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Critics Skeptical as Alberta Reverses Course on Open-pit Coal Mines

Critics Skeptical as Alberta Reverses Course on Open-pit Coal Mines

Five days after Kenney defended the province’s mining push, the government says it was all a big mistake.

After months of ignoring a grassroots protest movement opposing plans to allow open-pit coal mining in Alberta’s Rockies, Energy Minister Sonya Savage said today the provincial government made a mistake and is now prepared to fix it.

In a brief news conference, Savage said the province would reinstate the 1976 Coal Policy, which prohibited open-pit mining on 1.5 million hectares of “Category 2” lands in the eastern slopes of the Rockies.

In addition, Savage said she had instructed the Alberta Energy Regulator that “no mountain top removal will be permitted” in the province and that all future coal exploration on the Category 2 lands will be paused indefinitely until public consultation is held.

Coal exploration by Australian miners on six existing leases in the foothills will not be paused.

Savage’s reinstatement of the Coal Policy directly contradicts statements from Premier Jason Kenney on Wednesday that the Coal Policy was a “dead letter” and obsolete.

The highly unpopular premier also characterized opponents of coal mining as urban snobs even though the majority of the opposition has come from his party’s angry base: ranchers, farmers, landowners and rural towns and municipalities.

The government’s abrupt change of course follows weeks of protests from hundreds of thousands of Albertans from all walks of life and all political parties.

They raised concerns about water security, selenium pollution (a legacy of open-pit coal mines), and the future of the province’s iconic eastern slopes.

Landowner and conservation groups greeted today’s announcement with skepticism.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Months Before Albertans Were Told, Australian Miners Knew Plans to Axe Coal Policy

Months Before Albertans Were Told, Australian Miners Knew Plans to Axe Coal Policy

Investor presentations signalled the Kenney government aimed to open protected lands to open-pit mining.

Australian mining firms seeking to strip-mine metallurgical coal in Alberta’s eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains knew well ahead of Albertans that the government was planning to rescind a law that stood in the way.

The 44-year-old Coal Policy, the result of extensive public consultation in the 1970s, kept 1.5 million hectares of Category 2 lands in the eastern slopes off limits from open-pit mining until the Jason Kenney government abruptly axed it in May of last year with no public consultation.

Alberta’s environment minister has denied that doing away with the Coal Policy “has opened up the eastern slopes for strip-mining.”

But a presentation prepared some time in 2019 by Capital Investment Partners, a firm that owns four private coal companies with extensive leases in the central Rockies, told investors: “Alberta government [is] in the process of changing the coal policy to allow more open-pit mining.”

This statement raises serious questions, said Katie Morrison, the conservation director of the Southern Alberta arm of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, who found the presentation online.

“The CIP presentation really implies that long before Albertans heard about the cancellation of the Coal Policy, the government was consulting with coal companies at the request of coal companies and for the benefit of coal companies,” Morrison told The Tyee.

She added that the presentation “is very clear that the Australians understood the cancellation as a lifting of restrictions that allowed them to mine in areas they couldn’t access before.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Alberta Government Fines Hunter for Trespassing on Australian Coal Lease

Alberta Government Fines Hunter for Trespassing on Australian Coal Lease

Levi Williams-Whitney traversed the land to make a video opposing open-pit mining. He has no regrets.

The Kenney government has fined an Alberta hunter $600 for making an anti-coal video, but the young man says he’s laughing.

Last October, Levi Williams-Whitney went for a gambol up Grassy Mountain just north of the town of Blairmore in Alberta’s historic Crowsnest Pass.

Much of the mountain is now owned by Benga Mining (Riversdale Resources), a firm purchased by Australian billionaire Gina Rinehart in 2019 for $700 million.

With the Kenney government’s blessings, Rinehart, an iron-ore magnate and Australia’s wealthiest woman, has proposed to reduce what is now the habitat of mountain sheep, trout and elk into a giant open-pit coal mine. (The mountain top removal project is under a joint federal-provincial review.)

Another bunch of Australian developers want to remove more than half a dozen other nearby mountains from the Rockies to also supply Asian steel markets. They, too, have the government’s enthusiastic support.

Williams-Whitney, an avid hunter and environmental student at the University of Lethbridge, wasn’t impressed with Rinehart’s plans, let alone the Alberta government’s red-carpet treatment for Australian coal miners.

“The video was my way to express some of my frustration and refine my thinking about the issues,” said Williams-Whitney who has hunted for elk in the eastern slopes for years.

So he drove an hour-and-a-half from his home in Lethbridge to the Crowsnest Pass, where underground coal mines, French coal barons and communist unions once dominated the region’s turbulent history some 100 years ago.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Threatened by Coal, Ranchers Take the Kenney Government to Court

Threatened by Coal, Ranchers Take the Kenney Government to Court

Alberta is poised to let miners destroy mountaintops and vital watersheds grazed for a century.

When Jason Kenney’s government quietly abolished the province’s visionary Coal Policy last May to appease Australian coal miners, a shock wave travelled through cowboy country along the scenic slopes of the southern Rockies.

One of those waves arrived at the doorstep of the Rocking P Ranch owned by Mac and Renie Blades.

Another hit the nearby Plateau Cattle Co. owned by John Smith and Laura Laing.

Both families graze their cattle at the base of a fir-topped mountain called Cabin Ridge during the summer months.

Under the province’s 44-year-old Coal Policy the picturesque mountain lay within a landscape known as Category 2. That classification forbade open-pit mining and thereby conserved a precious watershed in arid Alberta.

But in one fell swoop the Kenney government ended that protection by killing the policy and most of its land classification system.

As a consequence the province abruptly opened up 1.5 million hectares of the southern Rockies to mountaintop removal in the middle of the Oldman River watershed, which supplies drinking water to more than a million Canadians. The government is now taking bids for some of that area until Dec. 15.

Australian leaders of coal mining corporations, who had lobbied for the abolishment of the Coal Policy, openly praised the government when their wish was granted.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Alberta’s Environment Minister Cheered on Coal Mining in New Areas before Restrictions Were Dropped

Alberta’s Environment Minister Cheered on Coal Mining in New Areas before Restrictions Were Dropped

Months before ending the Coal Policy, the Kenney government issued letters of support for open-pit projects.

Half a year before the Alberta government abruptly rescinded a 44-year-old policy protecting its Rocky Mountain flanks from coal open-pit mining, its ministers were already sending “letters of support” to a new Australian coal mining corporation trying to raise capital on the open market.

Valory Resources Inc. is just one of several Australian firms planning to excavate open-pit coal mines along the Rockies’ eastern slopes, a key source of fresh water previously off limits to surface mining until last June.

That’s when the Kenney government cancelled the protective Coal Policy established in 1976. Under the cover of the pandemic, it did so with no public consultation.

The letters of support — one from Alberta’s minister of tourism and the other from the minister of environment — indicate Valory’s plans were already understood and favoured by the Kenney government well before it changed regulations to make them possible.

Valory, a private company now trying to raise capital for the project, displays the letters in its promotional materials (see page 24 in this pdf).

In a presentation to the town of Rocky Mountain House in central Alberta last month, Valory Resources boasted that it had “recently met with key members of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta and received strong statements of support… which indicates that the Alberta provincial government are ‘pro-development and open for business.’”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

What Kenney Had to Kill to Embrace Coal

What Kenney Had to Kill to Embrace Coal

Alberta’s 1976 Coal Policy protected vital drinking water supplies for much of the province. That’s gone now.

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. His government, after being heavily lobbied by coal interests, opted to open a huge swath of sensitive Rocky Mountains land to open pit mining, rendering longstanding protections ‘obsolete.’ Photo by Jason Franson, the Canadian Press.

Under the cover of a pandemic, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney quietly wiped away a near half-century of safeguards against open pit coal mining in most of the province’s Rocky Mountains and foothills.

The result could be the stripping away of mountain tops across more than a million and half hectares of terrain — about half the size of Vancouver Island.

Gone, as of last May, is the province’s 1976 Coal Policy, which protected the headwaters of rivers that secure drinking water for Canadians across the prairies.

The Coal Policy was established by the Progressive Conservative government then led by Peter Lougheed, based on nearly six years of active public consultations. It was quietly axed this spring without input by First Nations or the wider public.

In fact, Kenney’s government only talked to one group, the Coal Association of Canada. (See this related story published today on The Tyee.)The Tyee is supported by readers like you Join us and grow independent media in Canada

That lobbying group is directed by Robin Campbell, a former Tory provincial environmental minister.

Now a handful of largely Australian-owned corporations intent on serving metallurgical coal markets in India and China are poised to begin transforming Alberta’s eastern slopes into an industrial mining zone.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

This Energy Analyst Says the Oil Sands Are ‘Done’

This Energy Analyst Says the Oil Sands Are ‘Done’

COVID-19 is making many bearish about bitumen. Deborah Lawrence’s past pessimism has proven unpopular, and correct.

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Deborah Lawrence, formerly Deborah Rogers, warned of the shale gas and oil crashes, and called Teck Frontier’s proposed new oil sands mine ‘uncommercial even at relatively high oil prices’ years before it was cancelled. Photo: submitted.

Deborah Lawrence used to be a stockbroker with Merrill Lynch. Over the past decade, the independent economic analyst has developed a reputation for telling oil investors what they don’t want to hear.

In 2009, she started warning that the financial model for shale oil fracking companies doesn’t make any sense. Lawrence began analyzing financial data for Chesapeake Energy after the oil and gas company began drilling near her farm in Texas. She discovered that the company, and many others in the industry, were going through cash and accruing debt at alarming rates.

“I think we have a big problem,” she told a colleague at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, where she was then an advisory committee member. But finding a larger audience proved difficult. The so-called “shale revolution” was transforming the U.S. into the world’s biggest oil producer and everyone from oil executives to state leaders to Wall Street bankers wanted a piece of it.

“I kept saying, look, ‘There’s no free cash flow and it keeps deteriorating every year I look at this,’” Lawrence recalled in an interview with The Tyee. So she contacted business outlets like the Wall Street Journal. “I sent them stuff for so long with all the underlying documentation and they were like, ‘Oh no, shales are gonna save us forever.’”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Alberta’s Meat Plant Workers Share Their Fears and Anger

Alberta’s Meat Plant Workers Share Their Fears and Anger

As Cargill prepares to reopen, voices from the frontlines of Canada’s largest COVID-19 outbreak.

Cargill Plant
Processing beef at the Cargill plant in High River, Alberta. Photo source: Cargill.

They fear the virus. They are concerned about the futures. They worry for their communities.

And they say neither the government nor two foreign-owned companies, which account for 70 per cent of the nation’s beef slaughtering capacity, are doing enough to ensure their safety.

They say the companies didn’t provide adequate protective gear for the people who butcher Canada’s beef until it was too late.

The Tyee interviewed five Alberta employees of two meat plants, parts of different international conglomerates. The people interviewed are members of a largely immigrant work force that speaks dozens of languages and now finds itself at the centre of the largest COVID-19 outbreak in Canada.

Those who work at the JBS meat-processing plant in Brooks wondered why it has never shut down in order to do a thorough disinfection and increase its safety measures.

Those who work at the Cargill meat-packing plant in High River said the company has lied about the protections provided, as well as compensation paid.

As one shared, “Why did this virus spread? It came from the fabrication floor where there is no airflow, and we are working elbow to elbow and there is no distancing. Where are the safety precautions? They said they did the safety precautions. No they didn’t.”

Now that worker and others fear returning to work when the Cargill plant reopens Monday. Among that plant’s employees, 921 out of 2,000 are now infected. At least seven workers are in hospital and five are in intensive care. One Cargill worker and a close contact have died.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Jason Kenney’s Other Pipeline War Is with Michigan

Jason Kenney’s Other Pipeline War Is with Michigan

Locals say Enbridge’s aging Line 5 is a disaster waiting to happen and Alberta’s premier should butt out.

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Enbridge’s US underwater Line 5, built in 1953, carries mostly Alberta crude. Premier Jason Kenney has attacked Michigan’s governor for moving to decommission the pipeline for safety concerns. Photo via the National Wildlife Federation.

Locals urging the aging pipeline be closed down fear it could imperil drinking water for tens of millions of people. Some wonder why Kenney, who has claimed Alberta is bullied by foreign-backed environmental advocates, has no problem intervening in the decision-making of a jurisdiction beyond Canada’s borders.

“The premier ought to take care of things that are directly impacting the citizens of Canada and let the people of Michigan take care of things that directly impact the citizens of Michigan,” said David Holtz, a spokesperson for the environmental group Oil & Water Don’t Mix, based in northern Michigan’s Traverse City. 

Last June, Kenney notified his 173,000 Facebook followers that Michigan’s leaders are trying to decommission Enbridge’s Line 5, a nearly 70-year-old pipeline traversing the state. Line 5 serves as a shortcut for moving Alberta crude oil to refineries in Sarnia, Ontario, accounting for about 70 per cent of the oil it carries. 

The pipeline, which was built in 1953 and runs under the Straits of Mackinac between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, is losing its protective coating and was damaged by an anchor several years ago. In August, Enbridge revealed a 25-metre segment was unsupported due to erosion caused by strong currents, and said it was acting to re-anchor the section.

A worst-case-scenario spill would pollute 643 kilometres of Michigan coastline, a state-ordered risk analysis concluded.

Yet Kenney has said that Line 5 poses “no pressing or legitimate environmental concern.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Crazy Days in Alberta: The Poison Wells File

Crazy Days in Alberta: The Poison Wells File

The province let oil and gas firms create a $100-billion disaster. They expect you to foot the bill.

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Gary Mar, when an Alberta politician, helped shield the oil and gas industry from having to deal with old, leaking wells. Now as an industry lobbyist, he says all Canadians should pay for the mess.

Every day something crazy happens in Alberta to illustrate how thoroughly oil politics have eroded the province’s grip on reality.

Judy Aldous, who hosts a province-wide CBC Radio noon show, recently devoted an hour to one particularly crazy item — orphaned and unreclaimed wells in Alberta.

Guest Gary Mar, CEO of the Petroleum Services Association of Canada, argued that federal taxpayers fund tax credits for the oilpatch worth $700 million over three years to help pay for the cleanup.

“All Canadians benefited from this industry and all Canadians should be part of the solution,” he said.

An average listener unaware of the history of the province’s derelict well, pipeline and gas plant liability problem might have concluded Mar was being reasonable.The Tyee is supported by readers like you Join us and grow independent media in Canada

But Mar, a former provincial Conservative cabinet minister, was really asking for taxpayer’s money to make up for 43 years of misrule by Tory governments. They created the current crisis by failing to require oil and gas companies to provide security deposits to cover their cleanup responsibilities, and by allowing them to put off remediation of inactive wells indefinitely.

That’s how crazy the situation has become in Alberta. Taxpayers are being asked to pay for the failures of government and oil and gas companies by a former politician whose party was responsible for the problem.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Trudeau will fuel the fires of our climate crisis if he approves Canada’s mega mine

Trudeau will fuel the fires of our climate crisis if he approves Canada’s mega mine

Alberta’s oil sands produce one of the dirtiest oils on the planet. If the Teck mega mine is approved, the damage to our planet will be colossal

The Syncrude Oil Sands site near to Fort McMurray in Northern Alberta. Bitumen Oil Sands Tar Sands Oil refinery Canada Photograph by David Levene 22/4/15 *** FIRST USE INTENDED FOR POTENTIAL EYEWITNESS IN CONJUNCTION WITH SUZY GOLDENBERG ‘CARBON BOMB’ INTERACTIVE PLANNED FOR MID-MAY 2015***
 ‘Less than two months ago, two-thirds of Canadians voted for parties vowing to do more to fight climate change.’ Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

This week, the Canadian government is in Madrid telling the world that climate action is its No 1 priority. When they get home, Justin Trudeau’s newly re-elected government will decide whether to throw more fuel on the fires of climate change by giving the go-ahead to construction of the largest open-pit oil sands mine in Canadian history.

Approving Teck Resources’ Frontier mine would effectively signal Canada’s abandonment of its international climate goals. The mega mine would operate until 2067, adding a whopping 6 megatonnes of climate pollution every year. That’s on top of the increasing amount of carbon that Canada’s petroleum producers are already pumping out every year.

The Teck mega mine would be on Dene and Cree territory, close to Indigenous communities. The area is home to one of the last free-roaming herds of wood bison, it’s along the migration route for the only wild population of endangered whooping cranes, and is just 30km from the boundary of Wood Buffalo national park – a Unesco world heritage site because of its cultural importance and biodiversity.Advertisement

Alberta’s oil sands produce one of the dirtiest oils on the planet, and they are the fastest-growing source of carbon emissions in Canada. The industry is expanding rapidly and is already responsible for more carbon pollution than all of Quebec. Oil and gas is now the largest climate polluter in the country, exceeding all greenhouse gases from transportation.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Enviros Tools of Russians? The Weird Conspiracy Theory Firing up Kenney’s Inquiry

Enviros Tools of Russians? The Weird Conspiracy Theory Firing up Kenney’s Inquiry

SPECIAL REPORT: Alberta’s ‘anti-energy’ probe makes a debunked US report its must-read.

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Texas Republican Lamar Smith, a noted climate denier and big recipient of oil and gas political donations, led a House committee that produced a report suggesting environmentalists are manipulated by the Russian government.

Russian Attempts to Influence U.S. Domestic Energy Markets by Exploiting Social Media was produced by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology, which at the time was led by a climate change-denying Republican from Texas named Lamar Smith. Upon its release in 2018, Democratic Congressman Raúl Grijalva described the report as “another round of unsupported conspiracy theories,” and it received little traction.

Now the report is officially required reading for Alberta’s inquiry, explicitly included in its terms of reference.

Why would that be? Answers were not forthcoming from Inquiry Commissioner Steve Allan, who didn’t respond to The Tyee’s interview request.

“There is very little the commissioner can share with the media at this time that is not contained on this website,” reads the Alberta Inquiry website. The commission’s terms of reference also explain that “As part of the inquiry, the commissioner shall examine the work completed by other investigations in other jurisdictions into similar activities or alleged activities.”

A New York-based journalist who wrote an article about the Republican-produced report was surprised Alberta is paying attention to its claims of Russian intrigue.

“That is unexpected,” said John Timmer, senior science editor for the media outlet Ars Technica. The report “didn’t pick up very wide coverage perhaps because it was rather strange to begin with… It just didn’t really hold up to a critical analysis very well.”

“It’s just a bizarre compilation of allegations that feeds a conspiracy theory,” said Devon Page, the executive director of Ecojustice, about the report’s inclusion in the Alberta inquiry’s terms of reference.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Wexit: Will Alberta Ditch Canada?

Wexit: Will Alberta Ditch Canada?


The re-election of Justin Trudeau has revved up Wexit talk in Canada. 

Brexit, Italexit, Frexit, Nexit, CalExitTexit, and now Wexit? What likely started as a social media campaign to air a considerable portion of the electorate’s grievances against the federal government, a serious political movement in Canada may be born. Would this have serious ramifications for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his newly re-elected Liberals? Or, is it an annoying mosquito bite from Muskoka that needs scratching? While Ottawa may no longer need to lose sleep over a separatist initiative in Quebec, the nation’s capital might need to keep a close eye on the west as separatism is brewing like a Double-Double at the nearby Tim Hortons. The experts say that a split is unlikely to happen, but they said the same thing about the British and Brussels. It could be time to wake up and smell the poutine – or crude oil.

Western Alienation: A Primer

The term “western alienation” has entered the national lexicon, becoming just as Canadian as “grab your toque” or “a kerfuffle at the hockey rink.”

Justin Trudeau

Despite being rich in resources and contributing a great deal to the gross domestic product, this part of the country feels disrespected, shunned, unequal, and underrepresented. From the perspective of westerners, the frustration is warranted; Ottawa seemingly concentrates primarily on the economic juggernaut of Ontario and the sensitive vote-rich province of Quebec. From the vantage point of other provinces and territories, the sentiment is: What about me? There is a reason people joke that Toronto thinks it is the only city in Canada, as well as the center of the universe.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Alberta Imposes New Fracking Restrictions Near Dam after Quakes

Alberta Imposes New Fracking Restrictions Near Dam after Quakes

Restrictions come as industry-related tremors have rattled nerves and raised concerns.

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Alberta’s Energy Regulator has issued an order restricting fracking activity near a dam located southwest of the densely drilled Drayton Valley following a magnitude 4.3 earthquake in the region last March. Fracking photo by Joshua Doubek, Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 3.0.

The regulator’s new regulations follow a wave of tremors set off by Canada’s oil and gas industry, as well as the release of major scientific papers documenting how fracking and other forms of fluid injection have caused devastating earthquakes.

Such industry-triggered events, some as great as magnitude 5.7, have destroyed homes, caused landslides, and left taxpayers with millions of dollars of damage in Oklahoma, Korea and in China, where citizens have been killed.

Last week, the industry-funded regulator issued an order restricting fracking activity near TransAlta’s Brazeau Dam located 55 kilometres southwest of the densely drilled Drayton Valley following a magnitude 4.3 earthquake in the region last March. 

The exact cause of that earthquake is not known, but the oil and gas industry has previously rocked the region with tremors caused by wastewater injection or by gas extraction, which causes rock to fracture and collapse.The Tyee is supported by readers like you Join us and grow independent media in Canada

The regulator officially banned fracking within five kilometres of the dam site in the deep Duvernay formation, and within three kilometres of the dam site in the shallower formations above the Duvernay.

It also imposed requirements that any fracking operator in the three-to-five-kilometre zone that causes a magnitude 1.0 earthquake must now report the event to the regulator and cease operations totally if it triggers quakes greater than magnitude 2.5.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Accelerate New Oil Wells, Abandon the Old Ones, All the While Burning

Accelerate New Oil Wells, Abandon the Old Ones, All the While Burning

Alberta in a nutshell, under new leader Jason Kenney’s trajectory.

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Premier Jason Kenney does not seem to realize he’s overseeing an unfolding environmental and economic catastrophe in Alberta. Photo: Government of Alberta Flickr.

The urgency to expedite new petroleum projects stands in stark contrast to the utter disinterest in cleaning up the old ones. Alberta is perhaps unique in the world in having no mandatory timelines for reclaiming oil and gas wells. There are about 300,000 conventional oil and gas wells in the province, all of which eventually require cleanup. Over half, or 167,000, are listed as inactive or abandoned. The oldest dates back to 1918. What’s the rush?

The Alberta government says this collective liability is a mere $18.5 billion. Internal figures from the regulator analyzed by the Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project instead peg the cleanup bill at up to $70 billion. This snapshot does not of course include the almost 3,000 additional drilling permits to be dispensed this year by the regulator’s expedited algorithm.

At the current leisurely reclamation rate it could take 126 years to deal with the methane-leaking mess already created. Yet somehow there is an assumption that the oil and gas industry is going to be around more than a century from now to settle up, even though almost 80 per cent of Alberta’s conventional crude reserves have already been extracted. Not to worry — Alberta regulators have ensured that industry posted funds to cover 0.3 per cent of cleanup costs.

The massive taxpayer exposure from abandoned wells pales in comparison to even larger liabilities accumulated from decades of lightly regulated bitumen mining. According to other internal figures from the Alberta Energy Regulator, reclaiming tailings ponds now covering 88 square kilometres and counting could cost a further $130 billion, assuming such a thing was even technically possible.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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