Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Time for us to say "No More Oil for War" to the US


RICARDO ACUÑA / ualberta.ca/parkland

There are few things we progressive Albertans enjoy more than the opportunity to take a holier-than-thou attitude towards the United States.

Take, for example, how smugly we like to criticize the US media for refusing to publicly acknowledge the quest for oil as one of the major reasons for the US invasion and occupation Iraq. Likewise, we are quick to judge the people of the US for the degree to which the question of war for oil is absent from public dialogue and discussions, and does not register at all on political platforms during elections.

The sad reality, however, is that this smugness and criticism are misplaced. How much media coverage and public discussion have we seen in this province about our role in the war, or the fact that we are benefitting from it? Ultimately, we are doing no better than our neighbours to the south in addressing or even acknowledging these truths. And they are truths.

In 2002, the Project for a New American Century (an ultra-right US think-tank which boasts the likes of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz among its members) formed the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. Even a cursory look at this committee’s terms of reference is enough to show that it could more aptly be named the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq’s Oil.

Their idea, which was actually formulated before the 9/11 attacks, was simple: the US invades Iraq and topples Saddam Hussein; the US government then hands Iraq’s oil fields and infrastructure over to the likes of ExxonMobil, Chevron and Total; the US gets a secure supply of oil; the growing US demand for oil is sated; and the companies involved make a healthy profit. This was the idea upon which the US government based their invasion of Iraq.

Unfortunately, the Iraqis had other ideas. Their continued resistance to the US invasion, and their ongoing targeting of the country’s oil infrastructure, have made the big US oil companies reluctant to put their personnel on the ground and carry out their part of the plan.

In the meantime, as a result of ever-increasing demand, shrinking supply, and the failure of Iraqi oil to come online, the world price of oil has continued to go through the roof. It was this sustained increase in price that helped the oil companies realize that they were overlooking another potential source of ‘new’ oil—one that had a reserve of over a trillion barrels, was already under US control, and which would be given to them for next to nothing.

Thus was born Alberta’s new oil boom. It was not the result of anything we in Alberta did, but rather the result of disrupted access to cheap oil which jacked up world prices making our tar sands, which the US has unfettered access to through NAFTA, viable and profitable. Imagine how much better we will do if the US proceeds with plans to invade Iran, further disrupting world oil supplies.

But there is also another, perhaps more disturbing, aspect to our complicity in the occupation of Iraq.

The United States military is the largest single consumer of oil in the world. According to the US Defense Energy Support Center Fact Book 2004, in fiscal year 2004 US military fuel consumption increased to 144 million barrels. This amount translates to about 395 000 barrels per day, almost as much as the daily energy consumption of Greece.

The Department of Defense now has about 27 000 vehicles in Iraq—and every one of them gets lousy gas mileage. To power that fleet the Defense Logistics Agency must move huge quantities of fuel into the country in truck convoys from Kuwait, Turkey, and Jordan. Every day some 2000 trucks leave Kuwait alone for various locales in Iraq. These convoys have, in turn, become a favourite target of the Iraqi resistance.

The US has no choice but to continue fortifying its vehicles with armour and pumping imported fuel into, for example, the Bradley fighting vehicle which gets less than two miles per gallon and the M1 Abrams tank which gets less than one mile per gallon.

It's a vicious cycle: attacks on convoys produce a need for more armour, which produces a need for more fuel, which produces larger convoys, which produce more targets for attack.

The result is that the amount of fuel being consumed by US forces in Iraq is increasing every day, with no end in sight to these increases.

As such, both the current US energy strategy and the US defence strategy both explicitly prioritize the availability of oil for the military over its availability for consumers at home.

As the single largest supplier of oil to the US, this is where Alberta’s tar sands come in. We are currently shipping some 750 000 barrels per day south of the border—it would be incredibly naïve to think that this is not helping to fuel the killing of Iraqis by the US military. The bottom line is that the US is a self-destructive sociopathic addict, and we in Alberta are its dealer and pusher.

Even though we may be reluctant to admit it, the reality, because of what is fuelling our growth and what our tar sands are fuelling, is that there is blood on our boom. And unless Albertans acknowledge this publicly and loudly, and make it an issue, it will only get worse. It’s time to stop enabling, and it’s time for Albertans to say, “No more oil for war.” V

Ricardo Acuña is Executive Director of the Parkland Institute, a non-partisan public policy research institute housed at the University of Alberta.


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