Carbon Prohibition Hurts PM Harper's Backyard Distillery

Fri, 2007-12-07 15:21Mitchell Anderson
Mitchell Anderson's picture

Carbon Prohibition Hurts PM Harper's Backyard Distillery

If you owned a distillery, you would probably not be in favour of prohibition.
So it is little wonder why Harper is apposed to binding emission targets at the UN climate negotiations in Bali.
Harper’s adopted province of Alberta is home to the second largest oil reserves in the world, and the good times are just starting to roll. For decades, the tar sands have been far too expensive and energy intensive to make sense. But with crude oil prices pushing $100 a barrel, the oil patch boys are looking at some serious returns on their investment.
The tar sands have about 175 billion barrels of extractable reserves based on oil prices from 2005 – already long out of date. With break-even costs around $28 a barrel, oil companies may rake in over $12 trillion in profits over the lifespan of the tar sands.
This of course makes the unlikely assumption that world oil prices will remain below $100 a barrel decades into the future. With peak oil upon us, eventual profits may be much higher. So too might the extractable reserves. 175 billion barrels represents only 11% of the known 1.6 trillion barrels of tarry oil that underlie more than 12% of the Alberta landmass.
Beyond mere money looms the energy imperatives of Canada’s thirsty neighbor to the south. With the US embroiled in a costly and unpopular war in Iraq, George Bush committed in his state of the union address in 2006 to end his country’s addiction to Mideast oil.
What he did not intimate to his country or ours was that the slack was to be made up not from conservation but from the Alberta tar sands –now deemed to a national security objective of the US government.
The same week that Harper took office in 2006, Canadian officials helpfully committed to a five-fold increase in tar sands production during secret meetings with their US counterparts in Huston Texas - one week prior to Bush’s address to the nation.
Which brings us to carbon caps. Plan A for Harper, Bush and oil companies is for tar sands development to continue at full tilt boogie until all the oil is gone. The only thing that might conceivably prevent that from happening is binding international emissions targets. 
The conflict between carbon caps and the tar sands is simple. Production and downstream emissions for Alberta synthetic crude are around 638 kg carbon dioxide per barrel - considerably higher than conventional oil. Based on extractable reserves of 175 billion barrels, the tar sands will eventually contribute an incredible 112 billion tonnes of CO2 to the planet’s atmosphere. Released all at once, they would single handedly bump atmospheric CO2 concentrations close to 400 ppm. It’s hard to image meaningful global emissions targets that would not limit the development of the oil sands.
Keep all that in mind as Harper trots out his bizarre position during the UN climate negotiations this week in Bali. He is almost alone among world leaders in insisting that there be no binding emission targets until every country in the world signs on. One exasperated diplomat at the Commonwealth conference last month described Mr. Harper’s position as “a perfect recipe for making sure nothing happens”.
Simply put, Harper, Bush and their oil industry supporters have far too much to lose if the Bali negotiations succeed.

Previous Comments

This was an interesting post. I may be be helped by adding some links. At least, I would have liked to read up on the part about tar sands production as a national security objective of the US.
The other thing I wanted to ask about was this: under the current, extremely lenient Kyoto framework, I understand that you can claim credits by providing a lesser-contributing fuel to another country, as long as it also has adopted Kyoto. Thus by selling natural gas (or tarsand oil, I guess, if they could extract it using nuclear power) to the US, which would otherwise get energy from coal (presumably with higher emissions), Alberta could still sell high-carbon fuels to the US, as long as they both signed. Am I far off-base here?

Thanks for the comment. CBC did a very good story on the strategic importance of the oil sands to the Bush administration. Here some video links:

As far the shell game of emissions trading, the point I am trying to make is that the chemistry of the atmosphere doesn’t care where the additional ancient carbon comes from. Any meaningful carbon caps would have to impact the oil sands, both because of the enormous downstream emissions, but also due to how energy intensive it is to even extract oil from the tar sands. We are currently burning 700 million cubic feet of relatively clean natural gas every day to extract the bitumen from rock and sand. That is enough to heat about 3.7 million homes.

I appreciate the extra info.

Mitchell - good article. Sure shows why Harper and Bush are good pals and both are pushing for the same objectives. They both want the Tar Sands to thrive. They now think they have found a loophole with their intensity-based targets that they will try to sell to the rest of the world.

Time is ticking and they’re both feeling the pressure of getting their way for their oil friends, before the leadership in the US, and probably Canada, changes.

We all need to do our part to make sure we stick to Kyoto and the framework developed there. If you want to take action, please support Al Gore’s proposal to move the next stage of Kyoto from 2012 to 2010.

We’ve got to stand up to Bush and Harper and let them know that they are Dinosaurs with their views and aspirations on climate change. Even though they both don’t believe that dinosaurs existed, I’m sure they’ll get the message.

In his rather misinformed and tendencious opinion piece, Anderson tries to somehow insinuate that the major beneficiary of oilsands production is Stephen Harper and the CPC.

Given that mining/oil and gas extraction account for over 54% of Canada’s goods-producing industry GDP, common sense would indicate that there are more than a few other of us Canadians who rely on it to pay our bills. To be fair, I wouldn’t include the members of the chattering classes, such as Anderson – although, maybe he should check his RRSP portfolio.

Anderson also trots out a sensationalistic reference to a CBC report which has long been debunked:

“The same week that Harper took office in 2006, Canadian officials helpfully committed to a five-fold increase in tar sands production during secret meetings with their US counterparts in Huston Texas - one week prior to Bush’s address to the nation.”

Ooooh, a conspiracy! A secret meeting! Well, if any meeting that issued press-releases on websites and has publicly available reports can be called “secret”, that is.

What Anderson is referring to, is a meeting of the Oil Sands Experts Group Workshop Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America, taking place in Houston, TX, January 24-25, 2006. Harper was only sworn-in as Prime Minister on February 6, 2006. Obviously, federal representatives at the Houston meeting were appointees of the Martin Government.

Just to make sure Anderson is clear on which side of the political spectrum he resides:

“With the US embroiled in a costly and unpopular war in Iraq”

Naturally, the US should only engage in wars which are considered popular. Like WWII. Oh, wait, that was unpopular, too. And costly.

“Simply put, Harper, Bush and their oil industry supporters have far too much to lose if the Bali negotiations succeed.”

As do most Canadians and Americans – not including Mr. Anderson and his chattering class, of course.

Well said! It’s a good thing that Alberta has friends in the U.S. when the lace curtain elites in Canada are itching to sell us down the river (again).



State Department Enbridge Emails

DeSmogBlog has obtained dozens of emails that lend an inside view of how the U.S. State Department secretly handed Enbridge a permit to expand the capacity of its U.S.-Canada border-crossing Alberta Clipper pipeline, which carries tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) from Alberta to midwest markets. 


read more