14 February 2014

Our dangerous dependence on the tar sands

It sounds like good news. A new study, "Oil Sands Economic Benefits: Today and in the Future," states that tar sands production supported more than 478,000 direct, indirect and induced Canadian jobs in 2012 and contributed $91-billion of Canada's GDP, an economic contribution greater than that of the province of Saskatchewan. Government revenues in the form of tax receipts and royalties totaled $28-billion, over half going to Ottawa. Furthermore, the study claims that in 2025, the tar sands will provide 753,000 jobs, add $171-billion to the GDP, $61-billion going to the provincial and federal governments.

All of this sounds wonderful indeed, but in fact it is a curse. The tar sands are just too rich. No matter how much harm producing bitumen may do, corporations seeking profits, governments seeking taxes, and workers seeking jobs, just can't say no.

And the harm is immense. First and foremost, the tar sands are the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emission in Canada and therefore our fastest growing contributor to global warming, the greatest threat humanity faces.

There are other harms as well, such as the serious harm tar sands production has done to our international reputation. Then there is the danger of becoming increasingly dependent on an industry that could collapse if renewables are developed faster than expected, or if our foreign markets become increasingly reluctant to buy our junk oil. This is a very unhealthy dependency, both morally and economically.

But what can we do? We are hooked. And with the money and the jobs flowing like good beer, no political party is going to turn off the taps. Like every civilization that ever collapsed because of excessive demands on its environment, we have no trouble rationalizing our self-indulgence. Sensible people can only cross their fingers and hope renewables will soon put this nefarious trade out of business. Until then, we will no doubt continue down the dark path of our addiction.


  1. They don't bring in nearly as much as you would think. I've written extensively on the lie that is oilsands prosperity. http://canadiantrends.blogspot.ca/2014/01/oilsands-proponents-have-yet-to.html

    That reality is that the government hasn't been spending currency where they need to to support the projects and the people operating them. The regulators for pipelines and trains are underfunded. If the government was spending all the currency they needed to on infrastructure there would be a lot more going out than in of course eventually we're going to be paying one way or another.

    The oilsands have a measily 3:1 - 5:1 energy return on energy investment ratio. It's pitiful. Keep in mind we're "investing" immense amounts of resources to produce what is overall on the global scale a very small amount of oil. Saudi Arabia can produce 10million barrels / day for a fraction of the cost we produce 1.5 million.