The Fossil fuel industry in Alberta: public opinion, and mapping ownership

Parkland provincesapart_coverIn Provinces Apart? Comparing Citizen Views in Alberta and British Columbia,  released by the Parkland Institute on October 25, the authors re-visit the data from a survey conducted in February – March 2017, and conclude that what differences exist between citizens of Alberta and British Columbia are attributable more to their political self-identification than to their province, age, or educational status. While the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion was certainly an active issue at the time, the survey pre-dated the bitter political battle and subsequent media attention which ensued from the federal government’s purchase of the project, and the Court decision which suspended construction. After a brief review the political events of the most recent Trans Mountain controversy, the authors conclude “the governing and opposition parties in both provinces have exacerbated this partisan divide.”

In those calmer days when the survey was conducted, citizens’ views on political influence, the fossil fuel industry, climate change, and the role of protests in a democracy were not as divergent as stereotypes tell us.   Findings of particular interest: 53% of respondents in Alberta and  69% in B.C. agreed that “we need to move away from using fossil fuels;” 76% in Alberta and 68% in B.C. thought the petroleum industry has too much influence over governments, (fewer than one-third said the same about either environmentalists, labour unions or Indigenous groups).

Parkland 2018 who_owns_fossil fuel coverThe Parkland Institute also published Who Owns Canada’s Fossil-Fuel Sector? Mapping the Network of Ownership & Control   in October, as part of the Corporate Mapping Project, in partnership with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives B.C. and Saskatchewan, and the University of Victoria.  The analysis covers the period from 2010 to 2015, and demonstrates that the production, ownership and control of the fossil fuel industry is highly concentrated: “The top 25 owners together account for more than 40 per cent of overall revenues during this period.”  At 16%, foreign corporations are the largest type of majority owners (led by ExxonMobil) ; asset managers and investment funds are the 2nd largest; banks and life insurers are the third-largest type of owner (approximately 12% of revenues), with the big five Canadian banks (RBC, TD, Scotiabank, BMO and CIBC) among the top investors. The federal Canadian government, combined with provincial governments, own 2%.  The report provides a wealth of information, including names and ranks of specific companies in the network of ownership and control, points out the importance of divestment campaigns, and “identifies the need to shift from fossil-fuel oligarchy to energy democracy, in which control of economic decisions shifts to people and communities, such as through public ownership of renewables and much greater democratic participation in energy policy.”

For more insight into Alberta and its energy economy, the Parkland Institute is hosting a conference, Alberta 2019: Forces of Change   from November 16 – 18. Presentations include: Opening Keynote, “In the Eye of the Storm”, by Lynne Fernandez (Errol Black Chair in Labour Issues, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives- Manitoba); “The Alberta Economy in Context” by Angella MacEwen; “Just Transitions in the Belly of the Beast” by Emily Eaton ( University of Regina); and “Boom, Bust, and Consolidation: Corporate Restructuring in the Alberta Oil Sands” by Ian Hussey (Research Manager at Parkland Institute).

bluegreen alberta 2018Also from Alberta:  the 2018 event from BlueGreen Canada,  Just Transition and Good Jobs for Alberta 2018 was held in Edmonton on October 22 and 23, with active participation and sponsorship of USW, Unifor, and the Alberta Federation of Labour.  This is the third annual event –  summaries from 2017  and 2016  are here.

Federal Court of Appeal stops Trans Mountain pipeline in its tracks

killer whales rainforestAn August 30 decision by the Federal Court of Appeal  has quashed the approval of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion, directing that the the consultation with First Nations be re-done before the approval can again be considered.  The Court’s decision was based on two grounds: 1). Failure to adequately consult with First Nations –  characterizing the interaction as more “note-taking” than consultation – and 2) the National Energy Board  did not consider  the environmental impacts of  oil tanker traffic, especially its effect on the Southern Resident Orca Whales .  The Court stated:  “The unjustified exclusion of project-related marine shipping from the definition of the project rendered the board’s report impermissibly flawed”.  The National Observer has summarized the decision thoroughly  here , and maintains an ongoing series on “Kinder Morgan” here .  CBC News produced several stories, including a broad overview, including reactions, in “After Federal Court quashes Trans Mountain, Rachel Notley pulls out of national climate plan” .  A straightforward, briefer summary appeared in the Calgary Herald, “Five things to know about today’s Trans Mountain Pipeline Court Ruling” .

Reaction from environmentalists and First Nations is understandably overjoyed. EcoJustice, one of the main legal players in this consolidated case issued a press release  jointly  with the Raincoast Conservation Foundation and  Living Oceans Society, emphasizing the conservation aspects of the decision. It states: “The past six years have been a hard-fought battle against a project that has come to symbolize some of the defining issues Canadians face at this moment in time: Navigating the ongoing process of reconciliation, mitigating climate change, and protecting the land and water for future generations.”   Climate Action Network states that “This decision from the Federal Court of Appeal affirms the primacy of Indigenous rights and community consent. “  The David Suzuki Foundation press release touches on both aspects of the decision, saying “What is clear is that today’s decision sets a new high-water mark in terms of what it means to achieve true reconciliation, with Indigenous Peoples and nature.”  From The Narwhal,  “The death of Trans Mountain pipeline signals future of Indigenous rights: Chiefs” is a good compilation of First Nations response, to be read along with the Vancouver Sun‘s “B.C. First Nations Divided on Kinder Morgan Ruling”.

Another environmentalist reaction: “‘This pipeline is dead’: Stand.earth applauds federal court decision on Trans Mountain Pipeline”  which states: “Today’s victory is a vindication for everyone who worked to stop the Trans Mountain pipeline and tanker project — the hundreds of Water Protectors who were arrested in acts of peaceful civil disobedience, the tens of thousands of climate activists who marched against this pipeline, and the millions of Canadians who used their votes to elect candidates committed to creating a better future for Canada and the world.”

What does this mean for Canadian climate policy?  Professor David Tindall of University of British Columbia wrote an Opinion piece which appeared  in The Conversation on August 30, “Trans Mountain ruling: Victory for environmentalists, but a setback for action on climate change”.  He states: “While environmentalists can claim a victory in delaying the construction of a pipeline that would ship a further 500,000 barrels of oil each day to the Pacific Coast, the court ruling also threatens Canada’s plan to deal adequately with its greenhouse gas emissions. ”   A fuller discussion of this dilemma appears in “Trans Mountain pipeline ruling shakes central pillar of Trudeau agenda” (Aug. 31)  in the National Observer, and features in the many arguments for “Why Ottawa should step away from the Trans Mountain pipeline” , in Policy Options in August.  (A follow-up to an August 29 Open Letter to Prime Minister Trudeau on the topic, from 189 Canadian academics).  Finally, “The Global Rightward Shift on Climate Change”  in The Atlantic    (Aug. 28) examines Trudeau’s contradictory policies even before the Court decision,  in light of the recent ouster of Australia’s Prime Minister, partly over energy policies.

The threat to federal climate change policy comes because Alberta’s Premier Rachel Notley, in reaction to the Court’s decision,  pulled the province out of the Pan Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, blaming the federal government for “the mess we find ourselves in”.  The Premier’s press release issues an ultimatum, stating: “…Alberta, and indeed Canada, can’t transition to a lower carbon economy, …if we can’t provide the jobs and prosperity that comes from getting fair value for our resources….So the time for Canadian niceties is over… First, the federal government must immediately launch an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. Even more importantly, Ottawa must immediately recall an emergency session of Parliament to assert its authority and fix the NEB process as it relates to this project to make it clear that marine matters have been and will be dealt in a different forum.  Then Ottawa needs to roll up its sleeves and continue its work to protect our coast and improve consultation and accommodation relating to Indigenous peoples in the way they deserve.”

The political context is behind Notley’s response is  reported in “‘Notley’s in a lot of trouble’: Massive political fallout from Trans Mountain court decision” in the Calgary Herald and in the Edmonton Journal (Aug. 31) :  “’It is a crisis’: Alberta premier withdraws support for federal climate plan after Trans Mountain approval quashed” . Other Western politicians are quoted in  “ ‘A hideously expensive white elephant’: Essential quotes on the quashing of the Trans Mountain pipeline approval”  in the Calgary HeraldReaction from British Columbia’s  Premier  was brief, and focused on First Nations rights;  the mayors of Burnaby and Vancouver B.C.  were more enthusiastic (having been part of the applicant group of the case) .

What’s Next?  The Prime Minister reiterated federal resolve to build the pipeline in an interview on August 31, after the decision.  Construction has been stopped indefinitely, but a CBC analysis cautions, “Don’t dig Trans Mountain’s grave just yet” , and UBC Professor George Hoberg has predicted that it will take another 18 months at least for the issue to reach, and be decided, in the Supreme Court of Canada.  And in the meantime, in Canada, the September 8 RISE Global Day of Climate Action will be a day of celebration .

 

Government campaign claims Trans Mountain pipeline is a “bridge to a greener tomorrow” – economists and citizens disagree

keepcanada working

#keepcanaddaworking social media campaign

Now that the government of Canada has bought the Trans Mountain pipeline project from Texas-based Kinder Morgan,  the governments of Alberta and Canada have launched a public relations campaign to “sell” the deal to Canadians.  The  Keep Canada Working television and  social media campaign  promotes the familiar Liberal government message that  “Developing the economy and protecting the environment are two things that can happen side by side – without choosing one over the other”, and argues that “The Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion funds green investments, shifts the transportation of oil away from more carbon intensive methods like rail or truck, and provides a bridge to a greener tomorrow.”   The full “Climate Action” defense is here .

The “Jobs and the Economy” claims are here, including endorsements by politicians and includes a quote from Stephen Hunt, Director of the United Steelworkers District 3: “Members of the United Steelworkers are proud that the pipeline will be using Canadian-made USW-built pipe.”  The other positive job arguments are sourced from an April 2018 Globe and Mail article by the CEO of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the corporate website of  Trans Mountain, which are in turn based on an unnamed  Conference Board of Canada report .

What do other economists say about the benefits of the Trans Mountain pipeline?   In February 2018, the Parkland Institute summarized and critiqued the economic arguments in a still-useful  blog “Let’s share the actual facts about the Trans Mountain Pipeline” , and Canadian economist Robyn Allan has written numerous articles critical of the Trans Mountain project for the National Observer, most recently “Premier Notley’s claimed $15 billion annual benefit from Trans Mountain exposed as false by her own budget”  (June 7 2018). Other more detailed publications since the May 2018 purchase by the government:  “Canada’s Folly: Government Purchase of Trans Mountain Pipeline Risks an Increase in National Budget Deficit by 36%, Ensures a 637% Gain by Kinder Morgan”, published by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, describes the fiscal and financial risks and calls for more public disclosure of those details before the Purchase Agreement is finalized in August.  Similarly,  The view from Taxpayer Mountain  (June 2018) from the West Coast Environmental Law Association links to  the actual Purchase Agreement and reviews Canada’s obligations and risks.  On June 26, Greenpeace USA has published  Tar Sands Tanker Superhighway Threatens Pacific Coast Waters  highlighting the dangers of a potential oil spill on the environment,  and on coastal economies.  At risk: the $60 billion coastal economy of Washington, Oregon and California, which  currently supports over 150,000 jobs in commercial fishing and over 525,000 jobs in coastal tourism, and in the British Columbia Lower Mainland, Greenpeace estimates there are  320,000 workers in industries that rely on a clean coastline.

On the issue of climate change impacts, a widely-cited discussion paper, Confronting Carbon lock-in: Canada’s oil sands (June 2018) from the Stockholm Environment Institute,  concludes that  “The continued expansion of Canada’s oil sands is likely to contribute to carbon lock-in and a long-term oversupply of oil, slowing the world’s transition to a low-carbon future.”  And still valuable reading: David Hughes’ Can Canada Expand Oil and Gas Production, Build Pipelines and Keep Its Climate Change Commitments? (June 2016) from the Corporate Mapping Project  , and from Jeff Rubin,  Evaluating the Need for
Pipelines: A False Narrative for the Canadian Economy  (September 2017).

Tanker Bridge BlockadeDemonstrations continue:   Vancouver housing activist Jean Swanson’s  argues that the billions spent on Kinder Morgan would be better used for social housing, job creation, and renewable energy in  “Why I got arrested protesting the Kinder Morgan pipeline” in The Tyee, July 11.  Twelve Greenpeace activists mounted an “aerial blockade”  for Trans Mountain oil tankers by hanging from a bridge above the water on July 3 and 4.   And on July 11, CBC reported  “Secwepemc First Nation’s ‘Tiny House Warriors’ occupy provincial park in Trans Mountain protest” .  The Tiny House Warrior movement began in 2017, near Kamloops, to block the pipeline by  re-establishing village sites and asserting authority over Secwepemc First Nations unceded Territories.

 

 

Canadian government spends $4.5 billion taxpayers’ dollars to buy Trans Mountain pipeline project and push expansion ahead

justin-trudeauDespite strenuous and prolonged opposition from environmental and Indigenous activists in Canada and internationally, and two days before a deadline imposed by Texas corporation Kinder Morgan, Canada’s Liberal government announced on May 29  that it will  spend $4.5 billion to buy the existing Trans Mountain pipeline and its associated infrastructure, so that a pipeline expansion can proceed under the ownership of a Crown corporation.  The press release is here  ; details of the transaction are here in a Backgrounder  ;  the text of the speech by Finance Minister Bill Morneau is here . Repeating the mantra of the Trudeau government, Morneau claims that the project is in the national interest, will preserve jobs,  will reassure investors and improve the price for Canadian oil by expanding its market  beyond the U.S.  Morneau says the federal government does not plan to be a long-term owner and is in negotiations with interested investors, including Indigenous communities, pension funds (notably the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board)  and the Alberta government.

trans-mountain-pipelineIn fact, the expansion pipeline, if built, would almost triple the amount of dilbit transported from Alberta to the British Columbia coast, from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels a day, and increase tanker traffic off B.C.’s coast from approximately five to 34 tankers a month.  As recently as May 24, an Open Letter coordinated by Oil Change International  and signed by over 200 groups  summed up the situation, stating there is a “….  clear contradiction between Prime Minister Trudeau’s unchecked support for the Kinder Morgan pipeline project and his commitments to Indigenous reconciliation through the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and his obligation to address climate change through the Paris Agreement.”  The letter notes that currently planned Canadian oil production would use up 16% of the world’s carbon budget to keep temperatures below 1.5 degrees, or 7% of the budget for 2 degrees.  Canada has less than 0.5% of the world’s population.

Today’s initial reaction to the government’s decision  has called it “astounding”, “shameful”, and an “historic  blunder”.  From the CBC: “Liberals to buy Trans Mountain pipeline for $4.5B to ensure expansion is built”   and “ Bill Morneau’s Kinder Morgan surprise comes with huge price tag, lots of political risk: Chris Hall”.  From  The National Observer   “Trudeau government to buy troubled Trans Mountain pipeline for $4.5 billion”   ; “BC Will Continue Legal Strategy to Oppose Pipeline After Federal Purchase, Premier Says”  in The Tyee  .  Toronto’s Globe and Mail posted at least 6 items on the decision , including  an Explainer , and Jeff Rubin’s Opinion: “Morneau had better options for Canada’s Energy sector” .

From  Greenpeace Canada: “Federal government volunteers to “captain the Titanic of tar sands oil pipelines” and risks $4.5B of Canadians’ money in the process” ; and  West Coast Environmental Law reaction points out that “There are currently 14 legal challenges before the Federal Court of Appeal, alleging that the government failed in its constitutional duty to consult First Nations about the Trans Mountain project, and that the federal review had other regulatory flaws. Success in just one of those challenges could derail the underlying federal approvals.”

In the Victoria Times Colonist, “Green Party Leader May calls pipeline decision ‘historic blunder’” ; John Horgan, Premier of British Columbia, released an official statement  , and a jubilant Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is profiled in the CBC story, ” ‘Pick up those tools, folks, we have a pipeline to build,’ Alberta premier says  “.  Reaction from B.C. First Nations leaders is compiled in this CBC story.

Social media reaction, as compiled by CBC , is here  .  The Dogwood Initiative has mounted a  “Time for Bill Morneau to go” online petition here ; SumofUs has an online petition  here,  to urge the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board not to invest in Kinder Morgan.   Direct emails can be sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at justin.trudeau@parl.gc.ca .   Opposition continues and the story is not over.

First Nations communities trading dirty diesel for renewable energy

First Nations’ commitment to renewable energy is described in Growing Indigenous Power: A Review of Indigenous Involvement and Resources to further Renewable Energy Development across Canada  released in February 2018 by  TREC Renewable Energy Co-operative. The report highlights examples of renewable energy projects, describes the potential benefits for  communities,  and outlines supportive policies and programs in each province. In the section on workforce issues, the report states:  “Whether a community is partnering with a developer and/or hiring a construction firm for their own project, it is important to insist, in writing, on a certain number of employment positions. After working with a developer on a wind project, Millbrook and Eskasoni First Nations (Nova Scotia) developed a database of skilled community members and had them join the union, to address employment issues.” The report contains a unique bibliography of articles and reports from lesser-known Indigenous and local sources.

The National Observer publishes frequent updates on the issue of First Nations and renewable energy  in British Columbia, which they have compiled into a Special Report titled First Nations Forward. Highlights from the series include “First Nations powering up B.C.” (Dec. 2017), and most recently,  “In brighter news, a clean energy success story:   Skidegate on the way to becoming a “city of the future”   (April 9). Also in British Columbia, the Upper Nicola Band  in the southern Interior will vote in April on a proposal to build a solar farm project  which, if approved, will be 15 times larger than the current largest solar farm in British Columbia ( a converted mine site at Kimberley ) .  CBC profiled the proposed new project in March. DeSmog Canada also profiled the Upper Nicola Project, and in November 2017 published “This B.C. First Nation is harnessing small-scale hydro to get off diesel.”

How green energy is changing one Alberta First Nation”  in the Toronto Star (April 10)  profiles a solar project at Louis Bull First Nation, south of Edmonton. It  was initiated under the  Alberta Indigenous Solar Program , one of several provincial grant programs to encourage renewable energy and energy efficiency amongst First Nations.  On  April 5, Alberta’s Renewable Electricity Program was announced – a  3-phase program which the government claims will attract approximately $10 billion in new private investment.  By 2030, it is also expected to create about 7,000 jobs in a wide range of fields, including construction, electrical and mechanical engineering, project management, as well as jobs for IT specialists, field technicians, electricians and mechanics. Phase 2 will include a competition for renewable energy projects  which are at least 25% owned by First Nations.

On March 22, the Ontario government announced :  “The federal and Ontario governments are partnering with 22 First Nations to provide funding for Wataynikaneyap Power to connect 16 remote First Nations communities in Northern Ontario to the provincial power grid…..When complete in 2023, the Wataynikaneyap Power Grid Connection Project will be the largest Indigenous-led and Indigenous-owned infrastructure project in Ontario history. It will mean thousands of people will no longer have to rely on dirty diesel fuel to meet their energy needs.”  The Wataynikaneyap Power website offers a series of press releases that chronicle the years-long development of this initiative, in partnership with FortisOntario . The most recent press release on March 22 states that the goal is to establish “a viable transmission business to be eventually owned and operated 100% by First Nations. In addition to the significant savings associated with the avoided cost of diesel generation, the Project is estimated to create 769 jobs during construction and nearly $900 million in socio-economic value.  These include lower greenhouse gas emissions (more than 6.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent GHG emissions are estimated to be avoided), as well as improved health of community members, and ongoing benefits from increased economic growth.”  Also of interest, a 2017 press release from FortisOntario : “Over $2 Million Announced For Wataynikaneyap Transmission Project First Nations Training Program .”