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Saskatchewan Speaks: Policy Recommendations for Transformational Change

In December, SaskForward began an online public consultation process that asked people across the province to answer the question, “What ‘transformational change’ would you introduce to make Saskatchewan a happier, healthier, and more prosperous place for all?”

After receiving over one hundred submissions from individuals and organizations and hosting a policy summit and discussion with over 120 participants, SaskForward releases Saskatchewan Speaks: Policy Recommendations for Transformational Change. This report puts forward a series of policy recommendations based on the ideas and suggestions Saskatchewan people shared with us.

Three key messages emerged from the ideas shared with us during the consultation process. The first is that public spending that addresses the root causes of social problems needs to be viewed as an investment that will save us money in the long run. While cuts to social spending may improve balance sheets in the short-term, they will create long-lasting health and social impacts that outweigh any initial cost-saving. Indeed, there was widespread consensus that social program cuts – even in spite of the current deficit – were ill-advised and counter-productive to the overall health of the province.

The second message that emerged from the submissions was that respondents want to see much more emphasis on new revenue streams and sources. Saskatchewan’s revenues as a share of GDP have declined from 22.4 percent in 2007 to 17 percent in 2015. Respondents were unified in their call for the government to consider new revenue sources, with a strong preference for increased progressivity in the provincial income tax system.

Lastly, there was a real appetite for a grand vision for the province, particularly in regards to energy and the environment. Many respondents believe that Saskatchewan – with its ample renewable resources and provincial crown corporations – is uniquely situated to take advantage of the nascent green energy economy given the appropriate direction and investment by the provincial government.

Despite the province’s current economic woes, there was a tremendous optimism in the ability of the province to become a more just and sustainable place in the future. We want to thank the people of Saskatchewan for sharing their visions for the province with SaskForward. We certainly hope the government and the rest of the Saskatchewan public will seriously consider the thoughtful and inspiring ideas we have collected in this report.

Download the full report: SaskForward – Sask Speaks (03-15-17)-4

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Summit Panel: Hayley Carlson

Transformation in an Era of Climate Change

Across Canada people hear “Saskatchewan” and we are often dismissed as flat and boring. But Saskatchewan is so much more than this. We are home to the beautiful Athabasca Lake, surrounded by the most northerly active sand dune formation on earth and home to several species of plants that are found no where else in the world. Saskatchewan too, is home to the Cumberland Delta, the largest inland freshwater Delta in North America at 10,000 km and nationally significant wildlife area. And Saskatchewan is also home to many rare species, such as the Swift Fox, a species that thrives on our native prairie.

However, Saskatchewan’s historical approach to the environment has threatened all of these things. The abandoned Gunnar uranium mine on the north shore of Lake Athabasca has been leaching toxic chemicals into the lake for the past 50 years. Dams along the Saskatchewan River and other human impacts are causing the Cumberland Delta to dry up and wildlife populations to decline. Land conversion and habitat fragmentation has made native prairie the most endangered ecosystem in the world. Less than 21 per cent of Saskatchewan’s original native prairie remains.

Environmental issues like these don’t exist in isolation, they are closely linked to those of health, of economy, of indigenous-settler relations and of social justice.

In Saskatchewan, our economy has been traditionally dependent on extractive resource industries that are now struggling and taking us from boom to bust. We’re currently experiencing wide-spread concern about loss of government revenue, cuts to public services, about jobs, and we are feeling a sense of fear and despair.

Unfortunately, environmental health is widely viewed as incompatible with economic security. The latter is seen as the priority, leading to an assumption that environmental risks must be accepted. There is a reluctance to regulate, and a failure to take the concept of “sustainable development” seriously.

Our economy is also very emissions-intensive. In many ways, climate change is an issue that dwarfs all others, and certainly exacerbates them. It really is an existential threat that has the power to fundamentally change our way of life. To me, it seems impossible to truly transform our province without considering transformation in the context of climate change, especially considering the next few decades are critical windows of opportunity for climate action. We are the highest greenhouse gas emitter per capita, and per unit of GDP in Canada, and we have no effective plan in place that either will reduce our emissions or prepare our province for an era of climate change.

We’re also very vulnerable to climate change. Although, in the short term Saskatchewan might experience benefits such as a longer growing season, our province is facing increasing risks from severe weather, crop failure, floods and drought, invasive species, forest fires, and threats to human health and to our infrastructure. These changes will affect the most vulnerable among us the most, those who are on the front lines directly depending on the land for a way of life, and the land itself.

We are all a part of this picture; our personal lives are very dependent on fossil fuels. It is hard to do anything in Saskatchewan without relying on them – turning on a light, heating our homes or even driving to the SaskFoward Policy Summit. We also have families who depend on fossil fuels and resource extraction for their livelihoods, and we all rely on resource revenues to fund important public services. These are real concerns we need to address in any sort of transformation.

Overall, Saskatchewan seems to be experiencing a sense of paralysis when it comes to this challenge, and a lack of inspiring and innovative leadership in government, commerce, education. But how can we transform this picture? I don’t have all the answers, but I hope to suggest a few.

A robust climate change strategy is the most important and the most urgent of the many environmental issues facing Saskatchewan – and because of what we need to do to address it, a proper climate strategy will have implications for all of the other issues we are talking about today. First we need to reduce emissions from our largest emitting sectors of Oil and Gas Mining, Electricity, Transportation and Agriculture, which collectively produce 92% of our provincial GHG emissions. From a policy perspective, it is easier to tackle emissions in some of these sectors relative to others.

Until now, carbon capture and storage technology has been the preferred strategy to address climate change in our province. However, our investment into this technology fundamentally reinforces the status quo, and is proving increasingly risky. It cannot be the way forward if we want to truly transform our province.

Instead it would be wise to target the electricity sector as an opportunity for major emission reductions. This would include planning for a complete coal phase-out by 2030 at the latest, and aggressively pursuing low carbon energy production paired with energy efficiency.

Saskatchewan has world-class solar and wind potential that many independent businesses and entrepreneurs are waiting for additional opportunities to develop. SaskPower should plan to significantly increase planned capacity for renewables by 2030 rather than relying on natural gas for additional energy capacity.

Saskatchewan should also look to other sources of energy production, such as co-generation in potash mines, installing micro-turbines at productive wellheads to capture natural gas or importing additional hydro-power from Manitoba. In fact, the federal government has recently indicated federal funding would be available for green energy projects such as inter-provincial transmission lines.

We should not forget demand-side management. Energy efficiency has been shown to be a great job creator – for tradespeople, for technologists, for energy auditors, for suppliers of materials, and for transit system workers. Low-cost programs that provide incentives for energy efficiency could include building code changes, investing into the education or retraining of building tradespeople and architects, and the upfronting of costs of energy retrofits by utilities, costs that would be gradually repaid by building owners on their monthly power bills.

It is within our reach to transform our electricity grid if we choose to do so, and there are a variety of policy mechanisms our government can employ to encourage this transformation. One such policy is a feed-in-tariff under which customers who install renewable power generators receive a price for the electricity they produce that reflects that actual installation costs plus a modest profit. Alternatively, Saskatchewan could also incentivize this electricity transformation through carbon pricing and revenue recycling, or a flexible regulations such as requiring Saskpower to generate 90% of electricity from near-zero or zero-emission sources by 2030.

In our oil and gas sector, a great opportunity for emission-reduction is the adoption of venting and flaring regulations in the oilfield, such as the proposed federal regulations that would target a 45 per cent reduction in methane emissions by 2025. Fugitive methane emissions from the oil and gas sector alone contribute 17 per cent (13 Million tonnes) to Saskatchewan’s annual greenhouse gas emissions – regulations like these could lower our emission by nearly 6 million tonnes annually (5 million tonnes more than the $1.5 billion unit equipped with carbon capture and storage at Boundary Dam).

Transportation and agriculture are two sectors where it is more difficult to design public policies but we could employ a variety of strategies to reduce emissions from Saskatchewan’s transportation sector, including things like encouraging a shift to rail transport, working with municipalities to develop convenient and reliable public transit services, and providing incentives for the purchase and use of highly energy efficient vehicles. Additional efforts need to be directed into working with our rural residents to identify how they can be a part of climate strategy while strengthening our rural and urban communities against climate change impacts. In the event of a carbon price, some revenue could be recycled into these efforts.

At the same time, we must enact policies that will build the resilience of our ecosystems against the challenges posed by climate change. Our loss of biodiversity needs to be addressed at two levels. First, it requires that we increase the number and size of ecologically significant landscapes that have protected status. It also requires that in those areas where development is allowed, we strengthen our environmental assessment and regulatory processes so that damage to nature is minimized. Environmental assessment needs to be undertaken both at a regional, cumulative level that looks at all of the impacts on a geographical region and on a project-specific level that considers the impacts associated with a particular development proposal. While the long term vision is to transition to a post-fossil fuel society, in the short-term Saskatchewan will need stronger regulations around pipeline construction and operation in order to avoid more episodes like the recent pipeline spills in the North Saskatchewan River, or on Ocean Man First Nation lands. Among other things, pipelines should be monitored by the Ministry of Environment and subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment, constructed with heavier walls and with the latest spill-detection technology, and monitored regularly with improved emergency response and transparency in spill reporting.

The health of Saskatchewan’s water resources is also closely tied to climate change. Our water is currently adequate, but vulnerable. Most of the province’s residents rely on the South Saskatchewan River in the semi-arid south to meet their personal and economics needs. Climate change will alter the processes of precipitation accumulation and melt, change the timing of flow and lead to a general decrease in water availability. Saskatchewan has attempted to address some of these challenges with creation of Water Security Agency, but more needs to be done including a development of a drought contingency plan and planning for water allocations during times of drought. Water infrastructure such as dams should also be upgraded to higher safety standards in anticipation of climate variability.

Doing all of these things is not just about reducing emissions or our impact on the environment, it is about preparing our province to succeed in a post-fossil fuel world, where I imagine we might live with less, but live better. If I am lucky enough to live to be 100 years old, it will be 2091, so I would be very much alive to see the consequences of our choices in the next few years. Fortunately, I think we have both the way and the will to make the changes we need to make.

I also firmly believe that if we want different public policies, we have to change the way we create them. Top-down, expert-driven and specialized approaches are characteristic of traditional methods of governance, but are not engaging people in the way they need to be. When we create policy this way, we are making choices that are consistent with only one way of seeing the world and not truly serving our diverse population. Moving beyond traditional ways of making decisions will not mean determining the most likely future for Saskatchewan, but rather involves deciding what kind of future we collectively desire. We need to ask where our province is ultimately heading, who is gaining and losing from our choices, what mechanisms of power are behind our decisions, and is growth desirable. This will involve frank discussion around values and power, but we cannot shy away from having the hard conversations we undoubtedly need to have to transform this province.

I believe this process is a good step in the right direction.

 

Hayley Carlson, Policy Coordinator and Ann Coxworth, Researcher | Saskatchewan Environmental Society

Jim Harding for Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Society on the Yancoal Southey Project

 

YANCOAL SOUTHEY PROJECT: A HUGE STEP AWAY FROM SUSTAINABILITY

1. UNDERMINING PUBLIC INVOLVEMENT:

Yancoal’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was only released on April 23, 2016, yet Yancoal tells us in its April 17th letter that “the public comments deadline will be May 24th”. Meanwhile it took the Saskatchewan Environmental Assessment Review Board two years to do its technical assessment.

The freeze on the process until after the April 4, 2016 provincial election contributed to the suppressing of these vital issues from public scrutiny. The extension of 15 days to June 6th remains a slap in the face of Saskatchewan’s democracy, especially for area farmers during high seeding time.

We know that “politics” and “economics” enter environmental assessment, mostly through narrow terms of reference and errors of omission. The big picture and the future typically don’t get sufficient attention. It is unacceptable for the broader public to only be given 45 days to consider the wider and long-term public interest.

QVEA POSITION # 1: Yancoal’s Southey Project should immediately be taken off the fast-track to allow public due diligence to prevail.

2. PROVINCE-WIDE REPERCUSSIONS FOR ENVIRONMENT AND WATER:

CARBON FOOTPRINT: The Yancoal mine could create as much as 1.09 million tonnes of C02 equivalents per year.[i] This would increase, not decrease Saskatchewan’s already high carbon footprint.[ii] Yet Yancoal has not looked at the potential of using any renewable energy and it even rejected co-generation (power from waste heat). This business-as-usual approach will not help Saskatchewan reorient its economy towards sustainability. The Yancoal project will not help Saskatchewan assist the country to cut its emissions by 30% below the 2005 level by 2030.

EXTERNALIZING COSTS: Yancoal wants to use gargantuan amounts of surface water to bring the potash above ground for processing; this solution mining will reduce Yancoal’s costs while externalizing huge costs to the environment and watershed.[iii] Yancoal admits that the benefits of solution mining include “lower up-front capital costs and no underground workforce.” This shows how, while costs are being externalized, benefits such as jobs are being greatly reduced.

Yancoal expressed an interest in a pipeline to Quill Lakes, perhaps to be supplemented by water from Last Mountain Lake. The Water Security Agency (WSA) and Sask Water prefer a costly pipeline from Buffalo Pound, possibly because they can better control the supply coming from Lake Diefenbaker.

Either way this is a totally unacceptable use and waste of fresh water. Yancoal’s figures suggest it will use 13 million cubic metres a year, 50% of the water used by Regina[iv]; it could be larger. Year in and year out for up to 100 years all this water would be permanently lost from the natural cycle. We must start to truly value and protect water; with the coming water crisis we can’t be removing fresh water from the hydrological cycle.

CLIMATE CHANGE: Furthermore, Buffalo Pound and Last Mountain Lake are both fed by Lake Diefenbaker, which provides domestic water to more than half of Saskatchewan’s residents. The amount of water in the South Saskatchewan River which, since the mid-60s, flows into Lake Diefenbaker has been markedly decreasing for a century and this decrease will accelerate with climate change. Recent summer flow levels have measured 86% below those recorded in 1910.[v] Both water quantity and quality will be at even greater risk.[vi] When surface water becomes scarcer, as it surely will, Yancoal and other companies could end up using water from and risking contaminating the Hatfield Aquifer on which many communities already depend.

A 2012 report already projected a 200% increase in water taken from the Qu’Appelle watershed by 2060.[vii] And this calculation was made before the Yancoal project or some other solution mines were even proposed.[viii] We see no credible provincial strategy behind the steady, incremental industrialization of water that will ensure that future water sources are protected and secure. [ix] The Water Security Authority (WSA) modeling and forecasting doesn’t even take climate change into account. There hasn’t been a study of the cumulative impact of Yancoal using the massive projected volume of water over 100 years[x]. Would the amount of water being extracted violate inter-provincial water-sharing agreements? There is simply too much uncertainty about future water supply or the impacts on other water users for this project to be approved.

NOT SUSTAINABILITY: Sustainability is about inter-generational justice; not undermining the ability of future generations to meet their needs. The incremental approach of the Sask Party government puts future generations at risk. It would therefore be foolish to approve the prolonged use and waste of such valuable water for the Yancoal mine.

QVEA POSITION # 2: Until a credible sustainable water strategy which takes climate change into account is developed there should be a moratorium on all mega-water industrial projects.

3. SEVERE IMPACTS ON LAND AND HABITAT:

VIABLE AGRICULTURAL DISTRICT: The area to be immediately affected by the Yancoal mine is a viable agricultural district: there are 126 homes and 325 residents within a 5-mile radius of the proposed mine site.[xi] The way Yancoal has been treating land owners is of great concern. Yancoal has resorted to corporate “divide and rule” tactics which pit those who are more removed from immediate impacts and see short-term benefits, against those that face the brunt and lasting effects of this mega-project.

UNDERGROUND IMPACT: This is not the way to approach the risks to the land, habitats and communities. Many vital questions remain. We know from other locations that fracking carries its own risks.[xii] Yancoal estimates that during operations it will be injecting underground about 20,000 cubic metres (m3) of brine a day from its reclamation ponds.[xiii] This amount of water will be permanently lost to the hydrologic system every day for the 100-year life span of the mine. And have the risks from the continual injection of such massive amounts of wastewater from solution mining underneath the Hatfield aquifer been fully considered?[xiv] It is admitted that subsidence or downward displacement of surface material would occur over the next 250 years but what would be the extent of land slumping? Are there other risks of underground movement, including earthquakes, such as have occurred from wastewater injection in the oil and gas industries across the border?[xv]

We prefer the Precautionary Principle. Some may want to argue that the geology is different here and that there has been some solution mine wastewater injection without noticeable underground impacts. The cumulative impacts, with Yancoal’s 100-year timeline and so many other solution mines being considered within this already vulnerable watershed should, however, now be very carefully considered.

ENDANGERED PRAIRIE ECOREGION: Underground contamination can come from pipeline leaks, rock fracturing and brine seepage into aquifers. Further, Yancoal plans to leave the salt tailings exposed. Just because this un-ecological practice has been allowed at potash mines does not mean it should continue. According to Parks Canada the Moist Mixed Grassland Ecoregion in the Prairies Ecozone where Yancoal wants to mine is already one of the most endangered areas in the world. And what are the risks of contamination of fragile fish habitat in the West and East Loon Creeks?

What are the risks of farm lands being greatly devalued? And why is Yancoal being allowed to side-step the foreign ownership guidelines? Yancoal has already purchased 4,200 acres but has an exception that allows them to buy up to 60,000 acres; does it really need this for a potash mine?

YANCOAL’S ENVIRONMENTAL RECORD: The foundational knowledge for all the technical assessments should be fully released and carefully scrutinized. Yancoal’s dismal environmental record abroad[xvi] should also be fully assessed.

QVEA POSITION # 3: At a minimum a panel of fully independent hydrologists should be formed to report on all the pertinent research about deep underground waste water injection before any further consideration is given to approving this project.

4. IMPLICATIONS FOR POTASH INDUSTRY AND PROVINCIAL REVENUE:

CONTROL OF POTASH: Yancoal is a Chinese state corporation which operates on a different time span than other resource companies. Their goal is as much about securing long-term global supply of non-renewables as it is about profitable production and marketing. It has a guaranteed interlocked purchaser, China.

With nearly half of known potash reserves, Saskatchewan is a prime target. And with its own domestic overuse and contamination of watersheds and aquifers, China is also interested in accessing cheap water abroad for its resource extraction. This greatly externalizes its costs onto the Saskatchewan environment.

ROYALTY IMPLICATIONS: Yancoal could be here for 100 years. This is its first such mine, which likely makes us their guinea pigs. And as it plans this huge project, other companies are laying off workers due to the slump in the global potash market. Is anything in place to ensure that Yancoal will not come to control Saskatchewan potash production and undermine the competition and the marketing system (Canpotex) that ensures that the province benefits somewhat from potash royalties? Will Yancoal’s involvement lead to lower prices as well as a shrinking commercial market? If BHP Billiton was kept from purchasing Potash Corp because it was considered a threat to this “strategic resource”, then shouldn’t Yancoal be held to the same standard?

QVEA POSITION # 4: Before this project is allowed to proceed any further there must be full public disclosure of all agreements and obligations made by the Saskatchewan government and those regarding the Chinese-Canada FIPA trade agreement which have any bearing on Saskatchewan’s long-term public interest in resource royalties and revenues.

5. SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES FOR QU’APPELLE VALLEY:

PROTECTING THE QU’APPELLE WATERSHED: The Lower Qu’Appelle is already considered to be facing “high intensity” stress regarding surface water allocation and ground water use. Roads, aquatic fragmentation, impact of landfills, livestock and fertilizer inputs, pesticides and contaminated sites all contribute to such stress in the watershed.[xvii] The diversion of millions of cubic metres of precious water for Yancoal’s mine will inevitably further undercut the aquatic health and recreational vitality of the Lower Qu’Appelle, which flows through the Qu’Appelle Valley. Furthermore, over the very long time span of the Yancoal solution mine, upstream saline and other contamination will almost inevitably make its way through the natural drainage system into the Loon Creek which goes into the already vulnerable Qu’Appelle Valley watershed.[xviii]

Yancoal’s solution mine has direct implications for both water quantity and quality throughout the Qu’Appelle Valley Basin. The environmental review process should therefore not be skewed to exclude those who will ultimately be impacted downstream. Downstream indigenous as well as settler communities have a lot at stake here, yet in both cases the broad public has not been directly involved in the review process. This is unacceptable.

QVEA POSITION # 5: Before this project goes any further there must be a full, informed public discussion of the implications of the Yancoal project for the quantity and quality of water passing through the Q

[i] Yancoal Southey Project, Saskatchewan Environmental Society, June 2, 2016.

[ii] In 2011 Saskatchewan surpassed Alberta as having Canada’s highest per capita carbon footprint. The Canadian average was 20 metric tonnes per person per year, while Saskatchewan was 68 metric tonnes per person per year. This is among the highest level anywhere in the world.

[iii] Other Potash companies also admit this transfer of costs: e.g. Encanto Potash Corp writes that at Muskowekwan First Nations it plans “a solution mine for a number of reasons including longer mine life, lower CAPEX (capital expenditure), higher rate of return and shorter time of production…” See encantopotask.com/muskowekwan project.

[iv] On its website Yancoal says it will use 1,450 cubic metres (m3) an hour, which would amount to 13 million cubic metres (Mm3) a year. Regina’s water consumption was 23 Mm3 in 2013.

[v] Glaciers feeding the headwaters of the two Saskatchewan Rivers have shrunk by 25-30% since the 1950s. The maximum depth of snow and number of days with snow on the ground have both declined significantly. See W.F. Donahue, Freshwater Issues and Challenges in Alberta, Canadian Forest Service, Science Seminar Series, March 13, 2008.

[vi] See “Climate Change and our Watershed”, In We Are All Waterkeepers, Fort Qu’Appelle Kairos, Sept. 2014, pp. 20-23.

[vii] One proposal is to build an Upland Canal from Lake Diefenbaker to Buffalo Pound Lake to try to increase the flow to handle a projected 219% increase in demand for agriculture and a 172% increase in demand for industry and mining by 2060. See Clifton Associates, Upper Qu’Appelle Water Supply Project, 2012. Also see “Upland Canal Project”, Kairos 2014, pp. 14-16.

[viii] The Mosaic solution mine at Belle Plain already draws water from Buffalo Pound. The K & S Legacy solution mine near Bethune which the company admits will be “water-and-energy intensive” has now been told that it will also be provided water from Buffalo Pound. Vale was promoting a solution mine at Kronau which initially was to draw water directly from Katepwa Lake; it is now on hold. Western Potash is proposing a solution mine at Milestone, Karnalyte Resources is proposing another, the Carnallite project, at Wynyard and Encanto is proposing a solution mine on Muskowekwan First Nations. How many such water-gorging solution mines can the Qu’Appelle Watershed bear? Potash Corp also has a solution mine at Patience Lake near Saskatoon.

[ix]With climate change come earlier springs and algae buildup in the 5.5 metre deep Buffalo Pound Lake. Regina’s supply has already been restricted by 50% in May of 2015 due to this convergence. And the ability to increase the flow into Buffalo Pound from Lake Diefenbaker is highly limited, especially in winter months, without a very expensive canal mega-project, to which the WSA and Sask Party government has not committed. And even then there would, over time, be a reduced flow from Alberta.

[x] One billion, 300 million cubic metres of valuable surface water would be taken out of the natural system. This is not sustainable.

[xi] Havelock Special Projects Committee.

[xii] See Bob Weber, “Fracking, Not Water Disposal, Caused Canadian Earthquakes”, Canadian Press, March 29, 2016. David Eaton at the University of Calgary studied 12,000 fracked and disposal wells drilled in Western Canada by the oil and gas industry between 1985-2015 and found that earthquakes were twice as likely to be associated with fracking as with wastewater disposal.

[xiii] If Yancoal uses 34,800 cubic metres of water a day (1,450 m3 an hour), this figure of 20,000 m3/day suggests there will be some recycling of water before it is disposed.

[xiv] “The amount of pressure on the injected water should be disclosed and the risk of earthquake generation should be investigated.” Saskatchewan Environmental Society (SES) submission, June 2, 2016.

[xv] “Earthquakes and Hydraulic Fracking”, Earthwork Fact Sheet, n.d., states that earthquakes have been “linked to fracking wastewater injection in at least five states.” Also see “Earthquakes triggered by fracking wastewater in Oklahoma”, Associated Press, July 3, 2014. This reports that the salty “wastewater is leftover from unconventional wells that drill for oil and gas with the help of high pressure fracking and from the removal of water from diluted oil. These new methods mean much more wastewater has to be discarded.”

Also see Terry Reith and Briar Stewart, “Do fracking activities cause earthquakes? Seismologists and the state of Oklahoma say yes”, CBC News, April 28, 2016. This reports that a number of earthquakes in Oklahoma have been “blamed on the injection of wastewater from oil production into wells”.

The 700 people from 20 countries who attended the Seismology Society of American meeting in Reno Nevada heard about studies showing that there definitely is a relationship between “deep disposal and earthquake activity” that has been increasing since 2011.

Could a similar thing occur from potash solution mining when the massive amount of toxic brine wastewater is injected into deep wells?

[xvi] Yancoal is a subsidiary of Yanzhou Coal and Yankuang Group, one of China’s largest fossil fuel conglomerates. Yancoal controls 10 coal mines in Australia and plays a big role in China’s huge C02 emissions. Coal mining and coal-generated electricity also contribute to widespread toxic contamination of both land and water in China. See Jim Harding, Are We ready to Sell Our Future to China? R-Town News, May, 31, 2014 and also available at: www.crowsnestecology.wordpress.com

[xvii] State of the Watershed Report, Water Security Authority, 2010, p. 32-36.

[xviii] The first lake, Pasqua Lake is already suffering from a massive nutrient load which comes in part from decades of Regina’s untreated sewage.

Phil Johnson on an Ecologically-friendly Carbon Capture

Saskatchewan people are per capita the largest producers of climate changing greenhouse gases in Canada, and consequently nearing the top in the world. At the same time, the fertility of our agricultural lands is being degraded through large-field mono-cropping, over-tillage, and the heavy use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. These current conventional agricultural practices play a significant role in the creation of greenhouse gases, and in the destruction of valuable carbon sinks.

 
Carbon sinks include the soil, pastures, wetlands, and forests. In a healthy condition, through photosynthesis these environments will naturally remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, convert it to carbon, and hold it in the plants, trees and soil. Carbon is essential for healthy plants and soil. The key is that these environments must be conserved and enhanced.

 
I think it would be transformative if the province took a more ecological and socio-economic perspective on the capture and storage of carbon. Its current Carbon Capture and Storage facility is expensive, and the carbon is used by Cenovus Energy to flush more oil from the ground and consequently add more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Instead, we should look at our soil, forest, and wetland resources in a different way. If we conserve and enhance them, rather than till, poison, clear-cut, and drain them, they will both remove carbon from the atmosphere, and retain valuable carbon in the soil and in trees and plants.

 
In the case of agriculture, there will have to be incentives. I propose that government develop contracts with farmers to sequester carbon. The amount of carbon sequestered can be measured, and the farmer would be paid based on the amount they have added and retained through more ecological practices. Farmers would also get the added advantage of healthier soil and healthier crops, which should improve productivity and income. We could look at Portugal’s soil carbon offsets program, begun in 2009, as a starting point. This program pays farmers for dry-land pasture improvement if they establish bio-diverse perennial grass/legume pastures to improve soil carbon and fertility, soil water holding capacity, and livestock productivity. The carbon sequestration part of this is one way in which Portugal is meeting its Kyoto Protocol commitments. The added advantage is that the new farm practices will result in more productive land and better bottom line for small farmers.

 
My proposal would go further than the Portugal example, to include improved forestry and wetland protections/programs. Of course, farmers, foresters and communities will require education and some convincing to change their practices. Financial incentives may be needed. Agri-business will lobby hard against such a program, seeing it as a threat to profits, since the chemicals it sells are incompatible with effective carbon capture and a healthy ecosystem. However, those farmers and foresters that do change would see considerable reward, and the rest of us could feel better about our reduced carbon footprint and much healthier environment.

Dr. Rachel Engler-Stringer on Food Insecurity

As a researcher who works in the area of household food insecurity, I would like to see policy and programs that ensure everyone is able to have the financial means to access the food they need to be healthy (whatever that means to them). This means ensuring we have a living wage in this province (rather the current wholly inadequate minimum wage), and providing assistance to those who cannot work that guarantees their ability to meet their basic needs (some sort of guaranteed minimum income that reflects the cost of living). Poverty is closely linked with food insecurity and both are closely linked with poor health, and poor educational and social outcomes in children. Rather than cut supports when people need them the most which creates other problems that cost money to rectify (in the health, social services and justice sectors for example), why not deal with the root of the problem and give everyone the means to fully participate in our communities? Dealing with root causes of problems we face as a society is the kind of transformational change I would like to see put forward.

Trevor Herriot on transforming agriculture

Globalization and industrialization have driven agriculture to the margins of Saskatchewan’s economic and cultural life, converting farming into an undervalued activity that provides the raw material for food processing and delivery industries that provide unhealthy food to fuel an overheated, profligate, carbon-emitting economy. One way to transform Saskatchewan, renew our commitment to our treaties, and begin to share responsibility for, and wealth derived from, the gifts of the land, would be to elevate the growing of good food—healthy for people and the land—to the status it deserves at the centre of a more sane, moral, and sustainable economy.

Saskatchewan has the agricultural land base, climate, and know-how to lead the world in renewing the economics and ecology of growing food in the temperate zone. With the right tax policy, land reform and a community-based approach to sharing at least a portion of the wealth that comes from the use of all lands, private and public, Saskatchewan could begin to change from systems that provide incentives for the unsustainable exploitation of land to systems that produce food, fuel, and fiber while safeguarding farm lands and natural lands for the benefit of current and future generations.

To create a more just and ecologically sustainable agriculture, we need to transform the way individuals and communities divide the costs and benefits of using land. How? First, by creating policy, community-enforced regulations, and economic mechanisms that share the value of land–both privately-owned and Crown lands–with the surrounding community; Secondly, by reversing systems that incentivize the depletion of local resources while increasing income inequality and driving up the costs of land; and lastly by supporting agricultural practices that re-connect people and communities to the land in ways that create both wealth and ecological wellbeing (healthy water and soil, carbon sequestration, biodiversity).