Pipe Wars Part I: Keystone XL and Northern Gateway Keep Oil Sands a Hot Topic in Canada
By: Meirav Even-Har, Toronto
The Canadian oil sands are attracting two controversies as the appetite for more oil drives expansion plans south and north of the border. The now infamous Keystone XL pipeline project by TransCanada Corporation (TransCanada) is back in the news as the company plans to file a Presidential Permit application in the near future for a cross-border pipeline, with an alternative route through Nebraska. Enbridge Inc. (Enbridge) is also contending with additional media exposure regarding the company's plan to build its Northern Gateway Pipelines - a project that will transport petroleum from the oil sands to Kitimat's harbour for markets in Asia and California.
Two big projects, one contentious industry and plenty of confusion; it seems understanding the pros and cons for each project is in order. For Canadians, picking a side will only grow in importance; like the changing face of our military, the oil sands are becoming to be about a new Canadian national identity. Similar to those in the United States, Canadian opinions on the oil sands are split between support for economic growth, especially in the west, versus environmental degradation and reputational damage.
The Pipeline Projects: What's at stake for Canada and the U.S.?
TransCanada and supporters have been positioning the project as a large job creator for Canadian and U.S. jobs. Enbridge, while still in the permitting assessment process, is engaging stakeholders near the proposed project, noting significant opportunity for job growth, especially in First Nations communities. In a November 3, 2011 press release, Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines committed $1.5 million toward a Gateway Education and Training Fund. In the release the company states: "The Fund will support training initiatives that focus on pipeline construction skills - skills which are highly transferable and allow for employment in multi-industry environments."
Both companies also refer to energy security as a major positive component to the oil sands. Canada is a politically stable country that is able to expand production while also following environmental regulations and general rule of law. The industry in general purports oil sands bitumen is good for U.S. energy security, leading to less reliance on foreign oil while strengthening the two economies.
Or...Not to build?
The main opposition to both projects has been environmental concerns fuelled by NGOs in both Canada and the U.S. Concerns include potential spills, offshore accidents, wildlife habitat loss or significant disturbance, to name a few. The deepest sentiment, however, is that greater demand will drive further expansion of oil sands production area.
Aside from the extra GHGs in the air and land use changes, the expansion of the oil sands may signal something deeper - that we haven't progressed as a society. That society's dependence on fossil fuels continues unabated. In addition, the two pipelines symbolize the potential loss of momentum for green energy. Opponents also raise the question of whether citizen opposition can halt a project such as Keystone XL, in the face of government and industry support.
In next week's blog post the issue of job creation in the US and Canada will be further explored - will the new pipelines create more jobs? With so many in need of work, is it "fair" to delay putting people back to work?
Photo Credit: Clayton Conn, 2011 (via Tarsandsaction)