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THE NATIONAL | Jan 17, 2014
Rex Murphy on Neil Young
Analysis: Rex Murphy says that rocker Neil Young has been “unfathomably irresponsible” in his criticism of Alberta’s oilsands. Young made headlines this week for his comments on the environmental impact of the oilsands. Rex Murphy states Young’s comments are outside the “boundaries of good taste, truth, judgement and proportion.”

A response to Mr. Murphy’s criticism.

Rex Murphy, You have criticized Neil Young. First off if the oil sands project reminded him of Hiroshima, perhaps it is true, none of us know what it reminded him of. Perhaps it is a poor analogy but, one thing is certain. If the oil sands were west of Edmonton instead of 200 K north, the development would be far different. It only exists as it does because it is mainly far from public view. Any criticism is quickly refuted by perpetually reminding Albertans and Canadians “Jobs, Economy”. But, jobs and the economy is far from the whole story.

Rex Murphy used the words “Blind and Shameless” to describe his Neil Young’s criticism. Has Fort Mac, as you suggest, become a symbol of the fight against Big Oil, against Global warming? You Bet. Let us take this particular project and weigh and debate what is happening. Does it need to be vilified and or condemned? In my opinion Yes. Does it need to be stopped? Not completely. Should not people be given the facts and let them decide for themselves.

Everyone will agree that there are “hundreds of projects in other parts of the world” that do not stand up to human rights and environmental standards, but this is Canada. Should we not hold ourselves to a higher standard than dictatorships and third world countries? You say let us discuss Care, Scruples and Oversight.

You mention the social and economic benefits that the project has already spread to many regions of this country.

You ask people to “Weigh (the evidence) on it’s care, supervision of the environment, safety, and pace of development.

So let’s do just that.

On Care.

Why do the oil companies and the Federal Government continue to hide the truth on how much pollution and what types of pollution is being emitted by oil sands development? Canada’s total Green House Gas, GHG, emissions grew by 111 million tonnes between 1990 and 2011, with oil sands emissions responsible for 36% or 40 million tonnes of this increase. Oil sands GHG emissions were 55 million tonnes in 2011 and increased by 18% in 2012 and most likely again in 2013 mainly through increased oil sands production. It is in no way a stretch of the truth to say that in 2013 and in 2014 at approximately 70 million tonnes the oilsands are the number one single source of GHG emissions in the world. Oil company propaganda claims that they are reducing the amount of GHG per barrel on a continual basis but, the increase in production still outweighs the decrease per barrel and that results in an ever increasing GHG output.

Emitters unable to meet an emissions target of 100,000 tonnes per year must pay $15 per tonne into a clean energy technology fund worth $398 million as of April 2013, or purchase Alberta offset carbon credits. But we must remember, Canada paid out $26 billion as energy subsidies in 2011 (IMF calculations). This while oil sands producers made $211 billion in operating revenue in 2011. If the oil sands production cannot be profitable on it’s own why should the Canadian people provide corporate welfare?

Since forming the government, the Conservatives under Stephen Harper have scrapped Canada’s commitment to controlling GHGs and brought in a far less stringent commitment and even that Canada is on track to fail by 2020. That is not caring.

Let us talk about responsibility also. Oil sands developers are supposedly responsible for the reclamation of the land which they disturb. As of 2013 operations in the oil sands have ‘disturbed’ – 55,902 hectares with another 20,435 hectares cleared for mining operations. To date, only 104 hectares have been “Certified Reclaimed” (Alberta Environment website) Another 5,042 hectares are being monitored while 27,000 hectares are in limbo, waiting for reclamation to begin. Most of this is abandoned tailing ponds.

On Safety.

The production methods used to extract bitumen from the sand uses vast amounts of water This water becomes contaminated and eventually seeps back into the Athabaska River system. Along with a host of chemicals dispersed into the air which fall down wind and become carried by rain or snow melt and eventually enter into the Athabaska River system which has become so polluted in the past 20 years that it is not only undrinkable it is dangerous to swim in. That is totally not Safe for people or wildlife living in the area of the Athabaska. Guess what, despite several studies concluding the source of the pollution, the Harper Government denies that production in the oil sands is to blame. Denial even extends to muzzling scientists who have done work on the project. That is not only not safe it is avoiding responsibility to the point of being criminal.

DOT-111 tank cars are non-pressurized, cylindrical rail cars designed to transport a variety of liquids. They represent 80 percent of the Canadian fleet and 69 percent of the U.S. fleet. Of a total 320,000 total tank cars operating in 2013, 265,000 of them were classified as DOT-111. The main concern with the tank cars is their tendency to puncture in the event of a crash. It’s particularly problematic when they’re used to transport crude oil. The Government and the rail car owners claim it could take 3 to 4 years to come to an agreement as to how to deal with this problem.

Since these cars are a safety risk, get rid of them – immediately. If an automobile has a safety defect how long is Ford or GM given to issue a recall? If a baby buggy has a defect how long before it is deemed unsaleable even second hand? Why has the oil industry been granted so much leniency? Should not all industry be treated equal? Again, this is not only not safe it is avoiding responsibility to the point of being criminal.

On Pace of Development.

The Alberta Environment website shows that in 2012 slightly over 56,000 hectares was being actively used for mining or plant operations. A total area of about 20,000 hectares was cleared of trees in preparation for oil sands mining in 2012. 37% increase in development area in just one year. That is a very fast and accelerating pace of development.

What will oil sands operations expansion mean for Canada and the world. Firstly; an increase in GHG emissions which the world and our grandchildren can’t afford. Secondly; a huge clean up bill for reclamation left for future generations to pay for.

Industry proponents continue to argue all the benefits Canada gets from the oilsands. Mainly jobs and the economy. If that were the two main criteria for allowing development then meth labs and grow-ops should be legal – they provide employment and they make lots of money.

From Greg Mankiw’s Principles of Economics, “GDP is not, however, a perfect measure of wellbeing…” “another thing that GDP excludes is the quality of the environment. Imagine that the government eliminated all environmental regulations. Firms could then produce goods and services without considering the pollution they create, and GDP might rise. Yet, well-being would most likely fall. The deterioration in the quality of air and water would more than offset the gains from greater production.” This is exactly what is happening in Alberta. The more the oil sands production increases, the more Alberta goes into deficit.

Allow me to repeat, if the oilsands were west of Edmonton instead of 200 kilometers north, development would be far different.

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