Counting the risks of Canada of losing yet another pipeline project

Environmental, social and economic questions abound when considering major energy infrastructure investments that have aided humanity's recent gains. We should take care not to thwart the innovation that can be the defining thread of humanity’s progress over the next century.

From no vaccinations at all for tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough, today 86 per cent of the world’s population is vaccinated against those diseases. Infant mortality, which once took the lives of 43 out of one hundred children, is now less than one-tenth of that. Where once 94  per cent of people lived in extreme poverty, today that figure is down to 10 per cent.

The full list is much longer. As to why such progress occurred, there are plenty of explanations but the single most influential is mass availability of affordable energy. Those developments could not have occurred in a firewood-based civilization. Widespread growth in use of the hydrocarbon – coal, oil, gas provides an exact fit as the enabling factor for how we live today.

Most predictions indicate that oil and gas will remain part of the world’s energy diet over the next several generations. Of course, this reality comes with its problems, the greatest of which is managing climate emissions.

Energy transitions are slow, painstaking, and hard to predict. Many people, especially the young, are impatient for change. Despite the hype about renewables, we have been increasing, not decreasing, our global dependence on fossil fuels. Countries like Germany that love to talk about their adoption of wind and solar solutions have, despite a lot of hype, not succeeded in reducing their carbon footprint.

Despites decades of growth of renewable energy, the world uses more fossil fuels in 2018 than in 2000, by percentage.

With its plentiful hydrocarbon reserves, Canada has a role to play in supplying this demand Son so doing,  thus creating opportunities for a better life for all Canadians and the entire planet. Canadian hydrocarbon production is among the world’s safest and most tightly regulated environmentally.

Canadian producers are constantly innovating to be even safer and more efficient as they provide the energy the world needs. Lowering the greenhouse gas impact of Canadian hydrocarbon products is a matter of the most pressing urgency. Through carbon pricing and competitive market forces, Canadian producers are showing they are capable of climate leadership.

Canadians deserve a fair return for the investments being made to improve its fossil fuel performance. Right now that’s not happening, the reason being we have but one customer, the United States, for our crude oil and natural gas. The solution that industry and governments are backing is the twinning of the Trans Mountain Pipeline through the Port of Vancouver.

For the minority of Canadians who believe we should not do this project, a laundry list of reasons to oppose it seems enticing. Some believe the anti-pipeline stand is a wise, rational and responsible one. Yet on examining the long list of arguments proffered to oppose the project, each one proves hollow:

  • A catastrophic oil spill that devastates Vancouver’s harbour is inevitable? No, regulators judged that scenario to be pure fiction.
  • Overseas markets for Canadian oil don’t exist? Actual economists and financiers know this is a patent falsehood.
  • Leaky pipeline that harms local environments? With protections being put in place, there is no special risk of this.
  • First Nations are opposed to the pipeline? A couple have put their names to the anti-pipeline crusade, but many more accept the need for the project.
  • Stopping the pipeline will force the development of renewable energy? No, the oil will get to market, except it will fetch a lower price.
  • Producing bitumen is an environmental catastrophe? Since 1967, the area of land affected by oil sands mining activity is smaller than Greater Toronto, and all mined land will be reclaimed.
  • The project is all to benefit a company from Texas? That’s ridiculous – a dozen companies operating in Alberta have asked Kinder Morgan to build the pipeline and their investors include all the major pension plans.
  • The project benefits Alberta only? Tell that to the federal bureaucrats who spread billions in Alberta oil revenues around the whole country every single year.

Opposition to the twinning is taking Canada in the wrong direction – environmentally, socially and economically. Dogmatic solutions and the doomsday mantra are not helping, and will thwart the innovation that must be the defining thread of humanity’s progress over the next century.

The resentment being caused in Alberta and Saskatchewan by those opposing the approved project will cause irreparable damage and may even undermine Confederation itself. Canada is already suffering enough because of the cancellation of the approved Northern Gateway and the proposed Energy East pipelines.

It’s simply not worth the risk to continue opposing the pipeline project.

Stewart Muir is executive director of Resource Works.

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