Thursday, February 23, 2012

Secret memo warns oilsands damage may be irreversible

Collateral damage from Canada’s booming oilsands sector may be irreversible, posing a “significant environmental and financial risk to the province of Alberta,” says a secret memorandum prepared for the federal government’s top bureaucrat.

The memorandum, released by the Privy Council Office through access to information legislation, also raises doubts about recent industry and government claims that oilsands companies are reducing heat-trapping gases produced by each barrel of oil.

The industry has suggested that a shift in oilsands extraction to use steam to remove synthetic crude oil from natural bitumen deposits on site can reduce land disruption and provide for reductions in energy and emissions. But the memo, prepared for Wayne Wouters, the clerk of the Privy Council Office - the lead department in the federal government’s bureaucracy - said this shift is actually accelerating the industry’s impact on climate change, with emissions growth projected to be greater over the next decade than all other Canadian economic sectors combined.

“While the industry has taken steps to reduce emissions, the shift from mining to in situ production, which is almost three times as emissions intensive as mining, is resulting in a continued acceleration of emissions from this sector,” said the memo.

The memo, marked “secret,” was prepared for Wouters in advance of a discussion that was to be held on March 10, 2011, with representatives from energy companies Suncor, CNRL and Encana, as well as academic stakeholders. It suggested the so-called tailings ponds of toxic waste from oilsands mining could permanently damage Alberta’s landscape. More