Thursday, January 13, 2011

Canada's Ethical Oil

The government of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is taking a new tack in marketing their petroleum products by adopting the term “ethical oil”. Critics say though that it is simply a bold ploy to market what in reality is very dirty oil to a reluctant American market.

Much of the Canadian oil exported to the United States (Canada is the largest single supplier of imported oil to America) comes from Canada's oil sands region in Alberta. As discussed in earlier posts, oil sands crude is a very heavy, very dense oil that requires extensive processing to extract and prepare for shipment – a process that is taking a heavy toll on the environment in northern Alberta. Canadian firm TransCanada is proposing to build a new pipeline across the United States to refineries along the Gulf Coast specifically to process oil sands crude, but several members of Congress have been working to block approval of the Keystone XL pipeline on environmental grounds.

That's where the ethical oil argument comes in. Originally proposed last year by Canadian writer Ezra Levant and now apparently adopted by the Harper government, the ethical oil argument is that it's better for the United States to buy oil from the peaceful, human rights-respecting Canadians than it is to buy it from regimes like Saudi Arabia or Venezuela that support radical Islamic fundamentalism or are openly hostile to the US. “Canada is a very ethical society and a safe source for the United States in comparison to other sources of energy,” Harper said in a statement last Friday. Meanwhile groups like the Sierra Club say that Harper's government should put more effort into ensuring that oil sands production is in line with environmental regulations in Alberta rather than into marketing efforts.
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