Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Regulations violated in Alberta tarsands

Our nomination for mascots for the Alberta tarsands industry: Berty the albertosaur and his family. The family that preys together, stays together

link: oilsands infractions go unchallenged

           This article, which appeared last July in the Calgary Herald business column, is a damning indictment of an industry out of control. Freedom of Information requests revealed that regulations "controlling" the tarsands industry are a total farce. American regulators are nine times more likely to go after violators of environmental regulations than is the Albertan government. 

""Alberta's environmental regulations in the bitumen sands region are not being upheld," the report concludes.
Timoney asks how the government can say it is protecting the environment when it has such poor records of what has happened and when industry faces such low odds of being penalized for breaking the rules.
... "We can have the government state that we have very good regulations, but it's not honest for them to say we have very good regulations that are being upheld.""

            Aha! As usual the devil is in the details: the regulations might be good but no one enforces them.. 

            Again, the Harper government is found guilty of practicing "cherry picking", filtering the information the public receives so as to downplay the benefits of green energy options and the disadvantges of our continued relience on fossil fuel energy sources. This is a surprising and disheartening policy on the part of government elected on a platform of transparency, open and responsible government. The only conclusion one can draw is that the Harper government is in the pocket of the oil compagnies. This would explain the use of emotionally charged, populist language in referring to environmentalists as "radicals" supported by foreign money and foreign agendas. The old paranoid "us versus them" rhetoric of the reactionary..

             As the recent Lac Mégantic, Québec train derailment and conflagration demonstrates all too clearly, there is more than just money and oil-soaked waterfowl involved in this all-consuming obsession with economic "growth". In Lac Mégantic, Québec, dozens of Canadians died a fiery death when an unmanned runaway train carrying shale oil from the US crashed and exploded in the town center one summer evening, this July past.

           The Canadian rail industry was deregulated and rail compagnies allowed to "autoregulate". Inevitably security became flaccid. No one really wanted to cause an accident, of course: that's bad publicity and profit loss. But when the bottom line becomes an excessive focus, security measure are cut to raise profit margins on investments. Worse, as a result of penny pinching and flaccid regulation, the rail carrier was insufficiently insured (so tax payers in our deregulated economy end up paying anyway, some with their lives and property..) 

           The rails which carried that load of light crude, were, bluntly, shit: rusty, rotten ties, badly maintained. The oil, from recently opened US shale oil fields, was mixed with volatile, inflammable substances as part of the extraction process. The high degree of flammability was concealed by falsified expedition papers somewhere in the States before the trains crossed the border. The tank cars carrying the oil were not certified for such an explosively flammable product, etc. The litany of faults is long. As one expert on security put it: accidents like this one are a concatenation of errors. Neoconservative penny pinching, over time, sequentially removes one layer of security after another. The resulty, over time, in an inevitable accident because by removing layer after layer of security measures, we incease the probability of a lethal chain of causation establishing itself. If, instead of carrying a two man crew, which was the former practice, trains run with a crew of one, the chance of human error is amplified (driver two can no longer check that driver one has not made a mistake in carrying out a procedure). 

           As of this writing, the long term environmental effects of the Lac Mégantic conflagration on the soil, aquifers, aquatic and human life are not known. They are likely to be heavy: cancers, genetic defects, allergies.. not to mention post-traumatic stress syndrome, the grief of hundreds of mourning relatives, the economic impact of losing a bread winner for dozens of families, etc. How best to describe the Harper government's obsessional focus on the bottom line? Would it not be, "penny wise and pound foolish".

on the fine art of cherry picking data to fit one's ideological prejudices


internal blog links:

Apocalypse in small Québec town

deregulation: beating a dead horse

in-praise-of-folly: you-get-what-you-pay-for

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