Say it ain’t so, Joe. A reality check on Joe Oliver and tar sands development

Canadian Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver is in Washington this week to lobby on behalf of the tar sands industry. Today he addressed the Center for Strategic and International Studies and in his remarks he greatly embellished or misrepresented both Alberta’s and Canada’s record on climate change while downplaying the impacts from increased tar sands development. Below are exact quotes from Oliver, followed by a Reality Check.

Oliver: “Large producers in Alberta pay a per ton fee into a technology fund that invests in research and development to reduce GHG emissions.”

Reality Check: Alberta’s current policy costs the tar sands industry less than 10 cents a barrel. There are rumors of a new plan, the so called 40/40 plan (a 40% reduction in per-barrel emissions from tar sands and a $40-per-ton payment when that emissions limit is exceeded), but no plan has yet surfaced. Under 40/40, the cost for the tar sands industry to comply would be about the cost of a Coca-Cola at a 7-11 (under $1.50 for a barrel of tar sands oil). 

Oliver: “Together with the province of Alberta, we are implementing a new, world-class environmental monitoring system for the oil sands. It will provide independent, science-based environmental reporting, founded on partnership with industry, Aboriginal communities and other levels of government.”

Reality Check: That’s true but Oliver left out that the system won’t be fully implemented until 2015, yet the government wants to approve major infrastructure projects now which would lock in pollution regardless of what the monitoring system finds later. A very useful timeline from Greenpeace on the history of this monitoring system is available here.

Oliver: “In the past year, we have implemented a new, national strategy for responsible resource development — a regulatory regime that offers both a more efficient and predictable process for investors and enhanced protection for Canada’s environment.”

Reality Check: It’s hard to call Canada’s policy to develop the third largest pool of carbon on the planet “responsible.” Canada is on track for a 7% increase in emissions by 2020. Tar sands emissions have more than doubled since 1990 and are expected to triple between now and 2020. The IEA has said to avoid runaway climate change Canada will need to keep a full third of its tar sands underground, yet Oliver is championing policies to get at what he estimates to be 300 billion barrels of tar sands crude found in Alberta. Additionally, investing in oil development is no longer a safe bet. The Carbon Tracker Initiative and the London School of Economics recently released a report that shows that 60 to 80 percent of coal, oil and gas reserves held by the top 200 oil, gas and mining companies listed on the world’s stock exchanges could be considered unburnable.

Oliver: “Before I touch on the jobs and economic benefits I think it is important to recall that the U.S. State Department, which is the lead Department on this issue, concluded that the Keystone XL pipeline would not have a significant impact on the environment.” 

Reality Check: The US EPA on Monday graded the State department’s Keystone XL analysis as “insufficient.” EPA has asked State to look again at the climate impacts of the pipeline; Keystone’s route through the Ogallala Aquifer; and the department’s market analysis of transporting tar sands crude via rail. On all of these questions and more, State failed its test. State’s SEIS has come under  such significant criticism that  it can no longer be taken seriously as an accurate evaluation of Keystone XL.

Oliver: “Furthermore, Canadian oil would come in by train. And, of course, Canada would export oil elsewhere.”

Reality Check: Every major export pipeline in Canada is under heavy scrutiny and suffers from huge public opposition. Even under the most rosy scenarios, none of these pipelines will be built any time soon. In fact, Alberta is so nervous about the pipeline prosals being blocked that it recently started looking into the possibility of exporting oil all the way up at the port at Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., a.k.a way the heck up there. On the rail question, a few hours after making these comments, Oliver himself refuted them, telling Reuters, “It (rail) is a good supplement but not the longer-term solution…I don’t think anybody would suggest it is.” This is due to the high cost of rail, which some industry analysts estimate is as high as $30 per barrel.

 

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