Planet Watch

Keystone vs Enbridge: race or stratagem?

We noted earlier this year that the Canadian government is holding out the threat of selling the Alberta tar sands oil to China through the Northern Gateway pipeline that Enbridge Inc hopes to build to the British Columbia coast as a stratagem to pressure the US for rapid approval of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline, which would export that same oil to stateside refineries as far south as Texas. In January, President Barack Obama denied a permit (for the time being) to the main trunk that would bring the oil down from Canada (to Republican outrage). But in March, he announced he would approve construction of the southern leg, from Cushing, Okla., to the Texas coast—a move blasted by enviros as a betrayal and (natch) by Republicans as inadequate. (LAT, March 22; see map from the Washington PostThe southern leg is, of course, contingent on the northern leg, thus establishing greater pressure for it. Now, as work commences on the southern leg, it emerges that Enbridge, in addition to fighting Canada's own enviros to win approval of the Northern Gateway, is quietly but rapidly expanding its own pipeline network south of the 49th parallel. Is this bet-hedging—keeping access to US markets in case Canada's greens prevail over the Northern Gateway? Or are Enbridge and TransCanada throwing each other a wink—divvying up the US market between them while cultivating the "China card" to lubricate access to that market? We recall the famous admonition of Calouste Gulbenkian, the Armenian oilman who brokered the post-World War I carve-up of the Middle East among US and European companies: "Oilmen are like cats; you can never tell from the sound of them whether they are fighting or making love." Exhibit A, from the LA Times, Aug. 16:

Chevron fire: how many more?

It hasn't won the merest fraction of the coverage enjoyed by the London Olympics, but last week's massive Chevron oil refinery fire in Richmond, Calif., sent hundreds of people rushing to hospitals, darkened the skies over East Bay, and has gasoline prices headed back up towards $4 a gallon. AP notes this "was just the latest pollution incident at the facility that records show has increasingly violated air quality rules over the past five years. The refinery is one of three such facilities near San Francisco that rank among the state's top 10 emitters of toxic chemicals, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency's Toxic Release Inventory. Chevron's Richmond refinery...has been cited by San Francisco Bay area regulators for violating air regulations 93 times in the past five years."

International mining protests: ecologists versus workers?

On the morning of July 14, a group of 45 activists invaded Scottish Coal's Mainshill Open Cast Coal Site near Douglas, South Lanarkshire, Scotland, and shut it down for the day. Machines and equipment were occupied and all work at the site was halted completely. This is the first action at Take Back the Land!—a protest camp in the Douglas Valley that activists hope to maintain for the next week. Activists say the British government has approved expansion of the mine without the consent of local communities in South Lanarkshire. (Coal Action Scotland, July 14) UK Coal has meanwhile threatened to close Britain's largest coal mine Daw Mill in Arley, near Coventry, England, jeopardising 800 jobs, if it cannot reach a new agreement with unions on pay and working conditions. (The Independent, March 15; The Guardian, March 14)

Obesity driving global hunger, ecological collapse: study

The recent milestone of Planet Earth reaching 7 billion people unleashed the predictable tsunami of Malthusian claptrap. Now a new study documents the obvious—the problem is not how many people, but the sheer acreage of human flesh on the planet, regardless of how many bodies it is distributed amongst. From Live Science, June 17:

Fracking and "energy independence": full-on propaganda push

Media have over the past week and change been full of voices plugging hydro-fracking as the key to finally achieving US "energy independence." Forbes on April 17 cites its own survey of "more than 100 energy executives" (no doubt a very objective group) finding that "fully 70% of energy executives believe that, given a true national commitment, the US could achieve a high degree of energy independence within 15 years." This exercise in industry self-promotion disguised as a study, "2012 US Energy Sector Outlook," wins the headline "US Energy Independence in 15 Years?" Forbes does concede: "Admittedly, energy executives are hardly a disinterested group, but they should have a good sense of their own industry's capabilities." (Gee, thank you.) And the "fly in the ointment" of the fracking future—i.e. environmental concerns—is mentioned. But: "The vast majority of energy executives (88%) believe either that fracking is safe or that it will become safe as the kinks get worked out." The saturation use of the "energy independence" catch-phrase smells like a coordinated campaign. Here's a still worse example...

International: campesinos hold worldwide day of action

Campesino groups around the world planned more than 250 activities to mark the International Day of Campesino Struggles on April 17, according to the international rural workers movement Vía Campesina. The day of action—which was announced at the International Campesino Conference held in Mali last Nov. 14-17—was intended to bring attention to the need for carrying out agrarian reform, for stopping the concentration of land in the hands of wealthy landowners, and for maintaining agricultural production based on campesino farming and the principles of food sovereignty. A special focus this year was to be opposition to monoculture for export and to the production of bio-fuel crops.

US imperialism hands off the asteroids!

See, this is the problem with movies like Avatar (and V for Vendetta and Rise of the Planet of the Apes and The Matrix and—much to this particular point—Total Recall). Avatar creator James Cameron was just recently in the Amazon, grandstanding against construction of the Belo Monte dam (a cause we of course support). Now the Wall Street Journal informs us that Cameron, along with Google heavies Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, is among the "investor and advisor group" of Planetary Resources Inc—which aims to start mining the asteroids. No, this isn't a joke. The company's press release boasts the scheme will "overlay two critical sectors—space exploration and natural resources—to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP" and "help ensure humanity's prosperity." Speaking to Forbes in less politically correct terms, company co-founder Peter Diamandis openly said, "I'm trying to start a gold rush." The idea being that "greed" is the "only way it's going to happen irrevocably."

Ottawa plays China card in North American pipeline wars

The Canadian government released details April 17 of a plan to dramatically "streamline" (as press accounts put it) public oversight for big energy and mining projects, capping the timeline for federal reviews and ceding more regulatory oversight to the provinces. The "Responsible [sic] Resource Development" plan would impose a 45-day limit to decide whether federal environmental review is necessary after a new project is announced, and then limit such reviews to two years. The number of agencies allowed to participate in such reviews—now numbering 40—would be limited to three: the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the National Energy Board and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. It would also allow the provinces to conduct such reviews in place of these agencies, if they meet the standards of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Resources Minister Joe Oliver made clear that an intended beneficiary of the reform is Enbridge Inc's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, which would ship oil from Alberta's tar sands fields to Canada's West Coast—and has been meeting stiff opposition from environmentalists and First Nations in British Columbia. (Dow Jones, CTV, April 17)