Category Archives: Environmental

Climate Change, Logging and Mining, Oil and Gas

Supreme Court says companies must pay for mercury-contaminated mill site at Grassy Narrows

Ontario government ordered 2 companies to do remedial work 8 years ago

Two companies are on the hook for looking after a mercury-contaminated site near Ontario’s Grassy Narrows First Nation, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled.

The 4-3 decision Friday brought some clarity to a long-running dispute over one element of the legacy of environmental poisoning that has caused significant health problems for many residents.

Eight years ago, the Ontario government ordered Weyerhaeuser Co. and a firm that later became Resolute Forest Products to care for a mercury waste-disposal site in Dryden, Ont., where toxic material from a pulp-and-paper mill’s operations entered the English-Wabigoon River system in the 1960s.

The order obligated the two companies to repair site erosion, do water testing, file annual reports, prevent any leaks and give the Ontario Environment Ministry $273,063 as financial assurance with respect to the site.

The companies claimed that an indemnity granted in 1985 to the owners of the paper facility at the time — part of a settlement with the Grassy Narrows and Islington First Nations — applied to them as well, but the province disagreed.

An Ontario judge ruled in favour of the companies in 2016, saying the language of the indemnity should cover the two subsequent owners as well.

However, the Ontario Court of Appeal found Resolute was not entitled to indemnification and said the lower court should decide whether it applied to Weyerhaeuser.

In its decision, the Supreme Court said the 1985 indemnity does not apply to the province’s 2011 environmental order, meaning the companies are liable for the costs of carrying it out.

A majority of the high court substantially agreed with the Ontario appeal-court’s reasoning, concluding the judge who initially heard the case made “palpable and overriding errors of fact.”

The Canadian Press · Posted: Dec 06, 2019

[SOURCE]

Keystone XL: police discussed stopping anti-pipeline activists ‘by any means’

Demonstrators against the Keystone XL pipeline walking to a federal courthouse in in Rapid City, South Dakota, in June. Photograph: Adam Fondren/AP

Revealed: records show law enforcement has called demonstrators possible ‘domestic terrorism’ threats

US law enforcement officials preparing for fresh Keystone XL pipeline protests have privately discussed tactics to stop activists “by any means” and have labeled demonstrators potential “domestic terrorism” threats, records reveal.

Internal government documents seen by the Guardian show that police and local authorities in Montana and the surrounding region have been preparing a coordinated response in the event of a new wave of protests opposing the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, which would carry crude oil from Canada to Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska.

Civil rights organizations say the documents raise concerns that law enforcement is preparing to launch an even more brutal and aggressive response than the police tactics utilized during the 2016 Standing Rock movement, which drew thousands of indigenous and environmental activists opposed to the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) to North Dakota.

At Standing Rock, law enforcement organized repeated rounds of mass arrests and filed a wide array of serious charges in local and federal courts against activists. Police also deployed water cannons, teargas grenades, bean bag rounds and other weapons, causing serious injuries to protesters.

The documents are mostly emails from 2017 and 2018 between local and federal authorities discussing possible Keystone protests. They show that police officials are anticipating construction will spark a sustained resistance campaign akin to the one at Standing Rock and that police are considering closing public lands near the pipeline project.

The new records have come to light as the Keystone pipeline project has overcome numerous legal hurdles with help from the Trump administration, and as the project’s owner, TC Energy (formerly TransCanada), is moving forward with initial construction efforts.

Among the major revelations in the documents:

  • Officials at a 2017 law enforcement briefing on potential Keystone XL protests said one key tactic would be to “initially deny access to the property by protestors and keep them as far away [from] the contested locations as possible by any means”, according to an email summary from a US army corps of engineers security manager in Nebraska in July 2017.
  • Officials with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said in 2017 that the bureau had 10 armed officers in Montana and was prepared to “work with local [law enforcement] to deny access to federal property”. In 2018, army corps officials were also in discussions with the Montana disaster and emergency services department to discuss ways to “close access” to lands near the pipeline route, including areas typically open for hunting and other activities.
  • A “joint terrorism task force” involving the US attorney’s office and other agencies, along with federal “counterterrorism” officials, said it was prepared to assist in the response to protests and a “critical incident response team” would be available for “domestic terrorism or threats to critical infrastructure”. Authorities have also pre-emptively discussed specific potential felony charges that protesters could face, noting that a “civil disorder” statute was used to prosecute activists at Standing Rock.

“There is a lot of muscle behind this effort to make sure that Keystone is constructed,” said Alex Rate, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana, which obtained the documents through records act requests and shared them with the Guardian. “There are historically marginalized communities, primarily indigenous folks, who have grave concerns about the impact of this pipeline on their sovereignty, their resources, their religion and culture. They have a first amendment right to assemble and make their viewpoints heard.”

Remi Bald Eagle, intergovernmental affairs coordinator of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe, which is located along the pipeline route, said the police buildup was part of a long history of armed subjugation of native people in the region.
“This is an experience of the tide of Manifest Destiny still coming at us,” Bald Eagle said, referring to the 19th-century belief that US settlers had the right to expand across the continent.

The files follow repeated revelations that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have investigated environmental groups and leftwing activists as possible “terrorists”.

Opponents of the Keystone XL oil pipeline are seen demonstrating in sub-freezing temperatures last month in Billings, Montana. Photograph: Matthew Brown/AP

Keystone XL was rejected by the Obama administration and then revived by Donald Trump shortly after his inauguration in 2017. The $8bn project has been subject to multiple legal challenges, including over the environmental review process, but pre-construction efforts are now under way.

Opponents of Keystone XL have warned about the environmental and cultural impact of the project for a decade – concerns that came into sharper focus last month after the existing Keystone pipeline, which follows a similar route, leaked 383,000 gallons of tar sands into a swath of North Dakota wetlands.

The new Keystone records, which come from a number of government agencies and were released after a protracted legal battle, also show that officials have specifically met with police involved in the Standing Rock response to discuss “lessons learned”. North Dakota police officials told law enforcement prepping for Keystone that one of their biggest mistakes was their failure to keep activists far away and shut down access to nearby lands.

In one 2018 BLM document, labeled “KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE PUBLIC SAFETY ISSUES”, officials discussed the “available resources” to respond to protests in Montana.

“The FBI will have primary investigative authority for all national security investigations, including but not limited to international terrorism, domestic terrorism, and weapons of mass destruction,” BLM wrote.

US border patrol would also be available to assist law enforcement around the border and has access to “drone assets”, the document continued. Border patrol also provided a surveillance drone that police used to track Standing Rock protesters.

BLM also discussed purchasing “riot batons”, helmets and gas masks in advance of possible protests.

Mike Glasch, an army corps spokesman, said that the “by any means” comment came from the agency’s security chief, who was “relaying talking points” from police officials in Mandan and Morton County in North Dakota, adding: “Any method that we would employ to protect the safety of our employees and the public, as well as property and equipment, would be within the limits of the law and be the least invasive possible, while still protecting the public’s first amendment rights.”

A spokesperson for the Morton county sheriff, Kyle Kirchmeier, said he advises law enforcement that “may be involved with potential pipeline protests to make it their goal to keep protesters off of private property and any areas that may be considered a public hazard, such as ditches or highways”, adding that he “is supportive of people’s right to protest, but they need to do so in a lawful manner”. Kirchmeier said he did not recall the 2017 briefing.

A Mandan police spokesperson declined to comment.

Glasch said the army corps had not closed access to its land around the project, but added: “Since a construction site comes with inherent hazards, options are being analyzed for methods to keep any non-essential personnel away from potential construction sites, while at the same time considering constitutional rights.” He said it was too early to speculate about specific potential closure plans.

A spokesperson for the US attorney’s office did not respond to questions about the “terrorism” references but said the office’s “goal is to provide coordinated assistance to local, tribal and state law enforcement to protect public safety and civil rights, and to protect federal lands, while enforcing federal law”.

The FBI declined to comment.

A border patrol spokesperson said the agency would “assist, upon request, with any law enforcement activities within the border area near the pipeline”.

Spokespeople for BLM and TC Energy did not respond to questions.

“Law enforcement are getting ready. They’ve been having meetings behind closed doors,” said Angeline Cheek, an indigenous organizer from the Fort Peck reservation. “We know that they’re preparing … We’ve been preparing for the last three years.”

Rate, from the ACLU, said there was no legal justification for the government to pre-emptively shut down lands in an effort to stop protests. He said it was also troubling for law enforcement to prepare a “militarized” response and suggest that activists could pose terrorist or criminal threats before any actions had even begun.

“They are thinking of them as potential ‘domestic terrorists’. There is simply no support for adopting that paradigm,” said Rate. “The public justifiably thinks of BLM as a land management agency and not necessarily in the business of arming themselves and going out and squelching protesters.”

Candi Brings Plenty, an Oglala Lakota Sioux activist working with the ACLU of Montana, said they were not surprised to learn that law enforcement was talking about stopping indigenous activists “by any means”.

“That is the type of language that has been spoken to us our whole lives,” they said, adding: “We live these injustices on a daily basis. This is finally being unveiled for what it is.”

Brings Plenty, who led a two-spirit camp at Standing Rock, said they would not be intimidated by law enforcement and hoped people would still support the fight against Keystone – instead of just accepting the pipeline.

“It’s almost become the norm for folks to look the other way, feeling like there isn’t something they can do, that it’s beyond their grasp,” they said. “I want folks to see these pipelines the way they do the glaciers in the arctic. This is happening right here in their own front yard.”

By: Sam Levin and Will Parrish. Posted in The Guardian, Nov 25, 2019.

[SOURCE]

Indigenous leaders warn of protests, halting developments over shale gas exemption

Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Roger Augustine says ‘the blueprint’ for government to consult Indigenous groups is there. (Radio-Canada)

‘It is our job to ensure the protection of lands and waters for our future generations’: Chief Ross Perley

Top Indigenous leaders are warning that the Higgs government has made “a serious mistake” on shale gas that may reignite protests like those seen in the Rexton area in 2013.

They say the province’s duty to consult Indigenous people is clearly defined, and the government should have known how to proceed as it tries to restart the industry in one part of the province.

“It’s not as if this is all new,” said Roger Augustine, the regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. “The blueprint is there.”

“There’s a lot of case law,” said Chief George Ginnish of Natoaganeg First Nation. “There are actual court cases. … If he needs clarity, we’ll certainly provide clarity if that’s what he needs.”

‘Reckless voice’

Augustine said the Progressive Conservative government’s decision to lift the moratorium on fracking in the Sussex area risks alarming members of First Nations communities.

“When a reckless voice speaks out, be it the premier or the prime minister, they should realize what could happen, what it causes in communities,” he said. “Once we’ve got outrage out there, and we’ve got roadblocks, we’ve got cars burned.”

He was referring to anti-shale gas protests near Elsipogtog First Nation in 2013 that saw violent confrontations between protestors and police.

Chief George Ginnish of Natoaganeg First Nation says there’s case law that clarifies government’s duty to consult. (Hadeel Ibrahim, CBC)

Ginnish warned that Mi’kmaq chiefs may pursue “whatever remedies might be available to us otherwise, legally” following the snub.

“In a partnership approach, you talk to your partners before you make a decision, not after,” said Ginnish, who co-chairs Mi’gmawe’l Tplu’taqnn Inc., made up of the nine Mi’kmaq bands in the province.

“You would think going forward a new government would want to build a good relationship and perhaps learn from the mistakes of the past.”

Higgs given instructions

This week Premier Blaine Higgs revealed that his cabinet had approved an order to end the moratorium in one part of the province. It would allow Corridor Resources to resume fracking its wells near Penobsquis, in the Sussex area.

Higgs said he met with Augustine last week to discuss the issue. Augustine told CBC News on Friday that he’s unhappy that Higgs told reporters, even after their meeting, that the duty to consult is “vague” and “undefined.”

He said he left notes with the premier after the meeting explaining how the duty to consult — laid out in several Supreme Court of Canada decisions on resource development projects — should work.

And he said that begins with Higgs saying publicly in the legislature that he honours and respects Aboriginal and treaty rights as laid out in the 1982 Constitution.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Jake Stewart sounded a conciliatory note at the legislature Friday, acknowledging that “there’s lots of questions today on whether or not we did it wrong.”

Reset?

Stewart has said repeatedly this week that he recognizes Aboriginal treaties and Aboriginal rights, and he committed again Friday to meeting with chiefs and inviting them to lay out how they want consultations to unfold.

Jake Stewart, minister of Aboriginal affairs, appeared conciliatory at the New Brunswick legislature on Friday. (CBC)

“As tricky as that issue it, that’s a good starting point to at least get the consultation process right,” he said. “Maybe this is the reset we need to sit down and say, ‘How can we define this? How would you like this to go?'”

Augustine said it’s not too late for a reset. He said he has offer to assemble Indigenous representatives to talk to provincial officials about the process.

But he wouldn’t say whether communities would ever consent to shale gas development. “That’s down the road,” he said.

The government said there’s a potential investment of $70 million if Corridor can restart its fracking near Penobsquis, but no new development is likely before 2021.

The government says there’s a potential investment of $70 million if Corridor Resources can restart its fracking near Penobsquis. (CBC)

The Opposition Liberals, who brought in the provincial moratorium when they were in power, say the PC government has gone against the definition of the duty to consult from a 2010 Supreme Court decision.

That ruling said that the duty arises “when the Crown has knowledge, real or constructive, of the potential existence of the Aboriginal right or title and contemplates conduct that might adversely affect it.”

‘Happened over and over’

Augustine, who has been dealing with governments on resource issues for four decades, said he warned SWN Resources before they began seismic testing in 2013 that they needed to follow a consultation process.

“Every protest that I’ve seen across the country has already been the industry thinking they can just plow their way through the territory and pay no attention to the rights of the people, pay no attention to the history and culture of our people,” he said.

“That was a big mistake and that’s what happened over and over again.”

Anti-shale gas protesters blocked Highway 11 near Rexton in December of 2013. (Twitter)

Stewart maintained Friday that until cabinet approved the order to exempt the Sussex area from the moratorium, there was not much to consult on.

But he said he and Energy and Resource Development Minister Mike Holland were set to meet four Mi’kmaq chiefs and an elder later the same day.

Wolastoqey Nation opposition

In a statement released Friday by the Wolostoqey Nation, comprised of St. Mary’s, Woodstock, Madawaska, Oromocto, Tobique and Kingsclear First Nations, leaders denounced the “shocking, unacceptable, and unlawful” lifting of the moratorium.

The letter said part of the area where the moratorium is being lifted includes unceded Wolastoqey territory.

“The Province’s attempt to secretly open the door to fracking in our Territory is shocking, unacceptable, and unlawful. They need to restore the Moratorium immediately, and they need to have a serious dialogue with Indigenous peoples before taking any more steps in that direction,” said Patricia Bernard, Chief of Madawaska First Nation.

The statement also quoted Ross Perley, Chief of Tobique First Nation, saying he is disappointed by the move and promises to stop development.

“It falls short of the Higgs Government’s promise of defining a new relationship with the Wolastoqey and Mi’kmaw Nations,” he said. “It is our job to ensure the protection of lands and waters for our future generations and we will unify with our Mi’kmaw brothers and sisters to stop this development.”

By: Jacques Poitras ·  CBC News · Posted: Jun 08, 2019

[SOURCE]

Train Derailment near St-Lazare, Spilled One Million Litres of Crude Oil

The Canadian National train with 110 petroleum crude oil cars derailed when an emergency brake was applied, rupturing 16 cars.

37 tanker cars carrying crude oil derailed near St-Lazare

Investigators say at least one million litres of crude oil was spilled when a train derailed last month in western Manitoba.

According to Global News, the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) says the spill was mostly contained in a low-lying area next to the track, and it’s too early to comment on the environmental impact.

On Feb. 16, 110 tanker cars loaded with petroleum crude oil, was travelling east at about 49 mph when it experienced a train-initiated emergency brake application.

37 cars derailed at 3:30 a.m. by the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border near St. Lazare.

The TSB says 16 of the cars sustained breaches.

The agency says the investigation is ongoing and some track components and wheel sets are being examined for failure analysis.

CN said the leak did not penetrate the Assiniboine River.

There were no reports of injuries or fires.

CN resumed operations on the mainline the following day of the derailment.

The aftermath of an oil spill in St. Lazare, Man., captured by a drone.

The wreck happened on the same day as a pro-pipeline rally just 50 km away in Moosomin, Sask.

Supporters of pipelines argue that shipping oil by pipeline is safer than by rail.

47 people died in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, on July 6th 2013, when an unattended 74-car freight train carrying crude oil derailed in the downtown setting off a massive explosion and fire.

By RPM, Staff, Updated March 2, 2019.

European Contact Killed So Many Indigenous Americans It Changed The Climate, Says Study

Columbus’ first set foot in the Americas in 1492.  

More than 50 million indigenous people perished after Columbus’s arrival

Prior to Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas in 1492, the area boasted thriving indigenous populations totalling to more than 60 million people.

A little over a century later, that number had dropped close to 6 million.

European contact brought with it not only war and famine, but also diseases like smallpox that decimated local populations.

Now, a new study published in the journal Quarternary Science Reviews argues that those deaths occurred on such a large scale that they led to a “Little Ice Age”: an era of global cooling between the 16th and mid-19th century.

Researchers from University College London found that, after the rapid population decline, large swaths of vegetation and farmland were abandoned.

The trees and flora that repopulated that unmanaged farmland started absorbing more carbon dioxide and keeping it locked in the soil, removing so much greenhouse gas from the atmosphere that the planet’s average temperature dropped by 0.15 degrees Celsius.

Typically, experts look to the Industrial Revolution as the genesis of human-driven climate impacts. But this study shows that effects may have began some 250 years earlier.

“Humans altered the climate already before the burning of fossil fuels had started,” the study’s lead author, Alexander Koch, told Business Insider. “Fossil fuel burning then turned up the dial.”

More than 50 million indigenous people perished by 1600

Experts have long struggled to quantify the extent of the slaughter of indigenous American peoples in North, Central, and South America. That’s mostly because no census data or records of population size exist to help pinpoint how many people were living in these areas prior to 1492.

To approximate population numbers, researchers often rely on a combination of European eyewitness accounts and records of “encomienda” tribute payments set up during colonial rule.

But neither metric is accurate – the former tends to overestimate population sizes, since early colonizers wanted to advertise riches of newly discovered lands to European financial backers.

The latter reflects a payment system that was put in place after many disease epidemics had already run their course, the authors of the new study noted.

So the new study offers a different method: the researchers divided up North and South America into 119 regions and combed through all published estimates of pre-Columbian populations in each one.

In doing so, authors calculated that about 60.5 million people lived in the Americas prior to European contact.

Once Koch and his colleagues collated the before-and-after numbers, the conclusion was stark. Between 1492 and 1600, 90 percent of the indigenous populations in the Americas had died.

That means about 55 million people perished because of violence and never-before-seen pathogens like smallpox, measles, and influenza.

According to these new calculations, the death toll represented about 10 percent of the entire Earth’s population at the time. It’s more people than the modern-day populations of New York City, London, Paris, Tokyo, and Beijing combined.

The disappearance of so many people meant less farming

Using these population numbers and estimates about how much land people used per capita, the study authors calculated that indigenous populations farmed roughly 62 million hectares (239,000 square miles) of land prior to European contact.

That number, too, dropped by roughly 90 percent, to only 6 million hectares (23,000 square miles) by 1600.

Over time, trees and vegetation took over that previously farmed land and started absorbing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Carbon dioxide traps heat in the planet’s atmosphere (it’s what human activity now emits on an unprecedented scale), but plants and trees absorb that gas as part of photosynthesis.

So when the previously farmed land in North and South America – equal to an area almost the size of France – was reforested by trees and flora, atmospheric carbon-dioxide levels dropped.

Antarctic ice cores dating back to the late 1500s and 1600s confirm that decrease in carbon dioxide.

That CO2 drop was enough to lower global temperatures by 0.15 degrees Celsius and contribute to the enigmatic global cooling trend called the “Little Ice Age,” during which glaciers expanded.

Lingering doubts

“The researchers are likely overstating their case,” Joerg Schaefer from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, told Live Science.

“I am absolutely sure this paper does not explain the cause of the carbon dioxide change and the temperature change during that time.”

Koch said that some of the drop in carbon dioxide could have been caused by other, natural factors like volcanic eruptions or changes in solar activity.

But he and his colleagues concluded that the death of 55 million indigenous Americans explained about 50 percent of the overall reduction in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

“So you need both natural and human forces to explain the drop,” he said.

Koch said the findings revise our understanding of how long human activity has been influencing Earth’s climate.

“Human actions at that time caused a drop in atmospheric CO₂ that cooled the planet long before human civilization was concerned with the idea of climate change,” he and his co-authors wrote.

But they warned that if a similar reforestation event were to happen today, it wouldn’t do much to mitigate the Earth’s current rate of warming.

The drop in atmospheric carbon dioxide that happened in the 1600s only represents about three years’ worth of fossil fuel emissions today, Koch said.

“There’s no way around reducing fossil fuel emissions,” he said, adding that reforestation and forest restoration remain crucial, too.

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

[SOURCE]