Conservative senator says ‘parts of the government’ want to kill the oilsands with Bill C-69

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Conservative Sen. Doug Black says if the Liberal environmental assessment bill currently being studied by the Senate isn’t amended, it could kill the oilsands.

And he says that might be the intent.

READ MORE: ‘Lack of clarity’ in Bill C-69 leads Senate to send act to committee

“There will be no new development in the oilsands. Many would argue that’s the very intent of the legislation,” he said in an interview with the West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson when asked whether the bill’s proposed new environmental assessment rules could kill the oilsands.

“I believe there are parts of the government that believe that would be a desirable outcome.”

WATCH BELOW: Conservatives demand Liberals scrap ‘no pipelines’ Bill C-69







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Introduced to the House of Commons in February 2018, the Liberals’ Bill C-69 would change how natural resource projects are assessed.

The legislation would get rid of the National Energy Board, replace it with a Canadian Energy Regulator, and also create an Impact Assessment Agency to measure how best to mitigate environmental impacts from proposed developments.

It could also lead to confusion and delays over project timelines.

READ MORE: Alberta environment minister says federal energy bill C-69 inadequate in current form

The bill lowers the timeline for major projects from 720 days to 600, but also sets aside 180 days for early engagement with stakeholders like Indigenous communities and allows the government to repeatedly extend that engagement period with few, if any, real limits.

Opponents of the legislation argue projects like the Trans Mountain expansion wouldn’t have been able to get approval under the proposed system and that it puts too heavy a burden on businesses to jump through hoops before a project gets approval, which could make them reconsider seeking approval in the first place.

LISTEN: Alberta Senator Paula Simons joins Rob Breakenridge to discuss Bill C-69

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Supporters of the bill, including the Mining Association of Canada, argue that while the bill is “not perfect,” passing it will reduce uncertainty to the mining industry because the legislation has the confidence of many Indigenous communities and offers a more coordinated approach to assessing overall impacts of proposed projects.

WATCH BELOW: Trudeau talks about Bill C-69 to Alberta’s Chamber of Commerce






Having received approval from the House of Commons, the bill is now before the Senate, which it will need to pass if the government wants to get royal assent on the legislation before the end of the session in June — without that, it will die when the election is called.

The Senate Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee met for the first time last week and Black was among the senators arguing for a travel budget to be set up so members can meet with Canadians outside of Ottawa about the impact of the bill.

The government, meanwhile, argues that would be an expensive political stunt.

But Black says the legislation would create significant hurt for Canadians working in the natural resource industries and that their voices will not be heard if the committee only stays in Ottawa as is usually the case for such studies of bills.

“You don’t hear it here in Ottawa. You don’t see it, you don’t feel it in Ottawa, so this is very important,” he said.

“Of course, there’s a cost [to travel], but the cost of the Canadian economy of not getting this right is literally trillions of dollars.”

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More than oilsands: Mayor has eye on new brand for Fort McMurray

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The mayor of Canada’s oilsands capital says one of his priorities for 2019 is changing the way Canadians look at Fort McMurray.

In the new year, Wood Buffalo Mayor Don Scott has set his sights on a charm offensive with Canadians.

When people talk about Fort McMurray, Scott wants people to think beyond oilsands mines and camps, and instead imagine family-friendly communities with world-class recreational facilities surrounded by more protected forests and parks than most communities in Canada.

« They know that we are the economic engine of Canada. They’ve heard of us. Some have positive views. Some don’t, » Scott said in a year-end interview with CBC. « If people saw the reality of how great this region is, I think they would have a much easier time believing that this is a place to live and invest. »

By getting out a better brand for Fort McMurray, Scott hopes to attract more investment and convince more people to move to the community rather than flying in and out for work.

Other oil patch boosters have taken more confrontational approaches — especially when it comes to getting a pipeline built that could take Fort McMurray’s bitumen to new foreign markets.

Political figures such as former Fort McMurray MLA and opposition leader Brian Jean recently called for a boycott of Quebec-made products after Premier François Legault said there was « no social acceptability » in his province for a « dirty energy » pipeline from Alberta.


WATCH former Fort McMurray MLA and opposition leader Brian Jean call for a boycott of Quebec products.


Earlier in 2018, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley issued an outright ban on British Columbia wine and passed the so-called « turn off the taps » legislation that would allow the province to cut off energy shipments to B.C.

Notley’s actions were sparked after B.C.’s made further attempts to block the Trans Mountain pipeline, arguing it posed environmental risks for the province.

Scott did not mention the tactics of others, but said he will be using a softer public approach in the hopes of changing hearts and minds

Meanwhile, he says he’s still working all political back channels, including meetings in 2018 with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Notley.

« I think the advocacy by Albertans has really worked. When I travel and I talk to other Canadians they are much more familiar with the challenge right now, » Scott said. « And they are much more supportive of pipelines. I feel like we are heading in the right direction. »

Promoting the Fort McMurray brand will happen, in part, through the newly created Wood Buffalo Economic Development Corporation, which recently appointed Kevin Weidlich as the new CEO.

More goals for Mayor Don Scott in 2019

Connect with David Thurton, CBC’s Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn or email him at david.thurton@cbc.ca 

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Two First Nations oppose extension of Syncrude oilsands mine

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Two First Nations are voicing their opposition to the extension of a legacy oilsands mine north of Fort McMurray before the project goes to an energy review next month.

The Athabasca Chipewyan and the Mikisew Cree First Nations have both filed statements of concern for Syncrude’s Mildred Lake Extension or MLX. The project goes to a provincial review in January.

Both Nations say they’re worried about the amount of water the project will use, hydrocarbon and heavy metal contamination, and the destruction of fish, caribou and moose habitat.

« That area can’t sustain another oilsands mine, especially not the way Syncrude treats the land, » Allan Adam, chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, said in a news release. « The MLX Project is going to tip the balance, pushing the area beyond the point where it can be restored. »

Syncrude Mildred Lake, as seen from Sandhill Fen — an experimental reclaimed wetland. The acres are a refuge for cattails, songbirds, dragonflies and the occasional passing bear. (David Thurton/CBC)

MLX is a proposed extension that would span 69 square kilometres.

Syncrude noted the mine would be near its processing and upgrading facility, located about 40 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.

If granted regulatory approval the mine would be operational by 2023 or 2024 and would allow Syncrude to maintain an existing 2,000 jobs and create about 1,160 construction jobs.

It’s estimated the mine would produce 738 million barrels of bitumen over 14 years.

Syncrude’s older Mildred Lake operation has been open since 1978.

MLX an extension, not an expansion

Syncrude spokesperson Will Gibson says Syncrude has been speaking with stakeholders since 2012 and has reached agreements with Indigenous groups surrounding the project.

Public regulatory documents indicate the company has resolved issues with at least four Indigenous communities: the Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation, Fort McMurray #468 First Nation and the McMurray and McKay Métis groups.

Gibson also said the company has minimized MLX’s environmental impact and the company purchased a timber quota that will preserve a large swath of boreal forest in northwestern Alberta.

This move earned Syncrude a land disturbance offset that’s larger than MLX’s footprint.

Alberta is now home to the largest area of protected boreal forest in the world, following an announcement Tuesday that set aside more than 13,600 square kilometres of land across much of northeast Alberta. The provincial and federal governments, the Tallcree First Nation, oilsands giant Syncrude and the Nature Conservancy of Canada announced the creation of new protected areas at a news conference in Edmonton 1:13

Gibson said MLX is not an expansion but an extension of an existing mine because there will be no new tailing ponds and Syncrude’s annual carbon emissions and water withdrawals would not increase.

« People who call this an expansion are inaccurate, » Gibson said. « In our view, this project marries the needs for the economic benefits while minimizing environmental impacts. »

‘Regulatory gamesmanship’

But the Mikisew Cree First Nation is accusing Syncrude of playing « regulatory gamesmanship, » because on a long-term basis the mine will use more water, even if the per barrel water usage is unchanged from the current mine. 

« The intensity per barrel is likely going to stay the same, » Dan Stuckless, the Mikisew’s manager of industry relations said. « They’re going to use more water in the end because they’re extending the life of the mine.

« And then, you’re adding more reclamation on top of that. »

The Athabasca Chipewyan and the Mikisew Cree First Nations are located about 150 kilometres away from the proposed mine.

And while these Nations have been vocal about their concerns, two Indigenous groups in the community closest to the mine have been relatively quiet.

McKay Métis president Ron Quintal told CBC Tuesday his community is satisfied Syncrude has addressed their concerns surrounding the project.

Workers use heavy machinery in the tailings pond at the Syncrude oil sands extraction facility near Fort McMurray in 2009. (Mark Ralson/AFP/Getty Images)

« To address our concerns, Syncrude stepped up, » Quintal said. « From our perspective, we came to an agreement. »

Jauvonne Kitto a spokesperson for the Fort McKay First Nation said the Nation would provide a statement. CBC will update this story when it receives a response.

MLX goes to a public hearing on Jan. 22 in Fort McMurray.

Connect with David Thurton, CBC’s Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn or email him at david.thurton@cbc.ca 

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Climate fears are real, so oilsands must close

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In Poland, Canada and close to 200 other nations are making a last-ditch effort to save the world from devastating climate change.

At home, the Canadian and Albertan governments are trying to salvage an industry that is one of this country’s largest emitters of the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

If this sounds like a contradiction that’s because it is.

The Liberal compromise devised by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government two years ago is not working. It was to be a grand bargain that somehow reduced greenhouse gas emissions without costing Canadians any pain.

In particular, it was to be a pact between Ottawa and Alberta. The federal government would help Alberta Premier Rachel Notley exploit and transport bitumen from the province’s oilsands. In return she would support Trudeau’s demand for some form of national carbon tax.

And in normal circumstances it should have worked.

But the circumstances today are far from normal. Climate change is not simply another blip in federal-provincial relations that can be resolved by, say, changing the equalization formula.

If the scientific consensus is correct, it is a crisis on par with worldwide nuclear war.

Already, climate change is producing unusually severe droughts in some areas and unusually wild storms in others. It threatens to swamp much of Florida. It is melting the Arctic ice.

It has expressed itself through flooding in Europe and devastating wildfires in British Columbia, California and Alberta. It is generally accepted as one of the root causes of the Syrian civil war and is expected to lead to more conflict.

When United Nations General Assembly President Maria Espinosa warned that humankind is “in danger of disappearing” because of climate change, she wasn’t exaggerating.

The world tried to deal with this through the 2015 Paris climate summit. There, nations agreed to work together to keep global temperatures from rising too quickly.

But the Paris accord was non-binding. Nations set their own emission-reduction targets and were under no obligation to meet them.

Since then, UN scientific panels have made two disturbing findings. First, the pledged targets are not enough; climate change is happening more quickly than expected. Second, most countries, including Canada, are not on track to keep even the inadequate pledges they have made.

The two-week climate-change conference in Katowice, Poland is an attempt to encourage the Paris signatories to become more ambitious.

Good luck with that. U.S. President Donald Trump has abandoned the Paris Accord. Others are threatening to do the same.

Canada is probably more typical. While rhetorically an ardent accord supporter, it is less enthusiastic about taking the necessary actions.

More to the point, Ottawa insists on supporting an oilsands industry that is one of Canada’s most storied contributors to climate change.

While the oilsands are responsible for only 10 per cent of Canada’s carbon emissions, they remain one of the country’s biggest single-point sources of greenhouse gases and a potent symbol of what humankind is doing wrong.

Economically, the oilsands are doomed. In a world awash with cheap shale oil, new tarsands projects are ultimately too expensive to develop — even if the $4.5-billion Trans Mountain pipeline that Ottawa bought to deliver Alberta bitumen to the Pacific coast goes ahead.

Environmentally, they are a disaster — in terms of both the tailing ponds created to store their waste and the carbon emissions they spew into the air.

Government-mandated production cuts and government-purchased rail tanker cars can keep the oilsands limping along. But in a world whose very existence is threatened by the greenhouse gases this industry creates, the more sensible option is to shut it down.

Thomas Walkom is a Toronto-based columnist covering politics. Follow him on Twitter: @tomwalkom

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Oilsands bitumen prices in negative territory, analyst calculates

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A financial analyst says prices being paid for Western Canadian oilsands bitumen have fallen so far that producers are losing money on every barrel sold into the spot market.

Analyst Matt Murphy of Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. says recent headlines have been focused on the falling value of the Western Canada Select (WCS) price, but that measure is for a blend of heavy, sticky bitumen and the light oil needed to dilute it so it can flow in a pipeline.

The price of WCS fell to about $19 US per barrel on Thursday, about $52 per barrel below the benchmark U.S. West Texas Intermediate price.

But Murphy says the condensate used to dilute the bitumen was selling for about $63 per barrel at the same time and that means the bitumen part of the WCS barrel was actually fetching between negative 11 cents and negative 28 cents per barrel.

It’s the first time that has happened, he says, adding bitumen prices have always been in positive territory — even in early 2016, when U.S. oil prices fell below $30 per barrel.

He says he expects the negative pricing situation to be short-lived, however, as demand will increase when U.S. refineries complete fall maintenance and growing crude-by-rail capacity will help bring barrels to market that can’t fit into Canada’s full pipelines.

Different types of bitumen need differing amounts of diluent to flow in a pipeline, with the newest mining projects such as Suncor Energy Inc.’s Fort Hills mine requiring 10 to 25 per cent diluent and steam-driven projects that produce from wells needing 30 to 40 per cent diluent, he said.

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Fort McMurray region’s Indigenous groups support oilsands mine, company tells review panel

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The company that hopes to build a massive oilsands project north of Fort McMurray says it has secured the support of all 14 Indigenous groups in the region.

On the first day of hearings before a joint-review panel, company officials said Teck Resources Ltd. has signed participation agreements with the Dene, Cree and Métis communities whose traditional territories intersect with the proposed mine.

The company’s $20.6-billion Frontier oilsands mine project is undergoing public hearings in Fort McMurray before the Alberta Energy Regulator and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

The mine’s lease areas, 110 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, overlap with traditional Indigenous lands and the territory of the threatened Ronald Lake bison herd.

But the land for the mine, a total of 292 square kilometres, or an area about half the size of Edmonton, would not be disturbed all at once.

Map showing the location of the Ronald Lake Bison Reserve in relation to a proposed oilsands mine planned by Teck Resources Ltd. (CBC News Graphics)

At Tuesday’s hearing, Teck officials announced the final Indigenous group from the region, the Mikisew Cree First Nation of Fort Chipewyan, had signed an agreement.

No company has ever obtained more such agreements before a public hearing to review the environmental and socio-economic impacts of an open-pit oilsands mine, said Kieron McFadyen, vice-president of energy for the Vancouver-based company.

Chief: ‘I used to be anti-development’

Archie Waquan, chief of the Mikisew Cree, told CBC News the agreement marks a personal change for him. 

« I think Teck has learned from Suncor and Syncrude and they want to do better, » Waquan said. « I used to be anti-development. I have to say if I don’t get on the train, I am going to be chasing the train. »

Waquan would not divulge details about the agreement but said it would allow Indigenous groups to hold Teck to account if the company doesn’t follow through on its promises to protect the environment.

Mikisew Cree First Nation Chief Archie Waquan attends the opening of Fort Hills oilsands mine on Sept. 10, 2018. (David Thurton/ CBC)

Some of the region’s Indigenous groups say they still have concerns about the project.

Waquan said his First Nation will call on the federal government to create a buffer zone around Wood Buffalo National Park and a protected area for the free-roaming Ronald Lake bison herd.

Teck officials told the panel the company will support adding those requirements to its application.

Bullying Indigenous groups?

During cross-examination Tuesday, Indigenous groups in the Northwest Territories argued they weren’t properly consulted about the project.

McFadyen said given that the Kátł’odeeche First Nation and the Northwest Territory Métis Nation are so far from the proposed mine, the company saw no need to sign agreements with those groups.

When the joint-review panel finishes its five-week public hearing it will submit a report to the federal minister of environment and climate change. 

As of Monday, the panel had 200 working days before that report is due.

Greenpeace’s Mike Hudema, whose group opposes the project, accused Teck of bullying Indigenous groups into side deals.

Hudema said many communities were forced to compromise because they know regulators have never rejected an oilsands application and will likely approve this one. 

« That’s not living up to our commitment to Indigenous peoples and Indigenous reconciliation, » Hudema said. « When they feel forced into a decision they don’t want to make. »

Indigenous groups support Teck’s Frontier oilsands mine

Here’s a list of Indigenous groups that have signed agreements with Teck:

1. Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation

2. Mikisew Cree First Nation

3. Fort McKay First Nation

4. Fort Chipewyan Métis

5. Fort McKay Métis

6. Fort Mc Murray Métis 1935

7. Fort McMurray First Nation #468

8. Métis Nation of Alberta- Region One and it’s member locals

9. Athabasca Landing Local # 2010

10. Buffalo Lake Local # 2002

11. Conklin Local # 193

12. Lac La Biche Local # 1909

13. Owl River Local # 1949

14. Willow Lake Local # 780

Connect with David Thurton, CBC’s Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn or email him at david.thurton@cbc.ca 

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