Research funding dries up for Fracking and Water

The impacts of fracking on groundwater is one of the research areas of the  Program on Water Issues (POWI) at University of Toronto’s Munk Centre for Global Affairs, “one of the nation’s most celebrated and effective water study programs ” which brought together Canada’s “best scientists and policy-makers … in an independent, non-partisan forum”.   Now, after supporting the program for 15 years,  the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation have announced an end to their support. Although no official reason has been given for the decision,  a report  by Andrew Nikoforuk in The Tyee (April 19)  suggests that  research into fracking may have been a factor in the decision. Other research topics pursued at POWI included water withdrawals from the Athabasca River by the oil sands industry, groundwater monitoring, carbon capture and storage, climate change, the future of the Columbia River Treaty, and bulk water exports.

Also: An April report from Environment America, Fracking by the Numbers: the Damage to Our Water, Land and Climate from a Decade of Dirty Drilling   catalogues a host of  dangers, including contaminated drinking water, depletion of scarce water resources; and air pollution and methane leaks in the U.S.  And speaking of contamination of water, see also a new report by Environmental Defence-  Energy East: A Risk to our Drinking Water , which documents the nature and proximity of  the proposed pipeline to major municipal and community drinking water supplies in four provinces.

Government Scientists Continue their Fight for their Right to Speak Out

The Professional Institue of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) represents scientists employed in some 40 federal departments and agencies, including many directly involved with climate change. Having previously documented the culture of intimidation felt by their members in two reports, The Big Chill and Vanishing Science, the union is now addressing the issue at the bargaining table. Amongst the demands in the current round of bargaining: the right to speak about one’s work; the right to attend professional development meetings and conferences; and the development of a scientific integrity policy. The bargaining proposals have both an English version and French version.

Federal Government Scientists: an Open Letter in their Support, and an Injunction for Energy East Based on their Concerns

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), along with the Union of Concerned Scientists, marked the Government of Canada’s Science and Technology week with an advertising campaign which included an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

muzzle_scientists_canada_report_535_692The letter states: “Canada’s leadership in basic research, environmental, health and other public science is in jeopardy…We urge you to restore government science funding and the freedom and opportunities to communicate these findings internationally”. The letter was signed by more than 800 scientists from 32 countries, from institutions such as Harvard Medical School in the U.S. and the Max Planck Institute in Germany. PIPSC, which represents scientists employed by the federal government, has published earlier surveys of its members to document their perceptions of being “muzzled”; a related advocacy group, Evidence for Democracy, released its own report on October 8, compiling and ranking the communications policies of federal government departments.

The world has seen this before, as described in a blog by the Union for Concerned Scientists, and coincidentally, by the New York Times obituary on October 19, 2014 for Rick Pitz. Pitz was a U.S. whistleblower who exposed the subtle manipulation of scientific reports on climate change in the Bush administration between 2002 and 2003.

Ignoring the opinions of federal government scientists has its perils. On September 23, the Quebec Superior Court issued a temporary injunction to stop TransCanada’s exploratory drilling for the Energy East pipeline. Part of the reason for the injunction: environmental groups provided internal documents showing that scientists from the federal department of Fisheries and Oceans had been raising concerns for months about the impact of the exploratory drilling on the habitat of threatened St. Lawrence beluga whales, and of the proposed oil terminal that would be built to service 250-metre long supertankers. The court ruled that, by ignoring the scientists’ concerns, Quebec’s Minister of the Environment erred in issuing a permit for the exploratory work.

LINKS:

PIPSC Press release, with a link to the Open Letter, is at: http://www.pipsc.ca/portal/page/portal/website/news/newsreleases/news/21102014

Can Scientists Speak? Grading Communication Policies For Federal Government Scientists is at: https://evidencefordemocracy.ca/canscientistsspeak, with a blog which summarizes Canadian and U.S. experience at the Union of Concerned Scientists at: http://blog.ucsusa.org/want-to-talk-to-a-scientist-in-canada-dont-look-to-the-federal-government-678

See the CBC report at:http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/foreign-scientists-call-on-stephen-harper-to-restore-science-funding-freedom-1.2806571 for links to previous stories in this ongoing issue.

Rick Pitz obituary in the New York Times (Oct. 19, 2014) is at: http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/10/19/a-passing-rick-piltz-a-bush-era-whistleblower/?_php=true&_type=blogs&module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3Ar&_r=0, and the related expose of Philip A. Cooney, “Bush Aide Softened Greenhouse Gas Links to Global Warming” in the New York Times (June 8, 2005) at: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/08/politics/08climate.html?emc=eta1

“TransCanada work on St. Lawrence port Suspended by Quebec Court Order” on the CBC website (September 23) at: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/transcanada-work-on-st-lawrence-port-suspended-by-quebec-court-order-1.2775613

National Energy Board Rejects B.C. Academics’ Participation in Transmountain Pipeline Hearings

A public letter sent to the National Post states: “This week, the National Energy Board (NEB) announced plans for its upcoming hearings on the proposal to triple the capacity of Kinder Morgan’s Transmountain Pipeline, which transports oil from Alberta to the Port of Vancouver. The new pipeline alone is expected to lead to 50% more carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions each year than all of British Columbia currently produces. That fact prompted 26 university professors who study climate change to apply to lend our expertise to the NEB’s assessment of whether this project is in the public interest. Every one of us was rejected, because we proposed to talk about climate change…” See the letter at: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2014/04/10/donner-harrison-hoberg-lets-talk-about-climate-change/; see the NEB website for the Transmountain project at: http://www.neb.gc.ca/clf-nsi/rthnb/pplctnsbfrthnb/trnsmntnxpnsn/trnsmntnxpnsn-eng.html.

Government Scientists Have their Say Through their Union’s Survey

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada released a new report with insights into the effects of the Harper government’s attitude to environmental issues. Vanishing Science: The Disappearance of Canadian Public Interest Science summarizes the results of two surveys by Environics – one, a survey of vansciscientists who work for the federal government, and the other a survey of Canadians. Nearly 73% of Canadians believe public health, safety and protection of the environment should be a top government priority. Yet the survey states that “Over three-quarters of federal scientists (78%) report cuts to capacity in their own workplace. Nearly 7 out of 10 scientists (69%) at Environment Canada and over 8 out of 10 (83%) at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) believe Canada is doing a worse job of environmental protection and sustainable resource management than 5 years ago”. An article by Andrew Nikoforuk in The Tyee gives voice to specific prominent scientists who have been let go.
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LINKS

Vanishing Science: The Disappearance of Canadian Public Interest Science is at: http://www.pipsc.ca/portal/page/portal/website/issues/science/vanishingscience

“Report Lists Top Scientists Who Lost Jobs Due To Federal Cuts” in The Tyee (Feb. 12) at: http://thetyee.ca/Blogs/TheHook/2014/02/12/Federal-Science-Cuts/