Is Alberta trying to get a handle on environmental catastrophes?

Weather-wise it’s not, but June is bustin’ out all over, as it often does, in environmental atrocities.

Weather-wise it’s not, but June is bustin’ out all over, as it often does, in environmental atrocities.

It was on June 7, 2012, that the word leaked of a 46-year-old Plains Midstream Canada pipeline rupturing, spewing an estimated 3,000 barrels of light sour crude oil into the Red Deer River near Sundre.

The next day, Environment and Sustainable Resource Development Minister Diana McQueen, and the new premier, Alison Redford, were at Gleniffer Lake behind Dickson Dam on the Red Deer, mainly to hype the safety of Alberta pipelines to other Canadian and U.S. jurisdictions that remain unconvinced that they need pipelines carrying “dirty oil” from Alberta into and through their environments.

Albertans fed up with too-frequent pipeline spills were flabbergasted by this hype-byte from the premier: “We are fortunate in this province that they (pipeline spills) don’t happen very often, and we can have some confidence that when they do happen, we have plans in place to deal with them.”

Two years of investigations, resort and fisheries closures have followed.

Finally, on June 3 this year, Plains pleaded guilty to a charge under provincial environmental law for failing to report the spill and under the federal Fisheries Act for the fish kill in the river.

Plains was also pleading guilty to an offence related to a Northern Alberta spill in 2011, the province’s largest in three decades.

For all this, Plains was fined a total of $1.3 million, “representing about five hours profit for Plains,” said Mike Hudema of Greenpeace; “it is hardly a signal to Alberta’s problem-plagued pipeline industry that they need to solve their ongoing spill problems.”

But it assuredly will be yet another signal to bodies deciding the fates of pipelines in other provinces and countries that Alberta’s environmental protection laws are totally toothless.

On June 5, Diana McQueen, now minister of Energy, announced, in the face of public, media, and environmental organization outrage, that the government will continue with the sell-off to energy companies of public land in the core habitat area of Alberta’s already endangered woodland mountain caribou.

Immediately Caribou! Shmaribou!!! headlined the comments on the website of the Alberta Fish and Game Association, the province’s largest and most geographically representative conservation organization.

The article points out that McQueen’s announcement completely ignores and belies the government’s June 2011 Woodland Caribou Policy for Alberta:

“The government of Alberta is committed to achieving naturally-sustaining woodland caribou populations.”

“The AFGA,” said its president, Gordon Poirier, “is dismayed by the continued reckless sell-off of habitat that is vital for the recovery of the woodland caribou.

“There is no way that the government with their projected return to a balanced budget needs the funds these leases will bring.”

“In October 2012, Environment Canada’s recovery strategy for the woodland caribou determined that each herd required at least 65 per cent of its range intact and industry free if the animals are to survive.

“Yet the province continually approved new industry leases within the Little Smoky range to the point where, according to various reports, 95 per cent of the Little Smoky herd had been affected.”

The AFGA urges new ESRD Minister Robin Campbell not to sign off on the new sales. If he does, you can bet the powerful National Wildlife Federation in the U.S. will add threatened caribou to its indictment of Alberta dirty oil at pipeline hearings.

The NFA considers destruction of habitat and endangerment of fish and wildlife in the producing country, state or province to be a big part of the definition of “dirty oil.”

On June 5, a 23-year-old mother took her year-old daughter and three-month-old son on a float in a rubber dinghy down Dutch Creek near Fairmont, B.C.

Debris flipped the dinghy, the mother managed to save herself and son, but the daughter was swept downstream where she was found later, and saved, hung up on some debris in about three feet of water.

The investigation continues and charges are being considered, but the live salvation of the little girl is due entirely to the fact that she was wearing a personal flotation device, a good lesson for tubers everywhere, particularly on the Red Deer this coming long weekend.

Fungaphiles, wild mushroom pot hunters, report morels bustin’ out all over once we got the first, then a few of those warmish, gentle rains.

The blacks, Morchella elata, are about as usual, but I have heard about and seen some big bags of even larger than usual goldens, Morchella esculenta.

Strangely, nary a report from mushroomers hunting some recent forest fire and prescribed burn sites which often produce big blooms of morels for three of four years after the flames.

Come on folks; I am merely curious, no longer on the hunt, and have, a long, unblemished record of keeping secret the confidences of readers about their hot spots.

Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at