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In Brief: Extraction Shorts

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Issue: 76 Section: Environment Topics: climate justice

April 29, 2011

In Brief: Extraction Shorts

by Megan Kinch, Paloma Friedman, Toban Black

Image by Matt Forsythe


International Mining Abuses Continue Unabated

Bill C-300, the “Responsible Mining Bill” introduced in the wake of a damning 2007 report on the Canadian mining industry’s environmental and human rights record, was defeated during its third reading in Canadian Parliament.

Although the bill was criticized for potential “interference” with the “sovereignty” of developing nations, Canada is simultaneously pursuing C4A, a bloc trade agreement with several Central American countries that would mostly likely override national sovereignty on environmental issues. A subsidiary of Canadian corporation Pacific Rim is already suing the government of El Salvador for millions of dollars under a related agreement (the Central American Free Trade Agreement) for enforcing environmental regulations.

Meanwhile, repression of those reporting on Canadian mining interests abroad is on the rise. Amnesty International issued an urgent action alert in January regarding death threats received by human rights lawyer Hector Berríos on January 23, 2011. Three anti-mining activists were killed in his region of Cabanas, El Salvador, in 2009. Elsewhere, Guatemala is ramping up a “war on drugs” and has suspended civil liberties in areas in which anti-mining organizing is prevalent. In the Philippines, a broadcast journalist covering mining company abuses was recently shot dead. In Papua, New Guinea, police recently began arresting employees of Barrick Gold on charges of rape against Indigenous women near the Porgera mine.

At home, awareness of mining abuses is growing, especially among students. In January, protests were held at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, and a series of anti-mining events began at the University of Toronto—alleging links between human rights abuses and increasing academic interference by mining companies within the university.

—Megan Kinch


Tar Sands in the Great Lakes

Bitumen from Alberta’s tar sands continues to be processed in Sarnia, Ontario, and the surrounding townships. Imperial Oil, Nova Chemicals, Suncor and Shell all have refineries in Sarnia-Lambton’s well- known “Chemical Valley”—where BP and Enbridge operations can also be found. This petro-chemical industry complex surrounds the Aamjiwnaang First Nation reserve, and sits directly across the river from Port Huron, Michigan. Aamjiwnaang residents are researching the resulting health impacts on communities in the area. The dramatic reduction in male births, due to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, is one of the most startling outcomes of local pollution. Other health impacts include cancers, respiratory problems and increased blood pressure.

Although tar sands refining is only one of many local pollution sources, the industry casts a significant shadow over the future of the area. As with natural gas from shale rock, bitumen from the tar sands is increasingly necessary to extend the life of fossil fuel and petro-chemical industries in Sarnia. Conventional oil and gas are becoming less affordable and available, yet are used to make rubber, plastics, and various chemical and fuel products in Chemical Valley.

Like many other midwestern cities, Sarnia’s existing oil and gas pipeline networks, and its other historical ties to petrochemical industries, may continue to draw fossil fuel companies to the region. Although Shell abandoned 2008 plans for a new tar sands refinery in the area amid protests, Suncor recently invested $1 billion for refinery upgrades which included further integration with their other tar sands operations.

—Toban Black


Shale gas under fire

The public debate on shale gas extraction is heating up as environmental experts and community groups face off against governments and the fuel industry. Already established in the US and Western Canada, exploratory shale wells are now being drilled across northeastern North America to gauge the quantities of this energy resource, touted by gas producers as a cleaner-burning fossil fuel. In Quebec, the provincial government has thrown its weight behind shale, claiming high energy estimates from existing wells and positive economic spin-offs; it says there is enough gas to supply Quebecers’ energy needs for the next 200 years and spur the creation of thousands of jobs. Yet in many locations environmental and safety impacts have yet to be studied, and leaks have been reported in more than half of the wells in Quebec. Recently, the province’s public health authority joined a growing number of experts and environmental activists in urging a halt to exploration until such impacts are fully assessed.

In Pennsylvania, reports by conservation groups show that shale gas companies have amassed more than 1,500 environmental violations in the course of drilling. Elsewhere, local residents are winning out against industry. Nova Scotian activists met with a cabinet minister after a petition against shale gas exploration was tabled in the provincial legislature. In New York State, lawmakers recently buckled under public pressure and imposed a six-month moratorium on shale gas exploration.

—Paloma Friedman

This article was published in A People's Forecast: The Climate Justice Issue, our 2011 special issue. To read more articles as they are published, click here.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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