Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

"Canada delusional about tar sands, oil"

Canada delusional about oil
Jan 26, 2009 04:30 AM
David Crane

There is this Canadian delusion that the Alberta oil sands will give
us special influence with the new Obama administration, that energy is
our trump card in the Canada-U.S. relationship because, it's argued,
the United States desperately needs our oil. It fosters the false
belief that we can get concessions from the U.S. in other areas by
producing more oil.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has talked of Canada as an "energy
superpower"; Environment Minister Jim Prentice talks of Canada's
"larger role in the North American energy security solution." Now,
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff is spouting the same thing.

"We provide more oil to the United States than Saudi Arabia. That
changes everything," he said the other day. "It means that when the
Prime Minister of Canada goes into the White House he gets listened to
in ways that Canadian prime ministers have not been listened to
before," he claimed, because "they can't run their economy without us."

When it comes to oil, this is not true. The Americans recognize Canada
as a reliable supplier. But they do have alternatives and are not
entirely sure they want our "dirty oil."

Canada supplies about 17 per cent of U.S. oil. But we cannot simply
cut shipments because of conditions insisted on by the U.S. in the
free trade agreement. Moreover, if the Americans don't buy our oil, we
have no means of selling it to anyone else, which is also well known
in Washington.

The idea of energy as Canada's trump card is not new. In 1973-'74
Canadians heard much the same language from politicians who saw
development of the oil sands and other energy megaprojects as Canada's
new industrial policy after the OPEC oil cartel quadrupled the world
oil price. Today, the energy situation is different but Canada's
perceived trump card is no stronger now than it was then.

The real issue with the oil sands is environmental. The oil sands
represent the world's dirtiest oil, generating much higher levels of
greenhouse gases than conventional oil production while requiring
significant volumes of water and natural gas to obtain the oil.

With U.S. President Barack Obama planning a trip to Canada, there is a
mistaken view that we can play the energy card to get concessions on
border security and other issues. As the Carleton University Canada-
U.S. Project contends, we can do this by arguing that "greater U.S.
energy security cannot happen without Canada." But of course it can,
as Obama's planned energy and environment strategy shows.

In fact, Canada is bargaining from a position of weakness, rather than
strength. It wants an exception from recent U.S. legislation that bars
the U.S. government, including the military, from purchasing oil sands
oil because of its high carbon content, and also from Obama's plan to
establish "a national low-carbon fuel standard."

Second, Harper – and Ignatieff – want Canada to be a part of Obama's
planned cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Harper hopes to protect oil sands development through special
arrangements for such projects and pooling the cost of offsets across
a much larger market.

The bottom line for Canada, though, is that Obama's energy strategy is
to sharply reduce oil consumption by massive investments in new energy
technologies, strongly supporting the transition to renewable energies
(25 per cent of electricity by 2025), electric plug-in autos (1
million on the road by 2015), smart electric grids, and other measures
and by significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions by making the
use of oil more expensive.

If Canada is to be credible, we should drop this notion that we have
the Americans over a barrel because we are an energy superpower. We
must deal with other Canada-U.S. issues on their merits rather than
fantasies about oil power.

David Crane can be reached at crane@interlog.com.


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