On Feb. 1, hundreds of residents from the Amazonian city of Iquitos in Peru converged on the streets to defend their human right to clean water and denounce ConocoPhillips, Gran Tierra and Talisman Energy, who plan to drill for oil next to the Nanay River. The Nanay provides 95 percent of the drinking water for the city of 500,000 people.
The Iquitos mobilization, spurred by the regional federation Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Eastern Amazon (OPRIO), launched at 3 p.m. from the Plaza 28 de Julio in central Iquitos under a banner reading "Water is Life!"
Students from universities across Iquitos as well as civil rights groups stood together with their indigenous brothers and sisters who have struggled for more than 40 years as a result of the contamination from oil production in Loreto.
"We join in solidarity with the struggles and mobilizations taking place throughout the country in defense of water, life and the rights of indigenous peoples to self-determination," OPRIO officials said.
"Just as our brothers from the coast and from the Andes suffer from negative impacts from mining, we the Amazonian indigenous peoples suffer from the abusive presence and contaminating activities of oil companies…which has contaminated our fish, our streams, our lakes, our lands, and the water that gives us life," continued OPRIO.
The organizers, representing more than two dozen indigenous federations from throughout the Peruvian Amazon, say the contamination has caused illnesses, deaths, and "converted us into the trash dump of oil companies," while bringing "development" only to the oil companies themselves.
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As the news broke on the afternoon of Jan. 18 that the U.S. government had denied the application of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, speculation quickly followed about the future of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline—a controversial and risky project that would see oilsands crude piped to the craggy northwest coast of British Columbia, then shipped by tanker to overseas markets.
The speculation was no-doubt driven by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s response to the decision, in which he reiterated Canada’s intentions to find new customers for oilsands outside the U.S. (Harper had, until recently, called the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline a ‘complete no-brainer’ and his government has become a vocal proponent of the Northern Gateway project as well.)
As the pipeline debate on this side of the border shifts to the fate of the Northern Gateway proposal, the U.S. government’s rejection of the Keystone project shows that Canada faces real barriers in getting oilsands to market—and, despite what some pundits say, those barriers are not just political.
Not just an issue of access
Access to markets isn’t the only challenge facing the oilsands. Access to investment capital is a critical component to an industry with incredibly high start-up costs. Imperial Oil’s Kearl Mine is a case in point, with the total budget now ballooning to a record $28.5 billion.
In a 2010 report by the Fraser Institute on barriers to energy development in North America, the authors concluded that uncertainty around environmental regulations is very likely to cause some investors to be cautious about investing in the oilsands.
Businesses thrive when they have a predictable regulatory environment, and the oilsands industry is no different. The heads of companies need to know, for example, what royalties will need to be paid, what labour laws they must consider, and what accounting standards they will be required to follow.
The problem for the oilsands industry is there are many environmental aspects of operations that do not yet have clear regulations, such as tailings management, greenhouse gas emissions, reclamation, species at risk, wetlands and regional planning. This lack of regulation, and the resultant environmental challenges, is the driving factor behind the poor reputation Canada has internationally when it comes to energy development. Meantime, federal-provincial jurisdictional battles add to the lack of clarity.
Rather than constantly playing defense, Canada could proactively address our customers’ concerns about the impacts of oilsands development by improving how environmental issues are regulated. If the federal and Alberta governments could provide more certainty about their expectations of how the oilsands are to be managed environmentally—and ensure those standards are being met—then the oilsands may start to look like a more attractive investment, and a more attractive product.
The Harper government’s efforts to wield the threat of shipping to Asia as a political club against the U.S. is not new—although, following the Jan. 18 surprise decision, the Premier of Alberta also played up the prospects of taking oilsands elsewhere. A steady increase in Chinese demand for oilsands crude in the future is taken as a given among energy circles in Calgary, and to question otherwise is to challenge orthodoxy.
Playing China as an economic trump card appears rather presumptuous, however, given increasing concern that the oilsands are losing fashion in China. And it’s likely the current challenges facing the development of oilsands pipelines are not increasing optimism among potential customers in Beijing.
Compared to what we have to offer in Canada, China has access to higher-quality hydrocarbons from much closer sources. Even the chief energy researcher for a state-owned Chinese oil company agrees—“The oil sands are too costly and too polluting. Gas has a brighter future…Shale gas is much cheaper and cleaner.”
What’s the rush?
The denial of Keystone XL "only will embolden those opposed to Gateway and other new project developments," said Enbridge CEO Pat Daniels. Despite the long faces from some proponents of oilsands pipelines, there’s no rush to push these projects ahead. Alberta will not be landlocked in bitumen for at least another eight years, given industry production forecasts and current pipeline capacity. Moreover, some of the existing pipelines can be twinned or additional pump stations built to increase throughput.
From a capacity perspective, the argument for Gateway in a world without Keystone XL is weak.
Economic arguments in perspective
It is hard to miss the drumbeat of the economists in favour of Gateway these days, most of whom cite the benefits of diversifying export markets. Indeed, many Canadian and foreign-owned oilsands companies stand to benefit from the project.
But while economic diversification on its own is a sound and prudent economic principle, it is critical to consider the broader picture.
The Obama administration considered more than simply the economic aspects of the Keystone XL pipeline. They also listened to and considered the perspectives of a host of Americans that had real concerns about the pipeline and the oil that it would be shipping.
In the same way, the Harper government would be wise to learn from Keystone XL and consider multiple perspectives, including those labeled as ‘radical’. First Nations, British Columbians and environmental organizations are not radical for wanting to have a balanced and credible review process that is informed by more than the private economic interests of a handful of oil companies.
Due public process is critical to making an informed decision. For one thing, the process for Keystone XL showed that energy companies are capable of responding to public concerns and adjusting their plans when required to by a government that takes those concerns seriously.
The Obama administration’s decision to reject the Keystone XL application ought to be a clarion call for the Canadian government to ensure due process is respected for the Gateway hearings. Only by thoroughly examining the risks, along with the benefits, of the proposed Gateway pipeline can the government arrive at a decision that will be in the interest of Canadians.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
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The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
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Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.