VANCOUVER - The provincial
government in Alberta, Canada is threatening to unleash its
counterterrorism plan if activists continue using civil disobedience to
protest the tar sands, Canada's fastest source of greenhouse gas
In recent weeks,
Greenpeace has staged three daring protests inside tar sands mines,
temporarily shutting down parts of the world's largest energy project.
On Oct. 3 and 4, activists blocked construction of an upgrader needed
to refine heavy tar sands oil, belonging to Shell in Ft. Saskatchewan,
disobedience from Greenpeace, leading to 37 arrests, has enraged
Alberta's conservative government. "We're coddling people who are
breaking the law," complained Premier Ed Stelmach during a media scrum
in early October.
"Premier Stelmach's public suggestion that
he will use the 'force of the law to deal with these people' confirms
his lack of knowledge of the limits of his authority and the clear rule
that our system of justice cannot be interfered with or manipulated for
political reasons," responded Brian Beresh, the defence lawyer
representing arrested activists, at a news conference in Edmonton.
scholars, including University of Alberta law professor Sanjiv Anand
and Tom Engel of the Criminal Trial Lawyers Association, have criticized the provincial government for attempting to politicize legal
"We're going to be working very closely with
industry and our solicitor general will be reviewing all of the
guidelines we have in place," said a visibly irritated Premier Stelmach
in early October.
Fred Lindsay, the solicitor general, went a
step further, suggesting the province might use its counterterrorism
plan against future protests.
"I think there is an agenda in
linking Greenpeace to concerns about terrorism," Bruce Cox, the
executive director of Greenpeace Canada, told IPS. Cox is being charged
with mischief and faces a fine of more than 5,000 dollars for his
participation in the civil disobedience.
The recent campaign
began on Sep. 15, when 25 Greenpeace activists snuck into Shell's
Albian sands mine in northern Alberta, chaining themselves to a
three-story high dump truck and hanging huge banners to coincide with
meetings between Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S.
President Barack Obama in Washington.
Shell officials temporarily shut down the site. Shell was targeted again in early October at its Ft. Saskatchewan upgrader.
Sep. 30, activists canoed down the Athabasca River into a tar sands
facility operated by Suncor. They blocked a conveyor belt which moves
heavy oil, causing a temporary shutdown of Canada's second largest oil
sands mine. Suncor didn't respond to repeated requests for comment from
Canada's tar sands will singlehandedly produce more
greenhouse gas emissions than Denmark, Ireland, Austria or Portugal by
2020 if the development continues expanding at its current rate,
according to a recent report written by award-winning business reporter
Andrew Nikiforuk. The tar sands already spew more greenhouse gas
emissions than Estonia or Lithuania.
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"Companies in the tar
sands are secondary to our goal. Our message was aimed at international
leaders, along with the prime minister in Canada," Cox told IPS.
are going to continue to get our message out to an international
audience, with a focus now on [climate change negotiations in]
Copenhagen in mid-December," he said.
Rajendra Pachauri, head
of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), made
headlines across Canada in September when he stated that the tar sands
should be shut down.
While recent civil disobedience raises
the stakes in Alberta itself, the main battles surrounding the tar
sands will be fought during international forums like Copenhagen and in
Washington, as U.S. consumers receive the lion's share of tar sands
California and Oregon have already passed low carbon
fuel standard laws, which effectively prohibit the importation of tar
sands oil. That worries some energy lobbyists in the U.S.
economy is completely dependent on fossil fuels," said Michael Whatley
from the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), a pro-tar sands lobby group
representing the transportation industry and oil producers based in
"If you start taking oil based products off
the table before alternatives are ready for prime time, then you are
going to have catastrophic impacts for the economy," Whately told IPS.
CEA has been meeting with U.S. politicians, lobbying against low carbon
fuel standards and writing op-eds in support of the tar sands.
Canadian oil have more carbon in it than oil from the Middle East? No.
Does gasoline derived from Canadian oil emit more carbon dioxide than
gasoline from Middle East oil? Nope." wrote David Holt, the executive
director of CEA, in an op-ed for the Washington Examiner.
numbers contradict the standard scientific consensus and they are at
odds with what tar sands companies themselves are saying. Shell, for
example, says burning tar sands oil creates five to 15 percent more
greenhouse gas emissions than conventional crude.
Whatley couldn't directly comment on how CEA came to such conclusions
or why their numbers vastly differ from basic scientific norms for
calibrating emissions. The pro-tar sands lobbyist believes the
environmental movement has had "a tremendous head-start" in the battle
for hearts and minds but he is feeling "very upbeat" from talking to
U.S. consumers and politicians about the alleged benefits of tar sands
Back in Alberta, the provincial government's approach
to recent civil disobedience has rattled legal scholars, but
Greenpeace's David Cox isn't particularly surprised. "They [Alberta's
government] are unflinching boosters for dirty tar sands oil, they
invest tax dollars in selling it worldwide," said Cox.