Are Canada's Tar Sands in Peril?

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Stephen Harper could be in for rude awakening. For years, he has been dealing with likeminded climate change deniers in the Bush Administration who were only too happy to buy as much oil from the filthy Alberta tar sands as they could get their hands on.

The times they are a changing.

In the last week, key appointments in Obama’s cabinet have all made a point of detailing the perils of climate change.

At his confirmation hearing today, Dr. Steven Chu, the Nobel laureate physicist and incoming head of the Energy Department, warned of the dire consequences of unchecked global warming. In her confirmation hearing, Senator Hillary Clinton said that climate change is an “unambiguous security threat” and pledged an energy policy to reduce our carbon emissions.

Obama himself has detailed a cap and trade carbon system for the US that will rely on absolute rather than so-called “intensity” targets championed by Harper’s friends in the Alberta oil patch.

In contrast, Harper’s own credibility on climate change is almost laughable:

Many suspect that Harper is now lobbying Obama for a continental energy policy that would give a “pass” to Alberta tar sands.

Given the enormous expectations on Obama to bring in real and green change, it is unlikely that he will want to be associated with this tarry mess.

To say that the tar sands project has a credibility problem is an understatement:

There is also no legal requirement for tar sands producers to invest in the highly touted and dubious carbon capture and storage technologies. A recent leaked government memo showed that not even the Alberta government believes this is viable solution the massive carbon emissions from the tar sands.

The laundry list of reasons why Obama will not want to hitch the US energy wagon to the tar sands only grows longer.

A variety of prominent environmental groups in Canada and the US today co-signed a letter to the incoming president and his cabinet urging him to reject any overtures from Harper to exempt the oil sands from meaningful regulation of carbon.

Today there was an article in the New York Times detailing the declining economics of the tar sands, and the glaring policy inconsistencies with Obama’s stated energy, environmental, and security goals.

Much of the tar sands oil is simply uneconomic to extract if oil prices stay low - something that is bound to continue given the protracted global economic slump. Beyond the obvious environmental issues, long-term production of tar sands oil depends on the whims of world oil prices, adding to the uncertainty of long term supplies.

It is little wonder why Harper is lobbying the US so strongly to keep this bitumen boondoggle going. After billions of dollars of investment, this project remains almost entirely dependant on the US market. The NYT article detailed how tar sands producers lack the pipeline infrastructure to send their oil elsewhere if the Obama Administration decides it is too unethical to buy it.

It seems increasingly doubtful that Obama would be inclined to compromise his substantial green credibility so early in his presidency by climbing into a tarry bed with Stephen Harper.

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It remains to be seen how effective Obama’s administration will be on AGW. Will we see a binding cap and trade system or will we see token measures with reductions promised many decades into the future?

In regards to the oil sands, emissions will play a role but that will likely be balanced by concerns over America’s security of supply. Eliminating Canada’s oil sands as a US energy source would necessitate putting America’s energy security more heavily into the Middle East’s hands.

Unfortunately, what the writer does NOT mention in their story is that the Government of Alberta has recently severely tightened their environmental rules to now require MASSIVE recycling of a lot of the natural resources…particularly water….that are now being used to extricate the oil from the tar sands. The writer correctly points out that Alberta is now running out of fresh water. Not only is explosive human growth in the province now tapping into that vital resource, but the increasing demands of the oil extrication process are doing so as well. This, coupled with many years of drought in western Canada are all conspiring to now place HUGE demands on the watershed there…demands that are clearly unsustainable over the long haul unless something is done to control it.( website design) What the writer also doesn’t tell us is that all of these companies are now being forced to build HUGE plants to RECYCLE most of the water used in these processes to drastically cut their net use of that resource in the extrication process. I know this to be true because I have a brother-in-law who is now directly involved in building one of these recycling plants and bringing it online in the region. Clearly, we seo need to strike a balance between our near-term need for fossil fuels, and the impact that need has on our environment. Conservation and building more fuel-efficient vehicles is certainly part of that answer. However, unless we all want to start peddling bicycles to and from work (and then freeze in the dark when we get there!), until such time as the energy-efficient production of alternative fuels can be brought online and made commercially viable, we are STILL going to be stuck with burning coal, oil and natural gas in order to live our lives. That fact, in turn, means we need to continue looking for cost-effective ways to minimize the impact the exploration, extrication and use of these fossil fuels has on our environment.

its really good to Mr. President working as sensibly as was expected of him. i work in a website designing company but was really worried about this issue myself. thanks for bringing it to the forefront.