Friday, January 08, 2010

Dirty oil

Another day, another Harper government cover-up.

Dr. Mark Tushingham, a scientist at Environment Canada, is the protagonist of this tale. His is a familar name to those with long memories.

Tushingham was one of the earliest victims of the bullying and muzzling that have since become a hallmark of the Harper administration. Less than three months after the 2006 election, then-Minister of the Environment Rona Ambrose ordered him to cancel a lunch-time presentation he was due to make on a novel he had just published about climate change.

The literary critic won, and the bound and gagged Tushingham was hustled back to work. And there he continued to do his job, no doubt to the discomfiture of both the government and its wealthy friends in the Alberta oil patch.

Harper has been putting the best possible face on the development of the Alberta tar sands (the government prefers the term "oilsands"), and Natural Resources Canada has been playing along, producing a sunny environmental assessment dutifully reflecting the views of the petroleum industry, and going so far as to include a favourable overview of a 2001 report funded by Big Oil.

The scientists at Environment Canada were not happy. After extensive internal consultations, a memorandum deeply critical of the assessment was prepared and delivered by Tushingham last February. The evident bias in the Natural Resources assessment was highlighted, and its conclusions questioned:

"The package should deliver neutral, balanced and factual information," said the analysis.

"Currently, much of the language is too pro-industry, and would make the government to be perceived as bias[ed] and thus not credible or serving the public good."

The documents warn that some climate-change and water-quality policies are unproven and could drive up production costs in the oilsands by as much as $20 per barrel of oil, while creating new pollution that affects air quality. The price of oil is now trading on the markets at about $80 US a barrel.

The analysis notes that the oilsands industry will not be able to implement wide-scale changes needed to address rising pollution, such as the introduction of technology to capture carbon dioxide emissions and bury them underground, without clear regulations and a price signal set by the government.

"There are also significant risks associated with integrating [carbon capture and storage] on a large commercial scale when it has yet to be successfully demonstrated in the oilsands," said the package, which also warned the government to address negative impacts of introducing nuclear power into the oilsands production process.

Regarding total greenhouse gas emissions, the documents explain that while the industry has reduced emissions per barrel over the past two decades, overall greenhouse gas emissions have tripled since 1990 and will likely continue to rise.

Unfortunately, no questions about this latest revelation of governmental malpractice can be raised in Parliament at the moment. But it's not likely to help the government's slipping poll numbers. Stay tuned.

[H/t Marie Ève]

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