Ethical Oil Sands?

2011-01-07 Globe and Mail
Harper’s embrace of ‘ethical’ oil sands ignites new arguments

Stephen Harper is embracing the notion that Canada’s controversial oil sands are an “ethical” source of energy, strengthening his support of the maligned resource and kicking off a new chapter in the debate over what critics call “dirty oil.”

The Prime Minister told reporters Friday that his government wants to “explain to the world” that petroleum from Western Canada’s oil sands is superior in respects to crude from other countries.

Schindler et al – full study downloadable. Is this polluting behaviour ethical?



Oil sands development contributes polycyclic aromatic compounds to the Athabasca River and its tributaries

doi: 10.1073/pnas.0912050106 PNAS December 29, 2009 vol. 106 no. 52 22346-22351

For over a decade, the contribution of oil sands mining and processing to the pollution of the Athabasca River has been controversial. We show that the oil sands development is a greater source of contamination than previously realized. In 2008, within 50 km of oil sands upgrading facilities, the loading to the snowpack of airborne particulates was 11,400 T over 4 months and included 391 kg of polycyclic aromatic compounds (PAC), equivalent to 600 T of bitumen, while 168 kg of dissolved PAC was also deposited. Dissolved PAC concentrations in tributaries to the Athabasca increased from 0.009 μg/L upstream of oil sands development to 0.023 μg/L in winter and to 0.202 μg/L in summer downstream. In the Athabasca, dissolved PAC concentrations were mostly <0.025 μg/L in winter and 0.030 μg/L in summer, except near oil sands upgrading facilities and tailings ponds in winter (0.031–0.083 μg/L) and downstream of new development in summer (0.063–0.135 μg/L). In the Athabasca and its tributaries, development within the past 2 years was related to elevated dissolved PAC concentrations that were likely toxic to fish embryos. In melted snow, dissolved PAC concentrations were up to 4.8 μg/L, thus, spring snowmelt and washout during rain events are important unknowns. These results indicate that major changes are needed to the way that environmental impacts of oil sands development are monitored and managed.

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4 Responses to Ethical Oil Sands?

  1. rmcpiper says:

    My thanks go out to “DWHilborn” who commented to the Globe and Mail article by pointing out a sea change at the Royal Bank of Canada with three citations (click on each of the bolded titles to read about the policy):

    2010-12-22 RBC
    Royal Bank of Canada Steps Away from Tar Sands With Support for First Nation Rights

    Top financier of tar sands announces new environmental and social standards

    SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 22 /CNW/ – The Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) today made public its new environmental and social standards, which will govern financing of clients in high-impact sectors including Canada’s tar sands. The announcement marks a significant about face on tar sands by one of the sectors biggest financiers. The policy is the first by a major international bank to document whether bank clients have received consent from Indigenous communities. This follows nearly two years of campaigning by Rainforest Action Network (RAN) alongside First Nations concerned about the negative impacts of tar sands development. … more

    A message from Gordon M. Nixon,
    President and Chief Executive Officer
    RBC launches Policy on Environmental and Social Risk Management for Capital Markets

    RBC has long been recognized as a leader in environmental issues. Since the launch of our first Corporate Policy on the Environment in 1991, we have continued to develop and implement a suite of world class environmental policies and processes for our many business areas. … more

    2011-01-03 DAILY NEWS
    FINANCING: Royal Bank policy to consider oil sands impact before lending

    TORONTO – At the urging of the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and Canada’s First Nations, the Royal Bank of Canada has implemented a new policy of conducting an environmental and social risk review (ESRR) on selected companies before it extends financing. The review is now part of the bank’s routine client review.

    The move is hailed by the RAN as a “significant about face on tar sands by one of the sector’s biggest financiers.” In “high impact sectors” RBC will examine how client activities impact indigenous communities and the status of consultations with those communities.

    The new RBC policy will also impact other oil and gas producers. The first test of the ESRR is likely to be the Northern Gateway pipeline proposed by Enbridge that needs to raise $5.5 billion for the project.

  2. rmcpiper says:

    See also Kelly, Schindler et al
    Oil sands development contributes elements toxic at low concentrations to the Athabasca River and its tributaries

    10.1073/pnas.1008754107, PNAS September 14, 2010, vol. 107 no. 37 16178-16183

    We show that the oil sands industry releases the 13 elements considered priority pollutants (PPE) under the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act, via air and water, to the Athabasca River and its watershed. In the 2008 snowpack, all PPE except selenium were greater near oil sands developments than at more remote sites. Bitumen upgraders and local oil sands development were sources of airborne emissions. Concentrations of mercury, nickel, and thallium in winter and all 13 PPE in summer were greater in tributaries with watersheds more disturbed by development than in less disturbed watersheds. In the Athabasca River during summer, concentrations of all PPE were greater near developed areas than upstream of development. At sites downstream of development and within the Athabasca Delta, concentrations of all PPE except beryllium and selenium remained greater than upstream of development. Concentrations of some PPE at one location in Lake Athabasca near Fort Chipewyan were also greater than concentration in the Athabasca River upstream of development. Canada’s or Alberta’s guidelines for the protection of aquatic life were exceeded for seven PPE—cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, silver, and zinc—in melted snow and/or water collected near or downstream of development.

    The entire article is available for download in PDF format.

  3. rmcpiper says:

    I recommend strongly that you read the 2011-01-12 Deep Climate posting titled Ethical Oil (click here). It features a detailed analysis of Peter Kent’s interview with Evan Solomon at the CBC, pointing out a large number of wrong statements and disinformation.

  4. rmcpiper says:

    The January 6 CBC Power and Politics appearance by Peter Kent with host Evan Solomon is here (20 minutes).

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