An ominously ironic juxtaposition of news stories, for those who are paying attention. First, the apparent good news. President Obama announced Nov. 6 that he's rejected the Keystone XL oil pipeline, after seven years of deliberation on the question. Obama invoked the prospect of leaving the 800,000 barrels a day of Canadian shale oil the pipeline would carry in the ground. "America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change," the president said. "And, frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership." (NYT, Nov. 6) But one day earlier, Obama notified Congress of his intent to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and finally released the text of the heretofore secretive trade deal. The notification starts a 90-day countdown to the next step in the approval process—seeking Congressional authorization. (The Hill, Reuters, Nov. 5)
The Supreme Court of Canada on Sept. 4 ruled in favor of Ecuadoran villagers seeking to enforce a multi-billion dollar judgment against the Chevron Corporation. In 2011, the 30,000 villagers secured the $17.2 billion judgment in an Ecuador court for environmental damage to rainforest in the Lago Agrio region. Damages were subsequently reduced by an appeals court to $9.5 billion. The new 7-0 ruling means that the Ecuadorans may pursue the judgment against Chevron in Canada through its subsidiary, Chevron Canada Ltd. Chevron has put up a vigorous legal battle to avoid the fine, arguing that, because the damage was perpetrated by Texaco between 1972 and 1990, before it was bought out by Chevron in 2001, and because Texaco signed an agreement with Ecuador to absolve it of responsibility after a $40 million cleanup effort, Chevron should not be required to pay out for its former competitor.
The US Department of Commerce on Aug. 14 agreed to allow limited crude oil trading with Mexico, easing a ban on crude exports that has been in place for 40 years. Members of the US Congress were informed by the Department of Commerce that it plans to approve an application by Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex), Mexico's state-run oil company, to trade heavy oil pumped in Mexico for light crude pumped in the US. Despite applications from some dozen other countries, which were denied, Canada is the only other nation currently exempt from the ban. Unlike in the agreement with Mexico, Canada is not required to export similar crude quantities to the US. An end to the ban has been called for by both members of Congress and oil producers, including Exxon Mobil Corp.
One year after a catastrophic dam breach at the Mount Polley Mine in the interior of British Columbia, the facility has passed the first phase of remediation and resumed operations—with certain restrictions. The August 2014 disaster sent millions of cubic meters of water contaminated with mine waste into the local Hazeltine Creek, which ultimately flows into the Fraser River. Water-use bans were issued for several local towns, and the spill prompted the government to toughen mine permitting requirements. Imperial Metals Corp has completed a "Phase 1" clean-up overseen by the BC Ministry of Environment. The company has supposedly ensured that water entering Quesnel Lake, which Hazeltine Creek flows through on its way to the Fraser, meets provincial quality standards. The provincial government issued the conditional permit allowing the Mount Polley mine to reopen earlier this month. However, the company cannot discharge water until it receives a second conditional permit, likely in the early fall. (Globe & Mail, July 29, 2015; ThinkProgress, Aug. 5, 2014)
Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Aug. 4 announced they have submitted a revised bid claiming over 350 nautical miles of Arctic sea shelf to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). The country's previous bids in 2001 were rejected for lack of evidence. Under Article 76 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (PDF), Russia now argues it has a right to extend its control up to 350 nautical miles. Canada, Norway, Denmark and the US are also attempting to claim territories in the Arctic. The sea shelf is believed to hold a large amount of oil and gas which Russia estimates could be worth up to $30 trillion.
A group of First Nations activists in northwestern Ontario are walking 125 kilometers of the proposed Energy East pipeline route to demonstrate their opposition to TransCanada's plan to convert the natural gas pipeline to transport oil. The walk began at Eagle Lake First Nation, near Dryden, Ont., on Aug. 3 and is expected to arrive at Shoal Lake 39 First Nation, west of Kenora, Ont. this weekend. The Anishinaabe protesters cite concerns for the region's waters in the event of pipeline leaks, and are calling the cross-country march the "Water Walk." TransCanada on July 29 announced that the company has reached an "engagement" agreement with Grand Council Treaty 3, which represents First Nations in the region. But Treaty 3 Grand Chief Warren White said the agreement does not mean that the Treaty 3 nations support the project, only that the company will "share information and listen to the people." At least one Treaty 3 chief is openly opposed to the pipeline. Shoal Lake 39 First Nation Chief Fawn Wapioke is taking part in the Water Walk. "Water is life," she said in a news release at the start of the walk. "Our Anishinaabe laws and values tell us everything we need to know about Energy East that is why we say no." (CBC, Aug. 5)
A judge for the Alberta Court of Appeal on May 7 ruled that former Guantánamo detainee Omar Khadr can be released on bail while he appeals his US war crimes conviction. According to Justice Myra Bielby, the ruling was based on her belief that there was "no clear evidence there would be irreparable harm if he was released." The judge also rejected arguments made by government lawyers that Khadr's release would damage Canada's foreign relations. He will be required under the terms of his bail to live with his attorney and submit to electronic monitoring and a curfew.
As we noted in September (when the price had just dipped below $100 a barrel), after an initial price shock when ISIS seized northern Iraq, the world oil price has since slumped. It now stands at around $60 a barrel. Recall that way back in late 2001, when the US was invading Afghanistan, it stood at a lowly $11. At that time, we predicted an imminent price shock to jump-start the planned industry expansion—both in the Caspian Basin and here at home, overcoming environmental concerns. Boy, were we right. The price of a barrel first broke the $100 mark in 2008, and has frequently crossed it in the years since then, although it never quite hit the much-feared $200-a-barrel. But now the petro-oligarchs are talking like $100 may be the new $200. Saudi Arabia's oil minister Ali al-Naimi last month answered "we may not" when asked if markets would ever lift prices to $100 again. (CNN, Dec. 23) How much of this are we to believe, and what is really behind the slump?