TurmOIL: Canada’s Top Export Could Destroy the World – Emily Mittertreiner, Canada

I live in Canada: a country where the economy is dependent on the trees we cut down, the fish we catch, and most importantly, the oil we export to other countries. Oil, the most common source of energy in Canada, powers our economy, and we would be lost without it. In addition to the money we earn exporting thousands of barrels of oil per day through pipelines and tankers, we use oil to power our cars and buses, our heaters and our stove-tops. Whether we like it or not, it is a resource we depend on. Unfortunately, this precious commodity is a double-edged sword; as quickly as oil is building up some communities, it is tearing others down. The entire oil production process, starting from the moment a new oil well is drilled, and ending when the last drop of oil is used up in your car’s tank, is extremely detrimental to the environment. Dozens of problems surround fracking, pipeline construction, and other oil-related issues in Canada, such as destruction of wildlife, emission of greenhouse gases, high consumption of water, disregard to the First Nations people (Canada’s indigenous population), and the impending threat of peak oil – to name a few. These issues are all clearly reflected in the controversy over the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline.

A Rift in My Community

The Kinder Morgan pipeline is an existing pipeline that transports 300,000 barrels per day of bitumen oil from the Alberta oil sands to British Columbia’s coast, less than an hour’s drive away from my home. Much of this oil is then loaded onto large tankers and exported to foreign markets in China and other parts of Asia. In 2019, Kinder Morgan plans to build a second pipeline that twins the first, increasing the capacity of the two pipelines to 890,000 barrels per day. Concerned citizens have brought up dozens of disadvantages to the proposed twin pipeline; projects such as the Kinder Morgan threaten to cause harm to our community and surrounding environment, while also showing a blatant disregard for the rights of the First Nations peoples by attempting to build their pipelines through Aboriginal territory. In addition, countries like China have committed to reducing their fossil fuel emissions, as have we, so sending them even more oil doesn’t seem like the best way to support them in their endeavours to become a greener country.

As a country that claims to be doing its best to cut carbon emissions, continuing to export oil with no consideration for the future reflects poorly on the decisions of our government. This is an issue that definitely cannot be attributed to a lack of oversight—Vancouverites have been protesting the project for years due to the numerous problems it has caused during the planning phases and will undoubtedly cause in the future. The National Energy Board (NEB), whose job it is to audit the pipeline process and and determine the eligibility of the project, has appeared to turn a blind eye to the controversy surrounding Kinder Morgan. Not only did they refuse to address many of the issues brought up by public health and safety professionals, but they also closed off the assessment hearings to the public – a complete breach of Canadian democracy. The controversial decisions made by the NEB have created a sense of distrust within the community, and many citizens are hesitant to believe information released by either Kinder Morgan or the NEB. The overall opinion of many local activists, political representatives, and scientists is that the Kinder Morgan pipeline should not be permitted to begin construction, lest we face even more environmental, social, and political repercussions in the future.


Concerned citizens protest the Kinder Morgan Pipeline on Burnaby Mountain (Source: commondreams.org)

What Happens Next?

“But we need oil; there’s no alternative,” people argue every time I bring up the idea of curbing the amount of oil Canada exports. No-one seems to realize that this is precisely the problem that we face; our community is completely dependant on this resource. We haven’t given a single thought to our future and what would happen if we needed to switch to another source of energy. The unfortunate reality is that the daily routines of millions of people would be shattered if oil suddenly disappeared. Fellow Canadians I have talked to seem personally offended when I suggest the idea that one day, maybe not in my lifetime but possibly in the next, it will be necessary to halt, or at the very least slow down, the production and exporting of oil.

More often than not, while discussing environmental issues, I hear the exclamations like, “Environmentalists will surely destroy our economy if they continue to protest the construction of pipelines and the exporting of oil!”. I personally find it odd when environmentalists and scientists are targeted by supporters of the oil industry. It is certainly not the scientists’ faults that the end of the oil industry is inevitable; it is simply an unavoidable fact that will hold true if we continue to consume at the rate we are now. We have only ourselves to blame for this negligent abuse of resources. Climate change isn’t something we can ignore, hoping it will eventually disappear. It will catch up with us, and when it does, we will have no choice but to make extreme changes to the way we work and live. Unfortunately, Canada has not seen much progress in terms of trying to counteract the damage we have done to the earth; in fact, it seems like we are only making the problem worse.

People refuse to acknowledge the huge amounts of damage that the impending increase in oil production will do to our community, not just environmentally but socially and politically as well. The need for the development of renewable energy alternatives is being overshadowed by our thirst for big oil. However, it is important to realize oil is not our only means of obtaining energy, similar to how soda is not our only means of hydration. In the same way that orange juice or water would be a healthier beverage, there are many forms of green energy that could replace oil.

The End of the Oil Industry?

The end of the oil industry does not have to also be the end of Canada’s energy sector. In fact, it could make way for a new beginning, but for that to happen, there needs to be wholehearted support for research into alternative energy solutions. Pro-oil supporters look to the rest of us as if it is our job to pull solutions of out thin air. Realistically, extensive research on the topic will not be possible until the country as a whole begins to divest from fossil fuels and invest in green energy alternatives. The Canadian government hands out tax deductions to booming oil companies, while green energy companies struggle to keep up. Why bother pouring money into a soon-to-be-dead industry? Although oil may not exactly ‘run out’ anytime soon —as some sources suggest— there is no doubt that peak oil will be reached in less than a decade. This means the oil industry will hit its maximum production rate, resulting in a record low in terms of production efficiency. ‘Cheap oil’ — oil from places like Saudi Arabia and Alberta where the reserves are relatively easy to access without extreme measures— will be scarce. Crude oil will have to be obtained from harder-to-reach areas, causing the per-barrel price to rise, rendering nobody but the richest able to afford to buy oil. The only other options will be to turn to natural gas (which is not much more environmentally-friendly than crude oil) or green energy.

On top of this, even if cheap oil does not eventually run out as science has predicted, it’s quite possible that the negative effects of petroleum production will take their toll on the earth long before that, in the form of crude bitumen and pipelines. So, is there really an optimal situation under these circumstances? It seems like any route we go will have at least a few negative outcomes. However, remaining passive is no longer an option. As does every other oil-producing country, Canada needs to decide on its stance on climate change, and whether we are willing to make the needed sacrifices in order to save our planet. If we don’t willingly begin to adapt soon, we’ll have no choice but to make drastic changes in the future.

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