Farewell Paris, Bonjour Coal (V. Nader)

Expect more heavy pollution in the USA under a Trump presidency.

This week on “Keeping up with the Soft Wood Lumber Dispute,” Prime Minister Trudeau tweeted the following last Thursday on June 01st:

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His action plan to support the softwood lumber industry involves “$867 million in measures to support forest industry workers and communities affected by U.S. measures targeting softwood lumber.” The funding will be used for various activities that support workers and, as mentioned last week, expand the industry overseas to Asia and diversify beyond the US. Moreover, the plan mentions that Canada will continue to force the US to reconsider their decision as “a negotiated settlement is not only possible, but in the best interests of both countries. This tells me that Canada is acquiring Trump’s business lingo to, hopefully, communicate with him in a way in which he will better understand.

What’s more, Trudeau’s tweet was on the same date that President Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, an agreement within the United Nations Framework Conventions on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that deals with reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Trump decided this shortly after the 43rd annual G7 meeting as he felt that “compliance with the terms of the Paris accord and the onerous energy restrictions it has placed on the United States could cost America as much as 2.7 million lost jobs by 2025.” He retweeted those in support of his decision:




Trump’s retweets of his supporters and the surge on Wall Street are attempts to convey the economic benefits of withdrawing from the pact, however he fails to note the environmental disadvantages. Trudeau was quick to respond and tweeted the following:


Clearly upset with Trump’s decision, he stated that “we will also continue to reach out to the U.S. federal government to discuss this matter of critical importance for all humankind, and to identify areas of shared interest for collaboration, including on emissions reductions.”

Trump’s reasoning to withdraw is that the use of coal energy is economically beneficial for the US as, according to him, it will aid in job creation and saving money. Thus, he cannot be part of a climate agreement that aims to reduce GHG emissions and divests from non-renewable fossil fuels. Unfortunately, this has various negative environmental implications and reverses the many years of effort former US president, Obama, put in towards addressing climate change.

Former president Obama’s administration had many ambitious plans for combatting climate change, some of which are detailed in The Canadian Environment in Political Context. She notes that his “plan is the boldest made by any American president on the issue of climate change” (page 298), which completely contrasts with President Trump’s belief that climate change is a hoax created by the Chinese government for financial gain. However, due to US’ withdrawal, Canada might continue trade of fossil fuel with the US opposed to searching for new markets in the Asia because we no longer experience pressures “to commit to a Paris protocol target that is in line with that of the United States” (Olive 2016, 299). Nonetheless, I do not think this is likely because of Trudeau’s Pan Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change and his absolute abhorrence to Trump’s policies. Canada’s target, under the Paris Agreement, is GHG emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.

So, what does Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and revival of the coal industry mean for the environment? Well, it is safe to say a lot of bad things for the environment. Coal cannot be clean and involves high consumption of water and heavily pollutes the air. Air pollution results in acid rain, loss in biodiversity and species’ habitats, health risks, and much more. I understand that Trump, as a businessman turned president, is trying to maximize profits and jobs, but he is very poor at cost-benefit analysis. The costs outweigh the benefits and jobs can be generated through the implementation of renewable resources. I think this decision goes against all of the progress that has been made as of late, but we can only hope for the best and see how ‘renegotiations’ of the deal go.






New Student Blogger: Victoria Nader

Starting May 2017, I have a new summer student blogger! Let me introduce you to Victoria Nader.


Nader is pursuing an Honours Bachelor’s of Arts degree at the University of Toronto Mississauga. She is completing a major in Canadian Studies with a double minor in Political Science and French Language Studies. She is passionate about marginalized communities in Canada and conveys this through her work as Food Centre Coordinator at UTMSU’s Food Centre where she provides healthy and environmentally sustainable solutions for food insecure students. In her leisure, she enjoys personal fitness, nature, and looking at memes.

Pan-National Climate Agreement

Two weeks I wrote that Trudeau was busy approving pipelines in Canada. Now, I am writing that he has passed a rather historic climate deal with the provinces. This is a man having his cake and eating it too (for now).

Here is the official government announcement of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. Essentially, all provinces have agreed to a price on carbon (set at $10 dollars starting in 2018 and increasing $ from there – meeting a $50 minimum by 2022).

All provinces except Saskatchewan. Brad Wall, the premier of SK, has adamantly (and stubbornly) refused to sign any deal that includes a price on carbon. As I have written elsewhere, he would prefer to use carbon capture and storage (and perhaps other geo-engineering plans) to off-set CO2 emissions in the province. SK is the biggest emitter of CO2 per capita in the country.  The province is clearly an outlier. A problematic one.

Here is a good article from CBC that explains where each province stood on carbon pricing back in October, before the pan-national deal. BC, AB, MT, ON, and QU have all had various forms on carbon pricing in the past. Notably, BC and AB have a tax and ON and QU use cap-and-trade (click chapter 8 on the left for past blog posts explaining these policies). Thus, a price on carbon is not new to them – in fact, they have been waiting a while for the federal government to catch up and address climate change. However, BC did make a deal with Trudeau regarding the specific price of carbon, since the province’s revenue neutral carbon tax has been in place since 2008 and works a bit differently than other provincial plans. Premier Christy said BC would be unwilling to sign a plan that has the province meeting a $50 minimum tax by 2022 – instead, the province would like to continue with their established carbon tax and “make-up” the difference in the price of emissions (if there any) by other means.

This climate deal is an important step forward in Canada. However, it is not clear if passing pipelines and carbon prices in the same two-week period will get the country anywhere close to its 2030 targets under the Paris Agreement.


Fracking: What is it? (By C. Gagliano-Veiga)

What is Fracking?

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking is the process of extracting oil or natural gas underground through different types of rock formations – usually shale (Hawkins 2015). This process occurs by sending highly pressurized and large amounts of fracking fluid through horizontal wells to create fractures in the rock formations. These fractures allow for the release of oil or natural gas through now penetrable circuits to the surface through extraction.

Before fracking even occurs, exploration of the recoverable oil and natural gas is made in order to determine the maximum yield with the least amount of environmental impact (Mehany 2016). The rock formation then has to be examined by geoscientists and geo-engineers to determine the amount of recovery time of the environment (Mehany 2016). Production of the extraction site are then made, which include access to the site and building of the physical infrastructure. After the fracking occurs, the collected oil or natural gas has to go through different stages to be completely refined and processed in order to be redistributed (Mehany 2016). Following the completion of a fracking operation in a specified area, restoration to the land should be made in order to maintain the least amount of impact with an attempt to return the land to its former state (Mehany 2016).

There are many opinions about fracking, primarily due to the fact that it uses approximately 2-5 million gallons of fracking fluid per operation, which is primarily made out of 90% water, sand, and other chemicals (Lee and Weingarten and Shemin 2015). There are also other environmental and health concerns considered with fracking.

Fracking Concerns

There are two environmental concerns when it comes to fracking and water: water contamination and water consumption.

Water Contamination

            To get to the contained resources, a vertical well is placed through several different layers of earth until it reaches the rock formation, passing through aquifers containing groundwater. Fracking fluid has the capacity to contaminate as it does contain chemicals such as different types of acids, but also because of the release of gas that includes methane, which happens during the fracking process (Lee and Weingarten and Shemin 2015). Therefore, there is a possibility of contamination of the groundwater through instances such as accidental blowouts and pipe leakages (Mehany 2016). There is also a possibility for contamination of surface water through other instances such as improper waste removal or surface spills (Mehany 2016).

 Water Consumption

Water consumption is another key issue as each fracking operation uses anywhere between 2-5 million gallons of water. In 2011, a study was conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency which found that, “approximately 35,000 fractured wells across the U.S required an estimated 70 to 140 billion gallons of water each year which is equivalent to the total amount of water used annually to support 40 to 80 cities with a population of 50,000 or about 1 to 2 cities of 2.5 million people.” (Mehany 2016, 446). Therefore, not only are there environmental concerns when it comes to fracking, but also other concerns when it comes to overconsumption.

 Air Pollution Concerns

            There are also a number of air pollution concerns as natural gas contains methane, which has likelihood to escape during the fracking process. In 2012, a study found that “producers of natural gas are losing an average of 4% of the gas to the atmosphere” (Mehany 2016, 446). There are also other emissions accumulated by the use of fracking machinery as it a large scale industrial operation. Therefore, along with environmental and overconsumption concerns, there are also concerns to human health.

 Geomechanical Pollution

            There are many geoengineering processes that control seismic activity of faults due to the deformation of the earth’s crust. Fracking, which is a large scale industrial operation, puts stress on the Earth’s crust therefore having the capacity to induce seismic activity (Klose 2012). Fracking generates micro quakes, which are earthquakes that are too low on the richter scale for scientists to record (Lee and Weingarten and Shemin 2015). These micro quakes are fairly harmless by themselves and do not pose major threat. However, when they occur simultaneously, they can produce earthquakes with a high of 5.6 on the richter scale (Lee and Weingarten and Shemin 2015).

Why do we Frack?

Fracking occurs because oil or gas is trapped between impenetrable layers of rock that cannot be accessed with normal drilling. Oil and natural gas is a commodity that is bought and sold on world markets, therefore there is a high demand for them (Merrill 2013). According to President Obama in his 2012 State of Union, he declared that there were 600,000 additional jobs given to workers in the United States for fracking alone (Merrill 2013). Therefore, fracking occurs for economic purposes due to its large impact on job and world markets.

In conclusion, there are many debates about fracking, both its influence positively on the world market, but most importantly its negative impact on the environment.


Hawkins, J. “Fracking: Minding the Gaps.” Environmental Law Review 17, no. 1 (2015): 8-21. doi:10.1177/1461452914563217.

Lee, Jin-Yong, Matthew Weingarten, and Shemin Ge. “Induced Seismicity: The Potential Hazard from Shale Gas Development and CO2 Geologic Storage.” Geosciences Journal Geosci J 20, no. 1 (2015): 137-48.

Mehany, Mohammed S. Hashem M. “Identifying Cost Centers and Environmental Impacts Needs Assessment for Fracking Life Cycle in the United States.” Procedia Engineering 145 (2016): 444-51.

Merrill, Thomas W. “Four Questions about Fracking” The Law and Policy of Hydraulic Fracturing: Addressing the Issues of the Natural Gas Boom.”. Case Western Reserve Law Review 63.4 (2013): 971-994.

Klose, Christian D. “Mechanical and Statistical Evidence of the Causality of Human-made Mass Shifts on the Earth’s Upper Crust and the Occurrence of Earthquakes.” J Seismol Journal of Seismology 17, no. 1 (2012): 109-35. doi:10.1007/s10950-012-9321-8.

Back to Class

September already. Classes resume at the University of Toronto Mississauga this week. I am once again teaching the introduction to environmental policy in Canada. This is the course for which I wrote the book The Canadian Environment in Political Context. This year-long course is offered on-line so students from the three UT campus’ can enrol in the course. This year I have 145 students in the course.

In the fall semester we will start making our way through the book, but linger on chapter 5 (my favourite – on Species at Risk!) and then put down the book, only to pick up the The Oak Ridges Moraine Battles :


(Photo Credit: University of Toronto Press).

This book will give students a look into their backyards as we explore urban sprawl and habitat loss. The focus will also be on policy actors at multiple scales: federal, provincial, Indigenous, and non-governmental.

In the winter semester we jump back to The Canadian Environment in Political Context and start focusing on energy and climate change. These are big topics and there is a lot to learn… and even more to debate. Next year (2017, I mean) is Canada’s 150th birthday. The class is going to celebrate this by learning about our Arctic history. We are a Northern nation, after all. And while the Northern territories were not part of Canada 150 years ago, it is important that we know how our big country came together to become a Northern nation. We will be reading Polar Imperative:


(Photo Credit: Douglas &McIntyre)

The course ends will chapters 11 and 12 in The Canadian Environment in Political Context. Here we look back at where Canada has been and then look forward to where we might be headed.

In the next 8 months you can expect this blog to be updated with new information for the class and text. You can also expect a lot of posts on conservation, and then Arctic policy in the context of climate change and Canadian history.


Ontario + Quebec +… Mexico = CC Agreement?

According to the Globe and Mail, the provincial governments of Ontario and Quebec have signed an agreement with Mexico on climate policy. Why wouldn’t Canada sign the deal? Good question.

As pretty much every chapter in The Canadian Environment in Political Context explains, federalism means divided and shared powers between two or more levels of government. In Canada, the Constitution divides power over environmental issues between the provinces and the federal government. With regard to natural resources and energy, the provinces have the bulk of the power (see Chapter 8 specifically). Essentially, the federal government cannot make climate policy because the federal government does not have jurisdiction over natural resource extraction on provincial lands. It cannot regulate CO2 emissions from sources it cannot control. (The US government is similar, but their federal government found a loop hole – it declared CO2 a toxic chemical and regulates it under federal chemical legislation).

Ontario’s provincial government has power to make policy regarding Co2 (and other emissions) inside the province. Quebec’s provincial government has the same power. Both provinces have adopted fairly stringent climate policy. They have also created an agreement – with the state of California – to engage in cap and trade together. They can trade permits to emit CO2 between the provinces and states.

Okay, so today, Ontario and Quebec signed an agreement with Mexico. What does that mean? It means that companies or industries that produce CO2 in Ontario or Quebec can purchase emission-reduction credits in Mexico. Sounds complicated, right? Imagine if a cement manufacturing company in Ontario wants to emit more CO2 than it has permits (or permissions) to do so. The company would either have to buy another permit OR it can reduce emissions in Mexico somewhere to offset its emission in Ontario. The company in Ontario pays an emitter in Mexico to keep the fossil fuel in the ground. That means overall in North America, emissions go down. They might rise in Ontario and go down in Mexico. They might rise in Quebec and go down in Ontario… or California…or Mexico. The CAP goes down over time – that means that emissions have to go down. More fossil fuels stay in the ground. But it can uneven… here or there.

My Journey as a Blogger (A. Koundourakis)

Everyone, we’re nearly done summer. That means its time to look back and review the policies over the summer. We started with the Ontario budget plan, where the Ontario government has committed $7 billion to protecting the environment. This plan includes the corrected section where natural gas is not omitted from the system. Next, the Federal government pledged $197.1 million over five years to increase ocean and freshwater scientific research and monitoring. They also built conservation targets of protecting 10% of Canada’s marine and coastal areas by 2020. Next blog was much closer to home where the Federal government committed to amending the Rouge National Park Act. Here, the Ontario government had agreed to transfer over 9,000 acres of the Scarborough Rouge Valley over to the Federal government. A considerably larger scale deal that occurred in Ottawa at the North American Leaders Summit, where the leaders of Mexico, America and Canada met to discuss their climate change efforts. Here they committed to 50% clean energy by 2025; reduce methane emissions by 40 to 45% by 2025, and finally habitat preservation for the monarch butterfly. As the weeks went on, there was a collaboration between 20 Canadian companies that all signed on to join the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition. The coalition is designed to bring governments and businesses together to identify and address the challenges to carbon pricing as a way to combat climate change. Diplomats from all around the world even met in Vienna to improve the Montreal Protocol. They agreed to avoid a rise by 0.5C by 2100 and 0.1 by 2050. This will be done by using the Montreal Protocol’s Multilateral Fund (MLF), where donor countries will help developing countries phase out CFCs. Getting a little closer to home, the next week I wrote about Wataynikaneyap phasing out diesel power and joining Ontario’s hydro power. The Ontario government will invest $1.35 Billion towards the transmission in order to help save millions of dollars for the locals and help protect the environment from diesel carbon emissions. Finally, I wrote about the IJC, a committee that helps fix disputes over transboundary water. Here, the IJC wrote about 32 policies that could be implemented to protect the Lake of the Woods water basin. Four of which can be implemented immediately.

Looking back, I look at how much we’ve come the past year. We’ve been getting better: we’ve (our governments) gone through global collaboration, at the COP21, to inhibit climate change and shortly our governments, provincial and federal, sat to discuss an action plan; the North American governments came together to collaborate on an action plan to better our three countries; we met with countries in Vienna to use alternatives to HFCs; we met with businesses to sign a carbon pricing initiative; and finally we’ve worked with the IJC to come up with several policies that could be used to help the Lake of the Woods basin. If you haven’t gotten where I’m trying to go, I’ll tell you: there’s a lot of meeting. There’s a lot of spending as well now that I think about it. I met a lady where I work, I can’t remember where she was flying to but she mentioned how working in an interest group there is a lot of flying around to have a meeting about having a meeting. Its 2016, we’ve had years to have meetings, why haven’t these meetings come and gone already? Were there other topics to discuss at the time? Was there a lack of interest in the topics? The other pattern emerging is money. $1.35 billion, $7 billion, from one of Khan’s blogs I found that there is a $237 million investment in genome research (I’m not against research, its progress so this isn’t a complaint, more to prove a point about money spending), The Ontario Action Plan will cost $8.3 billion. A lot of money is being spent to invest in cleaner energy and fighting climate change.

The future is going to bring a lot of different things for Canada and the world in terms of climate change and new technologies to combat it. The government of Canada want to plan for a sustainable future. They outlined 8 goals for the foreseeable future. Goal 1 is to reduce greenhouse gas emission levels to mitigate the severity and unavoidable impacts of climate change. Goal 2 is to minimize the threats to air quality so that the air Canadians breathe is clean and support healthy ecosystems. Goal 3 is to protect the quality of water so that it is clean, safe and secure for all Canadians and supports healthy ecosystems. Goal 4 is to enhance information to ensure that Canadians can manage and use water resources in a manner consistent with the sustainability of the resource. Goal 5 is to maintain or restore populations of wildlife to healthy levels. Goal 6 is to maintain productive and resilient ecosystems with the capacity to recover and adapt; and protect areas in ways that leave them unimpaired for present and future generations. Goal 7 is to build sustainable production and consumption of biological resources that are within ecosystem limits. Finally, goal 8 is to minimize the environmental footprint of government operations. With these 8 goals in mind, look for changes in these areas and as you, do look back at past government policies and reflect on how well or poorly they have achieved their goals. The government is ultimately accountable to you; if you’re not satisfied with their changes let your local MP be aware of your concerns. Sure, the government will keep changing the way we live, whether for the better or worse, but it’s up to us to make sure it stays on the better side of the line. We have made progress and we have the materials and resources to continue that progress, which is something to be optimistic about, but we, as citizens, should not be complacent in our actions.

By next year I hope to see a cleaner Mississauga and all around GTA. I hope to see more electric vehicles on the road and cleaner technologies being used by transportation and other industries around the country. I hope to see Ontario continue to invest in cleaner energy and actually some returns on those investments, not only environmentally but financially as well. I hope to see clean water being used in a sustainable way. I heard about a petition going on against Nestle water being allowed to pump water from the Guelph region aquifers. Bottled water is an unnecessary product and I feel like we’ve been unable to limit our use of it. More and more people need to be able to carry their own bottled water from home, its much cheaper and much more of a convenience than carrying around plastic bottled water. This is an example of not only government policy, but of consumer trends. Like I said earlier, we need to play our part and stop using so much of an unnecessary product. One shouldn’t point their fingers at the government for action, point it at themselves. That’s ultimately what I hope for the next year, personal awareness and action.


Trudeau casually reminding you to save the environment.

(Photo credit: Darpa Magazine)

Canada and the US Partner Up to Address Lake of the Woods Water Basin (A. Koundourakis)

Back in early 2015, the International Joint Commission (IJC) recommended 32 projects to address concerns in the Lake of the Woods Water Basin titled, “A Water Quality Plan of Study for the Lake of the Woods Basin“. The IJC is simply a committee that helps the USA and Canada prevent disputes over transboundary water. Canadians and Americans both contribute to the IJC’s annual budget, where Canada allocated $6-$8 million per year. Lake of the Woods water basin is located near the border of Ontario and Manitoba, while a majority of the basin is located in Ontario.

Lake of the River Basin

Now, of the 32 projects, four have the capability to be immediately implemented. Project 27, which is an International Platform for Implementation, is important for any future binational management opportunities. Project 14, which is a rapid evaluation and implementation of options to manage recent zebra mussel infestation in the headwaters. These non-native species have a threefold effect on the ecosystem: they harm native species; they reduce the game population; and they have costly effects on water infrastructure. Project 1, which is a recommendation for long term funding of Wheeler’s Point Gage and Designation as a Gage of Binational Significance. This one is important because there is a need of a robust monitoring system that provides long term and consistent data for tracking trends in nutrients, contaminants and aquatic invasive species. Finally, the fourth recommendation is a combination of Projects 5 and 7, which is an implementation of proven best management practices (BMPs) and removal of solids from effluent. Where BMPs have been identified as effective at reducing nutrient loads from agricultural lands, the IJC believes they should be implemented immediately. Effluent from sewage and wastewater treatment facilities is an important source of nutrients that can impact lakes and rivers.

They also recommended 11 projects that help improve the management of harmful algal blooms (HABs) and reduce their severity and frequency. HABs occur in basins due to climatic, chemical and biological factors. One of the major contributors to HABs is a high level of phosphorous that originates from detergents, fertilizers, manure and decaying plants.

Satellite Image of a Cyanobacteria Bloom Resulting from High Phosphourous Levels_

They recommended 7 projects to strengthen prevention measures and pursue control efforts. All this means is that they want to strengthen their ability to target non-native species. These 7 projects will result in a better understanding on contamination sources, improve our ability to assess vulnerability of water resources and establish protective measures. The water basin and land nearby has contaminated sites that have resulted from large scale mining, petroleum transport and catastrophic breaches of agriculture chemicals.

There are 6 projects to help build greater capacity for engaging all interests on water quality management. The IJC said that there are a variety of concerns in terms of community engagement for water quality management. These include a comprehensive, coordinated approach for addressing water quality concerns that seem to be lacking; diverse approaches that are lacking; there currently is a limited ability to coordinate management efforts; there is limited public awareness and access to information; and finally there is limited indigenous people’s engagement. I know that the Liberal government promised to improve indigenous relations, so the last challenge shouldn’t be of much concern.

The Government of Canada’s 2016 Budget proposed up to $19.5 million (can be found under “Managing Transboundary Water Issues”) over five years, starting fiscal year 2016 to 2017, to study water quality, quantity and flooding issues in four Canada-United States boundary basins with the goal of protecting the local environment and communities. Of the $19.5 million, $5.5 million of funding will be allocated to Environment and Climate Change Canada to undertake the required science and monitoring to implement, with the United States, a binational science plan for the Lake of the Woods Basin. The two countries determined that developing and implementing a binational science plan focused on phosphorus reduction within the basin is the most effective approach to address water quality issues in Lake of the Woods. The Canadian government said that they will collaborate with the IJC, First Nations, Metis, provinces and local stakeholders such as interests groups like the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation in order to produce new understandings that will benefit the residents of the Lake of the Woods Basin.

Chart showing a drop in phosphorous levels entering Lake of the Woods from Rainy River. Water quality has dropped, while phosphorous has as well. (H

In 2010, local residents had voiced their concerns that the water quality in the region had declined. This led to a follow up by the Canadian and American governments who requested that the IJC examine and make recommendations to improve the water quality. This led to the IJC’s 2014 report, in which they recommended that a water quality plan of study be developed for the Lake of the Woods Basin in order to better understand the issues in the basin to inform remediation steps. This finally led to the January 2015 report where the 32 projects were introduced.

Water is one of the things I’m particularly concerned about. If anyone’s been to a dinner party and the topic has changed to water, you’ll always hear “water is going to be the next oil” or how “countries will go to war over water.” I don’t like the fact that our water basins are getting bad enough that those measures need to be taken to correct it. Water preservation and care should not be a reactive measure; it should be proactive or never be required in the first place. I do understand we need it for so much more than for ourselves and nature, but also for agriculture and mining, so a balance needs to be struck in our usage. I also know that there have been several improvements in recycling, cleaning and conservation of water over recent years. A lot of investors, particularly those investing in ethical funds, invest in water. If anyone’s interested in investing trends, there are a handful of big money men that are betting on water. We are getting better and we will get there one day.

Oil Spills: The Story Behind the Clean-Up (U. Khan)

The recent oil leak in the North Saskatchewan River has realized the fear of many citizens in regards to pipelines. The leak has allowed close to 250,000 litres of oil to spill into the river, and jeopardised the water supply of thousands of people in the nearby city of Prince Albert. A lot can be said about the viability of pipelines and whether their benefits outweigh their risks, but in this blog I want to talk about what happens after an incident like a leak or spill. There are a lot of different cleanup methods that can be used in these situations, and many new ones are currently being developed in an effort to clean the affected areas at a faster rate.


Booms placed around the shoreline in the North Saskatchewan River following the July 20th pipeline leak. Source: CTV News

We have all seen oil booms that are brought in to contain oil spills in oceans or lakes. They are one of the most recognizable forms of oil spill containment measures. Among their many functions is to reduce the speed of a slick, and protect biologically sensitive areas. Once the oil slick has been separated from the surrounding regions, skimmers can then remove the oil from the water. They act without changing any of the physical or chemical properties of the oil. The effectiveness of oil booms depends on many factors including the wind speed and size of the waves.

Another method that can potentially be used to clean up oil spills is biodegradation. Biodegradation involves the use of microorganisms to break down oil particles. These microorganisms consist of bacteria that naturally break down hydrocarbons such as those present in crude oil. The hydrocarbons act as a carbon source and energy source for these microorganisms. The microorganisms also need an adequate supply of nitrogen and phosphorous to complete this reaction, and an excess of these nutrients is often introduced at the spill site to aid the process of biodegradation. This method was used in the clean-up following the Exxon Valdez Oil spill in 1989, and was a great success.


Diagram illustrating on site Biodegradation of an underground contaminant. Source: ChickadeeUsa

Oil leaks that occur underground can be very hard to clean up. Oil can potentially leak into water aquifers underground and cause problems to the drinking supply of nearby cities. One way to combat these types of spills is to pump nutrients into the ground upstream from the leak site, allow the microorganisms to break down the contaminants, and remove the excess waste downstream from the site. That way the microorganisms already present in the soil can breakdown the toxic chemicals, and the waste removed from the ground. If the spilled chemicals are more complex hydrocarbons, soil matter can be removed from a spill area and taken to an industrial bioreactor, where specific temperature conditions can be created that aid microorganisms in converting the harmful chemicals into harmless by-products.

As part of the Federal Budget 2016, the government announced a $237 million investment in Genome Canada. Genome Canada is an organization that funds genetic research across Canada and promotes scientific breakthroughs. Recently the organization decided to give a grant to UofT Professor Elizabeth Edwards for her research on microorganisms that break down pollutants in the environment. In the past, these microbes would require oxygen in the area where they were being used to break down chemicals. The work done by Professor Edwards has developed microbial cultures that do not require oxygen as they break down harmful chemicals. The implications for this are immense, as clean-up crews no longer have to aerate and separate all the soil at a spill site to allow oxygen to reach the microorganisms. Thus spills can be cleaned up with less effort and manpower.

The government is doing a great job with supporting new scientific ideas that can solve the problems posed by oil spills. As we find out what caused the spill in Saskatchewan and look ahead at the future of pipelines in this country, we must remember to be prepared to deal with these unfortunate scenarios is a quick and effective way.