Why Canada will Waste Money on the Trans-Mountain Pipeline

Posted by on September 21, 2018
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As I stare at the blank page. Thinking how to begin, I sense I am about to pound my head against a rather solid wall yet again.  Logic does not always overcome politics, and to understand Canada’s love affair with what used to be called the Kinder-Morgan Trans-Mountain Pipeline, we need to understand the politics.  Trans-Mountain is a small part of our wider love affair with pipelines built (or not) to ship tar sands product to market.  Trans-Mountain already exists and is being used to ship product to Burnaby BC for export (mostly or entirely to refineries on the US west coast).  It is the expansion of this pipeline, its twinning, that is the subject of concern.

The expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline involves twinning its entire length and operating in a way that will almost triple carrying capacity.  Image © National Energy Board

Back in that long-ago time when Stephen Harper was Prime Minister of Canada, our nation maintained or accelerated or consolidated the idea that our prosperity as a country was intrinsically tied to the rapid expansion of extraction and export of product from the tar sands near Fort McMurray, Alberta.  (I use the word ‘product’ for politeness; ‘bitumen’ is perhaps more accurate although untreated bitumen does not flow through pipelines, ‘glurp’ is another good descriptor and ‘oil’ is a euphemism designed to pretend that this product really is much the same as the oil that used to flow so freely, but now gets pumped, against its will, from what are called ‘conventional’ wells.)

PM Stephen, being a solidly conservative politician, could not really see government as much more than an entity for delivery of the set of laws, policies, decisions and actions undertaken by the State to clear away anything that might lie in the path of private corporations seeking to maximize profits for their shareholders.  Being an Albertan, he also saw Canada’s economy as pretty much Alberta’s economy, plus a tiny bit of other stuff done in other parts of the country.  Alberta, of course, devotes two weeks a year to cowboy hats and bucking broncos, and the rest of the year to digging up stuff to sell wherever there are buyers (or at least, that is what the movers and shakers in Calgary’s corporate towers would have us believe).  The Right Honorable Stephen bought into the Grand Tar Sands Myth, hook line and sinker, and dragged the rest of us along with him.  A couple of years ago, I called that myth a tar baby, because it seemed exceptionally good at entangling politicians who got anywhere near it, and Stephen was inextricably stuck to that tar baby.

Stephen Harper loved the tar sands, didn’t really understand environment.
Image
© Theo Moudakis/Toronto Star

What is the Grand Tar Sands Myth?  Well, first of all, its adherents refer to it as the Magnificent Future that will be Delivered to All of Canada by the Rapid Expansion of Production and Export of Ethical Oil from the Athabasca Oil Sands.  (True believers really do speak in capital letters.)  One part of the myth was that Canada had a noble responsibility to develop the tar sands fully and as rapidly as possible, making this vital source of energy available to the less fortunate nations of the world, while building the prosperity that Canadians deserved.  Nothing should stand in the way of achieving this noble future.  Another part of the myth was that Canada’s economy was tightly tied to the success of the tar sands, and that any failure to sustain rapid growth in tar sands production and export would be met by near-total economic collapse, loss of jobs, and removal of Canada from the list of advanced nations.  The apocalypse would be Wagnerian in its fulsome comprehensiveness, and it would come very quickly if anything should create so much as a tiny pause in said expansion.  A final part was that all this effort could be undertaken with nary so much as a tiny ding to the pristine, white as snow, state of Alberta’s environment – environmentalists did not know what they were talking about.  Spelt out in august tones by learned men (always men) the Grand Tar Sands Myth is a tale that will keep children from their slumbers and their parents anxious and afraid as they huddle, wringing their hands, waiting for some good news out of Alberta.

In 2015, Stephen Harper was out of office, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was ushering in his sunny ways government, setting out to right some of the wrongs put in place by his predecessor.  Being a true liberal, however, PM Justin is a middle of the road kind of guy – not too far to the left to upset those who do not trust government, and not too far to the right to risk losing the support of those who actually believe government has a reason for existence beyond acting as a giant snowplow/bulldozer clearing the way for whatever plans are being implemented by the wealthier members of the private sector.  And as any wise chicken knows, it’s OK to cross the road, but standing in the middle of it for any length of time is a perilous act.

The middle is not always the best place to be!  Image © Greg Perry/Winnipeg Free Press

As well as being a sunny liberal, PM Justin is Pierre Trudeau’s son, and so he felt compelled to work to convince the west, especially Alberta, that though he was his father’s son, he most definitely was not his father.  Soon after being elected Prime Minister, he was assuring voters that his government would be working hard in support of the Grand Tar Sands Myth, while simultaneously addressing Canada’s appalling record on climate change.  He was going to work just as hard as his predecessor to ensure the unfettered growth of tar sands production and export, while also taking actions that would place Canada among the world’s leaders in the battle to reduce the rate of climate change.  He’d do all this while remaining sunny (he was intent on bringing Canada to a new, brighter, happier place than it had been for the decade prior).

When PM Justin spoke about the economy, or the tar sands specifically, he spoke like a true believer in the Great Tar Sands Myth.  Canada’s economy is very strongly dependent on resource exploitation.  We have a moral obligation to extract and export tar sands oil.  Pipelines to tidewater are essential in this less certain world, and with proper consultation and appropriate concern for environmental issues, they can and will be built responsibly.  Alberta can depend on it.

When he spoke about climate change, he was equally sunny about Canada’s bright future as a leader in the technologies underlying renewable energy, and he was clear that Canada was going to do its full share to ensure the world transitioned to a far less carbon-intensive economy.  His government, barely into office, was notably active during the COP21 climate conference in Paris in November 2015, leading battles to cement the +2oC target, and install an even better +1.5oC aspirational target for future warming.  This was a pleasant change from past performances, surely an arbiter of great things to come.

So far, things have not worked out as we might have hoped.  A major part of the problem for Justin Trudeau lies in two facts: 1) The Great Tar Sands Myth has always been a fairy tale and more and more Canadians are seeing through it, and 2) Nature does not seek political compromises and Trudeau’s effort to compromise on pipelines and climate has floundered accordingly.  I’ll start by dissecting the myth, endeavoring not to get too stuck to the tar baby in the process.  Then I’ll look at what Canada needs to do if we are serious about doing our fair part of the effort to achieve +2oC.

The Grand Tar Sands Myth

This myth has several parts.  Tar sands bitumen production and export is a major part of Canada’s economy, we have a moral obligation to monetize our mineral resources, pipelines to tidewater are essential for the industry, and all can be done without serious environmental problems.  Let’s look at them one by one.  (In much of what follows, I am drawing on Canada’s Energy Outlook 2018.

How important to Canada’s national economy is the production and export of tar sands product?  Depending who you ask, it’s amazing how different a spin can be put on the answer to this simple question.  The bare facts are generally agreed:  In 2017, according to the National Energy Board, Canada produced 4.3Mb/d crude oil (million barrels per day).  Of this, 2.9Mb/d or about 63% was in bitumen extracted from the Athabasca tar sands, and worth about $ 43.6B to Canada’s GDP for that year according to StatsCan.  The production of conventional oil has been declining slowly since 1999, while tar sands production has increased four-fold from about 0.6 Mb/d.  Most (85%) of Canada’s oil is exported, mostly to US refineries.  There are currently about 400,000 people employed in the oil and gas industry in Canada, half in production and distribution and half in construction – as expected, employment can fluctuate substantially, depending on the oil price, and construction jobs are always short-term.  Tar sands-related jobs were about 75% of total oil and gas related jobs in 2015.

In Canada’s Energy Outlook, 2018, David Hughes uses StatsCan, National Energy Board and other official sources, reporting total revenue from extraction and processing of fossil fuels, plus related construction across Canada, was $137B or 8.3% of Canada’s GDP in 2015.  As a percentage, this is down from 10% in 1997, despite the substantial growth in production (combined gas and oil production up 33%).  More than 2/3 of this occurs in Alberta, where the tar sands represent 63% of total production but only 51% of economic value (tar sands production represents about 3% of Canada’s GDP in 2015).  Other sources put the tar sands annual value as less than 2% or more than 4% of Canada’s GDP (an HIS Cera 2014 report claimed a $91B contribution by tar sands operations to GDP in 2012, presumably by liberal inclusion of flow-on activity).  There are many ways to measure contributions to GDP.

The tar sands are also contributing less to government revenues than they were in past years.  Revenues come principally as royalties and corporate income tax, plus some lease and land sale income.  Hughes points out that StatsCan data reveal a 63% decline Canada-wide in oil and gas royalty revenue since 2000 despite a 27% increase in oil and gas production over that time.  Royalties are down 74% as a proportion of total oil and gas revenues over that time.  In Alberta, the decline in royalty revenue since 1980 has been 90% despite a doubling in production, and now amounts to just over 3% of Alberta revenue.  It seems we Canadians have been selling off our fossil fuel resources for less and less money as time goes by.  Just to rub in some salt, Hughes also documents a decline of 51% from its 2006 peak in corporate tax revenue in the industry.  While some will argue that the income taxes paid by workers in the industry should be included in revenues derived from the industry, most of these people would be working in other construction jobs if we were not employing them to build out the tar sands.

Royalties are way down, while production and corporate revenue are way up.  Does that make economic sense for Canada?  Image © Hughes GSR

I put these numbers together and draw the same conclusion Hughes does.  The tar sands industry is substantial, but it is not so big that Canada would collapse economically without it.  And its contribution to GDP and Government revenues has been falling despite its growth in output.

How about our moral obligation to dig up and ship out every mineral resource in this fair land?  Yes, this can generate jobs, but Canada has a well-educated work force that should be capable of doing far more than hewing wood, drawing water, or digging.  In 2018, we should be seeking to expand the kind of high-value-added, knowledge-based employment opportunities that might be able to provide the employment security that used to characterize heavy industry.  Also, there is something plainly dumb about exporting raw resources so people elsewhere can get the value-added profits – Canada has a long history of this kind of dumbness, ever since we started shipping furs to Europe.

Fur traders in Canada 1777.  Image © Library and Archives Canada

The transition away from a carbon-intensive economy is going to require heavy construction to provide enhanced electrical and data grids, expanded generation capacity in renewable and nuclear energies, modern, high-speed road and rail transport.  Construction skills learned in the tar sands are transferable.  Furthermore, just because we have resources does not mean we are obligated to use them – they don’t have use-by dates, and we can always dig them up later if new opportunities for creative use come along.  And, climbing briefly onto my moral high horse, if we properly understood our relationship to the environment, we’d not get stuck thinking of it as a larder full of stuff for us to use.  In fact, as I show below, we simply cannot afford to fully exploit the tar sands no matter what some tar baby-stuck politicians may think.  The failure to convert natural capital into dollars can become a virtue, as well as a great way to live in harmony with the rest of the biosphere, something we all should reflect upon from time to time.

Pipelines to tidewater – it’s a cry heard repeatedly across this land in recent decades; some shout it out as a business necessity, something that must be ensured by any government worthy of its name in order to sustain the economy, others shout it out as a red line never to be crossed, a sign that Canada has no soul, has not listened to First Nations people or other affected parties, or is dead to the environmental risks that expansion of the tar sands enterprise will bring.  There is a lot of heat on both sides of this argument; is it possible to discover the truth?

The argument from proponents is that the Alberta oil industry suffers from a lack of capacity to ship the products from wells to refineries.  Buried in history, there were sound reasons for not building more refinery capacity within Alberta, I’m told. (How sound, I often wonder.)  At present the great majority of product heads south to the refineries of Texas, Oklahoma and so on, and the process of building additional pipeline capacity has become fraught as environmental restrictions have been tightened, and resistance to pipelines has grown.  The argument includes the word ‘tidewater’ because, as well as a need for additional capacity, there is a need for more flexibility with respect to markets, and an argument that Alberta tar sands bitumen sells at a steep discount relative to world oil prices because it goes to one, well-supplied market.  People who support this argument look askance at anyone who questions it – the economic logic seems so compelling.  But is it true?

Firstly, nobody claims that bitumen is piling up across the Alberta high prairie because there is no way to ship it out.  The claim is that the extra capacity is needed very soon to cope with the expansion of production that is going to occur.  And it is needed as soon as possible so we can capture the rich Asian market before other suppliers fill that demand and shut Canada out.  (Perhaps worth reflecting here that oil arriving on the west coast via the existing Trans-Mountain pipeline goes almost entirely to Washington and California; Asia does not seem to be clamoring for a piece of the action.)

I have reported before on David Hughes masterful documentation of the flaw in this pipeline capacity argument.  He repeats the argument in Canada’s Energy Outlook 2018, and I have yet to see anybody refute it.  (It’s uncanny how the proponents of pipeline building continue to make the argument, but don’t bother to shut down Hughes’s traitorous claims.  If he is incorrect, surely one or another oil tycoon could take the time to point that fact out?)

Fig. 81 Canada’s Energy Outlook 2018, showing how existing pipeline capacity is sufficient for need well past 2030, and with a tiny use of rail through 2040 so long as Alberta’s cap on tar sands production is complied with.  Both Keystone XL and Trans-Mountain expansion are surplus to need.  Why are they being built?  Image © CCPA.

This chart contains the germ of Hughes’s debunking claim.  Using data from CAPP and National Energy Board and updating his presentation to take account of recent decisions on pipelines, the figure shows that there is ample capacity into the future at least to 2040 for any realistic expansion in production.  True, most of the capacity shunts the bitumen south to Texas and Louisiana the way it has always been, but separately Hughes reveals that the price discount that requires pipelines to tidewater was a transitory thing that has now disappeared again, apart from a residual amount that has to do with the lack of desirability of this product relative to oils from other places.  Like it or not, Canada’s Ethical Oil is nasty stuff to handle, and refining it costs more than is the case for other crude.  It will always command a lower price.

True, back in the heady days when everyone ‘knew’ that tar sands production was going to triple by 2030, the need for additional pipeline capacity in the near future was a strong argument in favor of building more of them.  But that scenario is long gone, and there now exists a cap on tar sands production put in place by the Alberta government as part of its own program for responding to climate change.  Hughes’s argument against additional pipelines is simply that if the cap is going to be complied with, and if Canada is going to at least try to meet its self-imposed obligations under the 2015 Paris Agreement, then production capacity in the tar sands is not going to expand to the point where additional pipeline capacity will be necessary.  Why build them if they are not needed?

The final part of the Myth is that a rapid expansion of tar sands production is not only necessary and desirable, it is compatible with sound, sustainable environmental management including mitigation of climate change.  To deal with this we must look at emissions due to extraction and processing (to the point of export) and Canada’s permissible total cumulative emissions if we are going to meet our Paris Agreement targets.

While some may call it ethical, tar sands ‘oil’ is definitely dirty and hard to handle.  Because it is a semisolid, it does not flow readily in wells or in pipelines.  Some of it is extracted from vast open pit mines requiring heavy equipment and the energy such equipment consumes.  Mostly it is too deep to be dug up and is mined by injecting steam deep underground to warm up the bitumen and make it more fluid.  Producing and pumping all that steam adds to the cost, and to the energy cost, of bitumen mining.  Either way, bitumen extraction is an energy-intensive operation.

Once at the surface, the product must be modified to make it possible to ship it through pipelines.  Some of the peanut butter-like bitumen is upgraded to produce synthetic crude oil; most is mixed with diluents to make it more liquid, either before upgrading, or before shipping as dilbit (diluted bitumen – the stuff that will flow through the Trans-Mountain expansion).  Upgrading is a set of energy-intensive fractionation and chemical processes that strip out much of the sulfur and heavy metals.  Adding diluent is a simpler, physical mixing process that dilutes the bitumen with other hydrocarbon thinning agents.  These diluents are mostly natural gas condensate, a widely available byproduct of oil and gas mining, but refined naptha or synthetic crude (from upgrading) may also be used.  The industry even builds pipelines for shipping diluent to points where it will be combined with the bitumen (the existing Trans-Mountain line ships condensate from the west coast to Alberta, and then ships dilbit back to the coast).  All of these steps add cost and consume energy.

Getting tar sands product from the ground to the foreign refinery, whether in the US or elsewhere, is thus an expensive, and an energy intensive operation.  The energy cost or EROI (energy return on investment) averages about 4:1 for in situ operations and about 8:1 for surface mining and upgrading.  Conventional oil mining has an EROI in the 11:1 to 17:1 range (the ratio refers to units of energy obtained vs units of energy consumed in extraction and processing).  When you are using the equivalent of one barrel of oil for every four barrels you obtain, profit margins are thin.

From an environmental perspective, emissions of CO2 per barrel are an important characteristic, and as expected, tar sands bitumen compares unfavorably with other sources of fuel.  Total emissions resulting from getting tar sands bitumen out of the ground and to refineries range from 189.1 to 254.6 kg CO2 per barrel, compared to 97.6 kg CO2 per barrel for typical conventional Canadian oil, and 55.1 kg CO2 per barrel for Hibernia oil (Newfoundland), a high-quality, light, sweet oil.

These high emissions per barrel produced make operation of the tar sands projects now the most important source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.  Total emissions in 2015 from this source were 71Mt CO2e (million tonnes of CO2 equivalent) and Alberta has legislated a 100 Mt CO2e per year cap on total tar sands emissions as part of its climate change policy.  On current growth projections, the industry will reach this cap in about 2024.  The tar sands currently contribute about 10% of Canada’s total emissions.  By 2024, the cap limits production, although improved technology permits continued slow growth in output so that tar sands production reaches about 4.5 Mb/d at an emissions cost of 100 Mt CO2e per year by 2040.  And this is where the real crunch comes; tar sands production creates too much CO2 pollution to be compatible with Canada doing its part on climate change.

To summarize at this point, every part of the Grand Tar Sands Myth is debunked.  This is an important but small portion of Canada’s economy – a fact revealed when tar sands activity collapsed during and following the 2008 recession, while Canada, overall, did better than many G8 nations.  We do not have some moral obligation to fully exploit Alberta’s tar sands, and certainly no obligation to dig them up and export them quickly.  We have sufficient pipeline capacity already, and the tidewater argument (the price differential for Canadian oil) is invalid.  And the GHG emissions that result from tar sands exploitation are so massive that continued mining at current or expanded rates is incompatible with any reasonable response by Canada to climate change.  (Note I have not bothered to comment on the other environmental impacts – consumption of water in a semi-arid environment with a drying climate, heavy metal and PAH contamination of the land and water, low altitude NO, SO2 and particulate air pollution, vast, toxic tailings ponds and no known processes for eventual environmental restoration – I’ve commented on them in the past.)

Canada’s commitment under the 2015 Paris agreement

Every signatory country to the Paris Agreement is required to provide a voluntary commitment on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.  Canada has done this and had made earlier commitments with reference to the Kyoto Agreement, and the Copenhagen Accord.  For Kyoto, Canada pledged to reduce emissions to 6% below levels in 1990 by 2012.  For Copenhagen, Canada pledged to reduce emissions to 17% below 2005 levels by 2020.  For Paris, Canada pledged to reduce emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030, and ultimately by 80% below 2005 levels by 2050.  These commitments have all been judged insufficient by independent bodies, given Canada’s capacity to do more.

So much for promises.  The trend in emissions in Canada had been upward since 1990 until a slight dip during the 2008-9 recession, followed by a more gradual increase since.  Throughout the Harper years, government obfuscated, including the memorable phrase “half-way to our 2020 target” when emissions were actually increasing instead of decreasing.  With the arrival of PM Justin’s sunny ways government, there was a sense that things would be different, but the pledge made in Paris, was the one prepared by the Harper government before they lost power (woefully inadequate), and it has yet to be strengthened.  Meanwhile targets are failing to be met.

Environment and Natural Resources Canada reports Canadian GHG emissions in 1990 were 603 Mt CO2e (these data do not include any contribution from land use changes such as timber harvest or reforestation).  In 2005, they had risen to 732 Mt CO2e, and they reached 745 Mt CO2e in 2007.  In 2012 (the Kyoto target date) they had declined slightly to 707 Mt CO2e, or 17% above 1990 levels – 23% higher than the Kyoto target!  In 2020, current trends suggest emissions will be in the range 693 to 725 Mt CO2e, well above the 607 Mt CO2e target!  In 2030, the expectation is 636 – 775 Mt CO2e, again well above the 512 Mt CO2e target.  Canada is doing a deplorable job of meeting its own targets, and growth in tar sands production is one of the main roadblocks standing in the way.  In fact, as this graph shows, if Canada were somehow able to get onto a path towards meeting the 2030 and 2050 targets (the dotted line), the planned growth in tar sands production – fully supported as part of our sunny ways – requires that all non-gas and oil emissions in our economy must be cut in half by 2030, and must be pinched off almost completely by 2040.  The likelihood of that happening is sort of like the sky outside my house filling up with a flotilla of winged pigs.

The inadequacy of Canada’s targets also needs reflection.  If the world behaves as Canada is behaving in setting too timid emissions reduction targets (and many countries are doing as poor a job in this respect as Canada), the world is heading for a +4oC warming by the end of this century and further warming in the century following.  Kiss 2oC goodbye, maybe?  Or maybe recognize that sometime soon, enough people will realize that we really do not want a 4oC world, and countries will step up to do a better job of wrestling climate change to the ground.  That means substantially stronger commitments to reduce emissions, and actions to achieve those commitments.  Where does that leave Canada’s tar sands?  Or, more particularly, where does that leave Canada?  It leaves us recognizing that, barring some amazing new technology that permits continued use of oil and gas, with the CO2 somehow captured and stored away from the atmosphere, most of the tar sands bitumen that we plan to extract and process between now and 2040 is going to stay in the ground.  We cannot afford to unpack it.  Furthermore, as well as keeping the tar sands in the ground, we will be rapidly transitioning away from use of all fossil fuels by mid-century – just 32 years from now.  Now that is a task that will provide ample employment, government revenue, and GDP value to replace the tar sands industry – an interesting form of mining for a strange product during its relatively short history in Canada.

Politics, Logic, and Pipelines

Back to the present and the Trans-Mountain expansion.  One of the most difficult lessons for politicians and businessmen is that Nature does not compromise.  Nature just is.  Nature operates by various natural laws, and these laws are immutable.

The world is currently starting to grasp the fact that climate change is real, that it is happening, and that its consequences for our happy little lives are every bit as challenging as scientists warned they would be.  North Carolina is just now grappling with a relatively weak hurricane Florence – only a category 1 when it finally reached land, and rapidly downgraded to tropical storm status.  But climate change has ensured a) that Florence would move slowly (weather across North America has been moving slowly for months now because a warm Arctic is causing the jet stream to meander more), and b) would carry immense amounts of water to be dropped on the land as torrential rains.  North Carolina famously legislated sea level rise out of existence in 2012; a pity they did not do the same for hurricanes.

Preparing for Florence at North Topsail Beach, North Carolina.  How long will we keep pretending this is land rather than a shallow sand bar?  Image © Chuck Burton/Associated Press

Justin Trudeau figured he could compromise on climate and oil, achieving a classic win-win, while boosting his popularity with environmentalists wanting a serious commitment to climate change, and Albertans wanting the son of Pierre Trudeau to support their oil industry against those who would shut it down.  If anything, climate is changing more rapidly than expected, and the absolute inadequacy of what Canada has committed to so far in terms of mitigation is becoming more and more obvious.  Never mind the fact that actions have been far less committed than words.  Environmentalists have become tired of the Liberal government going gently, gently on climate, rather than supportive of a government that claims it is trying to do the right thing.  Poor Environment Minister McKenna, hosting a meeting of G8 Environment Ministers in Halifax this week, finds herself forced to talk up the issue of plastic pollution in the oceans because it is a relatively straightforward issue that might get a measurable nudge forward at this conference, in contrast to climate change (also on the agenda).  McKenna needs the occasional win, and nothing is happening in Canada on climate except for a growing noise from unenlightened provincial Premiers who want to challenge the planned federal carbon tax in the courts.

Nor has the task of appeasing the oil industry gone well.  The environmental opposition to expansion of the Trans-Mountain pipeline is as strong as ever.  Kinder-Morgan, the previous owner of the pipeline, eventually decided the battle was not worth it, and Justin Trudeau, in desperation, announced Canada would buy it and complete it.  Kinder-Morgan’s decision, made on an evaluation of the business case, provided a glorious opportunity to stop his impossible straddle between the tar-baby and the climate, but PM Justin decided he could not afford the political cost of ‘abandoning Alberta’.  Now Canada owns the pipeline, and the intention to get it expanded is as strong as ever.

And so, government funds will be spent to employ some construction workers and buy some pipe and whatever else is needed to build a pipeline we do not need.  Justin knows in his heart that the days of the tar sands are numbered even if he mostly avoids saying so.  He did let it slip out once early last year, referring to a ‘managed phase-out’ of the tar sands, but apologized quickly for ‘mis-speaking’.

So here we are, proud Canadian owners of a pipeline for an industry that shows plenty of evidence that its glory days are behind it.  Major overseas investors are walking away or announcing intentions to divest from the oil industry.  Capital investment in the tar sands has dropped to about $12B in 2018 from $25B three years earlier.  Jeff Lewis, writing in the Globe & Mail this April, said, “Here we have oil [globally] almost back to a 4.5 year high and Canadian names are languishing” – his meaning – that the lack of value in the tar sands was recognized within the industry.  Jeffrey Sachs, also in the Globe & Mail in April, in an article titled “Forget Trans Mountain” pointed to the fact that the world must substantially decarbonize by 2050, and that higher-cost, higher-polluting sources of oil will be the first to go.  In his view, Canada should be investing in a strengthened, North American, electricity grid, and selling low-carbon hydroelectric power to the USA which wants low-carbon sources of power.  This would be a far more profitable, and a far more environmentally responsible action than paying for the Trans Mountain pipeline for nothing to nowhere.  Of course, Sachs is just a US academic (Columbia University) who does not understand the need to support Alberta’s oil industry.   We Canadians know better.  Or do we?

The Trans Mountain pipeline – will it become the pipeline to nowhere?  Image © Kinder-Morgan

2 Responses to Why Canada will Waste Money on the Trans-Mountain Pipeline

  1. jim

    400,000 employed in the oil sands? I don’t think that is accurate. https://www.policyschool.ca/how-many-people-really-do-work-oil-sands/

    • webadmin

      Jim, I agree determining the number employed is difficult, because different numbers reflect different definitions of ‘directly employed’ or ‘indirectly employed’. The 400K number comes from Hughes’s ‘Canada’s Energy Outlook 2018’. He cites StatsCan table https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=3610048901
      Which gives some 401245 jobs in 2015 in various oil and gas operations or construction. I’ve corrected my text, which incorrectly attributed this Canada-wide number to the tar sands. Tar sands direct was about 24385 jobs in 2015 (same StatsCan table)
      Peter