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Still ‘non-negotiable’: Canada’s natural resources minister redraws line on Line 5

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WASHINGTON — Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson is doubling down on Canada’s assertion that the continuing operation of the Line 5 pipeline is “non-negotiable.”

Wilkinson made the comments Friday in the House of Commons as Opposition MPs seized on media reports that the controversial cross-border pipeline is facing yet another court challenge.

On top of efforts by the state of Michigan to shut down Line 5, an Indigenous band in Wisconsin is now asking a judge there to do the same.

The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa argues in court documents that Enbridge Inc., the pipeline’s owner, no longer has the right to operate on its territory.

Fifteen of the 20-year easements that allowed the company to operate on band territory expired back in 2013 and were never properly renewed, they argue in court documents.

“Enbridge has continued to operate the pipeline as if it has an indefinite entitlement to do so,” say the documents, first reported by the Globe and Mail.

“This constitutes an unlawful possession of the subject lands, and an intentional, ongoing trespass upon them.”

The band filed a motion in February seeking a summary judgment against Enbridge — in other words, to shut down Line 5 without a trial.

“The continued operation of Line 5 is non-negotiable,” Wilkinson said Friday in response to a question from Conservative MP John Brassard.

“We will take appropriate steps to ensure the continued safe operation of this critical infrastructure. And we continue to work closely with the owner of Line 5.”

Wilkinson said he will continue to raise the matter in discussions with his U.S. counterparts. Federal officials say the minister will be in D.C. for meetings on a number of bilateral issues in the coming days, potentially as early as next week.

The Conservatives, however, want the government to take a harder line, urging Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly to intervene in the Wisconsin case the same way they did in Michigan: with an amicus brief to put Canada’s economic interests on the record.

“As before, the government needs to take a ‘Team Canada’ approach to combat this latest legal challenge to an international pipeline that is critical to our nation,” Conservative MPs Greg McLean and Marilyn Gladu wrote in a letter to Joly earlier this week.

“We call on you to fully advocate and support Canada’s interest once again, by filing an amicus brief and ensuring the terms of the 1977 Transit Pipeline Treaty are respected.”

Enbridge, meanwhile, is in the process of trying to relocate the pipeline away from band territory, said spokesman Jesse Semko, adding that a 1992 agreement with the Bad River Band allows for operations to continue until 2043.

That relocation project will involve a Wisconsin contractor and union and Indigenous labour, as well as $46 million spent specifically on Indigenous businesses and communities in the area, Semko said.

“Agreement has been reached with 100 per cent of private landowners along the re-route, which was chosen because it minimizes environmental impacts and protects critical resources.”

The Wisconsin challenge comes as Enbridge tries to fend off Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who fears an ecological disaster in the Straits of Mackinac, where the twin lines cross the Great Lakes.

Enbridge insists the pipeline is safe and has already received a level of state approval for a $500-million concrete tunnel beneath the straits that would house the line’s twin pipes and protect them from anchor strikes.

In the Michigan case, Canada has invoked a 1977 bilateral pipelines treaty aimed at ensuring the uninterrupted flow of energy between the two countries, and has petitioned the court there to allow those talks to play out.

It’s not yet clear whether the federal Liberal government will do so again in the Wisconsin matter, although it would likely require a separate set of negotiations, Semko added.

“Given Line 5’s volumes, there are no easy alternatives for the upper U.S. Midwest and Canada,” he said in a statement.

“Moving the same volumes by truck or train would require more trucks and train cars than are currently available, would cost substantially more, and would burn more fuel in order to move it.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2022.

James McCarten, The Canadian Press

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Energy

EU lawmakers back gas, nuclear energy as sustainable

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By Samuel Petrequin And Raf Casert in Brussels

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union lawmakers voted Wednesday to include natural gas and nuclear in the bloc’s list of sustainable activities, backing a proposal from the EU’s executive arm that has been drawing fierce criticism from environment groups and now looks set to trigger legal challenges.

As the EU wants to set the best global standards in the fight against climate change, the decision could tarnish the bloc’s image and question the region’s commitment to reaching climate neutrality by 2050.

The European Commission earlier this year made the proposal as part of its plans for building a climate-friendly future, dividing member countries and drawing outcry from environmentalists over what they criticize as “greenwashing.”

EU legislators from the environment and economy committees objected last month to the plan, setting up Wednesday’s decisive vote in Strasbourg, France. But MEPs rejected their resolution in a 328-278 vote, with 33 lawmakers abstaining. The result was announced to a salvo of applause.

An absolute majority of 353 was needed to veto the proposal. If the European Parliament and member countries don’t object to it by July 11, the so-called Taxonomy delegated act will enter into force and apply as of next year.

Greenpeace immediately said it will submit a formal request for internal review to the European Commission, and then take legal action at the European Court of Justice if the result isn’t conclusive.

“It’s dirty politics and it’s an outrageous outcome to label gas and nuclear as green and keep more money flowing to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s war chest, but now we will fight this in the courts,” said Ariadna Rodrigo, Greenpeace’s EU sustainable finance campaigner.

European Parliament rapporteur Bas Eickhout rued “a dark day for the climate and the energy transition.”

The green labeling system from the European Commission defines what qualifies as an investment in sustainable energy. Under certain conditions, gas and nuclear energy will now be part of the mix, making it easier for private investors to inject money into both.

With the EU aiming to reach climate neutrality by 2050 and to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, the commission says the classification system is crucial to direct investments into sustainable energy. It estimates that about 350 billion euros of investment per year will be needed to meet the 2030 targets.

The question of nuclear power has divided environmentalists, energy experts and governments for years, with some arguing it’s an important source of energy because it’s produced with no emissions and thus “clean,” while others say the risks of nuclear reactions are too great and infrastructure is slow and costly to build. Liquid natural gas, clearly a fossil fuel, is roundly criticized in environmental circles.

Germany’s industrial lobby group BDI welcomed the vote, saying it cleared the way for financing the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy.

“Gas is our bridge technology to the renewable age,” said its deputy head, Holger Loesch.

The BDI called for more investments in gas infrastructure, including LNG terminals, to ensure sufficient supply amid the current energy crisis, but added that new gas power plants need to be capable of handling hydrogen eventually.

Introducing gas and nuclear into the equation has divided the 27 member countries amid Russia’s war in Ukraine, and even the parliament’s political groups.

Luxembourg’s energy minister, Claude Turmes, said he deeply regretted the European Parliament’s failure to bloc the commission’s plan, adding that his country — together with Austria — would move ahead with legal efforts to block the labeling of nuclear and gas as sustainable.

Steffen Hebestreit, a spokesman for German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, said that “the German government stands by its position and considers nuclear energy as unsustainable.”

“Nevertheless, the German government believes that the taxonomy is an important instrument for achieving climate protection targets, because it is clear that natural gas is an important bridging technology for us on the way to CO2 neutrality and the inclusion of the use of natural gas in the delegated act takes this into account,” Hebestreit added.

Protests that had started on Tuesday continued Wednesday outside the EU legislature as lawmakers debated the issue.

Environmentalists warned the vote could set a precedent for lawmakers elsewhere to label polluting forms of energy as sustainable.

“We have now officially validated greenwashing by law,” said Tsvetelina Kuzmanova of the climate think tank E3G.

“The process and the decision have been entirely political, not scientific, to only benefit a small number of member states,” she said. “This would not stand a chance in court and will only create more uncertainty for financial markets and jeopardize (the) EU’s climate ambition.”

The youth activist group Fridays for Future said billions of euros could be pumped into gas infrastructure and nuclear power plants as a result of the decision, diverting much-needed funds from renewable alternatives.

One argument for rejecting the proposal is that it will boost Russian gas sales at a time when it is invading neighboring Ukraine, but the European Commission said it had received a letter from the Ukrainian government backing its stance.

European Commissioner Mairead McGuinness quoted from the letter from Ukraine’s energy minister Tuesday: “I strongly believe that the inclusion of gas and nuclear in the taxonomy is an important element of the energy security in Europe, especially with a view to replacing Russian gas.”

“I don’t think we should second-guess this letter,” McGuinness said.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has prompted the 27-nation bloc to sever ties with some Russian fossil fuels. Member countries have agreed to ban 90% of Russian oil by year-end in addition to a ban on imports of Russian coal that will start in August.

But the EU hasn’t included gas — a fuel used to power factories and generate electricity — in its own sanctions for fear of seriously harming the European economy. Before the war in Ukraine, it relied on Russia for 25% of its oil and 40% of its natural gas.

___

Frank Jordans and Kirsten Grieshaber contributed to this report from Berlin.

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Alberta

First test production of plastic a milestone for Heartland Petrochemical Complex

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CALGARY — The $4.3-billion Heartland Petrochemical Complex, which has been under construction northeast of Edmonton since 2018, has produced its first plastic pellets.

Owner and operator Inter Pipeline Ltd. said Tuesday the newly commissioned facility has been producing test pellets steadily since late June, an important milestone en route to the expected start of full commercial operation sometime this fall.

The Heartland Petrochemical Complex will convert Alberta propane into 525,000 tonnes per year of polypropylene beads, an easily transported form of plastic that is used in the manufacturing of a wide range of finished products.

Steven Noble, spokesman for Calgary-based Inter Pipeline, said the facility will be the first integrated propane dehydrogenation and polypropylene production facility in North America. He said approximately 70 per cent of Heartland’s total production capacity has been already contracted out to long-term customers.

“Through the duration of the project’s construction, we’ve seen demand for polypropylene increase significantly … including at one point hitting an all-time record (market price),” Noble said in an interview. “The demand that we initially forecast certainly hasn’t gone away.”

The Heartland facility is being built with the support of a $408-million grant from Alberta’s provincial government. The cash grant, part of an incentive program aimed at growing the province’s petrochemicals sector, is to be paid to Inter Pipeline in equal instalments over three years once the complex is operational.

Noble said by creating a new market for propane, the Heartland facility is an example of how natural resource development in Alberta is diversifying.

“The fact that we’re now looking at our raw resources in a different way, and figuring out different ways to get value out of them and create other refined products right here at home … is really the part of the story that everyone here is excited about,” he said.

The Heartland Petrochemical Complex is expected to employ 300 people once fully operational.

The polypropylene produced at the facility will be branded as Heartland Polymers.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2022.

Amanda Stephenson, The Canadian Press

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