Editorial: Inconvenient truth of oil pollution

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press

A study of six northern Alberta lakes conducted by Environment Canada and other scientists was published last week, generating headlines around the world.

“Oil sands toxins ‘accumulate in freshwater systems,’” the BBC announced. The headline in <I>The New York Times</I> declared: “Oil sands industry in Canada tied to higher carcinogen level.”

The study was reported with similar alarm across Canada. It looked at levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) in lakebed sediment, and found levels measurably higher than natural sources since oil sands extraction began 50 years ago.

Most news reports I saw made little or no effort to put this information into context, in terms of the actual risk to humans, fish and other organisms. Some quoted people they knew would scream bloody murder, because as we in the media are taught, conflict and fear attract an audience.

As expected, U.S. environmental groups and their Canadian branch offices ramped up the rhetoric to battle their favourite villain.

At least one major Canadian newspaper, <I>The Globe and Mail</I>, did a responsible job. Its report on the study stated “PAH pollution level remains low – on par, at worst, with an urban lake – but is rising.”

In fact, five of six lakes tested were far below average contamination of urban lakes. PAH fallout is a daily constant of urban life, from vehicles, industry, and particularly where coal is burned for electricity.

To be clear, there are dozens of different forms of PAH. Some have been shown to increase cancer risk, and some have been linked to (but not proven to cause) infertility, immune disorders and fish mutations.

So when you drive your kids to school, stand at the bus stop, or drink a glass of water from Coquitlam Lake or any urban reservoir, you are exposed to PAH pollution from human and natural sources. The risk from this is an ongoing focus of research, but this study confirms one thing: your exposure is likely greater in any urban area than it is downwind of the Alberta oil sands.

I argued this point with B.C.’s celebrity environmentalist Tzeporah Berman, who has shuttled back and forth from ForestEthics to Greenpeace in recent years. She took to her Facebook page to publicize a dramatic call to action from 350.org, one of the most strident climate change advocacy groups in the U.S., selectively using a quote and picture from <I>The New York Times</I>.

Our debate turned to greenhouse gas emissions. I argued that this PAH study mirrors the true picture of carbon dioxide emissions, which is that nearly 70 per cent of CO2 from all petroleum comes when you burn the final product in engines and furnaces. In B.C., which doesn’t burn coal for electricity, fully 40 per cent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are from transportation. Other sources include home heating and industry.

Berman insisted I was wrong, and claimed 70 per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gases come from “heavy industry.” I asked for her source. No response.

A 2010 report by a Royal Society of Canada expert panel calculated that 27 per cent of our country’s fossil fuel emissions come from transportation. Another 16 per cent is from fuels burned for electricity. Five per cent is from oil sands operations. Berman’s figure is conveniently untrue.

Greenpeace and the rest of the environmental scare industry want you to believe that stopping Alberta’s oil sands and pipelines would save the planet. Also wrong. It would drive oil demand from the U.S., Venezuela’s oil sands and elsewhere, with little net effect on the climate or pollution.

 

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com

tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Just Posted

TONIGHT: bartenders compete in Victoria for top title

The Complete Bartender Competition is coming to the Little Jumbo Restaurant and Bar

Oak Bay realtor recalls sale of home where family was murdered

Home sellers not always required to disclose violent crimes

Saanich strikes standing committee to help create citizens’ assembly

Membership includes vocal amalgamation critic Coun. Judy Brownoff

Victoria police seek witnesses after assault reported by man in wheelchair

Cops hope to speak with witnesses near Yates and Douglas on Jan. 13 between 1:45 and 3:15 p.m.

Olympic Gold medalist rower disppointed Saanich won’t host national training centre

Adam Kreek said also he respects decision by Rowing Canada Aviron

Trudeau says politicians shouldn’t prey on Canadians’ fears

The Prime Minister was speaking at a townhall in Ontario

Chiasson nets shootout winner as Oilers edge Canucks 3-2

Edmonton moves one point ahead of Vancouver

B.C. chief says they didn’t give up rights for gas pipeline to be built

Hereditary chief: no elected band council or Crown authority has jurisdiction over Wet’suwet’en land

Thieves steal thousands from 140 Coast Capital Savings members

Online fraud tactics included phising and ‘brute force’ in November and December

Condo rental bans may be on way out with B.C. empty home tax

Many exemptions to tax, but annual declarations required

UPDATE: B.C. boy, aunt missing for three days

The pair are missing from Kamloops

Daredevil changes game plan to jump broken White Rock pier

Brooke Colby tells council daredevil event would help boost waterfront business

Liberal bows out of byelection after singling out Jagmeet Singh’s race

Karen Wang says she made comments online that referenced Singh’s cultural background

Most Read