In 2007, when President Obama proposed a carbon tax on imported Canadian tar sands oil, the Canadian oil lobby and the Conservative government threatened to start sending their crude overseas to countries like Russia and China with weaker environmental standards.
A big problem with this plan is that currently there is no way to actually move tar sands oil onto a tanker and ship it overseas. So the threat posed against the United States by Canada's pro-tar sands lobby was, and continues to be, an empty one.
This is why it is so important that we stop any and all ability for tar sands oil to be pumped off our coasts and sent to overseas export markets.
But countries like China who are struggling to keep up with their own explosive economic growth are desperate for new sources of oil and will happily take tar sands oil from Canada without a thought about things like climate change and toxic water pollution.
Earlier this week, Chen Weidong, a top Chinese oil academic warned the Canadian oil lobby that the Canadian tar sands are being left behind by the global energy industry. China is frustrated that they cannot access Canada tar sands and they have been for years.
In completely politically incorrect fashion, Weidong told a gathering of Canadian government and industry officials that:
“It's the same situation as the leftover single women… It will be the same for the oil sands, they will be outdated just like unmarried single women.”
Aside from being totally awkward [Check out Gillian McEachern's parody online dating profile at Environmental Defence Canada mocking this insanity], this threat from China is an empty one given that the tar sands do not have some expiry date that makes them undesirable. Twenty years from now China will still be yearning for tar sands oil. That is, of course, if Canada in twenty years still has no way to put tar sands oil onto a tanker off the west coast and ship it overseas.
The minute tar sands oil can be pumped off Canada's west coast and sent to markets outside of the United States any leverage opponents of the tar sands have is gone. The Canadian government's threat of sending oil elsewhere becomes real.
As long as the United States remains the only customer for the tar sands, the US government can propose and likely pass strict regulations on oil made from the carbon intensive and environmenally destructive tar sands operations.
In the United States, with President Obama re-elected for a second term there is renewed hope that we will see strong US government global warming pollution regulations enacted and this will likely include a tax on tar sands oil imported from Canada.
If this happens it will do one of two things: 1) slow down expansion of Canada's tar sands oil production over the long term, or (2) see the Canadian oil lobby (which includes Canada's ruling Conservative party) double down on their efforts to lay pipe out to Canada's west coast.
If the latter happens and markets like China and Russia come into play, I hate to say it, but we're screwed.