You can argue all you like that exploiting the oil sands is against the long-term interests of Canadians, given the climatic risks it poses. What is much harder is to overcome the influence of so much short-term cash.
This year, for the first time ever, royalties from the oil sands will eclipse those from any other energy resource in Alberta:
Oil sands royalties will outstrip conventional crude royalties by a modest $35-million this year, the government forecast in the budget tabled yesterday. By 2010-2011, the province expects oil sands royalties to roar to $3.2-billion, a 75-per-cent hike that will see bitumen production provide 45 per cent of the province’s total oil and gas royalties.
By 2012-2013, the oil sands will form 53 per cent of Alberta’s royalty stream, which will represent a quarter of total provincial revenues.
In the face of that, it is easy to dismiss the risk of catastrophic or runaway climate change as distant and uncertain. Unfortunately, given the enormous size of the world’s reserves of unconventional oil and gas – including the tar sands – exploiting them is the single thing we can do that most increases the probability of a truly terrible outcome for humanity. In addition, there are all the air and water pollution consequences that accompany oil sands exploitation, as well as the destruction of natural habitat.
Given the fact that most of the fuels being manufactured from Albertan bitumen will eventually be used for vehicles, even cheap and affordable carbon capture and storage (CCS) will not make it safe to exploit these resources. This makes Alberta’s CCS-focused provincial climate change plan laughably inadequate.