Cameron Wigmore, Green Party Member: Alberta Becoming A Petro-Tyranny

June 25, 2007

Alberta Becoming A Petro-Tyranny

I attended a presentation by Mr. Nikiforuk in Rockyford a few months ago. He presented, to a room full of concerned farmers and land owners, an excellent slide show about CBM (coal bed methane) and the Tar Sands. He's a great journalist and this audio file offers very good information on what's happening with the Alberta government and our energy resources.

Click here (or for direct 'real media' file link click here) for the audio interview on CBC radio show The Current with Andrew Nikiforuk. Look for part two at the bottom of the page.

For the full written article 'Is Canada the latest emerging petro-tyranny?' by Andrew Nikiforuk, click here. (highlights below)

June 11, 2007 Monday
Calgary journalist and columnist for Canadian Business magazine
Is Canada the latest emerging petro-tyranny?

Every day, the First Law of Petropolitics quietly insinuates its way into the nation's political blood like a rogue parasite. The law, first coined by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, posits that the price of oil and the quality of freedom invariably travel in opposite directions.

As the price of crude oil goes higher in an oil-dominated kingdom, the average citizen will experience, over time, less free speech, fewer free papers and a steady erosion of the rule of law. The reason, argues Mr. Friedman, is simple: Oil and gas regimes don't need to tax their citizens to survive because they can simply tax another tar sands project, so they really don't have to listen to their people either...

...Alberta's politics mirror a global phenomenon. In a recent study of 105 oil-rich states between 1971 and 1997, political scientist Michael Ross consistently found that reliance on oil exports made a country less democratic regardless of its size, location or ideology. Oil corrupts and corrupts absolutely. Given that Canada is now ruled by Albertans and claims to be an "emerging energy superpower" as well as a "secure source of almost limitless energy resources" for North America, can Canada defy the axiom of our age?

Politicians serve those first who deliver the most revenue.


Anonymous said...

Stalinesque spies
Calgary Herald
Published: Monday, June 25, 2007
EUB - Re: "Minister to question EUB on spies," June 21.
The Energy Utility Board is appointed by the government to hear and consider opposing interests as a neutral body, to assess impartially and to decide justly.
When they hired spies to sneak underhandedly on the people, they failed all the principles: they are not neutral, impartial or just.
History gives us examples of governments that spied on their people: Stalin, and Hitler. Thank goodness the cases are rare.
When (Premier Ed) Stelmach says he supports the EUB's decision to spy on the people, where the spies misrepresented themselves as landowners, and sat in on conference calls with lawyers, it frightens me. Is our premier joining the rare cases of history?
Or is he going to tell us the spies were there, lying and misrepresenting themselves, to help the people?
Mr. Stelmach, find some courage, sack the EUB and start over again.
Prove to us that you will defend the people who are the voters and ultimate judges of this government.
Richard Trombinski,

Stelmach's praise of AEUB tactics shows where his allegiances lie
The Edmonton Journal
Published: Monday, June 25, 2007
Re: "AEUB credibility on the line, minister says: Premier defends regulatory agency spying on landowners monitoring power line route," The Journal, June 21.
Growing up during the Cold War, I heard about how evil communists had children informing on parents who did not toe the party line. How awful, I thought. About the same time, I read George Orwell's 1984, which describes a fictional world where thought police and Big Brother watched your every move. I hoped that would never happen.
Now, Premier Ed Stelmach says he has no problem with private investigators fraudulently infiltrating a citizens group to monitor political dissidents.
The premier claims that the spies were there to insure no harm came to Alberta Energy and Utility Board members.
If there was a real threat, why weren't the police called?
I suspect the premier feared that this sort of dissent might interfere with the board's usual rubber-stamp policy. Having the police crush political dissent would look bad, but if some "investigators" posed as landowners, maybe they could influence these misguided souls.
Perhaps these people have reason to be angry. They are ordinary Albertans who will live next to a 500-kilovolt transmission line if this is approved. Why?
The Alberta Electric System Operator Need Application filed with the AEUB May 7, 2004 mentions "access to the electricity markets in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and the U.S. Midwest."
It seems that these people will be displaced so a private, international corporation can export polluting, coal-generated power. At least the premier has finally revealed who he represents.
Terry Donovan,
Lac La Biche

Probe needed
Calgary Herald
Published: Monday, June 25, 2007
Scandal - The premier defending government use of private spies is only a symptom of much more serious problems in our dysfunctional Conservative and Liberal governments, and their numerous departments.
Corrupted public officials who aren't working for the public nor in the public interest are naturally going to be paranoid of the public.
If EUB officials, and government representatives are too scared to hold free, fair, and open public hearings, but feel the need to spy on the public instead, things have gone seriously wrong and they need to be replaced.
Maybe the police need to be called in to investigate all sides, government, regulators, landowners, and corporate applicants before this situation gets any more out of hand.
Atul Jain,

What really happened
The Edmonton Journal
Published: Monday, June 25, 2007
I was at the hearing, in the front row, when the so-called violence took place. I witnessed an ill and elderly couple, in or near their 80s and facing a third transmission line on their property, being harassed by AEUB staff.
In response, the wife tried to slap the AEUB lawyer, who then pushed her. Her husband desperately tried to get to his wife, but AEUB staff physically prevented him from doing so.
I held my breath in shock. This cannot be happening, I thought. This woman has cancer and the AEUB knows this.
Finally the elderly gentleman pushed through and reached his wife. He gently wrapped his arms around her and drew her away. Still, AEUB staff tried to interfere with the couple.
It was horrid watching an AEUB lawyer push a senior. It was worse to hear the AEUB's distorted reports about what happened, and use the incident to keep the public out of a "public" hearing.
For the AEUB to be using their distorted truth as justification to spy on Albertans is outrageous.
Jessica Ernst,

Stelmach endorses the indefensible
Jun 22 2007
One of the worst ways to preserve respect for government and rule of law that you could possibly think of, is for the government to allow itself to be seen as above the law, holding no respect for the people it governs.
That’s what happened when Premier Ed Stelmach defended the the Alberta Energy and Utility Board (EUB), a government-appointed quasi-judicial body, in its decision to hire private detectives to spy on landowners fighting to keep a high-voltage power line from crossing their land.
The revelation that the EUB would send someone to infiltrate landowner meetings and take part in lawyer-client discussions was bad enough.
That’s like a trial judge listening in on plaintiffs’ discussions with lawyers, trying to know in advance how an appeal could be launched if the decision went against them.
That’s abhorrent. It’s a reprehensible way for a government body to conduct its business in what we still call a democratic, free society.
The EUB has been called reprehensible names before, by a lot of people who carry serious doubts the board is out to protect the best interests of all Albertans.
In reality, that’s not a problem for the EUB. They are simply doing the job the government appointed them to do.
The buck moves upstairs, to the government. So it strains credulity to hear the premier defend the decision to hire four private detectives to blend in with the crowd watching EUB hearings in Rimbey on a big-screen TV.
Stelmach reiterated the rationale of the EUB, citing its fears that the people might be revolting.
When the hearings on the power line opened in Red Deer, there was shouting, and at least one older woman was involved in physical shoving.
Shouting. Shoving. It’s a slippery slope.
So the public hearings moved to Rimbey, and the public was only allowed to hear them on TV from another room. Later, it was revealed that people were planted in the room to record any angry mutterings from the crowd.
The fallout of doing this could be really, really bad for Alberta.
At least one private eye, Donald MacDonald, said he posed as an aggrieved landowner, got himself put on a private e-mail list, and even took part in conference telephone calls with lawyers, where proceedings and tactics were discussed.
This goes beyond protecting board members from having to endure shouting or shoving. It moves into the area where the government is spying on the people it fears.
Let us be aware of the possibilities here. In situations like this, passions can escalate very quickly. Land agents for oil companies have been threatened, shot at and even killed over access disputes — by people any of us would regard in normal times as good neighbours.
The answer for that lies in carefully communicating that people with grievances are being heard and that their rights and views will be respected.
Ask the group of landowners speaking at these hearings against the power line if they feel they’re getting a fair hearing. Especially now that they know the judge of their case had an agent in their midst.
Energy Minister Mel Knight seems to have a better grasp of the situation than the premier. He’s saying the EUB’s credibility — and with it, the credibility of his own government — is on the line in this crisis.
It is not allowable in a democracy for a group of noisy protesters to stop the development of the province as a whole. If it can be proven that a new power transmission line is needed, it must be built, somewhere.
The line needs to use the best technology we have. We know older lines waste huge amounts of energy in transmission, never mind that a truly diversified economy for Alberta will need a lot more electricity than we produce now.
If we need the line, it must be built in a manner that causes the least harm to the fewest number of people, and the people who are harmed need to be fully recompensed for their losses. Society owes them that.
Society also owes them a judicial process that obeys the law, respects everyone’s civil rights, and operates openly.
We don’t have that now. And when the premier defends the deficiencies of the EUB, people can rightly wonder if the people at the top of a democratic government fully understand their role.
When this happens, we do indeed have a problem.
Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor

Sour gas development has residents crying foul
Proposed well drilling met with opposition
Renata D'AliesioCalgary Herald
Sunday, June 24, 2007
One afternoon last June, a plume of sour gas suddenly invaded Jan Porter-Hirsche's country house near Crossfield.
Her 15-year-old daughter was home too, and they immediately sensed something was wrong with the air.
"Our eyes were burning and our throats were sore," Porter-Hirsche recalled of the irritations that dissipated.
What happened next frightened her more.
The company operating the nearby sour gas processing plant couldn't immediately find her house after she phoned in the plume.
"Their issue was we were in no danger," she said. "For me the issue was they couldn't find me."
Her experience with PrimeWest Energy, whose emergency response plan was cited for shortcomings in a subsequent review by the province's energy watchdog, has soured her and some neighbours on a proposal from another company to drill for sour gas near Crossfield, about 25 kilometres north of Calgary.
Vancouver-based Berkley Resources presented its emergency response plan at a meeting Thursday at the Crossfield Community Centre.
In the worst-case scenario of a major sour gas leak, the entire town of Crossfield and several surrounding country homes would require evacuation: roughly 1,200 households.
The public has until July 13 to comment on the company's application to the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board.
Berkley's project manager Russ Brown said the company is confident it can drill the well safely in an existing sour gas field that has been operating for two to three decades. The company welcomes public input on its emergency plan.
Porter-Hirsche, however, is worried residents could be harmed by the potentially dangerous hydrogen sulphide-laced gas.
She doesn't believe further sour gas development is appropriate for the ballooning Calgary region.
Similar arguments were made by opponents of Compton Petroleum's abandoned proposal to drill for sour gas on the southern outskirts of Calgary. Nexen is also facing this criticism of its current proposal to boost sour gas operations near Balzac.
"It's about safety," Porter-Hirsche said.
"How can you possibly drill this close to residents and would we be safe?
"What if something happened?"
All sour gas operations require emergency response plans in Alberta.
EUB spokesman Darin Barter said the plans guide how companies respond to leaks and other mishaps. The energy regulator reviews roughly a dozen operating emergency plans each year.
In November, Barter said the board examined PrimeWest Energy's emergency blueprint after receiving complaints about the company's handling of a small fire at its sour gas processing plant in September, and the plume that affected Porter-Hirsche.
The EUB review found the company's plant employees were not fully aware of what role local authorities would play in an emergency, didn't know where some of the residents in the evacuation zone lived, and didn't have the proper contact information for health and municipal officials.
It also found the company's field employees had a "comprehensive and disciplined approach to training."
PrimeWest was ordered to address its emergency-response shortcomings. Barter said none of the problems encountered threatened public safety.
"We take these emergency response plans and exercises very seriously," Barter said.
George Collin, PrimeWest's manager of environmental health and safety, said the company has since revamped its plan and training. He said maps and information on residents have been updated and meetings have been held with county and town officials to ensure they are "all in sync on public safety."

Harper left fuming as Parliament recesses
PM to resist new law on greenhouse gas emissions
Mike De Souza and Jack Aubry, CanWest News Service
Published: Saturday, June 23, 2007
OTTAWA - Parliament shut down for the summer Friday with a defiant Prime Minister Stephen Harper threatening resistance to a new environmental law and hinting at reprisals against an unco-operative Senate.
Harper told an end-of-session news conference he will resist a new law on greenhouse gas emissions that was foisted on his government as part of a last-minute deal in the Liberal-dominated Senate. The law, which was born as a Liberal private member's bill in the Commons, obliges the government to introduce a new climate-change plan within two months -- and regulations by the end of the year -- to honour Canada's commitments under the Kyoto Protocol.
"Obviously, this government isn't going to implement any measures that would do severe damage to Canadian jobs or the Canadian economy," Harper said.
While he would respect sections of the legislation requiring the government to publish progress reports on its climate-change policies, Harper said the law has limited powers since it doesn't require any new spending.
"I'm not saying I'm going to ignore it at all," Harper said. "We will do the things we're required to do, but obviously the government is not authorized to spend billions of dollars, or to cost the Canadian economy billions of dollars on a bill that . . . does not have that authority."
The three opposition parties teamed up against the Conservatives last winter to pass the environmental bill in the Commons. It was then sent to the Senate, where it became part of a trade on Friday. Liberal Senators agreed to pass Harper's vitally important federal budget legislation, in exchange for the adoption of the climate-change bill. Both bills, in fact, passed into law with royal assent on Friday.
New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton said the government should combine the new climate-change law with its own clean-air and climate-change legislation, known as Bill C-30. But the government has left Bill C-30 on the back burner ever since a special parliamentary committee tried several weeks ago to beef it up with new industrial regulations for all sectors of the economy.
Canada is required by the Kyoto agreement to lower its greenhouse gas emissions by six per cent below 1990 levels by 2012. Canada, however, is now nearly 35 per cent above its target. The Conservative government's climate-change plan calls for Canada to meet its Kyoto target in about 20 years.
Harper's defiant attitude Friday spread to the Senate as well. He said the upper chamber had made a grave error by obstructing legislation that is supported by the democratically elected Commons, and threatened unspecified "consequences" for blocking his legislative agenda.
The Senate stopped four bills from becoming law, including legislation to raise the age of sexual consent to 16 from 14, a bill to impose mandatory prison sentences for gun crimes, and reforms that would shorten senators' terms to eight years.
The prime minister said senators have "not merely defied the government, they are defying elected members of Parliament, public opinion and all common sense." Canadians, he added, "will not stand for an institution that stands in their way."
"It's a serious mistake in terms of public opinion because . . . I think the public is growing very, very tired of the Senate in its current form. I think the Senate has made a tragic mistake in misjudging that public mood."

Public hearings, private eyes
The Edmonton Journal
Published: Friday, June 22, 2007
Re: "P.I. snoops on power critics," The Journal, June 19.
It is outrageous that the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board hired private detectives to spy on the landowners in Rimbey who are opposing the electric transmission line that is planned for their area.
These citizens are merely trying to exercise their democratic rights to be heard at public hearings and to protect their land. If the board had listened to them in the first place none of this would have happened.
To me it seems that the whole hearing process is tainted. The board gives the appearance of bias in favour of the companies who want to build this line.
Ultimately the responsibility lies with the provincial government. It created this board. New legislation must be enacted so that both sides can be heard and the board's mandate widened beyond narrow technical considerations.
My hat is off to these landowners, who are merely doing what is right. It is a David and Goliath story. The landowners are up against the electricity companies, the board and the government.
But the landowners have rights, too. The government may find it has a nasty court case on its hands if it doesn't do something to help these landowners.
Premier Ed Stelmach has portrayed himself as a champion of rural Alberta. Where is he when the landowners need him most?

Jun 15 2007
Three recent news items cause me concern, and I question who has the interests of Albertans at heart.
The first item concerns, Dr. John O’Connor, the Northern Lights Health Region’s chief of family medicine, who publicly aired concerns over carcinogenic pollution from the oil sands development.
He is now being investigated by the province’s College of Physicians and Surgeons which received a complaint from three Health Canada officials, who claim the physician caused “undue alarm.”
Complaints also have been received from an Alberta Health employee and another from Environment Canada. You may recall that decades ago it was through a San Francisco doctor speaking out about the unusual occurrences of cancer and infections that the public got to know about the AIDS epidemic.
The second item concerns Ron Renner’s statement in the Legislative Assembly: “. . . it’s not the role of Alberta Environment to advocate on behalf of the environment” (Hansard, May 29, 2007).
Perhaps that explains the reason why Alberta Environment’s budget is only 0.5 per cent of spending in this province!
The third item is from the Edmonton Journal editorial of May 9, 2007, titled Yummy! More Pesticide: “Pesticide regulations for fruits and vegetables are being relaxed to fit with lower U.S. standards. . . . Who benefits if the Canadian Food Inspection Agency relies more on U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspectors to do their job?”
What kind of a world will our children and grandchildren inherit if health care professionals are unable to speak out about issues that affect the health of us all?
Will the oil and gas industry and the economy continue to shape the life of this province at the expense of the environment and thus the health of Albertans?
Alberta Environment won’t be an advocate, nor apparently will the federal government.
It seems to me that the onus then rests on ordinary Albertans to become advocates and whistleblowers, if we have the interests of our fellow citizens at heart!
Shirley Challoner
Red Deer

Red Deer MP Bob Mills owes constituents answers
Red Deer MP Bob Mills: has no comment.

Jun 19 2007

Red Deer MP Bob Mills recently cut and ran from the House of Commons environment committee, of which he was the chairman.

There is some controversy about his leaving. Was it voluntary? Was he pushed out by the prime minister and the environment minister? Was he just following the steps in the 200-page book printed by the Conservative party on disrupting democracy?

A week earlier, all 10 members of the committee unanimously agreed to an agenda that was to include a key witness from the right-wing think tank, the C.D. Howe Institute.

Sometime in the week prior to Mills’ resignation, the institute came out with a report that was highly critical of the Conservatives’ emissions plan. So, the day before the fateful meeting, Mills decided to unilaterally amend the agenda to discussing smog.

Minutes prior to Mills leaving the committee, a motion was passed by the majority of members to go back to the original agenda including hearing from the witness who was part and parcel of the critical report. Mills took this as a non-confidence motion and resigned his chairmanship.

Since no other Conservative member on the committee was willing to chair the meeting, the witness could not be given a voice.

Did Prime Minister Stephen Harper and/or Environment Minister John Baird force him out to prevent being criticized by a conservative think tank? Was it just stall tactic No. 17, found on Page 83 of the secretive but infamous Conservative playbook on disrupting democracy.

Mills stood firm in allowing a non-confidence motion against former Environment Minister Rona Ambrose, which only helped in her later being replaced by Baird.

Baird would be in a very uncomfortable position if it became public that a very reliable Conservative, highly regarded right-wing think tank believed the Conservatives’ environment plan on greenhouse gases would not decrease emissions by 2050, but it would actually mean an increase of nearly 200 megatonnes.

Harper, who just came back from Germany crowing about leading the world in greenhouse gas reductions, would be highly embarrassed if the witness was heard and it became publicly accepted that he talked the talk while he not only walked but he ran in the wrong direction.

Did Mills decide on his own to do this playground stunt or was he forced to follow the script in his playbook?

Mills has always been a good soldier in heeding words from his superiors. He has no equal in filibustering; he takes great pride in his environment committee; and he is willing to stand up for what he believes, even when he is proven wrong.

I truly believe his resignation was the work of the iron fist of our ever-controlling, micro-managing prime minister with the environmental minister worriedly smirking, at his side and three steps back.

Mills was never to be a cabinet minister and now with his resignation he will be shuffled further into anonymity as a back bencher who’s only reason for being will be to vote in Parliament, when and how he is told.

Ending a career as a bench warmer is not a great prize to be desired.

Garfield Marks
Red Deer

Native band threatens to fight Shell project
Group says they haven't been consulted
Lisa Schmidt, Calgary Herald
Published: Saturday, June 23, 2007
Fearing the region will become "another Fort McMurray," an aboriginal group near Peace River says it will fight all oilsands projects until governments carry out proper consultations on development in the region.
The Woodland Cree said they plan to start by intervening against Shell Canada's application to expand its Carmon Creek project, arguing the band has not been consulted by federal and provincial governments about the development on their traditional territory.
Band officials could not be reached Friday. In a release, the group said it wants governments to establish a regional planning process to look at the cumulative effects of development and conduct studies on health, water and wildlife.
"We will take any and all necessary legal steps to challenge Shell's project and any other future oilsands projects unless and until Alberta and Canada carry out their duties to consult with our First Nation and accommodate our rights and interests," said Chief William Whitehead in a statement.
The Woodland Cree's lawyer, Robert Freedman, said the band has requested meetings with both levels of government to be included in consultations.
"There's been virtually no response," he said Friday.
A rush of oilsands projects in the Fort McMurray region prompted local officials to intervene at hearings last year where they called for a public inquiry to examine all impacts of the rapid growth in the region.
The Carmon Creek project, located about 40 kilometres northeast of Peace River, is slated to expand production to 100,000 barrels per day (bpd) from the current 12,500 bpd.
An application for the project, which will inject steam underground to soften and pump the tar-like deposits to the surface, was filed in December.
The Alberta Energy and Utilities Board is still reviewing Shell's application and no hearing dates have been set, a spokesman said Friday.
Shell Canada, now a private subsidiary of European giant Royal Dutch Shell, has been operating an oilsands project in the region since 1979 and has always worked with groups in the area, said a company spokeswoman.
"We've been neighbours for 25 years and we've consulted with the Woodland Cree extensively," said Janet Annesley.
Also on Friday, an aboriginal band in northwestern Saskatchewan continued to block a road leading to land being developed by Calgary-based Oilsands Quest, an exploration company.
The Clearwater River Dene Nation said talks have broken off with the company over a benefits agreement dealing with jobs and contracts related to the oilsands exploration in the area.
Oilsands Quest said Friday its operations have not been affected by the blockade, which is located on reserve land. The company said it is working to resolve the issue and is consulting with the provincial government.
"We continue to closely monitor the situation and hope to see some positive action soon," said chief executive Christopher Hopkins.
The Clearwater River Dene reserve is located about 600 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon.

Canada's oil sands development an economic boon, but leaves a mess
by Guillaume Lavallee
The development of Canada's oil sands is laying waste to its great northern forest and western plains, say critics who point to skyrocketing greenhouse gas emissions, diverted rivers and razed backwoods.
And the devastation can only get worse, they say, as energy companies pump billions of dollars into new projects to triple local oil production to some 3.0 million barrels per day within the next decade.
The Athabasca, Peace River and Cold Lake Oil Sands, at an estimated 173 billion barrels, rank second behind Saudi Arabia in petroleum resources.
But due to high extraction costs, the deposits were long neglected except by local companies.
While conventional crude oil is pumped from the ground, oil sands must be mined and bitumen separated from the sand and water, then upgraded and refined.
Since 2000, skyrocketing crude oil prices (now at about 70 dollars a barrel) and improved extraction methods have made it more economical to exploit the sands, and lured several international oil companies to mine the sands.
Open pits now dot the northern part of Alberta province where vast tracts of the Boreal Forest once stood, and giant mechanical shovels now devour black oil-encrusted soil day and night.
In an article in the June 2006 issue of Rolling Stone magazine, former US presidential candidate Al Gore offered a scathing sketch of the oil sands industry as wasteful and a blight on Canada.
"For every barrel of oil they extract there, they have to use enough natural gas to heat a family's home for four days," Gore told the magazine.
"And they have to tear up four tonnes of landscape, all for one barrel of oil. It is truly nuts," he said, urging Americans, who are the main buyers of Canadian oil, to break their addiction to oil.
For Canada, which has stepped back from its 1997 Kyoto Protocol commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 6.0 percent below 1990 levels by 2012, the oil sands boom is a mixed blessing.
It creates wealth and jobs, but the industry is already Canada's worst polluter and is bound to double its harmful CO2 emissions by 2015, now at 29 megatonnes annually, according to a government environmental audit.
"It's almost impossible for us to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions if we want to boost production from 2,000 to 250,000 barrels within a decade," said Michael Borrell, president of Total Canada, a scion of the French oil behemoth Total SA.
The government has proposed a 20 percent reduction in the "intensity" of the sector's CO2 emissions, but total emissions would still rise as oil production billows.
The boom is also prompting fears of local water shortages and declining water quality as oil companies drain 349 million cubic meters of water from the Athabasca River each year for use in oil production, then dump it into area tailing ponds.
A report by the Sage Centre and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) on global warming said Alberta would have to curtail new oil sands projects, which now use 2.0 to 4.5 barrels of water and large amounts of energy to produce one barrel of oil, if warming persists.
The WWF called for no new water-taking permits for energy companies, noting water flows in the Athabasca River, down 20 percent since 1958, could diminish by another seven to 10 percent if temperatures continue to rise.
"Climate change (is) an issue because the flow in the Athabasca River has constantly been dropping and as the glaciers (that feed the river) disappear in Jasper National Park, it's gonna get worse," said Simon Dyer of the Pembina Institute, an environmental group.
"Those people they just don't care about the environment," said Terry, a young aboriginal in Fort McKay in the heart of the oil sands. "Some people fish (in the Athabasca River) for fun ... but nobody should eat the fish around here."
Higher than average cancer rates at the nearby Fort Chipewyan Indian Reserve were recently linked to oil industry contamination of the environment, said reports.
Alberta law requires oil companies to restore excavated lands, but out of some 44,000 square kilometers (17,000 square miles) leased to them since 1967, "not a single square meter (foot) of land has been reclaimed," Dyer lamented.

Anonymous said...

Property rights: Holey land

Andrew Nikiforuk
From the May 21, 2007 issue of Canadian Business magazine

Just about every piece of Alberta has two inconvenient owners: a farmer who grows crops or raises livestock above ground and an energy company that wants to suck up the oil and gas below the landowner's feet. To secure the necessary real estate for well pads, roads and pipelines (50,000 applications are approved each year), the energy industry employs approximately 1,600 licensed landmen to make the deals that build a firm's bottom line. "Every company wants to do it faster, quicker and cheaper," explains Rick Kaminski, a Calgary-based landman for 25 years.

But Ray Strom could change that. Since 2002 the 53- year-old farmer and former oilpatch worker has advised landowners, for a fee, which oil-and-gas lease deals are good, bad or just plain ugly. (The fee is billed to the landowner but ultimately covered by the energy companies that proposed the deal in the first place.) His efficient defence of property rights, however, has landed him in deep trouble with a provincial government addicted to oil and gas revenues. It has also plunged the adviser into an ongoing court case that could either level the playing field for rural Davids or simply make Alberta's energy Goliaths, well, more powerful. (Full disclosure: I am one of some 150,000 rural landowners in Alberta.)

At stake is the interpretation of an obscure piece of legislation: the Land Agents Licensing Act. Designed to protect landowners from unscrupulous land sharks working for industry, the 1968 act not only created a professional monopoly but eventually required that "people who negotiate for or acquire an interest in land"take a six-week course and apprentice for a year under other agents.

Like half a dozen other unlicensed advocates in Alberta, Strom argued the act never applied to him because he didn't buy or sell land. He simply advised landowners about true property values, environmental liabilities, soil issues and long-term implications of high density well sites.

But four years ago, as shallow gas drilling became the rage throughout central Alberta, oil and gas firms started to press for a new interpretation of the law. They thought it now should apply to people like Strom. Gerald Kress, the province's deputy registrar of land agents, even warned Strom, whose business card reads "Advocacy for Agriculture," that he might be violating the act by practising without a license. "If I'm in violation, charge me," replied Strom. "I don't believe I'm doing anything illegal."

In 2003, a land agent for Exxon Mobil Corp. complained to Kress that Strom "engaged in the activities of a land agent" when he advised Bob and Shirley Chalut about a new well lease and then sent Exxon Mobil the bill for his services. Had the company paid Strom, it would "have been in violation of the act," explained company spokesman Pius Rolheiser. After EnCana Corp. and Aquila Networks Canada, a utility firm now part of Fortis, lodged more complaints against Strom, the registrar formally charged him with breaching the Land Agents Licensing Act. The complaints, however, were not entirely accurate. According to Bob Chalut, a farmer in Bonnyville, Alta.,Strom never misrepresented himself as a land agent and had in fact been hired by the family's lawyer, Julian Bondar, to help out with negotiations. "We asked Exxon Mobil why they lied," says Chalut, who got no answer. "It really bothered me….It frustrates me that the companies don't want to be fair." Strom's trial took place in a jam-packed Vegreville courtroom in January. According to a court document, during the proceedings deputy registrar Kress reluctantly testified that the Land Agents Licensing Act created "an unbalanced playing field for those who are bound by its provisions." In other words, if the province applied the letter of the law, landowners really didn't have the right to choose who they want to represent them in negotiations with oil and gas companies.

In his final judgment, Provincial Court of Alberta Judge Peter Ayotte agreed with Kress's assessment, calling the act "bad legislation in need of revision." But he noted that these were "political not judicial issues." Judge Ayotte found Strom guilty as charged and fined him $500. "I felt like I had been hit by a train," says Strom. The decision also made it technically illegal for a son to offer his mother advice on an oil and gas land deal — if he charged a fee and wasn't certified as a land agent.

Leaders of three different groups representing nearly 2,000 landowners called the court's interpretation "unjust" and demanded the government fix the legislation by simply restricting it to its original mandate: the regulation of land agents. After several Conservative MLAs promised reform but failed to produce a written commitment to that effect, Strom launched an appeal that will be heard this July before the provincial Queen's Bench court. "I'm prepared to take this case to the Supreme Court," he says. "No one has the right to tell a landowner who can defend themagainst a taking of their land."

Meanwhile, the oilpatch has encouraged its well-heeled fraternity to lobby, too. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Landmen (CAPL) contends, for example, that if advocates like Strom aren't forced to be licensed land agents, then "unprofessional and unethical land advisors will unduly delay land negotiations" and cause unnecessary public hearings at great expense. (For the record, no landowner has ever filed a complaint against Strom.) Rick Kaminski, director of CAPL field acquistions, warned that the whole situation in rural Alberta could even become "chaotic" and affect the prosperity of the province. When asked on a popular radio show if a land agent could fairly represent both landowners and energy companies while being paid by energy companies, Kaminski replied: "Yes. You can if you do your job right." The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers would also like to see land agents ultimately act like real estate lawyers that represent both sides, adds CAPP spokesman David Pryce.

Kevin Feth, Strom's lawyer, says the legal wrangle has attracted the attention of local politicians as well as beef producers and the business press. "We've always had a one-sided industry where landowners had very little representation," says Feth. "And now those who had access to someone like Strom have lost the right to representation." Without that right, argues Feth, "David has been asked to put down his sling and go and fight Goliath."

Say you're sorry, Ed
The Edmonton Journal
Published: Wednesday, June 27, 2007
The Stelmach government continues to show that it is completely out of touch, not only with the citizens of this province, but with the basic principles of democracy.

Landowners have a democratic right to voice concerns and ask questions about proposed developments on or near their land. No government has the right to spy on its citizens.

When I learned that the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board, a government agency, hired private detectives to spy on farmers and landowners in Rimbey, I was appalled. It is a dark day for democracy when the premier believes that a government agency has the right to eavesdrop and spy on farmers -- the very people who put him in the premier's office. This spying is a terrible betrayal of their trust.

Premier Ed Stelmach should be ashamed of himself for supporting such undemocratic tactics. He should make the details regarding this disturbing incident public and apologize immediately to Albertans for trampling on their democratic rights.

Hugh MacDonald, Alberta Liberal MLA, Edmonton-Gold Bar
Edmonton Journal

Defending spies
Calgary Herald
Published: Wednesday, June 27, 2007
EUB - Re: "Minister to question EUB on spies; Premier defends use of private eyes," June 21.

With regards to your articles on the private investigators hired to spy on "potential dissidents," please note that the hearing in Rimbey has not had a moment of violence. Our local nursery school children use the same facility daily. It has been a farce from the start regarding any security issues. There is no credibility to this board with the way it has handled these proceedings. Hiring private investigators brings it to an all-time low.

It's disturbing enough that our "neutral" Alberta Energy Utility Board would go so low as to hire private investigators. But it is even more disturbing to me that our Premier Ed Stelmach would condone such a practice.

There is very little integrity left to a group that would hire someone to sneak around Joe Public, eavesdropping on conversations, looking for morsels of slime to report. If you want to know what we are saying, come introduce yourself and be honest!

Joanne Lee,

The Calgary Herald

Privacy boss to investigate energy board spy allegations
Fallout from AEUB's use of private investigators at power line hearings spreads

Jim Farrell, with files from Archie McLean
The Edmonton Journal

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

EDMONTON - The province's privacy commissioner leapt into the furor Tuesday over the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board's use of private investigators to spy on landowners opposed to construction of a new power line.

Frank Work announced Tuesday he will launch an investigation to find out what kind of information the AEUB's investigators collected and what they did with it.

"Last week, allegations were made that the private investigators may have collected, used and disclosed more information than they should have under the Freedom of Information Act," Work's spokesman Wayne Wood said.

"The commissioner will investigate those allegations and will work with the EUB to determine what information was collected and how that information was used."

AEUB's woes may not stop there. Some landowners have produced e-mails from one of the investigators that indicate he obtained the password to their conference calls which they allege was under false pretences.

Donald MacDonald subsequently listened in as landowners and their lawyers discussed various proposed power lines and ways to fight their construction in court.

The lawyers called the alleged eavesdropping an "egregious invasion of solicitor-client privilege."

Monday evening a half-dozen lawyers discussed how they can bring that eavesdropping to court.

On Tuesday, environmentalists and landowners who participated in those conference calls were writing affidavits in response to requests from the lawyers.

"We are in the process of preparing for a court proceeding of some sort," said lawyer Donald Bur. "I don't want to be specific because I don't want to give the AEUB advance notice of what we are planning."

Last week, after talking on the phone with AEUB chairman Brad McManus, Energy Minister Mel Knight said the matter was essentially closed and that no one will be disciplined.

Premier Ed Stelmach has said the use of private detectives was justified after an unruly AEUB hearing in Red Deer and the possibility of violence at future hearings. Stelmach now calls the controversy "troubling."

With so many new transmission lines planned for the booming province, Stelmach said it's vital the public retain its trust in the AEUB.

"I have confidence in the board to make the right decisions, but this might have been just outside the boundaries of the board in terms of looking for someone to protect the board members," Stelmach said Tuesday.

The four private investigators hired by the AEUB mingled for almost a month among landowners and their lawyers as they gathered in Rimbey's recreation centre to watch closed-circuit TV coverage of an AEUB hearing being conducted in a nearby courthouse. Members of the public were barred from those hearings because of disruptions at earlier hearings in Red Deer.

To blend into the Rimbey crowd, the investigators pretended to be landowners concerned about the construction of power lines through their property. Eventually, private investigator Don MacDonald obtained the password to a conference call system organized by the Alberta Environmental Network which allowed him to participate in those calls.

If Alberta's privacy commissioner concludes the AEUB has contravened the province's Freedom of Information and Privacy Act he can make recommendations about how the system can be improved but he has no ability to discipline the government agency, Wood said.

Liberal energy critic Hugh MacDonald thinks the investigations shouldn't stop there.

"The commissioner has the right to investigate but that doesn't mean the province shouldn't investigate to see if this contravened the Criminal Code," MacDonald said.

But at least the premier is finally beginning to grasp the gravity of the AEUB's misdeeds, he said.

"So many farmers and landowners have been so supportive of the premier, who apparently considered this a normal process. I am glad the premier has finally come back to reality."

A more thorough investigation might show there was more at stake than just systems and procedures, said NDP energy critic David Eggen.

"There are hundreds of millions of dollars on the table. People have spied for a lot less and there are a lot of dirty deeds that have been done in the name of security."

AEUB spokesman Davis Sheremata says the board welcomes the privacy commissioner's upcoming investigation.

"We regard this as great news and welcome the investigation and will co-operate fully," Sheremata said.

"This will give us the opportunity to have someone who is impartial and independent look into the security we used, to decide if what we did to protect the safety of our staff and people participating in the hearings was proper and appropriate."

j farrell
The Edmonton Journal 2007


The Lavesta Area Group is circumspect at best with the announcement the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta, Frank Work, is going to investigate the Alberta Energy Utilities Board (EUB) for spying on landowners.

The 800 landowners comprising the Lavesta Area Group are disgusted with the EUB behaviour of hiring undercover private investigators to infiltrate group communications and monitor solicitor client communications. We have no confidence in the EUB board members and even less in one arm of the Stelmach government investigating another arm of the Stelmach government, while both hands of government are engaged in choking our civil rights.

The Lavesta Area Group maintains the security issues relied upon by the EUB to hire private investigators is fabricated beyond reason and a violation of the law. Increased security concerns logically should dictate additional security personnel, not private investigators. Legislation, Sec 17 and Sec 21 of the “Private Investigators and Security Guards Act”, prohibits private investigators from acting in security matters.

Lavesta Area Group maintains there is no good legal excuse or explanation for the action of the EUB. We do not expect vindication from, nor will we wait for, the Privacy Commissioner’s report before we take action.

Joe Anglin

Cameron W said...

Alberta Tory angry at his own government over seismic testing at pristine lake

Ducharme blasted Sustainable Resources Development Minister Ted Morton for quietly allowing the testing. He said he found out about the decision through the media.

“I‘m upset. This is a bad decision by a rookie minister,‘‘ Ducharme said Thursday.

“The questions that were posed by my constituents on the possible environmental risks to the lake remain unanswered. Minister Morton has also failed to address their quality of life issues. Minister Morton has however, in my belief, confirmed their fears that Alberta is for sale at any price.‘‘

Edmonton Sun (1)

Edmontonian Doug Goss, who owns property by the lake, said the premier has broken his promise.

“The premier himself said that there’s no seismic activity to be done on the lake until all the questions raised in the House are answered and they haven’t done that.”

The company plans to use instruments that will produce sound at 220 decibels, Goss said. This will affect the fish and other aquatic life in the lake, he said. Tests may also be conducted 24-7.

Edmonton Sun (2)

"I'm kind of in shock," said Cara Francis, who lives in a lakefront home with her two children and husband. "You just hope that the government you voted for will listen to what you have to say and they obviously are not."