Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Politics of Oil - Green Energy Alternatives

The new buzz word in the green movement is "sustainable energy.  According to anti-oil sands lobbyists oil is evil and stopping the development of the Alberta oilsands will avert a global disaster.  The process has been politicized both in the United States and Canada.

The  XL Keystone Pipeline, was put on hold earlier this year by President Obama claiming environmental concerns, specifically the Nebraska Sandhills.  Congress attempted to force the President's hand by including the approval of he pipeline in various bills, which prompted the President to reject the pipeline outright.  A Presidential permit is required when pipelines cross international borders.

Obama's rejection came after weeks of anti-oilsands protests in Washington, including high profile Hollywood celebrities.  Hollywood is a major supporter of the Obama campaign, with George Clooney  committing to raise $12 Million in a fundraiser on Thursday. 

Add to that the voice of Robert Redford, who claimed that the rejection was a spectacular blow against the oilsands and would change the world.

"The decision to shelve the proposal, gushed Hollywood activist Robert Redford, “represents a victory of historic proportions for people from throughout the pipeline path and all across America who have waged an uphill, years-long fight against one of the most nightmarish fossil fuel projects of our time.” Ethical

In Canada, the environmental  lobby has turned up the heat on the Harper government.  The assessment and approval process for pipeline projects have been dragged out over years, with lobby groups signing up to testify in front of commissions, more often than not repeating the same testimony over and over again.   The Harper gouvernment is seeking to streamline the process by limiting the process to two years.  In its 2012/13 budget the Canadian gouvernment has included major revisions to environmental policy.  One third of the budget contains changes to environmental policy and legislation.

The gouvernment, which claims that some charities foreign money from foreign environmental groups to advocate against the oilsands, has put policies in place to take away their charity status.  To say the least the heat is on.

Thomas Mulcair, not unlike the Premiers of Quebec and Ontario, has claimed that oilsands development has ruined the manufacturing base of Central Canada due to raising the value of the Canadian Dollar.  Yet the prosperity of Alberta's and Saskatchewan's resource industry has funded the very social programs so dear to the New Democratic Party.

Alberta recently re-elected the Progressive Conservative Party under the leadership of Premier Alison Redford.  Redford has promised that she would work with the federal government and the provinces to develop a National Energy Strategy.  Significant improvements have been made over the last decade to reduce carbon emissions to bring them in line with emissions of  conventional oil production.

Green energy, such as wind and solar, are not ready for prime time and affordable alternate energy is still a few years away.  Of course environmentalists will never discuss the real estate required for solar panel farms or wind turbines nor the fact that thousands of birds get killed by wind power.  Solar power is very expensive and for now can not sufficiently provide the energy required to run a household.  As an example, an Edmonton solar company is offering to rent solar panels to home owners.  The panels, which require an initial investment of about $1000 can only provide 18-30% of actual power required.  Home owners must remain on the grid.  The savings in energy costs are minimal.  The biggest part of an electricity bill in Alberta are the riders and fees and not the actual energy used.  The lease contract is long term.

To make a long story short, whether we like it or not, oil will still be around for decades.  Sending oil to the United States and Asian markets will reduce our dependence on Middle East oil.  Coal,  which is currently used in power plants in China is a much larger emitter of carbons.

Even President Obama knows that Canada will develop the oilsands

The president made that much clear in a recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine. He said he had “respect” for certain anti-oil sands crusaders, like James Hansen at NASA who said approving Keystone XL would mean “game over” for the climate. But, Obama said, his decision on whether to allow the pipeline into the U.S. actually wouldn’t change a thing.

“But it’s important to understand that Canada is going to be moving forward with tar sands, regardless of what we do. That’s their national policy, they’re pursuing it,” Obama said.

Trans Canada Corp has reapplied for the approval of the XL Keystone Pipeline. Although TransCanada Corps hopes to start construction by 2013,  don't expect that approval prior to the election.   It will just not happen.

The State Department released a statement on Friday, stating that it would consider the pipeline on its merits.

"We will consider this new application on its merits," the State Department said.  "Consistent with the Executive Order, this involves consideration of many factors, including energy security, health, environmental, cultural, economic, and foreign policy concerns."

The pipeline will not only transport oil from the Alberta oilsands, but will also deliver oil from the Bakken Basen, which has oil from Mantioba, Saskatchewan and North Dakota.  The $7.6 Billion pipeline is a job creator, with high paying union jobs, provides energy security, with the volatility in the Middle East.

Trans Canada CEO,  Russ Girling, said in a statement on Friday that the pipeline would boost the U.S. economy, once completed.

"The multi-billion dollar Keystone XL pipeline project will reduce the United States' dependence on foreign oil and support job growth by putting thousands of Americans to work, Keystone XL will transport U.S. crude oil from the very large Bakken supply basin in Montana and North Dakota, along with Canadian oil, to U.S. refineries," Girling said.

While there should be an "all of the above" strategy and efforts should be made to develop alternative energy, we also need to get into touch with reality.  Oil, coal and natural gas are still primarily used to produce energy and will for some time, especially in developing economies like China.  Even the often touted green Germany has had to cut back on the tempo of green energy.

Instead of demonizing the oilsands, we should continue to move ahead with the development of green alternatives, improve the environmental standards for emissions, strictly enforce them and assists developing economies like China to clean up their act on coal.

It's time to cut back on the rhetoric and get real.  This constant wrangling is counter-productive.


  1. There are still no real regulations. There are now non-blade windmill generators. FN's have asked for a pause, not a shutdown. The lakes within 50 km are toxic. By 2020 the emissions will exceed emissions of 85 countries. There is still no sovereign wealth fund such as in Norway, where everyone benefits. When Co2 emissions are capped bitumen will become non-viable. With other countries wanting climate policies to be enacted our climate policy will fail. Alberta and Ottawa are failing to act on the clear and present danger. It's a long walk on a short pier when we don't invest in R & D for other modes of energy, like the sun.

  2. No question there. It takes political will to take some of the oilsands revenue and invest it in newer modes of energy. For years there has been mismagement of the oilsands by Alberta and the federal government. Canadians have also rejected a carbon tax, but there are other ways around this problem. One should realize though that no form of energy is without its own problems.