Tar Sands Repugnance

Multinational oil and gas corporations need to minimize Canada’s tar sands repugnance every day. If big oil hopes to continue earning hundreds of billions of dollars in profit, they have to make sure consumers, like us, don’t get a bad taste in our mouths. How do you prevent people from thinking about:

  • destruction of boreal forest
  • massive natural gas and water consumption
  • smokestacks
  • and watershed pollution?

It’s not dissimilar to the dilemma the tobacco companies faced with the association between cigarettes and death.

One of big oils’ simplest but most clever PR strategies is to use words that misrepresent what’s actually going on. Examples:

  • Oil Sands: Historically they were the Canada’s tar sands because the stuff looks and feels more like tar than oil; today you’re branded a radical if you say or write tar sands
  • Tailings Pond: A pond is something you have on your hobby farm, it’s certainly not toxic dumpsites that are so large that they can be seen from space
  • Oil Spill: You spill your coffee, you don’t spill hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil.

Wordsmiths writing for traditional media can do better than “pond” and “spill”.

I miss George Carlin. Remember his oxymoron, “Military Intelligence”? He could have performed a hilarious, routine about minimizing the tar sands’ repugnance that would have garnered a lot of attention.

Speaking of tar sands’ repugnance, have you watched ‘Petropolis’?

The Enbridge Conundrum

Q: What is the Enbridge conundrum?
A: How can a corporation once named one of Canada’s greenest companies be responsible for delivering about 318,000,000 litres (84,000,000 gallons) of crude oil per day? Yes, I know about their CO2 sequestration, solar power, waste heat recovery and wind farm initiatives, but they’re still a major player in the fossil fuels marketplace. How is that green? To be fair, Enbridge is doing exactly what I think we should be doing with the tar sands, they’re using profits from oil and gas to transition to green technologies. Unfortunately, they’re also promoting a really bad plan that will inevitably lead to an environmental catastrophe.

I first became aware of Enbridge™, years ago, when I watched a newscast referencing an oil spill from one of their many pipelines (they have over 13,000 kilometres of pipeline). Recently, like all other residents of British Columbia Canada, I’ve been bombarded by their public relations blitz for their Northern Gateway Pipelines. Enbridge is currently investing up to five million dollars ($5,000,000) to convince BC residents that their planned pipeline is “a path to our future”. I suspect Big Oil is contributing additional funds to ensure the pipeline becomes a reality as soon as possible.

Q: “What kind of PR campaign can you buy for about $5,000,000?”
A: You can hire a team of designers and copywriters whose job it is to brand a heavy crude oil pipeline and oil port as something magical, wonderful and hopeful.

Ask yourself, does the combination of the designer’s beautiful artwork, pretty colours and the copywriter’s cleverly crafted story alter the fact that multinational oil and gas corporations have asked Enbridge to build a pipeline through BC’s pristine wilderness? Does it change the fact that when the heavy crude oil arrives in Kitimat, it will be pumped into enormous supertankers that will then travel along BC’s world-renowned, Pacific coastline, loaded with heavy crude oil?

Q: Do Enbridge pipelines ever leak?
A: Yes, according to Enbridge’s own data (via the Polaris Institute), they’ve had at least eight hundred and four (804) spills. The USA’s EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) reported that a recent spill, from a 30-inch pipeline rupture, dumped 819,000 gallons of heavy crude oil into the Talmadge Creek and some oil travelled about 30 miles downstream in the Kalamazoo River (Michigan USA). The Kalamazoo spill occurred a couple of years ago and they’re still cleaning up the mess.

Q: Do supertankers loaded with oil pose a danger to BC’s coastline and the Pacific ecosystem?
A: Have you watched ‘Dead Ahead: The Exxon Valdez Disaster’? If you haven’t already watched it, look for it on HBO Canada.

Over six thousand (6,000) well-intentioned, well-motivated people work for Enbridge and I have absolutely no doubt that they are doing everything possible to prevent and mitigate an environmental disaster. That said, Enbridge exists to make money for their shareholders and it does so by working hand in hand with multinational oil and gas corporations.


  • do you think the Northern Gateway Pipelines will experience spills
  • do you think we’ll see 270 and 350 meter long supertankers leaking massive volumes of heavy crude oil just off the BC coastline
  • why isn’t more money from oil sands profits being channeled into green technologies here in Canada
  • why aren’t we refining heavy crude here in Canada
  • why is Canada still importing over forty percent (40%) of the oil we use
  • and finally, why are we squandering Canada’s bountiful natural resources to fuel the development of Pacific nations who see us as their competition?

“First, we outsourced our manufacturing jobs and helped to make China rich. Now were planning to send China more and more of our natural resources. The Chinese must think we’re idiots.”

It certainly appears that the Harper Government imagines that its mandate is to do the bidding of Big Oil. Their pro-oil, anti-environment playbook makes me shudder.

I’m convinced that Tom Mulcair and the NDP are on the right track, so there is hope.

Related posts:

  1. The Enbridge Northern Pipeline
  2. Enbridge Athabasca Pipeline Leak
  3. Red Deer River Oil Deluge
  4. Dirtiest Oil on Earth Video

Related article:

  1. Enbridge slammed for ‘Keystone Kops’ response to Michigan spill
  2. It’s More than a Pipeline
  3. Enbridge faces $3.7-million penalty for Michigan oil spill

Oil Sands Boosterism

oil sands boosterism

The Harper Government is both famous for and infamous for its oil sands boosterism. It certainly feels like their attitude is, “Damn environmental science and global warming, let’s make money.”

It’s not at all surprising that most scientists think that the Harper Government has an anti-science approach to environmental policy. The Harper Government doesn’t want scientific fact to interfere with their oil sands boosterism.

Unsurprisingly, the Harper Government’s biggest supporters are:

  • big businesses
  • multinational oil and gas corporations
  • pipeline corporations
  • the one percenters (1%)

Is the commonality in this list short-term profit and possibly even greed?

Equally interesting is that the Harper Government’s biggest detractors are:

  • environmentalists, both Canadian and international
  • scientists, both Canadian and international
  • most Canadians
  • the ninety-nine percenters (99%)

The commonality here is logical thinking.

“Using carbon based fuel creates global warming and pollution. We’re all in this together, so let’s transition to greener technologies.”

>> I’m a ninety-nine percenter and, like most Canadians, I’m hopeful. We have a choice…

Let’s use our oil sands sensibly, to help us transition to green technologies.

Canada Can Prosper and Still Protect Our Environment.

Tom’s Tar Sands Trip

Tom Mulcair Visits Oil Sands

Tom’s tar sands trip, or why Tom Mulcair’s visit to the Alberta oil sands has garnered attention from coast to coast. From the time Mr. Mulcair first mentioned Dutch disease, the overvalued Canadian Dollar, the loss of manufacturing jobs, the threat to Canada’s balanced economy and the absence of sustainable development, folks of all political persuasions have been transfixed.

BTW, before I discuss Mr. Mulcair’s Alberta visit, did you happen to notice that the just released Pembina Institute’s report suggests that Canada has actually come down with a unique strain of Dutch disease they call “oilsands fever.”

There’s no denying that Canada’s oil reserves are a very big deal. An even bigger deal is the question of how best to manage their development in an environmentally friendly, sustainable manner. Frankly, the Harper Government’s oil sands eagerness makes them look like a bunch of old, fuddy duddy, gold-rush characters, flushed with excitement, sweaty palms and all, staring at each other exclaiming, “We’re going to be rich! They’ve told us we’re going to be rich.” In stark contrast, Mr. Mulcair looks like the grown-up in the room telling the kids (paraphrased), “Hold on guys, let’s not get too excited, no matter what they’ve told you, there are some very serious questions that need to be addressed and answered.”

Watch this, oil sands related, CBC video and pay close attention to when Joe Oliver, Minister of Natural Resources, says, “What I am told, I’ve been told…” (about 3 min 50 sec into the clip).

Now ask yourself, who told Mr. Oliver that you will be able to drink from tailings ponds? Did the multinational oil and gas corporations actually tell him this whopper? If that’s the case, picture an oil and gas guy, who looks a little like John Lovitz (video below), saying, “You’ll be able to drink from it, yeah, that’s the ticket, you’ll be able to drink from it and fish from it.” 🙂

Tom Mulcair Visits Oil Sands

Alberta’s Premier, Alison Redford, was at a conference the day Tom Mulcair visited the oil sands, but she recorded a video statement ahead of time and said, “Recent comments by the federal leader of the opposition serve to divide our nation by stating baseless allegations and mistruths. Following Mr. Mulcair’s visit to Alberta’s oil sands, I hope that going forward he recognizes the value of our natural resources to the Canadian economy, and the continued commitment of my government to develop those resources in an environmentally sustainable way.”

Was Ms. Redford’s unnaturally aggressive posture nothing more than a recently re-elected politician playing to her base or did her comments actually reveal considerable underlying defensiveness; you know, the old, “the best defence is a strong offence” posturing. I was just delighted to hear her words “environmentally sustainable”.

For his part Mr. Mulcair was a very polite and respectful, visiting gentleman. Here are a couple of Tom Mulcair’s comments after flying over Alberta’s oil sands in a helicopter:

  • “extraordinary undertakings on a human scale. I mean, they’re massive”
  • “It’s extraordinarily impressive, but it also brings with it real challenges. Real challenges that if we don’t assume in this generation, we’re going to bear in future generations”

He also restated his view that oil companies were getting, “a bit of a free ride in terms of using the air, the soil or the water, in an unlimited way and in an almost free way”, but he made clear “My debate is with Stephen Harper, it’s not with the representatives of one of the companies".

>> click here to watch a short Canadian Press video

Canadian Conservative Think Tanks

Think Tank image

The tar sands boom: When you read an article, listen to radio or watch TV have you noticed that traditional media often references studies produced by Canadian conservative think tanks? What do you know about these folks? Have you ever wondered if these think tanks are as independent as they claim to be? Who funds their studies?

Unfortunately, Canada does not require think tanks to disclose their donors and I’m not aware of any conservative think tanks that have voluntarily disclosed their donors.

My suspicion is that resource corporations like:

  • multinational oil and gas corporations
  • pipeline corporations
  • other energy corporations
  • forestry corporations
  • mining corporations

and their owners, many of whom have earned hundreds of millions, even billions of dollars, are the think tank’s largest, individual donors.

Although most think tanks claim to be non-partisan or politically independent, the following organizations are widely acknowledged to be promoters of conservative paradigms (example organizations, listed alphabetically):

Q: Why am I concerned?

Example: In the USA, the Koch brothers are major donors to and funders of conservative think tanks.

I wonder, have the Koch brothers funded any of the Canadian conservative think tanks that have produced studies supporting our tar sands economy?

The big question I’m left with is, “Can we trust studies produced by Canadian conservative think tanks?”

Paying Attention

Paying Attention illustration

In politics, the sentence “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” has often been used as a slogan for both the left and the right. My wife, Wendy, saw a sign bearing the slogan at a Vancouver rally to protest the Northern Gateway Pipelines.

For those of us who would like to raise awareness of the environmental devastation caused by the Harper Government’s pro oil and gas agenda, the “…paying attention” bit is crucial.

Recently, Harper Government surrogates, Western Provincial Premieres, newspapers, TV news and political bloggers went wild analysing Tom Mulcair’s remarks about Dutch disease. From an economic, environmental and fundamental fairness perspective, Dutch disease is an important issue. Unfortunately, a recent Canadian Press, Harris-Decima telephone survey demonstrated that less than fifty percent (50%) of Canadians were paying attention.

Apathy and inattention aren’t new to Canadian politics. Did you know that only a little over sixty-percent (60%) of eligible Canadian voters cast a ballot in the 2011 Federal Election. Even more shocking is the fact that the sixty-percent turnout was higher than the previous three elections.

Humour: Did you know that when I was working as a medical doctor, I developed a cure for apathy? I didn’t make any money from my invention because I discovered that no one was enthused about or even interested in my product. 🙂

Only about forty percent of eighteen to twenty-four year olds voted in 2011. You guys are the folks who will have to live with the environmental consequences of the Harper Government’s profit now – pay later approach to tar sands development.

Q: Why is there apathy?
A: Once upon a time Canadian Federal Governments seemed pretty much the same, but that hasn’t been the case since the Reform Party decided to rename themselves the Conservative Party of Canada. Make no mistake, these are not your grandfather’s conservatives and that’s not a good thing.

“These Are Not You’re Gradfather’s Conservatives
and That’s Not a Good Thing.”

Example: The 2012 Budget

>> Learn why I’m hopeful that things will change

BTW, if you’re one of the folks who hasn’t payed much attention to politics, you may be wondering, “Who is Tom Mulcair?”

Harper Government’s 2012 Budget

Harper Government Budget 2012

Spring is a time for renewal. The Harper Government’s 2012 Budget was something new, but if you care about our environment, it was only new in a very unwelcome way. There’s nothing fresh about this stinker. Canada’s Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty, introduced the ugliest attack on Canada’s environment in our history. Much has been made of the Bill C–38’s over four-hundred, page count, but, unsurprisingly, it was the exasperating Big-Oil-Agenda, that left environmentalists completely befuddled. Here are just a few of the changes:

  • Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act repealed
  • NEB (National Energy Board) reviews limited to two years, the Northern Gateway Pipelines review is included, retroactively. Worse still, if the Harper Government’s Cabinet disagrees with the NEB’s findings, they will have the power to unilaterally overrule the NEB’s review
  • pipelines will be exempt from the provisions of the Navigable Waters Protection Act
  • replacing the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act
  • shuttering the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy
  • Canada’s Auditor General, will no longer audit the Northern Pipeline Agency
  • the Minister of National Revenue can withhold tax receipts from a charity if political activities exceed ten percent (think environment focused organizations)
  • rewriting The Fisheries Act, potentially eliminating current protections for fish habitat.

Q: Who benefits from these downgrades of our environmental protection?
A: Multinational oil and gas corporations.

Ask yourself, “Why is the Harper Government working hand-in-hand with Big Oil?”

Harper Government Big Oil

Historical note: What did Stephen Harper think about omnibus budget implementation bills back in 1994? To be fair to the Liberals, their omnibus bill was much, much smaller than C-38 and it did not cover over seventy pieces of legislation. The Harper Government’s Bill C-38 will become infamous.

“In the interest of democracy I ask: How can members represent their constituents on these various areas when they are forced to vote in a block on such legislation and on such concerns?”
– Stephen Harper, Reform Party MP

Related Articles:

  1. Budget 2012 – The Harper Government’s Trojan Horse
  2. PSAC criticism of Budget Implementation Act

Killer Whales and Supertankers

BC coastal whales

Do you ever play movies in your imagination? You know what I mean, it’s when you picture a future scenario that’s so real that you can actually visualize a colour movie in your head; a daydream if you will. The title of this movie is ‘Killer Whales and Supertankers’. Picture this:

  • the Harper Government approves the Northern Gateway Pipelines
  • supertankers, full of crude oil, begin leaving Kitimat destined for China.

I’ll bet you’re already imagining something similar to the movie ‘Dead Ahead: The Exxon Valdez Disaster’. I understand, because that scenario is, indeed, inevitable, but this time imagine something different. What if the tankers are sailing weekly and a killer whale washes up on the BC coastline. The whale looks perfect, absolutely beautiful, except, of course, it’s dead. Canada and the rest of the world immediately wonder if there’s a connection between the supertankers and the killer whale’s death? Hold on, there must be a CSI for marine mammals, right? Here’s the problem, the Harper Government just dismissed that guy and shut down Canada’s entire DFO (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) contaminants program.

Peter Ross, a marine mammal toxicologist, a gentleman who has about a hundred published, scientific articles was recently informed that his services will no longer be required. Worse still, Peter is just one of seventy-five people, who study marine contamination for Canada, to be dismissed. So, what does Peter have to say?

“I cannot think of another industrialized nation that has completely excised marine pollution from its radar…”


“It is with apprehension that I ponder a Canada without any research or monitoring capacity for pollution in our three oceans…”

Q: Why did the Harper Government shut down the Department of Fisheries contaminants program?
A: Just a budget cut, or was it a targeted budget cut, because… ? Play another one of those movies in your head.

I don’t suppose your movie had anything to do with Big Oil shipping Canada’s raw natural resources to China and contamination of our air, land and water?

Tom Mulcair vs Alberta and Saskatchewan?

Mulcair Harper Redford Wall photos

If you were paying attention to the Canadian media this last week, you might have heard that war is about to break out in Canada, there’s apparently going to be a battle that will divide our country. It’s Tom Mulcair vs Alberta and Saskatchewan and from the gist of the commentary, it’s also Mr. Mulcair versus the rest of Canada.

Stephen Harper, Alison Redford and Brad Wall, all Conservatives, felt obligated to respond to Tom Mulcair’s recent Dutch disease remarks, referencing the tar sands boom, the Canadian Dollar and lost manufacturing jobs. To be fair, the Provincial Premieres Alison Redford and Brad Wall were actually quite diplomatic when they responded, it was the Harper Government that, once again, behaved badly. I’m frequently entertained by the Harper Government and its surrogates. They relish any opportunity to besmirch an opponent by injecting their negative-keyword-laced, talking points.

Have you noticed that the Harper Government loves to act tough? Now that they have a majority government they often behave like the playground bully. What does the Harper Government want to fight about this time? What’s going to divide Canadians? Perhaps it’s:

  • tar sands’ pollution and having Big Oil pay for the contamination that they’re creating every day
  • making sure that tar sands growth is sustainable.

Surely, there can’t be any disagreement there? The vast majority of Canadians, whether from the East or the West, would agree that the polluter should pay and that development and growth of the tar sands must be sustainable.

Clearly, there isn’t going to be a war. Talk of alienation and separation is just Harper Government, keyword, nonsense. The NDP prefers reasoned discussion and consensus. Do you remember ‘discussion’? It’s something we used to do before the Harper Government majority of 2011.

Topics for discussion:

  • changes to environmental laws
  • greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands oil extraction
  • groundwater contamination
  • pipeline safety
  • supertankers loaded with crude oil plying the, often dangerous, waters off of the BC coastline, which by the way is another, even more precious, resource
  • exporting raw resources to China and the USA
  • manufacturing jobs
  • foreign workers
  • the green economy and why Canada is lagging behind the rest of the world in going green.

Let’s start with something simple, why does the Harper Government revere oil and gas? Oil and gas reverence must have something to do with money, right? Is Big Oil where the Harper Government’s political contributions come from? I’m serious, I’d love to know where this reverence comes from, I really don’t get it. Wouldn’t you agree that there’s something smelly about this alliance between multinational oil corporations and the fuddy-duddy Harper Government?

I’d like to thank Mr. Mulcair for getting these fresh, hopeful, very important dialogues started. It was clever, of you to get things rolling so soon after becoming the NDP’s new leader. Thank you. 🙂

Who’s Afraid of Tom Mulcair?

Tom Mulcair

If you don’t already know who Tom Mulcair is, you may not understand why I’m asking, “Who’s Afraid of Tom Mulcair?”

OK, going forward, I’ll assume everyone is up to speed, Mr. Mulcair is the new leader of Canada’s Federal NDP.

Not long ago, Mr. Mulcair got out his paddle and stirred up the Harper Government’s status quo, by questioning tar sands development. Paraphrasing, he asked:

  • why isn’t tar sands development following a sustainable growth model
  • why are we allowing multinational oil and gas corporations to, “use our air, our soil and our water as an unlimited, free dumping ground”
  • why have we allowed the tar sands’s economy to artificially inflate our dollar, destroying thousands of manufacturing jobs and jeopardizing many more
  • why are we allowing Canada’s balanced economy to come under threat?

Since Mr. Mulcair asked his questions, you can’t open a paper or a political website without seeing an article about Dutch disease. I love it, and I enjoy the dialogues that his questions have generated. Bluntly it’s about time, there was some serious discussion. Prior to asking his questions, the multinational oil and gas corporations were having their way with Canada:

  • multiple tar sands developments proceeding at full speed
  • new pipelines planned or underway
  • environmental laws changing or changed
  • significant threats to environmentalists
  • muzzling scientists with views unfavourable to Big Oil
  • more foreign, cheap-labour, workers on their way to Canada

Now back to my question,
Q: Who’s afraid of Tom Mulcair?
A: Federal and Provincial Liberals and perhaps the Harper Government

The Federal Liberals have been humiliating themselves by taking every opportunity to denigrate and minimize the NDP. When I worked as a Medical Doctor, I always tried to remember,

“No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

Sadly, the Liberals are currently perceived, as neglecting Canadians, while pursuing their own self-interests. It doesn’t look like they care.

Provincially, the Liberal Premiere of BC, went so far as to call Tom Mulcair’s ideas “Goofy”. Although she succeeded in getting herself a lot of press attention, that scrutiny only directed consideration to her precarious position in the upcoming election. I’m betting Adrian Dix, the provincial NDP leader is going to win that one.

Finally, the Harper Government is expecting Tom Mulcair’s popularity to wane, the same way Michael Ignatief’s did, so they’re not nervous yet, but it won’t be much longer until their nerves begin to fray. They’re definitely not as confident as they pretend they are. They’re well aware that a very significant majority of Canadians did not vote for them in the last election or, for that matter, ever.

I’m betting Tom Mulcair’s popularity will grow as Canadians discover how much he cares about Canada.

Afterthought: My hunch is that multinational oil and gas corporations aren’t afraid of anyone (any individual), but they’re understandably afraid of everyone (a majority of us). Tom Mulcair and the NDP are on the verge of a populist breakthrough across Canada and I’m sure that’s causing the corporations, more than a little, concern. What if they actually had to dig into their massive profits to fund the ‘polluter pays’ model that the NDP champions?