22 December 2013

Producing the wrong oil?

The Joint Review Panel has ruled on the viability of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline and the result is as expected. The panel, established by the National Energy Board and the federal environment minister, has determined that the pipeline, which would carry bitumen from Alberta's tar sands to the B.C. coast for tanker export, would be in Canada's best interests and has recommended it subject to conditions. The federal government will now almost certainly approve the project. It cannot change the 209 conditions required by the panel arbitrarily; however, it can ask the National Energy Board to change them.

What the panel did not do is deal with the real issue, and that of course is the folly of producing from the tar sands in the first place. It excluded from its deliberations the environmental affects of tar sands development on the surprising basis that there wasn't a "sufficiently direct connection" between the project and tar sands expansion. The Pembina Institute demurred, pointing out that the greenhouse gas pollution generated by filling the pipeline would be equivalent to adding over three million cars a year to Canada’s roads.

Furthermore, the International Energy Agency has warned that no more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to keep the global increase in temperature below 2 °C, the amount above which apocalyptic climate outcomes will occur. If two-thirds of our fossil fuel reserves are to be left in the ground, then sensibly we should produce the cleanest oil first and the dirtiest, specifically tar sands oil, last, if we ever produce it at all. With all due respect to the review panel, producing bitumen oil first is not in the best interests of Canadians or anybody else.

Nonetheless, the Alberta and Canadian governments clearly want to produce it as quickly as possible while it's still worth something. We must hope that purchasers, particularly the U.S., will take the big picture view of our interests and reject any more bitumen pipeline capacity headed in their direction. In the meantime, environmentalists and Native groups still have a lot more to say about the Northern Gateway.

1 comment:

  1. Just a thought, Bill. What respect do you consider "due" to this review panel? This has been a stacked deck from the start and their utterly shameless behaviour during the Victoria hearings leads me to believe they're not due the slightest respect. Contempt, yes and in abundance, but not respect.