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Police start clearing German village condemned for coal mine

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6 minute read

By Frank Jordans in Luetzerath

LUETZERATH, Germany (AP) — Police in riot gear began evicting climate activists Wednesday from a condemned village in western Germany that is due to be demolished for the expansion of a coal mine.

Some stones and fireworks were thrown as officers entered the tiny hamlet of Luetzerath, which has become a flashpoint of debate over the country’s climate efforts, on Wednesday morning.

Police spokesman Andreas Mueller said the attacks on officers were “not nice” but noted that most of the protest so far had been peaceful.

He said police would stick to their tactic of trying to avoid any escalation by offering to let any activists who leave on their own accord to do so without facing further police measures or prosecution.

Still, some protesters complained of undue force by police and others said the scale of the police response — with officers brought in from across the country and water cannons on standby — was itself a form of escalation not justified by the peaceful protest. At least one woman screamed in apparent pain as officers used force to remove her from a roadblock outside the village.

By Wednesday afternoon dozens of activists remained camped out in Luetzerath, some in elaborate tree houses, as police slowly moved through the village clearing barricades and a communal soup kitchen.

Some activists read books or played accordion while perched atop 10-foot (3-meter) tripods. A few sat or stood on the roofs of Luetzerath’s remaining buildings despite the chilly wind.

“I’m really afraid today,” Petra Mueller, a 53-year-old local who had been at the site for several days, said from a top-floor window of one of the few remaining houses. Mueller said she still held out hope of preserving what’s left of Luetzerath “until nothing is left standing; hope dies last.”

Environmentalists say bulldozing the village to expand the nearby Garzweiler coal mine would result in huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. The government and utility company RWE argue the coal is needed to ensure Germany’s energy security.

However, a study by the German Institute for Economic Research calls into question the government’s stance. Its authors found other existing coal fields could be used instead, though the cost to RWE would be greater.

Another alternative would be for Germany to increase production of renewable power, cut demand through energy efficiency measures, or import more coal or gas from abroad, the study found.

Citing the study and the urgent need to curb global carbon emissions, protesters refused to heed a court ruling Monday that effectively banned them from the area.

Some activists expressed particular anger at the environmentalist Green party, which is part of both the regional and national governments that reached a deal with RWE last year allowing it to destroy the village in return for ending coal use by 2030, rather than 2038.

Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck, a Green who is Germany’s economy and climate minister, defended the agreement as “a good decision for climate protection” that fulfills many of the environmentalists’ demands and saves five other villages from demolition.

“I think climate protection and protests need symbols but the empty hamlet of Luetzerath, where no one lives any more, is the wrong symbol from my point of view,” Habeck told reporters in Berlin.

Climate campaigners counter that expanding a massive open-cast coal mine goes against Germany’s international commitments to reduce emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases. The country is expected to miss its ambitious targets for the second year in a row.

Luetzerath “is now the European place of crystallization for the climate movement,” said Lakshmi Thevasagayam, a spokeswoman for the Luetzerath Lives activist group. “We know that the coal under Luetzerath isn’t needed for energy security — it must remain in the ground so that we can achieve climate justice.”

“Now we can do something against the climate catastrophe, but at some point we won’t be able to any more,” Thevasagayam said. She accused that police of engaging in “a complete escalation” by moving ahead with the eviction Wednesday.

RWE said in a statement that a 1.5-kilometer (nearly one-mile) fence will be built around the site. It appealed to activists to peacefully “end the illegal occupation” of the site it legally owns.

Andreas Mueller, the police spokesman, said authorities were prepared for the eviction operation to last weeks, if necessary.

The heads of several environmental organizations planned to visit Luetzerath on Thursday to express solidarity with the activists there. A large protest was also scheduled near the site Saturday, attended by prominent Swedish climate campaigner Greta Thunberg.

___

Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

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Alberta

Alberta landowners fear repeat of orphan well crisis as renewable energy booms

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By Amanda Stephenson in Calgary

Once bitten, twice shy.

It’s an old adage that explains why Jason Schneider, the elected reeve of Vulcan County, Alta., is jittery about the renewable energy boom under way in his province.

Like many in rural Alberta, Schneider is still smarting over the way municipalities were left holding the bag when an oil price crash nearly a decade ago resulted in billions of dollars of unfunded liabilities left behind by bankrupt fossil fuel companies.

In Vulcan County alone, the landscape is littered with hundreds of wells with no owners that need to be cleaned up, and the municipality itself is owed more than $9 million in back taxes left unpaid by insolvent oil and gas firms.

So Schneider has a hard time looking at acre upon acre of massive wind turbines or solar panels without fearing a repeat of Alberta’s orphan well crisis, or wondering who’s going to fix everything if something goes wrong.

“These are large industrial developments, and the reclamation costs are going to be substantial,” he said.

“We can see the warning signs, and we are being ignored.”

Across rural Alberta, concerns are growing about the long-term implications of the province’s renewable energy boom — the speed and scale of which has been nothing short of stunning.

A province that not that long ago was largely reliant on coal for electricity, Alberta is now home to more than 3,800 MW of wind and solar capacity, 1,350 of which came online in just the last 12 months. An additional 1,800 MW of capacity is currently under construction, putting the province on track to meet or exceed the target it set in 2016 to generate 30 per cent of its total electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

In Schneider’s Vulcan County, which is home to both the country’s largest solar farm and one of Western Canada’s largest wind farms, renewable energy developments now account for more than 40 per cent of the local tax base, displacing oil and gas as the number one source of revenue for the local municipal government.

But while many in rural Alberta welcome the economic activity, and farmers and ranchers enjoy the extra income that playing host to solar panels or wind turbines can bring, others are sounding the alarm.

For example, the Rural Municipalities of Alberta recently passed a resolution calling on the provincial government to protect taxpayers from incurring costs associated with the potential decommissioning of renewable energy infrastructure.

Specifically, the association wants to see the government mandate the collection of securities for reclamation from developers before a project goes ahead. That way, municipalities won’t be footing the bill if a developer becomes insolvent and walks away.

“What we’ve learned, and what Albertans have learned, is that the cheapest way to get out of reclamation is going bankrupt,” said Paul McLauchlin, president of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta.

“Some of these solar installations are being installed by one company, sold to another company … I talked to a gentleman who’s on his fifth owner, and his solar installation has been there maybe two years. So we’re seeing small companies owning these, and whether they have the wherewithal for reclamation, that’s really what’s driving this conversation.”

In Alberta, the Orphan Well Association is an industry-funded organization tasked with decommissioning old oil and gas infrastructure and returning the land to its prior state. (It’s currently backlogged, in spite of a $200 million loan from the federal government. In 2020, the feds also provided $1 billion for well clean-up to active companies under Alberta’s Site Rehabilitation Program.)

But there’s no equivalent for the renewable energy industry, though renewable energy companies are required to provide an overview of how they plan to cover decommissioning and reclamation costs before they can receive the go-ahead for their project.

However, for a landowner, entering into a wind or solar lease is entirely voluntary. That’s very different from oil and gas, where under Alberta law, property owners are not allowed to refuse companies seeking to develop the fossil fuels that lie under the surface of their land.

Evan Wilson, director of policy and government affairs for the Canadian Renewable Energy Association, said that because solar and wind leases remain private civil contracts between the developer and the landowner, the onus is on the landowner to ensure the inclusion of some kind of provision to mitigate risks associated with the project’s end-of-life.

But he added many companies do offer landowners some form of reclamation commitment, either in the form of a letter of credit or bond.

“Landowners do have the ability to veto these projects being built on their land,” Wilson said.

“So that puts a lot of pressure on our members to ensure that landowners do feel comfortable with the terms.”

Sara Hastings-Simon, an expert in energy, innovation and climate policy at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, said it’s understandable that municipalities have concerns.

However, she said it’s odd that there’s a push to enforce new regulations for the renewable sector, when the scope of the orphan well problem shows the oil and gas regulatory system could also use an overhaul.

According to the Alberta Energy Regulator, there are more than 83,000 inactive oil and gas wells in the province currently, and close to 90,000 more that have been sealed and taken out of service, but not yet fully remediated.

A report released last year by the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated that the cost of orphan well clean-up in Canada will reach $1.1 billion by 2025.

“Obviously we need to make sure that all of our industrial development is done in a way that doesn’t offload costs to the public,” Hastings-Simon said.

“But it would make a lot of sense for the province to look at energy development holistically, rather than just picking the one that right now perhaps has more growth.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 29, 2023.

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Canadian Energy Centre

Canada remains on the sidelines as global competitors double down on energy projects

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By Deborah Jaremko of the Canadian Energy Centre

From the Taliban to Russia, billions in oil and gas investment underway around the world

As Canada’s oil and gas industry faces the uncertainty of a looming emissions cap and a “Just Transition,” billions of dollars of investment is underway in other countries to grow oil and gas supply for the future.  

Here’s just a handful of examples.

Afghanistan – Amu Darya basin  

US$690 million 

Xinjiang Central Asia Petroleum and Gas Co. 

Afghan Deputy PM Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar at a news conference in Kabul announcing an oil development agreement with Xinjiang Central Asia Petroleum and Gas Co. Photo: Twitter/Zabihullah Mujahid

In January, Chinese state-owned Xinjiang Central Asia Petroleum and Gas Co. signed a deal with the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan government to invest nearly US$700 million over four years on oil development in the country’s north. 

The 25-year contract also involves building Afghanistan’s first oil refinery.  

The Taliban militant group returned to power in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 2021. Its ownership share of the oil project will gradually rise to 75 per cent, according to spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.  

The Taliban maintains close ties with the terrorist group al-Qaeda, according to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Since resuming its rule in Afghanistan, authorities have resumed public floggings and executions, violently cracked down on protesters and activists, “obliterated” women’s rights, and “enforced prohibitions on behavior deemed un-Islamic,” the CFR says.  

Brazil – Santos Basin 

TotalEnergies 

US$1 billion 

Map courtesy TotalEnergies

France-based TotalEnergies announced in January it will go ahead with a US$1 billion expansion of oil production offshore Brazil. 

The development is located about 300 kilometres off the coast in the Santos Basin. TotalEnergies, which has operated in Brazil for more than 40 years, is 45 per cent owner along with partners Shell, Repsol and Sinopec.  

The project will consist of three new deepwater wells connected to an existing floating production and storage vessel. It is expected to increase production to 60,000 barrels per day in 2025, up from about 35,000 barrels per day today.  

Norway – Norwegian Continental Shelf 

Aker BP 

US$29 billion 

Rendering courtesy Aker BP

Oslo, Norway-based Aker BP and its partners filed formal plans in December for four offshore oil and gas projects on the Norwegian Continental Shelf. 

A total investment of nearly US$30 billion, the developments are expected to increase Aker BP’s oil and gas production to around 525,000 barrels per day in 2028, compared to 400,000 in 2022. 

The company’s strategy is to meet the world’s growing need for energy while simultaneously contributing to reducing emissions, said CEO Karl Johnny Hersvik. 

The projects are enabled by a 2020 government stimulus package that “allowed oil companies to embark upon new commitments,” he said. 

Qatar – North Field East LNG expansion 

Qatar Energy 

US$29 billion

Qatar’s Minister of State for Energy Affairs and QatarEnergy CEO Saad Sherida al-Kaabi (R) and TotalEnergies CEO Patrick Pouyanne announce partnership in the giant North Field East LNG project at the QatarEnergy headquarters in Doha on June 12, 2022. Getty Images photo

One of the world’s largest LNG exporters is expanding its capacity with the largest LNG project ever built.  

State-owned QatarEnergy’s US$29 billion North Field East Expansion will increase the country’s LNG export capacity to 110 million tonnes per year, from 77 million tonnes per year. Startup is expected in late 2024.  

A planned second phase of the project will further increase capacity to 126 million tonnes per year. QatarEnergy’s partners include Shell, TotalEnergies, Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips and Eni.  

World LNG demand reached a record 409 million tonnes in 2022, according to data provider Revintiv. It’s expected to rise to over 700 million tonnes by 2040, according to Shell’s most recent industry outlook.  

Russia – Vostok Oil  

Rosneft  

US$170 billion  

Russian President Vladimir Putin and executives with state oil company Rosneft present a major shipbuilding complex to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. India will be an investor in a new US$170 billion oil project in the Russian Arctic. Photograph courtesy Rosneft

Despite the war in Ukraine and wide-ranging energy sanctions, Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft says work continues to advance on schedule for the massive Vostok oil project.  

The US$170 billion project will use the Northern Sea Route to export about 600,000 barrels per day by 2024. Production is expected to increase to two million barrels per day after the second phase.  

Rosneft reports that as of mid-2022, more than 1,000 units of special construction equipment are in operation, as well as seven new Russian arctic class drilling rigs, with another five on the way. Over 4,000 people and 2,000 vehicles have been mobilized.  

“This means that the project lives and develops as planned, the inevitable difficulties are being overcome, but we have full confidence that all the tasks will be completed,” Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin said. 

“In the context of decreasing investment in the oil and gas sector, Vostok Oil is the only project in the world capable to provide a stabilizing effect on the hydrocarbon markets.” 

From the Canadian Energy Centre Ltd. 

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