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More Pipelines aren't Needed to Supply Canadians

Gordon Laxer

The Province (Vancouver)

May 24, 2016

Would leaving much of Canada’s oil in the soil prop up Saudi Arabia’s odious dictatorship? That’s Joseph Maloney’s far-fetched case against the Leap Manifesto in his op-ed Friday.

The boilermakers union representative notes that Eastern Canada imports nearly all its oil. If Canada doesn’t build new oil pipelines, he contends, it will continue importing oil from “such paragons of democracy as Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Algeria and Angola”.

Maloney’s argument makes no sense. The Kinder Morgan and Northern Gateway pipelines to the west coast, and the Energy East pipeline to New Brunswick are proposed oil exporting lines. How would exporting more oil displace oil imports into Canada?

Since December, Enbridge Line 9 has supplied Quebec’s two oil refineries with western Canadian and U.S. shale oil. Quebec now imports very little oil from the Middle East.

TransCanada has proposed to convert and build the Energy East oil pipeline to New Brunswick. It would not end oil imports to Atlantic Canadians. Mark Sherman, plant manager at the Irving oil refinery in St. John, New Brunswick, where the Energy East line would terminate, said the line would send “way more than we would ever use at this refinery, so the bulk of it would all be exported.”

To end oil imports, Canada should embrace the kind of Canada-first, energy security plan I outline in my book, After the Sands. Supply all Canadians, including Eastern Canadians, with domestic, non-fracked, conventional oil.

We don’t need a 4,600-kilometre pipeline from Alberta to New Brunswick. Newfoundland has enough conventional, non-fracked oil to supply all Atlantic Canadians. Most live on or near a coast. Why pipe it to them when it can be shipped?

The advantage of oil tankers over a pipeline is that they can be phased out as Canadians oil use falls, whereas a new pipeline would need three decades of shipping oilsands oil at full volume to amortize the building costs. There would be fewer tankers overall because oil exports from Saint John via tankers would be phased out.

We don’t need to pump more oil to end Canada’s oil imports. Canada produces way more oil than Canadians consume. That’s the biggest reason Canada’s per-capita carbon emissions are three times the world average.

Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gases comes from producing oil in Alberta’s oilsands. Most is exported. If we’re serious about replacing oil imports with our least carbon-polluting domestic oil, Canada must phase out Alberta’s oilsands oil and all carbon energy exports.

If we add in liquids from domestic natural gas, Canada has just enough conventional, non-fracked oil to meet Canadians current oil use, but not enough to continuing exporting.

Non-fracked Canadian conventional oil is falling. A strong conservation plan can reduce Canadians’ wasteful carbon energy use as fast.

There’s no good reason Canadians use 27 per cent more oil per capita than Norwegians and 39 per cent more than Swedes. Both are cold, sparsely populated countries like Canada.

Alberta will end coal-fired generation of electricity by 2030, but will allow oilsands emissions to grow by 43 per cent by then, entirely cancelling out its good green initiatives.

Alberta should close out the oilsands over the same period. If they aren’t, their emissions will prevent Canada from hitting its 2030 Paris targets. The oilsands are part of the past. They require sky-high oil prices to be economic. The rest of the world is moving on.

But jobs for oilsands workers are part of the future. The oil and gas industry yields few direct jobs. For every million dollars invested, they create half a job. Construction creates 16 times more jobs per million dollars invested. Offer oilsands workers green construction jobs retrofitting all buildings, building high-speed trains, subways and LRT, district heating and installing wind, geothermal and solar power.

We don’t need new oil pipelines to any coast to give Eastern Canadians the oil security many don’t now have.

There’s no contradiction between the Leap Manifesto’s call for no new carbon infrastructure projects and ending oil imports from Saudi Arabia and everywhere else.

Gordon Laxer’s After the Sands: Energy and Ecological Security for Canadians was a finalist for the 2016 John W. Dafoe book prize. He is founding director of Parkland Institute at the University of Alberta.

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