Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Cross-border fight simmers over tar sands

Cross-border fight simmers over tar sands

David Ebner
Jun 9/ 2010
Globe and Mail

The oil sands have a new adversary: the City of Bellingham, Wash.

On Monday night, in a vote of 7-0, city councillors endorsed a resolution to
reconsider what sort of fuel Bellingham buys for its fleet vehicles, a motion
that pointed a specific finger at “high carbon fuels such as those derived from
the Canadian Tar Sands.”

The resolution is largely symbolic, since the city of 76,000 is locked into its
current fuel supply contract until 2015, but highlights the ongoing political
pressure on oil sands producers.

“A lot of us didn’t know about the tar sands situation,” said council member
Gene Knutson. “This might just be symbolic but we’re sending a message.”

The debate emerged as the city renewed an agreement with Kinder Morgan’s Trans
Mountain pipeline, which runs from Edmonton to the Vancouver region and has a
short extension into Washington State, including a three-kilometre run under
public land in Bellingham. The line carries some oil sands production and local
activists lobbied council to adopt the longer-term stance against Fort McMurray oil.

The potential ban in Bellingham is just another volley fired at the oil sands
over their emissions profile. The backlash against the energy source has in
recent months spread beyond environmental and investor groups; in February,
grocer Whole Foods said it would try to reduce its purchase of fuel derived from
oil sands production.

Another protest is scheduled for Wednesday at Lush stores in North America. The
soap and beauty products retailer, in partnership with environmental group
Rainforest Action Network, is organizing protests at its stores against the oil
sands, which they dub “the most destructive project on Earth.”

The oil industry is working to fight the negative image. Tuesday, the Canadian
Association of Petroleum Producers issued a 1000-word press release taking on
Lush, saying the protest was “based on misinformation, rhetoric – not facts.”

The Bellingham vote was promoted Tuesday by environmental group ForestEthics,
which has worked since last summer to encourage Fortune 500 companies to spurn
the oil sands. Whole Foods was the first company ForestEthics signed on. The
group said it would reveal actions against the oil sands by other large firms in
the summer.

Like Rainforest Action Network, ForestEthics asserts oil sands output emits far
more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil.

However, the oil industry argues that an oil sands barrel – when measured from
production to end-use consumption – generates about 10 per cent more emissions
than the average oil barrel imported to the United States, basing the figure on
research by industry consultant Cambridge Energy Research Associates.

Oil sands producers – though production has grown rapidly–have cut emissions per
barrel by more than a third in the past two decades, according to Travis Davies,
a spokesman for the oil producers association.

“We’re making headway and we’ll continue to do so,” said Mr. Davies.

The success of various campaigns against the oil sands appears limited. When
ForestEthics announced in February that Whole Foods had decided to “reject” the
oil sands, it named retailer Bed Bath & Beyond as another large company who had
chosen to do the same.

Bed Bath & Beyond quickly recanted.

“Bed Bath & Beyond has not ‘rejected’ or otherwise ‘banned’ our third-party
transportation providers from using fuels from the Canadian Tar Sands,” a
company spokeswoman said in a statement in February. She said the company’s
intent was to encourage its trucking companies to “be aware of the issues
associated with fuels generally” and “incorrectly communicated a desire to limit
or avoid fuels from Canadian Tar Sands.”


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