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Anyone in the media business knows that a headline writer’s goal is to attract a potential reader to an article. So when a provocative headline says something like Green Party MLA supports refinery, you can bet that heads will turn. In this age of sound bites and 140 character tweets, too often the subtleties explored within the full article are overlooked. And that is precisely what is wrong with much of our political discourse in British Columbia. Issues are not black and white; they are nuanced shades of grey.

In what follows, I provide an analysis of the issues surrounding the expansion of tar sands and proposed pipeline projects in North America. I am hoping this piece will provide a catalyst for further discussion.

1. Bitumen by rail

In British Columbia, oil is currently being brought by rail to Vancouver. In fact bitumen by rail is on the rise and frankly, there is little we can do about that.

Under the Canada Transportation Act there are a number of obligations that rail companies must comply with. If they do not comply with these obligations they can be taken to court. Here are three examples:

  • Section 113 – “a railway company must provide, according to its powers, adequate and suitable accommodation for the receiving, loading, carrying, unloading and delivering of all traffic offered for carriage on its railway”.
  • Section 125 – “No railway company shall, by any combination, contract or agreement, express or implied, or by any other means, prevent traffic from being moved on a continuous route from the point of origin to the point of destination.”
  • Section 137 – “A railway company shall not limit or restrict its liability to a shipper for the movement of traffic except by means of a written agreement signed by the shipper or by an association or other body representing shippers.”

So what does this all mean? If a company based in Alberta wishes to ship heavy crude to Prince Rupert or Kitimat they can choose to ship it through a railway corporation. Legally CNI or CP would be obligated to accept such a cargo, as long as it met the current regulations (e.g. type of tanker car, adequate loading and unloading facilities, proper labeling and quantities). They could negotiate on liability concerns but must sign an agreement dividing the proportion of liability if an accident was to occur. But in other words, the rail company cannot say ‘no’.

Numerous derailments have been in the news of late. I am reasonably confident that I am not alone in British Columbia in wanting to slow down the flow of bitumen by rail though Vancouver and numerous communities in the BC interior.

2. The Kinder Morgan pipeline

In British Columbia, diluted bitumen (dilbit) is also being piped through the Kinder Morgan line to Burnaby where it is loaded onto tankers. About one tanker a week laden with dilbit is passing along the coast of the Oak Bay-Gordon Head riding on its way to refineries in Asia or California. In the fall of 2013, Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Natural Resources Canada published a report entitled Properties, Composition and Marine Spill Behaviour, Fate and Transport of Two Diluted Bitumen Produc ts form the Canadian Oil Sands. Its findings were clear. These include:

  • When fine sediments were suspended in the saltwater, high-energy wave action mixed the sediments with the diluted bitumen, causing the mixture to sink or be dispersed as 
floating tarballs
  • Under conditions simulating breaking waves, where chemical dispersants have proven effective with conventional crude oils, a commercial chemical dispersant (Corexit 9500) had quite limited effectiveness in dispersing dilbit;
  • Application of fine sediments to floating diluted bitumen was not effective in helping to disperse the products;

Now one thing is certain, with the Fraser River outflow, we have no shortage of sediments suspended in the waters of Juan de Fuca and Georgia Strait. Can you imagine the economic and environmental costs of a dilbit spill in Vancouver Harbour or the coastal waters along Vancouver Island? This is why I called for moratorium on dilbit tanker traffic from the Burnaby port on September 19, 2013.

In fact a recently released government-commissioned risk analysis has identified the southern tip of Vancouver Island (which includes the riding of Oak Bay-Gordon Head) as one of the most probable areas for a major heavy oil spill. The report notes that both the Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan proposals would lead to “very high” risk of a major oil spill. That’s frankly unacceptable.

3. The Alberta tar sands and climate change

I’ve worked as a climate scientist for more than 20 years and served as a Lead Author on the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I acted as the Chief Editor of the Journal of Climate published by the American Meteorological Society for five years and I’ve published numerous papers on the topic. Rest assured, I understand the profound consequences that global warming has and will have on our natural environment. Frankly, witnessing British Columbia drift away from its position of leadership on this file is one of the main reasons I decided to run for office.

In 2012 Neil Swart, a PhD student working in my lab, and I published a paper examining the global warming potential of a variety of resources. I further expanded upon this in a piece I wrote in the Huffington Post. We asked the specific question as to how much global warming would occur if we completely burned a variety of fossil fuel resources. Here is what we calculated for the following resources:

  1. tar sands under active development: would add 0.01°C to world temperatures.
  2. economically viable tar sands reserve: would add 0.03°C to world temperatures.
  3. entire tar sands oil in place which includes the uneconomical and the economical resource: would add 0.36°C to world temperatures
  4. total unconventional natural gas resource base: would add 2.86°C to world temperatures
  5. total coal resource base: would add 14.8°C to world temperatures

In other words, the global warming potential of the Alberta tar sands, and in fact all global conventional and unconventional oil reserves, pale in comparison with the potential from coal and unconventional natural gas. This does not mean the tar sands get a “get out of jail free” card. They represent the largest source of greenhouse gas emission growth in Canada and are the single largest reason Canada is failing to meet it’s international climate commitments and failing to be a climate leader.

There are many problems with the rate at which tar sand development is expanding as I note in this Youtube video. This is why I joined Chief Adam of the Chipewyan Nation and Neil Young in a press conference on January 12 to launch the Honour the Treaties tour. I support Chief Adam in his Draw a Line in the Sand campaign. To quote Chief Adam from the press conference: “We don’t want to shut down the tar sands, we want to slow down the tar sands”. The Chipewyan First Nation is asking that their Treaty 8 rights be respected. They want promises of reclamation to keep pace with expansion; and they want assurances that they will have access to clean water.

What does slow down mean to me? It means fulfilling promises to reclaim the land that has been disturbed by existing tar sands exploration. It means ensuring that production doesn’t exceed the present rate of around two million barrels per day. It means reclamation must be ramped up because expansion of the tar sands to date has vastly exceeded reclamation. And it means the implementation of a national strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and our reliance on fossil fuels using the wealth of today to position ourselves for the economy of tomorrow, much as Norway has done in Europe.

4. The Keystone XL pipeline

The discovery of enormous reserves of shale oil in the Bakken and Eagle Ford formations in the United States means that for the first time since 1973 (when a ban on crude oil exports was introduced), the US is considering exporting crude oil abroad. At the same time, President Obama is mulling over a long awaited decision concerning the Keystone pipeline approval. The US State Department recently released their Final Environmental Impact Statement providing the necessary background information to inform President Obama’s decision.

I believe that President Obama will reject the Keystone pipeline application. While I expect his rationale will be cloaked in environmental concerns, I suspect that central to his decision will be a desire to ensure a domestic market for Bakken and Eagle Ford formation shale oil. That is, the construction of the Keystone pipeline will mean a commitment to dependence on dilbit from the tar sands and further pressure to export US produced shale oil. By rejecting the Keystone pipeline application, there will be a US market for US shale oil thereby keeping in place the 1973 ban on exports.

So where does the drying up of the US market leave Canadian tar sand production? There will be enormous pressure from an industry that has invested billions and a federal government that has gone all-in on tar sands bitumen extraction as a catalyst for the Canadian economy to push this land-locked product to foreign markets. I, like many of you, did not vote for this government. And I, like many of you, believe that Mr. Harper has done enormous damage to our country’s identity and international reputation. But does this mean I am trying to shut down Canada’s oil and gas industry? Of course not.

5. The Northern Gateway pipeline

The proposed Northern Gateway project would see 525,000 barrels of the heavy oil diluted bitumen (dilbit) transported across British Columbia each day and loaded onto super tankers for shipment to international refineries. I’ve been opposed to the Northern Gateway project for quite some time for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, Northern Gateway does not have a social license to proceed. Virtually every First Nation is opposed to the project and the Northern Gateway pipeline would go through their traditional territories so their wishes must be respected. The overwhelming majority of British Columbians are also against this project. As far as I am concerned, Northern Gateway has burned too many bridges, alienated too many First Nations and lost the trust of the people of BC. It’s time for the Northern Gateway proponents to move on.

Second, tanker traffic along the BC coast is an accident waiting to happen as the waters are hazardous to navigate. Were a dilbit spill to occur, the Environmental destruction would be profound. To date no oil spill response study has been able to account for dilbit; studies have only analyzed what would happen in the case of a spill from more commonly shipped crude oil. According to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ own recent submission to Treasury Board: “Behaviour models specific to dilbit spills do not exist, and existing commercial models for conventional oil do not allow parameter specific modifications.” But dilbit is unlike other crude oils in that whereas most oils will float on the surface, dilbit can sink. Once that happens, we don’t know where it will go, how it will interact with currents and tides or how we could reasonably clean it up. In some areas it is projected that only 3% of floating crude oil could be cleaned up in the event of a spill. That number is already dismally low. With dilbit it would be even lower. We need to keep dilbit out of our coastal waters.

Third, I am troubled by the potential for lasting environmental degradation should a dilbit leak occur in the pristine wilderness regions of Northern BC. This is particularly concerning if such a leak occurred in the vicinity of a stream or river. We have to look no further than the July 2010 Kalamazoo River dilbit spill to see what the effects might be. Three and a half years later, they are still trying to clean up the remnants of the 3.3 million litre spill.

Fourth, shipping raw products abroad means shipping jobs abroad. Other nations need propane, jet fuel, diesel, lumber and paper. They do not need dilbit and raw logs. We should be providing increased value here in Canada.

6. The BC Government’s five conditions.

The British Columbia government has outlined five conditions that must be met for their acceptance of heavy oil pipelines projects. These are

  • Successful completion of the environmental review process. In the case of Enbridge, that would mean a recommendation by the National Energy Board Joint Review Panel that the project proceed;
  • World-leading marine oil spill response, prevention and recovery systems for B.C.’s coastline and ocean to manage and mitigate the risks and costs of heavy oil pipelines and shipments;
  • World-leading practices for land oil spill prevention, response and recovery systems to manage and mitigate the risks and costs of heavy oil pipelines;
  • Legal requirements regarding Aboriginal and treaty rights are addressed, and First Nations are provided with the opportunities, information and resources necessary to participate in and benefit from a heavy-oil project; and
  • British Columbia receives a fair share of the fiscal and economic benefits of a proposed heavy oil project that reflects the level, degree and nature of the risk borne by the province, the environment and taxpayers.

I support these five conditions. But in addition and for the reasons outline above, the BC Green Party has added a sixth condition:

  • A moratorium for dilbit transport along the British Columbia Coast.

On December 19th, the National Energy Board Joint Review Panel recommended that the federal government approve the Northern Gateway project subject to 209 conditions that should be met. This decision partially meets the first condition above. The final decision on project approval now rests with Mr. Harper and his cabinet. They have until June 17, 2014 to respond. If Obama does not approve the Keystone XL pipeline, Harper will be under increased pressure to give the go ahead to Northern Gateway despite the wishes of British Columbians and the fact that 2015 is an election year.

Were this to occur, it would be particularly ironic since in 1980 when Trudeau introduced the National Energy Program, Albertans were outraged. They argued that it was utterly inappropriate for the federal government to interfere with their energy policy as it was deemed to be within provincial jurisdiction.

7. Future pipelines

While continuing to oppose the unbounded growth of bitumen extraction from the tar sands and to highlight the dangers of transporting it across our province, we must be honest about the immense economic pressure to transport it across BC so that it can be exported overseas.  While the safest solution for BC would be no new pipelines, we have a responsibility to educate ourselves about what proposals are on the table.

David Black is one of my constituents, and I met with him to explore the details behind his refinery proposal. From what I gathered he too wants to protect this coast and, in my view, it is his opposition to the sheer recklessness of proposing to load super tankers with impossible-to-clean-up dilbit that has caused him to search for alternatives. He too is apparently concerned about greenhouse gas emissions, which is why he proposed to build a refinery using the more expensive Fischer-Tropsch technology.

As with any fossil fuel project, the Kitimat refinery proposal poses serious environmental risks, not the least of which concerns a pipeline he would need to build to feed the refinery. Even if British Columbia insisted that bitumen be upgraded to synthetic crude in Alberta prior to its shipment, any transport of oil beneath our rivers is risky business, and so far I haven’t seen any appetite by British Columbians to take on these kinds of risks.

Any major project like this across the unceded territories of our First Nations fundamentally requires First Nation support as partners from the onset, not after the fact. Any major project like this would require a social license from British Columbians for it to proceed.

The Kitimat refinery proposal goes a long way to addressing the second of the five BC Government conditions. It meets the 6th condition of the BC Green Party since he would propose shipping diesel, propane and jet fuel rather than heavy oil. These products are already shipped to the Islands along our coast to meet local needs. But he certainly has his work cut out for him if he wishes to meet the other conditions.

8. Positioning ourselves for tomorrow

As the Green MLA for Oak-Bay Gordon Head, the first Green MLA in North America, and as someone who has spent my life working in the area of climate science, for anyone to suggest that I am “pro-oil” or “pro-pipeline” is frankly ridiculous.

Do I believe that we should strive to build value-added industry and to create good, long term jobs for British Columbians? Absolutely. Did I say that the Kitimat refinery proposal has merit? Yes within the context outlined above and as we transition to a low carbon economy.  Am I in advocating for pipelines? No.  Am I endorsing a specific project? No.

Let’s move beyond the eye-popping headlines and see what I actually said in the articles that appeared in the Georgia Strait here and here, the Victoria Times Colonist and the Prince George Citizen.

1)     “I like to think the Green Party as a science-based, evidence-based common sense party,”

2)     “It’s a party that realizes that we need gasoline in our cars but we also need to have a strategy to wean ourselves off that.”

3)     “We’ve always said we’d like to see a transition as quickly as possible away from fossil-fuel dependence to renewable forms, and if we can use some of the wealth of today to assist us in that transition rapidly, so much the better,”

4)     “Rail is bad news, dilbit in the water is bad news, dilbit on land over rivers and streams is potentially very bad news”

5)     “B.C. Greens have agreed and accepted the five conditions of the B.C. Liberal government”

6)     “There should be no transport of diluted bitumen both on land, which means through a pipeline, and coastal waters.”

7)     “Obviously as the Green Party [MLA], I’d prefer to keep it in the ground as much as possible and start to invest sooner than later into the low-carbon economy of tomorrow, but I’m pragmatic and I recognize at some point one may need to develop a compromise and a compromise solution is one that would actually give jobs in B.C.”

8)      “He said the upgraded synthetic crude, while still posing some environmental challenges, would be better than a diluted bitumen pipeline similar to the one proposed by Northern Gateway.”

9)     “As far as I’m concerned, the Northern Gateway project is dead”

10)  “But you don’t move society forward by only saying no to everything.”

That sure doesn’t look like advocating for a specific project. In fact, you’ll also note:

11)  “Weaver doesn’t think its appropriate for an MLA to endorse or advocate for a specific project”

We must find solutions to transition our society away from fossil fuels in general, and coal in particular.  However we must also recognize that this transition will not happen overnight. The coming decades will still see oil in our plastics and gas in our cars.

The British Columbia Green Party is a party of solutions, principled, pragmatic, and focused on building a prosperous Green British Columbia. To do this, we must be prepared to think outside the box and give any proposal a fair hearing, assessing it on its merits and then deciding what is in the best interest of the Province.

But it is British Columbians alone who can make these decisions.  I believe that our democracy should be healthy enough for us to discuss the options we have and difficulties we face, without rushing to judgment.  Our province has great potential, but it is only when we can talk together, that we can move toward the future we deserve.

And finally, let’s be clear, the BC Green Party is not a protest movement. We are a political party trying to move us forward towards a sustainable world recognizing that we are not there now. That is why I am hoping to reinvigorate the energy debate in BC. We need to discuss uncomfortable issues in an open and honest way. To those politicians who claim to be so concerned about greenhouse gas emissions, where are your voices in opposition to the proposed expansion of thermal coal exports? To those politicians who claim to be concerned about heavy oil spills, where are your voices with respect to existing dilbit transported to Burnaby and through our coastal waters? You should be joining me in demanding that bitumen is upgraded to synthetic crude in Alberta and that heavy oil be kept out of our coastal waters. To those politicians who claim to be against pipelines, where are your voices with respect to the growing trend of rail transport and the fact that the common carrier obligation prohibits a rail company from saying no to transport.

It’s time to get politics out of environmental policy and environmental policy into politics. After all, the environment really doesn’t care what political party you belong to.


  1. Tuco Ramirez-
    May 7, 2014 at 1:43 am

    “There will be enormous pressure from an industry that has invested billions and a federal government that has gone all-in on tar sands bitumen extraction as a catalyst for the Canadian economy to push this land-locked product to foreign markets.”

    Last time I checked… Canada is not land-locked. If you view Alberta as a separate country, then yes, it is land-locked. This attitude is divisive and very frustrating. Why, if we are all Canadians, are we fighting each other? Meanwhile we sell our oil at a 20% discount to Americans.

    As an Albertan, I am growing to truly hate British Columbia. I do not see you as my fellow countryman. You are becoming my enemy. This is what the American elite want.

    • May 7, 2014 at 9:56 am

      Hello Tuco, I am sorry you feel this way. I would have thought as an Albertan you would completely understand the position of British Columbians. Do you recall the outrage in Alberta following the introduction of Trudeau’s national energy policy? Well in British Columbia, many feel that the National Energy policy / priorities are not consistent with the direction British Columbians want to head. It really is similar.

      In addition, Alberta is not selling its oil to Americans at a 20% discount. The major energy companies own both the upstream and downstream components of the supply chain. In essence, Alberta is being stuck with 20% less royalties from energy companies that sell the product to themselves at a discount.

  2. Melinda Szot-
    February 18, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    Solar airships are already being used to transport fuel to remote areas. Why have we not considered using solar airships as an alternative to pipelines or rail? Not only would this mean no tankers in the marine ecosystems off the coast of BC, no tankers in the oceans, no encroachment of FN land or wildlife habitat, no derailments like we saw at Lake Magnata, no leaking pipelines, and it would create jobs beyond the tar sands (MB has been developing airship technologies, has the engineers, the technicians trained for building aircraft and really needs the jobs). Also investing in airships means that the infrustructure could be used to transport more than just oil (also lumber, food etc).

  3. Jennifer-
    February 17, 2014 at 6:27 am

    As were many people, I was very surprised by the headline about Andrew Weaver backing Black’s proposal and am happy to read this excellent article as directed by Weaver in his letter to the TC. However I am puzzled as to why Weaver did not write a more detailed clarification to the TC of his position rather than just referring people to this article. I am concerned that many people will not take the time to go to this link and become informed about the nuance of his position and will simply remember the headline. It is all about the sound bites unfortunately.

    • February 17, 2014 at 7:46 am

      Hello Jennifer, the reason why I directed people to this is that in a Letter, you are limited to ~300 words and in an Opinion piece, you are limited to ~800 words. I believe the issue is far too important and complex as there are so many competing issues. That’s why I directed people to this article. T

  4. ken-
    February 16, 2014 at 10:32 am

    Rather than dissecting Andrew Weaver’s “analysis of the issues surrounding the expansion of tar sands and proposed pipeline projects in North America”, which is very clearly written and comes across as a pragmatic approach to the fossil fuel dependency “problem” which doesn’t have a “black and white” solution, I am going to suggest a catalyst that I believe comes from “outside the box”.

    Here is a link to a short essay written by George Lakoff, “an American cognitive linguist, best known for his thesis that lives of individuals are significantly influenced by the central metaphors they use to explain complex phenomena.”


    As you read this essay, whenever you see the words “George Orwell” or “Orwell”, with the exception of the last paragraph, substitute Andrew Weaver or Weaver.

    If you believe Lakoff’s message has little to do with Weaver’s here is another link to a Youtube video that may help convince you otherwise.


    According to Lakoff, Progressives, and I assume Greens believe they are progressives, don’t understand political messaging, and I agree.

    Given the fact we are living in a world with finite resources and a world governed by the laws of physics it is clear that any political party that claims we can move forward towards a sustainable world is not discussing the issues in an honest and open way. We are moving towards a future where everyone will live with less. And the speed with which that is taking place is much faster than any politician would have us believe.

    Yes, “the environment really doesn’t care what political party you belong to” and regardless of issue nuance we will “move toward the future we deserve” because nature bats last.

  5. Drew Yallop-
    February 14, 2014 at 5:48 pm

    I may be wrong but isn’t Fischer-Tropsch a gas to liquid or coal to liquid process?

  6. Anita-
    February 11, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    I frankly appreciate you going into this much detail to explain things. What I get from what you are saying is that among the realistic options and future scenarios we may be faced with, what is the best of the worst, and what are the necessary conditions to implement that. I think the conditions are so high I can’t imagine the oil and gas industry honestly being able to meet them for any project, and I don’t hear you endorsing a particular project.

    You talk to us like a scientist explaining something around the kitchen table. The problem is that rather than having detailed discussions in good faith, politics and the media are all about competing frames and sound bytes. Your honest analysis is being spun and framed by the corporate media as “green says being realists means compromising with the oil industry.” Then we are starting the conversation from a place we don’t want. You need to find a way to frame your honest analysis differently so it doesn’t generate that spin and we can lead the conversation with what we do want.

    • February 11, 2014 at 5:31 pm

      Hi Anita, thank you for the comment. There are those who are hyper partisan who will try and spin it. But I have confidence in the media. Most journalists I know are proud of their reputations and work hard to get their stories right. The media reporting on my views has been accurate (apart from mischievous headline writers). It’s the hyper partisan who have tried to spin it. I wont change who I am for them! Thanks again.

  7. Peter Ramsden-
    February 11, 2014 at 1:54 pm

    It is refreshing to finally read a balanced evaluation of our options. How can someone who is concerned about these decisions get involved and make an impact?

  8. Laura Huhn-
    February 11, 2014 at 9:24 am

    as a former resident of Terrace, and a lifetime resident of BC, i appreciate your time and effort in writing and sharing this article, clear, and informative and objective. There is no room for error with the tankers and the coast line, there are no second chances with a pipeline burst/spill through our forests and waterways…and changes are necessary in all aspects of our fossil fuel consumption. Thanks for sharing this.

  9. Steven McGrath-
    February 11, 2014 at 3:44 am

    Dr. Weaver,

    I appreciate your detailed statement on your position on bitumen shipments through BC, and your opposition to the most egregious proposals. However, having reviewed your statement and the associated materials, I believe you decision not to oppose a synthetic crude pipeline and refinery is based on an analysis that substantially understates the impact to be expected from exploiting these resources.

    The first problem is your warming projections and assumed carbon budget.

    Per IPCC AR5 ( http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/report/WG1AR5_Chapter12_FINAL.pdf , page 1113 ), total anthropogenic carbon emissions need to be kept below 790 PgC (790 Gigatonnes carbon, or 2897 GTCO2e) to have a 66% probability of staying under 2 degrees C warming, of which 515 GTC had been emitted by 2011. Assuming another 10 GTC/yr. for 3 years to bring us to the present, the remaining budget is 245 GTC.

    Table S-1 in Swart and Weaver, well-to-wheel emissions, lists the carbon emissions from all bitumen in place at 281 GTC, from proven reserve at 26.4 GTC, and from active development at 4.1 GTC. Respectively these represent 115%, 10.8%, and 1.7% of the available remaining global carbon emissions budget per AR5.

    Swart and Weaver, on the other hand, estimates warming of 0.42 degrees C for all bitumen in place, 0.04 degrees C for proven reserve, and 0.01 degrees C for active development. Assuming 1 degree C as the baseline warming locked in by emissions to date, this would appear to correspond to ~1.42 degrees C total for burning all bitumen in place (and nothing else). This is substantially lower than the IPCC AR5 projection of well over 2 C based on exceeding the global emissions budget, and suggests the other warming impacts projected by Swart and Weaver are also well below the impacts in AR5. These reduced impact projections would in turn correspond to a much higher total emissions budget for 2 degree C, and in fact Swart at http://climate.uvic.ca/people/nswart/Alberta_oil_sands_2C_warming.html postulates a budget of 1300 GTC, referencing Mathews, Gillet, Stott and Zickfeld from 2009.

    My conclusion, therefore, is that your decisions are being based on impact estimates that are older, and well below, the AR5 benchmark. AR5 in turn is widely regarded as conservative (low) in its projections due to exclusion of factors not sufficiently established for inclusion in the models, and thus represents the low end for impact estimation for purposes of responsible policy formation.

    The second problem, related to the first, is how the impacts are framed in per capita terms. Canada’s population is 0.49% of the world population (35 million vs. 7.13 billion) yet exploiting the proven reserves would consume 10.8% of the global carbon budget. This would make each Canadian’s pro rata emissions 22 times their share, before considering anything other than bitumen, which I find clearly beyond justification.

    The third problem is that the refinery proposal discussed is based on the Fischer–Tropsch process, which is well known for being extremely energy intensive. The carbon footprint of fuels produced by this process could well be double of those produced in conventional refineries.

    I hope you will review your conclusions based on this feedback. As you quoted in Swart and Weaver:

    “the locking in of future emissions due to infrastructure investments represent a serious setback to our hopes of limiting the global rise in temperature to no more than 2° Celsius. ”
    Dr. Faith Birol, IEA Chief Economist.

    I look forward to seeing the Pacific Coast unite to stop the further exploitation of dirty fuels!

    • February 11, 2014 at 1:50 pm

      Hello Stephen, thank you very much for your thoughtful email. As you may know, I was a lead author on Chapter 12 of the IPCC report you quote from. My group led up the EMIC intercomparison work which is linked to numbers you quote. From the same report, it also says:

      “There is no RCP scenario which limits warming to 2°C with probabilities of >33% or 50%. It also notes that the numbers you refer to are lower when non CO2 GHGs are included. In addition, it states: “A possible release of GHGs from permafrost… not accounted for in present models, would also further reduce the anthropogenic CO2 emissions compatible with a given temperature target.”

      Andrew MacDougall and I wrote a paper on this recently:

      MacDougall, A.H., C.A. Avis and A.J. Weaver, 2012: Significant contribution to warming from the permafrost carbon feedback. Nature Geoscience, 5, 719-721.

      The permafrost carbon feedback gives us another 0.25 C this century regardless of emissions trajectory.

      In other words, there is a snowballs chance in hell of us not breaking 2°C. There is a profound disconnect between science and policy. That is one of the main reasons I ran.

      It is not possible to extract all of the “oil in place” with respect to the tar sands. As we point out, the 0.04C number is probably the most realistic. I am not advocating for any particular project. However, I want people to know what the options are on the table and its important that we have a full and open discussion. I appreciate and dont disagree with your concluding paragraph.

  10. Bruce Hill-
    February 10, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    I live in Terrace, am a long time, paid environmentalist. When I first read the article, I was pissed off, took some shots at you on Facebook. Then I read your article, and your website. Maybe the first political website for grownups I’ve seen. The refinery has very little to recommend it, but it deserves a rational discussion. Thanks for standing up to the engo PC police, and bearing witness to the hypocrisy of the BC NDP on LNG.

  11. Ron Faris-
    February 10, 2014 at 9:40 am

    So if the “six conditions’ are met – including “world-leading” responses and practices, not “effective” ones – then increased oil tanker traffic through the Douglas Channel (that had two tsunamis in 1975 – one of 28 feet that destroyed the docks in Kitimat !) and Hecate Strait (the fourth most dangerous body of water in the world) is an acceptable risk?
    Elizabeth May wrote (Elizabeth May’s Blog – 2 December 2012) that “”The decisions have all been made. The problem is that in asserting that oil supertankers can safely traverse British Columbia’s northern coastal water, the Prime Minister is ignoring quite substantial evidence.”
    Does the Green party support increased oil tanker traffic or not ?Surely David Black’s refinery proposal means increased oil tanker traffic – no matter how nuanced Green party support may be.

    • February 10, 2014 at 9:48 am

      Hello Ron, nice to hear from you again. Opposing increased tanker traffic on our coast is precisely why I wrote that article and have applied for intervener status as an expert in the upcoming KM hearings. If accepted, I will be quizzing the KM experts. Please see this last statement in my article too. I think its important:

      It’s time to get politics out of environmental policy and environmental policy into politics. After all, the environment really doesn’t care what political party you belong to.

  12. Tim Austin-
    February 10, 2014 at 9:12 am

    I agree with most of the argument. I most heartily agree that both Alberta and British Columbia should look at refining our own resources here using the best science and methods available and employing our own citizens first and reaping the financial rewards. Royalties are not the best return for our precious resources.

    • Jim Cunninghm-
      February 13, 2014 at 11:38 am

      Thanks to Andrew for his thoughtful post on the Alberta oil sands and the ways it is likely to move to market. It reflects, I think, the start of some real soul-searching by British Columbians in particular on the future of this resource, which is economically valuable and therefore is going to find its way to market one way or another. It is therefore helpful that Greens in B.C. are starting to figure out what their real bottom lines are, as far as shipment of bitumen is concerned, because there are problems with this. But dreaming of shutting down the oil sands can’t be considered a serious option at this point, for a lot of reasons. One small point on Kitimat Clean, from an Albertan’s point of view (I am from, gasp! Calgary): I agree wholeheartedly that processing this resource at home is preferable to shipping the raw product overseas. But if that is the policy option we favour, it is worth noting that the logical place to do that is at Fort Saskatchewan, in Alberta, which already has some of the infrastructure and could be expanded more cheaply than inventing a whole new facility on the coast. The real challenge is that our trade partners want that upgrading work themselves, the the oil companies have basically been prepared to give it to them.

  13. Arnold Gill-
    February 10, 2014 at 1:18 am

    One point I would like to add – the dilbit is diluted with diesel fuel. This is wasted fuel, with the result that diesel fuel is now about 14 cents per litre more than regular gas. Historically, it has been closer to 10 cents less than gas. This has had the result of driving up all shipping costs, including that of BC Ferries.

    I definitely agree that what needs to be done is process here – whether it be logs or petroleum. Shipping out raw materials is leaving money on the table, and that is plain foolishness.

  14. Kevin Storrie-
    February 9, 2014 at 9:47 pm

    A very realistic assessment of where we stand on transportation of oil and gas within the boundaries of British Columbia. Very well written and researched. I am most definitely supporting the position taken by Mr. Weaver and the B.C. Green Party. Unfortunately, I believe that the federal government will attempt to shove both the Northern Gateway Project and the Kinder Morgan pipeline proposal down our throats. This will devastate the environment that we all live in and lead to historic levels of civil unrest and disobedience. I hope that calmer heads will rule the day as this definitely is “A Line in the Sand.”