was a massive lakebed. As algae and plankton sunk into the sandy bottom, the heat and pressure of millions of generations of the stuff were transformed into bitumen which saturated the sandstone, creating oil sands. A company that would become Syncor first developed the Alberta oil sands in 1967. Syncrude came next and would go on to dig the world's biggest mine. Oil sands extraction is a hugely inefficient process that consumes five barrels of water for one barrel of bitumen and takes up to 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas to produce a barrel of crude. The Alberta oil reserves are the second largest in the world after Saudi Arabia. They sit under almost 150,000 square kilometres of boreal forest--an area larger than the state of Florida, and double the size of New Brunswick.
This blasted heath, the biggest industrial operation on earth, can be seen from space. Bitumen is junk energy. Every joule, or unit of energy, invested in extracting and processing bitumen yields only four to six joules in the form of crude oil. Conventional oil production in North America, by contrast, yields about 15 joules. A BC-based engineering firm says the amount of energy needed to produce tar sands energy might not be worth the effort and environmental risk. It's called Energy Return On Investment [EROI] and refers to the amount of energy that must be expended in order to produce more energy. C.J. Peter Associates found that getting oil sands bitumen from Alberta to China requires so much energy for such scant EROI it might not be worth the effort. In testifying at public hearings in Prince George in January 2012, the firm's Norman Jacob used a chilling analogy for the dilemma: "when animals expend more energy foraging than they obtain from plant food sources they die. Societies that ignore EROI necessarily fail."
This is an excerpt from Capt. Trevor Greene's new, self-published book.
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