A future for Prosperity mine and B.C.

The recent opinion column written by Marilyn Baptiste, chief of the Xeni Gwet’in First Nation, ( Squeezed out of mining review, July 19) does not reflect the facts.

First, there were no negotiations involving Taseko over how to conduct an environmental assessment of our Prosperity gold-copper project. Any negotiation that took place over process was a matter between the two governments and the local first nations.

via A future for Prosperity mine and B.C..

Oilsands’ reputation need not be a dead duck

Oilsands’ reputation need not be a dead duck

By Graham Thomson, The Edmonton JournalJuly 22, 2010

They died two years ago on a Syncrude tailings pond but the ghosts of 1,600 doomed ducks continue to haunt the reputation of the oilsands.

And that is a good thing for anyone concerned about the environmental impact of the oilsands — or even if you’re as big an industry booster as Richard Fitzsimmons was back in 1927 when he formed the International Bitumen Co. with the slogan: “Nature’s Supreme Gift to Industry.”

The oilsands might indeed be Nature’s gift to industry, but industry still doesn’t know how to unwrap it. At least not without tearing this gift apart like a four-year-old on Christmas morning. The process of turning the oilsands into oil is expensive, thirsty, an energy hog and emits more greenhouse gases than extracting conventional sweet crude from the ground. That’s without even mentioning the huge amounts of liquid waste pumped daily into lagoons that exhausted migratory birds sometimes fatally mistake for a rest-and-relaxation lake.

Defenders of the oilsands have been arguing the industry is not as dirty as some think. Two government-sponsored reports in 2009 concluded that greenhouse gas emissions from the oilsands were only 10 per cent dirtier than Nigeria and Venezuela, not 40 per cent as previously thought. That still places us 10 per cent worse than the worst. Get to the bottom of the barrel and you’ll find Alberta scraping away.

The oilsands extraction process might not be as dirty as critics claim, but neither is it as clean as supporters suggest. The ducks have seen to that. One picture of a blackened duck dying in a toxic lake is worth a thousand words of industry denial and justification.

The images of dead ducks are viral on the Internet, helped convict Syncrude in a court of law and are starring in the anti-oilsands Rethink Alberta campaign launched on billboards in four U.S. cities last week.

That’s a good thing because the images are helping spur demands that the oilsands get cleaner faster.

On Monday, the U.S. ambassador to Canada said industry and government must do everything possible to clean up the oilsands because “attitudes in Canada and the U.S. are evolving.”

But what’s most interesting is that the loudest calls for a cleanup aren’t coming from international voices but from those closer to home.

A year-long Canada West Foundation survey of media reports on the oilsands has discovered that most negative stories have come from domestic news sources, not international. The report — Blackened Reputation: A Year of Coverage of Alberta’s Oil Sands — concluded “the oilsands received significantly more negative coverage at home than abroad.”

“Negative media coverage stopped well short of a tidal wave, and both the extent and negativity of international coverage may be exaggerated by Canadian opponents of oilsands development,” said the report. “Negative environmental stories in the Canadian media outnumbered those in the international media by a ratio of four to one.”

If that’s true, the Rethink Alberta campaign aimed at dissuading American tourists from visiting the province might have a limited impact. The campaign’s real impact might come from encouraging government and industry to clean up our own backyard — not because foreigners want it but because Canadians do.

That’s what a second survey released on Monday is pointing to. A public-opinion poll from Angus Reid of 1,009 Canadians indicates 66 per cent think the federal government is not paying enough attention to the environment. The two largest environmental concerns of Canadians: the pollution of rivers, lakes and reservoirs (80 per cent); the contamination of soil and water by toxic waste (76 per cent). Much further down the list was climate change (61 per cent).

Canadians are more concerned about dealing with quantifiable examples of pollution that pose an immediate threat to their health than they are about more complicated issues such as global warming that seem much more real to Torontonians sweltering through a heat wave this week than Edmontonians and Calgarians shivering through daily downpours. Extreme weather of any kind, of course, could be an indication of climate change but nobody can point to any single weather event and say conclusively it is caused by a changing climate.

There is a growing realization that the best tactic for industry and government is not to issue denials or justifications, but to make sure the circumstances leading to those disturbing pictures are never repeated.

“The tailings ponds were, are and will remain a public relations liability for the oil industry,” says the Canada West Foundation report. “In the year’s worth of stories we followed, the only positive stories to discuss tailings ponds involved either government deadlines or new technologies to clean them up. . . . The only way in which tailings ponds can stop harming the image of the oilsands is through demonstrable progress in making them go away.”

The environmental impact of the oilsands might not be making regular headlines around the world, but it is here at home. That should be enough incentive for a wholesale cleanup of tailings ponds and a quicker reclamation of disturbed land.

Graham Thomson is a columnist with the Edmonton Journal.

gthomson@thejournal.canwest.com
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