For those who still doubt the power of the oil lobby to capture our politicians and government agencies in Canada, I give you the most damning evidence yet of corporate meddling in government policy making: The 2011 National Energy Board report on a pipeline explosion in Northern Alberta that was effectively covered up by the government despite finding that TransCanada, the company that owns the pipeline, displayed “inadequate” field inspection and “ineffective management.”
Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver expressed concern over the way that the NEB handled the report in the House of Commons this week, which was not released in 2011 due to an alleged “administrative error” (apparently some bonehead in the agency forgot to transfer the file when he left the NEB). The timing of the release was extremely suspicious following the publishing of a largely sympathetic State Department report that basically endorses TransCanada’s position on safety with respect to the proposed Keytsone XL pipeline project in the U.S.
Nathan Lemphers of ENGO (environmental non-governmental organization) Pembina Institute, came to the same conclusion as yours truly when he told the CBC he questioned whether the fact that the delicate Keystone XL pipeline negotiations taking place in the U.S. and that the incident at the Peace River Mainline contradicts the company’s attempts to portray itself as the industry gold standard when it comes to its track record on preventing environmental disasters. I’ll take the crackpot conspiracy theory one step further and go on the record as saying that I’m quite certain that this is no coincidence.
How else to explain the unnecessarily lengthy process undertake by the NEB in drafting the report (3 years) and the repeated denials to CBC ( 4 times last October!) on the grounds of “legal and confidentiality obligations associated with the release of the document” according to a government spokesperson. To say nothing of the biased editing of the document resulting in the redaction of material relating to TransCanada’s field inspection issues.
It’s not hard to see why TransCanada and their allies in the Canadian government would want to delay such criticism from coming to light, at least until the U.S. State Department came out with their report. The latter, while not being a complete greenwash, is still full of praise for TransCanada’s Keytsone XL pipeline and the benefits of their proposal. The report found that tar sands oil will substantially increase carbon emissions as the extraction process for bitumen generates 17% more greenhouse gas than conventional crude. But the report also stated that regardless of whether the pipeline is approved, Alberta’s tar sands will be exploited and the alternatives of shipping it by train or ship have their own environmental risks. As for the boon to the U.S. economy, even the most optimistic industry projections see the work related to building Keystone XL as short-term (2years) and small-scale, in the long run ( after the construction of the pipeline, a grand total of approximately 50 permanent jobs!).
Then there’s the “ethical oil” and diplomatic arguments, the less said about them the better. The first defines ethics in such a way as to completely ignore the future of the planet and the poisonous legacy we are leaving our children. The second assumes that relations between Canada and the US will either improve or deteriorate, depending on Keystone XL. One of the few constants in international relations today, however, is the solid economic ties between Canucks and Yanks and I doubt very much that will change, regardless of what happens to this project.
Crucially, the report fails to mention that it appears to be a State Department report in name only. According to an investigation by Friends of the Earth that alleges TransCanada and the authors of the report appear to be in cahoots with the oil industry in an attempt to get the pipeline passed by the President.
It would surprise absolutely no one in the environmental community if this blatant conflict of interests turned out to be true. U.S. federal government agencies have long looked to lobbies such as those controlled by the oil companies, to help them write laws, if not discreetly surrendering policy making responsibility over to the corporate sector completely.
The fate of Keytsone XL is now in the hands of two men now: Secretary of State John Kerry, whose job it is now to consult with Homeland Security, the Environmental Protection Agency, Energy Department, and various others, and then recommend the project to his boss. The onus will then be on President Obama, whose thumbs up will make the oil thirsty Republicans and more than a few members of his own caucus in the Democratic Party addicted to oil money, very happy.
Most pundits are saying that though this process has been far from the “complete no-brainer” predicted at the beginning by Stephen Harper, it looks like a safe bet for the President, who has already given the project tentative support, providing that Canada can demonstrate a commitment to reducing the carbon footprints of the tar sands. Something Harper has been loath to do.
Lost in all of this, yet again, are the people who live closest to the industry in Alberta’s north, and suffering the consequences of its pollution, Canada’s First Nations. If it weren’t for Neil Young’s Honour the Treaties Campaign, many Canadians would probably have no understanding of the way in which tar sands development has negatively impacted the social, economic and environmental circumstances of aboriginal communities like the Dene Tha’ First Nations. As one of the community’s spokesmen, Baptists Metchooyeah told the CBC, “This should let the public know about the deficiencies that exist…We have to start saying something about these incidents, because the regulator is not there for us.” Exactly.
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