The development of the Alberta oil sands is a hot topic.
Harper’s Conservatives have promoted Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline ever since it was proposed in 2006. It is supposed to carry raw bitumen – the tar-like product of the oil sands – from Alberta to Kitimat, on the rugged Northern Coast of British Columbia, to be shipped across the Pacific Ocean to China.
Pipeline supporters say it will create jobs and stimulate the economy. Others argue that the pipeline will carry major environmental risks and bulldoze through the treaty rights of many First Nations.
Let’s compare the potential benefits and risks.
The project could be lucrative: it is expected to cost $5.5 billion, with a projected return of $270 billion over 30 years. Job creation is not as bright, however, with only 104 permanent jobs being created after 3,000 short-term jobs to construct the pipeline.
But the economic analysis isn’t so cut and dry. Projects like this will encourage even more rapid development of Canada’s oil sands, which will continue to hyper-inflate the Canadian dollar.
This drives up the price of other exports (forest sector products, manufactured goods, etc), kills tourism, and makes it difficult for Canada to compete in international markets. This so-called “Dutch Disease” is real and worrisome, according to international organizations such as the 34-nation Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The oil in the ground isn’t going away, and prices for it will only increase over the long term.
Is it wise for Canada to rush to sell our hydrocarbon cheap and fast, and become an economy dependent mostly on crude oil?
There are the environmental risks to consider. The project poses very real threats to the ecosystems of Northern British Columbia, including the Great Bear Rainforest. The coast is home to a thriving wild salmon industry, which stimulates the provincial economy and is a source of food for many residents. Locals are rightly concerned with the possibility of oil spills.
There is great risk of at least one 1,000,000-litre spill over the course of the project. This risk is very real, especially given the rushing rivers, avalanches and earthquake risks of the mountain terrain in Northern British Columbia.
The rough waters off of BC’s North coast are another cause for concern, with volatile weather throughout the year.
Repeated studies have shown that the risk of a tanker spill on the Northern coast is high – that’s why there is currently a ban on oil tanker traffic there.
The Northern Gateway pipeline would bring in over 200 super-tankers a year! British Columbians are right to ask whether the risks to our industries and environment are worth it. Most are saying “No!”
An increasing number of Canadians and politicians across the country are agreeing with them. The Harper Government is becoming increasingly isolated in their blind promotion to ship crude oil to Communist China.
Oil sands development will be at the top of Canada’s energy policy debate for years to come.
Instead of rushing to send our unprocessed raw resources off to foreign markets, the oil sands debate presents an opportunity to develop policies that meet domestic energy and resource needs, that will keep upgrading, refining, and value-added jobs in Canada, achieve energy self-sufficiency and reduce risk to our natural heritage. Rather than politicizing the debate into a simplistic and divisive “anti-environment” side versus “anti-development,” the let’s open a rational discussion about what is best for Canada’s economic, conservation, and energy needs. So that all Canadians benefit, including Eastern Canada.
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