Top 10 Oil Sands Stories of 2014

Right Reserved Photographer: Jennifer Grant, The Pembina Institute

Right Reserved
Photographer: Jennifer Grant, The Pembina Institute

10.Higher Levels of Contaminants in Fish

Scientist Paul Jones has found dramatically higher concentrations of carcinogenic contaminants in fish found in the Athabasca River compared to those in the Slave River. The higher concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons can be viewed as an early warning sign for the Slave River. “What we’re seeing is probably oil sands extraction-related contamination,” he said. Why the Slave River fish have yet to be as impacted, Jones believes, could be because of the relatively uncontaminated waters that feeds into the waterway from the Peace River. If more pollutants are added, or if something changes on the Peace, it is only a matter of time before similar trends start being traced further north. The federal government has yet to study the impacts of the oil sands’ polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons contaminants on human health. Studying these contaminants would have to include the bio-accumulation found in country foods like fish, which local communities rely on.

9. Neil Young Raises Half a Million for Legal Battleneil_young-02

Neil Young made the oil sands one of his top priorities this year, and although welcome into many First Nations communities, he was not welcome by all Canadians, especially the Canadian government. His outspoken words included comparisons to Hiroshima, and brought to light the extreme changes to the land and communities in Northern Alberta since the rapid development of the oil sands. The government had very little to say about Neil’s comments on cancer, and health in the communities, but has rather justified the oil sands as a necessary resource, and pointed to Neil’s fossil fuel lifestyle.

No stranger to criticism, Neil continued his work with the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and developed a fundraising strategy to help the community to participate in legal action against the oil sands development, specifically the Shell’s Jack Pine mine expansion. Neil raised over half a million dollars for the Athabasca Chipewyan legal challenges. He continues to bring awareness to the injustices communities face by bringing in funds and high profile celebrities to put pressure on industry and government to honour the treaty.

8. Oil Sands Stocks Plummet

Canada Oil Sands Ltd’s quarterly report was quite disappointing as productions did not meet expectations causing profits to plummet 65% in the third quarter. As production increases in places like Saudi Arabia low barrel prices will put investors and the oil sands in an even less favorable situation for 2015. Greg Pardy, an analyst for RBC Dominion Securities, said he pegs Canadian Oil Sands’ break-even point at $68 US per barrel WTI before dividends and $80 after dividends in 2015. With barrels reaching as low as $55 dollars a barrel, the oil sands might see a slowing down in 2015. Some studies have put as much as 90% of future oil sands projects at risk from eroding oil price.

7. EU Votes on Dirty Oil

The Canadian government and oil lobbyist have been at the door of the European Union since 2012 trying to convince them not to pass a new fuel quality directive. The directive would label Canadian oil 22% more carbon-intensive than conventional oil. For now the dirty label has been avoided with a 337 to 325 vote against the label. The decision has yet to be finalizes as a majority vote still needs to occur and will be revisited in 2015 when 48 absentees will be able to finalize the verdict.

If the label is approved it would completely under mine the governments campaign attempts to convince the public that Canada is an environmentally responsible and reliable supplier of natural resources. The campaign, which spends $40 million a year, $24 million for advertising abroad and $16.5 million for the domestic market, is part of the $438-million fund that the government spends to primarily supported the oil and gas sector through scientific research, market development and government advertising

6. Burnaby’s Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion

Burnaby has been a story for the history books. Separating itself from the onslaught of proposed pipelines in 2014 the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion not only faced tough opposition from first nation communities, but also municipal residents, and mayors. Opposition to the pipeline expansion did not stop at petitions and picketing. Opponents restored to civil disobedience to stop the pipeline that would expand the oil sands, and pump dilbit through conservation and residential areas. Hundreds were arrested after crossing a designated barrier where pipeline employees were test drilling for the project.

Like a scene from a Blockbuster film, most arrested were set free after a lucky break. Their charges were dropped because of wrong GIS coordinates that sectioned off a different drill area. And on Friday November 28th Kinder Morgan left the site unable to continue drilling because their court injunction was not granted an extension. Although the company still plans to proceed with the expansion, opponents have celebrated their 2014 victory.

5. Canadians Call Out Big Oil Lobbyists

Big oil lobbyists continued their influential work to shape Canadian regulation and industry standards in 2014. From Keystone XL to the Athabasca River, Alberta government was paid and persuaded by big oil.

In November Suncor, Syncrude, and Shell were called out by thousands of Canadians for lobbying the provincial government to seek exemption to proposed regulations within the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan. Companies are still seeking exemption from the amount of water that can be extracted from the Athabasca River during low flow season (fall), as well as from new regulations around tailing ponds.

4. Last First Nation Pulls Out of ‘World Class Monitoring’

The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation was the final community to pull out of the Joint Oil Sands Monitoring initiative. The Joint Oil Sands Monitoring, JOSM, initiative is part of the governments world class monitoring system, that not only received criticism from the communities involved, but also the auditor general of Alberta.

Past members of the Joint Oil Sands Monitoring Program include the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Mikisew Cree First Nation, the Fort McKay First Nation, and the Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation. Most communities have felt excluded and frustrated from the decisions and monitoring that affects their lives directly.

Of key concern was the decision by Canada and Alberta to create a separate sub-table for Aboriginal concerns through the Athabasca Tribal Council (ATC) rather than incorporate their interests directly with the program, including the scientific monitoring. Since its inception three years ago the JOSM program has had little ability to guide regulation, concerns, and policy around the oil sands.

3. Noble Peace Prize Winner Exposes Filth in the Canadian Current

The ‘As Long As The River Flows’ conference brought forth some heavy hitting issues and controversial celebrities. First Nation communities, locals, and international speakers gathered to discuss “the current state of treaty relationships, and how we can move forward together, understanding our respective obligations.” Speakers such as Noble Peace Prize recipient Desmond Tutu, former premier Bob Rae, former Syncrude president James Carter, Chief Allan Adam and others addressed impacts of resource development on human and environmental health.

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu received an exceptionally cold welcome after speaking out about the injustices created by the resource industry. The news latched on to his brief foray into the oil sands ignoring his main message of magnanimity, forgiveness, and working together towards a better humanity.185319765

 “The fact that this filth is being created now, when the link between carbon emissions and global warming is so obvious, reflects negligence and greed…Oilsands development not only devastates our shared climate, it is also stripping away the rights of First Nations and affected communities to protect their children, land and water from being poisoned.” – Desmond Tutu

During the conference and most of 2014 the media continued to misunderstand how Desmond and many First Nations feel about development. “No one wants to see an end to industry. If you have industry that is responsible, they have to be commended and encouraged,” said Tutu.

2. Spill Incidents Reported in 2014

423 spill incidents were reported to Alberta Energy Regulator in 2014. Incidents ranged in size from small 2,000-litre crude oil spills to 1,600,000 liters of contaminated water. The overwhelming majority of spill reports did not report any impacts on wildlife and bodies of water, including the 1,600,000-liter spill in Whitecourt.

Mainstream media did not focus on covering the gas and oil spills of 2014, only West Coast Native News reported that 60, 000 liters of toxic substances had been released into the environment during October alone. Other independent media sources calculated that during July, August, September, and October, 133 incidents were reported and of those incidents 68% of them were pipeline related.

1. Environmental Health Report is First of its Kind.

Environmental and Human Health Implications of Athabasca Oil Sands, was the first report of its kind to draw an association between oil sands produced environmental contaminants and declines in community health and well-being in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta. Months after international and local attention the report continues to pop up in the public eye, but no follow up, or response from industry or the government has been provided. The study reveals a link between the Oil Sands and illness in Fort Chipewyan unlike the 2014 cancer report by Alberta Health Service, which simply aggregated limited data.

The study shows cancer occurrence in Fort Chipewyan is positively associated with the consumption of traditional wild foods, including locally caught fish, which now generally has a high concentrations of carcinogenic PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), heavy metals, arsenic, mercury, cadmium, and selenium found with oil sands production.

MCFN Chief Steve Courtoreille says, “This report confirms what we have always suspected. About the association between environmental contaminants from oil sands production upstream and cancer and other serious illness in our community.  The Joint Oil Sands Monitoring Program has released data about the increases in these contaminants, but fails to address and monitor impacts to First Nations traditional foods. We are greatly alarmed and demand further research and studies are done to expand on the findings of this report.”

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About Jonathan

Jonathan Ventura is the web assistant with One River, Many Relations. His formal education in environmental policy & law, as well as his passion and experience in community based research and mobilization brings a unique perspective to the project.
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