Saturday, August 21, 2010

More Fighting Over The Oil Sands

Canada's news magazine Macleans is out with another piece detailing the ongoing angst in the US government over whether or not to commit to importing oil from Alberta's oil sands region for the foreseeable future. The fight shaping up pits the Environmental Protection Agency (the EPA) against the State Department; the EPA wants to conduct a thorough review on the impact increased reliance on the oil sands will have on the United States, particularly in light of a recent oil pipeline spill in Michigan courtesy of one of the oil sands biggest corporate investors, Calgary's Enbridge Co. The State Dept., meanwhile, is trying to fast-track approval of a major pipeline expansion project, the Keystone XL that would link the oil sands in Alberta with the US Gulf Coast; the State Dept.'s position is that since America needs the oil, we might as well get it from a reliable ally.

We've talked about the oil sands numerous times here before. But in short, the environmental lobby is up in arms over the possibility of anything that will increase production in the oil sands region. The critique is that refining the synthetic crude produced by the oil sands results in far more greenhouse gas emissions than does refining a similar amount of natural crude oil; not to mention that a lot of the oil sands are currently strip-mined from the surface, a process causing damage to the Alberta prairie lands.

But the oil sands are also a symbol of a much bigger debate going on within Washington. Macleans repeats a point we made here in an earlier post about the oil sands pipeline projects: namely that a pipeline represents a decades-long commitment to buy oil from a specific market, since it will take years and years for the billions of dollars invested in the construction of the pipelines to be recouped. The “green energy” proponents in Washington then are dead-set against seeing Keystone XL, or any other oil sands-related project for that matter, move forward since it is in essence a pledge by the United States to buy oil, and a lot of it, from Canada for decades to come – something they say will work against moving the United States from a petroleum-based economy in any sort of meaningful way.
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