Peak Oil is Dead. So is Gateway. Now What do We Do?

Posted by on Nov 12, 2012 in Blog | 0 comments

Bruce Cameron is President of Return On Insight, an Alberta based public opinion and social media monitoring company that has worked on a variety of energy and conservation projects in Canada and the USA.

Western Canadians have come to believe that we sit astride one of the world’s last great oil deposits, bestowing us with immense energy wealth at a time when the rest of the world, especially our next door neighbor, is running out of the precious liquid that underpins the global economy.

But what if the world isn’t running out of oil? According to a CBC Story about the IEA Report, the US will become energy sufficient by 2020, while western Canadian oil could be locked in place within three years due to export challenges.

“Without new export capacity, western Canadian oil production would exceed regional consumption and current export capacity before 2016,” the International Energy Agency’s flagship report for 2012 stated.

The biggest export capacity problem in Canada is Enbridge’s Gateway project. The XL pipeline to the Gulf Coast will almost certainly be approved soon by the Obama administration, but Gateway will probably never be built.

Why?

Enbridge has galvanized opponents along the Gateway route and done a shoddy job in building credibility and social consent for the project.

If not Gateway, then what?  Inevitably, there will be increased transportation of oil by rail, plus expansion and construction of other routes (Kinder Morgan to Vancouver, new pipelines to the south through Montana and out to the US coast, and to the east through existing routes or by establishing new ones).

But like all countries with vast oil reserves—reputedly Saudi Arabia has the most, Venezuela takes silver, and the bronze medalist is Canada—the really tough question (beyond how do we get it to market) is: what do we do with all that oil?

Environmental blogger Damian Carrington, writing for the anti tar sands Guardian newspaper in the UK, interpreted the IEA report differently than many analysts, claiming The Threat of Peak Oil is Dead   He noted, “We do not have too little fossil fuel, we have far too much.”

Carrington reached this dire conclusion: “The truly global implications of the International Energy Agency’s flagship report for 2012 lie elsewhere, in the quietly devastating statement that no more than one-third of already proven reserves  and fossil fuels can be burned by 2050 if the world is to prevent global warming exceeding the danger point of 2C. This means nothing less than leaving most of the world’s coal, oil and gas in the ground or facing a destabilized climate, with its supercharged heat waves, floods and storms.”

When a crusading environmentalist announces that “peak oil” is dead, you know the geopolitical energy map is changing.

How will Canada adapt to these changes?

Will we lock in our oil and gas resources, through a conscious decision to reduce global warming?  To expect us to “keep it in the ground” is naïve; some would even say idiotic.  Canadian based oil companies have a reputation for innovation in energy efficiency and responsible development.  The world needs more, not less, of Canadian oil expertise.

A balanced Canadian approach involves conserving our water, wilderness and wildlife, while bridging the gap between our current fossil fuel based economy and a future where renewable energy takes centre stage.

Will we fall prey to the type of “Keystone Cop” incompetence that has led to strong opposition to Enbridge and TCPL pipeline projects? Pushing for quicker environmental approvals while simultaneously cutting the budget for scientific monitoring—as the Harper government has done—is certainly not going to build social consent. In fact such a heavy handed approach is more likely to spawn global environmental protests in Canada’s Great Bear rainforest.

Canada needs to start proactively building social consent, at home and abroad, to enable us to seek new markets for our energy exports.

Like water finding its level, oil will find a way out.

 

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