Published: June 25, 2014
VANCOUVER — A Canadian-led group of academics has taken to one of the world’s top science journals to call for a moratorium on new oilsands and pipeline projects.
The group, led by ecologist Wendy Palen at Simon Fraser University, says Canada and the U.S. should halt approvals until oilsands developments are “consistent” with the government’s own commitments to cut carbon pollution.
“Anything less demonstrates flawed policies and failed leadership,” they write in Thursday’s issue of the British journal Nature.
The report is the latest salvo from academics harshly critical of plans to ship more than a million barrels of bitumen a day from the oilsands in Alberta to ports and refineries in the United States and the on west coast.
Earlier this month researchers urged Prime Minister Stephen Harper not to approve the Northern Gateway pipeline that would link Alberta oilsands with a tanker port in B.C. That letter, signed by 300 academics from across Canada researchers and several international institutions, took issue with the federal review process that did not consider the impacts of the oilsands on greenhouse gas emissions.
This week Palen and seven colleagues say Canada and the U.S. need to stop assessing oilsands projects in isolation. “A more coherent approach, one that evaluates all oilsands projects in the context of broader, integrated energy and climate strategies, is sorely needed.”
They call for an end to the “tyranny of incremental decisions” — like the pending decision over the Keystone XL pipeline to take Alberta oil to refineries in Texas, and last week’s federal approval of Northern Gateway.
Hillary Clinton, who has yet to announce whether to run for the U.S. presidency, suggested something similar last week while in Canada on a promotional tour for her book of memoirs.
Clinton would not comment on specific pipeline proposals, but said she would “love to see” Canada and the U.S. work toward a cleaner energy future.
“The decisions should not be made one by one,” Clinton said. “There should be an overall effort to plan how we can do everything from co-ordinating our energy grids to doing much more to fight climate change.“
“North American can be the energy powerhouse of the 21st century,” Clinton said, by working together to transition to clean renewable energy.
SFU’s Palen said in an interview that she felt compelled to get involved in what she describes as the “Godzilla issue” of the oilsands that impacts boreal ecosystems, waterways and climate. She hopes other academics will also start pushing for “evidence-based decisions” that consider both short and long-term impacts, as opposed to today’s “incremental decisions” that create the “misguided idea that oilsands expansion is inevitable.”
She and her colleagues say that since 2010 public hearings on proposed pipelines, including Northern Gateway, the Trans Mountain pipeline in British Columbia, and the Line 9B pipeline reversal in southern Ontario, have “formally excluded testimony by experts or the public about carbon emissions and climate.”
Oilsands production is greatly increasing carbon pollution despite Canada’s international commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020. Canada “will miss its target by 122 million tonnes annually” because of the expanding oilsands, Palen and her colleagues say pointing to reports from the auditor general’s office and Environment Canada.
“Although emissions in many sectors are falling, those from oilsands production are predicted to triple from 2005 by 2020, from 34 million to 101 million tonnes,” they say.
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