Apparently, I’m an enemy of Canada

A big story in Canada these days is oil pipelines. The federal government wants to ramp up the tar sands industry through international exports. The easiest way to transport crude is through pipelines stretching across the country, and several such projects have been proposed during the past year.

First there was the Keystone XL pipeline, which would stretch from Alberta to Texas and provide the United States with oil. Despite enormous pressure to approve the project immediately, American president Obama is refusing to make a decision until a more thorough environmental review can be conducted. This announcement left the Canadian government fuming and stomping off to look for other trading partners.

Now the Northern Gateway pipeline is on the table, which would transport oil across British Columbia to the West Coast, where tankers would transport it to Asia. I don’t personally know anyone who supports this project, and there is organized opposition from many First Nations tribes and environmental groups. Much of the opposition seems to hinge on local environmental impacts, such as oil spills or disruption to wildlife. I think it’s possible, if we’re very careful about it, to build a pipeline that more or less eliminates these risks.

I am still opposed to the Northern Gateway project, though, due to its climate impacts. Tar sands are even more carbon-intensive than regular oil, and there is no way to mitigate their emissions the way we can mitigate their effects on wildlife. I realize that it’s unreasonable to shut down the entire industry, but expanding it to massive new markets such as Asia is a mistake that my generation will have to pay for. The short-term economic benefits of building a pipeline will be overwhelmed by the long-term financial costs and human suffering due to the climate change it causes. My country is pushing the world down a path towards a worst-case climate scenario, and it makes me ashamed to call myself a Canadian.

According to our Natural Resources Minister, Joe Oliver, anyone who opposes the pipeline is “threaten[ing] to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda”. Apparently, the goal of people like me is to ensure there is “no forestry. No mining. No oil. No gas. No more hydro-electric dams”. Prime Minister Stephen Harper seems to agree, as he plans to change the public consultation process for such projects so they can’t get “hijacked” by opponents.

In case anyone needs this spelled out, I am not a radical ideologue. I am a fan of capitalism. I vote for mainstream political parties. Among 19-year-old females, it doesn’t get much more moderate than me.

I have no problem with forestry, mining, and hydro, as long as they are conducted carefully and sustainably. It’s the oil and gas I have trouble with, and that’s due to my education in climate science, a field which developed out of very conservative disciplines such as physics and applied math.

I can’t understand why Joe Oliver thinks that referring to First Nations as a “radical group” is acceptable. I also fail to see the logic in shutting down opposition to a matter of public policy in a democratic society.

If Canada’s economy, one of the most stable in the world throughout the recent recession, really needs such a boost, let’s not do it through an unethical and unsustainable industry. How about, instead of building pipelines, we build a massive grid of low-carbon energy sources? That would create at least as many jobs, and would improve the future rather than detract from it. Between wind power in Ontario, tidal power in the Maritimes, hydroelectric power throughout the boreal forest, and even uranium mining in Saskatchewan, the opportunities are in no short supply. Despite what the government might tell us, pipelines are not our only option.


15 thoughts on “Apparently, I’m an enemy of Canada

  1. Ever watch five-hundred-pounders at an all-you-can-eat restaurant? Eat oil ’til you die.

    The burning issue should not be oil pipeline safety, but rising CO2 levels and world destruction.

    So much for free speech. Watch your back.

    By the way, that Keystone XL pipeline will not provide the United States with oil. It will be refined in Texas and shipped overseas for huge big-oil company profits.

  2. The Harper government really has been horrid on climate change in general, and they’re just determined to exploit the tar sands. I hope the project can at least be delayed until Canadians manage to elect a government that gives a damn about the environment.

    During the Bush years, I envied Canada. Now we’ve almost switched places. Not that the US is doing anything on climate, but at least our president doesn’t deny the problem, and hasn’t allowed the pipeline to be forced through.

  3. Having traversed the beautiful and wild inside passage from Seattle through Southeast Alaska by boat, the thought of having oil tankers plying the waters on the coast of BC is just sickening.

  4. One of the many aspects of arguments like the one you refer to is that they are presented as either/or, black/white and good/bad. The need for more detailed, thoughtful analysis of a complex range of interlinked issues are discarded when this happens.
    In Australia the jobs issue also comes up again and again and is ludicrous. Alternatives create far more jobs over and above the meagre few ongoing oil/gas ones that are presented in glowing terms but which in reality suit very few people long term. Good solid data in this area seems to be a way to erode some of the arguments and show the illogic inherent in this argument. I’ve found some people relate better to this immediate issue than the ‘far off’ concern about climate that they can’t seem to get their heads around.
    Unfortunately we have very similar issues to those you describe.

  5. The pipelines are a sideshow. The real issue is the fact that we (humanity) should be investing in renewable energy resources instead of frittering away the remainder of our civilisation’s cheap energy chasing the dwindling remnants of fossoil.

  6. I’d look carefully at the documentation for the right-of-way for any big pipeline from Canada to Texas. My own hunch is they want an easement broadly worded to transfer fresh water down the same route in a few years.

    Any linear right of way — railroad, pipeline, cable — crosses a great many local jurisdictions and trumps them all to maintain continuity end to end. The trick is in how that’s worded, what rights and what materials or information can preempt any local regulation across that right of way.

    At one point a few decades back, I recall railroad rights of way weren’t worth a lot for hauling material — but they were bid up by people installing optical and copper data routes, because the train rules had provided for data communication alongside the rails.

  7. >Tar sands are even more carbon-intensive than regular oil,

    Isn’t it just 20% more? If this were regular oil, would you be OK with the pipeline?

    • I had heard that Tar Sands need 5 times more energy input to process them into useable fuel (i.e. 500%) – is that bad enough for you?

  8. >I recall railroad rights of way weren’t worth a lot for hauling material — but they were bid up by people installing optical and copper data routes, because the train rules had provided for

    I think I saw an article from Germany recently that was combining microgrids and their electricity transfer routes to railways but then they have a lot of electrified railways.

  9. I’m not an expert in the production of oil from Alberta’s bitumen sands but I believe (from my readings and my work) that the wells-to-wheels CO2e emissions cost of bitumen-derived oil is, on average, around 17% higher than conventional oil. The exact percentage depends on the extraction method – surface mining (lower emissions) or the more energy-intensive in situ process * – and on how the energy inputs are accounted for.

    For example, if some of the extracted crude is used as feedstock to fire the upgraders instead of bringing in cleaner natural gas (as is usual), this changes the accounting picture. The quality of the bitumen (hydrogen-carbon ratio) extracted affects the percentage too as this partially determines how much CO2 is formed when burned. The bitumen quality (density rating in this case) affects the ultimate split in terms of gas, diesel, avgas, etc. during refining, and each produce different amounts of emissions when burned. Most of the higher emissions come from the upgrading process.

    If wells-to-refinery gate is measured instead, that changes the denominator and the percentage changes quite a bit too (higher). Measuring wells-to-tank gives yet a different percentage. So any percentage might be right if the measurement being made isn’t well defined.

    * The in situ process entails heating and diluting the bitumen underground before pumping it to the surface. There are 2 types: CSS & SAGD. About 45% of oil sands oil came from in-situ operations in 2007.

    The 17% figure comes from …

    Click to access Alberta_oil_sands_well_to_wheel_warming.pdf

    More info at …

    Click to access Extraction-Fact-Sheet-October-2009.pdf

  10. Instead of claiming that CO2 is the “real reason” we should oppose oil sand development, we should state it is “another reason.” The issue is complex, and so are the confounding factors. Focusing on one or another weakens our arguments that overall it is a bad idea. The accumulated benefits are outweighed by the accumlated problems.

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