This month's issue of National Geographic has a lengthy article on the Alberta oil sands [The Canadian Oil Boom].
The U.S. imports more oil from Canada than from any other nation, about 19 percent of its total foreign supply, and around half of that now comes from the oil sands. Anything that reduces our dependence on Middle Eastern oil, many Americans would say, is a good thing. But clawing and cooking a barrel of crude from the oil sands emits as much as three times more carbon dioxide than letting one gush from the ground in Saudi Arabia. The oil sands are still a tiny part of the world's carbon problem—they account for less than a tenth of one percent of global CO2 emissions—but to many environmentalists they are the thin end of the wedge, the first step along a path that could lead to other, even dirtier sources of oil: producing it from oil shale or coal. "Oil sands represent a decision point for North America and the world," says Simon Dyer of the Pembina Institute, a moderate and widely respected Canadian environmental group. "Are we going to get serious about alternative energy, or are we going to go down the unconventional-oil track? The fact that we're willing to move four tons of earth for a single barrel really shows that the world is running out of easy oil."Canadians know there's a problem but politicians are very reluctant to address it. Albertans have been very vocal in playing the victim card in Canadian politics. They have successfully convinced people that the province was hard done by in the past when the evil citizens of Ontario and Quebec tried to deprive them of their right to keep all the oil money for themselves, instead of sharing it with less fortunate Canadians.
Today, any attempt by the Federal government to impose restrictions on Alberta will be viewed as an act of war.
There's an obvious solution. The government of Alberta has amassed a fortune in oil revenues. Even in these tough economic times, it still has plenty of room to manoeuvre.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if the provincial government took steps to reduce green house gas emissions and develop greener ways of extracting oil? Wouldn't it be wonderful if they took the lead in recognizing there's a problem and start to deal with it? There's some evidence that the Alberta government might be headed in that direction [National Geographic oilsands portrayal "fair": environment minister].
Of course they'd have to abandon the whining about Alberta being a victim of the East. In the long run, that may be very hard to do.
[Photo Credit: Peter Essick, National Geographic]