STOP: Stop Tar Sands Operations Permanently

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A Promise Obama Should Keep

Posted by mhudema on June 27, 2008

One Obama Campaign Promise on Canada That I’d Like Him to Keep
From Canada’s Financial Post comes Peter Foster’s article “Obama plays ‘dirty’ oil card”.

On Tuesday, orotund Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama vowed to break the U. S. addiction to “dirty, dwindling and dangerously expensive” oil. An advisor said it was an open question whether Canada’s oil sands were Mr. Obama’s prime target, but the word “dirty” is a dead giveaway.

Mr. Obama, speaking in Las Vegas, implied that the U. S. might somehow do without the oil sands. “[T]he possibilities of renewable energy are limitless,” he declared. “We’ve heard promises about it in every State of the Union for the last three decades. But each and every year, we become more, not less, addicted to oil–a 19th-century fossil fuel.”

[. . .]

When it comes to picking on oil sands, Mr. Obama is fad surfing a popular wave. In December the U. S. government adopted a law to ban federal procurement of fuels that generate more greenhouse gases than “conventional sources.” California has also adopted low-carbon fuel standards. On Monday, a meeting of mayors in Miami slapped a Scarlet Letter on oil sands production, demanding “full life-cycle” accounting for such fuels.

This political posturing is based in the remarkable success of the environmental movement in demonization the oil sands. One surprising convert was The Times of London, which earlier this year called Athabasca production a “filthy habit,” and suggested that the next president consider an import ban.

My support for Obama’s position–likely to remain theoretical, as many note given the United States’ dependence on foreign oil, but here’s to hoping–is twofold.

1. Like others, Bloomberg’s Theophilos Argitis has pointed out that the recent economic boom in Alberta has coincided with stagnation and industrial collapse in Ontario and Québec. Canadian bank Desjardins has produced an October 2006 study (PDF format) that concludes that while Alberta’s resource boom has had an effect on (among other things) the Canadian currency’s exchange rates, it hasn’t played more than a relatively minor role in the decline of central Canadian industry, itself exposed to foreign competition. Still, the coincidence in timing is suspicious.

2. The environmental impact of the exploitation of Alberta’s oil sands is severe, as noted by (among other groups) Oil Sands Truth and Tar Sands Watch. Briefly put, the effect on Alberta’s environment is manifold, whether one’s talking about the widespread destruction of Boreal forest, the risk of exhausting local reserves of water, or growing greenhouse gas emissions. What’s worse, the Albertan government doesn’t seem interested in regulating the oil companies’ environmental damages; sometimes, the Alberta government seems to be covering things up. I like Alberta too much to want it to be deterraformed.

If production can be made environmentally friendly without a risk of ruining the natural environment of Alberta, and if the profits of this production can be spent in a way that doesn’t destabilize the Canadian economy, I’d welcome it. That said, foreign pressure can be a very good tool in the right contexts, for instance in (say) encouraging the rational exploitation of natural resources. Obama, if you can do something …

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