Canada is home to the world’s third largest oil deposit that is estimated to be worth $8 trillion. Electric vehicles are gradually gaining acceptance and manufacturers are building capacity to make them, but the world will need oil for several more decades because no government is going to cut off the transportation of food and supplies before the global fleet of 1.2 billion vehicles can be converted. Ironically however, there appears to be more activists trying to block oil production than are buying electric cars. Canada is the only stable democracy that can produce oil at planned rates for as long as it is needed. But getting a fair-world price for Canada’s vast oil deposits has been inhibited for decades by lack of pipeline capacity to get the product to market. The biggest problem seems to be environmentalists and all political parties putting partisan politics and their own jobs ahead of the national interest.
The Harper government approved the Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat BC, based on many recommendations from the National Energy Board to reduce pipeline spill risk and to utilize world-class marine safety measures used successfully for years on a similar coastline in Norway. But one of the first actions taken by the new Trudeau government in 2015, largely to secure votes from environmentalists, was to terminate the Northern Gateway pipeline and lock in that decision with an oil tanker ban on the northern BC coastline.
The new Trudeau government believed that a series of measures to engage First Nations, and reduce oilfield and other emissions, could result in a “social licence” to achieve both environmental and economic goals. But events demonstrate that environmental extremists are only interested in their single-minded goal of blocking oil sands production, regardless of other consequences.
TransCanada gave up on their proposed Energy East Pipeline to the East Coast due to spill concerns from Montreal and the imposing of a new hurdle to include emissions from burning the oil in any pipeline analysis. That is a meaningless measure because emissions from burning oil are the same from all sources, and other sources would quickly replace Canada’s production, for as long as the other sources last.
The Trudeau government put their support behind a project to triple capacity of the existing Kinder-Morgan pipeline. That would triple tanker traffic through the much more densely populated port of Vancouver. This project is now strongly resisted by southern BC First Nations and municipalities, and is resulting in a trade war between BC and Alberta.
Meanwhile, First Nations in Northern BC are seeking jobs to become self-sufficient in their area. They developed a more logical proposal called the Eagle Spirit “energy corridor” to move upgraded Alberta bitumen, BC natural gas, and hydroelectricity along a route from Alberta and eastern BC to the more accessible port of Prince Rupert. The Eagle Spirit proposal (outlined in several links below) would carry one million barrels per day; the same as the Energy East pipeline and twice the additional capacity of the Kinder-Morgan pipeline. Eagle Spirit offers the least problematic marine route to reach the huge and growing Asian markets for both Alberta Oil and BC gas. The Eagle Spirit project leaders say they have support of 95 per cent of First Nations along the route. They say that environmentalists want to build parks on First Nations land and lock them into perpetual poverty.
The Trudeau government’s ban on tanker traffic in Canadian waters could kill the Eagle Spirit proposal, so Eagle Spirit is proposing to build the terminal near the port of Hyder Alaska. The state of Alaska and the town of Hyder are fully supportive of resource development. The tragedy is that billions of dollars and hundreds of good jobs would also go to Alaska, due to Canada’s questionable ban on tanker traffic.
We are left with the federal government supporting a project opposed by First Nations in southern BC, and the federal government opposing a project supported by First Nations in northern BC.
If all parties can find a way to save face, there is a solution that would enable Canada to meet both environmental goals and economic necessities. Replacing Alberta’s coal-based electricity with safe, clean, affordable Advanced Nuclear Power, and using the FREE and clean surplus reactor heat to eliminate emissions from natural-gas-based heat for oil sands extraction, upgrading and refining would enable Alberta to produce more oil and meet emissions targets. Refining Alberta bitumen in Alberta would reduce the risk and consequences of spills, and resistance to pipelines. Adjusting the ban on tanker traffic to enable the Eagle Spirit Energy Corridor to terminate in BC rather than Alaska, would keep investment and jobs in Canada, and help northern First Nations to achieve their goal of becoming self-sufficient. Environmental extremists will never agree, but can reasonable people in all political parties find a way to work together to implement a bigger and better vision for the good of Canada?
Hugh Holland is a retired engineering and manufacturing executive now living in Huntsville, Ontario.
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About the AFCR™
The Advanced Fuel CANDU reactor (AFCR™) is a 700MW Class Generation III reactor based on the highly successful CANDU 6® and Enhanced CANDU 6® (EC6®) reactors with a number of adaptations to meet the latest Canadian and international standards. Its fuel flexibility allows it to use recycled uranium or thorium as fuel. It has a heavy-water moderator and heavy-water coolant in a pressure tube design. CANDU reactors can be refuelled on power and have one of the highest lifetime capacity factors among the world’s reactors.