Two things Canada’s oil industry needs to understand

by Milan on January 23, 2016

in Climate change, Economics, Ethics, Oil sands

First — any expectation that ‘business as usual’ in the sense of rapid growth in production will return is ill-founded. Most importantly, this is because an effective global transition to low-carbon energy requires countries like Canada to stop investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure as well as to develop serious plans to phase out fossil fuel production that already exists. Combined with volatile fossil fuel prices, the very high per-barrel cost of production in the bitumen sands, and the heavy environmental impact there is no reason to expect a return to the rapid growth projections which were once do dominant in Canada.

Second — the fact that any political jurisdiction happens to own coal, oil, and gas doesn’t grant a right to exploit these resources regardless of the impact on others. Based on what we have learned about the harm caused by climate change, it’s ethically and politically imperative that the arbitrary use of the atmosphere as a dumping ground for carbon pollution comes to an end.

By all means we should be providing support to individuals and communities that want to transition away from the fossil fuel industry. What we need to collectively reject is the idea that any jurisdiction has the right to impose climate change on the rest of the world and future generations. People deserve support in transitioning away from fossil fuel dependence, but there is every reason for Canada as a whole to reject new fossil fuel export infrastructure, particularly bitumen sands pipelines and coal ports.

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. January 23, 2016 at 2:52 pm
. January 2, 2017 at 7:14 pm

The International Energy Agency (IEA), a global forecaster, says that to come close to a 2ºC target, oil demand would have to peak in 2020 at 93m barrels per day (b/d), just above current levels. Oil use in passenger transport and freight would plummet over the next 25 years, to be replaced by electricity, natural gas and biofuels. None of the signatories to the Paris accord has pledged such draconian action yet, but as the costs of renewable energy and batteries fall, such a transition appears ever more inevitable. “Whether or not you believe in climate change, an unstoppable shift away from coal and oil towards lower-carbon fuels is under way, which will ultimately bring about an end to the oil age,” says Bernstein, an investment-research firm.

. January 2, 2017 at 7:30 pm

Analysts who think that the Paris accords will mark a turning point in global efforts to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions say global oil consumption could start to wane as early as the 2020s. That would mean companies would have to focus exclusively on easy-to-access oil such as that in the Middle East and America’s shale-oil provinces, rather than expensive, complex projects with long payback periods, such as those in the Arctic, the Canadian oil sands or deep under the ocean.

. January 26, 2017 at 6:27 pm

And that is why the Koch brothers and the American Petroleum Institute and other arms of the fossil-fuel industry have played the political game so fiercely. They know all about the long run – hell, as good investigative reporting over the past 18 months has demonstrated, Exxon knew about climate change before almost anyone else. But the company also knows there are trillions to be made if it can postpone that action for a few more decades, even at the cost of wrecking the planet. Every year Exxon issues a new energy forecast, and every year it shows fossil fuels still providing most of the planet’s power by midcentury, never mind the skyrocketing temperature or the plummeting cost of solar. Now, Exxon’s accounting will be the nation’s – replacing the mathematics laid out in the Paris Agreement a year ago. Trump may not be able to kill it outright, but he can certainly make sure that we don’t keep our pledges, tempting the rest of the world to backslide.

Which means that the opposition will need to be savvy and dynamic, focused constantly on keeping the momentum of the energy transition growing, not slowing. Everything depends on pace – only if we can keep renewable power galloping ahead do we have a chance of catching up with climate change. So first things first: Mark April 29th on your calendar, because the climate movement will convene in D.C. to show that the election didn’t cancel physics. Politicians need to be reminded, even as they do the bidding of the industry, that the rest of us are watching. That march will mark 100 days of the Trump administration; his early surge can’t be avoided, but it can be slowed.

. April 18, 2017 at 3:08 pm

Last month, speaking at a Houston petroleum industry gathering, he got a standing ovation from the oilmen for saying: “No country would find 173bn barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there.”

Yes, 173bn barrels is indeed the estimate for recoverable oil in the tar sands. So let’s do some math. If Canada digs up that oil and sells it to people to burn, it will produce, according to the math whizzes at Oil Change International, 30% of the carbon necessary to take us past the 1.5C target that Canada helped set in Paris.

That is to say, Canada, which represents one half of 1% of the planet’s population, is claiming the right to sell the oil that will use up a third of the earth’s remaining carbon budget. Trump is a creep and a danger and unpleasant to look at, but at least he’s not a stunning hypocrite.

This having-your-cake-and-burning-it-too is central to Canada’s self-image/energy policy. McKenna, confronted by the veteran Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki, said tartly: “We have an incredible climate change plan that includes putting a price on carbon pollution, also investing in clean innovation. But we also know we need to get our natural resources to market and we’re doing both.” Right.

But doing the second negates the first – in fact, it completely overwhelms it. If Canada is busy shipping carbon all over the world, it wouldn’t matter all that much if every Tim Hortons stopped selling doughnuts and started peddling solar panels instead.

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