By Hugh Holland
The outcome of the US elections in November 2020 will have major implications for the world and especially for Canada with the longest common border and biggest trading relationship.
Over the next five months there will be many announcements by each party and candidate; some of which we will like and some we will dislike. We need a clear sense of priorities to help us evaluate each announcement and the total package from each party.
From a global perspective, the Democrats are currently more likely to restore the international cooperation that is crucial to successful management of pandemics, climate change, and fair trade—all of which will serve to reduce conflict, and the resulting mass migration of refugees that now number over 75 million in the world.
From a Canadian perspective, Trump launched a long list of headaches for Canadians and our federal and provincial governments. The Democrats are currently more likely to be rational, fair, and consistent partners in managing the biggest common issues, but we will likely not agree with them on every issue. As has been the case many times before, in all possible combinations of political leaders in the two countries, we can agree on most important issues but respectfully disagree on some lesser issues.
To date, the biggest potential disagreement with the Democrats is Joe Biden’s announcement that he will stop the Keystone XL (KXL) oil pipeline from going through the USA. Perhaps Biden feels he needs the environmental vote to win in a tight race. But there is more than one way to look at Keystone XL.
The short view is that the 3,500-kilometre KXL pipeline would enable Canada to increase oil production by 800,000 barrels per day. However, KXL would lock in and perpetuate an even bigger portion of our biggest export to the unfair US price discounts that already reach as much as $10 billion dollars per year. They will continue to pay whatever they want because they can. The 1,100-kilometre Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is well underway, will enable Canada to increase production by 600,000 barrels per day, and provides flexibility to sell to other markets at a fair undiscounted price. Building both Trans Mountain and KXL would increase our production beyond five million barrels per day, thereby reducing both the life and future value of our oil reserves.
The long view is that Canada is better off without KXL that will always be under the current whim of US activists and politicians. Trans Mountain will enable Canada’s oil production to increase to the long-term sustainable level of five million barrels per day. When the US and other smaller global reserves are depleted, the US and Asia will need more oil from Canada. The 1,500-kilometre Eagle Spirit pipeline from Fort McMurray to the open-ocean port of Prince Rupert, BC is less problematic than the earlier Northern Gateway pipeline route and offers a better option than KXL. Eagle Spirit is advocated for and supported by First Nations, is entirely within our own borders to build and control, would attract full price for the oil it carries, is well located to supply the biggest markets in either the USA or Asia, and depending on politics in both countries could possibly be built as soon as KXL.
It should be noted that with the 2015 west-to-east reversal of the existing Enbridge Line 9, we now have pipeline capacity of 300,000 barrels per day to supply Alberta oil to Quebec; more than enough to fill Quebec’s consumption of 230,000 barrels per day. Atlantic provinces produce 240,000 barrels per day and can easily supply the 60,000 barrels per day for their own consumption. So, there is no need to build TransCanada’s $15 billion Energy East pipeline.
Of course, it is the short-term view that affects voters’ stock portfolios and gets politicians elected but losing KXL would not be the end of the world. In the long-term view Eagle Spirit would be equal to KXL for achieving Canada’s climate change goals and would be better for the longer-term global energy supply, and for Canada’s longer-term energy security and economic stability.
Our grandchildren are already destined to be hammered by climate change. We would do them a big favour by taking the long view on oil production and pipelines. A Biden win may disappoint some but would be more in line with Canada’s most important priorities. All we can do is hope for the best and be prepared for the worst.
Hugh Holland is a retired engineering and manufacturing executive now living in Huntsville, Ontario.
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