PART TWO: The Paradox of Canada’s Tar Sands and America’s Drive to Substantially Decarbonize Energy

(Cont’d from Part 1) As far as the credibility of the U.S. and Canada in international climate negotiations, the Sierra Club’s Kate Colarulli thinks that continued tar sands oil production and consumption hurts both countries badly.  Canada’s reputation is particularly poor in this context.

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, the director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s International Program, feels the same way.  Canada, in her view, has been completely discredited at the table as a direct consequence of the tar sands.

In Cancún, Canada has been an extremely visible target because of the tar sands.  Protesters there have made the salient point that Canada is dragging its feet on robust greenhouse gas reduction targets because of their desire to continue and radically expand the tar sands extraction.

Canada was also being tarred in Cancún – pun intended – by being the recipient of three “Fossil of the Day” awards, as voted by over 400 international organizations.  Canada was similarly dishonored at the Copenhagen Conference of the Parties for “…years of delay, obstruction and total inaction.”

Bringing the Crude to New Markets

The Natural Resources Defense Council has been a leader in the battle to curtail the destruction that the tar sands engender.  For one thing, they’ve fought to keep 526 in place in the face of nearly constant pressure to water it down or eliminate it.  They’ve also been involved in several legal battles on major pipeline projects to bring Canadian crude oil to the U.S.

The State Department has the responsibility to rule on international pipeline projects that cross into the U.S.  In August last year, they approved the Alberta Clipper project.  A new proposal, the Keystone XL pipeline, would transport up to 900,000 barrels a day of tar sands crude oil almost 2,000 miles from Alberta to refineries in the Gulf Coast, providing the first outlet beyond the U.S. for foreign markets.  The NRDC’s Casey-Lefkowitz points out that opposition within Canada prevents the crude from being sent by pipeline west to Vancouver.  The Province of British Columbia has a de facto moratorium in place on shipping of oil from its ports and the First Nations are vigorously against it being routed through their lands.

A recent pipeline rupture was responsible for a spill of a million gallons (over 20,000 barrels) of tar sands crude in Michigan.  There is concern, even among conservative Republican politicians, that the Keystone XL project will endanger critical resources like the Ogallala aquifer.
Environmental Review

State’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on the Keystone XL project has been subjected to serious challenges, including from other key federal agencies.  The Environmental Protection Agency wrote a comprehensive 18-page critique calling for much more information and analysis.

The Department of Energy also commented [PDF].  One of the chief rationales for the importation of oil from Canada – and cited in State’s DEIS – is that the friendly relations between these two G-7 powerhouses will somehow buffer oil price shocks from other regions.  DOE challenges this notion.  “When the world experienced an oil price shock in 2008, Canada sold crude to the U.S. at a price linked to a global market price, not at or below market rates.”  Further, “In the case of a manipulation of supply to create price shock conditions, the Keystone XL pipeline would not eliminate the instruments that market participants may use to exercise market power.”

50 members of the House of Representatives wrote a letter to Secretary Clinton [PDF] in June calling for “a full lifecycle assessment of the greenhouse gas emissions for tar sands” to determine whether the pipeline “is consistent with the Administration’s clean energy and climate change priorities.”  Congressman Waxman wrote to both Secretary Clinton [PDF] and State’s project manager [PDF] in July.  In the latter, he gets to the heart of the problem:

Canada faces a serious challenge in addressing its greenhouse gas emissions, and tar sands are the single biggest part of the problem going forward.  There is little basis for assuming that this problem will be effectively addressed while the United States supports increased production by further expanding market access for tar sands fuel. 

Secretary Clinton spoke out of school in October during a talk at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.  When asked about State’s disposition on approval for the Keystone XL, she said “…we are inclined to do so…”  Her rationale was that “…we’re either going to be dependent on dirty oil from the Gulf or dirty oil from Canada.”  Not convincing.

Eleven U.S. Senators, led by Patrick Leahy and Jeff Merkley, subsequently wrote a letter to Secretary Clinton, until two years ago one of their closest and most reliable progressive colleagues.

Approval of this pipeline will significantly increase our dependence on this oil for decades.  We believe the Department of State (DOS) should not pre-judge the outcome of what should be a thorough, transparent analysis of the need for this oil and its impacts on our climate and clean energy goals.

How the United States and Canada proceed on the tar sands – and how the rest of the world reacts to their critical decisions – will provide important signals on whether we are going to succeed or fail in meeting the greatest environmental threat in human history, climate change.


California’s real solution to pollution is to export their CO2 and other GHG’s to you guessed it; Alberta’s tar pits! Hence, California’s “green” agenda and Bill 32 is simply thinly veneered window-dressing planted firmly on a solid “dirty oil” platform. So, Bill 32 is directed at the encouragement to deploy emission reducing technologies to stimulate economic growth; subsidized by “dirty oil”.

In 2006, Northwest Power Pool’s Northwest Transmission Assessment Committee Canada-NW-California Study Group released the Canada Northwest-California Transmission Options Study. Here:

The study looked at 18 different transmission options, 11 of which identify the Athabasca tar sands area’s capacity to generate the electricity that meets the Northwest Power Pool’s requirements. The other options discuss wind-hydro combo generated in British Columbia.

“Dirty oil” will end up feeding California and the Pacific Northwest’s insatiable appetite for power; iPads, AC, hybrid-electric cars, and things like electricity hungry desalination plants (to compensate for rapidly dwindling fresh water supplies). All of this will be accomplished under the guise of “GREEN”, with Canada inheriting the emissions.