B.C’s Dirty Dozen mines

 SkeenaWild and the BC Mining Law Reform network released the Dirty Dozen 2021    report in May (B.C.’s “Mining Month”), to expose the province’s worst offending mines which risk the health and safety of communities and the environment.  The twelve mines were selected “based on their proven or probable impacts to sensitive environments and species, violation of Indigenous rights, unsafe management of tailings waste and/or water contamination, inadequate reclamation funding, and/or non-compliance with environmental permits.” Included in the 2021 “Dirty Dozen”:  five coal mines owned and operated by Teck Resources, B.C.’s largest mine operator, in the Elk River Valley, which is known to have been leaching  toxic Selenium from their waste rock piles for decades. Another on the list: Copper Mountain mine on the Similkameen River, with a long history of polluting in a watershed that is home to steelhead trout and salmon. The Copper Mountain Mine is planning to raise the height of its tailings dam by 65 per cent to 255 metres – risking catastrophe in the case of a collapse. Another notorious mine included in the 2021 list is the Mount Polley copper and gold mine owned by Imperial Metals Corp., which in 2014 was “the site of the most significant environmental mining disaster in Canadian history, in which a tailings dam collapse released 24 billion litres of tailings and contaminated water into surrounding salmon habitat.”  The report states that the company continues to ignore the recommendations of the Independent Review Panel into the Mount Polley disaster, and the government is failing to follow through on enforcement.

The Dirty Dozen report concludes that “ there is still a gap between the rosy picture the B.C. government and the mining industry are trying to promote and what is actually happening on the ground.”  It refers to recommendations for improvement, including those from the First Nations Energy and Mining Council and from the B.C. Mining Law Reform Network (endorsed by nearly 30 local, provincial and national citizen and community groups, First Nations, academics, and social justice and environmental organizations). Nikki Skuce, co-chair of the BC Mining Law Reform network says: “By permitting these risks and pollution issues to continue, the government is putting the mining industry itself at risk as more and more purchasers around the world shift to socially and environmentally responsible sourcing”.  

A related article “Supplying the green wave” (Corporate Knights , May 3)  describes the organizations working towards more environmentally responsible mining, including Mining Watch Canada and The Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA).

Updated: Agreement reached to save Terra Nova offshore oil and gas field in Newfoundland

UPDATE: As reported by CBC News on June 16 in “New hope for Terra Nova as Suncor announces tentative deal to save N.L. oilfield” , and by a Unifor press release, an agreement in principle has been reached to restructure ownership of the Terra Nova oil fields, offering a path forward which may save the jobs of the workers. Details are not yet available, but Suncor will increase its equity stake and previous owners may participate in the new structure, contingent on the province honouring its commitment to provide $205 million from the oil industry recovery fund, and some $300 million in royalty relief .

Workers demonstrated outside the Newfoundland legislature on June 14 and 15 , as politicians debated inside about the fate of the Terra Nova oil field and an ultimatum from Suncor Energy, asking for the government to buy the assets of the Terra Nova FPSO, an offshore production and storage platform which employed nearly 1,000 workers in 2019, which is the last time oil was produced. Suncor is the last company remaining in the consortium which owned the oil field.  The complexity of the situation is described in several CBC articles, including:  “Talks to save Terra Nova oilfield collapse after N.L. government rules out equity stake” (June 10), and  “As deadline for Terra Nova approaches, pressure mounts to save troubled oilfield” (June 11). To date, the government has refused to buy the asset, saying that the risks are too great because the oilfield is estimated to be 85% depleted. Instead, it has agreed to provide about $500 million in cash and incentives to the company.  As of June 16, Suncor Energy has still not announced a decision, as reported by CBC in “Terra Nova deadline comes — and goes — without word of its fate” .

Unifor Local 2121 represents the workers at Terra Nova, and organized the demonstrations at the legislature.   Unifor describes the rally here, and in this press release asserts that the Terra Nova decision is a harbinger of the future of the Newfoundland oil and gas industry.

State of carbon pricing in Canada, with recommendations for improvement

The Canadian Institute for Climate Choices was commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada to undertake an assessment of carbon pricing in Canada. The resulting report, The State of Carbon Pricing in Canada was released in June along with an accompanying detailed technical report, 2020 Expert Assessment of Carbon Pricing Systems. Focusing on the design of carbon pricing systems across all jurisdictions (and not measuring performance), the authors identify five key challenges: Not all policies apply to the same emissions; Not all policies have the same price; Not all policies impose the same costs on industry; Almost all policies lack transparency about key design choices and outcomes; and Long-term and transparent price signals are typically absent from programs.  

Their  recommendations for improvement are:

  • Develop a common standard of emissions coverage for carbon pricing across all jurisdictions.
  • Remove point-of-sale rebates that are tied to fuel consumption: such rebates should be replaced with other approaches such as direct rebates, income tax reductions, or abatement technology subsidies.
  • Define a “glide-path” to better align and increase average costs to large emitters
  • Engage Indigenous people in carbon pricing – at present, some communities are exempt and some are subject to full carbon costs
  • Ensure continuous improvement through more transparency and more independent evaluation.

A related blog, “3 Maps That Show Why Carbon Pricing in Canada Needs a Tune-Up”  summarizes the differences in carbon pricing design choices across the country, in a less formal style. 

Canadian oil companies rely on carbon capture technology in their new net zero alliance

On June 9, five Canadian oil companies –  Canadian Natural Resources, Cenovus Energy, Imperial, MEG Energy and Suncor Energy – announced their alliance in the Oil Sands Pathways to Net Zero initiative, whose goal is to achieve net zero GHG emissions from their operations in Alberta’s oil sands by 2050 (but not including the emissions created from the oil consumption after it is extracted).  Importantly, the companies still forecast a global demand for oil, so they do not discuss reducing production, but rather they will rely on a Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS) trunkline running from the Fort McMurray and Cold Lake regions to a carbon sequestration hub near Cold Lake Alberta. Other means to reduce GHG’s will include existing technologies at oil sands operations, including “CCUS technology, clean hydrogen, process improvements, energy efficiency, fuel switching and electrification”, as well as  “potential emerging emissions-reducing technologies including direct air capture, next-generation recovery technologies and small modular nuclear reactors.”   

The companies are aided in developing these new technologies by the federal government, which announced a $750-million Emissions Reduction Fund in October 2020 , providing loans to promote investment in greener extractive technologies. It is hardly surprising then that the new alliance calls for “ Collaboration between industry and government” , and in case that wasn’t clear enough, the press release continues: “In addition to collaborating and investing together with industry, it is essential for governments to develop enabling policies, fiscal programs and regulations to provide certainty for this type of long-term, large-scale investment. This includes dependable access to carbon sequestration rights, emissions reduction credits and ongoing investment tax credits. We look forward to continued collaboration with both the federal and Alberta governments to create the regulatory and policy certainty and fiscal framework needed to ensure the economic viability of this initiative.”  

Professors Kathryn Harrison,  Martin Olszynski, and Patrick McCurdy offer guidance on how to read the Alliance goals, in “Why you should take oilsands giants’ net-zero pledge with a barrel of skepticism” in The National Observer (June 10). “Alberta is gambling its future on carbon capture” (The National Observer,  June 11) compiles reaction (mostly skeptical) from Environmental Defence and the Pembina Institute. The Energy Mix reacted with: “Fossils’ ‘Net-Zero’ Alliance has no Phaseout Plan, Relies on Shaky Carbon Capture Technology”, which surveys a broader range of reaction and quotes Pembina Institute’s Alberta regional director, Chris Severson-Baker, at length.  

Clean energy jobs as a transition destination

Released on June 3, Responding to Automation: Building a Cleaner Future  is a new analysis by the Conference Board of Canada, in partnership with the Future Skills Centre. It investigates the potential for clean energy jobs as a career transition destination for workers at high risk of losing their jobs because of automation. The clean energy occupations were identified from three areas: clean energy production, energy efficiency , and environmental management and the “rapid growth” jobs identified range from wind turbine technicians and power-line installers to industrial engineers, sheet metal workers, and  geospatial information scientists. Based on interviews with clean economy experts, as well as the interview responses from over five hundred workers across Canada, the analysis identifies  the structural barriers holding employers and workers back from transition:  Lack of consistent financial support for workers to reskill • Employer hesitancy to hire inexperienced workers • Current demand for relevant occupations which makes change less attractive • Lack of awareness around potential transition opportunities • Personal relocation barriers, such as high living costs in new cities, and family commitments. None of the recommended actions to overcome the barriers include a role for unions, with the burden for action falling largely on the individual employee. Only summary information is presented as a web document, but this research is part of a larger focus on automation, so it can be hoped that a fuller report will be published – if so, the partner group, Future Skills, maintains a Research website where it will likely be available.  

Other news about renewable energy jobs:

“Renewable Energy Boom Unleashes a War Over Talent for Green Jobs” appeared in Bloomberg Green News (June 8), describing shortages of skilled workers in renewable energy, mainly in the U.S.. It also summarizes a U.K. report which forecasts a large need for workers in the U.K. offshore industry, which is expected to be met by people transferring from the oil and gas sector.  

A report by the Global Wind Energy Council forecasts a growth of 3.3 million wind jobs worldwide by 2025, and suggests that offshore wind energy jobs could offer a natural transition for workers dislocated from offshore oil and gas and marine engineering workers. According to the analysis, in 2020, there were approximately 550,000 wind energy workers in China, 260,00 in Brazil, 115,000 in the US and 63,000 in India.  A related report, The Global Wind Workforce Outlook 2021-2025 forecasts a large training gap: the global wind industry will need to train over 480,000 people in the next five years to construct, install, operate and maintain the world’s growing onshore and offshore wind fleet. That report is available for download here (registration required), and is summarized in this press release.

And forthcoming:   Clean Energy Canada will release its research on the clean energy labour market in Canada on June 17.  Their last jobs report, The Fast Lane: Tracking the Energy Revolution, was released in 2019.