Here is an email I sent to Joe Oliver – Canada’s minister of Natural Resources – after his comments where he suggested that much of the opposition to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway plan is foreign-funded and gave the general impression that to oppose the plan is to be unpatriotic. Since then, Prime Minister Harper has made some similar comments, and made it very clear that he intends to try to push the project through no matter what people think.
Dear The Honourable Joe Oliver,
I must say that I disagree with the implied slur against anyone who disagrees with the Gateway project. As it happens, I am not in favor of the Gateway plan. I am a born-in-Canada Canadian who lives in coastal BC. I disagree with the project for several reasons.
One: I am worried about the increase in tanker traffic in a very fragile ecosystem, and the potential for oil spills to harm an area I love.
Two: Oil spills in this area would not only damage one of the world’s most beautiful ecosystems, it would also seriously damage BC’s economy. BC gets a lot of money from fishing, as well as from tourism. A major oil spill would cost BC’s economy many millions of dollars and throw large numbers of people out of work.
Three: To put it bluntly, what does BC get for putting up with the increased risk of oil spills? Once the pipeline is built, I can’t see much in the way of BC jobs coming from this project.
Four: Another pipeline would encourage extraction of Alberta’s ground and river water for the oil sands at a faster rate than water can be replenished by rainfall. This would harm Alberta’s ecology, as well as making it harder for farmers to get irrigation water. This risks damaging Alberta’s economy.
Five: Faster extraction of oil from the oil sands makes Canada’s carbon footprint even worse, and I don’t like seeing my country shamed on this subject. Not to mention that I want to see Canada reduce its emissions because I want to live in a world that humans haven’t wrecked.
I think opposition to the Gateway is perfectly logical for a Canadian living on the BC coast, and would strongly disagree with any shortening of the public consultation process. If there’s that much opposition, it needs to be heard.
I played down my concerns with Climate Change a little, and didn’t mention Peak Oil at all since I thought it highly unlikely he would be willing to consider the problem. This is a shame, because one major downside to the Enbridge project is that it liquidates Canada’s oil resources too quickly.
The oil sands are not of uniform quality, and like all resources, Canada is producing the easier and more profitable ones first. Estimates of oil sands EROEI vary with both the source of the information and the source of the oil. Minable oil sands have a higher EROEI than in-situ oil sands. Typical EROEI values for oil sands extracted today are between 8:1 and 3:1 compared to modern conventional oil’s average of 20:1. There are a lot more in-situ oil sands than mineable ones.
Because the easier resources need less processing and other work to extract them, they have a higher EROEI (Energy Return on Energy Invested), and very likely a lower carbon intensity. This means that the oil sands we’ll be using in 10 years time are going to be lower EROEI and produce more Carbon per barrel produced, making oil from the oil sands even worse for the environment than it is now.
If the EROEI for the oil sands ever drops below 1:1 there is no point in digging any more, even if there is still oil in the ground, because we will be using more energy to get the oil out than we can get out of the oil.
Under such circumstances I would much rather use the oil sands slowly. After all, it is not likely that oil will suddenly become valueless in the future. While renewable energy sources are vital, as a world we are not moving towards them at a fast enough rate that there will be no demand for oil any time in the next few decades.
More detailed information on the Oil Sands and the Northern Gateway proposal can be found here.