Not long after the Defend Our Coast rallies, a pollster phones, wanting to know whom I plan to vote for in the provincial election. The first party to unequivocally say NO to tar sands oil in pipelines and tankers through BC land and waters, I tell her.
This causes a bit of confusion, as it clearly isn’t one of the options in front of the caller. So, she asks after some hesitation, the NDP?
Given NDP leader Adrian Dix’s tough talk on Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline, she might very well think so, but where is he on doubling the capacity of the Kinder Morgan pipeline into Burrard Inlet? The silence is deafening.
Does one conclude that Mr Dix has no intrinsic objection to BC enabling fossil fuel addicts around the world? Because that’s my objection to the pipeline proposals.
Yes, I’m worried – as most people in BC are – about the inevitable environmental devastation oil spills will bring. I’m also concerned about the environmental devastation extracting oil from Alberta’s tar sands has already caused.
According to federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, the damage isn’t just environmental, it is also economic. Back in the spring, he accused the tar sands industry of causing Dutch Disease. And, while Harper & Co spluttered their objections to Mulcair’s claim, the OECD supported his assessment.
Mind you, that was then. It seems Mulcair has had an epiphany. Apparently he has now decided tar sands oil is good for the economy – if it travels east from Alberta, not west.
With the Globe and Mail declaring the Northern Gateway pipeline all but dead and the Obama re-election making the future of the Keystone pipeline less certain, it should come as no surprise to learn – as Joyce Nelson reports at length in Watershed Sentinel – that tar sands mules Enbridge and TransCanada Corp have well-advanced plans for converting existing pipelines to transport diluted bitumen from Alberta to refineries in eastern Canada and New England.
According to Nelson, if these plans – which seem to be attracting little mainstream media attention – go ahead, “more than 1.4 million barrels per day of tar sands crude could be piped through southern Ontario and Quebec – the most populated areas of Canada.”
Which begs the question: Just how crude do Alberta’s exports need to be?
Diluted bitumen is 16 times more likely to leak than conventional crude transported in pipelines and a far greater clean up challenge when spilled, as it was, in the Kalamazoo River.
Appearing on The National recently, fossil fuel dealer Alison Redford smiled patiently and explained to the country that without pipelines through BC to enable Alberta to ship its diluted bitumen to Asia, the province will be condemned to making less than top dollar per barrel from its resources. Really?
If Redford truly wants to maximize the economic benefits from the tar sands, perhaps she should insist, as Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, has suggested, that her province’s oily gunk be upgraded to synthetic crude oil before it’s exported. (Most dealers know you get less for crack than you do for powdered cocaine.)
Neither Enbridge nor TransCanada care whether their package is diluted bitumen or synthetic crude, but everyone along their proposed pipelines should.
Although there are obvious measures we could and should be taking to aid our withdrawal from fossil fuels, as long as Hopalong Harper is in charge, investment in green energy and electric cars is likely to remain even more of a pipe dream in Canada than in many other countries. And, as beneficial as going cold turkey might be for the health of the planet, it is not a viable option.
So, here’s the deal (because apparently someone died and made me king): No new pipelines either heading west or east and henceforth tar sands companies must upgrade their bitumen before it goes anywhere. This won’t help with our fossil fuel addiction or with arresting the impacts of climate change, but at least it might reduce the immediate threat of environmental devastation.
That’s reduce, of course, not eliminate.