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Less than 1 percent of tar-sands environmental infractions penalised

Kevin Grandia

24th July 2013

A report released yesterday finds that enforcement of environmental infractions by companies in the Alberta oil sands are 17 times lower than similar infractions reported to the United State's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The report [PDF], authored by the environmental nonprofit Global Forest Watch, looked at more than 15 years of data on recorded environmental mishaps by oil sand's companies, tracking the follow-up actions taken and the final verdict on fines.

The findings are shocking and come at a very inconvenient time for government and industry supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline project that would greatly increase tar sands processing and shipments to the United States.

Of the more than 4,000 infractions reported, less than 1 percent (.09 to be exact) received an enforcement action (that would be less than 40 of 4,000). Compare this the EPA, who has an enforcement rate of 16 percent for similar infractions by companies under the Clean Water Act.

Global Forest Watch also found that the median fine for environmental infractions in the oil sands over the past 16 years was $4,500. If you were an oil-sands player like ExxonMobil, who reported a profit last year of $44.9 billion, would you change your ways over a $4,500 fine?

Royal Dutch Shell Oil's CEO, another big player in the oil sands, probably spent $4,500 on golf and dinner yesterday.

TransCanada, the company trying to convince President Obama to approve the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, was out last week touting Canada as a world leader in environmental protection. TransCanada wrote in the Globe and Mail that:

The only relevant question is whether the U.S. wants to source its heavy oil from Canada, a friendly and stable ally with strict environmental standards, or from other suppliers whose interests are not aligned with those of the United States and have limited or no environmental standards.

Relevant question indeed, and here's the answer: Canada does not have "strict environmental standards" at all and this report puts even more pressure on President Obama to not approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

Kevin Grandia is a researcher and writer on environment and human rights issues. He is the president of Spake Media House Inc., a consulting firm that brings online power to nonprofits, campaigners, and advocacy groups.

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