Be wary of grandiose pipe dreams

Canadian and Albertan officials, along with their oil industry counterparts, are in Washington conducting a campaign to convince reluctant Americans that the Keystone XL pipeline is a good idea.

COMMENTARY

By Linda Leon

Open letter to MP Ryan Leef:

Canadian and Albertan officials, along with their oil industry counterparts, are in Washington conducting a campaign to convince reluctant Americans that the Keystone XL pipeline is a good idea.

Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver, speaking about “responsible” tarsands development, spits out the words “facts” and “science” as though repetition would make it all true. If you happen to be a Canadian in Washington, one need only refrain from pipeline promotion in order to be branded a “traitor” by the premier of Alberta. Americans are promised “jobs” and “prosperity” while the promise to keep the pipeline route spill-free is notably absent.

There is a smell of desperation in all of this threatening and bribing.

According to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Alberta’s fossil fuel industry is going to make Canada into an “energy superpower.” This scheme hinges on the prosperity of Alberta. And Alberta cannot thrive if it can’t sell its bitumen.

No wonder Mr. Oliver is spitting at journalists.

There are many reasons for opposition to building pipelines to take bitumen to American and Chinese markets.

Alberta has earned its bad reputation for unsafe environmental practices. It has allowed the fossil fuel industry to pollute the land, air and water. Farm families whose health was adversely harmed by sour gas emissions were told; “that’s the smell of money.”

Similar things were said to Rosebud residents whose well water became flammable as a result of fracking. The tailings ponds have been leaking into the Athabaska River for more than a decade. Cancer rates amongst residents of Fort Chipewyan on Lake Athabaska continue to be high.

The Alberta government will have to show more than spin and a laughably low token carbon tax to convince the world that they are environmentally responsible.

Both Enbridge and Keystone XL have not helped their own reputations. In the case of Enbridge, their promotional campaign over the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline through Kitimat has been a gong show of easily refuted distortions. They have used their corporate structure to hide the inadequacy of their liability insurance in case of accidents. And they have been exposed.

It speaks to the reckless culture within Keystone XL that they tried to build their pipeline over a large important aquifer in Nebraska when there was a safer alternative route available at the time. Americans are right not to trust them.

Bitumen is nasty stuff. Pipeline leaks are more common and it is difficult to clean up. The 2010 Enbridge Kalamazoo spill would have long been cleaned up had it been conventional oil. Now the Americans are demanding that Enbridge dredge the Kalamazoo River. There are those who believe that even this will not solve the problem.

Environmental concerns at home and abroad have escalated in recent years. Extreme weather events caused by climate change are proving hard to ignore. The extraction of bitumen from the tarsands contributes more to greenhouse gases than conventional oil. Canada, with half of one per cent of the world’s population, is the 11th-largest economy and the seventh-largest greenhouse gas emitter – most of which come from the tarsands. This is significant.

By crippling environmental protections, shutting down scientific laboratories, which studied the effects of pollution and climate change, muzzling scientists and attacking ordinary people with real concerns about their children’s future, the federal Conservative government has damaged its own credibility.

But the biggest reason that these grandiose pipe dreams are being crushed is economic. For better or worse, the United States has begun to develop shale gas to the point where it isn’t likely they will need our expensive oil in the near future. Apparently, shale gas is everywhere, even in China.

Furthermore, newer clean technologies are appearing faster than dandelions in spring. German industrialists are exploring the development of solar energy in the high desert plateaus of Morocco hoping to service the energy needs of Europe. Wind, tidal and geothermal options are becoming common.

So now we are left holding a product from a sunset industry that will decrease in value without recourse to other options. We have put all of our eggs in one basket and dropped it.

You would think that Mr. Harper, as an Albertan who has lived through the economic crash in the ‘80s, would understand the vulnerability of single-industry economies.

Foresight is a hallmark of good leadership.

May you walk on the high road.

Linda Leon is a Whitehorse freelance writer.

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