And the Alternative to Pipelines Is?

resources | BCBusiness

In the black-and-white view of pipeline protesters there’s no room for discussion, and also no consideration for the nearly half a million Canadian jobs that depend on the Western Canadian oil industry

B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan have grown rich over the last several decades exporting both oil and natural gas to a rapacious U.S. market, but a couple of recent reports suggest the gravy train era is over. An International Energy Agency study predicts that the shale oil and gas explosion in the U.S. will vault that country to the world’s number one oil producer by 2015, and move it toward the energy self-sufficiency status it longs for.

An earlier report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration sees U.S. natural gas production increasing (to record levels) by 1.6 per cent next year, which “lowers U.S. natural gas imports by pipeline, mostly from Canada, as domestic gas production increases.”

The writing is on the wall for Western Canadian energy producers, and the three provincial governments that rely on the petroleum industry for their economic well-being. It’s time to get serious about a hunt for other offshore markets for both of those commodities. To their credit, they are serious.

Now contrast that with the anti-pipeline and anti-oil sands rallies that were held all over the country last weekend. There were 130 rallies, with the Vancouver rally attracting more than 1,000 people. Add to that the ongoing opposition to hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” the drilling technique now used extensively to produce oil and natural gas from “tight” sandstone formations.

The pipeline opponents focus mainly on Enbridge Inc.’s plan to pipe oil sands oil to Kitimat and off to Asian markets in tankers, but they are equally opposed to the Kinder Morgan proposal to triple the capacity of its existing Edmonton-to-Vancouver pipeline and ship the oil to Asia in tankers through Burrard Inlet.

There is no give in this opposition. This is not a concerned bunch of citizens who want to make sure that whatever project goes ahead puts safety and environmental risk at the top of the agenda. This is outright opposition. Add in First Nations opposition—which is both environmental and related to land claims and treaty rights—and there is clearly a very solid block of people who have no qualms whatsoever about shutting down an entire sector of the economy.

Do they have any idea what that would mean? The Fédération des Chambres de Commerce du Québec released a report last week that assessed the economic value of the Western Canadian oil industry to both the country as a whole and individual provinces. Interestingly, the individual provinces highlighted were Ontario and Quebec. The conclusions:

• $44 billion in economic benefits and 420,000 jobs across the country
• $5 billion in federal tax revenue; $10 billion in provincial tax revenues
• $1 billion in investment and 10,000 jobs in Quebec
• $3.5 billion investment and 37,000 jobs in Ontario
• $1.5 billion investment and 16,000 jobs in B.C.

This is what’s at stake if opponents are successful in bottling up Alberta’s oil sands production so it can go nowhere, and erasing B.C.’s natural gas industry with a complete ban on fracking. I’d be fascinated to hear what replacement business or industry could be developed—very quickly—to match those economic benefit numbers.


 Don Whiteley is a natural resources writer based in North Vancouver.