Referencing a sampling of published opinion pieces in several Canadian news organizations, the common theme of the objectors is that these projects would result in expanded oil sands production and subsequently CO2 emissions thus jeopardizing the future of our planet.
Kathryn Harrison of UBC proffered that “concurrent growth in extractive emissions from the oil and gas industry is facilitated by new pipeline infrastructure.” Stewart Phillip also wrote that the Prime Minister had failed to do his job when he approved “two pipelines to carry over a million barrels a day of additional tar sands production” as that was “not the way we are going to solve the climate crisis.” To be factual, the Kinder Morgan project expands capacity by 590,000 barrels per day while refurbishing a pipeline that has been operating since 1953. These additional volumes were likely destined for the USA and not a license to expand oil sands gross production. The Enbridge project merely refurbishes another decades old line making it safer and restoring its original production capacity.
An alternative view is that these pipelines simply displace the rail cars and barges that would be necessary under the production volumes that exist and those that are part of the oil sands expansion already under construction. Volumes moving by rail and barge have exploded over the past eight years as marketers seek higher prices. Expanding pipeline capacity will lessen those volumes and reduce the CO2 emissions associated with those modes of transport.
What critics fail to accept is that supply follows demand. If demand for heavy oil exists and it is not met with Canadian sourced volumes, it will be met by those sourced elsewhere. Russia, Venezuela, and certain producers in the Middle East would no doubt be pleased to provide the world volumes that Canada has vacated. Would these jurisdictions produce and transport these volumes with similar environmental stewardship as producers in Canada?
Nature does not recognize international boundaries nor differentiate between economies. How much good does it do the earth if Canadians reduce the national carbon footprint but the global footprint increases because jurisdictions without strong environmental standards fill a void? The climate change position of Ms. Harrison, Mr. Phillip and others is one that simply turns a blind eye to the offshoring of emissions.
A more genuine objection is that they do not want expanded tanker traffic traversing Burrard Inlet. If not your backyard, then whose? If the alternate jurisdictions have lesser environmental standards and result in higher global emissions, then the critics should drop the environmentalist charade.
There is a significant population within Canada that has been ignored by elites in major urban centres. They work in construction, downstream, midstream, upstream and energy services businesses. Many others work in the service sector that supports these individuals selling them cars, houses, groceries, furniture, travel and more. All would prefer a cleaner environment to a dirtier one. The position that allowing current and already planned volumes to travel by rail and barge instead of the safer and lower emitting mode of transportation is a falsehood that forces them to make sacrifices that the urban tech workers, lawyers, civil servants and realtors are not acknowledging.
These projects are being built with private sector investment and result in jobs, taxes and fees. Oil demand continues to rise albeit at a slowing rate. It shall soon peak and begin a slow decline. If this happens sooner than industry is planning then the citizens opposed to the project can rejoice in the large, empty conveyance between central Alberta and the Lower Mainland. It will no longer be a threat. If industry is correct in their calculus and the barrels are in demand perhaps we can acknowledge the merit in not having offshored the work and having produced more responsibly.
The Prime Minister is right on this, we can strike a balance between our own economic prosperity and truly responsible resource development. It is easy to accept that premise when we acknowledge that Mother Earth does not recognize international boundaries and that Canadians are amongst the most responsible producers of hydrocarbons in the world.
David A. McLellan is an economist and strategic advisor to energy and power companies in North America. His experience includes power, oilfield services and upstream sector in both Canada and the USA where he worked on energy policy, intellectual property, investor relations and project economics.