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Copyright 2011 by Keith Abergel, Floxy Akhuetie, Alex Benzie, Riley Cassidy, Elysia French, Rebecca Goldberg, Harkiran Kaur, Colin Khan, Robyn Laing, Ellen Letts, Joanne Linnay, Michelle Mazzacto, Helen Power, Sam Tavenor and Robin Westland.
Submitted to Dr. Peter Hodson and Dr. Mick Smith November 2nd, 2011
Completed in fulfillment of ENSC 801: Methodological and Conceptual Basis for Environmental Studies
Queen‘s University School of Environmental Studies BioSciences Complex, Room 3134 Kingston, Ontario Canada, K7L 3N6
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION ............................................................................................................. 7 Terms of inquiry ........................................................................................................... 8 Canadian Oil: A historical perspective ......................................................................... 8
CHAPTER 1: ECONOMICS
Section 1.0: INTRODUCTION............................................................................................... 13 1.0.1 Managing Resource Revenues – Saving for the Future ............................... 13
Section 1.1: ROYALTIES...................................................................................................... 15 1.1.1 1.1.2 Royalties management ................................................................................. 15 Optimal Royalty Structures – Have we got it right? ....................................... 17
Section 1.2: EMPLOYMENT ................................................................................................. 17 1.2.1 Creating New Jobs at the Expense of Others? ............................................. 18
Section 1.3: RECLAMATION................................................................................................ 19 1.3.1 1.3.2 Failures of the Security Deposit .................................................................... 19 Conclusions .................................................................................................. 20
Section 1.4: ECONOMIC VALUE OF BITUMEN .................................................................. 21 1.4.1 1.4.2 Natural Resource accounting - Weighing the costs ...................................... 22 Conclusions .................................................................................................. 25
Section 1.5: RECOMMENDATIONS ..................................................................................... 26
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CHAPTER 2: SCIENCE
Section 2.1: EMISSIONS, AIR & WATER QUALITY ............................................................ 29 2.1.1 2.1.2 2.1.3 Emissions from oil sands .............................................................................. 29 Air Quality ..................................................................................................... 31 Water Quality ................................................................................................ 32
Section 2.2: HUMAN TOXICOLOGY AND HEALTH ............................................................ 33 2.2.1 2.2.2 2.2.3 Local Health Downstream from Oil Sands .................................................... 34 Occupational Hazards................................................................................... 35 Toxicological Research of Oil Sands Development ...................................... 37
Section 2.3: TERRESTRIAL ECOSYSTEM HEALTH .......................................................... 39 2.3.1 2.3.2 2.3.3 2.3.4 3.3.5 Toxic Compounds and their Availability to Terrestrial Species...................... 40 The Impacts of Toxic Compounds to Terrestrial Species .............................. 42 Physical Impacts to Terrestrial Species ........................................................ 44 Implications for Humans ............................................................................... 46 Conclusions .................................................................................................. 48
Section 2.4: AQUATIC ECOSYSTEM HEALTH ................................................................... 49 2.4.1 2.4.2 2.4.3 2.4.4 2.4.5 Social Implications and Industry Attitudes/Actions ........................................ 49 Implementing an Effects-Based Monitoring Program .................................... 50 Bioavailability of Toxic Compounds - Is There a Concern? ........................... 51 Threshold Effects and Ecosystem Impacts ................................................... 53 Conclusions .................................................................................................. 54
Section 2.5: PROCESSES & RECLAMATION ..................................................................... 55 2.5.1 2.5.2 The Role Life Cycle Analysis ........................................................................ 55 Review of Current Reclamation Technologies .............................................. 57
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Status of Reclaimed Ecosystems.................................................................. 59
Section 2.6: RECOMMENDATIONS ..................................................................................... 61 2.6.1 2.6.2 2.6.3 2.6.4 2.6.5 Emissions, Air and Water Quality.................................................................. 61 Human Toxicology and Health ...................................................................... 62 Terrestrial Ecosystem Health ........................................................................ 63 Aquatic Ecosystem Health ............................................................................ 64 Reclamation and Monitoring Practices.......................................................... 64
CHAPTER 3: SOCIAL ISSUES
Section 3.1: ABORIGINAL ISSUES ..................................................................................... 67 3.1.1 3.1.2 3.1.3 3.1.4 The Indigenous Land Ethic ........................................................................... 67 The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ........... 68 Canada‘s Duty to Consult ............................................................................. 69 Conclusions .................................................................................................. 71
Section 3.2: LABOUR ISSUES ............................................................................................. 72 3.2.1 3.2.2 3.2.3 3.2.4 3.2.5 Alberta‘s Labour Laws .................................................................................. 73 The working conditions in Northern Alberta in practice ................................. 74 Temporary Foreign Workers in Alberta ......................................................... 76 The life of the workers when not on the job .................................................. 78 Conclusions .................................................................................................. 79
Section 3.3: VISIONS OF OIL ............................................................................................... 81 3.3.1 3.3.2 3.3.3 Practices in Aesthetics: Oil in the Works of Edward Burtynsky ..................... 81 Oil as Portrayed by Industry .......................................................................... 85 Oil as Portrayed by Opposition ..................................................................... 88
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Conclusions .................................................................................................. 90
Section 3.4: GENDER ANALYSIS ........................................................................................ 92 3.4.1 3.4.2 The Oil Sands: Friend or Foe to Women? ...................................................... 92 Pink-washing the Oil Sands ........................................................................... 95
3.4.3 Conclusions .................................................................................................... 97 Section 3.5: RECOMMENDATIONS ..................................................................................... 98
CHAPTER 4: GOVERNANCE
Section 4.1: INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS ..................................................................... 101 4.1.1 4.1.2 4.1.3 The International Debate on Oil Sands ....................................................... 101 Canada and USA: Present NAFTA Oil Policy ............................................. 104 Are Canadian Oil exports to USA under NAFTA beneficial? ....................... 107
Section 4.2: CLIMATE CHANGE POLICIES ...................................................................... 109 4.2.1 4.2.2 4.2.3 How Oil Sands Development is Affecting Climate Change ......................... 110 How the Government of Alberta is Managing Climate Change ................... 111 How the Oils Sands Development Affected the Kyoto Protocol and
Copenhagen Accord ................................................................................................ 112 4.2.4 4.2.5 Ethics of the Oil Sands Development and Climate Change ........................ 114 Conclusions ................................................................................................ 115
Section 4.3: DEVELOPMENT AND RECLAMATION ......................................................... 116 4.3.1 4.3.2 Development Policy .................................................................................... 117 Reclamation Policy ..................................................................................... 119
Section 4.4: DOMESTIC POLICY ....................................................................................... 123 4.4.1 Is the Democracy Participatory? ................................................................. 124
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Are the Policies Transparent? ..................................................................... 126
Section 4.5: RECOMMENDATIONS ................................................................................... 129 4.5.1 4.5.2 4.5.3 4.5.4 International Relations ................................................................................ 129 Climate Change Policy................................................................................ 129 Development and Reclamation Policy ........................................................ 130 National Policy ............................................................................................ 131
CONCLUSION ............................................................................................................ 132 REFERENCES ............................................................................................................ 135
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The Alberta Oil Sands have become a focus of attention on the local, national and international level. At present, the mining and development of the oil sands in Alberta has reached a level at which its impacts are being felt and warrant discussion. Furthermore, the oil sands have the potential to influence future decisions made on geopolitical, socioeconomic and environmental fronts.
The interest surrounding the oil sands has manifested in an increasing amount of information and advocacy that can leave even the most informed individual searching for clarity. There is a lack of clarity and meaning regarding fundamental questions and issues surrounding this development. Although some attempts have been made to evaluate the accuracy of the information available regarding the oil sands, little has been done to look at the meaning of this information and some of its potential consequences.
In light of a recent Canadian government directive to officially promote the Alberta Oil Sands as an ethical alternative to other world oil supplies the validity of this statement should be assessed. This report will focus on providing clarity to Canadians and specific recommendations to the Parliamentary Committee which commissioned this report. This report will aid in assessing the ethics of oil sands development, and whether the promotion of Albertan oil as ethical is merited. The investigation takes a multidisciplinary and multi-perspective approach to clarify this information looking into the broad categories of social, economic, scientific and governance issues as the panel deemed appropriate. The information was selected for review through a facilitated session of the selected experts whereby broad categories for inquiry were proposed and subheadings were also proposed. The inclusion and scope of the review was determined to include all the issues in the general terms of reference which the panel experts referred to in their analysis.
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TERMS OF INQUIRY
It was determined that the following aspects of oil sands development in Alberta needed to be addressed in order to tackle the question of ethics. The following chapters attempt to provide a summary of the current state of these issues taking a broad and interdisciplinary approach: Aboriginal Issues Labour Issues Aesthetic Issues Gender Issues
Royalties Employment Reclamation Economic Value Emissions Human and Ecosystem Health Toxicology International Relations Climate Change Policy Development Policy Domestic Policy
CANADIAN OIL: A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
A brief account of the history of oil extraction in Canada with specific emphasis on the oil sands can help to put the present debate into better perspective. Since the mid 19th century, Canada has experienced successive boom and bust cycles of oil wealth. The development of the Alberta oil sands is Canada‘s most recent chapter in oil extraction.
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The Canadian and Albertain Oil Industry: A Short Timeline 1700‘s The earliest known deposits of oil were discovered and utilized in Western Canada by the Aboriginals. As early as in 1714, fur trader James Knight talked about ―a great river far inland in Fort York (now in Manitoba) which had gum-like substance‖ as reported by the local people. 1846 Crude oil becomes a feasible commodity when the technique of distillation is perfected in Halifax by Abraham Gesner. 1859 The first oil boom in Canada, largely Ontario, began in 1859 and continued through the 1860‘s and 1870‘s. 1875 The first Geological Survey of Canada sponsored research expedition to the oil sands is conducted. 1880 The Imperial Oil Company was formed through the merging of several Ontario oil companies. Rockfeller‘s Standard Oil Trust (from the USA) succeeded in taking over the company in 1898 (Bott, 2004). 1899 Charles Mair explored the ―oil sands region‖ around Athabasca and Peace River to verify the deposits. The Government signed treaties with the local people for extracting oil sands that were identified as a potential energy resource in North America (Nikiforuk, 2010). Early 1900‘s In the 1900‘s, research for extraction from the oil-sands began in full force. In 1913, the area around Fort McMurray in Alberta was mapped for bituminous sand deposits. Additional wells were drilled in 1906 and 1917.
ENSC 801 10 ETHICS OF THE ALBERTA OIL SANDS 1923 Dr. Karl Clark from Alberta Research Council (ARC) pioneered an oil extraction and separation process which was then patented in 1929. This research continued well into the 1940‘s (Humpries, 2008). Mid 1900‘s Up until the middle of the 20th century, Canada relied heavily on the importation of crude oil mainly from the United States. Increased usage due to two world wars, the establishment of the Ford Motor Company and the increasing dependence on oil had caused reserves in South Western Ontario to decline rapidly. A minor discovery of crude oil in the Northwest Territories (1920) did not help much as it was not close enough to exploit fully. In February 1947, the Leduc Well in Edmonton was discovered . This was an important discovery that made Canada ‗oil-rich‘ rather than ‗oil-poor‘ (Bott, 2004). 1949 The technical feasibility of oil sands extraction was made possible in 1949 and 1950 through the development of new technologies. Both Sunoco and GCOS (Great Canadian Oil Sands) adopted this technology for oil sands production. 1964 The Syncrude Research Consortium is formed to determine the economic feasibility of mining the Albertan oil sands. 1967 The first oil sands extraction operation begins in Canada in what was called The Great Canadian Oil Sands plant (Canadian Center for Energy, 2004). 1978 When Atlantic Richfield-ARC pulled out of the consortium, both federal and provincial governments stepped in to complete the Syncrude consortium again in 1978. The first barrel of oil was shipped off the Syncrude site in the same year.
ENSC 801 11 ETHICS OF THE ALBERTA OIL SANDS 1980‘s Alberta Energy Company purchased shares from the Syncrude project. Production continued throughout the decade with the Alberta government announcing a tax-free production mechanism in 1985. 1990‘s Production continues. In 1994, the National Oil Sands Task Force was created. CONRAD (Canadian oil sands network for R&D) agreed to work for enhancing oil-sands production while trimming costs. In 1996, a package of royalty and tax terms were suggested by the Task Force to ensure equal treatment of all production projects (Humphries, 2008). 2008 Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Canada to be a ―clean energy superpower‖, and shifted the focus to majority production from the oil-sands in Alberta, calling the oil sands an important ―alternative‖ resource because of rapidly diminishing oil resources (Nikiforuk, 2010). 2010 Ezra Levant published Ethical Oil
Figure 1: Current Canadian Petroleum/Oil Regions (Bott, 2004)
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Section 1.0: INTRODUCTION
The development of Alberta‘s oil-sands has traditionally been considered an economic panacea; acting as a funding source for education and skills development, infrastructure and government services, and job creation. This characterization of oil sands development has led fiscal planners to overlook the significant hidden costs associated with such activities. In order to evaluate the ethical value of the oil sands in economic terms, it is useful to consider the concept of a Social Welfare Function (SWF). A SWF is a formula which attempts to capture the net benefit of an activity by considering all positive and negative factors associated with that activity in monetized terms. While this approach is limited by the difficulties in quantifying some qualitative factors, it is none the less a useful evaluative tool. This section attempts to identify potential factors to be included in an SWF related specifically to oil sands development. While an explicit value for the SWF is not calculated, potential ethics related variables are weighed and discussed.
1.0.1 MANAGING RESOURCE REVENUES – SAVING FOR THE FUTURE
In considering the ethical value of Alberta‘s oil-sands, it is important to evaluate the fiscal sustainability of non-renewable resource revenues. Fiscal sustainability entails providing equal consideration to future generations of Albertans. While future generations are equally entitled to the resource wealth of present day Alberta, the exhaustible nature of the oil sands ensures that they will not have access to this particular resource even under modest rates of extraction. It is therefore necessary to ensure that some form of intergenerational equity is preserved. This may be practically achievable by converting the resource revenues into an alternative asset base that will allow future generations to benefit from Alberta‘s present day resource wealth.
Currently, revenues derived from oil-sands royalty and tax streams represent a substantial portion of the Alberta provincial budget. For the fiscal year 2009-2010,
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bitumen derived royalties represented approximately 10% of provincial revenue with total non-renewable resource royalties representing 19% of the provincial budget (Government of Alberta, 2011c). By 2014, the portion of bitumen derived royalties is expected to grow to 17% of provincial revenue (Government of Alberta, 2011c). Successive Alberta provincial governments have used non-renewable resource revenues to reduce the per capita tax burden of Alberta residents while simultaneously increasing government expenditures. The magnitude of non-renewable resource revenues has allowed Alberta to maintain the lowest provincial sales tax in Canada and the lowest debt-to-GDP ratio. There is however substantial risk in relying on volatile revenues from an exhaustible resource base.
The recession of 2008 served as an example of the disruptive effects which can result from over reliance on volatile natural resources revenues. At the depth of the recession in 2009, many oil sands projects were delayed or halted as a result of lower global oil prices. From July 2008 - 2009, oil sands related projects accounted for 85% of deferred or cancelled non-OPEC production capacity (International Energy Agency, 2009).
In order to achieve fiscal sustainability in the long term, it is necessary to invest a portion of non-renewable resource revenues while limiting government spending to a level which can be maintained indefinitely. Currently the relative proportions of provincial spending and saving are governed by the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2009. The guidelines laid out in the Act have been criticized as insufficient and ultimately unsustainable (Shiell & Busby, 2008). Prior to the Act, the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund was established in 1976 as a long-term savings fund for natural resource revenues. To date, the fund has accrued $4900 per Albertan, whereas the equivalent Norway state resource fund has accrued $78 000 per Norwegian and was established as recently as 1991 (Norway Ministry of Finance, 2010). In order to identify the optimal levels of savings and spending, it is necessary to turn to the Permanent Resource Income Model (PRIM). Using this model economists Leslie Shiell and Colin Busby have estimated that the savings rate must be increased to 139% of current resource
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revenues (Shiell & Busby, 2008). In practical terms this will require a renewed emphasis on long-term savings by the management of the Heritage Savings Trust Fund. As a larger portion of revenues are diverted to the Fund, expenditures by the Fund will necessarily decrease. To balance the decrease in Fund payouts, additional nonresource revenue streams will have to be introduced for the near-term. These nonresource revenue streams will have to remain in place until such time that the Fund has accrued a principal large enough to allow interest payments to replace the near-term non-resource tax streams.
Section 1.1: ROYALTIES
Alberta‘s royalty framework has undergone much criticism, since its inception in 1997. This section will provide an overview of the current royalty structure, followed by a description of an ideal royalty structure which recommendations will be extracted.
1.1.1 ROYALTIES MANAGEMENT
As of 2007, The Government of Alberta owned 81% of all mineral rights, which includes resources such as coal, oil, natural gas, and the oil sands. The federal government held claim to 10.6%, which was divided into a trust fund on behalf of Canada‘s First Nations, and the remaining portion distributed towards National Parks. The remaining 8.4% are classified as ―freehold rights‖, which are defined as being owned privately by individuals and corporations (Alberta Royalty Review, 2007). The current royalty framework for Alberta‘s oil sands was implemented in 1997 with the intent of promoting external investment and development of the resource. Due to the relative immaturity of the technology used to extract bitumen and the comparatively higher operating costs associated with the process (the cost of producing a barrel of oil from the oil sands was more than half the cost of producing a barrel of oil at global market value in 1997), the pool of potential operators and investors was
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limited, and thus the government had to implement a generous royalty system designed to attract potential developers (Government of Alberta , 2011b).
As a response to public critique of the 1997 royalties program, the Mines and Minerals (New Royalty Framework) Amendment Act, 2008 was passed in order to promote accountability and transparency, as well as to provide a foundation for the implementation of new royalty rates. The amended regulations are a result of consultation with stakeholders and the public, having been initiated by the royalty review process in 2007. On December 10th, 2008, the Oil Sands Royalty Regulation of 2009 was approved by cabinet, to take effect on January 1st, 2009. This new regulation provided clarification for components of applications and approvals procedure for oil sands royalty projects. Also, it was meant to reinforce administrative accountability and responsibility, which included stricter reporting requirements and increased penalties (Government of Alberta , 2011b).
The amendments to the Oil Sands Royalty Regulation of 1997 are minimal, as most of the policies and practices from the original guidelines remain intact, but the most notable change was the price-sensitive royalty rates. Although the original prepayout and post-payout rates are exactly the same, they increase or decrease depending on the price of oil per barrel. These new royalty rates are connected to the price of West Texas Intermediate crude oil (in CAD dollars). In pre-payout projects (referring to projects in which their revenues have not yet exceeded allowable costs), gross royalty rates start at 1% , when the price of oil per barrel is $55 or less. These royalty rates increase when the price of oil per barrel is $120 or more. The royalty rates for post-payout projects (referring to projects whose revenue has exceeded allowable costs), net royalties start at 25% when the price of oil per barrel is $55 or less, and can increase to a maximum of 40% when oil is priced at $120 or more (Government of Alberta , 2011b).
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1.1.2 OPTIMAL ROYALTY STRUCTURES – HAVE WE GOT IT RIGHT?
The competition of interests between profit-maximizing firms on one hand, and governments on the other, creates inherent difficulties in implementing a royalty scheme. Firms have an incentive to under-report production and over-report operating costs in order to minimize royalty payments. Due to information asymmetries, governments often do not have the ability to verify costs and production figures reported by companies and as a result, the net benefit of oil extraction to society is reduced. This dynamic is discussed in detail by Gaudet, Lasserre, & Long (1995). In order to ensure that the societal benefit is maximized, the government faces two options. First, the government can seek to ensure transparency and accuracy in reported figures by requiring independent third party verification. Second, the government can engage directly in extractive activities by expropriating existing industry or by taking a majority share position in existing companies allowing the government operating interest. The first option offers the path of least resistance. By legislating strict reporting standards in which independent third party verification is required, the government can effectively ensure that royalty streams are maximized.
With respect to setting optimal royalty rates, it is recommended that the government follow a similar approach to that described by Hayne (1978). Hayne‘s approach attempts to find the profit maximizing royalty rate by identifying the equilibrium wherein firms still maintain an incentive to produce.
Section 1.2: EMPLOYMENT
Employment creation is often cited as one of the greatest motivators for oil sands development. In 2010, the energy sector represented 30.8% of Alberta‘s GDP and direct employment in the sector provided 7.6% of total provincial employment (Government of Alberta, 2011f). Indirect employment from the energy sector is
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estimated to be as high as 16% of total provincial employment (Government of Alberta, 2011f). While the benefits of employment creation are not disputed, both the quality of the jobs created and the disruptive and potentially negative effects of industry-specific job creation must be considered.
1.2.1 CREATING NEW JOBS AT THE EXPENSE OF OTHERS?
Many of the concerns relating to labor dynamics are effectively summarized by a phenomenon referred to as the ‗Dutch Disease‘ (Sachs & Warner, 1995). This macroeconomic affect is commonly associated with the introduction of a large natural resource sector. As capital and labor are drawn away from the traditional manufacturing sector, a shift in the composition of employment results. The simultaneous appreciation in the real exchange rate led by the increase in tradable goods (natural resources) may further harm the competitive position of the manufacturing sector. In the short term this may cause regional unemployment in areas where manufacturing was previously a major employer. This effect may be effectively remedied by appropriate targeted investment by government in skills training and education as well as targeted infrastructure investments (Humphreys, Sachs, & Stiglitz, 2007). In the Canadian context, the expansion of Alberta‘s oil sands has pulled labor and capital away from traditional manufacturing sectors in Eastern Canada. In this instance, a problem arises since the majority of natural resource revenues are collected in Alberta at the provincial level, however the targeted investment spending is required in Eastern Canada. It may be necessary for the federal government to levy a large portion of Alberta‘s natural resource revenues and distribute them through a revamped provincial equalization payments system.
In the long term, the reallocation of capital and labor away from traditional manufacturing sectors may have negative implications for economic growth. Economists such as Torvik and Matsuyama have proposed that certain activities unique to the manufacturing sector promote specialized knowledge accumulation whereas no
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similar accumulation is observed in the natural resource sector (Matsuyama, 1992). This proposition has been subject to significant criticisms (Sachs & Warner, 1995). In agreement with the current academic consensus, it is the opinion of the panel that the long term effects of labor reallocation are not harmful to economic growth.
Section 1.3: RECLAMATION
While current accounting conventions incorporate the direct costs of production, such as natural gas and water consumption, they fail to appropriately capture long term reclamation expenses. In addition, the current reclamation regime lacks transparency, and may be insufficient in terms of covering the potential costs of reclaiming disturbed land.
1.3.1 FAILURES OF THE SECURITY DEPOSIT
Reclamation encompasses a wide array of activities which aim to return an ecosystem to its original, or at least functioning and non-hazardous state. Some of the environmental impacts that will need to be addressed by reclamation processes include primarily the restoration of land, surface and ground water withdrawals, pollution and disturbance of groundwater, toxic leakage from tailings lakes into groundwater, habitat fragmentation and impacts on wildlife.
Currently, many environmental consequences and liabilities are not monetized or considered as financial burdens in cost-analysis reports for oil sands development. Under provincial environmental and national securities law, reclamation costs are required to be internalized and included in a company‘s financial reporting. Alberta also requires that all oil sands developers estimate reclamation costs and submit a security deposit in order to fund reclamation projects, in the case that an operator cannot or refuses to pay for reclamation (Lemphers et al., 2010).
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These security deposits are un-audited financial estimates conducted by industry, and are intended to take into account the total cost of reclamation of disturbed land until the end of the upcoming year. The estimates are confidential and not publicly available, and are only reviewed by Alberta Environment Staff, thus the methodology cannot be validated. Due to the lack in transparency and accountability, many investors do not have sufficient access to data which correctly represents potential reclamation costs which are likely to be incurred, nor does the public know whether the security deposits can adequately cover the potential costs of reclamation (Lemphers & Logan, 2011).
As of 2009, the Environmental Protection Security Fund contained $820 million designated for 68 574 hectares of disturbed land, thus amounting to $11 964 per hectare. The Pembina institute has estimated that the costs of reclamation for this affected land would be $10 billion to $15 billion, amounting to roughly $220 000 to $320 000 per hectare. These figures are also underestimates as they do not include certain environmental liabilities (e.g. costs of reclaiming original seismic lines, test pits and road works, damage to airsheds, pollution and disturbance of groundwater, post reclamation costs and those associated with greenhouse gases). In March 2011, the Government of Alberta amended the reclamation security system to allow for greater transparency and accountability. This effort has in fact resulted in an increased risk to taxpayers. In the case that companies refuse to pay for any shortfalls, Albertan taxpayers will have to do so at a tax charge of $4300 to $6300 per capita (Lemphers et al., 2010).
Alberta‘s security fund is at present insufficient to cover true reclamations costs. Present rates of saving for reclamation have been based on highly underestimated reclamation costs provided by industry. In order to mitigate this risk Alberta must significantly improve their financial security program as well as improve the
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transparency of information available to investors to aid in more accurate predictions in accounting for environmental liabilities.
This can be done by allowing for a more democratic consultation on future mine liability policy, one which involves the contributions of not only the industry, but also environmental groups, the community as well as members of the academia. It is suggested that a public consultation process take place on the current framework of reclamation security deposits in terms of the calculations, auditing, collecting and management which is involved. Additionally, an independent third-party assessment and verification should be conducted in order to avoid bias, which should be then made publicly accessible so as to allow for peer review. Most pertinent perhaps is that Alberta‘s security program should expand their liability coverage. A thorough explanation would ensure full coverage of all reclamation liabilities as well as to provide a full and accurate account of potential costs for companies and investors. In order to ensure that reclamation happens, a certification process must be put in place which requires standardized evidence provided by each company.
Lastly, it is recommended that the Canadian Securities Administrators, provide more clarification on the requirements for disclosure on the potential long term reclamation liabilities for oil sands operations. Thus, with improved disclosure, investors and developers can make more educated and informed decisions (Lemphers et al., 2010).
Section 1.4: ECONOMIC VALUE OF BITUMEN
In order to assess the absolute value of Bitumen one must account for extraction and refining, all of the costs, both immediate and long term. Currently, there are many factors that have not yet been incorporated into the cost accounting of bitumen production, such as the cost and implications of water usage, reclamation (Section 1.3)
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and environmental costs, judicial and administrative costs associated with land-claims disputes, stakeholder consultation processes, environmental monitoring and reporting, water and soil contamination, and greenhouse gas emissions penalties. While Canada‘s oil sands are hailed to be one of the world‘s most expansive hydrocarbon reserves; and one which is accessible to publicly-traded companies, their development comes at a price and is arguably one of the most expensive sources of oil in the world (CERA, 2008).
1.4.1 NATURAL RESOURCE ACCOUNTING - W EIGHING THE COSTS
Many of the controversies that surround bitumen production in Alberta‘s oil sands, centre around the wasteful usage of natural resources such as natural gas and water, as well as the gradual degradation of the boreal forest. This section will give a brief summary of the past and current usage of some of these resources for the purpose of bitumen production.
Cost of Water
The extraction and processing of bitumen is one of the most water intensive when compared to other industrial processes. Bitumen obtained through mining operations can require 2-4.5 m3 of fresh water for the production 1m3 of synthetic crude oil (upgraded bitumen), while in situ recovery requires approximately 0.5m3 for every 1m3 of synthetic crude oil (National Energy Board, 2011).
The actual volume of water being used or having been used to date has not yet been determined, as currently there is no readily accessible, comprehensive summary of current use of water by the oil sands industry (other than CEMA‘s 2005 report, which has largely been discredited). Considering that approved oil sands mining companies are permitted to withdraw 359 million m3/year from the Athabasca river (Griffiths et al.,
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2006), and that the industry is extracting almost 3 million barrels of water from the Athabasca daily (Nikiforuk, 2010), the demand of water by bitumen production is significant. Typically, for industrial processes, water comes at a cost of approximately $1.01 per m3, but developers in the tar sands are exempt from being charged for water (Dupont & Renzetti, 2008).
Cost of Natural Gas
In addition to significant water usage, many other resources are heavily demanded for bitumen production and processing. Natural gas is one of these, as the requirements for the oil sands industry are predicted to increase considerably; from 21 million m3 per day in 2003 to approximately 60 million m3 per day in 2015 . In order to produce one barrel of bitumen from in situ projects, it takes approximately of 34m3 natural gas and approximately 20m3 for integrated projects (National Energy Board, 2011). Another estimate by the Upsala Hydrocarbon depletion study groups suggests that this it takes closer to 40m3 of natural gas in order to make and upgrade one barrel of bitumen.
Cost of the Boreal Forest & Wildlife
The oil sands lie beneath the boreal forest, and thus in order to develop the resource, the boreal forest is inevitably affected. Approximately 18% of oil sands production being conducted in open pit mines, some as large as three miles wide and 300 feet deep, while the majority of the bitumen deposits are deeper and must be extracted by in situ methods such as steam injection. Both of these processes cause habitat loss and fragmentation in the boreal forest. Estimates have shown that approximately 300 000 hectares of the oil sands will be strip mined in order to access bitumen deposits during the next 30-50 years. Currently, existing mines cover roughly 65 000 hectares (Lee et al., 2006). In order to prepare a site, all lakes, ponds and wetlands must be drained, all forest must be clear cut and all vegetation removed.
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A report from Sustainable Prosperity, a national research and policy network established at the University of Ottawa, estimated that Canada‘s boreal forest provides region $191 billion/year (Kenny et al., 2011) in ecosystems, apparently 14 times greater than the value of all oil, minerals, and timber extractions conducted there each year, while other reports by the Pembina Institute estimate its total non-market value of boreal ecosystem services to be worth $703.2 billion dollars (Anielski & Wilson, 2009). There has not been any work yet to prove that reclamation of any oil sands mined areas can be restored to their prior conditions (Ecological Stratification Working Group, 1995), and thus the monetary value of the lost boreal forest (including the loss in ecosystem services etc.) must be assessed in order to determine the true economic value that has been accrued or lost through tar sands mining. Cost of Carbon Dioxide
Due to the highly energy intensive process of bitumen extraction and processing, its greenhouse gas emissions are substantial. Canada‘s synthetic crude oil, via SAGD methods, emits approximately 167 GHG kg CO2 eq per barrel of crude oil and is considered the worst greenhouse gas emitter of all crude oil or synthetic crude oil sources. Many oil sands projects are emitting almost one million tons of carbon dioxide a year, while a bitumen upgrader which is powered by natural gas, emits 1.3 megatons of carbon dioxide per year. In 2004, the oil sands accounted for 3% of Canada‘s emissions, and by 2020 is projected to account for more than 16%. If the production of the oil sands reaches its projected 3.4 million barrels a day in 2020, the greenhouse gas emissions are estimated to range between 127 and 140 megatons (Nikiforuk, 2010).
In addition to the direct emissions from the oil sands, there are also indirect emissions. Canada‘s boreal forest holds 186 billion tons of carbon, and the Mackenzie river basin protects approximately 28% of that. Additionally, it is estimated that the region‘s wetlands, marshes and trees store an estimated $252 billion worth of carbon dioxide (Anielski, 2009). It must also be considered that the carbon release due to oil sands development may be worse than is reported.
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It is important to recognize that carbon emissions have the potential to become a huge liability to oil sands production. Companies are already incorporating the higher expected carbon costs into future spending plans. For example, Nexen Inc. is already expecting climate regulations that are increasing carbon emissions costs in Alberta and British Colubmia. By 2020, Nexen Inc. expects the average price for carbon - or the cost of climate change regulation compliance – to rise to from $15 per tonne to more than $40. Nexen is currently the only company who has implemented carbon accounting into the economics of their oil sands projects, but it should soon become industry standard (McCarthy, 2010).
In order to understand the true value of the oil sands, it is essential to incorporate the potential costs that may be incurred which can include those associated with reclamation, carbon dioxide, land claim disputes etc. Other value that is not yet incorporated into the cost accounting for the oil sands is that of the ecosystem services of the boreal forest beneath which most of the bitumen deposits lie, as well as the value of water that is needed to extract bitumen.
To incorporate all of these factors, there are some economic tools which may be used. One example is called the Total Economic Value model (TEV). This model applies monetary value to environmental assets, which is very useful for making comparisons involving unpriced goods or services. The total economic value is more holistic compared to previous ones, attempting to surpass the more traditional appraisal of environmental goods which used to be exclusively based on the use value of goods, solely considering the direct benefits enjoyed by their final customers (Turner & Pearce, 1996). Total economic value includes the ‗use value‘ derived from the direct use of
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environmental goods, such as the cost of lumber, as well as non-use value refer to the intrinsic benefits on an environmental good, derived from its mere existence. Use value can include direct values, which include any outputs that can be consumed directly, such as timber, medicine, food, recreation etc. It can also include indirect values, such as ecological services like water shed protection, flood control, storm protection, carbon sequestration etc. Lastly, use value may include option values, which is the premium placed on maintaining resources and landscapes for future possible direct and indirect uses, not all of which are known. Non-use value is unassociated with the actual use of an environmental good, but is instead taken to be entities that reflect an individual‘s personal preferences, while also including the concern, sympathy, appreciation and respect that an individual may have for the welfare of such environmental goods. Nonuse values are essentially the intrinsic value of resources and landscapes, including the value s associated with culture, aesthetics, and bequest significance etc. (Mendelsohn & Olmstead, 2009).
Although there are limitations with such a model, the concept of valuating environmental goods, beyond their direct use, may aid in creating a more holistic idea of the worth of any environment or region in their pristine condition. Such examples are the boreal forest which overlies the bitumen projects, or the water from the Athabasca River. The total economic model as described by Mendelsohn and Olmstead (2009) can thus be used as a guide to valuating the resource use of the oil sands operations.
Section 1.5: RECOMMENDATIONS
1. Regarding resource revenue management: Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2009 should be amended to require a 139% increase over the present savings rate to ensure long term fiscal sustainability 2. Regarding resource royalty structure:
ENSC 801 27 ETHICS OF THE ALBERTA OIL SANDS A group of qualified persons should be convened to create a revised royalty structure following the model by Hayne (1978) 3. Regarding employment dynamics: Federal equalization payment system should be examined to consider the possibility of redistributing a greater share of oil sands revenues o Redistributed revenues should be used for targeted investments in Eastern Canada in the area of skills training, education, and specific infrastructure 4. Regarding total ‗actual cost‘ accounting: A Total Economic Value model should be used to assess the costs of the resources being used for the oil sands development. 5. Regarding reclamation Alberta‘s current security program for reclamation should be re-evaluated for its efficacy and amendments should be made to ensure its transparency and validity in methodology. The assessments should be conducted by a third party to avoid bias, and all methodology should be made publicly available.
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Section 2.1: EMISSIONS, AIR & WATER QUALITY
This section will focus on the emissions, air quality and water quality of the Alberta oil sands environments. The emissions from the oil companies as well as the air and water quality are important aspects to examine when deciding whether or not Albertan oil is ethical. This is the focus of this section. It will compare the emissions from the oil sands to other conventional oil emissions.
2.1.1 EMISSIONS FROM OIL SANDS
Emissions from Alberta oil sands as a result of production activities have become a major concern internationally, as to whether these emissions will have negative health effects. To date, no scientifically verified papers have been written to prove that there are cumulative impacts from Alberta oil sands due to emissions. Most documentation in relation to oil sands emissions come from four sources, all of which can be considered ―grey literature‖, meaning literature which has not been officially published in, for example, a scientific journal. These four sources are: discipline specific reports, industrial monitoring reports, results commissioned by non-governmental industries, and discipline-specific reports by industrially-controlled consortia (Timoney & Lee, 2009). As these are not published and reviewed channels of information, to say that there are major or specific impacts caused by oil sands emissions would be incorrect, as there is no specific document to prove that fact in scientific terms (Timoney, 2008). However, researchers are trying to prove that the rise of health issues seen in certain regions of the oil sands have a connection to oil sands activities.
Pollution as a result of emissions from oil sands activities can be derived from the following sources: permitted (licensed) discharges to air and land, seepage from tailings ponds, evaporation from tailings ponds, leaks from pipelines, major spills of bitumen, oil, and waste-water stack emissions, windblown coke dust, dry tailings, and oil sands dust, out-gassing from mine faces, and ancillary activities such as transportation, construction
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of mines, ponds, roads, pipelines, and facilities, and landscape dewatering. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are also evident in the Alberta oil fields and suggest that the oil sands are having an impact environmentally. For example, large volumes of GHG are emitted during the conversion of peatlands and uplands to a mined landscape. In 2007, 40 million tonnes of carbon dioxide were estimated to be emitted from the Alberta oil sands operation (Environmental Defence, 2008). Methane gas which is produced as a result of microbial activities in the tailings ponds also cause the rise of GHG, 60-80% of gas flux across Mildred Lake Settling Basin (MLSB) is caused by methane, making the pond a production equivalent to 0.5 million cattle/day of methane (Holowenko et al., 2000).
Adam R. Brandt (2011) conducted research for the European Union and found that bitumen contains a larger fraction of asphaltenes in comparison to conventional crude oils. This study listed the emission types into groups. First, non- combustion processes emissions which were classified into emissions from venting, flaring, and fugitive (VFF) and also the biogenic emissions from change in land use connected with operations of extraction. Secondly, the study covered the change of land use emissions; which is caused by soil and peat lands disturbances, and land clearing resulting in oxidation and biomass disturbances (their emission rates are not as high as the VFF emission rates). The study then compared current European Union refinery input streams of GHG to Oil Sands emissions (ERCB, 2010) and gave the reports shown on tables 6 and 7 of his publication. These show that even though there was an overlap between the most GHG intensive crude-oil (e.g. Nigeria ) and the least GHG intensive oil sand production (e.g. mines and retort using natural gas), there was also a huge difference between an average European Union conventional fuel stream and an average oil sands fuel (Brant, 2011).
Looking at these observations it can be concluded that the Alberta oil sands have significantly higher emissions, and further research is needed to know the exact effects these emissions have and will have, especially cumulatively, in the environment.
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2.1.2 AIR QUALITY
Air quality of the Alberta area can either be contaminated by direct deposition of air contaminants or from far distances depending on the source of the contaminant. For example, southerly winds in 2006 carried masses of air pollution from the tar sands facilities to at least 200 km north. This air pollution was tracked to a source in the industrial tar sands area north of Ft. McMurray by Environment Canada using Air trajectory analyses (Environment Canada, 2006).
According to Timoney and Lee (2009), six air contaminants were observed: PM (particulate matter) 2.5, PM10, total particulates, sulphur dioxide, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as benzene, xylene, ammonia, and formaldehyde, as well as hydrogen sulphide. The Timoney and Lee study clearly indicate that tar sands facilities are major air polluters. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), the primary source of which is desertion from tailings ponds, were found to be emitted by the oil sands facilities to the north of Ft. McMurray. These VOC emissions make the oil sands industries one of Canada's top four polluters. In 2006, all of these six air contaminants were used in ranking the Syncrude Mildred Lake plant (one of the oil companies in the Alberta region) as one of the top six pollutanters in the country, as the company was said to have been found emitting all six contaminants and at high levels.
Addison and Puckett (1980) discovered that three lichen species (symbiotic association between fungi and algae or cyanobacteria) which were observed at 69 sites in the Athabasca tar sands had some concentration of air pollutants such as aluminium, potassium, sulphur, titanium, vanadium, nickel, iron and chromium in their tissues.
The air quality in the Alberta region has not been scientifically determined to be a health risk to the Alberta population or ecosystem. However, as there is evidence that shows that the oil sands are emitting high volumes of known toxic pollutants into the atmosphere, it is recommended that more research be done on how these substances
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are entering the ecosystem and what effects they are having. It is also recommended that research be conducted to find a way to reduce the volume of emissions being created from oil sands operations.
2.1.3 W ATER QUALITY
The aboriginal elders who have lived in the Ft. Chipewyan region of Alberta have, for many years, said that there has been a noticeable change in the water system since the commencement of the oil sands operations on the large scale. They say that water from the river now ―tastes differently‖ from the way it used to taste; having a salty, oily, and soured flavour. As well, they say that when the water is boiled, there is usually a brown substance left at the bottom of the pot. (Timoney, 2008)
While the above observation may be too qualitative to be considered scientific proof, there is evidence that the change in water taste has concrete causes. The presence of Arsenic has been found in the water of the Athabasca River, for example. Arsenic is a known carcinogen that has been connected to skin, bile duct, urinary tract, and liver cancers in humans, as well as type II diabetes and vascular diseases (Merck, 2008; Guo, 2003).
The arsenic mean concentration of the lower Athabasca river was found to be 1.5ug/L which was above the detection limit (Timoney, 2008). The former median of the major water bodies in the Alberta region was ~ 0.6ug/L, but in 2007 this number was far exceeded in these areas (RAMP, 2001). The provisional guideline for freshwater for protection of aquatic life is 5.9 mg/kg arsenic (CCME, 2002).
The mean pH of the lower Muskeg River changed from 7.8 to 7.3 between 1997 and 2001 (Alberta Environment, 2001). In the Alsands Ditch (constructed in 1980 to help dewater overburden and draw down ground water before the beginning of oil sands mining), the guidelines for zinc, mercury, chromium, aluminum, iron, manganese and
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total phenolic compounds were surpassed (Axys, 2005). The Alsands Ditch was also found to contain high amounts of sulphate, barium, copper, strontium, total dissolved solids total cations and turbidity (Alberta Environment, 2001).
The Athabasca River is also at risk from flows of toxic waste from the oil sands. Studies have shown that there has been an increase in concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) in sediments downstream of industry which correlates with measures of industrial activity such as production of bitumen and other related oil sands activities. In the Fall of 2009, mean PAH concentration in the Athabasca River was 1.72mg/kg. Over the past few decades this concentration has increased at a rate of 0.05 mg/kg per year. Reports indicate that the current concentration of total PAH in the lower Athabasca river exceeds 2 to 3 times the limit which has been observed to cause cancer in fish (Erin N.K.et al., 2009, ; Timoney & Lee, 2011). This is a threat to the quality of water in the Alberta environment.
Section 2.2: HUMAN TOXICOLOGY AND HEALTH
Extraction and development of the Athabasca oil sands has resulted in human exposure to numerous hazardous chemicals. As mentioned in the previous section, these chemicals include sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, benzene, heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and naphthenic acid.
This section will outline the impacts of the Alberta oil sands emissions on human health from both epidemiological and toxicological perspectives. This will include local populations in communities neighbouring the oil sands as well as oil sands occupational workers.
A clear understanding of exactly how the oil sands affect human health is critical when addressing the ethics of the oil sands.
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2.2.1 LOCAL HEALTH DOWNSTREAM FROM OIL SANDS
There is very little research available regarding the health impacts of the oil sands on local Albertan towns. Fort Chipewyan is located 250 km downstream of the oil sands and many residents have complained about the high number of health problems in this region. In 2006, Dr. John O‘Connor, a family physician in Fort Chipewyan, was the first medical professional to speak out about the high number of cancer cases in the region (Schuchman, 2008). Health Canada accused the doctor of causing ―undue alarm‖ because he had misdiagnosed four of the cases. In 2007, the Canadian Medical Association passed a resolution protecting medical ―whistleblowers‖ when advocating for their communities (Schuchman, 2008). Spurred by Dr. O‘Connor‘s claims, the Alberta Cancer Board conducted an epidemiological study of cancer incidence in Fort Chipewyan over the twelve year period of 1995-2006 (Chen, 2009). The authors compared true cancer incidences in Fort Chipewyan to expected cases. They took into account population size and other factors that affect susceptibility to cancer, including age, sex, and ethnicity. The 2009 review differed from the 2006 evaluation in how they took into account the First Nation status of many of the afflicted individuals. First Nations Albertans have a lower incidence rate of all cancer (Chen, 2009). In summary, Chen found that overall there was a significantly higher rate of cancers (51 cases with an expected number of 39). They compared Fort Chipewyan to other Albertan communities in similar locations to derive their numbers. One of the cities they used in their analysis was Fort McMurray. Many of the oil sands workers commute to Fort McMurray, and it is possible that this town does not have proper baseline cancer rates to compare to because of the high exposure to toxins that workers may endure. Therefore, it is recommended that another epidemiological study should be conducted where cancer rates are compared to towns further away, in a region where the oil sands do not have a known or suspected impact. Another limitation the Alberta Cancer Board‘s study is that the researchers did
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not try to identify the cause of the elevated cancer incidence in this community. Future studies should also look into family and lifestyle history when making their analyses. Taking all variables into account is essential when conducting an epidemiological study, so as to best determine the exact cause(s) of the elevated cancer rates. Identifying or at least narrowing down the possibilities for the source of the higher incidence of cancer in Fort Chipewyan is a critical step in determining whether or not the continued development of the oil sands is ethical. If the Alberta oil sands operations are causing cancer in citizens, the ethics of continuing operations would be questionable.
While cancer is a serious concern when looking into the health status of a community, there are other illnesses that must be addressed. For example, various communities around the oil sands, especially Fort Chip, have spoken out about the poor air quality and claimed that they have a higher number of asthmatics than non-polluted regions (Henton, 2008). Future epidemiological studies should look into this phenomenon to determine if cases of respiratory disease are elevated and if the oil sands emissions are truly the cause.
There is still a lot of epidemiological research to be pursued in the communities neighbouring the oil sands to identify and compare illness rates to towns that are not close to the oil sands. Once these rates and causes for disease have been determined, a true evaluation of the health impacts of the oil sands can be established.
2.2.2 OCCUPATIONAL HAZARDS
Albertans who work at the oil sands come into contact with hazardous chemicals on a daily basis, and there has not been significant research done on this topic. Most studies delve into the immediate toxic effects of high levels of exposure, but few look into the chronic health effects of low-level exposure. There needs to be epidemiological studies looking into the long-term effects of working at the oil sands, compared to a control population where there are normal pollutant levels (i.e. Edmonton or another
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Albertan city). A comprehensive understanding of the health of oil sands workers is essential when determining if oil sands development is ethical.
There have not been any studies of the health of oil sands workers. However, there have been studies on the individual pollutants that are also released from other sources. The information gleaned from these toxicological studies can be related to the oil sands quandary and are discussed further in the following section.
Specific levels of oil sands emissions must be measured as a first step in determining whether or not workers are at risk. Occupational Exposure Limits (OELs) are the maximum exposure concentration and are provincially regulated in Canada (International Labour Organization , 2009). These OELs are political numbers that are derived from scientific studies on the toxins in question. However, as more information is revealed about the adverse health effects of different chemicals, the OELs change. For example, the OEL for benzene has dropped drastically over the last 25 years as more information about its carcinogenicity has been discovered (Capleton et al., 2005). There are no resources available online (in other words, publicly accessible) demonstrating the exact emission levels of the oil sands. Without these measurements, it is not possible to determine if the OELs are being followed. Determining whether or not the oil sands are following Chemical Hazards Regulations is critical when deciding if the oil sands development is ethical.
Guidotti (1995) conducted a study of trends of occupational injuries in Alberta. He looked at lost-time claims in the years 1987-1988 to derive his numbers and he compared types of injuries with occupation type. Oil, gas, and mines were grouped together, and this category had a lower percent injury number (3.8%) than public administration, manufacturing, trade, transportation and utilities, and construction.
Guidotti went more in depth into the oil, gas, and mines category and found that injuries specific to oil sands workers constituted 0.9-1.4% of injuries in this category. The author states that rates appear favourable because of skewed results due to the
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high number of low risk jobs in the oil, gas, and mining industry. Guidotti suggests that statistics for the high-risk subsections need to be addressed. There are no later studies available on this subject. A more recent analysis of workplace injuries in the oil sands industry needs to be conducted.
2.2.3 TOXICOLOGICAL RESEARCH OF OIL SANDS DEVELOPMENT
Little research has been conducted on the direct effects of oil sands emissions on human health. However, there have been individual toxicological studies of the chemicals that are released in bitumen extraction and processing. These chemicals, including sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, benzene, naphthenic acids, and heavy metals have been identified as having adverse effects on human health (Timoney, 2008).
Bunger et al. (1978) conducted a study of the constituents of bitumen. They found benzene to be 14.8% of the total weight of bitumen samples collected from the Athabasca oil sands. Chronic exposure to this chemical is believed to induce leukemia (Verma et al., 2010). Verma analyzed exposure times for benzene using full-shift samples, which calculates the exposure for an 8 hour working shift. They determined that only 0.7% of full-shift samples were greater than the occupational exposure limit of 3.2 mg/m3. They did not fully explain how they acquired this data, and further research into bitumen pollution must be conducted to further understand benzene exposure to workers and local citizens.
The oil sands pollute through the emission of CO2 into the air. Wayne et al. (2002) found that doubling the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere increases ragweed pollen 61%. This is a major issue for individuals with allergies and other respiratory disorders.
Other pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide (SO2), are lung irritants. There have not
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been any studies directly relating SO2 emissions from the oil sands to human respiratory disorders. However, SO2 is a major pollutant in many industrial areas, and this chemical compound has been researched extensively. Horstman et al. (1989) found that controlled exposure to SO2 induced bronchoconstriction in both asthmatic and healthy individuals. Asthmatic subjects have adverse effects in under 0.25 ppm (‗parts per million‘ concentration measure), whereas individuals with healthy lungs develop symptoms at 5 ppm. While these are higher concentrations than are likely to be seen in the air around the oil sands, this information helps to identify the toxicity of the compounds in question. Individuals working in and living near the oil sands are more likely to be exposed to these chemicals at lower concentrations for a longer period of time, and the bioaccumulation of such chemicals in human subjects has not yet been measured in a clinical study.
Other sulfur compounds such as hydrogen sulfide (H2S) are also emitted from various industrial processes, including bitumen extraction. In high concentrations, hydrogen sulfide inhibits important chemical processes that occur in the human body (Li et al., 2007). Among other adverse effects, this toxin has been found to inhibit mitochondrial cellular respiration. Research on the effects of H2S in the human body is still new, and there is a lot of information needed to identify the full extent of its toxic effects.
High exposure to nitrogen compounds such as nitrite (NO 2) and nitrate (NO3) also exacerbates respiratory disorders. Nitrate concentrations above 100 mg/L in drinking water may harm human health and have links to cancer (McCasland, 1985). NO2 binds to hemoglobin in human blood cells and causes oxygen transport deficit (McCasland, 1985). Newborns and fetuses are especially susceptible to nitrite.
Mercury and arsenic are tailings ponds heavy metals that seep into the Athabasca River. Relatively low concentrations of these heavy metals lead to neurological disorders in humans (Kampa et al., 2008). Symptoms range from memory loss, tremors, tiredness, blurred vision, and slurred speech. With mercury poisoning,
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the greatest risk is to fetuses which may suffer severe neurological damage from even very low concentrations. More research on the concentration of heavy metals leaching from the tailings ponds should be done.
Naphthenic acids are another waste product found in tailings ponds. There are hundreds of different types of naphthenic acids, and the varying levels of toxicity are unknown. Currently the toxicity of naphthenic acids is determined on the whole, using the mixture of different subtypes rather than the individual constituents (Rogers et al., 2002). There has not yet been any research on the toxic effects of these compounds on humans. However, adverse health effects have been observed in non-human mammals. In a study conducted by Rogers et al. (2002), he found that levels of naphthenic acid in the Athabasca River were not toxic to mammals. A more recent analysis with multiple test sites would be beneficial when monitoring pollution impacts on human health.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are also emitted by the Athabasca oil sands (Kelly et al. 2009). A number of PAHs are carcinogenic, and result from incomplete combustion of organic material. Throughout history, occupational exposure to PAHs has been a serious issue (for example, many chimney sweeps and workers in coal-fired plants developed cancer). PAHs are metabolically activated in cells and bind to DNA, causing mutations which initiate cancer (Phillips, 1999). Atmospheric deposition of PAHs results in plants and aquatic species taking up these chemicals and passing them up the food chain to humans. A clear understanding of PAH exposure mechanisms and toxicity is essential in the ethical oil sands dilemma.
Section 2.3: TERRESTRIAL ECOSYSTEM HEALTH
Assessing the environmental impacts caused by oil sands activities is a crucial step in determining whether to proceed with further development of the oil sands.
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Terrestrial ecosystem health is a critical component in the maintenance of a healthy environment that leads to human benefits through the production of safe and nutritious crops and other subsistence resources.
This section outlines the various impacts of oil sands activities on terrestrial ecosystem health from a wildlife, vegetation and human perspective. It attempts to address the availability of toxic compounds, their impacts on terrestrial species as well as the direct impacts of oil sands activities on these species. Finally, the implications of these impacts in relation to human activities and livelihood is discussed. Recommendations for how such complex interactions and considerations can and should be included in the assessment of whether continued oil sands development is indeed ethical are also included.
2.3.1 TOXIC COMPOUNDS AND THEIR AVAILABILITY TO TERRESTRIAL SPECIES
Assessing the environmental impacts caused by oil sands activities is a crucial step in determining whether to proceed with further development of the oil sands. Terrestrial ecosystem health is a critical component in the maintenance of a healthy environment that leads to human benefits through the production of safe and nutritious crops and other subsistence resources. In order to assess the potential impacts of the oil sands on terrestrial ecosystem health, it is important to gain an understanding of the availability of toxic compounds released from oil sands developments. Presently Environment Canada requires oil sands facilities to report on a variety of substances listed in the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI), including zinc, lead, arsenic, ammonia and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (Environment Canada, 2011). Currently there is also a proposal by Environmental Defence to include naphthenic acids to the NPRI on the basis that these acids are a primary source of toxicity in oil sands tailings and are toxic to mammals, among other concerns (Rogers et al., 2002). If this proposal is approved by Environment Canada, which will be determined by the end of the 2011 year, oil sands facilities would additionally have to report on the range of naphthenic
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acids released as a byproduct of oil sands extraction (Environment Canada, 2011). These contaminants are valuable to consider when assessing the impact of toxic compounds in the oil sands region as they are both (a) emitted from oil sands activities and (b) considered pollutants, as defined by the NPRI. To be considered as pollutants by the NPRI compounds must be of health and/or environmental concern and thus assessing these compounds and gaining an understanding of their impacts are important considerations when determining whether development of the oil sands is indeed ethical.
In a study conducted by Kelly et al. (2010), it was found that of the elements considered to be priority pollutants (PPE) under the Environmental Protection Agency‘s (EPA) Clean Water Act, 13 were released by the oil sands industry, with 7 of these exceeding Canada and Alberta‘s guidelines for protection of aquatic life. Though this study focused on the Athabasca River and its watershed, these elements were also found to be released to the air as well as deposited as far as 50 km from oil facilities (Kelly et al., 2010). This has important implications for terrestrial ecosystem health as the deposition and airborne nature of these toxic compounds can lead to direct exposure to terrestrial species. For example, airborne nitrogen pollutants have been known to have direct effects on crop species and forest trees and the deposition of nitrogen can cause changes in forest ground vegetation structure (Bobbink, et al., 1998). This deposition of contaminants can also cause exposure to terrestrial wildlife, such as caribou and reindeer, who feed on grasses and lichens. These low growing species directly uptake contaminants from the air and thus expose their herbivorous predators to these pollutants, like mercury, which has been found in elevated levels in the hair of mammals like caribou and reindeer as a result of this exposure (Lokken et al., 2009). Amphibians, another class of terrestrial wildlife, are particularly susceptible to exposure to oil sands contaminants due to their reliance on small, snowmelt-filled ponds for breeding (Environment Canada, 2011). These ponds have been found to contain particularly high levels of contaminants due to aerial deposition of oil sands pollutants that wash into the ponds during spring snowmelt (Kelly et al., 2010).
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It is also important not to discount the link between aquatic contamination and terrestrial ecosystem exposure. Many terrestrial species can become contaminated through aquatic exposure and proceed to cause biomagnification of toxic compounds within terrestrial food webs as a result of predation (Jackson et al., 2008). For example, mercury, one of the contaminants found to be released from oil sands activities in excess of the national and provincial guidelines, has previously been detected in the blood of songbirds at least 137 km downstream of an historic source of mercury in Virginia, USA (Jackson et al., 2008). This means that the mercury remained bioavailable to aquatic life as well as terrestrial wildlife as far away as 137 km downstream from the source. This phenomenon was hypothesized to be due to amplification of aquatic to terrestrial ecosystem transfer of mercury through emergent aquatic insects that were preyed upon by terrestrial species, like the songbirds (Jackson et al., 2008). This research highlights the complexities of ecosystems and the capability for interactions that amplify the availability of contaminants whose original concentrations may have seemed small and insignificant.
2.3.2 THE IMPACTS OF TOXIC COMPOUNDS TO TERRESTRIAL SPECIES
Having an understanding of the implications of these complexities and the resulting impacts to terrestrial species is critically important to assessing whether the oil sands can be considered ethical. Once exposed to contaminants, terrestrial species vary in their responses and the impacts to their health are therefore also varied and must be studied on a case-by-case basis. In one study conducted by Rogers et al. (2002), rodents were tested with naphthenic acids isolated from oil sands tailings in order to determine the potential risks to terrestrial wildlife. It was found that wild mammals with repeated exposure to these contaminants may have adverse health effects, ranging from brain hemorrhage to liver damage (Rogers et al., 2002). Amphibians, previously described as more susceptible to exposure to oil sands contaminants due to their tendency to frequent small, snowmelt-filled ponds for breeding, were found to have higher mortality when exposed to oil sands effluents
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(Hersikorn et al., 2010). On the other hand, other classes of terrestrial wildlife like birds, such as the tree swallow, have been found to experience little adverse health effects when exposed to oil sands contaminants like naphthenic acids, other than an increased production of red blood cells in the liver (Gentes et al., 2007). It is important to note, however, that these studies assessed the effects of short-term exposure to naphthenic acids and other oil sands contaminants. The chronic or reproductive toxicity of these contaminants remains unknown.
In addition to these terrestrial wildlife impacts, terrestrial vegetation can also be affected by pollutants released by oil sands facilities. In a study by Crowe et al. (2002), the physiological impacts of oil sands effluents on the germination and post-germinative growth of seeds of terrestrial plant species was examined. It was found that many plants typical of the North American landscape, such as willow and grass species, experienced inhibited and delayed germination as well as reduced fresh weight of seedlings as a result of oil sands effluents (Crowe et al., 2002). This has important implications for vegetation structure, which can cause changes in the composition and community structure of terrestrial wildlife that rely on this vegetation for subsistence.
The critical load of acid deposition in Alberta soils is also a factor to consider when assessing the terrestrial ecosystem impacts of oil sands development in relation to vegetation structure and composition (Aherne et al., 2008). This is important to consider because the critical load provides an estimate of the maximum exposure to pollutants soil can sustain, above which significant harmful effects to sensitive elements of the environment may occur. For example, high nitrogen deposition can lead to root damage in mature forest stands, leading to reduced nutrient uptake and potential forest decline (Persson et al., 1995). Other impacts include reduced ectomycorrhizal associations of forest trees which can lead to a reduction in biodiversity of forest ecosystems as well as a reduced capacity to mediate the effects of soil acidification (Finlay, 1995). Soil acidification is especially relevant when determining whether continued development of the oil sands is ethical in terms of environmental health because oil sands activities cause significant amounts of acid deposition that may result
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in soils surpassing their critical loads and becoming increasingly acidified.
It is also important to consider that as development of the oil sands continues to increase, so too do the levels of toxic compounds released by their activities. From 2001 to 2008 it was found that emissions of arsenic, lead and mercury, three primary pollutants (PPE), increased ~3-fold in Suncor and Syndrude factories alone (Kelly et al., 2008). The fact that the number of emissions per factory is increasing in addition to the exponential increase in the number of factories themselves is particularly alarming. Without a full understanding of the effects current activities are having on terrestrial ecosystems, it seems highly unethical to proceed with further development and virtually guaranteed amplification of these presently unknown effects.
2.3.3 PHYSICAL IMPACTS TO TERRESTRIAL SPECIES
In addition to the indirect impacts faced as a result of the release of toxic compounds due to oil sands activities, terrestrial species also face direct impacts in the form of immediate landscape and habitat disturbance (Dowdeswell et al., 2010). Habitat disturbance occurs when smaller, isolated patches of habitat are created due to a disturbance, such as a pipeline, road or railway (Dunne & Quinn, 2009). The development of the oil sands has altered the Alberta landscape and caused an increase in the number of residents in the region, resulting in increased habitat disturbance as these residents develop communities and infrastructure. These effects, and others resulting from secondary and tertiary economic development, exceed the spatial boundaries of the bitumen deposits and thus impact a wider geographic area than the oil sands themselves. This development changes the geography of the regional boreal forest, with no guarantee that habitats will ever be recovered to their pre-disturbance states even with mitigation strategies (Environment Canada, 2011).
These disturbances can be in the form of barriers, reducing or preventing individuals from moving between areas of habitat, and can lead to a loss in biodiversity
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and altered ecosystem processes (Dunne & Quinn, 2009). Species that move over great distances to forage and breed are especially sensitive to habitat fragmentation, as well as those with low population density, low reproductive rates and large home-range requirements (Dunne & Quinn, 2009). Where Alberta and the oil sands are concerned, these species include moose, black bear, lynx, coyote, white-tailed deer, gray woolf, coyote and mule deer (Dunne & Quinn, 2009). The oil sands pose a number of direct habitat disturbances to these species, such as the building of pipelines to transport bitumen from the oil sands to refineries across Canada and the United States. These pipelines pose a direct barrier to species attempting to traverse the landscape. One study found that 24% of moose that encountered a pipeline deflected away from it, while 10% moved parallel to it, diverting their planned course of movement (Dunne & Quinn, 2009). Other direct barriers include mine sites, compressor stations and well pads as well as roads to access all of these sites (Environment Canada, 2011). Tailings ponds that house the by-products of oil sands processing are another significant disturbance.
In addition to these direct barriers, oil sands activities also result in the clearing of vegetation and a multitude of indirect effects. These include increases in noise and dust generation from vehicles and machinery, disturbances to hydrological systems that may result in altered water regimes as well as the possibility of increasing numbers of invasive species due to landscape conversion that may create new, viable habitats for such species (Environment Canada, 2011). These invasive species can alter predator/prey interactions and significantly alter ecosystem structure and functioning.
Furthermore, though open pit mines are the source of many immediate environmental concerns, the use of in-situ techniques, like steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) that extracts bitumen while leaving the above landscape in place, have been shown to have potentially larger ecological footprints than surface mining when all is considered (Jordaan et al., 2009). Though it is true that these in-situ techniques disturb less land per unit area, their spatial footprint is much more dispersed and thus causes increased land fragmentation (Jordaan et al., 2009). Furthermore, these techniques require more natural gas and thus further use of land for natural gas
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production. This is especially alarming given that these in-situ techniques are often touted by proponents of oil sands development as ―environmentally-friendly‖ methods of extractions with limited impacts on terrestrial ecosystems. If the continued development of the oil sands is to be considered ―ethical‖, then the true environmental impacts of all stages - from extraction, to transportation and refinement - and at all levels - from direct to indirect and short-term to long-term - must all be considered.
2.3.4 IMPLICATIONS FOR HUMANS
Though the impacts of oil sands development on terrestrial ecosystem health are vast and complex in and of themselves, there are human implications to consider as well. Humans rely on the terrestrial ecosystem for a variety of purposes and thus would be negatively impacted by a decrease in overall terrestrial ecosystem health caused by oil sands activities or exacerbated by their continued development. For example, indigenous hunters in North America rely on caribou as arguably their most important terrestrial subsistence resource (Nuttall et al., 2010). As explained in Section 2.3.1 of this chapter, caribou are susceptible to exposure to mercury and other contaminants released by oil sands activities due to their foraging on lichens and other low-growing vegetation that directly uptake these contaminants. This exposure and consequent bioaccumulation of contaminants can result in increased levels of human exposure through consumption of contaminated caribou, resulting in a host of possible health impacts like the risk of neurodegenerative diseases (Acosta-Saavedra et al., 2011).
Furthermore, the potential toxicity to the caribou themselves can reduce populations and cause shortages in food supplies for these indigenous groups. Reduced populations of caribou would also have an impact on human social activities, such as hunting. The number of permits for hunting caribou, a recreational activity practiced in Alberta (particularly in the boreal forest surrounding the oil sands), is dependent on herd size estimates based on aerial and ground surveys. A reduction in overall caribou population as a result of exposure to oil sands contaminants would
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therefore cause a reduction in the total number of permits for hunting, leading to an equal reduction in hunting activities and/or an increase in illegal hunting. Altered predator/prey interactions due to changes in habitat suitability as a result of habitat disturbance and landscape conversion from oil sands activities can also result in decreased populations of caribou, as well as a number of other species important to human activities.
The contaminated vegetation that this wildlife feeds on is also important in and of itself as many species of vegetation in the region are used as human crops. Indian mustard, for example, was found to uptake and bioaccumulate lead from artificially contaminated soils in a study by Sikka et al. (2010). This study suggested that once soil is contaminated with lead (such as through aerial deposition of oil sands emissions) it remains available for long periods of time, leading to ingestion by humans and grazing animals (Sikka et al., 2010). Lead and other pollutants, like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, are carcinogenic, as explained in section 2.2.3 of this report, and therefore can cause significant detrimental effects in humans. Furthermore, potential changes in vegetation structure due to altered habitats caused by acid deposition and contamination by oil sands pollutants can reduce overall crop yields and negatively impact agriculture and farming in the area. This has important implications for the local economy, the availability of jobs and the reliance on social welfare programs.
Lastly, the health of the terrestrial ecosystem has meaningful cultural and social values as well. As discussed in section 3.3 of this report, the natural environment can be seen as romantic and spiritually uplifting, viewed as pristine and untouched. Though many argue that the oil sands can be reclaimed - artificial wetlands can be created and young tree seedlings can be planted - the fundamental ―untouched‖ component of the wilderness can never be returned after development.
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A proper assessment of whether continued oil sands development can truly be deemed ―ethical‖ must consider all aspects of terrestrial ecosystem health, from the direct and indirect impacts on flora and fauna to the implications of such effects on humans. The complexities of ecosystem interactions, the possibilities for amplification of impacts, and the varying degrees of toxicity over the short and long-term are all exceptionally important components in the search for a holistic perspective on terrestrial ecosystem health in light of development.
In order to continue with development of the oil sands in an ethical manner, proponents of development must ensure the benefits far outweigh the costs. It is important to recognize that these costs are constantly changing in light of persistent and increasing oil sands emissions and thus an effective monitoring system is invaluable to properly assess such costs. This monitoring system must consider the impacts outlined in this section and recognize the diversity of species and thus the diversity of potential harm. Monitoring programs should consider the various classes of flora and fauna, whose ecologies differ substantially, and seek to determine indicator species amongst each class. These indicators should represent various taxa with differential habitat requirements and located at various positions within the food web. Overall this monitoring program should seek to develop a broad sense of the impacts of oil sands development - both through the expulsion of contaminants and physical disturbance on terrestrial biodiversity and ecological integrity within the Athabasca region. Only when such a monitoring program is in place, and only if the impacts are deemed to be outweighed by the benefits, can further development possibly claim to be ethical when considering terrestrial ecosystem health.
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Section 2.4: AQUATIC ECOSYSTEM HEALTH
This section outlines some of the ethical issues associated with aquatic ecosystem health and the continued development of the Alberta oil sands. Ecosystem services, current monitoring measures, contaminant bioavailability, and ecosystem impacts are all discussed.
2.4.1 SOCIAL IMPLICATIONS AND INDUSTRY ATTITUDES/ACTIONS
Protection, monitoring, maintenance, and emergency remediation should be priorities of any responsible company or government involved in industries that might adversely impact aquatic ecosystems. Rivers, streams, and lakes all provide valuable ecological services, such as drinking water, nutrient cycling, habitat for endemic species, and recreation (Folke et al, 2004; Grumbine, 1994). Species health in the Athabasca watershed should be a concern for the Alberta government, however, there appears to be a serious lack of data pertaining to the potential exposure of benthic communities, aquatic plants, and fish to toxic compounds associated with oil sands development (Environment Canada, 2010; Ayles et al., 2004). As long as aquatic ecosystems support healthy biota, it is likely that fishing and hunting practices will be commonplace. Anglers, hunters, and First Nations communities often prefer to consume healthy (safe) fish and game. Similarly, sport-anglers prefer to catch bigger, more abundant game-fish and field naturalists want to observe healthy wildlife and birds.
It is important to question what sort of reaction the oil industries would have if aquatic biota are exposed to toxic compounds and start to exhibit adverse effects. An ethical oil company would respond positively to a problem or crises, whereas an unethical one would be more covert. It is unknown whether or not the oil industry or the Alberta government has an integrated emergency response plan in the event of an accident in the Athabasca River, for example. It is possible, and desired, that each of the oil companies have their own accident management plans and that these plans be
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transparent and accessible. Oil sands development, to be ethical, needs industry and government to be committed to decreasing the concentrations of compounds of concern (COC) in the aquatic environments
Since its inception in 1997, the Regional Aquatic Monitoring Program (RAMP) has consistently reported ―low to negligible‖ and ―moderate‖ shifts in benthic community structure and fish health with regards to toxic compound exposure in the Athabasca River (RAMP, 2010). An industry-based initiative, RAMP is a descriptive studies monitoring program, and it does provide some good information regarding species distribution and specific benthic community health. Fish consumption information for humans has also been identified in terms of mercury (Hg) concentrations in game-fish (RAMP, 2010). However, a shift towards a more effects-driven monitoring program is required to better assess risks to aquatic ecosystem health in the region (Environment Canada, 2010; Ayles et al, 2004). Only a few independent studies contradict or challenge the RAMP reports (Kelly et al, 2010; Kelly et al, 2009; Tetreault et al, 2003).
A good ethical framework for assessing bioavailability and receptor thresholds and ecosystem impacts depends on the cooperation of the oil companies and the Alberta government in providing access to areas of concern (AOC), allowing for stringent, robust toxicological testing, and ensuring the unabated reporting and sharing of findings. Given the extent of development, little attention has been paid to the aquatic ecosystems within the Athabasca watershed. The few independent studies that have been carried out tend to report a far more destructive result from oil sands development than the RAMP reports seem to suggest.
2.4.2 IMPLEMENTING AN EFFECTS-BASED MONITORING PROGRAM
A remedial action plan (RAP), such as the one outlined by the International Joint Commission (IJC, 2003) on the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem, may be an excellent program to adopt in the Athabasca river basin. This plan focuses on AOC and involves
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the use of effects-based monitoring criteria. Some broad context criteria that may be important to monitor for in the Athabasca river basin could be adapted from the IJC plan (Hodson, personal communication), and might include whether or not aquatic ecosystems are: fishable (are healthy populations of fish available for consumption and sport?), swimmable (are the waters safe for swimmers in terms of human health guidelines?), and drinkable (is the water contaminated due to oil sands activities, or is it safe to consume?). The government should adapt policies to better reflect these criteria. For each of these parameters industry scientists, independent researchers, and locals who use the Athabasca river system would be charged with collaborating on and implementing the monitoring program. The success of such a program would depend on this cooperation, as well as sufficient peer review of data reports and public input into the various studies. A critical first step would be to identify potential AOC, as well as adequate reference sites to make relevant comparisons. Following this, proper baseline data would have to be collected in order to differentiate between background concentrations of contaminants and perceived increased concentrations of COC due to oil sands extraction, upgrading, and transport. One of the research gaps the RAP would address is the discrepancy between the existing RAMP reports and independent studies concerning contaminant bioavailability in the Athabasca region.
2.4.3 BIOAVAILABILITY OF TOXIC COMPOUNDS - IS THERE A CONCERN?
The hydrocarbon being mined in the oil sands is bitumen, which contains a number of toxic compounds, as outlined in Section 2.1. Extraction and upgrading of bitumen can produce or release other toxins into the environment and, depending on bio-chemical and physical properties, these COC may become more bioavailable to aquatic biota. The primary COC include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH; Kelly et al, 2009), metals (Puttaswamy & Liber, 2011; Kelly et al, 2010), and naphthenic acids (Young et al, 2008; Nero et al, 2006). Each of these studies have reported on bioavailable concentrations of COC in the Athabasca region. However, according to the RAMP annual reports, aquatic species including benthic invertebrates and fish appear
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to be at low to moderate risk to exposure of COC (RAMP, 2010). This discrepancy between industry and independent research illustrates one of the major gaps in the current bio-monitoring program.
Perhaps the RAMP sampling sites are inadequate, or the sampling methods are not as precise. If COC are found to be present, then fish, as well as aquatic birds and mammals could be exposed, thus the overall health of the aquatic ecosystems may be at risk. Several actions could be undertaken to ensure an adequate assessment of COC bioavailability. These may include temporal sampling of point source discharges and tailings ponds to identify presence and concentrations of potential toxic constituents, measuring water and sediment concentrations of COC, analyzing aquatic plants, phytoplankton, and benthic communities for metals concentrations, and using biomarkers as indicators of exposure to COC. For each of these criteria, adequate reference sites would have to be selected to better identify polluted ecosystems. This introduces another research gap; whether or not proper baseline concentrations of COC have been established. This may be difficult, given the prevalence of natural oil seeps in the region.
At least one previous study has shown that relevant baselines can be identified in the Athabasca region (Tetreault et al, 2003). Rigorous testing would be required to assess actual baseline data on background concentrations of COC. Distinguishing between contaminants derived from natural oil seeps and ones from anthropogenic activity reveals yet another hurdle. If possible, chemical fingerprinting (Wang et al, 2006) would be useful in addressing this problem and could be incorporated into the RAP. Chemical fingerprinting would involve sampling bitumen from natural seeps areas and suspected contaminated AOC. The samples would be analyzed using standard methods to illustrate the differences in chemical composition between the samples (Wang et al, 2006). Differences between natural seeps derived bitumen and anthropogenic derived bitumen might include higher proportions of solvent or other compounds associated with extraction or upgrading. In addition to reporting on COC
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bioavailability, polices need to address the monitoring of water quality and species health. These criteria are critical to the success of a more robust RAP.
2.4.4 THRESHOLD EFFECTS AND ECOSYSTEM IMPACTS
If research shows that toxic compounds are bioavailable to the local aquatic biota, then policies need to be implemented to aid in the determination of threshold effects of different species. This is another monitoring gap that requires thorough investigation. Similar to assessing baseline bioavailability of COC, there needs to be a focus on establishing baseline exposure concentrations of contaminants in different species. Again, this might be a difficult task, but some researchers have successfully identified baseline data that could be readily used to compare reproductive effects in fish (Tetreault et al, 2003). Ideally, more lab and field studies need to be carried out using endemic species to better assess threshold effects. Thresholds may include effective median concentrations (EC50s), lethal median concentrations (LC50s), and no observable and lowest observable effects concentrations (NOECs and LOECs respectively).
There are a few studies that have reported thresholds for different aquatic organisms in the Athabasca region. Both sub-lethal effects and lethality (LC50s) are reported for benthic invertebrates (Puttaswamy and Liber, 2011), and LOECs have been identified for a variety of toxic endpoints observed in an endemic fish species (Colavecchia et al, 2004). Different species vary in observable sub-lethal effects and lethality when exposed to environmental stressors, including exposure to toxic compounds. Threshold effects studies can show which species are more sensitive to COC, and which species may therefore be at a greater risk of exposure. If thresholds are exceeded, a variety of adverse ecosystem impacts could occur, including recruitment failure of fish (Carls et al, 2002), avian physical deformities (Piatt et al, 1990), mammalian physiological damage (Rogers et al, 2002), and tainting (IJC, 2003). Some of these impacts may result in overall reduced biodiversity, while others, like
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tainting (the altered flavour of fish), may have social implications.
A comprehensive database of thresholds for different aquatic species among different COC should be compiled for the entire oil sands development area. If little information is available on endemic species, surrogates could be used to make relevant comparisons. The use of surrogate species may include lab-based studies and the associated toxicity testing endpoints, or preferably, field studies focused on species sensitivities to compounds similar to those produced by oil sands extraction and upgrading. Once again, robust, temporal monitoring of water quality and exposure impacts on species would be key components of a more effects-driven management plan. Simply, if the oil companies can limit the discharge of toxic compounds, such that the thresholds for deleterious effects on biota are not exceeded, then an argument could be made that oil sands oil is ethical, at least in terms of the aquatic ecosystems.
The RAMP consistently reports a more or less pristine aquatic environment in an area that experiences intensive, large-scale resource extraction and upgrading. This program needs to adopt a more relevant set of aquatic health criteria and associated monitoring methods and analyses. Several research initiatives have been proposed here that would allow for a more thorough assessment of the bioavailability and associated adverse effects of COC derived from oil sands development. The implementation of an effects-driven aquatic ecosystem monitoring program, conducted by reputable, unbiased stakeholders as outlined by Environment Canada, the IJC, and independent peer-review s, is the first step to achieving more representative data.
Once such a program is in place, quarterly monitoring reports should be made available to the public to ensure greater transparency and critical evaluation from the scientific community, industry, and the general public. Research should focus on the bioavailability of COC to species of concern and clear toxicity thresholds must be
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determined in order to assess risk in the event of tailings pond leaks, SAGD failures, and bitumen spills. Remediation plans must be in place before an oil sands accident occurs. Unfortunately, throughout history, it seems that large scale effects-driven research starts only after major accidents do happen (Exxon Valdez in Alaska, BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico). The government of Alberta and the oil sands developers have a chance to address key issues of contaminant bioavailability, associated toxic effects, and environmental monitoring of these parameters before a catastrophe occurs. This is deemed (prevention rather than a cure) to be the most ethical approach if development in the Alberta oil sands is to continue into the future.
Section 2.5: PROCESSES & RECLAMATION
The following section will provide information for the processes of development of the oil sands and their reclamation from a technical perspective. It will briefly outline the results of life cycle analysis preformed for the production of bitumen and report on the success of reclamation of tailings ponds and ecosystems in the Alberta Oil Sands. This information will help to provide clarity for the ethical evaluation of reclamation and production processes.
2.5.1 THE ROLE LIFE CYCLE ANALYSIS
Life cycle analysis (LCA) uses mass and energy balances to track the inputs and outputs of a product through its manufacturing, transport and use. As a result, boundary definition is the central challenge to designing studies in this area. LCA takes into account that more than the operational inputs and outputs of corporations are needed to provide a more systematic assessment of technology and efficiency (Bergerson & Keith, 2006). The data for these assessments come from government economic statistics of inputs and outputs from each industry and environmental coefficients related to these inputs and outputs developed by the literature and Natural Resources (Bergerson &
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In the context of the Alberta Oil Sands, LCA can aid in an ethical comparison by comparing lifecycle emissions, use of energy, water or capital of the bitumen produced to other similar petroleum fuel sources or conventionally produced fuel. The boundaries for bitumen would need to be drawn differently to fully understand the impact of the fuel throughout its lifecycle (Figure 2). The construction and operations phases of the lifecycle of many conventional fuels are discounted in an analysis because in the scheme of the project these phases are often an order of magnitude lower, whereas the emissions and use of natural and capital resources in oil sands development is significant enough to be included in the analysis.
Figure 2 Comparison of carbon dioxide equivalence emissions for oil sands technology and conventional extraction.
Bergerson and Keith preformed a literature review of previous studies which specifically studied the LCA of the oil sands (2006). The motivation for many of the earlier studies was the concern over carbon taxing and credit systems under the framework of international climate regulations. Therefore, many LCA studies use the metric tons carbon dioxide equivalency per cubic units (CO2E). The majority of the emissions are a result of the combustion of the fuel which can raise the question of what differentiates oil
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sands bitumen from other petroleum sources in the sense of an LCA (Bergerson & Keith, 2006).
Charpentier et al., reviewed major consultant reports and all published papers to conclude that, in terms of LCA, the difference in emissions from a ―well to wheel‖ basis were highly affected by the technology used for initial extraction (2009). They found that surface mining and upgrading, in situ and upgrading, and in situ (without upgrading) technologies are 260–320, 320–350, and 270–340 g CO2eq km−1, respectively, in comparison to 250–280 gCO2eq km−1 for the conventional oil sources. Largely the variation in numbers is due to how the study sets up boundaries and certain studies do not include indirect emissions over the supply chain.
LCA can be measured as an emission intensity where emissions are reported as a function of the economy which is discussed in section 4.3.1 of this report. It is worth mentioning LCA models can become less boundary dependant when considering an economic input and out model (Bergerson & Keith, 2006).
Lifecycle analysis demonstrates the increased inputs used to develop the oil sands through an an analysis of production. Further, LCA highlights the resultant increase in carbon dioxide and GHG emissions over conventional oil production and use. Though technology is becoming more efficient, further evaluation of producers by regulators and researchers should target reducing emissions from in situ and upgrading of bitumen which have the highest impacts and result in the largest use of resources.
2.5.2 REVIEW OF CURRENT RECLAMATION TECHNOLOGIES
Tailings ponds result from the water based extraction of bitumen. They include water, sand, silt, clay and residual bitumen (Chalaturnyk et al., 2002). These tailings ponds often contain a diverse group of chemicals and have associated environmental and health concerns some of which are detailed earlier in this chapter, sections 2.1-2.4.
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The aim of reclamation from a technical perspective is to have the particulates, or fine material, in the tailings separated from the water based slurry and lock into a stable solid matrix. Theoretically, when the solid matrix is stable, it can then be capped by some other material such as sand, clay or peat and can be re-vegetated. This process is often called sedimentation or consolidation (Chalaturnyk et al., 2002). The main issue with the process of consolidation is the length of time that it takes. In about three years, the fine material slurry, 6-10% solids by weight, develops into what is known as mature fine tailings (MFT), less than 30% solids by weight (Matthews et al., 2002) (Mamer, 2010). MFT represent a challenge and a liability from an environmental perspective as MFT can take decades to settle out without engineering intervention. As well, without attention, the existing ponds could grow from the estimated 400 million cubic meters they are currently, to over a billion in 2020 if production continues at the rate it is today.
The ability to process MFT into a drier mixture in a shorter timeframe has been the focus of research for over 20 years and has yielded processes such as composite or consolidated tailings (CT) and paste technology (Chalaturnyk et al., 2002). CT mix coarse tailings or sands with MFT and a coagulant which can be in the form of acid, lime, gypsum, alum or organic polymers. Gypsum has been favoured as a coagulant to produce CT. In paste technology, polyelectrolytes are used flocculate fine clays (Long et al., 2005).
Both technologies have been tested in the last 15 years at the laboratory and pilot level by major corporations Suncor and Syncrude but have yet to be used on the large scale for reclamation due to several key drawbacks (Matthews et al., 2010)(Mamer, 2010). The processing time is still relatively long for CT and paste technology. As well, both technologies have a negative or unknown impact on further use of water recovered from MFT. Additives from CT and the flocculent from paste technology remain in the processing water (Long et al., 2005).
From an ethical perspective producing a waste stream such as tailings ponds which cannot be reclaimed from a technical perspective in a reasonable amount of time
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post production is a serious concern. As well, the effects that the additives used to speed up the consolidation process may have on the water and generally environment have yet to be demonstrated.
The industry has responded recently to the significant drawbacks of current technologies. The Oil Sands Tailing Consortium was created under the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) to share resources and funding to develop a suite of new technologies in tailings management (Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, 2011).
2.5.3 STATUS OF RECLAIMED ECOSYSTEMS
Over 60,000 hectares (ha) of land have been disturbed for oil sands development and plans to expand this number to over 400,000 ha in the future makes the question of reclamation a very important one.
The large levels of MFT tailings which are produced are not good candidates for terrestrial ecosystems without significant treatment (Renault, 1998). The treatments can be the methods detailed in the above section 2.5.1. Surface mining sites are better candidates for terrestrial ecosystems. The provincial guidelines for reclamation, which will be discussed later in this report in section 4.3.2, detail that surface mines are to be replaced with forests of similar ecological function as the Central Mixed Wood SubRegion of the Boreal Forest and wildlife capacities similar to conditions before development (Rowland et al., 2009). Some of the reclamation site types are detailed in Table 1.
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Table 1: Table: Surface mining reclamation sites details of various companies (Rowland et al., 2009).
In a comparison of post reclamation forest ecosystems to natural ecosystems there were differences in bioavailability of nutrients. As well, there was less undergrowth of mosses, shrubs and lichen and litter deposition levels were lower. In some cases ,when soil subsurface layers were not used in reclamation, the forest took longer to get to the level of natural variability averaging 15-20 years (Rowland, 2009).
Wetlands in the region in particular represent a third of total area with plans for reclamation (Trites & Bayley, 2009). High salinity will be one of the characteristics of a post mining landscape in Northern Alberta. There are deposits of marine sediments, estuarine landscapes and aquifers which will be exposed and their salts will leach into the surrounding environment. As well, the tailings ponds are increasingly saline due to the production process. Much of this land is considered peatlands and supports a diverse ecological community. These wetlands are unique in that they have a high soil content (up to 40 cm). The wetlands that can be constructed initially will not support the same ecological community as the pre-development community and will resemble saline wetlands which are more characteristic of the southern Alberta. Rabb and Bayley
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completed a study whereby they created an index for governments to use which monitored vegetation-based Index of Biotic Integrity and used it to assess the health of reclaimed wetlands (2011). They found through comparison of 20 oil sands reclaimed wetlands to the 25 comparison wetlands that the oil sands reclaimed wetlands had low ecosystem health (Rabb & Bayley, 2012).
It should be highlighted that although reclamation will bring back some of the function of the ecosystems in the area of the oil sands the new ecosystems created will be different from the natural ecosystems. There is the potential for loss of natural variation in ecosystem type with no requirement for reclaimed ecosystem to serve the same function. For example, a forest could be replaced by a wetland. As well, there are no specific ecosystem guidelines for reclamation of in situ mining and fluid tailings areas. Please refer to section 4.3.2 for more information on reclamation policies. From an ethical perspective it should be recognized that there will be loss and change to the unique ecosystems of the area and that the time frame for creating healthier ecosystems is still relatively long.
Section 2.6: RECOMMENDATIONS
2.6.1 EMISSIONS, AIR AND W ATER QUALITY
Emissions, air and water quality are important issues to be looked at when deciding whether the Alberta oil sands is ethical, as they are very significant aspects of the environment of Alberta. Since the arrival of the oil sands, greenhouse gas emissions have increased. And, while there has not been significant ―proof‖ of the possible health effects arising directly from oil sands exploitation, there are demonstrated toxins
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entering the ecosystem which should be of paramount concern. It is therefore recommended that: More research, verified through a peer review process, be conducted to determine the effects the oil sands are having on the Albertan environment. The companies operating in the oil sands should put more effort into decreasing the amount of toxins entering the ecosystem including designing new methods to do so. As well, more comprehensive and reliable monitoring systems should be implemented.
2.6.2 HUMAN TOXICOLOGY AND HEALTH
Epidemiological studies have been lacking, and there needs to be a full-scale analysis of all the variables affecting human health in the towns neighbouring the oil sands. These studies must include variables such as lifestyle and family history to get a full picture. Biostatistics need to be collected and biomonitoring of levels of toxic chemicals in individuals must be introduced. Most toxicological studies of the chemicals in question involve short-term exposure to high concentrations of the toxins. In reality, the exposures are much lower, but chronic. The toxic effects of these chemicals must be looked at in long term studies. Further studies into the exact toxic effects of chemicals such as hydrogen sulfide and naphthenic acid are essential. The adverse effects of these compounds on humans are still unclear, and extended research in this area is necessary.
ENSC 801 63 ETHICS OF THE ALBERTA OIL SANDS A closer examination of the exposure of occupational oil sands workers to chemicals must be completed. An increase in transparency of information regarding human health of oil sands workers and local communities is essential.
2.6.3 TERRESTRIAL ECOSYSTEM HEALTH
Cost-benefit analysis to determine if the costs to terrestrial ecosystem health can be outweighed by the benefits of continued development. Monitoring system must be developed that recognizes the diversity of species. Monitoring and assessment practices must consider the broad and fine-scale impacts of oil sands activities. Studies must utilize species from various classes of flora and fauna. Assessments must consider the effects of both short-term and long-term exposure. Bioaccumulation and routes of exposure in light of rapid development should be incorporated into an effective monitoring plan. Environmental assessments must consider the implications to humans. Indicator species must be chosen effectively and represent various habitat requirements and levels within the terrestrial food web.
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2.6.4 AQUATIC ECOSYSTEM HEALTH
Shift from descriptive studies (RAMP) to an effects-based monitoring program. Model the effects based approach after the IJC remedial action plan. Ensure on-going water quality testing and species health assessments. Identify areas of concern (AOC) and compounds of concern (COC). Assess COC bioavailability. Determine thresholds for species responses to contaminants. Maintain database of threshold effects across the oil sands development area. Require quarterly monitoring reports. Keep the monitoring program transparent - ensure peer review and public input.
2.6.5 RECLAMATION AND MONITORING PRACTICES
Further evaluation of producers by regulators and researchers should target reducing emissions from in situ and upgrading of bitumen from a LCA perspective. More work need to be done to standardize the evaluation of bitumen and conventional fuels through LCA and provide a clearer consistent method for evaluation.
ENSC 801 65 ETHICS OF THE ALBERTA OIL SANDS Research in the area of reclamation needs to focus onmore effective tailings pond reclamation technologies and regulatory need to focus R&D on their implementation. Oil companies will need to consider the creating salt tolerant terrestrial and wetland communities. It is important that these ecosystems be constructed in a method which aims to adapt to the new conditions and build linkages to the waterfowl and migrating bird communities as well as terrestrial animals. A potential research direction could be looking into the departure and change of reclaimed ecosystems from natural ecosystems in the oil sands area. Develop guidelines for ecosystem to serve the same function forrest replaces a forest. Aim to perserve unique ecosystem types. Develop specific ecosystem guidelines for reclamation of in situ mining and fluid tailings areas.
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Section 3.1: ABORIGINAL ISSUES
This section will explore whether or not the United Nation‘s Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Canada‘s Duty to Consult policy are adequately representing First Nations desires in regards to oil sands development in Alberta.
3.1.1 THE INDIGENOUS LAND ETHIC
―Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children" (Indigenous Peoples Literature). This ancient Aboriginal proverb illustrates the deep connection Indigenous peoples have historically had with the earth. To many Aboriginal groups, nature is not something to be bought and sold, owned and leased; rather, the earth is sacred, and in order to maintain a spiritual connection, the earth needs to be protected. Unlike the vast majority of the population, many Indigenous people see the ―power in place‖ (Cousins, 1997). Their culture struggles to maintain a deep bond with the land, a link which is easily and has been easily disturbed as a result of ill treatment by those who tend to disregard such philosophies. To most Aboriginal nations, the land has inherent value, and they show their respect by ―not polluting it, wasting its resources, or dramatically altering it, [because] interfering with the land has its consequences‖ (Cousins, 1997). In the world view of many Indigenous peoples, there is a profound respect and understanding that everything is interconnected, and that our actions in the present will dramatically alter the future. Spiritual presence can only exist in an undisturbed setting, and if for some reason the setting is destroyed, ceremonies and traditions suffer (Cousins, 1997). Unfortunately, this land ethic is not well understood by most of Western society. it is easy to forget or disregard the core values which have historically and, in many cases still penetrate Native Canadian life. Instead of seeing nature as part of a whole, government and industry have the tendency to see it as a resource; holistic values are often pushed aside in favour of profit and progress. It is not always recognized that humans, are a part of that whole, meaning
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nature, and anything negative which we might inflict upon nature through operations such as the oil sands will, ultimately negatively affect us. Alberta‘s oil sands are a prime example of this disturbance in traditional values and the current social paradigm. Approximately 23 000 Aboriginal people live on the eighteen First Nations and six Métis settlements in Alberta‘s oil sands areas, with thousands more living ―off-reserve‖ (Aboriginal People and the Oil Sands). While the Canadian Government contends that Indigenous people are benefiting from the oil sands process, this may in fact not be an accurate portrayal of Aboriginal opinion. In 2008, Six Nations declared ―war‖ on the oil sands, due to destructive mining and poisoning of water resources (Aboriginals Declare War on Oil Sands, 2008). According to Athabasca Chipewyan Chief Allan Adam, if ―industry and government [continue] to behave the way they‘ve been behaving the last 40 years, there will be no turning back because it will [mean] total destruction of the land‖ (Aboriginals Declare War on Oil Sands, 2008). As of September, 2010, issues have still remained unresolved; the assembly for First Nations elevated their concerns to a national level (Droitsch & Simieritsch, 2010). Aboriginal communities rely on the land and drinking water surrounding the oil sands to survive. Though the oil sands have provided employment for many Indigenous individuals (according to Alberta‘s Ministry of Aboriginal Relations, 1700 employees hold permanent jobs in the Wood Buffalo region), the large-scale development of the project has made many communities question whether or not the positive economic benefits outweigh the negative environmental, health, and spiritual effects (Droitsch & Simieritsch, 2010).
3.1.2 THE UNITED NATIONS DECLARATION OF THE RIGHTS OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES
On September 15th, 2007, the UN‘s Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the General Assembly (UNPFII). This document was created in an effort to protect Aboriginal rights and freedoms. In pertinence to the oil sands
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issue, a few clauses from the document are particularly noted. First, the Declaration acknowledges that:
Indigenous people have suffered from historic injustices as a result of, inter-alia, their colonization and disposition of lands and resources, thus preventing them from exercising, in particular, their right to development in accordance with their own needs and interests. (UNPFII) Furthermore, the document states that ―respect for their knowledge and cultures contribute to sustainable and equitable development/management of the environment‖ (UNPFII). ―Article 25‖ and ―Article 26‖ are noted, since each appeal to Aboriginal land ethics. ―Article 25‖ states:
Aboriginal people have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned, or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources, and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations is this regard. (UNPFII) ―Article 26‖ declares that ―states shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources‖ (UNPFII). Lastly, ―Article 29‖ requires states to ―take effective measure to ensure that no storage or disposal of hazardous materials shall take place without free, prior, and informed consent‖ (UNPFII). This document clearly outlines the guidelines for equality and justice. However, it is relevant to compare and contrast the UN‘s policies with that of Canada‘s Duty to Consult guidelines on Aboriginal issues. The following section will elaborate on this policy and whether or not Aboriginals are indeed being treated fairly in accordance with the UN‘s declaration.
3.1.3 CANADA‘S DUTY TO CONSULT
Canada‘s Duty to Consult policy was first introduced in Supreme Court cases in
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2004 and 2005 (Newman, 2009). According to the Duty to Consult policy, the Government must confer with Indigenous people ―when making decisions which may adversely impact lands and resources subject to Aboriginal claims‖ (Ceballos, 2010). However, this consultation policy is not always honoured. Since the scale of the oil sands project has significantly increased over the years, Aboriginal issues have changed, and their current opinions may not be adequately observed (Passelac-Ros & Potes, 2007). For instance, Treaty 8 was created in order to protect livelihood and Aboriginal ways of life. However, since its creation in 1899, it has been infringed upon. In February 2008, Chiefs representing Treaties 6, 7, and 8 passed a request to suspend oil sands approvals. The Chiefs asked for a ―comprehensive watershed management plan as well as a resource development plan‖ (Droitsch & Simieritsch , 2010). However, in December 2008, the assembly of First Nations claimed that they were not being ―properly consulted by government or industry with respect to oil and gas development in Alberta‖ (Droitsch & Simieritsch , 2010). According to both the Canadian and UN policies, Aboriginals must be consulted on matters concerning land, water, and livelihood. Issuance of approvals for oil sands development was a direct violation of Treaty 8 and the Duty to Consult. The Government of Canada acknowledges that the Treaty 8 community has ―maintained traditional ties to the land; trapping for example is still a significant source of food, and sometimes revenue, for many residents‖ (Aboriginal People and the Oil Sands). Even though the Government knows the Wood Buffalo community relies on the land for both sustenance and livelihood, it blatantly disregarded the community‘s best interests by omitting them from many decisions regarding oil sands development. Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation claims that the
Federal Government is neglecting its environmental responsibilities and ignoring our concerns. when the Government fails to engage with First Nations about our concerns, and fails to respect our rights, these things have nowhere to go but the courts. (Droitsch & Simieritsch, 2010)
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The Canadian Government and Treaty 8 communities are concerned about four main issues: land use planning, mineral rights, surface rights, and environmental assessment/regulatory approvals (Passelac-Ross & Potes , 2007). However, there is an obvious disagreement between the Government and the Treaty 8 district in regards to guidelines concerning these issues. For instance, a Multi-Stakeholder committee was initiated by the Canadian Government in order to incorporate public opinion into oil sands decisions. However, Indigenous people feel that public opinion is not adequate when assessing treaty rights, therefore this committee is rendered null in their view (Passelac-Ross & Potes, 2007). In terms of legal land ownership, the province owns 97% of the oil and gas resources in the oil sands regions, with only 3% privately owned, or owned on behalf on First Nations people (Passelac-Ross & Potes, 2007). Furthermore, owners of land are not notified of the sale of subsurface rights, because ―the Government disposes of oil sands rights through an entirely discretionary process and without any form of public participation‖ (Passelac-Ross & Potes, 2007). Refusing to consult Indigenous peoples regarding sale of subsurface rights is a direct violation of ―Article 26‖ in the UN‘s Declaration. Still, the Government maintains that First Nations people are consulted when resource development and land management may affect treaty rights (Aboriginal People and the Oil Sands).
Both Aboriginal people and Indigenous companies have benefited from oil sands projects. The Fort McKay Group is one of the most successful First Nations companies, with their ―work on the oil sands providing $16 million in return value to the community, including over 500 jobs‖ (Aboriginal People and the Oil Sands). Though the oil sands have created employment opportunities and profits for First Nations people, large-scale development of the sands has also created multiple issues regarding land claims, resource management, and environmental and health effects. According to The UN‘s Declaration of the Rights of Aboriginals, and Canada‘s Duty to Consult policy, discussions regarding development must occur with Indigenous groups. There have
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been violations of treaty agreements, and increasing concern among First Nations communities regarding increased expansion of the oil sands development. In regards to land views and adequate consultation, the ethics of the development of the oil sands has been questioned by Aboriginal groups. It is important that the government sees Aboriginal apprehensions differently then the concerns of the general public, in order to make an accurate assessment of their desires (Passelac-Ross & Potes, 2007). It is also imperative that First Nations groups be involved in the early stages of decision making (Passelac-Ross & Potes, 2007) in order to avoid future disagreements.
Human rights and environmental rights differ significantly. What might appear to be advantageous for humans may be detrimental for the land and vice versa. Therefore, it is difficult to make a broad statement on whether or not the oil sands are truly ―ethical‖ in terms of Aboriginal needs and desires. Even though the oil sands provide employment for First Nations people, thus fulfilling their economic needs, mining and extraction damage the land and tailings ponds negatively impact the environment. If the land is damaged, then Aboriginal traditions and spirituality are also harmed. The Government should be held accountable for agreements and should not be pushing development, violating treaty rights, or otherwise influencing First Nations people to satisfy a political or economic agenda.
Section 3.2: LABOUR ISSUES
The issue of whether the Albertan oil patch workers are being treated ethically or not can be evaluated using the following approach: An examination of what laws (if any) are in place to protect the workers, a review into whether or not those laws are being followed and analysis of whether or not those laws can be deemed adequate in their ability to protect the labour force working within the oil sands. The following section attempts to address these questions.
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3.2.1 ALBERTA‘S LABOUR LAWS
Canada‘s Labour Code covers approximately 10% of of workers in Canada, while the other 90% are protected under provincial labour codes. The only major industry related to tar sands development which falls under federal jurisdiction is that of the pipelines as it is a faction of the tar sands which crosses provincial boundaries. Every other industrial labour force working in Canada‘s oil sands falls under Alberta‘s Labour Code. This code outlines and commits to law the rights of the worker including: the right to fair pay and hours of work, the right to a safe work environment and the right to a workplace free of discrimination. As these are Alberta specific laws they merit a short summary. According to the Alberta Labour Code there are the following laws: In Alberta an employee cannot be expected to work more then 12 hours in each work day. There are exceptions to this in the event of an emergency or under special, Director of Employment Standards certified, conditions. Employees are also legally guaranteed a minimum of 8 hours of rest between scheduled work shifts and one full day of rest for every work week of seven days. If the employee works for three weeks in a row, the three days of rest allotted to he or she must be consecutive.
Minimum wage in Alberta is set at $9.40 an hour. There is no set rate for Alberta oil sands workers who may be working in more dangerous conditions, and thus may receive danger pay, or are often living and working in the north of the province which typically results in a Northern Living Allowance (Fort McMurray, Alberta:Labour Market Information).
Health and safety entitlements for an Alberta oil sands worker are covered under Alberta‘s Occupational Health and Safety Code. Under this code employers are legally required to keep their employees safe through identifying dangers in the work place, educating employees in how to protect themselves from those dangers, and monitoring employees to ensure that they are following the safety practices set in place. It is also
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legally required that equipment being used by employees be kept in safe working order. As well, all employees in the province of Alberta are given the legal right to refuse work which they deem to be unsafe and they are given the right to refuse the work without risking job termination.
The province of Alberta also includes a special section in its Occupational Health and Safety Code which addresses the possibility of violence in the workplace. The employers in Alberta are legally responsible for preventing violence in the workplace, for training employees how to identify and avoid situations which might lead to violence and for having outlines in place for how to deal with violence should it occur.
Finally, the Alberta Human Rights Act outlines the protection offered to Alberta employees from discrimination. The act states that workers cannot be discriminated against in relation to their race, gender, colour, religion, mental or physical disabilities, place of origin, age, ancestry, marital status, sexual orientation, family status or source of income. If a worker should feel as though they are experiencing discrimination in the work place on the basis of one of these ―prohibitive grounds‖ it is within their legal right to take action.
3.2.2 THE WORKING CONDITIONS IN NORTHERN ALBERTA IN PRACTICE
According to the Fort McMurry Labour Market Bulletin, it is not uncommon for workers who commute to their jobs in the oil sands to start their day by 5:00 am, not to return home again until 8:00 pm. While this does not mean that the 12 hour shift law is being disrespected, as the legal 12 hours does not include the hours needed to commute, the addition of commuting time can significantly increase a worker‘s work day. These types of hours can cause extreme fatigue in the workers and can put a substantial strain on the worker‘s home life. In part to remedy the strain of long commutes, many companies operating in the tar sands offer living arrangements close to the job sites (Jobs and Camp Accommodation). As well, as so many of the workers
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in the Albertan oil sands are coming from out-of-province (with by far the largest majority of these Canadian migrant workers coming from Newfoundland) housing for these workers is needed for their time away from home. These arrangements come in the form of camps capable of housing and feeding from just a few hundred workers up to a few thousand workers, depending on the size of the operation. Due to the incredible growth of the oil sands, these camps are often overcrowded. The effect has been that most camps are now operating as hotel-style operations (Bird, 2007), meaning that a worker will arrive with his or her personal effects at the start of a shift and will take his or her effects with them at the end of the shift. As one camp shift ends and another one with a fresh employee starts directly after, shifts are kept on schedule and are within legal requirements. Generally, it is the largest companies which tend to keep the cleanest and most organized camps with the most amenities. However, at these camps there is often a strict enforcement of camp rules and employees have been known to refer to the camps as ―prisons‖ (Angell & Krogmen). Reports from prior employees of smaller companies suggest that the camps of smaller and lesser-known companies have poor living conditions in the way of unhealthy food, no access to recreational facilities and/or an atmosphere of violence (Mike, 2010). The average hourly wage for first year, in-training, labourer‘s ―helper‖ in the oil sands is $14.50 according to the Alberta Constructions Labour Relations website. Every other position from driller‘s ―helper‖ to first year bricklayer is substantially higher. Any worker with a trade, diploma or degree can expect to make upwards of $35/hour to start. These wages reflect the worker shortage and subsequent incentives resulting from the oil sands ―boom‖ and, clearly, far exceed the legal minimum wage of $9.40/hour.
While all Albertan workers are represented under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and companies are legally required to comply with all occupational health and safety regulations, there have been reported incidences of companies being in violation of these laws. One such incident took place in 2007 when an accident occurred which killed two workers and seriously injured two others (Christian, 2009).
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Following investigation, Alberta Occupational Health and Safety laid 53 charges against the three companies which were involved in the Canadian National Resource Horizon Project where the incident took place. The CNRL Horizon charges from the 2007 incident are still active. Meanwhile, in January of this year another incident took place at the same site which seriously injured another three workers (CBC, 2007). This most recent incident is still under investigation, but after a brief stop-work order, the Horizon Site is now back running at its full capacity and the company website boasts of record production.
In response to the CNRL incidents and other reported health and safety concerns in the Alberta oil sands the Alberta Federation of Labour president, Gil McGowan, has called for a of experts whose mandate would be to research the pace of development of the Alberta oil sands to see if the rapid expansion is responsible for increased risks to oil sands workers .
3.2.3 TEMPORARY FOREIGN W ORKERS IN ALBERTA
Alberta is currently experiencing massive growth resulting from oil sands development and this development is taking place at a tremendous pace. As a result, the province is experiencing an extreme labour shortage and this has resulted in a huge surge of temporary foreign workers (TFWs). Legally, these TFWs are covered under the same labour codes and occupational health and safety laws as all other workers in the province. However, often TFWs are not adequately informed of their rights or, due to language restrictions, do not fully understand their rights and, as a result, reports of abuses against TFWs is quite common (Mech, 2011). As well, as TFWs are completely dependent upon their employer for income, travel, and often housing, many TFWs say that they would be unwilling to speak up against abuses at the hands of their employers for fear of the financial consequences or deportation (Mech, 2011). While legally no employer is allowed to threaten its foreign workers with deportation, in practice, it commonly occurs. This situation is made worse by the fact that TFWs are granted entry
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into the province only to work for one employer in one particular place, meaning that the opportunity to quit working for an unethical employer in favor of working for an ethical one is not there. In the words of the Alberta Federation of Labour in a Report on Temporary Foreign Workers in Alberta:
Our workshop revealed that many temporary foreign workers now avoid making employment standards or health and safety complaints because the new federal LMO (Labour Market Opinion) policy puts them in an even more precarious position than they were previously. They cannot go to another workplace. They live in fear of their employer not being able to renew their LMO. Complaints about standards or safety are simply no longer an option, because they result in being fired. And being fired now results in a TFW being unable to get any other job. Temporary foreign workers are therefore left to suffer in silence. In 2009 Government officials inspected many of the province‘s employers of temporary foreign workers. 74% of these employers were found to be in violation of the labour laws set forth by Alberta (Mech, 2011).
The Canadian Federal Government has recently made changes to its foreign worker policies which includes a two year restriction of the hiring of TFWs made against any company which has been found in violation of Canada‘s labour laws. A List on Ineligible Employers is currently available online, though there are no companies listed at the present time.
The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) states that the rapid expansion of the oil sands is largely responsible for the exploitation of temporary foreign workers. The AFL also brings to attention the issue of employment agencies charging foreign workers recruitment fees. The AFL reports that the fees being illegally charged can range from $3000 - $20 000 and, while this situation is known to Albertan Government agencies such as Service Alberta, little has been done to offer foreign workers protection from this exploitation.
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3.2.4 THE LIFE OF THE WORKERS WHEN NOT ON THE JOB
While it is not the duty of companies working in the oil sands to ensure the health and safety of their employees when those employees are not on the job, it is worth noting how the current work environments in northern Alberta are effecting the social realities of the workers involved in the oil and gas industry.
There are many complications arising from the Alberta oil-boom. The massive influx of workers to northern Alberta both from within and without Canada has led to a serious housing shortage, which has caused a massive spike in rental rates. Despite the cost of renting, the vacancy rate in Fort McMurray is estimated to be below 1% (Fort McMurray, Alberta:Labour Market Information ) With costs so high and vacancy so low, it is common for several people to share one living space as a result. The 2006 Government of Alberta report, Investing in Our Future: Responding to the Rapid Growth of the Oil Sands, states an occupancy rate in Fort McMurray of 3.3 persons and 2.5 persons per single family home and apartment rental, respectively. The report states that in Red Deer, Alberta these numbers are 2.86 and 1.5 persons. These living conditions are stressful, cramped and do little to remedy the sense of homelessness that many workers experience when working out of base camps. As well, the industry attracts young people, usually men, and offers them an average salary of $91 000 (Tetley, 2005) a year. Under these conditions, workers lacking a stable home, undergoing stress and fatigue from the workplace and long hours, and combined with an income which well exceeds the national average, it is common in Fort McMurray and other towns affected by the oil boom to experience a spike in drug and alcohol abuse (Betkowski, 2008).
Rod Phillips, CEO of Shepell.fgi, an employee assistance company working in Alberta, has said, ―Working in stressful jobs in remote locations, combined with distance or long periods of time away from family, is a prime cause for such problems as
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addiction. Oil and gas workers face socio-economic stressors involved in locating suitable resources to support family who accompany them to a new city, but have no social infrastructure to rely on‖. (Shepell.fgi)
According to Shellpell.fgi, between the years of 2006 and 2008, employment assistance programs saw a 481% jump in employees seeking help in dealing with their alcohol addiction. As well, it is reported that drug abuse is four times the provincial average in Fort McMurray and, according to Drug Rehab Services, in Fort McMurray, the most prevalent drug abuse is with cocaine.
With some estimates stating a population of close to 10 000 single men, Fort McMurray is also host to an expanding prostitute population and climbing sexually transmitted disease rates (STD). The rise in STD rates has caused Fort McMurray to be given the title of the ―infection capital of Canada‖ (Walton, 2011). According to a Globe and Mail article, critics suggested that the Albertan Government was partly responsible for the spike in STD rates due to its slow response to what was a growing problem (Walton, 2011). Earlier this year, Alberta launched an aggressive and considered successful advertisement campaign stressing the importance of sexual health. Since the launch of the campaign there has been an increase in the number of people seeking STD testing in the province. Whether the campaign has been successful at slowing the spread of STDs still remains to be seen.
There are many aspects of the way in which the Albertan Government and the Companies involved in the Albertan Oil Sands should be applauded in relation to labour issues. Certainly there are important and protectionist laws put in place by the government which are largely being followed by the companies who must follow them. There is also evidence that shows that the Government and the companies are responding to social issues which are arising from tar sands development. However,
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the response is not keeping in pace with the development of the industry. In relation to all the labour issues discussed here, the number one cause cited for health and safety issues, human rights violations against migrant workers, and social problems resulting from living the life of an oil and gas worker has been the too-rapid rate of oil sands expansion. A slowing of the development process in order to allow for the appropriate infrastructure to be put in place to protect the workplace and social well being of the labourers is necessary. As companies are operating in the oil sands to make profits, it cannot be expected for this slowing to take place at the company level (unless an entire re-thinking be done about the ethical and social responsibilities of industry). It is therefore recommended that the Albertan Government be responsible for taking the action needed to ensure the protection of its workers by slowing the rate of tar sands development until adequate resources are available and a more comprehensive and thoughtful plan of how to manage the booming Alberta economy has been set in motion. More specifically, the greatest threat to Alberta‘s oil being termed ―ethical‖ can be found with the current treatment of the temporary foreign workers being employed in the province. It is proposed that a review of the situation concerning TFWs be undertaken and a critical look at how the Government‘s current legal positions on the hiring of TFWs may be contributing to the exploitation of these workers in Alberta.
It is furthermore suggested that immediate and stricter repercussions against companies who have violated health and safety laws or labour laws be implemented and that a far more extensive program designed to assist oil patch workers with the emotional and psychological stresses of the industry be designed and administered as soon as possible.
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Section 3.3: VISIONS OF OIL
Visual representations of the Alberta Oil Sands have the ability to alter how people perceive the corresponding environmental risks, therefore it is important and necessary to examine how the oil sands are being used and represented in order to better assess if bitumen mining in Alberta is being presented ethically. Visual culture is able to reach a wide and diverse audience; it can transport a viewer to a site they would otherwise be unaware of, or unable to physically encounter. It can be argued that visual culture can promote environmental change through implicating the viewer, by asking them to consider who owns the landscapes produced by the oil sands, and in turn, who is responsible for them. For instance, a study completed in 2009 by Erin N. Kelly et al. relied heavily on visual documentation in order to prove that ―in the Athabasca and its tributaries, development within the past 2 years was related to elevated dissolved PAC concentrations that were likely toxic to fish embryos‖ (Kelly et al., 2009). Images of filters consisting of melted snow samples, taken from the oil sands, illustrated that the closer to the sites of the oil facilities the darker the filters, and therefore the higher the level of particulates and PAC concentrations. However, it is important to note that this case study is not as accessible and widely received as more popular forms of visual culture, and as a result it is necessary to examine these other forms of oil sands representation. Visual culture‘s involvement in pressing environmental issues associated with the oil sands can provide interesting perspectives, promote new discussions, educate a diverse audience, and ask new questions about persistent environmental concerns. As a result, an examination of how the oil sands are being portrayed by the oil industry, as well as by its opposition, is essential in determining if we can deem Alberta‘s oil ethical.
3.3.1 PRACTICES IN AESTHETICS: OIL IN THE W ORKS OF EDWARD BURTYNSKY
Nature Aesthetics and the Landscape Tradition is a complex and rich topic in art historical and visual culture discourse. Scholarship now widely accepts the idea that the
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visual representation of a landscape is never neutral. Representation is often understood as a re-presentation of a particular environment. Marylin J. McKay explains that the ―hyphenated spelling underscores the fact that any representation is both subsequent to an original and mediated through the particular circumstances of maker and viewer, such as ethnicity, gender, nationality, and social class‖ (McKay, 2011). This means that the land being portrayed is not only a version of an existing site in the ―nonhuman‖ world but also a presentation of the site encoded with the maker‘s intentions and the viewer‘s experiences. The actual environment depicted, in this case the Alberta oil sands, provides the basis for the image, which is the product of the maker‘s negotiation of the land. William Cronon argues that if humans continue to separate themselves from Nature, or continue to believe they are of greater significance than the nonhuman world, then environmental irresponsibility will continue. He claims that, historically, the perceived wild was romantic and spiritually uplifting, it was viewed as pristine and untouched; for Cronon, we have both domesticated and dehumanized the wilderness. He writes, ―ideas of Nature never exist outside a cultural context, and the meanings we assign to Nature cannot help reflecting that context. The main reason this gets us into trouble is that Nature as essence, Nature as naive reality, wants us to see Nature as if it had no cultural context, as if it were everywhere and always the same‖ (Cronon, 1996). This means we prioritize some aspects of Nature over others, and have intentionally left no place for humanity within this construction, which therefore works against solutions to current environmental problems.
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Figure 3: Edward Burtynsky, Oil Spill #9 (2010). Oil Slick at Rip Tide, Gulf of Mexico.
Figure 4: Edward Burtynsky, Alberta Oil Sands #2 (2007). Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada
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The complexities of how we, as the viewer, understand Nature and its representation in a visual context are exemplified in Edward Burtynsky‘s Oil series (see fig. 1 and fig. 2). His depictions of the oil sands industry stun viewers with their beauty while challenging their perceptions of landscape traditions and environmental ethics. Murray Whyte wrote that Burtynsky‘s work ―is consistent in tone. Neither heroic nor condemning, it offers an austere beauty and a simple critical pause, which gives the viewer an opportunity to gaze at the scale of the transformation that has taken place‖ (Whyte, 2004). The viewer will continue to examine the photograph because, despite its alarming qualities, it seems beautiful. Burtynsky makes his viewers aware that he has aestheticized the sites commonly understood as contaminated--in this case the largely unseen terrain of the oil sands--which ultimately challenges our perceptions of the oil sands as ethical.
The ethical conflicts that coincide with the oil sands photographs of Burtynsky are enhanced by his choice of medium, which brings into play the relationship between photography, perceived truth, and environmentalism. Photographs are able to visually transport viewers to a particular environment they may never physically experience. Historically, photography has been directly linked to its perceived ability to capture reality, and as a result, it has been continuously linked to the idea of truth. So Burtynsky‘s Oil photographs are perceived as depicting reality, as records of a particular place and time. As Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright point out, ―a photograph is often perceived to be an unmediated copy of the real world, a trace of reality skimmed off the very surface of life‖ (Sturken & Cartwright, 2001). Although we know that a photographer can deliberately include and exclude objects and specific views, as well as process the photograph in such a way as to aestheticize the view, a sense of ―the real‖ remains. For this reason, Burtynsky‘s photographs are associated with an unmediated artistic reality.
Burtynsky may not explicitly pass judgement on the current environmental situation in Alberta; however, by carefully selecting and aestheticizing his photographs
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he is implying there is something here to reflect upon. As Paul Roth puts it, these are landscapes ―shaped not by time, erosion, or the weathering winds, but by the ordering force of the economy, the land has been etched by our avarice and our needs‖ (Roth, 2009). Burtynsky‘s photographs the Alberta oil sands as well as the more recent spill in the Gulf of Mexico. His photographs from the Gulf of Mexico choose not to depict the damage of the spill; the dead or dying animals covered in oil, the shores and foliage drenched in tar. These remain unseen. Instead, viewers find the formal qualities of the piece pleasing to look at. It is only through the viewer‘s knowledge of the event, and awareness of Burtynsky‘s aestheticizing, that the photograph truly takes on a negative tone. ―The immediacy of the photographic image,‖ Cronin asserts, ―…has the ability to capture attention, to tug at emotions, and to sway opinions‖ (Cronon, 2011). In the case of the Oil series, photography is able to capture viewers attention based on the reality it depicts, and the photograph can forge emotional connections with viewers based on their knowledge of and relationship with the space it portrays. The environmental urgency cannot be denied.
3.3.2 OIL AS PORTRAYED BY INDUSTRY
The idea of Nature and Wilderness as ―pristine‖ and ―untouched‖ has become irrelevant in the works of Burtynsky. The idea of the sublime, meaning the formless objects in Nature that induce a sense of greatness both aesthetically and spiritually, have transformed into what is understood as the industrial sublime; the awe and wonder the viewer once found in Nature, is now transferred to the sites of industrial pursuits. Immanuel Kant, a key philosophical figure in the development of sublime thought, argues, ―the beautiful in nature is connected with the form of the object...[T]he sublime, on the other hand, is to be found in a formless object, so far as in it or by occasion of it boundlessness is represented, and yet its totality is also present to thought‖ (Kant, 1790). Basically, the sublime cannot be measured because it is infinite. The mind tries to measure the object‘s totality, based on human reason, but cannot. In the face of the industrial sublime, the viewer is in awe of human progress; they cannot measure
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progress because the possibilities seem endless. The manufactured landscapes, or landscapes created by human intervention into the land, have altered how viewers define nature. As Chaseten Remillard has explained, a discourse has emerged pitting nature-as-pristine against nature-as-resource (Remillard, 2011). The oil sands are commonly depicted in a negative manner in favor of the vision of nature-as-pristine. The industrial sublime qualities, and nature-as-resource discourses, often go unseen. As Ezra Levant writes, ―the oil sands aren‘t really hated for their environmental impact…they‘re hated for the fact that they represent a seemingly bottomless supply of oil--the lifeblood of industrial growth. It‘s a nightmare vision of the future for those who despise commercial expansion and urban development‖ (Levant, 2010).
In an attempt to create a stronger and more positive visual representation of the oil sands within the general public and popular culture, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) created a new ad campaign, which premiered in 2011, in the form of television commercials and print. The goal of the ads were to show the viewer, ―innovation and new technologies described by community leaders and real oil sands industry employees from our [oil sands] operations, across a wide-range of professions‖(CAPP, 2011). The ads included testimonials, videos, interviews, tours of the oils sands and its surrounding natural environments, and new technological pursuits. At the end of every ad the message ―New Ideas are Making a Difference‖ would appear. The CAPP ads included speakers from the University of Alberta, Suncor Energy, and the Canadian Natural Resources Council, among others. This created diversity in the ads because they discussed a variety of environmental concerns caused by the development of the oil sands, from people ranging in backgrounds and associations to the oil sands. In fact, one of the ads which ran as a television commercial, featured Patrick Moore -- a proclaimed environmentalist and co-founder of Greenpeace -- supporting the oil sands development. The ad begins with Moore overlooking an active mining operation, as he overlooks the development in the distance and walks through a green field with newly planted trees, he states:
ENSC 801 87 ETHICS OF THE ALBERTA OIL SANDS This is an active mining operation in the Canadian Oil Sands. It’s not a very pretty site when you open up the Earth in order to extract the oil, but after this operation is finished it will be reclaimed. All this land around us has been mined. Look at it now. You have this beauty returning to the landscape. Here I’ve got Alder, Spruce, Aspen. Where there was once an oil sands mining operation, you now have a beautiful, bio-diverse landscape again, where you’d never know there’d been a mine there in the first place (CAPP, 2011).
Patrick Moore has long been disconnected with Greenpeace. However, by including his past environmental associations, the CAPP ad is able to convey the idea that environmentalists are changing their opinion about the oil sands. The overall message of these ads is one of reclamation and hope, one in which the environment and the oil sands can coexist in a form of harmony. The commercials were created and produced by the CAPP with the goal of changing the public opinion and the image of the oil sands. Unlike the work of Burtynsky, the CAPP ads have the ability to enter any home with cable; the viewer does not have to live in Alberta to view the oil sands and see what is being done to the environment. Here, CAPP has utilized visual culture to contribute and enhance the image of the oil sands as an active participant of nature-asresource. In addition, by visualizing the replanting and reclamation of the land, the CAPP is implying that nature-as-pristine may still be possible. ―Successfully engaging the public involves having an understanding of how people relate to climate change and what might potentially drive them to act‖ writes Sophie A. Nicholson-Cole, ―there are many barriers preventing people from really engaging and changing their behavior according to potential policy options. Climate change is an abstract issue, with a long time horizon and global boundaries. These make it difficult to relate to and to see how personal efforts to reduce emissions might really have an effect‖ (Nicholson-Cole, 2005). In this case, CAPP is making the oil sands and its corresponding environmental concerns as relatable, they are also acting as the example of how new ideas can create innovation and change. The CAPP, as presented in their ads, are making a difference, and it is therefore suggested that, if they can, so can you as the viewer.
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3.3.3 OIL AS PORTRAYED BY OPPOSITION
The Alberta oil sands have faced severe environmental scrutiny and therefore have come up against several oppositional groups. Perhaps one of their more radical and publicly active oppositional groups is Greenpeace. Greenpeace relies on public opinion and popular culture as a tool for environmental change and activism. The public campaigns of Greenpeace seek to, ―infiltrate popular culture through a media presence by making environmental issues culturally meaningful and symbolically recognizable‖ (Doyle, 2011). Greenpeace, like the CAPP ads, relies heavily on photography and video representation in order to gain public support. Again, photography is being linked to the ‗photographic truth,‘ or in other words, the camera has been used to point-and-shoot an event and, because it is a mechanical device, it is believed that it cannot lie. Photography is able to bring visions of oil sands and its environmental degradation into the living rooms of everyday households. As Conny Boettger states, ―Greenpeace‘s strategy is implicitly based upon the premise that it can and must counter images of power with forceful images of its own‖ (Boettger, 2001). However, Greenpeace differs from the CAPP ads by abruptly calling upon the moral and ethical qualities of the viewer.
For instance, it is not uncommon for Greenpeace to show images of dead or dying animals covered in oil, in order to emphasize their cause and movement against the oil sands development (see fig. 3). In this photograph, the viewer becomes a witness to an oil soaked Northern Gannet being bathed due to the oil covering its body. Volunteers at the Theodore Wildlife Rehabilitation Center are washing the bird in order to save its life. The bird, submerged in water and soapy bubbles, stares above in fear. Julie Doyle explains, ―this visual and epistemological opposition between human and nature also stages a moral opposition, where the negative impacts of human activities are conveyed by the visible damage (Doyle, 2011). In this case, the human activities of the oil sands have caused damage to the bird that is made visible through photographic documentation. In addition to this, the bird stares back at the viewer, adding a moral
ENSC 801 89 ETHICS OF THE ALBERTA OIL SANDS conflict for the viewer of the photograph. Confronted with evidence of nature‘s destruction, in the form of the health threat to a living species, the viewer feels implicated – ―looked at.‖ It is this that evokes uneasiness, guilt and shame. As James Clifford has stated, ―we encounter an informing and shaming discourse‖ (Clifford, 1991). The viewer is implicated in the harm to this bird, they bear responsibility to it; they ―encounter an informing and shaming discourse‖ (Clifford, 1991). As a result, the viewer is more likely to oppose the oil sands and donate to Greenpeace. Wildlife, such as the Northern Gannet, is unable to defend itself from he human production and extraction in the oil sands, therefore through guilt and sadness, they act in the name of environmentalism.
Figure 5: Greenpeace, Photograph of an Oil Soaked Bird (July 2010). Theodore Wildlife Rehabilitation Center © Greenpeace / Kenneth Lowyck.
Greenpeace is clearly aware that an image is never neutral, it has no language or cultural restrictions, and it is thusly very approachable. As Paul Wapner argues, ―the image is a well known communication strategy for Greenpeace, used to document
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environmental destruction and to convey the visual beauty of nature at risk. Photography is also central to the non-violent direct action that forms the basis of Greenpeace‘s philosophy of ‗bearing witness‘ to environmental damage‖ (Wapner, 2000). With this in mind, it is important to recognize the fact that the viewer or audience is not ignorant to the mechanics of visual persuasion. However, as Saffron O‘Neill and Sophie Nicholson-Cole have explained, fear-inducing images have potential to attract people‘s attentions, yet it is generally ineffective for motivating change. Nonthreatening images, in contrast, have the ability to link to an individual‘s emotions and concerns (O‘Neill & Nicholson-Cole, 2008). The visual depictions of oil soaked animals do not necessarily blame the viewer; the viewer may become implicated, but it is not entirely their fault, and there is still a sense of hope. The viewer can act to save the nonhuman world. As Keri Coninin has pointed out, ―these are not images that easily allow for a division between ‗us‘ and ‗them‘ in terms of environmental issues, and it is precisely this lack of ‗finger pointing‘ that can generate the most useful approaches in the context of environmental activism.‖ Clearly Greenpeace, not unlike the CAPP, has its own motivations for producing and dispersing such images. An image is never neutral, it is mediated at all points of contact and representation, and the viewer is often aware of this process. Yet, despite this fact, the idea of a truthful depiction from a photograph remains prominent. The Northern Gannet is being used for the motives of Greenpeace, but that does not change the fact that the bird was in fact soaked in oil from the oil sands, and therefore the viewers moral responsibility kicks in.
In order to define the Alberta oil sands as ethical or not, it is necessary to review how it is visually represented and therefore publicly perceived. It is important to not overlook the power of an image. As discussed, visual culture can persuade, alter, and influence public opinion. Environmental concerns increase in urgency when they are visualized and relatable to the wider public. With this in mind, visual culture can reach a vast and diverse group of people, who otherwise would have no perception of what the
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oil sands and its environmental impact look like. In order to determine the ethical potential of the oil sands it is important to analyze photographs, ads, and videos of the land. This is because, within the general public, a photograph is associated with truth, although this is somewhat problematic in terms of artistic manipulation, a photograph is a depiction of a real place at a specific time. In order to help avoid bias from the maker of the image and restriction of information, it is recommended that an examination of visual representations produced by the oil industry and by its opposition takes place, this will help to ―paint‖ a larger and more accurate depiction of the oil sands.
The fact that the CAPP has produced ads to combat negative publicity, and now has publicly addressed how they are helping to preserve and conserve the environment, suggests that they have caused the very degradation they are working to reclaim, there is a subtle admission of guilt, and they now have the responsibility to fix what they have done. Despite this fact, the CAPP is now participating in a form of environmental conservation, and in doing so they may be promoting their viewers to do the same. In order to evaluate this, however, it is recommended that the consideration and an analysis takes place examining if and how visual representations can inspire environmental change and action. For instance, can and does the CAPP‘s ad campaign inspire the same environmental donations, action, and change its opposition‘s campaigns, such as Greenpeace, do? In addition to this, if visual representation is analyzed in conjunction with the scientific data, it can be decided if the oil companies, government and organizations such as Greenpeace are acting ethically. If, for example, the science determines that the harm being done to the environment is substantial and putting human lives at risk, can it be said that the company, government or organization is behaving ethically if they are visually presenting a very different ―truth‖ to the public? Would this not be akin to a misrepresentation of information, or even a lie, and one which risks causing serious harm to the human and nonhuman world?
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Section 3.4: GENDER ANALYSIS
In September 2011, former Conservative government aide Alykhan Velshi launched a campaign to re-brand the oil sands as ‗Ethical Oil‘ (Grass, 2009), on the basis that Canada treats women more equitably and is more tolerant of sexual orientations than other oil-producing nations. These arguments, presented in Ezra Levant‘s Ethical Oil, raise considerable criticism and speculations that they are a marketing ploy to deflect negative publicity from the oil sands (Adrangi, 2011). This section is designed to create a discussion about the impacts the oil sands has on women and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer (LGBTQ) communities.
Currently, there has been little to no scholarly research on this subject. One could speculate on the reasons for the lack of recognition or study on the oil sand‘s impact on women, and could suggest that it is because the environmental impacts of the oil sands and workers‘ rights are regarded as more critical issues, or that women do not easily fit into a study of the oil industry. It could be assumed that there is not a need to examine the impact, as women in Canada enjoy many freedoms and opportunities not afforded to women in other oil-producing nations. However, the oil sands can be shown to have considerable effects on women, and thus a proper discussion is required in the assessment of whether or not the oil sands are deemed ethical.
THE OIL SANDS: FRIEND OR FOE TO W OMEN?
Supporters of the oil sands portray the industry as compatible with women‘s rights and interests. Images, such as the one above, have pitted women‘s rights in Canada against those in other oil-producing countries, such as Saudi Arabia (Velshi, 2011). It is not considered that such a comparison is useful in assessing the Canadian oil sands; rather, one must enter a discussion of how the genders experience, and are affected by, the oil sands in different ways, in order to make useful recommendations.
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Figure 6: An advertisement from Velshi‘s ―Ethical Oil‖ campaign.
Firstly, it can be shown that the genders are affected by the oil sands differently by the identified gender bias in the industry (Yedlin, 2006), and prolific wage discrimination in the province. Ely and Meyerson (2010), state that organizations import occupational norms, which are often associated with a gender. In the oil sands, one can see the dominant masculine identity that is associated with most occupations, which is strengthened by men‘s numerical dominance. In an examination of 16 oil companies operating in Alberta, women constitute only 10.97% of upper management and board of directors, usually occupying positions in health and safety, public policy, secretary or finance.
Whereas one could argue that this is reflective of the male-dominated technical and scientific fields 20 years ago, there is evidence that a large pay gap currently exists between the genders. In the oil sands, women are usually employed in service chores, paying minimum wage, whereas traditional male jobs pay from 3 to 4 times more
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(Jaremko, 2008). Alberta, in fact, has the largest pay gap in the country, with women with university degrees in 2007 earning a median 67% of what men earned. During the oil sands boom, this gap in earnings for women increased (Phillips, 2010). The average hourly wage for women in Alberta was lower than for men across all age groups (Newman, 2009). There have been some initiatives to counter this, however, including the creation of a women‘s training center by Petro-Canada in Edmonton, which provides apprenticeships in math, science and safety, as well as ―psychological preparation for work in ‗manland‘‖, otherwise known as ―attitude adjusting‖ (Jaremko, 2008). It is likely that such programs continue to entrench dysfunctional gender roles, and whereas it is important to attempt to correct gender discrimination in the labor force, the underlying causes of the negative impacts of the oil sands on women must be confronted.
For women employed directly or indirectly in the oil sands, a number of indicators increase women‘s vulnerability to abuse. As previously stated in the labor section, the oil sands has created a work environment and culture of addiction, stress and fatigue, due to long hours, poor living conditions and a lack of public services. This affects not only women working in the oil sands, who have reported sexual harassment and gender discrimination (Adrangi, 2011; McSorley, 2008), but also the spouses and families of men working in the oil sands. Alberta has the highest rates of domestic assault, homicide-suicide, stalking, and ranks third in domestic homicide (Newman, 2009). The flourishing sex trade in many towns in northern Alberta is frequently identified as a growing social problem, as a result of the work environment and large amounts of disposable income available to the predominant young male work force (Audette, 2008). Where there has been little research into the impact of the oil sands‘ work culture on women directly working in the oil sands, there has been even less on the impact on the families of workers who commute from other provinces. For example, it has been previously stated that a large number of workers hail from the Maritimes, and little is known about the impacts of the oil sands on those families left behind.
Whereas Prime Minister Harper and oil sands supporters frame the development as friendly to women‘s rights, the government is simultaneously decreasing funding to
ENSC 801 95 ETHICS OF THE ALBERTA OIL SANDS programs vital to women‘s well being. Women suffer from a variety of institutional barriers. There is a lack of representation within the Albertan legislature, with women only occupying 3 out of 21 cabinet positions (Government of Alberta, 2011e). The Alberta government has a number of policies that make it increasingly difficult for families, especially single parents, to survive in Alberta. It has been documented that women are disproportionately affected by these cuts in social welfare spending and reduction of public service (Andrew & Tremblay, 1998). The province allows only the bare minimum under federal law for maternal and parental leave benefits, the lowest number of dollars for regulated childcare spaces and the lowest social assistance rates in the country for a single parent with children (Shannon, 2010). The federal government has cut funding for women‘s advocacy by 43% since 2006 (Pullman, 2011). The result is that women fleeing abusive relationships not only lack the necessary support services, but also are twice as likely to be poor than male-headed households (Newman, 2009). With skyrocketing housing prices and costs of living, this results in unequal access to housing and an increase in female homelessness (Adrangi, 2011), and overall increase in women‘s vulnerability.
Pink-washing the Oil Sands
The recent attempt to re-brand the oil sands as more ethical because of
Canada‘s tolerance of sexual orientations has not gone without criticism. Velshi, the creator of the Ethical Oil blog and former spokesperson for Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, has been called insincere in this branding, as he has previously defended his Conservative colleagues who have repeatedly taken actions against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer (LGBTQ) communities. Examples include voting against a federal bill that would have helped to protect transgendered citizens against discrimination, attempting to repeal same-sex marriage, and removing LGBTQ presence from a citizenship guide for new Canadians, just to name a few (Grass, 2011).
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Figure 7: An advertisement from Velshi‘s ―Ethical Oil‖ campaign
Opponents argue that homophobia is perpetuated on a regular basis on both interpersonal and institutional levels. While funding and services continue to be cut from provincial budgets, there is little support or services for the large number of homeless trans-youth, and protection for queer and transgendered people of color, who suffer disproportionately from hate crimes and murder (Grass, 2011).
In male-dominated occupations, such as in the oil sands, there is a work environment that reiterates traditional male characteristics of physical strength and diminishes so-called feminine characteristics. Ely and Meyerson (2010), point out that as a result, men‘s fear of being labeled homosexual or feminine deterred them from expressing affection or dependency. This affects workers‘ quality of life, safety and support structures.
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There have been no studies or research carried out on the impact of the oil sands on LGBTQ rights in Alberta. There is no data available on the number of LGTQ currently working in the oil sands and accounts of their experiences.
A number of recommendations are hence put forth, in an attempt to gain a more holistic understanding of the impacts and implications of the oil sands from within a gender paradigm.
Firstly, it needs to be acknowledged that there has been a lack of research and literature concerning this topic. It is therefore recommended that further research and studies be carried out to examine the indirect and direct impacts of the oil sands on women, both within the Athabasca region and Canada. It is also recommended that studies be undertaken to examine the impact of the oil sands on LGBTQ communities, including the impact of the aforementioned ‗male‘ work culture, labor discrimination and violence.
Secondly, it is evident that the the social sector in Alberta, under continuous budgetary cuts, is proving incapable of delivering desperately needed services, which disproportionately affects women. It is recommended that social services be reinstated and be awarded higher budgetary considerations. Such services include shelters, food banks, advocacy, and affordable childcare and housing. Likewise, services should be strengthened that target workers of the oil sands to combat the rise in domestic violence and drug abuse, as well as sex workers around the region.
Thirdly, it is suggested that public and private sector actors coordinate to enact a living wage, in order to ensure that women, who make up the majority of low-wage earners in Alberta, be compensated a fair and adequate wage.
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Fourthly, although there has been criticism that gender equality programs over the past 20 years have been unsuccessful, because women still continue to be underpaid, perform grunt work and hold few executive positions (Harrington, 2000), it is recommended that private firms undertake action to fairly represent women in the workplace.
Section 3.5: RECOMMENDATIONS
The rapid pace of oil sands development should be slowed until the Government is certain it can provide suitable protection for workers employed in the oil and gas industry in Alberta. A review of the situation concerning temporary foreign workers should be undertaken and a critical look at how the Government‘s current legal positions on the hiring of TFWs may be contributing to the exploitation of these workers. Immediate and stricter repercussions against companies who have violated health and safety laws or labour laws should be implemented. A far more extensive program needs to be designed to assist oil patch workers with the emotional and psychological stresses of the industry. Acknowledgment of the importance and power of an image to spread oil sands discourse in a more popular realm. A closer consideration and evaluation of how oil sands discourses are being spread through visual culture.
ENSC 801 99 ETHICS OF THE ALBERTA OIL SANDS Responsible and transparent use of images when they are being used to educate the public on the oil sands. In addition, consideration of both representations from the oil sands and its opposition are necessary in the evaluation of the oil sands as ethical. Further research on the different ways the genders experience, and are effected by, the oil sands. Increased funding to be provided to public services that support LGBTQ communities, women working indirectly and directly in the oil sands, male and female workers in the oil sands, their families, and sex workers. A ‗fair wage‘ to be enacted in Alberta.
Gender equality firms to be undertaken in private and public spheres.
Increased consultation with Indigenous groups in all stages of oil sands development. An understanding that Indigenous concerns may differ from commonly held anxieties pertaining to oil sands development.
Government accountability regarding Aboriginal treaty rights, Canadian policies, and International guidelines.
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Section 4.1: INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
Globalization has caused one major change in the world: it has become very difficult for a nation to function in isolation. Therefore, it is imperative that international relations are studied in the context of all major issues facing any country. The issue of Alberta oil sands will be discussed in a broad global context here.
4.1.1 THE INTERNATIONAL DEBATE ON OIL SANDS
The oil sands of Alberta have become an important issue of environmental debate throughout the world. Be it the question of ethics or benefits of production from oil sands to Canada, this has become a major topic of discussion. Viewpoints of two important international organisations are discussed here:
European Union (EU)
The environmental degradation as a result of continued exploitation of oil sands dented Canada‘s reputation as a clean and reliable source of energy. Presently, the EU does not utilize a lot of oil from oil sands but the rising demand clearly makes the EU a potential future market for Canada. Therefore, Canadian government mounted pressure on the EU to garner more support for future investment in Alberta oil sands (Lukacs, May 2011)
EU energy law was the main point of concern with the Canadian Government specially the Fuel Quality Directive. In this directive, Article 7a, was expected to label oil sands as ‗dirty‘ in a bid to promote cleaner transportation fuel in Europe. The possibility of oil from Alberta being labelled as ‗undesirable‘ spurred the Canadian efforts because the government is now increasingly looking towards Asian markets for export and such a step would be counter-productive for sales. As a part of this campaign, international events like the G8 and G20 summits along with state visits to countries like France and
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Norway were used as platforms to garner more support for oil sands as a big and clean source of oil for the future (Lukacs, May 2011).
In spite of lobbying, Canada was unable to convince the European Union about the feasibility of oil sands as a ‗green‘ resource for future energy needs. Even after CETA (Can-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement), the EU recognised the higher green house gas intensity of fuel produced through oil sands. A greenhouse gas value of 107 grams of carbon per megajoule was assigned to oil produced from Oil Sands which is significantly more than 87.5 grams for conventional oil production (Lewis & Dunmore, 2011). The Canadian government has also proposed investment rules for CETA that can be likened to those enumerated in ―Chapter 11‖ of the NAFTA agreement. This poses a renewed threat to environmental regulation and resource management issues within the oil sands region (Sinclair, October 2011).
Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)
For all intents and purposes, OPEC should be against the oil sands as it is competition for oil produced from the middle-east. In fact, it has been rejecting the oilsands as a ―marginal‖ resource for many years. However, it has now emerged that OPEC is in a parternership with Alberta government. An official relationship has been established with a possibility of potential investment in Alberta by OPEC members. According to officials in both Canada and OPEC nations, this association is beneficial for both parties in the long run. Canada gets a future market while Saudi Arabia (an important member of OPEC) receives a good collaboration in the western world with a trusted ally of USA and a forum to discuss their ―green‖ oil extraction practices. This softening of stance has also been attributed to the rising concern over rapidly decreasing oil resources and understanding the importance of having at least ‗working allies‘ in the western world. However, it is not likely that this relationship will be looked upon favourably especially with oil consumers in rest of Canada who are not happy with the continuously rising oil prices (Alberta in tie-up with OPEC, November 2011). Asia
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Canada is pushing for diversification of oil sands market by influencing buyers in Asia, particularly in the light of the delayed decision on the Keystone Pipeline Project. Ministers and officials going on tours to Asia have been trying to sell the idea of oil sands as a potential resource for the future in the expanding economies of Asia. Several pipelines in the Pacific (for example to Kitimat in BC from Alberta for ferrying crude to Asia) have already been proposed. This is being seen as an alternative if the Keystone Pipeline Project does not go through (Jones, 2011). China has already started investments in the oil sands of Alberta: investing about 15 billion dollars within the past one and a half years. As an aside, this has become a welcome development for many Houston-based oil firms as Chinese cash in Canadian projects has helped the capitalintensive oil sands projects (Dlouhy, 2011).
Support for oil sands
Major support has also emerged for oil-sands within the EU. Britain has opposed the labelling of oil sands as highly polluting green fuel making because: It has been a traditional ally of Canada and US; It has a direct stake in oil sands through BP and Royal Dutch Shell Company.
Netherlands has also given some opposition to the label. Estonia is another country that has come out against this ruling because it has shale reserves for its own oil production that will be counted as a significant contributor to environmental degradation. Besides, Business Europe- a group of companies and industries from 35 nations have written to EU stating that trade in EU will suffer at the cost of ‗minimal‘ environmental benefits (Lewis & Dunmore, 2011).
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4.1.2 CANADA AND USA: PRESENT NAFTA OIL POLICY
North American Free Trade Agreement sets rules of trade and investment in the North American region comprising USA, Canada and Mexico. Officially, this agreement came into force on January 1, 1994 eliminating most tariff and non-tariff barriers to free trade and investment between the three nations. However, the USA and Canada had already been ‗free-trade partners‘ for some years before NAFTA came into force- the Free Trade Agreement Negotiations had begun in 1985 between the two nations and sixteen months later FTA was finalized. In general, through this agreement Canada and USA agreed to remove bilateral border measures on traded goods which included the removal of tariffs on goods like meat products, fuels, wine, clothing, textile and machinery. As per the rules, any country can stop the agreement with six months notice (Emerson Plays Oil Card as NAFTA debate heats up, 2008). The organization works on the basis of Rules of Origin. Each NAFTA country follows the ‗non-tariff rule‘ for importing goods originating in all other NAFTA countries. Customs officials are given the power to decide which goods qualify to be a part of the agreement so that producers, exporters and importers are kept in the loop. Goods brought in from other countries and subjected to minimal processing in North America are not included as a part of the agreement (North American Free Trade Agreement, 2009).
Some other rules related with energy and oil trade are enumerated below (Murray, Mitri & Cienava, 2010):
1. Rules for product origination:
The goods produced are said to be NAFTA-originated only if : they are wholly produced in a NAFTA country; they are transformed from the original till the extent enumerated under NAFTA rules/tariff classifications or they are produced
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entirely in NAFTA territory only from the originating materials. A certificate of origin is essential to prove NAFTA Originating Status. This becomes a problem specially when there are commingling goods (physically combined or mixed inventory) or fungible goods (goods interchangeable for commercial purposes but their properties are essentially the same)
2. Rules for Diluents: Diluents are required to make crude oil thinner to enable pipeline transportation. Traditionally, Canada had surplus diluents. However by 2005, diluent imports became necessary as their supplies diminished. Canada relied on USA imports for some time but EnCana terminal development necessitated non-NAFTA diluent imports that were shipped from American border which added an import duty when they were given to Canada. Import Duty normally goes to the country of origin, so diluents that pass through America may be subject to import duty while going to Canada and again back into USA. Introduction of Non-NAFTA diluents from Canada border led to the demand of ‗country of origin‘ document by the American customs making the process even more difficult. Additional $30,000,000 is the paying cost accruing to the government because of this added import duty. A new NAFTA tariff shift rule after October 2009 changed the headings 2705 to 2709 (from any other chapter) under USA Tariff General Note 12(t). The ultimate stipulation was that DilBit (diluted bitumen) from Canada which was made with non-NAFTA originating diluents will not be considered a NAFTA originating good. EnCana came up with its own IMS (Inventory Management System) for checking the goods. It still remains to be seen whether this system finds widespread acceptance or not.
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3. Rules for Tariffs on oil products: Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System used by all industrialized nations world over as a nomenclature is followed while setting Tariffs. ―Chapter 27‖ HS Heading 2709 (bitumen and crude from Canada is included under this heading) and 2710 deal with petroleum, oil, crude and other than crude preparations including the oil produced from oil sands. There was a change in headings and rules in Oct. 2009 regarding diluents that are not produced in NAFTA territory and Indistinguishable diluents. According to HS 2709, it is applicable to Lease Condensates, light crude oil and other petroleum materials that are recovered not processed. Even blending with foreign diluents will lead to non-NAFTA condensate and ultimately to American import duties. According to HS 2710, for processed (not recovered) materials, any material as mentioned under HS 2710 used for blending will be duty free.
Essentially, there are many rules and regulations that an exporter or a producer is subject to under the NAFTA agreement for taking advantage of the various benefits offered. As a Canadian Producer, it is important to have a written statement of eligibility or a NAFTA Certificate; proper production records and origin information for the raw materials. As a Canadian Exporter, written information on NAFTA eligibility for goods and raw materials; information about product shipment from origin to delivery and provisions for NAFTA eligibility for sale are important requirements to complete before the export.
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4.1.3 ARE CANADIAN OIL EXPORTS TO USA UNDER NAFTA BENEFICIAL?
If a nation is producing oil but is not benefiting from the resource, it can call into question the ethics of producing that oil. This situation can be examined in the context of Canada-USA relations as well. According to Parliamentary Information and Research Service, four specific articles and clauses under ―Chapter 6‖ of NAFTA agreement directly or indirectly affect Canada‘s ability to restrict exports. These are: Articles 603(2), 604, 605 and 607. It is clearly mentioned in the write up ―Article 605 explicitly states that Canada can restrict energy exports only if all the following conditions apply: Exports as a percentage of total Canadian supply do not fall; Canada cannot charge a higher price to the United States or Mexico by means of taxes, licence fees, minimum prices or any other regulation; Any restriction cannot result from a disruption of normal supply channels‖. Similarly, ―Article 607‖ presents ‗four national security related scenarios‘ wherein Canada can restrict energy exports (including oil). ―Articles 603‖ and ―Article 604‖ prevent any Canadian government intervention in the energy market either through change in price taxes/tariffs or stopping supply suddenly.
Holden, the author of the parliamentary report, also refutes any claim of Canada required to sell a percentage of oil to USA even in the face of domestic crises. He explains that NAFTA does not affect the future cut in this percentage, if it is required by the Canadian government. According to Holden, since Canadian producers can sell as much oil as they wish to people of their choice, it is the natural demand and supply
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curve that determines the total oil exported to USA (even via pipelines from oil sands). The only condition is that all buyers in North America will have equal rights to buy the energy products. Energy exports to USA (as per ―Article 605‖) as a percentage of total output cannot fall. But, this in any way does not affect the day to day trade and seeks to curtail the influence of the government in the North American market. He does however admit that under the article provisions, Canadian government cannot impose any curbs on energy imports by the USA under normal conditions. Also, under NAFTA provisions, oil has to be available for all consumers in North America equally. Economically, producers cannot charge more from one country and this ensures that only global situation determines the supply, demand and prices throughout Canada (Holden, 2006). The flip side is presented by The Council of Canadians in ―Why its time to renegotiate NAFTA‖ 2008: there is danger to environmental security and Canadian energy requirements in future (2008). The Council categorically states that NAFTA weakens government intervention over export of an essential resource. Restrictions on American ownership of energy have been removed and energy corporations have a greater say in the manufacture and export of energy. As well, under Regional trade agreements export of energy has been fostered without considering the Canadian situation. Article 605 includes a proportional sharing clause wherein Canada is required to sell hydrocarbons to USA based on production for the past three years. The largest oil and energy export from Canada to America. This condition can force Canada to exports higher amounts in the freer market without government regulations in place. Another article presented as is ―Article 1‖1 through which corporations can sue NAFTA governments (not in state tribunals but NAFTA tribunals) in case any impacts have affected their share of profits. An example of the misuse of this regulation mentioned in the text: Two US oil companies Mobil investments and Murphy Oil are suing Canada for $60 Million because the government in Newfoundland wants to invest R&D in developing oil resources in the province.
Looking at the two sides, it can be clearly seen that the policies if not totally biased towards USA are slightly tilted towards its betterment without accounting for
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utilization of resources from Canada. In spite of this, according to The Calgary Herald (2008),the Canadian government was at one point mulling over giving priority access of Canadian Oil to USA. Also, under ―Article 605‖, Canadian government can not impose restrictions on the amount of American imports and energy exports which can only be restricted if all three conditions detailed in the article are applicable. Besides, ―Article 11‖ clearly gives leeway to the corporations over and above the local governments.Thus, it has not been directly mentioned but restriction of Canadian exports to USA has been made very difficult (all three conditions to occur simultaneously is not a common phenomenon). As for the oil sands, in November 2011, the US government decided to postpone the decision on Alberta-Houston (Keystone) oil-sands pipeline by one year.
Section 4.2: CLIMATE CHANGE POLICIES
The climate has been going through repeated phases of warming and cooling for millions of years (Barnes, 1999; Keeling & Garcia, 2002). However, in the recent century, there has been evidence of anthropogenic induced climate change affecting the entire globe (Environment Canada, 2005). Climate change can be defined as a statistical departure from expected average weather due to natural variability or human activity (IPCC, 2007). Human activities contributing to climate change include expelling greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at a rate higher than the biosphere can absorb it. Global climate change is an intractable environmental problem because the dominant driver of the disruption—emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) from fossil-fuel combustion— is a deeply embedded consequence of the way in which civilization is today acquiring 80 percent of its energy (Holdren, 2006). Increased greenhouse gas emissions have had a detectable influence on the global climate regulatory system. The consequences are an unpredictable new climate setting.
The oil sands are profoundly and possibly irrevocably detrimental to the health of the environment. Through the continued mining, processing, and exporting of bitumen
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Canada is adding to national emissions and world emissions. Canada has the ethical obligation to decrease its GHG emissions as future generations will suffer most of the harmful effects of global climate change.
4.2.1 HOW OIL SANDS DEVELOPMENT IS AFFECTING CLIMATE CHANGE
There are concerns regarding the adverse impacts of climate change on a global scale from rising emissions of GHGs. Carbon dioxide is the most important GHG in terms of total volume and impact on the climate (Toman et al., 2008). According to recent projections from the Government of Canada, in a business-as-usual oil sands scenario, growth in emissions will continue with the total annual emissions from the oil sands doubling from 2009 to 2020 (Environment Canada, 2011). The oil sands development is Canada‘s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions (Charpentier et. al., 2009; Bordetsky et. al, 2007). Oil sands development releases increased amounts of greenhouse gases and encourages climate change through increased: Energy required to extract bitumen Energy required to upgrade bitumen prior to being shipped to refineries Energy required to refine bitumen and synthetic crude oil Energy is required to dispose of waste from above processes (Earthworks, 2008).
Extracting bitumen from the oil sands is very energy intensive, and, as a result, oil sands mine operations are major emitters of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Syncrude and Suncor are Canada‘s 3rd and 6th largest emitters of GHGs respectively (Dyer et al., 2008). The production of synthetic crude oil through surface mining and upgrading or in situ retrieval and upgrading processes is reported to result in emissions ranging from 62 to 164 and 99 to 176 kgCO2eq/bbl synthetic crude oil, respectively, compared to 27–58 kgCO2eq/bbl of crude for conventional oil production (Charpentier et. al., 2009). The
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difference in emissions intensity between synthetic crude oil and conventional crude production is primarily due to higher energy requirements for extracting bitumen and upgrading it into synthetic crude oil.
Emissions from in situ operations cost $175-320 per tonne to capture, whereas the current carbon price in Alberta is only $15 per emitted tonne (Sivakumar et al., 2005). As a result, corporations choose unrestricted pollution, which is more cost effective than environmental responsibility. Replacing conventional oil and gas with synthetic liquids and gases made from oil sands, oil shales, and coal will sharply increase the emissions of climate-altering carbon dioxide unless costly carbon capture and sequestration accompany these conversions (Holdren, 2006).
Figures from the Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel show that, from 1990 to 2009, oil sands GHG intensity, emissions per barrel produced, declined by 29%. (Gosselin et al., 2010). Substantial intensity improvements have been made with the aid of new technology. A significant component of the intensity reductions from the past two decades were made possible by fuel switching from coke to natural gas and by increased use of co-generation of heat and electricity (Moorhouse & Peachey, 2007). Petroleum coke is a very carbon-intensive fossil fuel compared to natural gas. However, as intensity is decreasing, the overall production is increasing (National Energy Board, 2006). The Government of Alberta (2011e) states that new projects are being added every year and production is expected to increase from 1.31 million barrels per day in 2008 to 3 million barrels per day in 2018.
4.2.2 HOW THE GOVERNMENT OF ALBERTA IS MANAGING CLIMATE CHANGE
In January 2008, the Alberta Government (2011a) released its Climate Change Strategy for the oil sands development, acknowledging Alberta‘s responsibility for reducing greenhouse gas emission. The strategy takes action on three fronts:
ENSC 801 112 ETHICS OF THE ALBERTA OIL SANDS Implementing carbon capture and storage (CCS) Greening energy production Conserving and using energy efficiently
The Climate Change Strategy calls for the intensity targets set in the 2002 plan to be reached by 2010; for GHG emissions to be stabilized by 2020; and for an absolute GHG emission reduction of 14% below 2005 levels by 2050 (Venalainen, 2008). Companies that are required to meet the provincial reduction target for greenhouse gas emissions can choose to pay $15 a tonne into the The Climate Change and Emissions Management Fund for emissions over the target (Government of Alberta, 2011a). The fund is intended to aid Alberta in reaching its climate change strategies and support the development and application of innovative technologies.
The Climate Change and Emissions Management Fund was created through amendments to Alberta‘s Climate Change and Emissions Management Amendment Act in 2007 and was launched in April 2008 (Venalainen, 2008). While the Minister of the Environment collects payments into the fund, the Climate Change and Emissions Management (CCEMC) Corporation delegates the fund‘s investments (Government of Alberta, 2011a). The CCEMC is an ―arm-length organization‖ independent from government that invest and supports emission reduction technologies (Government of Alberta, 2011b).
4.2.3 HOW THE OILS SANDS DEVELOPMENT AFFECTED THE KYOTO PROTOCOL
AND COPENHAGEN ACCORD
Canada‘s role to date in international action to combat climate change has some positive aspects and some negative ones. On a positive note, Canada has ratified the Kyoto Protocol, thereby accepting a challenging target to make an initial reduction in GHG emissions by 2008. But the Government of Canada has not yet made any commitments regarding the far deeper reduction targets that will be needed post-2012.
ENSC 801 113 ETHICS OF THE ALBERTA OIL SANDS In effect, Canada‘s current climate change policy ends abruptly on December 31st 2012.
Canada is faced with the challenge and international legal obligation, under the Kyoto Protocol, of reducing absolute GHG emissions by 6% below 1990 levels by 20082012 (Dyer et al., 2008). After years of inaction by industry and lack of governmental policies, current projections suggest that emissions are 32% higher than 1990 levels (Dyer et al., 2008). Canada needs to reduce emissions by 80% or more below the 1990 level by 2050 – and, by 2020, be well on track to doing so – if we are to limit average global warming to 2ºC above the preindustrial level and thereby avoid the worst impacts of climate change (Bramley, 2005). Canada‘s abundant export of fossil fuels results in additional emissions outside the national borders resulting in a global increase in GHGs. The Federal Government‘s lax regulatory scheme makes it unlikely that Canada will meet its Kyoto Protocol commitment to reduce carbon emissions 17% by 2012 (Birn & Khanna, 2010). The Federal Government policy allows oil sand operators a three-year grace period from any emissions restrictions even though the industry contributes 5% of Canada‘s GHG emissions (Huot, 2011). Increased energy use in the extraction and refining processes through nuclear power, natural gas, and re-installment of coal-fired plants contributes to escalating emissions.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen ended with a political agreement called The Copenhagen Accord and seeks to decrease GHGs emissions by 2020. Industrialized countries will commit to implement individually or jointly quantified economy-wide emissions targets for 2020 as reductions from their own choice of base-years.
Canada signed the Accord in 2009 and seeks to have a 17% reduction in GHG emissions by 2020 using 2005 as the base year (United Nations, 2011).
The oil sands were not the focus of the talks in Copenhagen, Denmark. However, the oil sands can hamper Canada‘s commitment to decreasing emissions in line with
ENSC 801 114 ETHICS OF THE ALBERTA OIL SANDS the Copenhagen Accord. During the time frame that Canada‘s emissions should be declining in accordance with the Accord, Environment Canada (2011c) found that oil sands emissions will grow substantially over that decade. Currently announced government measures will generate about one quarter of the reductions in emissions by 2020 that are needed to reach Canada‘s Copenhagen accord target of 607 Mt (Environment Canada, 2011c).
The path forward internationally and domestically regarding declining GHG emissions is not clear. Thus it would be at best premature to conclude that we are now on a track to a balanced approach to climate change policy.
4.2.4 ETHICS OF THE OIL SANDS DEVELOPMENT AND CLIMATE CHANGE
Major ethical dilemmas now complicating the climate change debate include how to balance the rights and responsibilities of the developed and developing world and how to assess responsibility to future generations who must live with a climate that is being influenced by current practises.
Knowingly causing climate change can not be termed ethical as it leads to human death and suffering. Many people, mostly from developing countries, are being killed and displaced by climate change effects. Climate-change disasters kill around 300,000 people a year and another 325 million people a year are seriously affected through natural disasters or suffer from environmental degradation (Global Humanitarian Forum, 2009). The large majority of people dying from climate-change related deaths live in countries that generate less than 1 percent of total emissions of GHG responsible for global warming (Global Humanitarian Forum, 2009). These people are not doing the activities that expel GHG but are paying the price for the consequences.
The climate system is a global commons. Benefits can be extracted from the
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commons by individuals, either for feeding sheep or for dumping CO2, but the costs of using the commons are paid by everyone. The costs and benefits of fossil fuel use are not shared fairly. David Archer (2008) states ―ethics and fairness are a lot to ask of the political process, especially when most of the people affected by the decision, people of the distant future, do not have a voice in the decision.‖ Individuals living today enjoy material benefits from the burning of fossil fuels, but it is future populations that must inherent the unpredictable climate that unchecked consumption of fossil fuels will leave.
Historically, industrialised countries have emitted the large majority of anthropogenic greenhouse gases (International Energy Agency, 2011). Presently, many developing nations are transitioning towards developed and here lies potential for future growth in GHGs emissions. Countries with large populations, such as India, Brazil, Russia, and China, are rapidly exploiting fossil fuels to power economic development and will presumably be responsible for large quantities of future emissions (Somerville, 2008). The key issue is the contrast between past and future actions and who should be held responsible. Ethical concerns demand a principled understanding of the differing rights and obligations of both developed and developing countries.
Much of the carbon produced from developed nations are luxury emissions as opposed to subsistence emissions. These nations should and can do more to decrease their GHGs emissions (Garvey, 2008). However, developing nations should also try to trim emissions while not harming their citizens. The developed nations can assist developing nations to promote sustainability and escape the worst of industrialization.
The oil sands development, at its present rate of exploitation, is unlikely to be a sustainable endeavour. While the use of fuel derived from oil sands is meeting today‘s needs, preserving the environment so that future needs can be met is not being done adequately. The energy required to produce this fossil fuel is intensive, as previously
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stated, and results in GHG expelled at every step in the process and can result in an unpredictable global climate for future generations. Fossil fuels are finite and presently it is the responsibility of this generation not to damage or use up the resources needed for the survival of future generations.
Climate change is not a distant prospect but is already at work, and developed nations need to bear the burden of responsibility for taking action against it. The Government of Canada‘s climate change plan is to regulate all major sources of emissions to generate additional reductions (Environment Canada, 2011c). The goal is to develop sufficient federal measures that, when combined with additional provincial actions, will enable Canada to bring its total GHG emissions down to the Copenhagen Accord target level.
The principle of sustainability should be applied when developing new international policies and in deciding how international agreements to reduce emissions levels are to be enforced. Economic sanctions as a means of achieving this are recommended. A successful energy strategy should strive to limit energy-supply contributions to global climate change.
Section 4.3: DEVELOPMENT AND RECLAMATION
Proponents of Alberta‘s oil sands purport that this massive development is controlled by strict environmental governmental standards that are among the most comprehensive in the world (Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, 2008). However, as explored elsewhere in this report, the oil sands have been criticized for its detrimental economic, environmental and social impacts. Several of these concerns stem from ―a history of inadequate regulation, management and monitoring of the environmental impacts of production‖ (Grant et al., 2011). Therefore, creating a responsible and ethical future for the oil sands industry will depend on successful
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implementation and enforcement of effective government policies regarding project development and restoration.
4.3.1 DEVELOPMENT POLICY
The Government of Alberta (2009b) has released a long-term vision statement for the oil sands. In this vision, development occurs responsibly, sustains growth for industry as well as the province over the long term, and is done in a manner that enhances Albertans‘ quality of life (Government of Alberta, 2009b). Few critics would disagree with this vision, but it is unclear how attainable this goal truly is. To date, no comprehensive long-term plan on oil sands has been implemented. According to the Albertan government, it is critical to Alberta‘s continued prosperity that investments in oil sands projects continue, resulting in a substantial increase in production. While approximately 178 billion barrels of bituminous oil can be extracted from the Alberta oil sands under present economic conditions and available technology, approximately 315 billion barrels will ultimately be recoverable (Government of Alberta, 2006). As technology improves extraction techniques, production is estimated to increase to 3.8 million barrels per day by 2020, over three times the production rate in 2004 (Government of Alberta, 2006). However beneficial, the current fast rate of growth has put stress on, and raised concerns over, infrastructure, housing, transportation, and the environment.
In 1930, the Government of Canada granted the Alberta Crown with ownership of the mineral rights to approximately 81% of the province‘s 66 million hectares. As such, the Alberta Crown currently controls approximately 97% of oil sands mineral rights; the remainder is held by freehold owners (Government of Alberta, 2009a). The Crown leases their mineral rights to oil and gas companies in exchange for royalties (discussed in length in section 1.1), bonuses, and annual rent payments (Government of Alberta, 2009a). Before oil sands projects can proceed, the operator must secure a lease from
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the provincial government, assess the environmental impact of their proposed project(s), as well as obtaining approval from Alberta Environment and the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board.
The majority of oil sands agreements are issued through public offerings held by the Alberta Environment. ―Sales‖ of oil sands rights are initiated when companies or individuals submit requests to ―buy‖. The parcels up for tender are advertised eight weeks in advance of ―sale‖. The highest bidder wins the rights to drill for, work, recover and remove Crown-owned resources (Government of Alberta, 2009a). The total bid includes: rent for the first year of the agreement ($3.50 per hectare or $50.00, whichever is greater), an insurance fee ($625.00), and a bonus ($500.00 per hectare or $2000.00, whichever is greater) (Government of Alberta, 2009a). Subsequent annual rent payments are due on or before the anniversary date of the agreement. Applicants are typically allowed to choose whether they wish to obtain a permit (5 years) or lease (15 years). Leases are classified as either producing (meets minimum level of production - an average of 4 barrels per section per day over the lease term) or nonproducing (does not meet minimum level of production; subject to escalating rents). If the minimum level of evaluation has been attained, permit holders may apply for a lease at the end of their permit term. Under the same regulation, leases may likewise be renewed. Leases granted continuations are able to remain in effect indefinitely. Over the past five years, an average of 220 oil sands agreements have been issued per year (Government of Alberta, 2006).
In addition to obtaining a lease, environmental assessment of proposed projects is mandatory. This process involves three stages (Government of Alberta, 2006): Initial Review: The proponent of the oil sands project notifies Alberta Environment of the proposed development, including its location, size and nature. Preparation for an Environmental Assessment Report: The project proponent proposes the terms of reference to be included in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA); this is made public for review. The final terms of reference are determined by Alberta Environment. Information typically requested for an EIA includes: (a) any potential
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positive or negative environmental, social, economic and cultural impacts of the proposed project; (b) plans to mitigate any potentially adverse impacts of the project; (c) information on programs for public consultation; and (d) identification of potential health issues.
Final Review: The Environmental Impact Assessment report is reviewed by Alberta Environment; additional information may be requested. Recently, some EIAs have been contracted to third-parties. However, Alberta Environment continues to oversee and make the final decision on all applications. The final EIA report is made public.
While the pace and scale of oil sands development continues to increase, there exist several deficiencies in long-term planning and decision making. Despite releasing an encouraging vision statement on the future of oil sands development in 2009, the Government of Alberta has not yet adequately addressed how responsible and sustainable growth will be achieved. In addition, there does not appear to be any specific threshold for or restrictions on development; for example, only 6.7% of land in the Lower Athabasca Region is currently protected from industrial activity (Grant et al., 2011). An expansion of poorly thought-out long-term oil sands development will have significant negative economic, social, and environmental implications. Rather than pushing increased development with new sites, emphasis should be placed on understanding and improving existing oil sands projects.
4.3.2 RECLAMATION POLICY
Under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (2010), once an oil/gas facility is decommissioned, operators are required to reclaim specified land and apply for a reclamation certificate. Current provincial legislation requires that oil sands operators develop and receive approval for closure plans that outline how affected areas will be reclaimed prior to project approval and commencement (Government of Alberta, 2011d). As operation planning progresses, the reclamation plan is also
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modified, to ensure it will result in the desired final land use.
For surface mines, operators are required to provide reclamation security bonds to ensure that reclamation work will take place after project completion and closure. Security deposit amounts are based on the estimated costs of reclamation as provided by the operator, and are updated based on current and predicted disturbance and any reclamation completed (Alberta Environment, 2010). Funds will be returned to the operator upon issuance of a reclamation certificate; if the operator is unwilling or unable to complete the necessary reclamation, the security deposit funds will be used for this purpose. Held in Alberta Environment‘s Protection Security Fund, these funds are intended to prevent taxpayers from bearing reclamation costs.
Financial security requirements for in-situ operations differ from those applicable to surface mines. Administered by the Energy Resources Control Board (ERCB), the Licensee Liability Rating Program and the Orphan Fund, govern in-situ operations‘ securities. Under the LLR Program, an in-situ operation licensee is required to pay a deposit to the ERCB when it is determined that its deemed liabilities exceed its deemed assets; the deposit is in the amount of this difference. A separate annual levy is based on a licensee‘s proportional share of sector liability as determined by the LLR Program. Funded by the oil and gas industry through these deposits and levies, the Orphan Fund will pay the costs associated with suspending, abandoning, remediating and reclaiming a well, facility or pipeline included within the LLR Program should a licensee default on its obligations (Energy Resources Conservation Board, 2009a).
However, as discussed in detail in section 1.3, concerns have been raised over the ability of the EPSF and ERCB to adequately protect Albertans from major financial risks. If long-term reclamation costs do in fact exceed the amount of financial security held by the province, as anticipated, this would create a significant financial liability for the Government of Alberta (Gosselin et al., 2009). As such, taxpayers would become liable for the environmental impacts of oil sands mines as the government recovered its costs through taxation. Should the federal government step in and share costs
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associated with reclamation, this liability will be shared by taxpayers across the country.
The objective of current reclamation criteria is to ensure that disturbed land is returned to a land capability equivalent to that of the pre-disturbed conditions. In other words, reclaimed land should be capable of supporting similar, but not necessarily identical, types of land use as prior to oil sands development (Province of Alberta, 2011). Once areas are no longer required for mine or plant purposes, disturbed mine site are reclaimed by: (a) back-filling, grading and contouring disturbed areas as to conform with natural topography and ensure proper drainage; (b) replacing soil materials salvaged for reclamation as approved by regulators; and (c) re-vegetating such that the re-established plant community is compatible with the intended land-use. Successful reclamation of forested landscapes should involve the establishment of native vegetation representative of the disturbed ecosystem. Similarly, successful reclamation of peatland and/or grasslands should involve the re-establishment of site conditions and vegetation as per the anticipated land use (Government of Alberta, 2010a). Before an operator can apply for reclamation certification, soils are tested and vegetation growth monitored for several, in some cases more than 15, years. Modifications to the site are made during this process to ensure reclamation success. As of 2009, the Government of Alberta estimated that nearly 7500 hectares of former oil sands land was in some stage of the reclamation process (Government of Alberta, 2011d). Similar to conventional oil development, in-situ oil sands operations require significant areas for surface installations. However, the depth of surface disruptions is substantially less than those of surface mining, and these projects require no tailings ponds. As such, reclamation of in-situ projects should theoretically be much more rapid (Dowdeswell et al., 2010). Given that in-situ projects take several decades to complete, there have been minimal reclamation efforts to date. Reclamation of in-situ projects is likely to follow similar steps as with surface mines. Initial reclamation efforts for in-situ exploration activities have been documented, and include: backfilling of holes, scarification of well pads, redistribution of debris piles across the area, and revegetation in order to minimize erosion (Schneider & Dyer, 2006).
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Reclamation certificates are managed through the Alberta Upstream Oil and Gas Reclamation and Remediation Program. Reclamation certificates are not issued until long-term monitoring demonstrates that these particular lands meet the Alberta Environment criteria for return to self-sustaining ecosystems and the objectives of equivalent land capability (Government of Alberta, 2011d). To properly asses the effectiveness of reclamation processes, three major criteria - landscape, vegetation and soils - need to be evaluated. Upon submission of an application, regulatory reviews and audits are conducted to verify compliance with legislation, criteria, guidelines and policy. This includes a full file review and site visit to asses: vegetation quality and quantity, soil quality and quantity, site topography/landscape, evidence of erosion, rocks, remaining facilities, visual indicators of contamination, and, if applicable, groundwater quality (Alberta Environment, 2008). At least one Environmental Site Assessment is also mandatory with every application. Any incidents or complaints pertaining to the site are also reviewed. Where non-compliance with policy or unresolved complaints exist, the application will be denied. Once final certification has been issued, the land is returned to the Crown as public land (Government of Alberta, 2011d).
The first Government of Alberta reclamation certificate was granted to Syncrude Canada Ltd. in 2008, for a 104 hectare parcel of land now known as Gateway Hill (Government of Alberta, 2011d). To date, this former oil sand mine is the only provincially certified reclaimed land associated with oil sands development. Despite significant investment by industry and government agencies into better reclamation technology and techniques, mines are often in operation for decades and reclamation activities on these sites can subsequently take decades to complete; it can take 15 or more years to effectively establish a successful ecosystem (Government of Alberta, 2011d). In addition, land undergoing reclamation is often adjacent to ongoing operations; due to safety concerns, operators often do not wish to grant access of these lands to the public (Canadian Oil Producers, 2008).
Decisions regarding oil sands development and reclamation have long-term impacts. As such, the Government of Alberta has an ethical and fiscal responsibility to
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protect Albertans, Canadians and the environment from liabilities associated with oil sands development, particularly by ensuring that reclamation policies are effective. Arguably, this is not yet the case. First of all, ―equivalent land capacity‖ requirements are presently poorly defined and require further clarification. The goal of equivalency, as opposed to restoration of original ecosystems, does not address natural habitat and ecosystem recovery from fragmentation in development areas. As described in section 2.5, there are also concerns about the productivity of reclaimed mines and tailings ponds areas and the inability to reclaim challenging ecosystems, such as wetlands, back to their original condition (Government of Alberta, 2006). Furthermore, there is criticism of the current rate of reclamation. Reclamation is not currently keeping pace with the rate of disturbance (Gosselin et al., 2010). In 2009, the Government of Alberta released a 20-year strategic plan for the oil sands which seemed to address several of the aforementioned concerns. Under Responsible Actions: A Plan for Alberta’s Oil Sands (2009), three major desired outcomes regarding reclamation were outlined: (a) require tailings reclamation to occur at the same rate as, or faster then, the production of new tailings; (b) require disturbed land to be reclaimed and certified in a timely manner across lease boundaries and the entire project footprint; and (c) require project reclamation requirements and milestones to be met as a condition of further oil sands development. In other words, develop and implement regulations to reduce the inventory of tailings and increase the pace of reclamation in oil sands development areas. However, it is unclear how and/or when these goals will be implemented.
Section 4.4: DOMESTIC POLICY
Proponents of the oil sands are quick to point out the political merits associated with Canadian oil production, especially when compared to other oil producing nations. Levant dedicates much of Ethical Oil to doing just so. He proudly states, that of the top ten countries endowed with the world‘s largest petroleum reserves, Canada (save for
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the fleeting democracy of Iraq) remains the only one to boast a liberal democracy. Furthermore, other leading oil exporters, such as Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Russia, Iran, Nigeria and Sudan, are among the world‘s worst dictatorships, human rights abusers, and relentless ―warmongering‖ nations (Levant, 2010). It is not intended to deny these claims (though it could be brought to question if a reduction in their export capacity would actually impede unethical behavior), but it is not considered enough to simply point out the flaws of the oil sands‘ competitors. When determining if the oil sands are indeed ethical, the Canadian government and its policies must too be scrutinized.
4.4.1 IS THE DEMOCRACY PARTICIPATORY?
In Tar Sands, Nikiforuk warns his readers about the dangers of petropolitics. His arguments stem from a 2006 issue of the Foreign Policy Review written by New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winning author, Thomas Friedman. The paper, entitled The First Law of Petropolitics, posits the following: The price of oil and the pace of freedom always move in opposite directions in oil-rich petrolist states. The higher the average global crude oil price rises, the more free speech, free press, fair elections, and the rule of law are eroded. Furthermore, these negative trends are reinforced by the fact that the higher the price goes, the less petrolist leaders are sensitive to what the world and their citizens thinks or say about them (Friedman, 2006). According to political scientist Michael Ross, the claim that oil impedes democracy is valid and statistically robust. Using a basic regression model that includes various social and political measurements, he is able to prove that oil, in tandem with the ―resource curse‖, negatively affects democracy (Ross, 2001; 2009). It does so in three ways: a reduction in, or the elimination of, taxes; funding of patronage or programs to reduce dissent; and heavy military and security spending. As Nikiforuk explains, governments supplied with oil revenue do not need to tax their citizens to govern. Yet in the absence of taxes, citizens are less likely to participate in the democratic process, and governments in turn are less likely to listen to and represent them. Put poignantly, when governments collect
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more revenue from hydrocarbons than they do from taxpayers, they eventually forget whom they serve (Nikiforuk, 2008). In a petrostate, oil revenue is then used to buy loyalty, reduce dissent, and expand their military spending in order to enforce these purchases.
It is important to point out that these studies have focused on oil-exporters amongst Middle East and developing nations. Several reports (such as Wibbels & Goldberg, 2008) have analyzed oil‘s influence on the American political landscape, yet academic research of this type is lacking in Canada. It is perhaps also important to note here, that oil sand development is relatively young, especially when compared to nations with an established history of conventional oil production. If however, it is determined that an ethical government must be participatory, then the following conditions must be met: it‘s citizens must be engaged in the democratic process, the government must not fund its own patronage, and the government must encourage programs for research and debate (Nikifouk, 2008 ; CAEPLA, 2011).
Nikiforuk has attempted to address some of these questions on his own, with a focus on the provincial situation. As mentioned above in the economics chapter, oil and gas revenues make up a third of Alberta‘s GDP and comprise over 30% of it its total revenue. As mentioned in the economics chapter, it is not surprising that the province has the lowest tax scheme in Canada. The Progressive Conservative party has governed the province for over forty years, and voter turnout has decreased with each subsequent election (Nikiforuk, 2008). The last provincial election saw the lowest voter turnout in the history of Canada; even the PC caucus has demonstrated a lack of member interest. After the recent resignation of former Premier Ed Stelmach, the amount of member turnout to vote for a successor was halved compared to their previous election (Libin, 2011). Demonstrating the luxury of oil sands revenue, former premier Ralph Klein was able to hand out $400 cheques, known as the ―prosperity bonus‖ or ―Ralph bucks‖, to every member of the province in 2006 (Wood, 2011). In addition, the Alberta government spends $14 million dollars a year in its Public Affairs Bureau, and has spent an additional $25 million in a campaign to put a ―green‖ label the
ENSC 801 126 ETHICS OF THE ALBERTA OIL SANDS oil sands (Nikiforuk, 2008). Lastly, the ERCB, the chief regulator of Alberta‘s energy development, has been accused of spying on rural landowners and shutting down public debate (Nikifouk, 2008 and CAEPLA, 2011). Has the ―resource curse‖ made a similar impact on national democratic participation? Energy exports make up 9 percent of Canada‘s GDP, (Nikiforuk, 2008) and this number is likely to grow in tandem with increased oil sands development. Since sworn in to office in 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has lowered the GST by 2% and has stood firm by his promise not to raise it. In addition, the Prime Minister continues to lower the rate of corporate taxes. This year, corporate taxes were reduced by 1.5 percent to a total of 16.5 percent, and a further reduction to 15% is planned for 2012. To put this in perspective, the rate was 28% in 2000, and a reduction of 1.5% accounts to $2.8 billion annually (Harper Watch, 2011). Since the early 1960‘s, voter turnout has been steadily declining in federal elections: in 1993, the percentage of voter turnout fell below 70%, and in 2008 this number dropped below 60% (Election Almanac, 2011). There is currently no evidence to suggest that the Canadian government has used its petro-wealth to sponsor programs to reduce dissent in the country. However, Stephen Harper has been criticized for his cutbacks on economic and environmental research, such as the recent cuts and layoffs at Environment Canada (Champion, 2011), while at the same time increasing the budget for military spending.
4.4.2 ARE THE POLICIES TRANSPARENT?
In order for citizens to participate in their democracy, information must be freely and easily accessible. In other words, government actions and their policies must be transparent. Several accusations have been put forward to suggest that transparency in both jurisdictions is lacking. For instance, in 2006, Alberta‘s government made it legal for its politicians to lock away (removing access) internal audits for up to fifteen years. For up to five years, Government ministers are also legally allowed to keep their briefing binders private (Nikiforuk, 2008). Both Alberta and Canada claim to uphold
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written legislation to ensure public access to information through the Freedom of Information Act (1994) and the Access to Information Act (1983), respectively. Though information regarding government services should be easily accessible, Nikiforuk claims that access requests are expensive, can take months to obtain, and can have blacked out information when finally granted. CAEPLA, The Canadian Association of Energy and Pipeline Landowners, was forced to learn this in a distressing way; in an attempt to settle a disagreement with the National Energy Board, a government body, they filed for an information request under the Access to Information. Refusing to cooperate, the NEB sent back a completely blank, 300-page report. The Prime Minister has also been accused of disregarding transparency. In 2008, Harper scrapped the CAIRS, the Coordination of Access to Information Requests System, a database that listed and gave immediate access to documents that had previously been requested. This act was ill received; it sparked then leader of the opposition, Stephane Dion, to accuse the Prime Minister of leading the most secretive government in the history of Canada (Fenlon, 2008).
Though the ERCB has faced criticism in the past, it is still a potential resource for Albertans with questions relating to oil sands practices and procedures. The website boasts an extensive list of brochures, serial publications, GIS data, and reports that very in scope and price (ERCB, 2011). Further research should inquire how useful, affordable and accessible this data is for the average inquiring citizen.
Critics have accused the government of secrecy and withholding information. A 24 page document entitled ―Alberta Oil Sands: Report on Threat, Risk and Vulnerability Assessments‖ was compiled by a team of international security experts. As the title suggests, the document was written to warn former premier Ralph Klein of the possible threat of terrorist attacks in the oil sands. Klein dismissed the document as unnecessary ―fear mongering‖, and refused to release the information to the public regardless of the possible threat to safety (Edmonton Journal, 2010). The Alberta government has also been criticized for failing to disclose the fact that the Treasury Department was bugged while the budget was in production (Nikiforuk, 2008). Yet
ENSC 801 128 ETHICS OF THE ALBERTA OIL SANDS these insinuations wane in comparison to Canada‘s greatest secret - it‘s national energy policy.
4.2.3 IS THE GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABLE?
In addition to being both participatory and transparent, an ethical government must be accountable. Again, the following conditions must be satisfied in order to determine if the Canadian government upholds this requirement: the government must be held accountable for its decisions with respect to oil sands development; the government must make its decisions on behalf of the best interests of is citizens; and citizens must be able to rely on a responsible government to enforce a clear and secure energy plan.
Members of CAEPLA have voiced numerous complaints regarding the lack of accountability from and cooperation with both the ERCB and the NEB. More specifically, the lack of accountability to the landowners of Alberta (CAEPLA, 2011). This does not seem to be the case for the various Canadian and transnational oil companies operating in the region, thus there is a growing consensus amongst oil sand critics that the government tailors its decisions in favor of these companies rather than the citizen body. Polls have shown that Albertans are in favor of reducing carbon emissions and slowing down development (Nikiforuk, 2008), but as discussed above in the segments regarding climate change and development policy, the government has clearly failed to take heed to these requests.
As alluded to in the previous section, Canada does not have a federal energy policy that has been communicated or publicized. Canada is one of the world‘s largest exporters of energy. In fact, it is the largest exporter of petroleum to the USA, yet the eastern half of the country still relies on foreign imports. It is thought that Canada is the only industrial nation that lacks a clear plan for the future or strategic oil saved for emergencies (Nikiforuk, 2008). In fear of facing conflict with provincial jurisdictional
ENSC 801 129 ETHICS OF THE ALBERTA OIL SANDS rights - one of the failures of Trudeau‘s National Energy Program of the 80‘s - the federal government has neglected to voice its national interest in energy issues. ―Absent such clarity, the federal instinct is to shrink from its responsibilities, and the provincial instinct is to assume that some malevolent design is being contemplated in Ottawa (Cleland, 2008)‖. This act of ignoring responsibility could have a profound ramification for Canadian citizens; for if an energy crisis were to occur without a clarified position and directive in policy, neither level of government would step in and take action on behalf of Canadians.
Section 4.5: RECOMMENDATIONS
4.5.1 INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
Based on the existing conditions, it is imperative that Canadian government strongly advocates the reconsideration of NAFTA. In particular, the major clauses of ―Articles 11‖ and ―605‖ must be reworked to ensure equal benefits both for the exporters and importers. ‗Ethical‘ oil can only be obtained if there is transparency between the two neighbours on all matters and policies related with oil, particularly the oil sands.
4.5.2 CLIMATE CHANGE POLICY
Develop sufficient federal measures that, when combined with additional provincial actions, will enable Canada to bring its total GHG emissions down to the Copenhagen Accord target level. The principle of sustainability should be applied when developing new international policies and how international agreements to reduce emissions
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levels are to be enforced. Economic sanctions as a means of achieving this are recommended. Review of CCS technologies, risks and potential feasibility in reducing GHG emissions. On the provincial scale, Alberta is recommended to: o Commit to using at least one third of all royalties derived from the oil sands, to pay for and build a sustainable-energy future for the world. o This objective can be achieved over a 20- to 30-year time frame. As a starting point the Climate Change and Emissions Management Fund could be utilized. o Funding can be on individual or agglomerated projects in such key sectors as bio-economy, nanotechnology, renewable energy. Funding should be flexible: from angel investment and venture capital, to equity stakes and public-private partnerships. o This 20-30 year commitment should be accompanied by mandatory best practices and fiscal incentives for early adopters in all relevant enterprises and ventures under Alberta jurisdiction.
4.5.3 DEVELOPMENT AND RECLAMATION POLICY
It is the ethical responsibility of the Government of Alberta and oil sands operators to protect taxpayers from financial risks associated with reclamation. More transparent and accurate estimates of reclamation costs are required. Likewise, current reclamation policies need clarification and improvement to ensure that they are effective.
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The ‗responsible‘ current rate of oil sands development is insufficiently balanced with present-day infrastructure and reclamation efforts. Restrictions on development magnitude is required, as well as additional long-term planning. As such, further development should be slowed or halted until technology, manpower, and policy is able to mitigate potential future risks from overdevelopment, habitat fragmentation/loss, and detrimental social conditions.
4.5.4 NATIONAL POLICY
In order to determine if Canada upholds ethical governance, additional, unbiased research should be done to further understand the effects of oil sands revenue on the participatory nature of democracy; the transparency of government‘s actions and policies; and the government‘s accountability and reliability to its citizens.
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This panel was given the task of determining what is important to consider when assessing whether or not the development of the Alberta oil sands is an ethical industry. In trying to address this topic, four broad areas were researched: economics, science, governance, and social issues. Within these groups, specific sets of criteria were used to determine what should be considered when assessing the ethics associated with the oil sands.
With regard to economics, if managed more effectively oil sands related revenues have the potential to provide a net benefit to society. Currently, the largest two impediments to achieving a this net benefit involve current accounting practices and oil sands perceptions. Both of these need to change in order to incorporate the true hidden costs of development.
With regards to science, the environmental concerns and human implications were considered. As oil sands development continues to expand, the impacts on the environment also invariably increase. It is important to recognize that these environmental concerns are beyond ecocentrism - that there are social implications, such as changes in recreational activities and subsistence resources, that come along with the ecosystem impacts of increased development. Direct human impacts, such as acute and chronic human health risks, should also be considered and were discussed at length. Furthermore, there is minimal data on the environmental impacts of the oil sands, especially in relation to the measuring of emissions. The panel acknowledges the fact that assessing environmental risk is difficult without proper data; what was recorded a few years ago may not be the same as the present. The most relevant, and therefore, ethical way to overcome these barriers is to establish more thorough monitoring and assessment programs. These programs must be on-going, integrated, and transparent in order to truly represent the broad and complex impacts of the oil sands industry.
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With regard to governance, current policies exist regarding GHG, climate change and reclamation. However, these policies need to be strictly enforced. The panel argues that ethically, the atmosphere resembles a global commons; and we must as who pollutes and how much they pollute. Developed nations may be contributing the most emissions globally, but third World nations are arguably bearing the brunt of the impacts. The oil sands are a major contributor to global GHG emissions and thus future generations will inherit an unpredictable climate if current practices are maintained; evidence towards this fact is already being observed. Though policies exist for reclamation, more work must be done to render these policies more relevant and enforceable. Lastly, an ethical government should be transparent, accountable and participatory. There are measures to achieve this, but all factors must be evaluated when determining if this is truly the case.
The panel suggests that if the oil sands industry is to be considered ethical, better social infrastructure must be put in place before any further development occurs. The rapid rate of expansion is calling to question the utility of having laws to protect Canadian and foreign workers if these laws are effectively ―bowled over‖ in favor of development. The laws currently in place to protect the health and safety of the workers in Alberta are not adequately being followed. As well, the erosion of social well being in regions which are closest to oil sands operations cannot be deemed healthy and, thus, the forces partly responsible for this erosion cannot honestly be termed ―ethical‖.
Another important aspect to consider when looking at the question of ethics is that of the Aboriginal population in Canada. For example, legally, Indigenous People must be included in all stages of decision-making and policy implementation and in a meaningful way. However, in practice this is not occurring or, there is not enough effort being made to bridge world views and cultural differences to ensure that the Aboriginal people‘s voice is truly being heard. Human rights issues may be among the most important aspects to consider when considering the ethical, or non-ethical nature of the oil sands, and there is still room for improvement as far as cooperation, empowerment and equity are concerned, especially as it relates to the Aboriginal.
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The work environment in the oil sands is conducive to violence and homophobia, which, coupled with a lack of services for women and LGBTQ communities, means that more than half the population is disproportionately effected and are of increased vulnerability to violence, poverty and abuse. In addition to this issue, visual culture is a powerful, yet often overlooked, aspect of social awareness that may prove to be very useful in shaping perceptions of the mining industry in Alberta. Although oil sands discourse is being dispersed through visual and cultural media, the oil industry, government, and other organizations must move toward a more responsible and transparent approach to their use of images, one that aligns with the scientific data, in order for the oil sands to be deemed ethical.
The government of Alberta in conjunction with oil sands developers have engaged in one of the largest industrial undertakings in Canadian history. The panel has explored the issues surrounding the economic, scientific, governance, and social aspects of the oil sands in order to emphasize the complexities which emerge when attempting to deem the oil sands ethical. The panel suggests that it is time for the government, the oil companies, and even oppositional forces to step back and take a closer look at the direction the oil sands are going and the speed at which they are going there, while considering the multidimensional issues discussed in this report. In a culture reliant on oil, a reevaluation of oil sands production may at first seem unfeasible. However, this panel has set out to demonstrate how important it is to consider the ethical dimension of economic, scientific, governance, and social issues that arise in the examination of the methods and speed of oil sands development. By considering and properly addressing all aspects of oil sands development, rather than focusing on specific categories to serve specific agendas, a greater understanding of the issue will be gained and therefore a more informed decision can be made when deciding if the Alberta oil sands are ethical or not. Whether the issues discussed can actually affect change has not been the focus of this study and remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: the oil sands cannot be deemed ―ethical‖ without considering all of these issues and evaluating whether the benefits truly outweigh the costs.
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