Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Oilsands and Ethical Challenges (Energy Bulletin)

Oil Sands: Canada's 10 ethical challenges

by Andrew Nikiforuk

Canada has joined the ranks of exporting oil nations and now supplies more petroleum to the United States than Mexico or Saudi Arabia. The unconventional character of mined bitumen as well as the startling revenue it generates for government coffers has irrevocably changed the country. Five per cent of the nation's GDP comes from oil while bitumen makes up 25 per cent of the nation's exports.

As the wild debate about the Keystone XL pipeline illustrates, Canada's $200-billion energy project has also become a global lightning rod. No oil exporting nation, whether Christian or Muslim, is immune from the corrosive influence of oil money and its dirty politics. Yet Canada has anointed bitumen as the nation's new "economic engine" without setting clear public policy goals or assessing the economic risks. The exploitation of bitumen has also proceeded without a national vision or even an energy strategy.

The environmental risks are now well documented. In fact both the Alberta government and Ottawa have systematically failed to monitor pollution as well as cumulative impacts. In 2011, the Office of the Auditor General declared the obvious: "incomplete environmental baselines and environmental data monitoring systems needed to understand changing environmental conditions in northern Alberta have hindered the ability of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Environment Canada to consider in a thorough and systematic manner the cumulative environmental effects of oil sands projects in that region."

Although North America's greens have focused on carbon pollution and landscape degradation, the project poses other ethical challenges for the nation. These moral issues include the scale and pace of the project as well as the nature of the Dutch Disease, the absence of a savings plan, severe technology gaps, diminishing energy returns, the Chinese gamble, and the dysfunctional persona of petro states.


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