GLOBE-Net, July 17, 2012 - Two highly
topical energy-related issues have engaged Canadian environmental
interests of late and are shaping governmental policies at both the
national and provincial level. These are the role of natural gas as
a transition fuel to a lower-carbon future, and building the
infrastructure needed to move Alberta heavy oil to the West Coast
for export to Asian markets.
Passions run high on both issues, as well they should. These are
critically important matters that have major long-term implications
for our economy and for our environmental well-being.
But passion should not impede reasoned examination of all
aspects of the many issues involved. To this end, it is worth
noting two recent and well-reasoned reports on both topics
published in GLOBE-Net.
The first is a new study by Cornell Professor Lawrence M.
Cathles, published in the most recent edition of the peer-reviewed
journal Geochemistry, Geophysics, and Geosystem and discussed in
the GLOBE-Net article "Natural Gas Is a Much-Needed Tool in the Battle to
Slow Global Warming"
Professor Cathles argues that no matter the timeframe
considered, substituting natural gas for all coal and some oil
consumption provides about 40 percent of the global warming benefit
that a complete switch to low-carbon sources would deliver. He
notes that natural gas is a natural transition fuel that could
represent the biggest climate stabilization wedge
Cathles' paper does not examine all the environmental issues
associated with the recent rise in natural gas supply, nor does he
dismiss these as irrelevant. His very clearly stated focus is
on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in a timely fashion using
lower carbon natural gas to replace coal and some oil
The second report released by the Fraser Institute argues that
expanding pipeline capacity to allow Canadian oil exports to Asia
will pour billions of dollars into government coffers, create
thousands of jobs, and bring substantial benefits to First Nations
and pensioners. (See GLOBE-Net article "Building infrastructure to ship oil to Asia needed
now says Fraser Institute.")
Gerry Angevine, Fraser Institute senior economist and co-author
Ensuring Canadian Access to Oil Markets in the Asia-Pacific
Region, writes "The Alberta oil sands present Canadians with a
unique nation-building opportunity. As both a country and as
individuals, we already have a substantial investment in the oil
sands and we can take greater advantage of this resource if we can
reduce our reliance on the United States and open new markets for
Canadian oil in the Asia-Pacific."
The report decries outdated regulatory processes and procedures,
and unwieldy environmental review processes and calls for action to
expedite the environmentally-responsible development of the oil
But the recommendations do not dismiss or minimize environmental
or First Nations issues and concerns. In fact, the report calls for
streamlining regulatory review processes to enable joint
federal-provincial environmental review processes for projects that
require approvals from both levels of government.
It calls for discussions between project proponents and First
Nations well before applications are filed with the National Energy
Board, a Joint Review Panel, or other government agencies, and
involving federal and provincial government, as well as First
Nations organizations in discussions with industry representatives
to identify and approve in advance transportation corridors to be
used for infrastructure development.
It also calls for requiring First Nations' environmental
concerns to be addressed under and in accordance with the Canadian
Environmental Assessment Act and suggests legislation and
regulations be put in place to provide for mandatory settlement
mechanisms to resolve compensation-issue disputes with First
Nations groups if and as required.
Nor does the report dismiss or diminish the risks associated
with pipeline oil spills and leaks. It calls for risk assessments
in relation to "high consequence areas" as part of their integrated
management plans; ensuring frequent and thorough environmental
protection monitoring of pipelines; reducing the risk of pipelines
being operated at greater than approved pressures; informing
affected stakeholders more quickly when a pipeline leak does occur;
and requiring proactive risk management policies to lower the
frequency and severity of oil tanker spills.
The Reality Check Cuts Both Ways.
Although the Fraser Institute report was written well before the
release of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board review of
the rupture of the Enbridge pipeline in Michigan that polluted an
ecologically sensitive wetland near the Kalamazoo River, the
damning indictments of the Safety Board report have not been lost
on the oil industry players. The message is simple: 'The public and
government regulators will not tolerate incompetence. Public safety
and environmental protection outweigh economic considerations in
Notwithstanding whatever arguments may be made about the
expansion of the oil sands it is clear that all options for the
movement oil sands oil to market must be explored and fully
assessed for both economic and environmental risk. Decisions must
be made based on solid fact and judgment as well as in the
interests of all stakeholders.
With respect to the use of natural gas as a transition fuel,
research by GLOBE Advisors as part of the West Coast Clean Economy study suggests that
exploiting natural gas as a stable one hundred-year supply of a
cleaner energy source will reverberate throughout the
Our findings concur with those of Professor Cathles that natural
gas use has great potential as a reliable energy source that can
complement other renewable power sources and can be rolled out in
the immediate term with great benefit to both the environment and
Natural gas technologies and liquefied natural gas as a fuel
alternative for powering industry and cleaner forms of
transportation are also ripe with potential for job creation and
investment promotion. This is particularly the case with respect to
ferry fleets, large urban vehicle fleets, and long-haul intercity
The GLOBE Foundation has always advocated the environment and
the economy are two sides of the same coin. They cannot be
separated and this fact bears heavily and equally on both
governments as protectors of the public interest and business in
the development of new markets and new resources.
Critics might rightly point to the elephant that remains in the
room, namely the impact that expanding the oil sands to service
Asian markets will have on accelerating climate change.
There are no easy answers to this one, and no one should
minimize the importance of responsible environmental management of
this critical energy resource. In the long run, reducing our
dependence upon fossil fuels to drive our economy will hinge on the
availability of viable alternate sources of energy. Both
governments and business have a role to play here, particularly
with respect to reinvesting some of the anticipated oil and gas
export revenues into more diversified, cleaner and renewable energy
There are no shortcuts to the low carbon future. That's the
reality we must face together.
John D. Wiebe
President and CEO