Beware Our Bitumen Salesmen


It takes 2 tonnes of sand to produce one carbon-rich barrel of low quality bitumen.

Andrew Nikiforuk warns us that the Canadian pro-Bitumen lobby will stop at nothing - including ignoring democratic processes and barefaced lying - to promote the dirty, carbon-rich substance.....
To erase evidence of bitumen's profoundly dirty impacts the Harper government declared war on science

Canadian petroleum hawkers, poising as smooth Dr Jekylls, are now touring Europe and the United Kingdom with a singular Hyde-like mission: to kill the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD).

And just why would Canadians, with a reputation for civility, be so adverse to efforts to stem the growing carbon content of world fuels?

The answer is a nasty as our junk crude: the directive would limit the export of one of the world's dirtiest hydrocarbons and therefore slow the growth of Canada's "economic driver."

And that would be bad news for Stephen Harper: Canada's Conservative Prime Minister. He's a latter day Margaret Thatcher. In fact Harper shares the same venom for environmentalists and First Nations, that Thatcher once reserved for the coal unions.

Known as Iron Pants for his penchant for bullying and rule breaking, Harper is the son of an Imperial Oil accountant. Moreover he has built his malicious right-wing political revolution on the proceeds of bitumen, the same way the Iron Lady funded hers with loot from the North Sea.

To date Harper's bitumen spin-doctors have spent nearly a $100-million trying to brand bitumen as safe and responsible. But the heavy sour crude is neither.

The global economy can't carry on business as usual when it takes two tonnes of sand to produce one very crappy and carbon rich barrel of oil.

That picture gets worse with bitumen's obscene energy sprawl: the tar sands industry burns enough natural gas every day to heat more than three million homes (and much of that gas requires the brute force of hydraulic fracking). Industry uses natural gas to reverse geology and transform a hydrogen-poor product into something called synthetic crude.

As such bitumen signals the beginning of peak oil and the end of cheap energy. The project's open pit mines will eventually dig up a landmass the size of not one but two islands the size of Lewis and Harris. (The mine's accumulated toxic waste, held in some of the world's largest dams, could fill the entire city of Glasgow with muck.)

To erase evidence of bitumen's profoundly dirty impacts the Harper government declared war on science

But half the resource is too deep to be dug, and must be steamed out of the ground at even greater capital expense. These steam plants will eventually industrialize a forest the size of not one but two Cretes.

In the process these facilities will contaminate groundwater, destroy a carbon sink and exterminate woodland caribou. Canada's new economic driver doesn't brake for aboriginal women and children either.

Due to its energy cannibalism, the life cycle emissions of bitumen on a well to tank basis are 81 percent greater than US conventional crudes pumped in 2005 and 17 percent greater on wells to wheels basis. And that's the conclusion, no less, of the US Environmental Protection Agency.

In order to get this nasty product to oversea markets before the world puts a price on carbon or understands bitumen's appallingly low energy returns (steamed bitumen is on par with ethanol), Harper has undermined the nation's democracy.

In one foul move his government rewrote Canada's key environmental laws to ease bitumen pipeline construction. Harper did so at the behest of pipeline companies and the Canadian Association of Pipeline Producers (CAPP)

In particular Enbridge, one of the continent's largest bitumen transporters, regarded the Fisheries Act, Canada's oldest environmental legislation, as "onerous" to pipeline river crossings and demanded fixes.

A massive 2012 omnibus bill imposes changes to 70 laws without public consultation. Ottawa not only gutted the Fisheries Act but also removed the whole idea of protecting fish habit. Four former fishery ministers, and hundreds of aquatic scientists strongly protested, but to no avail.

To erase any evidence of bitumen's profoundly dirty impacts on land, water or climate, the Harper government also declared war on scientific evidence. In the last six years his government killed the office of science advisor, cut some 40 climate change and environmental programs such as the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, laid off thousands of scientists and firmly muzzled those with jobs.Even Nature magazine has decried the censorship.

For a nation hell-bent on becoming an "energy superpower" Harper's assault on science seems royally irrational, and it is. In 2012 the Canadian government axed the nation's ocean contaminants research program as well as the job of its lead research scientist Peter Ross.

At the same time the government cut the budget for the Centre for Offshore Oil, Gas and Energy Research (COOGER). Its executive director, Kenneth Lee, a world-renowned oil spill expert, now works in Australia.

The Harper government, which will collect 41 percent of 126 billion in bitumen revenues by 2020, also lies like hell. Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver even calls the junk crude "green." Like Harper, he views climate science as some sort of hair-brained scheme to deprive Big Oil and Big Government of their rightful incomes.

"Scientists have recently told us that our fears (on climate change) are exaggerated," Oliver confided to Montreal's La Presse last spring.

And so Canada has no effective climate action plan other than attacking countries with standards or dumping it's unrefined dirt abroad in Asian, US or European refineries.

Even Environment Canada's 2012 National Inventory Report on GHG emissions admits so.

Turning bitumen into gasoline is such an ugly carbon making business that Canada now proposes to build more pipelines to get land-locked bitumen to ports. That way "more emissions associated with the upgrading and refining of bitumen are taking place outside of the country."

So beware of our bitumen salesmen. They may sound like well-meaning Dr Jekylls. But in Canada's petro state, they now behave as viciously as any Mr. Hyde.

Andrew Nikiforuk is an awarding-winning Canadian journalist and author of Tar Sands. He is a contributing editor to Canada's best independent newspaper: The Tyee.

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