Dave Martin: Canada must not sacrifice environment to become energy superpower
It’s no big surprise that Enbridge proposes to build a pipeline to the B.C. coast to ship oil from the tar sands by tanker to China. Tar sands producers want to open up another market, in addition to the U.S. But this is not just another standard market ploy by the international oil business. Tar sands advocates see the proposed Enbridge Gateway pipeline as a political weapon against the Obama’s administration’s efforts to fight climate change and oppose the use of dirty tar sands oil. Alberta premier Ed Stelmach used the Asian market alternative as a threat against U.S. congressional Speaker Nancy Pelosi, during her recent visit to Ottawa.
It is argued that the Stephen Harper government should drive Canada to act like the “energy superpower” that they claim it is—to teach to those pesky Americans not to threaten our oil sales with environmental concerns over dirty oil. While this will undoubtedly make the oil patch happy, is this our vision of Canada as an international power—a petro-state and a new Saudi Arabia? Are we willing to see Canada sacrifice the environment for short-term economic gain?
The idea of Canada as an energy superpower, anchored in what he called “an ocean of oil-soaked sand”, was first pitched by Prime Minister Harper in a 2006 speech to British investors and has become the guiding principle of the federal government’s energy and climate policy. It is, however, based on the assumption that the demand for oil rises relentlessly, in spite of the fact that the International Energy Agency has cautioned that a scenario where production from the tar sands and other unconventional sources triples is one where global warming reaches levels that “would lead almost certainly to massive climatic change, and irreparable damage to the planet”.
If there are any doubts that the energy superpower strategy is ultimately an environmental and economic dead-end, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently threw more cold water on this dangerous vision.
In a devastating critique of the draft environmental impact statement for TransCanada Corp.’s new Keystone pipeline that would carry oil from the Alberta tar sands as far as U.S. Gulf coast refineries, the EPA expressed concern over health risks and greenhouse gas emissions associated with expanding tar sands operations to fill the pipeline, as well as the risk of spills from the pipeline itself.
And in sharp contrast to the review underway of the Gateway pipeline in Canada, the EPA explicitly recommended that the assessment consider different oil demand scenarios over the 50-year project life, including “consideration of proposed and potential future changes to fuel economy standards and the potential for more widespread use of fuel-efficient technologies, advanced biofuels and electric vehicles as well as how they may affect demand for crude oil”.
If you do this analysis—and Greenpeace has—it quickly becomes clear that in a world that is taking action on global warming, there is no business case for investments in high-priced, high-carbon oil from the tar sands, including the multi-billion-dollar pipelines and tanker traffic needed to bring it to markets.
In our Energy [R]evolution blueprint for Canada, produced as part of a global strategy for phasing out fossil fuels, Greenpeace worked with the experts at the European Renewable Energy Council and the German Aerospace Centre to model possible futures. We found that advanced fuel efficiency standards, public transit investments, and the shift to electric vehicles powered by renewable energy could combine to reduce global oil consumption by 25 percent over the next 20 years, and by two-thirds over the next 40 years, eliminating the need for high-priced tar sands oil.
As an added bonus, protecting the planet generates more jobs than wrecking it (77,000 jobs would be created in Canada in the renewables sector alone by 2030), and Canadian energy consumers save an average of $5.3 billion per year in fuel costs over the next four decades ($135 per person per year) as we break our addiction to ever-more expensive fossil fuels.
Observers may scoff at the possibility of the demand for oil going down, but even though greenhouse gas legislation has not passed in the United States, there has been aggressive action on vehicle fuel efficiency and electric vehicles, as well as big investments in renewable energy. Globally, the renewable energy industry is booming—for the second year in a row investments in renewable energy exceeded those in fossil-fired generation.
There are a lot of powerful reasons why building a pipeline through the Rockies to the B.C. coast is a bad idea, not least being the staunch opposition from First Nations whose lands it would cross and whose waters would be devastated by spills.
But the worst reason of all to build this pipeline would be a failure to see this project for what it really is: a desperate attempt to lock in massive infrastructure investments in dirty oil that deliver profits to oil companies and pollution to the rest of us.
Canada has to choose between becoming an energy superpower in “an ocean of oil-soaked sand”, or joining in a global Energy [R]evolution that allows us to live well, while respecting nature’s limits. It’s time for a revolution.
Dave Martin is a policy advisor on climate and energy issues for Greenpeace Canada.