“America is addicted to oil,” said the arch-environmentalist and fervent renewable energy advocate George W. Bush in his State of the Union address in 2006. Good thought. His successor, Barack Obama, has actually acted on that perception, though, and worked to reduce America’s reliance on oil and other fossil fuels. He and his administration have negotiated a long-term agreement to significantly increase gas mileage; issued a directive to radically improve the environmental performance of federal buildings and vehicles; and designated a large portion of the economic stimulus package for green initiatives. Obama said in March that “…for the sake of our planet and our energy independence, we need to begin the transition to cleaner fuels now.”
Looming over the border in Canada, however, is the specter of the tar sands. Production of crude oil from the tar sands is tracking at 1.5 million barrels a day for 2010. Of this, over a million barrels is exported to the U.S. The environmental and public health impacts of the extraction, processing and transportation of tar sands have been well documented and reported. These are concerns that have been expressed by environmental groups in North America and Europe, but now the economic and security implications of increasing tar sands development are being addressed by key members of the U.S. Congress as well as analysts working on the critical interface between energy, environment and security.
Barring Tar Sands Oil
Congressman Henry Waxman, the outgoing chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, was the driving force behind Section 526 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 [PDF]. Section 526 prohibits federal agencies from procuring alternative fuel unless its life cycle GHG emissions are less than those for conventional petroleum sources. This provision set off alarm bells in Canada. The Ambassador to the U.S., Michael Wilson, wrote to Defense Secretary Robert Gates [PDF] within a couple of months of EISA becoming law to say that “Canada would not want to see an expansive interpretation of Section 526, which would then include commercially-available fuel made in part from oil derived from Canadian oil sands.”
DeSmog Canada has been named as a finalist for “Best News Coverage” by the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.