Oilsands critics blast plan
Responsible Actions: A Plan for Alberta’s Oil Sands
Responsible Actions: A Plan for Alberta’s Oil Sands outlines an integrated approach for all levels of government, for industry, and for communities to address the economic, social and environmental challenges and opportunities in the oil sands regions. In the near term, it identifies priority actions, some of which are already underway, to address immediate challenges associated with oil sands development. The plan also looks to the future to guide long-term investment in social and physical infrastructure and innovative technology, and to reduce the environmental footprint associated with oil sands development.
This 20-year plan was based on extensive stakeholder consultations described in Investing in our Future: Responding to the Rapid Growth of Oil Sands Development, the Multistakeholder Committee Final Report, and the Aboriginal Consultation Final Report. Responsible Actions also builds on existing Alberta government policies, programs, and initiatives, particularly the Provincial Energy Strategy and Land-use Framework. Regular reporting on the Government of Alberta’s progress in achieving our vision will occur and will provide accountability in helping us reach our goals.
News Release: Province outlines long-term development plan for Alberta’s oil sands (February 12, 2009)
Responsible Actions: A Plan for Alberta’s Oil Sands (PDF, 3MB, complete document)
Alberta's Oil Sands Just Got DirtierMedia Release
The Pembina Institute
Feb 13, 2009
New Policy Could Lead to 66 Per Cent Increase in Greenhouse Gas Pollution
Today the Pembina Institute submitted comments on a draft Alberta Government policy that would allow in situ oil sands operations to burn dirtier fuels, which would significantly increase the intensity and total amount of greenhouse gas pollution and air emissions from the sector. The draft policy, "Emission Standards for the Use of Non-gaseous Fossil Fuels for Steam Generation in In-Situ Bitumen or Heavy Oil Recovery Projects," was posted on the Alberta Government's website with no fanfare on December 23, 2008. The public had until today to submit comments.
The policy would allow oil sands companies operating in situ projects to switch from burning natural gas to much dirtier, more carbon intensive fossil fuels such as raw bitumen or the waste from oil sands upgrading (petroleum coke and asphaltenes). Compared to conventional oil production, in situ oil sands production produces four times the greenhouse gas pollution per barrel when burning relatively cleaner natural gas. According to the Pembina Institute's analysis, in situ oil sands operations burning petroleum coke without any mitigation would produce 66 per cent more greenhouse gas pollution than if the same operation were to burn natural gas.* The Alberta Government document states that the policy may be expanded to include other industrial activities in the future.
"The Alberta government is encouraging a carbon intensive industry to get even dirtier," says Chris Severson-Baker, Policy Director with the Pembina Institute. "This is very bad news for the global climate and for people living in areas already heavily affected by the air pollution from oil sands operations and areas downwind, including Saskatchewan."
The draft policy, which was posted for public comment on December 23, 2008, appears to be related to an objective of Alberta's Energy Strategy to "support the replacement of natural gas as an oil sands input . . . from the bottom of the bitumen barrel." The policy includes a requirement that in situ plants be designed to be capable of capturing carbon emissions in the future, but Alberta and Canada have no regulations or reduction requirements that would require carbon capture and storage (CCS), nor has CCS been proven for application with in situ oil sands operations.
"While Canada seeks to assure the U.S. that efforts are underway to clean up "dirty oil" from the oil sands, Alberta is unveiling a policy that takes us in exactly the opposite direction," notes Simon Dyer, Oil Sands Program Director with the Pembina Institute. "It's ridiculous to suggest that requiring that facilities be carbon capture ready is enough. It's like having a mousetrap with no cheese -- it's capture-ready but it doesn't catch the mouse."
In its written submission to Alberta Environment, the Pembina Institute recommends that Alberta Environment withdraw the policy until such time as regulations are in place that cap and reduce total GHG pollution from the oil sands, and regional air pollution limits are in place to protect human health and the environment.
* Impact of the Introduction of a Carbon Capture and Storage System in the Oil Sands Sector on Air Contaminant Emissions Part 1 Air Contaminant Emissions Impacts for the Oil Sands Sector, prepared by Canadian Energy Research Institute for Environment Canada, June 2008. Note: This analysis assumes that the gasification of petroleum coke without carbon capture and storage generates the same carbon dioxide emissions as directly burning petroleum coke (Table 3.2).
The Pembina Institute's letter to Alberta Environment regarding the new oil sands emission policy is available here.
The Government of Alberta policy is available here.
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Oilsands critics blast planBy Darcy Henton and Hanneke Brooymans
The Edmonton Journal
February 13, 2009
20-year blueprint dismissed as public relations exercise to improve Alberta's environmental image
The Alberta government Thursday outlined what it believes is a more environmentally and socially responsible approach to oilsands development, but the plan failed to quiet growing criticism.
The report, which sets out immediate and long-term ways to address social, economic and environmental challenges created by oilsands projects, was slammed by opposition parties and environmental groups. They called it a compilation of old ideas from previous studies, with no timetable for implementing changes.
They suggested the 47-page brochure was aimed at convincing the United States that oil extracted from the oilsands is not dirty. There is a move afoot in the U.S., Canada's main market for oil, not to buy so-called dirty oil.
Liberal MLA and energy critic Kevin Taft said the report was too vague.
"Pretending this is a plan is like pretending it's not winter outside," he told reporters at an oil industry conference at the Shaw Convention Centre. "I have to think this is part of their multibillion-dollar public relations campaign. They're trying to smooth things over, but I am afraid it will backfire. Instead of building confidence, this reveals them for not really knowing what they're doing at all."
The report, Responsible Actions: A Plan for Alberta's Oilsands, recommends steps to reduce the environmental damage of the massive strip-mining operations near Fort McMurray.
"The real title should be Look Busy: Obama is Coming and We're in Trouble," NDP Leader Brian Mason told Premier Ed Stelmach during question period, drawing roars of laughter from opposition MLAs. "Why don't you admit this so-called plan is just window-dressing to placate world opinion?"
Stelmach countered criticism that the report had no teeth by saying: "This is the brains. This is a long-range plan to work together in a co-ordinated approach so we develop this world-class resource responsibly. This is the road map to the future."
He said he was confident that government, working with industry and other interested parties, will successfully manage environmental and social problems.
Liberal Leader David Swann called the plan "profoundly" disappointing.
"The oilsands' image is under fire across the world, and, with it, Alberta's key economic engine," Swann said.
"This is a serious issue and demands real action. The glossy vision document released today fails to address the key issues affecting Alberta and Canada."
Treasury Board President Lloyd Snelgrove, whose ministry spearheaded the report, conceded there wasn't a lot new in the document, but said the principles it sets out will be a blueprint for development.
"I think it clearly sends a message to the rest of the country and the world that the oilsands are going to be developed, they are going to be developed for a long time and they're going to be developed in an environmentally responsible way," he said.
The report, compiled four decades after the first oilsands projects began, was released the same week the provincial and federal governments charged oilsands giant Syncrude after about 500 ducks died last spring on one of its massive tailings ponds.
Wood Buffalo deputy mayor Mike Allen feels relief that there's finally a plan for the area.
"We've been dealing with these growth issues upwards to about nine years now, and at least seven of those years were without any form of plan."
Allen said the plan will allow the community to move forward on some priorities, including issues involving quality of life.
Greenpeace, which is waging war on the oilsands, lamented the plan's lack of targets.
"We hope that other jurisdictions won't be fooled by what seems to be more of a public-relations ploy than a strategy that will stop the incredible environmental damage caused by the tarsands," spokesman Mike Hudema said.
One recommendation in the report calls for the establishment of partnerships with industry, Ottawa and municipalities to build public infrastructure.
Energy companies have balked at the prospect of building public facilities, such as roads, bridges and overpasses, because they pay taxes and royalties.
Roman Cooney, a spokesman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said oil companies do realize they have to work with resource communities.
"We recognize that resource development is a partnership with everybody from the folks who live in the community to our friends south of the border," he said. "I think there is a very much higher level of engagement and activity than the industry gets credit for, both in terms of environmental commitment and its engagement with the community."
The report recommends a shift to studying the cumulative effects of the oilsands projects rather than just assessing each project individually.
It calls for oilsands companies to move more quickly to reclaim land after the bitumen -- the tar-like sand that is used to produce crude -- has been strip-mined from the earth.
It says the province should also secure land in the oilsands regions to support biodiversity, wetland and environmental management objectives.
The plan also called for government consultation with aboriginal communities affected by the developments, including a plan for a pilot project to assess the cumulative impact of oilsands development on six adjacent Métis settlements.
Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation said he wants to see action.
"There were a lot of good words said about the oilsands strategy plan and how they were going to engage the First Nations and the communities surrounding the development. But until those things are implemented, it's only talk."
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Gene Zwozdesky said the Métis pilot project is expected to be completed over the next year at a cost of "several thousand dollars."
Simon Dyer, director of the Pembina Institute's oilsands program, said the plan still doesn't address the No. 1 concern Albertans identified when they were consulted two years ago -- the pace and scale of development.
The institute is an Alberta-based environmental research centre.
Dyer said the most telling aspect of the plan is that it talks about the government setting environmental thresholds and regional planning.
"The government talked about this in 1999 as part of the regional sustainable development strategy, and very little actually happened. So the government is recycling commitments it made 10 years ago."
The oilsands are the second-largest petroleum reserves in the world, with deposits containing an estimated 1.7 trillion barrels of bitumen, although only about 10 per cent can be recovered through current mining processes.
To date, a 104-hectare parcel of Syncrude land has been reclaimed, which is a fraction of the 40,000 hectares used by the oilsands industry.
REPORT SETS PRIORITIES
- Create economic, social and environmental performance measures and report progress to the public annually.
- Continue to commit to carbon capture and storage projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- Increase the effectiveness of multi-stakeholder groups and associations.
- Better assess social and infrastructure needs related to oilsands development.
- Work with industry to develop financial contribution strategies to support the development of public and community infrastructure.
- Initiate an independent review of oilsands research and innovation systems to identify gaps.
- Establish Alberta as a world-class centre for clean-energy research.
The full report is available at www.treasuryboard.alberta.ca.
© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal
Alberta's new oilsands plan focuses on economic growth, environmentRenata DAliesio
The Calgary Herald
February 12, 2009
Four years after the Alberta government retreated from a contentious oilsands plan that would have given energy activity priority over the environment and other development, the province today released a 20-year blueprint to better manage the economic, social and environmental challenges related to developing the vast petroleum resource.
The plan aims to optimize economic growth while reducing the environmental footprint of the second-largest oil reserves in the world, after Saudi Arabia. Its priorities include:
- revising the environmental impact assessment process to support cumulative effects management;
- increasing the pace of reclamation;
- continuing with Fort McMurray’s community development plan to address housing shortages, while investigating opportunities to regionalize service delivery;
- initiating an independent review of oilsands research to identify gaps and develop a co-ordinated approach to oilsands development;
- leveraging bitumen royalties to develop value-added oilsands products;
- developing a regional plan for the Lower Athabasca Region, part of the provincewide land-use framework
- launching a pilot project to assess the cumulative environmental impacts of oilsands development on the rights and traditional land uses of aboriginals.
“When it comes to Alberta’s oilsands, we believe that Canada can be a leader in finding innovative ways to ensure both economic growth and greater environmental protection,” said Treasury Board President Lloyd Snelgrove in a statement. “This strategy will guide our responsible approach to development, with an increased focus on the environment and the importance of this significant resource to local communities.”
The plan, called "Responsible Actions," comes after a 2005 government oilsands strategy sparked a backlash because it gave energy activity priority over the environment and other forms of development in northern Alberta. Since then, the province has assembled committees and commissioned several reports.
In July 2007, a 19-member committee, which included representatives of governments, industry, and municipalities, made 120 recommendations for “orderly development” of the region. The committee's report followed an oilsands examination by former deputy minister Doug Radke, who found the province's traditional budget and planning formula ill-equipped to aid rapidly growing communities, detailing to great length Fort McMurray's health care and housing woes.
Snelgrove, whose department houses the oilsands secretariat, will address the plan at a speech later today to a manufacturing and exporting conference in Edmonton.
© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald
'Devil's in the details,' say cautious producersBy Lisa Schmidt, Calgary Herald, February 13, 2009
Province Reveals Oilsands Development Strategy
The long-awaited report released Thursday by the provincial government outlined broad strategies such as faster environmental cleanup, increasing Alberta's refining and processing capacity and addressing social strains resulting from the booming sector.
Oilsands producers said the plan lacks specifics, but welcomed the approach and expected consultations with the sector.
"We're very supportive of the over-arching strategies, but I think the devil's going to be in the details," said Shawn Davis, a spokes-woman for Suncor Energy.
"Until we know what practical application is going to look like, it's really hard for us to say whether we think this is going to affect us or not" in making future investment decisions.
Falling oil prices and tight credit markets have slowed the pace of development in Alberta's oilsands, where several major projects and expansions have been cancelled or delayed. Suncor, along with Petro-Canada and Royal Dutch Shell, are among those who have announced delays to oilsands plans.
Energy Minister Mel Knight said the plan will ensure"sustain-able development" of the resource over the next three decades.
"We all need to be realistic and understand that in the global economy situation that we have today, there is going to be some staging of development,"he said in Edmonton.
"None of what we're doing with respect to the strategies we have in place--the energy strategy, this oilsands strategy, the land-use framework--none of those things will slow development pace."
Alberta's oilsands have faced growing criticism over environmental impacts and the pressures of rapid growth on local communities, prompting a series of government reports and studies over the past few years that have served as the backdrop to the 20-year plan.
This plan will help address most of those issues without deterring investment, said Don Thompson, president of the Oil Sands Developers Group.
"The focus on the long-term, solid planning base . . . actually facilitates moving forward with the development," he said.
"I see this as simply continuing with the approach that industry has always taken."
The plan will also push increased refining and processing in Alberta by taking provincial royalties as bitumen and selling it to upgraders.
That was welcomed by North West Upgrading Inc.,which has been working to line up customers for its planned merchant plant near Edmonton.
"Building what we're building really creates an enormous amount of activity at a time when Alberta could really use it," said Ian MacGregor, chairman of North West Upgrading.
"It reaffirms the government's support for adding additional value to the raw materials here in Alberta . . . I'm encouraged."
Under its environmental strategies, the province will also speed up reclamation efforts of tailings ponds and commit to carbon capture and storage projects to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
It will also work with oilsands players to help fund construction of roads and other infrastructure needed in the oilsands region, but stopped short of making it a requirement.
Oilsands developers said the industry already pays for its share.
"The number of dollars contributed through royalty and taxes is a matter of record, so I think we do our part in terms of supporting public expenditures in the province of Alberta," said Thompson.
1. Environmentally responsible development
2. Promote healthy communities
3. Maximize long-term value
4. Better consultation with aboriginals
5. Use research to unlock oilsands potential
6. Bring more accountability to management of oilsands
© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald
Oilsands report calls for increased focus on environmentBy Darcy Henton, and Hanneke Brooymans, Vancouver Sun, February 13, 2009
Alberta government study calls for reducing the project's footprint and raising the quality of life in the Fort McMurray region
The report outlines immediate and long-term actions to address social, economic and environmental challenges and strategies to take advantage of opportunities in the region.
"When it comes to Alberta's oilsands, we believe that Canada can be a leader in finding innovative ways to ensure both economic growth and greater environmental protection," said Treasury Board President Lloyd Snelgrove, who spearheaded the strategy.
The report is a long-awaited response to calls from all quarters to slow the pace of development and reduce the environmental effects of the oilsands projects.
Environmentalists have waged an international campaign against the development, branding oilsands products "dirty oil."
One recommendation in the report calls for the establishment of partnerships with industry, the federal government and municipalities for timely investment in public infrastructure, the lack of which has been the bane of Fort McMurray, about 450 kilometres northeast of Edmonton and the home to many oilsands workers.
Energy companies have balked at the prospect of building public facilities like roads, bridges and overpasses, saying they already pay taxes and royalties.
But Roman Cooney, a spokesman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said it wouldn't be a change in course for industry to be involved in supporting infrastructure projects.
"We recognize that resource development is a partnership with everybody from the folks who live in the community to our friends south of the border," he said. "I think there is a very much higher level of engagement and activity than the industry gets credit for -- both in terms of environmental commitment and its engagement with the community."
He said the association has every confidence the industry and province can move forward in addressing the challenges of oilsands development.
"It's complicated and it's challenging and it's important to capture the environmental, the economic and the energy-related dimensions to the issues," he said. "The bottom line is we're moving forward."
The report bows to calls for the government regulatory bodies to start studying the cumulative effects of the oilsands projects rather than just assessing each project individually.
It calls for oilsands companies to move more quickly to reclaiming land after the bitumen -- the tarlike sand that is used to produce crude -- has been strip-mined from the earth.
It says the province should establish an offset program to secure high-value conservation lands in the oilsands regions to support biodiversity, wetland and environmental management objectives.
The plan also called for consultation with aboriginal communities affected by the developments, including a plan for a pilot project to assess the cumulative impact of oilsands development on six adjacent Metis settlements.
Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation said development to date has been so frantic, "It seems like [it's] build it first and we'll come up with a plan later."
He reserved judgment on the plan, released Thursday.
"There were a lot of good words said about the oilsands strategy plan and how they were going to engage the first nations and the communities surrounding the development. But until those things are implemented it's only talk."
One of the recommendations of the plan is to develop a plan to implement the plan.
Simon Dyer, director of the Pembina Institute's oilsands program, said the plan lacks specifics, timelines and accountability.
"It doesn't address the No. 1 concern Albertans identified when they were consulted two years ago, which was the pace and scale of development. And it lacks substance, so I don't think it will stand up to the increased scrutiny we're getting."
Dyer said it is positive to hear that companies will be held accountable to meet their reclamation schedules and Albertans will be better protected in terms of financial liabilities.
But the most telling thing about the plan is that it talks about the government setting environmental thresholds and regional planning. "The government talked about this in 1999 as part of the Regional Sustainable Development Strategy and very little actually happened. So the government is recycling commitments it made 10 years ago."
The report does contain a call to strengthen member associations, like the Cumulative Environmental Management Association, which have been rendered nearly ineffective by defections over its lack of progress in addressing oilsands issues.
One key recommendation calls for measurement of the impacts and the release of an annual report card that sets out how efforts to mitigate negative impacts are progressing.
The report appears to be a response to the 20-month-old Vance MacNichol report that summarized the views of 19-stakeholders in 120 recommendations.
The oilsands are the second- largest petroleum reserves in the world with deposits containing an estimated 1.7 trillion barrels of bitumen although only about 10 per cent can be recovered through current mining processes.
Last March, the provincial government issued the first-ever reclamation certificate for an oilsands mine. The 104-hectare parcel of land, known as Gateway Hill, belongs to Syncrude.
It's a tiny fraction of the 40,000 hectares that have been disturbed by the oilsands industry thus far.
Meanwhile, environmental groups continued their onslaught against the "tarsands" Thursday, focusing their current efforts on U.S. President Barack Obama's forthcoming trip to Ottawa.
Environmental group ForestEthics has placed "In Search Of" personal ads in dozens of North America's largest newspapers in an effort to highlight growing concern surrounding Canada's oilsands.
The ad buy, which includes purchases on both sides of the border, reads: "Patriotic, busy, Chicago-Hawaiian man, must like basketball and know how to do the fist bump. I saw you on TV. You said 'Yes we can' and talked about a clean energy future. Meet me in Canada and we'll sweep aside the world's dirtiest oil, the Tar Sands, and make sweet climate change solutions together."
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun
Oil-sands plan vague, critics sayKATHERINE O'NEILL AND NATHAN VANDERKLIPPE
The Globe and Mail
February 13, 2009
Alberta's strategy to shrink environmental impact has no timelines
EDMONTON and CALGARY -- Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach billed a long-awaited report on oil-sands development released yesterday as the "road map to the future," but many are complaining the document is short on specifics and long on vaguely defined goals.
The Alberta government report, Responsible Actions: A Plan for Alberta's Oil Sands, sets out a 20-year strategy and calls for reducing the environmental footprint of the multibillion-dollar energy projects.
The 47-page document says there needs to be an increased focus on managing the effects of oil-sands development on the environment and communities, and calls for regional targets and thresholds for air and water quality, land use and biodiversity. However, it contains no timelines showing how the province plans to meet those goals, nor does it lay out steps for staggered development that community leaders have called for as a way to reduce the crush of development Alberta has faced in recent years.
"Pretending this is a plan is pretending like it's not winter outside," Liberal MLA Kevin Taft said. He said he suspects the document is part of a multimillion-dollar public-relations campaign the Alberta government has been waging to counter allegations from environmentalists that the oil sands, which involve a carbon-intensive extraction process, are the source of "dirty oil."
Many are also questioning the timing of the plan's release, just days before U.S. President Barack Obama's trip to Ottawa on Feb. 19. The oil sands are expected to be on the agenda during his visit.
Mr. Stelmach said the plan has been in the works for at least two years, and dismissed as "speculation" suggestions that its release is linked to the presidential visit.
In 2007, a committee struck by the Alberta government released a 66-page document that called for changes to the way oil is extracted and encouraged the development of new technology. But the committee, which was made up of industry officials, provincial and municipal civil servants, aboriginal representatives, and environmentalists, failed to agree on a wide range of issues, including whether to cap greenhouse-gas emissions.
At the time, Mr. Stelmach said he would prefer to let the market self-regulate rather than risk "touching the brake" on development. Since then, the credit crunch and dramatic slide in commodity prices has brought most new oil-sands developments to a halt. In the past six months, dozens of companies have suspended or cancelled $230-billion in planned capital spending, the Canadian Energy Research Institute said.
Don Thompson, president of the Oil Sands Developers Group, said the government's 20-year plan includes little that is new, and he doesn't expect it to "constrain investment."
Greenpeace Canada said it is disappointed the document sets no targets or timelines for reducing the environmental impact of development of the oil sands, the second largest petroleum deposits in the world.Posted by Arthur Caldicott on 13 Feb 2009