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Doubling Tar Sands production for Imperial War
The continuation of the North American master plan for energy continues unabated. The newest pipeline– along with the corridor pipeline through Toronto to Montréal and the Atlantic Coast in Maine that Line 9 is a component part of–could facilitate the doubling of tar sands crude available to distribute daily in a short number of years. Well over a million barrels a day (1.1 according to the proposals) alone would flow through the “Energy East” pipeline to a Saint John terminal –including the refinery owned by Irving, the traditional oligarchy that believe they own large sections of the Maritimes.
Current geopolitical struggles involving western imperial nation-states are demanding a re-shuffling of the global energy deck. Tar sands are looking more and more like the Fortress North America strategic military reserves– enough crude to ride out the next phase of US imperial strategy. Russia–and perhaps Venezuela–are on a collision course with the West, and Canada is not impartial nor hiding in the wings on either front.
Russia, in part emboldened by new power gained (in a similar manner as US energy giants) from fracking and large new energy stockpiles has clearly calculated a stand in defiance of the West. Rightly or wrongly so, Russia is at the end of two decades of unilateral encirclement of territory used by German and Nazi-aligned forces to inflict the largest single nation-state casualty toll in human history. After Nato abandoned US pledges to not encircle the Russian Federation with military bases, the Crimea is where Russia (not in particular Putin) will stand and maintain control of a major sea port.
The energy story in Russia is only just beginning, but the looting of Russia wholesale after the collapse of the USSR is finished. Energy drives 90% of this story, through the Crimean port but also in global access. Russians may speak often about Nazi’s inside the Ukrainian coup-installed government, correctly, however the Russian concern in market access is more of a driving factor.
“Ukraine is increasingly perceived to be critically situated in the emerging battle to dominate energy transport corridors linking the oil and natural gas reserves of the Caspian basin to European markets… Considerable competition has already emerged over the construction of pipelines. Whether Ukraine will provide alternative routes helping to diversify access, as the West would prefer, or ‘find itself forced to play the role of a Russian subsidiary,’ remains to be seen.”
Nazis or not, an openly pro-Western, hostile government blocking port access and being able to summon Nato as an ally is the “worst case scenario” for Moscow. Given the size of soon to be exploited gas and oil reserves within Russia (in large part, thanks to fracking) these access routes are key to their regional ambitions.
The West has overtly supported a right wing, extra-constitutional seizure of power, using black-op tactics and possible snipers to set in motion the dismantling of a state that was elected, fully functional, economically dependent on capitalism and foreign investments. This is directed at Russia as a competitor, not class opponent. It also appears to be directed at the EU itself, as put bluntly by victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State, in chats with the US Ambassador to Ukraine. “So that would be great, I think, to help glue this thing and to have the UN help glue it and, you know, Fuck the EU,” among directions for the economy, who should hold what position in the “interim” parliament, and more.
The play was calculated, let us be clear: What has happened in Kiev, at least who is supporting what, was not accidental and the Russian military moves, while bold, can surprise no one in the Western halls of power.
Fresh from a Israeli-led tour of East Jerusalem, through multiple “disputed” sites, and a speech in the Israeli Knesset by Canadian Prime Minister Harper himself, the Canadian Government now gives the public gems like:
“Canada will not recognize a referendum held in a region currently under illegal military occupation. We will continue to view the situation in Ukraine with the gravest concern and will continue to cooperate closely with our G-7 partners and like-mindedallies.”
Canada, replete with expulsions of Russian military personnel from Canadian territory and canceling joint military exercises carried out in the Arctic, is leading among states in alliance with the US in belligerent rhetoric. However, how this works to Canadian advantage was spelled out by the editor of Oilprice.com:
“Then we have Canada, which is certainly eyeing the opportunity here to render a favor for a favor—and what it wants most is approval of Keystone XL, which is turning into a drama of Hollywood proportions.
Canada’s playing card here is if we start talking about sanctions against Russia—for real. As columnist Chris Nelson point out in the Calgary Herald: “If you are going to make Russia squeal, you have to do it through energy embargoes and you might have to lift that export ban to balance that move. Where to replace the supplies?”
And this is where Canada comes in—on the supply level, and it might be hoping that Keystone XL approval would be considered a nice trade-off for its support.”
Beyond Ukraine, and as far as the recent events in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Canada’s role is also deserving of real observation.
In case anyone wonders what the Harper Governments attitude towards Venezuela is, recall the statement issued by the PM himself after the death of President Hugo Chávez: “At this key juncture, I hope the people of Venezuela can now build for themselves a better, brighter future based on the principles of freedom, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights.”
Leaving no doubt what that meant, at the early stage of 2013 John Baird had already begun setting up meetings with Opposition members in Venezuela before the final death of Chávez. Not mere students, but the same people who have recently re-arisen to prominence, such as two signatories to the “Carmona Decree” dissolving all constitutional forms of governance in Venezuela during the brief coup against Chávez in 2002. Leopoldo Lopez, along with Maria Corina Machado, are well known for their deep ties to US covert action and spook circles.
Canada, however, has made it very clear where they stand in regards to the current far-right destabilization taking place in the wealthier neighborhoods of a small number of cities. Given that the seeming home base for these actions is in Altamira, an eastern Caracas neighbourhood infamous for strong anti-Chavista, pro-4th Republic sentiment, and given that Altamira Square is bordered by the Canadian Embassy, the tone of the Canadian government matters significantly. Canada led the overthrow of the elected government of Haiti in 2004, proclaiming ‘democracy’ and the ‘responsibility to protect’, while dismantling sovereignty and violating human rights on a mass scale.
Though also waning, Altamira and Chacao (a rocks toss from Altamira Square) have been almost constantly in the throes of some conflict, barricade or other Guarimba since February 12, 2014. On Febrary 28th, for no reason announced, Canada replaced Paul Gibbard with Ben Rowswell as Ottawa’s Ambassador to Venezuela.
Ben Rowswell has a rather interesting past, and has quietly racked up a plethora of posts among the most important to imperialist geo political moves in his career. His career in brief for a recent Stanford presentation he gave on “Direct Diplomacy in Iran: the Internet as a Platform for Foreign Policy” (he also studied at the same Stanford in California):
Ben Rowswell is Director for Iran, Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula at Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. From 2010 to 2011 he was Visiting Scholar in the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford, conducting research on the use of technology by democracy activists in the Egyptian revolution. His diplomatic career includes stints as the Representative of Canada in Kandahar, Afghanistan; as Deputy Head of Mission in Kabul; as Chargé d’Affaires in Baghdad, Iraq; and in the political section of Canada’s embassy to Egypt. He is the founder of the Democracy Unit at DFATD, an alumnus of the National Democratic Institute and a former Visiting Scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC.
Given recent attacks on Venezuela having gone viral– a good deconstruction of this is written here for Upside Down World–the specialty of Mr Rowswell is hard to miss. Given his work outlining policy on Iran and Iraq as well as Gulf Arab monarchies and further given previous diplomatic work in countries Canada would relate to as an energy superpower, his understanding of the role of energy in these countries is not hard to predict.
Lest there be any doubt as to the attitude of the Canadian Government towards the recent unrest in Venezuela, we have this from Embassy News last week:
“Canada has a major role to play in the region. The efforts to expand the scope of opportunities for Canadian investments in Latin America must be accompanied by high standards for the respect of fundamental human rights, the rule of law and democratic rights in the region. The time has come for Canada to take a leadership role in Latin America and promote effective mechanisms for the protection of democratic values.”
This statement, tucked into the middle of a repetition of the corporate media’s worst distortions on Venezuela (“Brown Shirts,” anyone?), was written by a man who also celebrated and lauded the appointment of Ben Rowswell as Canada’s ambassador to Venezuela in the midst of a disruption campaign.
If the US military is to operate in a world of peak oil but expanding temporary access, using oil as a weapon needs to be available. It is here in general– and with regard to pipelines in particular– the
strategic importance of Canada’s tar sands to possible Western imperialist strategies of confrontation with either Venezuela or Russia going ahead. It may be of geopolitical significance. It wouldn’t be the first time– but it may indeed be the largest chip yet.
Building up tar sands infrastructure to provide flexibility in trying to achieve a military full-spectrum dominance. That’s the plan, by accident or design. That is either a really lucky by-product or not, but either way it makes the desire of the Harper administration to use all foreign affairs posts to promote tar sands clear. It further shows why doubling tar sands production may be even worse in terms of “collateral damage” than we previously realized. But there are other destructive products of all this still unmentioned.
The Energy East pipeline appears to be blitzing its way through regulatory hurdles, and is intent on making the expansion of tar sands happen through “facts on the ground.” But is doubling tar sands, as a climate campaigner, as bad as it sounds? No, it is several times worse.
The tar sands are composed only of 20% mine-ready shallow deposits, almost exclusively in the Athabasca region near the famous epicenter of Suncor and Syncrude currently. 80% of the tar sands judged “recoverable” exist in in-situ leases and potential leases– scattered across four regions of bitumen in Alberta (as well as Saskatchewan).
Tar sands in-situ leases like to lay claim to being better at water recovery, but in the vast majority of cases water use is projected at a lower rate– sometimes multiple factors in difference– than is actually used. Put simply: They use more water than they say they are going to, and after constructing the plant, they always get access to larger quantities.
On average, tar sands in-situ plants use three times the energy to produce synthetic oil than sourced from a giant strip mine; the strip mines on average use three times the energy as conventional oil. Then we need to add variables: As with all industrial recovery of a geological resource, the easy stuff is taken first. The areas that will grow are more dubious, and will come on line as replacements for mines that become exhausted over time.
In certain plants, water needs were estimated at reasonably comparable levels to existing operations elsewhere, such as at Shell’s Peace River plant, that on occasion has used as much as over a dozen barrels of water to achieve one barrel of mock oil.
The Long Lake Plant, bought with the buyout of Israeli-sourced Opti and Canadian Nexen into the twin properties of CNOOC from China, uses Israeli derived “Or Crude” tech to separate and burn “asphaltenes” in a coal like manner to produce energy on site. The entire operation has already required (after applications were approved that promised the opposite) water use from the Clearwater River near the indigenous community of Anzac, and where it flows through Fort McMurray northwards after.
This is just a proverbial tip of the iceberg. The fact is that given most increases in over-all tar sand production will come from in-situ, and were in-situ to be the primary source of tar sands mock oil pumped through Energy East and the revamped other pipelines? We could end up with a four-fold increase in climate changing emissions, not “merely” doubling, from tar sands alone.
For the United States and Canada to double down on overthrowing the Bolivarian Revolution means having a contingency for the roughly 10% of US daily supply that still comes from Venezuela today. The impossibility of this has been at least a significant factor in preventing overt action against Venezuela for 15 years–instead relying on covert coup, economic disruption and/or sabotage to chip away. It appears that the farthest right in Venezuela’s storied opposition has decided to go for broke, causing disruptions and hoping for a joint Colombian-CIA attack to finish the job.
In order for this to work, Canadian arguments for tar sands pipelines such as KXL become far stronger for the imperialist ear. Enbridge’s Gateway and other means of piping tar sands bitumen to the Pacific Coast also are attractive for the same reason– The tankers could terminate in California, providing US refineries with the needed supplies for jet fuel in the largest single consumer of carbon emissions on the planet: The US military.
The arguments for the Orwellian “Ethical Oil” advocates have always relied on ignorance around the government in Venezuela, and have countered that KXL and Canadian bitumen would be replacing Venezuela’s oil supply to Texas and Louisiana– but given Canadian and American moves towards Venezuela, building a pipeline to an alternative supply might not just be horribly bad ecology approved for the sake of business, but in fact infrastructure for a possible means to use oil to attempt to subvert Venezuela’s elected government by ever deeper force.
In the case of the War on Iraq, the invasion of that country unleashed the tar sands Weapon of Mass Destruction on the atmosphere as well. The skyrocketing price of oil resulting in the first place from the Iraq War (followed by Hurricane Katrina) has stabilized to become “the new normal”; Today, drops in the price of oil per barrel are known to be temporary. But tar sands, while not anywhere near as efficient on producing gasoline for a civilian car, produces jet fuel very well indeed.
The end game here, of course, is that the only tar sands belt larger than the Athabasca region on the planet is the Orinoco in Venezuela– that region currently is not at the service of the same North American capital interests as the tar sands in Canada. The plan, in an overly simplistic but broad stroke, may be to use one tar sands deposit for supply to get control of the other, and cook the future for all in the process.
The crash investments into the Athabasca tar sands that followed were a result of the war crimes committed on the people of Iraq; Today, the infrastructure of the tar sands may be facilitating future wars on Russia, Venezuela, Syria or elsewhere.
In order for Western interests to strangulate Russia, or even to attempt it, the supplies coming from Russia’s energy pool must be accounted for. To offset disruptions to Russia with as few to the “punishing body”– the nations who impose sanctions–officially or otherwise.
The climate justice movement must involve anti-imperialist thinking and a recognition that what we see as defending the liability of the planet, protecting eco-systems and more is not seen in the negative light as a mere giant money making black hole alone–but it is far more perverse than that: The tar sands are, like Saudi Arabia in 1991, the backup source of jet fuel, hydrocarbon energy and the ability to ride out the coming supply glut as imperial leaders hone in on the next war.
When people speak of climate but block these pipelines, we are also slowing down the ability of North American military assaults on independent countries. This is true objectively– let us proudly proclaim it. War, with the precision of destruction now provided by it, is a greater source of ecological destruction than even the Tar Sands Gigaproject– the largest and most destructive industrial development in the history of humanity. We proudly stand against both war for oil and oil for war.
That industry is working towards a goal of doubling tar sands is not news, but the convergence of future imperial plans–plans that benefit big oil and gas–at a time of rapidly escalating climate change could be frightening. Or, perhaps, it can play as an opportunity for movements to unite to defeat those in charge of the whole system–because these wars and the war on the earth that is tar sands development– are coming from the same boardrooms.
All solutions that are looking to adhere to the same system that is producing this crisis do not, as an end goal, seek to remove the power of those who seek to sacrifice a livable planet for the sake of corporate power. This same power seeks to extend itself through further military escalations that intersect the social justice movements to prevent imperial war and climate destruction. The need for an anti-imperialist and confrontational climate justice movement is now, waiting, at the crossroads of climate chaos and resistance to war.
Certain quotes need repeating, even at the risk of making them cliché. Utah Philips gave us one such gem: “The earth is not dying, it is being killed. And the people killing it have names and addresses!” I ask the question: Do we smirk alone at the correctness of the statement, or do we start collecting some names and addresses?
Macdonald Stainsby is an anti-tar sands and social justice activist, freelance writer and professional hitchhiker looking for a ride to the better world, currently based in Vancouver, Canada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org