At the federal provincial energy conference in July, Canada’s energy ministers agreed on the broad strokes of a plan to make Canada a dirty energy superpower. The plan is to squeeze as many petrodollars as they can out of the tar sands which some have described as the most environmentally destructive project on earth.
Normal oil is very harmful to the environment but tar sands oil emits even more heat-trapping and toxic air pollution when it’s produced and refined. Dr. Hansen – America’s top climate scientist – has said that full exploitation of Canada’s tar sands would constitute a “game over” scenario for efforts to solve climate change.
The support for the plan was almost unanimous with the exception of Ontario, whose energy minister refused to support the final communiqué issued because it referred to the Alberta tar sands as “sustainable and responsible”.
Although these plans include initiatives to encourage more efficient energy use, the expansion of fossil fuel exports will increase tanker traffic and pipelines.
Under the plan Canada will increase its exports of oil to the US and beyond to include nations in Asia like China. Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway heavy crude pipeline between the Edmonton area and Kitimat, B.C., is a key export link to Asia. The pipeline would see massive oil tankers navigating narrow coastal waterways.
The pipeline makes communities and fragile coastlines vulnerable to oil spills. It would also make climate change worse and harm the health of people living near refineries. Canada’s indigenous people living near tar sands oil extraction sites are already suffering from high rates of cancer.
As reported by PacificWild.org, the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project has already been the subject of protests. Last August, hundreds of people gathered outside of Riverlodge in Kitimat to protest. At the same time, some 200 people gathered outside of the Enbridge office in Vancouver to lend their voice to opposing the project.
“Due to the uncertainty associated with the transport of crude oil along our unpredictable northwest coast, the Village of Queen Charlotte has resolved that this project should not proceed…All Haida Gwaii municipalities stand together in opposition to Enbridge because the tradeoffs and risks involved are unacceptable,” said Kris Olsen, a municipal councillor with the Village of Queen Charlotte.
Haida Gwaii in the Queen Charlotte Islands has created a sustainable economy. “The Enbridge project threatens our economy and opportunities for future generations,” Olsen said.
“You look at the size of the tankers, and you see the narrowness of the turns, and you think, how in hell is this ever going to happen without an accident at some point?” Austin said. “I think it’s amazing that they even want to consider it.” said Skeena MLA Robin Austin.
Massive protests against the the 1,700-mile long Keystone XL Pipeline are planned in the US later this summer. President Obama is expected to announce his decision about the pipeline as early as September.
“I would presume before September of next fall that we can work as governments to ensure that the federal cabinet can expedite that decision because, ultimately, it will be a federal cabinet decision,” said Alberta Energy Minister Ron Liepert at the conclusion of the two day national energy summit.
There was unanimous agreement amongst the provincial energy ministers, with the exception of Ontario which refused to sign the final communique because it refers to the tar sands as “responsible and sustainable.”
Although the Energy Policy Institute of Canada indicated the deal will make Canada an “energy superpower,” the Pembina Institute expressed concerns that the tar sands were the focus.
“While the ministers expressed interest in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from energy production, their decision to call Canada’s oilsands a sustainable source of energy for the world raises serious questions about that goal,” said the Pembina Institute’s executive director, Ed Whittingham. “An effective framework must also include a price on greenhouse gas pollution as a central feature.”
Northern Gateway is going through National Energy Board hearings starting in January 2012. However, there appears to be no stopping Canada’s intent to move forward with its plan to be a dirty energy superpower.
In their efforts to expedite tar sands exploitation, the federal Conservatives are planning to revamp the regulatory system which will increase environmental vulnerability. Responsible exploitation of Canada’s oil reserves could exist alongside a longer term strategy that focuses on renewable energy. Instead, Canadians appear destined to get an energy policy based on the environmental destructive tar sands.
© 2011, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.
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