Germany’s largest research institution — one of the world’s most prestigious — has withdrawn from a multi-million dollar Canadian-funded “tar sands”
research project, citing the tar sands’ significant environmental concerns as posing a ”risk to our reputation”.
“It’s a clear signal that Canada’s energy and climate policy is not accepted by the international community, especially Germany,” said Professor Frank Messner, head of staff at the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres — the largest scientific organization in Germany.
The Helmholtz Association is a union of 18 scientific-technical and biological-medical research centers; its official mission is “solving the grand challenges of science, society and industry”. Since its formation in 1995, three of its scientists have won the the Nobel Prize — one for medicine, one for physics, and one for peace.
The Helmholtz Association had been contracted to participate in the Helmholtz Alberta Initiative (HAI) — a Canadian government funded research project tasked with upgrading bitumen and lignite coal to reduce energy consumption — and finding ways to deal with toxic overspill from the tar sands industry such as ‘tail ponds’ — toxic lakes that now cover up to 176 square kilometers of Alberta.
Tar sands “bitumen” is considered among the dirtiest, greenhouse-gas intensive fossil fuels on the planet. One highly-cited report from Stanford University states that the life-cycle emissions of fuel from tar sands are between 12-40% higher than conventional crude oil.
“As an environmental research centre we have an independent role as an honest broker and doing research in this constellation could have had reputational problems for us, especially after Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol,” said Messner.
This is the latest display of increasing international stigmatization of tar sands development. The European Union, according to media reports, is inching forward plans to assign fuel from the controversial tar sands a ‘high-polluting’ tag under its Fuel Quality Directive, while in the United States and Canada, a national week of action against Tar Sands Profiteers is now under way along with a growing student fossil-fuel divestment movement.
While the rest of the world begins to respond responsibly to the global scientific consensus on fossil fuels and climate (ie, atmospheric chemistry demands that we dramatically reduce our use of fossil fuels), the United States Congress continues to defend its own reputation as global stalwarts of both ignorance and apathy; defying both science and responsible stewardship for future generations in its short-sighted support of the Keystone Pipeline — one of the largest “Tar Sands” projects in the world. This week, a bipartisan group of representatives introduced legislation — again — which would grant instant approval of the pipeline without the approval of President Obama.
The fear that the oil industry has of the growing protest movements and global stigmatization of tar sands development comes with a price tag, indeed, one of the authors of the bill, and a regular champion of the Keystone Pipeline, Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota, has received over a quarter of a million dollars in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry.