A former chief of Mikisew Cree First Nation in Fort Chipewyan returned from Europe last week following a week of meetings with officials and the public to support the European Union’s (EU) labelling of oilsands crude as more polluting than other fuels.
George Poitras was in the Netherlands, France and the UK earlier this month testifying to European policymakers and elected officials about the impacts of the oilsands on downstream First Nations and pushing the governments to sign on to the EU’s fuel quality directive (FQD), despite an onslaught of lobbying from the Canadian government urging them to do otherwise.
Poitras’ visit coincided with that of two Albertan ministers meant to undermine the FQD in Europe. International Relations Minister Cal Dallas visited Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Lithuania and Latvia, while Environment and Sustainable Resources Development Minister Diana McQueen traveled to France, Austria, Croatia, Greece and Sweden in late September.
“Tar sands oil is a dirty oil; it’s an unconventional oil. Don’t matter how Canada, Alberta or tar sands oil companies frame it, it’s dirty and its carbon intensity is undesirable for a world that is struggling with global climate change induced by industrial development like the tar sands,” Poitras told The Journal last week.
Member states of the EU will vote on the directive in mid-December. The FQD would require EU refiners and shippers to reduce the carbon content of their fuels based on a labelling system, which ranks oilsands crude as more carbon-intensive, emitting 22 per cent more greenhouse gases per volume than conventional oil.
“The FQD in Europe is not only good for communities who are directly impacted, being downstream from all tar sands activities, a community that has the most at stake, but for the world. The environmental footprint after 40 years of tar sands development, and only less than five per cent of the total tar sands deposit being mined, is unfathomable,” Poitras said.
“The faster the daily production of tar sands grows with little to no mitigation of existing environmental concerns, or allowing the science to catch up to the unprecedented pace of development, will only continue to exacerbate our own environmental challenges with water quality, water quantity, exponential growth of toxic tailings ponds and proven reclamation of wetlands that are daily being destroyed. Not to mention the constitutionally protected treaty rights that are repeatedly being infringed upon by Alberta, Canada and domestic and foreign-owned oil companies,” he added.
Both the Alberta and federal governments dispute the EU’s scientific data stating oilsands crude is a larger emitter.
While Alberta does not export its oil to Europe, meaning oilsands producers would not lose a valuable market, Canadian officials have been greatly concerned the FQD would set a dangerous precedent for targeting oilsands crude in other markets, such as the US, and promotes a negative image of the resource the government has been marketing as an “ethical” alternative to oil from the Middle East.
The amount of Canadian exports to the EU are expected to increase, as well, if major pipelines like TransCanada’s proposed Energy East and the Keystone XL are approved, and as refineries in Wales prepare to import the fuel.
At a public address in London alongside MP Simon Hughes, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, Poitras spoke about concerns people in Fort Chipewyan have about water quality, the health of wildlife and cancer.
“We currently have little to no influence on how the Canadian government is going ahead with its expansion plans,” Poitras told the crowd. “Right now, foreign policies like the Fuel Quality Directive will have a significant impact on the fate of our people. Our people can’t wait for further deliberations. We’re at a crossroads in our history as to whether we survive.”
Besides speaking publicly as part of a panel, Poitras also met with Transport Minister Norman Baker, and officials from the department of Energy and Climate Change and the Prime Minister’s office while in London.
He also met with officials from the office of Sustainable Development and Energy and the ministry of Foreign Affairs in France and parliamentarians in The Hague, Netherlands to lend support to the FQD.
“My message was the truth about what we as local indigenous communities have and continue to observe after 40 years of tar sands development – a point of view that is not told by our Albertan or Canadian politicians who have spent millions of dollars lobbying the same offices I met with,” Poitras said.
“Their response to my presentations was very much appreciated and often was the first time they had ever heard from anyone other than Canadian politicians or lobbyists from oil companies.”1 comment