Big oil’s bad week

It has been a brutal week for the oil patch. For an industry desperate to paint itself green in the face of growing opposition to the environmental impacts of tar sands extraction and growing concern about global warming, this week has not ...
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It has been a brutal week for the oil patch. For an industry desperate to paint itself green in the face of growing opposition to the environmental impacts of tar sands extraction and growing concern about global warming, this week has not helped earn the public’s trust.

It started last Monday when a frozen pipe carrying toxic waste from Suncor’s tar sands processing plant burst near Fort McMurray. The pipe leaked unnoticed for more than four hours, dumping thousands of litres of toxic waste into the Athabasca River. In what the Calgary Herald referred to as a “public relations disaster,” Suncor failed to properly inform the public of the specific dangers of the spill, referring to the waste only as “process affected water.”  Experts familiar with tar sands operations indicate that this waste actually contains potent toxins such as cyanide, mercury or heavy metals, a serious threat to human health for communities downstream and the long-term health of the river. The public has since learned that this was not the first spill of its kind at the Suncor plant, a similar spill went unreported in 2011.

The week did not improve. Just two days later on March 27th, a CP train derailed in Minnesota, spilling over 113,000 litres of crude oil. Already, many observers were raising questions about the ability of the oil industry to operate safely.
On Friday things went out of the frying pan and into the fire when Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline ruptured, sending more than 300,000 litres of tar sands crude oil cascading through the Arkansas suburb of Mayflower. Oil also seeped into the surrounding forests, wetlands, and streams, making cleanup difficult. It turns out that the aging Pegasus pipeline had been recently reversed in order to ship tar sands oil, once again raising questions about the safety of shipping tar sands oil through pipelines that were not designed for it. In just a few days, a disturbing video  by a local resident showing oil flowing through the streets has garnered more than 2.4 million views.
And just when most oil executives had probably already decided it was safest to just stay home and hide under the blankets, another CP train carrying crude oil derailed in White River, Ontario spilling more oil into the environment. 
Perhaps, this was not the best week for the federal government to publically promote TransCanada’s new proposal to use an old natural gas pipeline to carry tar sands crude oil to eastern Canada. Wouldn’t it be smarter to wait until after the project is independently reviewed to be sure that it would be safe for Canadians and our environment?
The headlines this past week are an important reminder; the oil industry has not demonstrated it has the ability to keep us safe from spills.


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Lac Megantic: Criminal Strategy?


What would be the motives in the current criminal investigation regarding the Lac Megantic rail disaster. Bored teenagers, somebody who does not like trains… Who could have a motive from a crime like that? Strangely enough, this happens exactly at a time that Canada’s PM and his team have been making extraordinary efforts to push for acceptance of $7 billion pipeline projects that would bring revenues from the 830,000 barrels of crude oil/day to the US (over $ 30 billion/year at $100/barrel). Oil companies know that pollution related to extracting and burning oil kills not only wildlife but also affects the health of humans. Oil companies have been behind so many oil wars that killed humans (ok, to them people in Irak and outside of North America probably do not count as human). So I do not see why a few casualties in Canada would matter that much. If some smarts but unscrupulous calculating minds where to plan for the perfect way to charge ahead with an unpopular pipeline, here is what they would likely think: Plan for a spectacular (Sept. 11 type of event) that will make people react emotionally and not rationally; Do something that will give the impression that Pipeline are the safest way to transport oil; Create a major railroad accident that discredits rail transport of oil, target a province that is the most at odds with Alberta; Target an area that will impact both Canada and the US; Target a shipment of oil that is not from Alberta oil sands (US company is best); Take advantage of the weakened regulatory environment at private versus public rail companies; Make sure the event is highly visible in the media by creating big explosions and a critical mass of people who can die from it; Make sure that the Federal government agencies have supervisory role, can get on the scene as soon as possible, and suppress any possible evidence that this could have been a planned sabotage; Play on the emotions to hurry legislation that will allow Pipeline projects such as keystone to go ahead. Call this conspiracy if you want. But wasn’t the Bush “weapons of mass destruction” deception a conspiracy that led to over 100,000 human death… for the sake of oil.