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When Is Mountaintop Removal Not Mountaintop Removal? In Alberta, of Course!

When Is Mountaintop Removal Not Mountaintop Removal? In Alberta, of Course!

The Kenney government plays word games as it plans to strip-mine the Rockies.

In Alberta, the government of Jason Kenney has one definition for mountaintop removal, while most people have another.

You might think that excavating the top of a mountain until it’s reduced to a series of carved away “benches” that rise like giant steps to a last shred of a mountain’s peak is “mountaintop removal.”

If so, you disagree with the Alberta government.

Here’s someone else who disagrees with the Kenney definition. Australian coal miners.

While the Kenney government claims mountaintop removal can’t happen in Alberta’s water-sensitive eastern slopes, Benga Mining, an Australian firm owned by Aussie billionaire Gina Rinehart, says that’s the technique it intends to employ — and in a joint federal-provincial hearing no less.

Last week, the Kenney government told the Narwhal in a series of emails that open-pit mining can’t be called mountaintop removal if it only removes, say, 90 per cent of a mountaintop.

By Alberta’s definition, the top of the mountain has to be “completely” removed to qualify as mountaintop removal.

The Alberta Energy Regulator and Kenney spokesperson Kavi Bal both informed the Narwhal that open-pit mining can scrape off the sides of a mountain, devein coal seams and leave a ridge a pockmarked shadow of itself after removing tonnes of toxic debris, and that’s OK: because it’s open-pit mining, and not mountaintop removal.

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

 

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…

Pipe Dream: Taxpayer-Owned TMX Is a Bust, Concludes Analyst

Pipe Dream: Taxpayer-Owned TMX Is a Bust, Concludes Analyst

Expect no Asian windfall for oilsands crude, says a new report by expert David Hughes.

Remember that 67-year-old pipeline and its controversial bitumen expansion project that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau bought from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion in 2018?

Well, a lot has happened since then.

For starters, the bitumen export project has climbed from a price tag of $7.8 billion to $12.6 billion and counting.

Meanwhile, a global pandemic has slowed the economy to a crawl and destabilized oil prices by bluntly curbing demand, probably for years.

The troubled oil industry, already reeling from global overproduction and crushing debt, is now actively contracting.

Cenovus and Husky, two of the five largest oilsands producers, just merged to save money by killing more than 2,000 jobs. Suncor axed another 2,000 employees. The so-called “economic engine of Canada” is shedding jobs, not making them.

As the world’s oil industry shrinks, prospects for global economic recovery seem remote if not problematic, because the world runs on oil.

China, the presumed market for Alberta’s heavy sour crude, has arrested two of our citizens, bullied our leaders and become a global exporter of technological tyranny.

And climate change, the topic everyone likes to endlessly talk about, continues to erode shorelines, burn forests, create refugees and undermine global security.

So does the world still need the Trans Mountain expansion project?

That’s the timely question David Hughes, one of the country’s foremost energy experts, deftly answers in his latest report for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

And the answer is a big fat no.

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

LNG in BC Is a ‘Losing’ Bet, Report Finds

LNG in BC Is a ‘Losing’ Bet, Report Finds

New analysis calls out rosy job projections for industry ‘misleading’ and unrealistic.

A respected U.S. energy group has criticized a rosy Conference Board of Canada report championing more liquefied natural gas development in British Columbia as “a lobbying effort for government subsidies, support and flexibility.”

The scathing critique by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis characterized the Conference Board report as “misleading,” short on facts and unrealistic.

“The Conference Board, a non-profit economic research organization based in Ottawa, believes Asian, or more specifically, Chinese demand growth can sustain a further leap in British Columbian LNG capacity growth, despite corporate investors already folding their hands,” said the institute in its highly-critical paper.

The Ohio-based institute is funded by a variety of philanthropic organizations and examines issues related to energy markets, trends and policies. Its mission is “to accelerate the transition to a diverse, sustainable and profitable energy economy.”

The Conference Board’s July report, titled “Rising Tide,” estimated that if the government boosted LNG development to export 56 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas a year the industry would create 100,000 jobs based on an imaginary growth scenario.

“B.C. is becoming the focal point for a new Canadian industry — liquefied natural gas,” claimed the report, which failed to mention that 13 LNG projects have already been cancelled or suspended in B.C. and other parts of Canada due to bad economics, global oversupply and high extraction costs based on hydraulic fracturing.

At the moment, Shell’s LNG Canada is the only active project in B.C.

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

BC Hydro Bets on Interest Rates — and Loses $1 Billion

BC Hydro Bets on Interest Rates — and Loses $1 Billion

A hedging program was supposed to protect the corporation from rising rates. Instead, it’s creating major liabilities.

Critics are calling it another BC Hydro scandal. The Crown corporation, already beset by burgeoning costs and geotechnical difficulties at the controversial Site C dam, has racked up $1 billion of liabilities betting on interest rates.

BC Hydro revealed the losses in its first-quarter report, released in June.

Marc Eliesen, former CEO of BC Hydro and Ontario Hydro, said the corporation’s gamble that it could predict future interest rates has backfired. “BC Hydro took a trip to the casino and played roulette and lost big time,” he said.

The interest rate hedging program began in 2016 with the goal of protecting ratepayers from higher future borrowing costs if rates rose.

Under the program, BC Hydro bought investment vehicles that would increase in value if interest rates rose. The corporation’s managers believed the profits could be used to offset higher borrowing costs if, as they predicted, interest rates went up.

“They thought they would make money on interest rate hedges and put it in a default account which would help offset borrowing costs in the future,” explained Richard McCandless, a former civil servant who wrote about the loss on his blog.

Instead, interest rates fell, and BC Hydro has lost money on the hedging program.

“It is a scandal,” said McCandless. “They took a gamble and lost.”

BC Hydro, which carries $23.3 billion in debt, anticipates the need to borrow another $10 billion between 2017 and 2024, partly to pay for the over-budget Site C dam and about $2 billion a year in other capital projects.

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

Thousands of Quakes, Tied to Fracking, Keep Shaking the Site C Dam Region

Thousands of Quakes, Tied to Fracking, Keep Shaking the Site C Dam Region

Several recent reports on the tremors add to concerns about the mega-project’s stability.

Building the Site C dam in northeastern British Columbia is proving more difficult than officials predicted due to unstable ground on the northern bank. Adding to concerns: myriad earthquakes.

For nearly a decade, The Tyee has reported on a rising number of earthquakes caused by the hydraulic fracturing of shale formations in the region. Now, new studies put the number of such tremors in recent years in the many thousands, raising more worries about the future of the mega-project.

Researchers warn the shaking could become strong enough to crumble critical infrastructure such as roads, high-rise buildings — and dams.

B.C.’s regulatory practices try to limit fracking after small earthquakes have been triggered. But that’s “not sufficient to protect critical or vulnerable infrastructure that have unacceptable failure consequences,” noted seismic hazard expert Gail Atkinson in the May 7 issue of Nature Reviews.

No one can yet predict frack-triggered quakes before they happen, and “hazard forecasting” remains a “critical area of research.”

Another study, released this week by researcher Ben Parfitt at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, took data from federal earthquake catalogues to show how many tremors the fracking industry is producing near the Site C dam.

The numbers are staggering. Between 2017 and 2018 alone, the industry triggered 6,551 earthquakes greater than 0.8 magnitude in the region near the troubled mega-project with a price estimate of $12 billion and rising.

Drilling by Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., for example, triggered a magnitude 4.6 earthquake in November 2018 that forced the evacuation of the Site C Dam site. It was followed by magnitude 3.5 and 4 events after the fracking ceased.

…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…

We’re Dumb about Exponential Growth. That’s Proving Lethal

We’re Dumb about Exponential Growth. That’s Proving Lethal

And not just for COVID-19. The same ignorance accelerates the climate crisis.

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Exponential growth looks like a jet taking off. It is rapid and explosive and follows a geometric progression. It is often about doubling times. Image via Shutterstock.

Gradually, and then suddenly. That’s how exponential growth can ruin your day, undo your family, evaporate your economy, destroy your climate, crush an empire and destabilize a planet.

Consider the performance of COVID-19.

Last month a 30-year-old male attended a “COVID party” in San Antonio, Texas.

At a COVID party, the host has tested positive. He or she then does not sit down with a math primer to understand how many human dominoes they might cause to fall. Nor does the host watch this handy video which, in three short minutes, explains the deadly implications of exponential growth of infection.

WATCH: A mathematician explains the power of exponential growth to spread the coronavirus at increasing speed throughout a population if unchecked by social distancing and other measures.

No, at a COVID party the host invites others to come over and mingle, have a few drinks, test fate, laugh in the face of reality.

The 30-year-old male who came to the COVID party died several weeks later, but not before he made a brief confession to the nurse attending him. “I think I made a mistake, I thought this was a hoax, but it’s not.”

That’s how exponential growth can ruin your day.

The percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 in Texas has risen steeply in recent weeks. Up to 22 per cent of tests showed positive in the San Antonio area last week.

The exponential function is all about growth, and growth follows a logical curve. It can be linear or exponential. Linear is what children do as they grow in weight. Or what stalagmites do as they grow with dripping water.

But exponential growth looks like a jet taking off. It is rapid and explosive and follows a geometric progression. It is often about doubling times.

After China reported its first case of COVID-19 last January, it took 67 days to reach the first 100,000 global cases.

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

By Many Calculations, LNG Is a Fail for BC: Report

By Many Calculations, LNG Is a Fail for BC: Report

The math for liquefied natural gas is bad on emissions, revenues, jobs, even offsetting coal in China, finds a new study.

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Go figure. BC NDP Premier John Horgan announcing in 2018 a $40-billion investment by the consortium LNG Canada in its Kitimat terminal for processing and export. Photo: BC Government.

David Hughes, one of the nation’s foremost energy analysts, has a simple message for the governments of British Columbia and Canada when it comes to advocating for LNG projects.

“Do the math.”

Hughes has parsed the numbers and they don’t add up on methane emissions, climate change targets, resource royalties, job benefits or even basic economics.

“The math is clear,” says Hughes, whose latest 57-page report on LNG exports highlights a long pipeline of damning figures.

Emissions targets: Won’t LNG help hit them? The numbers say noThe Tyee is supported by readers like you Join us and grow independent media in Canada

The province’s CleanBC plan, for example, demands an 80-per-cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 from 2007 levels.

But Hughes, who was a scientific researcher for 32 years at the Geological Survey of Canada, checked the math on emissions based on energy production forecasts made by the Canada Energy Regulator.

His math is conservative. It excluded any LNG exports. It assumes current major reductions in methane leaks from gas extraction might be plugged. And it further assumes the electrification of some upstream projects. Still, Hughes found that “emissions from oil and gas production would exceed B.C.’s 2050 target by 54 per cent.”

(A group of scientists writing in Nature found the same thing on a global scale last year: just using existing fossil fuel infrastructure takes the world into climate change hell.)

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

‘Normal Is the Problem’

‘Normal Is the Problem’

So is normal’s idiot child, ‘the new normal.’ What we’ve made normal never was natural.

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Let’s review what ‘normal’ human behaviour has done to our one and only home over the past few centuries. Image of Earth taken from Apollo 17 via Wikimedia.

Sharon Wilson is a fifth-generation Texan who drives around rural communities and takes pictures of oil and gas facilities with an infrared camera. The pictures make visible all the methane pollution that industry and governments pretend is not happening in rural communities.

Wilson recently tweeted these two sentences: “We can and must do better than going back to normal. Normal is the problem.”

And she is right as rain about that. Normal has become a pathological state.

After the random normlessness of this pandemic, I don’t want to go back to normal either. Or its idiotic child, “the new normal.”

Let’s face facts: our hi-tech, globalized-trade-anything-for-peanuts world run mostly by tyrants isn’t natural.

Since 1970, an outpouring of normality has just about destroyed the Earth: It has created an abnormal economic machine, blind to energy spending, that doubled the global population and boosted per capita consumption by 45 per cent.

At the same time the so-called value of global economic activity grew by 300 per cent. Meanwhile global trade has exploded like a coronavirus by 900 per cent. To support all this consumption and trade, the extraction of “living materials” from nature has jumped by 200 per cent.

Now here’s just a partial list of the cost of all this exponential normality: Humans have appropriated or altered 70 per cent of the world’s lands with mines, roads, industrial farms, cities and airports. We have engineered more than 75 per cent of the world’s longest rivers. We have filled the ocean with plastics and slaughtered coral reefs. Anyone who calls that kind of behaviour normal is crackers. It’s ecological imperialism, and nothing more than a full-scale assault on the dignity of local life.

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

Don’t Bet on a Vaccine

Don’t Bet on a Vaccine

If we get one, great. But here’s why we can’t count on it and what that means.

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Biologist Paul Ewald notes earlier virus vaccine successes came easier. ‘We are now left with the more wily ones which will probably evade our vaccination efforts.’ Photo of the virus causing COVID-19: Shutterstock.

Every day politicians promise eventual relief from the threat of COVID-19 with a vaccine. An unprecedented scientific race to develop more than 100 of them is now underway. But don’t roll up your sleeve yet. Any promise of a technical solution for a global pandemic remains a great gamble for a variety of reasons.

So we had better develop a robust Plan B: Get very good at living with the coronavirus in our midst, keeping large outbreaks to a minimum. The key to this, lacking a super effective vaccine, is: test, trace and isolate. Repeat. Repeat. And repeat again. We have the means to do this now, and it should become our way of life for many months, and likely years, to come.

Why should we be wary of the promise a vaccine will deliver us any time soon from the coronavirus?

Some viruses are more ‘wily’ than others. Vaccines are artificial tools to confer immunity to diseases. Instead of waiting for natural immunity and disease cycles to do the often deadly and random job, our civilization now depends on the efficiency of vaccines. Immunization is as much a part of modern civilization as the highway.

Vaccines, however, have their limits and can also suffer from diminishing returns. The evolutionary biologist Paul Ewald has noted that humans have used vaccines for the last 200 years to conquer the easiest adversaries: measles, diptheria, rabies, polio and smallpox. “We are now left with the more wily ones which will probably evade our vaccination efforts by changing their coats.” Malaria and viruses like HIV are masters at evading the immune system.

…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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