Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Environment Reconsidered - A Positive Strategy

Canadian Oil Has a Social Conscience

Canadian oil has attached to it all the values of a secular democracy; equity regardless of sex, colour or creed, due process, exemplary world citizen etc. … We have environmental review processes that are overtaxing. What other significant oil producing supplier offers that to the World. The Saudis – NO – they have financed discord throughout the Arab world, they are the birth place of religious extremism AND in Saudi Arabia women are refused access to driving a car, let alone fair access to employment opportunities. Perhaps Venezuela – NO – they dump crude oil on roads to keep the dust down, crude oil then runs into the ditches and water ways AND there is no indication that oil wealth is building a creditable social platform. Perhaps Nigeria – NO – they, flare off natural gas like we did in the 1950s, dump oil in rivers, use child labour, syphon off state oil revenues to a Swiss bank accounts AND make no effort at equitable treatment of women. Russia? Iran? You get the point, the oil will get purchased and used, whoever sells oil gains material strength, think about which country you want to have the influence that comes with material strength – then think strategically.

What we humans want, we get, supply does wane, prices do go up – oil is no exception. Oil is the single biggest influencer on the human enterprise, without a doubt, where oil goes we follow. There are replacements, just none that come into play quickly enough to offer a liberating degree of fungiblity for this item, as George Bush said “we are addicted to it”.  When oil goes up, economic growth wanes, it is a constraint or boon to the economy; a cursory review of the modern economy indicates this reality. The good news is that there has been somewhat of a decoupling of oil and GDP post the 1970’s oil crisis. The move to a more efficient fleet is partly responsible and of course, we have moved to a more “intellectually” based economy – less physical stuff relative to information and services.  

Technology is giving access to more and more oil and we have yet to pursue the gasification of coal as an oil replacement, a process that was reported to be viable at about the present world price. In the 1980s, before tight gas was really accessible, coal gasification would have provided 100s of years of supply. The key point here is that we are nowhere near a point of reserve depletion to effect an economic imperative for the development of substitutes AND absent substitutes, the world will keep using oil for 100s of years. So then what is the best strategy for the environmental movement in the face of this reality?

Is the best near term strategy to block Keystone and Gateway, only to have oil producers of ill repute fill the supply gap – NO! The rhetoric and fear mongering that has emerged from the environment movement around pipelines for example, is unadulterated fear mongering. We have had pipelines for years and for the most part they have given safe service with very few environmentally significant failures. The present activities of Kinder Morgan in twinning their present facilities through British Columbia is meeting resistance, there is no rational reason from a safety perspective to oppose these actions, that pipeline’s record is exemplary. The desire to block pipelines is to obstruct the exportation of Canadian gas and oil, specifically, oilsands oil. How is this a rational course of action – WHEN WE KNOW – that the producers of ill repute will fill the supply gap.

In Canada, we have processes for review of projects. In Canada we have tort recourse in the courts. In Canada people can object, protest the works. In Canada people of conscience can review the industry and its conduct, and effect influence over that conduct. Canada has in effect, by being a country of conscience, facilitated the means to have our industry attacked. We are one, of very few, significant producers in the world that can offer ongoing monitoring and control of operations.

I offer this to the North American environmental movement as a strategy, stop punishing the “best of a bad bunch”, Canadian oil on all fronts offers benefit relative to other producers. Then, through political means, pressure the government to tax oil exports to facilitate transition to different energy sources and or development of technologies that render fossil fuel use harmonious with natural systems. The mission statement might be, by 2045 fossil fuel use in Canada will have no net “long-term” negative impact on the environment. 

There have been targets before and targets have faded in the face of pragmatism, a pragmatism born of the reality that our oil is sold as a commodity alongside the oil from the producers of ill repute. It is an obscene paradox, that in obstructing the Canadian oil industry the environmental movement is effecting a net degradation to the WORLD environment and shoring up regimes of oppression. The obstruction that is occurring in Canada from the environment review processes and the rest of the industry’s regulatory processes costs the industry money and negatively impacts their competitiveness in the world market. If the environmental movement “got behind” our industry, reduced the obstruction occurring now, the environmental movement would be in a position to levy the industry for funds for research and development of substitutes and or remediation of fossil fuel use – the means to facilitate transition would come to hand. The environment movement has to manage the axis of, on the one hand asserting their requirements and on the other, facilitating the financial strength of a good producer; in this way, like the martial arts, the environmental movement uses the weight of its opponent to meet its own ends.   

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