Alberta’s oil sands take a hit as scientists, academics call for halt to development – by Shawn McCarthy (Globe and Mail – June 11, 2015)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

OTTAWA — Alberta’s oil sands producers have suffered another hit to their reputation, as a group of prominent scientists and academics called for a moratorium on further development due to environmental concerns.

Decisions on oil sands development “add up to a social and environmental legacy that will last for generations,” Simon Fraser University ecologist Wendy Palen said on a conference call Wednesday. Ms. Palen said the group pulled together scientific research on oil sands development from their various fields and reached a consensus: “We offer a unified voice, calling for a moratorium on new oil sands projects.”

In a statement signed by 110 researchers from across North America, the group says the planned growth in oil sands production is inconsistent with efforts to cut greenhouse-gas emissions and avert the worst impacts of climate change, and also threatens the ecosystem of a vast stretch of the boreal forest.

“No new oil sands or related infrastructure projects should proceed unless consistent with an implemented plan to rapidly reduce carbon pollution, safeguard biodiversity, protect human health and respect [aboriginal] treaty rights,” their statement said.

The scientists’ call is just the latest salvo in an ongoing battle over the scale and pace of development – the same fight that embroiled Tim Hortons in a damaging controversy last week over its decision to run, then pull, ads by pipeline company Enbridge Inc. The increased awareness has forced companies to dramatically boost spending on mitigation, and strengthened the hands of those who would block new pipelines that producers need to reach new markets.

The oil sands’ expansion and construction of the proposed pipelines – whether TransCanada Inc.’s Keystone XL in the United States or its Energy East project in Canada – are “inconsistent with efforts to avoid potentially dangerous climate change,” said SFU energy economist Mark Jaccard, one of the statement’s authors.

He said U.S. and Canadian governments should reject pipeline proposals; restrict the expansion of crude by rail; impose a significant carbon price on oil and gas extraction, and strengthen regulations to reduce local impacts. Taken together, those policies would add up to a de facto moratorium because companies would scale back investment.

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