Pipeline Politics

As the debate rages south of the border about the Keystone pipeline, there are some key facts to bear in mind.  Every pipeline currently being promoted – whether Alberta to the Pacific (Enbridge and Kinder-Morgan) or Alberta to the Atlantic (Energy East) or Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico (Keystone) – are all about one thing: getting raw, unprocessed bitumen to tidewater.  All of them.

That’s why the Harper Conservatives are pushing all of them. The idea of shipping unprocessed bitumen out of Canada was not on the table before the 2008 financial crisis. At that point, the plan was to upgrade solid bitumen into synthetic crude. Upgraders in Alberta dropped out following the economic melt-down, as they did with planned tar/oil sands expansion. When the financial situation improved, the expansion plans came back. But the upgraders were replaced with pipeline plans. Taking solid bitumen and stirring in fossil fuel condensate (called diluents) to make the bitumen flowable became all the rage. The combined mix of bitumen and diluent, called dilbit, has proven to be impossible to clean up in case of a spill. We have Enbridge to thank for proving this through their “culture of negligence” (as described by the US Transportation Authority), when thousands of barrels of dilbit was pumped into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan through a broken pipe. It`s now clear that dilbit has proven impossible to clean up.

Shipping dilbit also requires a two-way flow of toxic material. Most of the diluents are being shipped to Alberta by rail. The train cars hanging precariously over the Bow River in the Calgary flood were loaded with toxic diluents, essentially naptha with cancer-causing benzene and butane added. A recent fiery derailment in Saskatchewan was also of diluents headed to Alberta. Enbridge plans a twinned pipeline with tankers pulling into Kitimat to off-load toxic diluents to run to Alberta, to be mixed with bitumen to flow back to Kitimat and be loaded into different and much larger tankers. The whole scheme is madness.

The Canadian union representing the oil sands workers, UNIFOR, opposes the pipelines. Every pipeline carrying dilbit to be refined in other countries means tens of thousands of Canadian jobs are exported with it.

And every pipeline allows for expansion of the oil sands. Currently production levels hover just below 2 million barrels of bitumen a day. Harper’s goal is 6 million barrels of bitumen a day. Keeping the bitumen in Alberta for upgrading and refining will produce far more jobs in Canada than pipelines and rapidly expanding bitumen production. And, of course, rapidly expanding oil sands production is completely incompatible with the required transition off fossil fuels.

The Green Party is the only party opposing any and all current pipeline plans. We will oppose any and all pipeline proposals committed to shipping raw bitumen out of Canada. We must move to a national energy policy with a strong climate plan. We need to ensure that by 2100 Canada’s bitumen production is going to petrochemical products, not fuel. We need to recognise that as a resource it is both too valuable and too dangerous to burn.

This is all do-able. But it cannot happen if dilbit pipelines are approved. Any of them.


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  • published this page in Island Tides 2014-11-18 15:50:25 -0800