It’s time we stopped pinning our hopes on a doomed industry and sought sustainable alternatives
By Thana Boonlert, Green Party of Alberta candidate in recent Calgary-Greenway by-election
One of the arguments often made in favour of the Energy East pipeline is that we should be supplying eastern Canadians with Canadian oil as a substitution for foreign imports. That rationale could possibly make some sense. However the president of the largest refinery in Canada for which Energy East product is destined (Irving Oil) openly admits that they would not risk losing their Saudi imports in order to make room for Canadian barrels instead: “We will add Western Canadian crude to our portfolio as the economics dictate, but probably not at the expense of our Saudi barrels.”
So this supposed justification of Energy East falls flat. And this is hardly the only problem as the money proposed to be invested in Energy East could be spent in much more fruitful ways – creating lots of jobs in sustainable industries. And going ahead with Energy East only prolongs our crippling dependence on fossil fuels.
Some context for Energy East might be useful. The project consists of a 4400 kilometer pipeline to transport both bitumen and conventional oil between Alberta and St. John, New Brunswick. It would be built by TransCanada at a cost of $15.7 billion. Once the Energy East permit application is submitted to the National Energy Board (NEB) there will still be a 27-month review period, which means the earliest the project would commence would be late 2018.
It’s important to understand what bitumen is: it’s a solid which needs to be upgraded and then refined in order to be used as oil. Now it’s claimed that most of the product piped through Energy East and refined in St. John at the Irving Oil facility would be conventional oil. But this would not be the case, since eventually most of the resources coming from Alberta would be bitumen and that Irving refinery cannot upgrade bitumen.
In order for the St. John Irving Oil refinery to process the Albertan bitumen, it would need to install what is called a “coker” which helps removes the carbon from bitumen, while adding hydrogen at very high temperatures to make the bitumen more like a liquid fuel. Such a coker unit would cost $2 billion and Irving Oil has already made clear it is NOT interested in making this investment. Unlike western Canadian bitumen eastern Canadians import foreign (often Saudi) oil that can be much more easily processed in domestic refineries.
Bitumen from Alberta and Saskatchewan is not going to replace Irving Oil’s imports from Saudi Arabia.
So let’s consider: What else could you do with $15.7 billion?
With Energy East, it is estimated that it would create about 9,000 jobs for its development and close to 1,000 permanent jobs. Let’s now say we invested this money in clean, renewable energy instead – 78,500 jobs could be created across Canada, some even in northern regions that are distant from the electricity grid. And better yet, we could get people working right away because we wouldn’t need to wait for the 27 month NEB approval process.
Building Energy East is fundamentally a bad idea because it would lock us into decades more of worldwide fossil fuel dependence, while pushing us further away from meeting our target of trying to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees. Let’s instead use that $15.7 billion and invest it into sustainable, in-country, independent, renewable energy infrastructures. We could be export these technologies as well as our sustainability expertise, while innovating in various industries such as agriculture and year-round greenhouses.
Greens are all about simultaneously conserving our money, our environment, our dignity and our future. Think outside the box. Have a vision beyond tomorrow.
A somewhat different version of this op-ed appeared on the Troy Media website: http://www.troymedia.com/2016/04/19/busting-myths-around-energy-east/