All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go: Enbridge Looks East for Export Pipeline Route

Fri, 2012-09-14 10:54Carol Linnitt
Carol Linnitt's picture

All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go: Enbridge Looks East for Export Pipeline Route

According to Enbridge’s application for the Northern Gateway Pipeline the company expects a staggering 217% growth in tar sands production by 2035. If built, the Enbridge pipeline would provide the landlocked tar sands with a high-capacity thoroughfare to deliver diluted bitumen, or dilbit, to Asian markets.

But with mounting opposition to the pipeline gaining stride in British Columbia, some analysts speculate the project, embroiled in environmental and political concerns, has no more than a 50/50 chance of completion within the next decade.
 
With a community of academics, political groups, environmental organizations, local residents and First Nation communities vocalizing their opposition to the project, Enbridge is looking elsewhere for an export escape route for tar sands crude.
 
DeSmog’s Ben Jervey reported this summer on an Enbridge application to revise old plans to construct the Trailbreaker, a pipeline designed to deliver tar sands oil to the Atlantic coast. The project would reverse the flow of two aging light crude pipelines in order to direct dilbit through Ontario and Quebec, along the shores of New England, and out to the coast of Portland, Maine. 
 
Last week Eddie Goldenberg, former chief of staff to Prime Minister Jean Chretien and chair of Bennett Jones LLP’s government affairs and public policy, suggested that funneling bitumen to North America’s eastern shores is a no-brainer: it relieves one of the tricky political hazards of an oppositional public while still retaining the promise of a bolstered economy and rich relations with Asia.
 
The suggestion that companies in the oil sands might be searching for alternate routes to export bitumen to offshore markets was given added confirmation this week when Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver met with provincial energy and mining ministers to discuss the nation’s ‘responsible’ development of its natural resources.
 
Minister Oliver reported the two-day meetings in Charlottetown involved discussions around a possible pipeline infrastructure to carry Western Canada’s oil and gas to the eastern seaboard
 
Surprisingly, however, Minister Oliver scoffed at the idea the group discussed anything like a ‘National Energy Policy’ for Canada. Despite being a resource wealthy country, with a resource-based economy, Canada currently has no national strategy for the development of those resources – the tar sands included. 
 
Minister Oliver, responding to the suggestion that something like a national strategy had been a topic of discussion, told the Calgary Herald, “If you want to put a bow on it and call it a national energy strategy, go ahead. But we’re not applying that labeling to it.”
 
So Canadians hoping for a comprehensive, long-term and strategic criteria for forestry, mining, and oil and gas development across the provinces shouldn’t hold their breath. 
 
Yet despite the hesitation to engage a national debate regarding our environmental policies and energy production, there has been little hesitation to expand the tar sands at an astonishing rate.  
 
 
The past 10 years have already brought remarkable change to northern Alberta’s landscape, the consequences of which are suffered by the First Nations, local communities and wildlife that once depended upon the pristine landscape.
 
Here is what the tar sands region looked like in 1984:
 
Again in 2001:
 
And as of May 2011:
 
The coming rate of increase – as forecast by oil companies like Enbridge – will dwarf the last twenty year’s worth of development, according to Hughes, that have not only altered the landscape dramatically, but have transformed the political climate surrounding issues of energy, economy and environment. 
 
Its not the pipelines, per se, says Hughes, that are the real problem: it’s the economic tunnel vision that prioritizes the expansion of the tar sands over other national interests like energy diversity, renewable energy, environmental ingenuity and stewardship and a long-term energy strategy.
 
“The absence of a National Energy Strategy, given the non-renewable nature of the majority of the energy inputs to Canadian society, represents an extreme vulnerability to the long-term security interests of Canadians,” Hughes writes.
 
What Hughes finds perplexing is the simple fact that the current Canadian government – without a sound energy policy to speak of – is preparing to export unrefined resources to Asian countries, thereby weakening Canada’s long term security interest while at the same time exacerbating a poor environmental record. 
 
On this account, the silver lining is hard to find.
 
What the discussion of transnational pipelines really emphasizes is the unfeasibility of rapid tar sands expansion coupled with the export of Canadian resources to oil-hungry countries like China. In the end, where does the real benefit come in? 
 
The proposed pipelines - no matter what direction they travel - are only pointers of a more significant problem: the tar sands and the free-for-all mentality that dominates their development.
 
 
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Oil by rail

In 2009, Matt Taibbi wrote a piece in Rolling Stone in which he described the investment bank Goldman Sachs as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” 

Apparently tar sands oil smells like money. And thus the vampire squid has found another target. As Reuters reported on August 29:

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