Charles and David Koch’s Canadian subsidiary made a big deal about cancelling one small tar sands/oil sands project last month, blaming the decision on the “regulatory uncertainty” created by Alberta’s (clear and settled) Climate Leadership Plan. Two days later, the same company quietly applied to build a different project under the same rules. But Alberta’s Wildrose opposition party fell for the gambit.
The billionaire libertarian brothers—“the world’s sixth and seventh richest people,” the National Observer writes—hold licenses to 800,000 hectares of bitumen country through their Canadian subsidiary, Koch Oil Sands Operating ULC. On December 14, that company cancelled its $800-million Muskwa oilsands project.
“Koch Oil Sands Operating ULC does not believe the current nor medium term economic environment in Alberta will provide opportunity to generate an adequate return on the required capital” for the Muskwa plant, Vice President of Business Development Byron Lutes wrote in an open letter to the Alberta Energy Regulator. “The longer-term risk of the project is further burdened with regulatory uncertainty around the Climate Leadership Program and its potential impacts on the project, from carbon tax to the emissions cap, both recently legislated by the Alberta government.”
“Alberta’s Official Opposition Wildrose Party seized on [the letter] to slam the governing New Democratic Party’s climate plan,” the National Observer reports. Wildrose leader Brian Jean blamed “a year of passing ‘damaging’ new regulations on the provincial energy sector,” naming “the NDP climate plan as the boot that kicked them out the door,” the outlet wrote.
“The fact is, capping emissions and implementing a carbon tax is bad policy that only hurts Alberta over the long term,” Jean said December 19.
By then, however, the Kochs had overcome their misgivings sufficiently to have filed—on December 16, just two days after the showy fold—“an application to the AER for a brand new oilsands project near Bonnyville, AB,” the Observer reports.
Pembina Institute Senior Analyst Andrew Read described the ploy as “a political manoeuvre to undermine the climate policies being implemented in Alberta.” He suggested the real motive for both of the Kochs’ actions was a combination of oil price and geography: the cancelled facility was far from infrastructure and would have faced higher costs than the Bonnyville plant the company now proposes.
The politically active Koch brothers are believed to have directed more than $88 million to at least 80 organizations seeking to cast doubt on climate science or support the fossil industry over the past two decades. “Canada’s own right wing think tank, The Fraser Institute, has received more than $500,000 since 2008, purportedly for ‘research support’ and ‘educational programs,’” the Observer reports.
“The Koch brothers are infamous for their attacks on any move on climate policy,” said Greenpeace Canada’s Keith Stewart. “And I think they see Alberta as a threat—a good example of a jurisdiction that is taking action on climate change. They want to make sure that example doesn’t spread.”