Those leftover single women and the tar sands

Nov
08
2012
 
 
Seeking: A suitor with low environmental standards
 
Likes: long walks on polluted soil, big pipes, swims in toxic tailings lakes, the quiet calm of dwindling wildlife
 
Dislikes: pesky environmentalists, being told to clean up, virgin forests, healthy wildlife
 
Apparently, the tar sands are just like “leftover single women”, so I thought I’d lend a hand by taking a crack at an online dating profile for the lonely industry. It must be hard to find what you’re looking for with such a history of toxic relationships, not to mention that embarrassing gas problem.
 
At a recent conference in Beijing, a spokesperson for CNOOC said that tar sands oil will get left behind if new pipelines aren’t built to carry it to the west coast: “It’s the same situation as the leftover single women. … It will be the same for the oil sands, they will be outdated just like unmarried single women”.
 
First of all, tar sands, like women, don’t rot with age like leftovers sitting in a fridge. The oil has been sitting in the ground for millions of years, and is going nowhere.
 
Second, there’s a difference between what’s best for Canadians and what’s best for big oil. Getting tar sands oil out of the ground as fast as possible and selling it cheaply to other countries where it will be refined and burned boosts profits for oil companies in the near term. In dating terms, that’s a pretty one-sided relationship: the oil industry takes what it wants and gets profits. And what do Canadians get?  Risk of oil spills, water and air pollution and lost manufacturing jobs as the petrodollar becomes more entrenched. It also means we’re not getting as much value for our resources as we should. Not exactly an equal relationship.
 
This notion of tar sands getting left behind is driving the oil industry’s frantic push for new export pipelines. Locking into more infrastructure for producing and shipping tar sands oil means banking on increasing oil export for decades to come. And for Canada, that means becoming increasingly tied to the volatility of the oil market. Sure, it could be a long-term relationship, but it wouldn’t be a stable one.
 
So what’s the rush? Why is big oil acting like it’s at a speed dating event? Well, there may be some truth to the idea that the world might just move on without tar sands. Tar sands expansion becomes dicey when the price of oil drops because it’s expensive. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), tar sands projects were the hardest hit by the global recession and the resulting crash in oil price.
 
Tar sands expansion is a losing proposition in a world taking even moderate steps to tackle global warming. The oil industry’s current expansion plans are premised on oil demand in a world tracking toward a dangerous degree of global warming. We know Canadians care about the environment. So it’s not surprising that Canadians aren’t warmly embracing pipelines that would tie us to tar sands oil.
 
Already, investment in renewable energy outpaced investment in fossil fuels last year. Countries are making big changes to reduce oil consumption and spur a clean energy revolution. And some Canadian provinces like Ontario, with its Green Energy and Economy Act, are playing a leadership role and reaping the benefits of new jobs and a reinvigorated manufacturing industry. In light of the shift towards renewable energy, if we keep relying on the tar sands, Canada could very well be stuck shilling a product that no one wants in the years to come. And in a world of renewable energy, a country tied to tar sands would be very lonely indeed.
 
The answer isn’t to dig up tar sands oil and sell it as fast as possible, hoping to stay ahead of the global changes coming our way. Instead, let’s start making the clean energy the market wants and our kids need if we’re to leave behind a safe planet. In other words, it’s time to break up with the tar sands.
 
 

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