Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Suncor- tomorrow's General Motors?

Prof. Gordon Laxer believes the environmental impact of the tar sands is such that there is no way to continue with these projects. “The climate change agenda is going to make the tar sands impossible. (If we continue) Canada is going to be the pariah of the world.” Speaking to the Peak Oil meetup in Toronto, the founder of the Parkland Institute gave us an Alberta spin on the tar sands, largely from an Edmonton point of view, but peppered with quotes from Calgarians.

Even Peter Lougheed, the former Premier of Alberta, thinks the pace of development has been extreme. In an article in the Calgary Herald earlier this month, he stated, “ ‘The oil sands have created in our province, because of the rapid growth that has occurred in the past decade, a very high-cost economy,’ He conceded that his opinion is ‘in the minority’ but added the government is well aware of his position on the subject.”

Laxer feels we are wasting other resources in our quest for oil. “In 2006 Canada used 12% of our natural gas to produce the dirtiest oil on earth.” Jim Dinning, the former Treasurer of Alberta agrees that ‘you all know that we’re consuming our natural gas asset at an accelerated rate, especially in the oil sands. As a source for electricity, steam and hydrogen, natural gas is expensive and its price is volatile. In fact,injecting natural gas into the oil sands to produce oil is like turning gold into lead.

When asked if it would be politically feasible to rein in tar sands development, Prof. Laxer opined that it would be difficult, but that there was some agreement around ‘no new approvals’ as the first step. Groups calling for a moratorium on new approvals for tar sands development include the Alberta Federation of Labour, the Council of Canadians and the Sierra Club. Ethical Funds released a white paper last fall on tar sands development, “We are proposing that institutional investors join us and call on oil sands companies to suspend new oil sands development pending the introduction of a comprehensive land use plan, while at the same time speeding up the development and introduction of potential solutions that could improve environmental and social performance.”

However, a number of tar sands issues, such as the tailings ponds, have proven intractable. Syncrude’s ‘tailings pond’, a toxic reservoir, is now the second largest dam in the world. And we have no idea what to do with it. Perhaps the time has come to recognize that the tar sands can never be a responsible source of energy. Wedded to a product that is increasingly out of step with the world’s environmental demands, tar sands developers may be the car companies of tomorrow.

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