There is nothing that infuriates me more than injustice and corruption. And when corruption destroys the environment and, at the same time creates injustice, it enrages me.
Let’s start with corruption:
The 1974 US Safe Drinking Water Act authorized the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate underground injection wells (UIC program) in order to protect underground sources of drinking water. Congress amended the Act in 2005 to exclude hydraulic fracturing (an industrial process for recovering oil and natural gas) from coverage under the UIC program. This exclusion has been called the “Halliburton Loophole” after the company formerly led by former vice-president Dick Cheney. Halliburton is the world’s largest provider of hydraulic fracturing services.
Dick Cheney moves through the revolving door of G. Bush senior’s administration to Halliburton CEO 1995-2000, then back to government to become Vice-President in G. Bush junior’s administration. While he’s v-p, he ensures that the Safe Drinking Water Act is amended in favour of Halliburton (thus the “Loophole”) and, therefore, injurious to Americans.
Fracking operations are poisoning aquifers, rivers, streams and wells all over the US and in the process destroying much of America’s clean drinking water. But, thanks to the “Loophole”, fracking companies like Halliburton are immune from responsibility.
This is just one example of the amoral, sleazy, unscrupulous, and unprincipled world of government corruption and its lock-step workings with corporate villainy.
Now you might be asking, what does any of that have to do with us in Canada? Let me explain….
Whether we like it or not, what happens in the U.S. is either happening already, or eventually will happen, in Canada. For example, if you listen to U.S. political discourse on Israel/Palestine, Iran, border security, militarization of police, drones, terrorism, cyber security, global warming and a whole host of other issues currently affecting us and the world, it will be only a matter of days before someone in Harper’s Conservative government will repeat, verbatim, what was said in the U.S. That’s because American policies are essentially Canadian policies. And when it comes to oil and gas and the environment, things are no different.
On February 17, the Montreal Gazette reported that Natural Resources Minister, Joe Oliver, was told via an internal “memo” back in June of 2012 that oil sands tailings ponds are leaking and contaminating groundwater. According to the Gazette: “Environment Canada describes groundwater contamination as a serious problem since aquifers can remain contaminated for decades or centuries, leaking into lakes, rivers or streams, while potentially creating costly water supply problems.”
This confirms what many have known for years: that the oil and gas industry is putting the future of fresh water all over North America at serious risk.
Last fall, the Energy Framework Initiative (EFI) (oil and gas industry) succeeded in having Canada’s environmental protections for land, water and air gutted by the Conservative government without debate or national input. Through the Access to Information Act, Greenpeace obtained a letter sent to Environment Minister, Peter Kent, by the EFI who requested those changes and which resulted in omnibus Bills C-38 and C-45 being forced through parliament.
So to re-cap: the Environment Minister received a request from the EFI to make changes to most of Canada’s environmental legislation – to which the government acquiesced…despite the Natural Resources Minister knowing since last June that oil sands tailings ponds were leaking toxic substances into groundwater.
“So, while knowing that Alberta’s groundwater was being poisoned, rather than enforcing environmental laws, the Harper government decimated them in favour of the oil and gas industry.”
Currently, tar sands releases as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each day as all the cars in Canada. It burns enough natural gas each day to heat 4 million homes. It uses 3 barrels of water to process 1 barrel of bitumen and releases the poisoned water from bitumen processing into tailings ponds. Some of the ponds are as large as lakes and litter the edge of the Athabasca River – part of the third largest watershed in the world. There appears to be little, if any, environmental safeguards in place when it comes to Alberta’s tar sands.
And if our own government does not sustain, apply and enforce environmental law, how can we expect foreign corporations to apply any, especially when (1) their Canadian operations, in most cases, are small holdings compared to their undertakings world wide; (2) what ever damage they do to our land, water and air only affects us, in the short term at least, and not them; and (3) they have no stake in Canada’s future?
Fracking operations in Alberta have already destroyed farms and property values, and poisoned wells and aquifers. Alberta’s environment ministry, having succumbed to a full-scale sell out to the oil and gas industry, denies Albertans fair hearings of their claims against the companies responsible. These kinds of problems will only exacerbate as more and more exploratory wells are drilled across Canada. (A February 18 report by Huffingtonpost.ca stated that a Newfoundland shale oil find by Shoal Point Energy is potentially huge, stating, “there will be 12 exploratory wells drilled (and)…the companies’ aim is to have a better idea of how much black gold can be coaxed out of the narrow stretch of rock….” And all this while “In Newfoundland, there’s actually no kind of regulatory structure in place yet to deal with fracking…”.)
Both the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines are being pushed for, not just by the oil and gas companies that will profit by them, but by Prime Minister Stephen Harper; Environment Minister Peter Kent; Canada’s Ambassador to Washington Gary Doer; and the 22 Canadian consular offices in the US. They have become, then, full-time lobbyists for the oil and gas industry while our tax dollars pay their salaries and foot their bills.
This is corruption. And it goes on because of the perfect symbiosis between the powerful oil and gas lobby on both sides of the border and government officials drunk on a false sense of their own power. Having our environmental laws gutted in favour of tar sands, fracking, and pipelines is a clear indication of how much malfeasance and deception has permeated every aspect of the current government’s relationship with us and our country. And while industry, with government’s blessing, paints pretty pictures on their web sites of how great it’s all going to be for the environment, jobs, Indigenous people, everyone and everything, the barons of the fossil fuel industry – unimpeded by governments and indifferent to borders – continue to look for ever more ways to cut, dig, pump, slash, burn and exploit their way over every square inch of North America, leaving a broken environment, broken lives and a broken trust in their wake.
Now the injustice I mentioned….
“This past summer, an independent, peer-reviewed scientific study showed that toxic byproducts from the tar sands extraction industry are poisoning the Athabasca River, putting downstream First Nations communities and the fish they eat at risk. Health studies show these First Nations communities already have elevated rare cancers associated with exposure to such toxins.” David Suzuki & Faisal Moola. (The David Suzuki Foundation)
Indigenous people are bearing, and will continue to bear, the brunt of “dirty oil” extraction. The land, the water and the fish are being poisoned daily. The health of Indigenous people, their children and grand children are looked upon by both Harper’s government and the oil and gas industry as nothing more than the collateral damage associated with the price of doing business.
Is it any wonder then that the Harper government is not only proceeding with legislation that erodes environmental protections, and at the very same time, is reducing the budgets of Aboriginal advocacy organizations, reducing funding to First Nations for things like housing, health care and education, and ramming through legislation to erode Treaty rights. As well as pushing for “private property rights.”
How quickly do you think it will take the oil and gas industry to swoop in to offer individuals ‘buy outs’ for their property? Entire communities could be wiped off the maps; providing no access for First Nations to the traditional territories that their ancestors have lived on for thousands of years. Its happening in third world countries, and its happening here.
And this injustice will continue to multiply in direct proportion to ever more fracking wells becoming operational, ever more pipelines being approved, and ever more of the Boreal forest being destroyed by an ever expanding tar sands.
We need to stand up for each other. We need to stand up for all living things. We need to stand up for the planet. Our future depends on it. The environment is a life and death issue.
This is why the Idle No More movement must continue and all of us must march, flashmob, drum, write, sing, dance, protest, shout – and yes, blockade – until this unprecedented corruption and indefensible injustice are both brought to their knees.
Follow Judith on Twitter: @Everythingmatt
Judith Pierce Martin lives in Picton, Prince Edward County, ON. She is an outspoken advocate for democracy, civil liberties, justice, the environment and humanity. She is an avid reader of history and an avid follower of history in the making.1