Build pipelines or curb emissions? Canada can do both.

Mark Cameron argues for pipelines and, at the same time, a concerted effort to meet climate targets

Bloomberg Photo/Scott Dalton

Bloomberg Photo/Scott Dalton

Like many environmentalists, David Suzuki asks why Canada is still considering the construction of pipelines after signing on to the Paris climate agreement that he believes would require leaving 75-80 per cent of petroleum reserves in the ground. On the other side, many oil industry advocates are urging government to help champion the construction of pipelines without delay, and caution that including climate impacts in regulatory hearings would further obstruct projects.

But there is plenty of room between the views that protecting the environment means shutting down our energy industry, or that promoting Canadian energy exports requires giving the environment short shrift. Canadians for Clean Prosperity believes that a clean environment can and must be reconciled with a strong and competitive economy. We believe that Canada can have a robust hydrocarbons sector, including new pipelines to bring Canadian oil to tidewater, while still fulfilling our environmental commitments and taking action to mitigate dangerous climate change.

The impact of oil sands development, and of building pipelines to reach world markets, must be looked at in the context of global greenhouse gas emissions. The emissions impacts of potential oil sands pipelines would actually be fairly small according to the most reputable studies. For example, a 2014 U.S. State Department study on the impacts of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline found that while Keystone would ship 830,000 barrels of oil-sands-derived crude to U.S. refineries, “approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed [Keystone XL pipeline], remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands.” Similarly, a study commissioned by the Ontario Energy Board analyzing the Energy East pipeline found that it would likely increase Canadian emissions by a maximum of 1.6 per cent (and global emissions by 0.1 per cent). Simply put, cancelling pipeline projects doesn’t mean less oil comes out of the ground. The reality is that even if crude isn’t transported by pipeline, it will get to market through other means, albeit at a greater cost. The main alternative is rail, which is both more dangerous and more emissions-intensive than pipeline.

However, the fact remains that pipelines like Keystone and Energy East (or TransMountain and Northern Gateway) would likely have small but real effects in increasing the overall level of production and thus emissions from Canada’s oil sands. Can Canada and the world absorb these new emissions and still hope to meet our climate targets? The answer is, if we are careful, probably.

The International Energy Agency’s “450 Scenario” published in 2010 indicated that the world could meet the goal of limiting carbon dioxide concentrations to 450 parts per million, enough to limit global temperature increases to two degrees celsius, if new policies, including carbon pricing, were implemented. Under this scenario, 78 million barrels of oil per day are expected to be produced in 2035, with roughly 3.3 million of those barrels coming from Canadian oil sands. This number is consistent with Alberta’s new 100-megatonne cap on oil sands emissions.

We think it is appropriate for the National Energy Board to take overall emissions projections for major pipeline projects into account, and we support the federal government’s new requirement that overall emissions impacts be assessed as part of the NEB’s reviews of the Energy East and TransMountain pipelines. Estimating the greenhouse gas effects of these projects, and doing our best to limit them, is important for increasing public confidence in pipeline assessment and regulation, and ultimately, for getting Canada’s oil to market.

Although the projected emissions effects for these pipeline projects are small, they can’t be ignored. Canada must do its part to reduce emissions and to mitigate the effect of those emissions that we cannot avoid. Ensuring that emissions across the economy are adequately priced would be a great start. Alberta’s recent move to bring in a carbon price is an important step in this direction. This price will be charged on all consumer emissions in the province, and oil and gas producers supplying world markets will have to pay the $30 per tonne fee for every tonne of emissions above the level of the best performing firms in their sector. This gives firms an ongoing incentive to improve their environmental performance so that Alberta industry can meet its goal of making oil sands production as clean as conventional petroleum.

With a strong regulatory process that takes upstream emissions impacts into account, and a commitment to carbon pricing that ensures that Canada is properly pricing externalities due to its emissions, there is no reason why new pipelines to carry Canadian oil to global markets shouldn’t be part of Canada’s energy future.

Mark Cameron is the Executive Director of Canadians for Clean Prosperity, an organization working to build a Canada where a strong, competitive economy coexists with a clean, sustainable environment.


Build pipelines or curb emissions? Canada can do both.

  1. Just because people can’t adapt to new energy is no reason to gripe about oil being removed from the environment. Coal will go first since it is the dirtiest, then oil and then gas. Even wind power and photovoltaics will soon be gone along with the ugly expensive grid. Mainline science community is slowly recognizing that hot fusion is a false start and an extremely expensive one at that. The sun was thought to be a gas and the hot fusion community decided to design their hot fusion reactors accordingly, except that it is now known that the sun is NOT a gas but a dense liquid of Rydberg matter. This is the basis on which Low Energy Nano Reaction (LENR) is based and is the new energy that will replace all other forms of energy. Robotised plants for manufacture are being built now and orders for industrial units are being taken at the time of this writing. Those in power have known about this activity since 1989 when cold fusion first was revealed and debunked by jealous hot fusionists and incredulous mainstream phyicists. The USA black ops Manhattan project for cold fusion has culminated in a LENR power plant being built in Guam as a pilot project to prove its viability for producing electricity for 1/100 the cost of current prices. For full details visit http://news.newenergytimes.net/ and E-CAT WORLD.

  2. This is a pretty naive article that shows a lack of understanding of the climate change problem and Canada’s role. Pretty much par for the course for Canadians for Clean Prosperity. This is the same organization that gave a failing grade to the Ontario government’s courageous decision to enact carbon pricing in the form of Cap n Trade. This organization has seemed to become less about the environment and more about supporting a corporate agenda.

    Pushing a fossil fuel industry, as this article does, instead of admitting that that is the past and not pushing or putting the emphasis on a new clean energy future and economy is really backward thinking. It makes no economic or environmental sense for Canada and Canadian industry to spend one more incremental dollar on the fossil fuels industry. It is an industry with no future.

    The environmental reality is that Canada holds about 6% of the world’s carbon reserves, which is a huge amount and makes Canada absolutely key in solving the climate change issue. Canada is what the scientists call a “carbon bomb”. If the planet is to keep within the 2 degree temperature rise target (Canada actually recently pushed for the lower 1.5 degree target at Paris) then most of Canada’s carbon will have to stay in the ground. If Canada develops even a fraction of those carbon reserves, the scientists tell us that that alone will push the world above the temperature targets. So how does Canadians for Clean Prosperity even think to make the argument that we need more fossil fuels development in Canada?

    • Canada is a carbon bomb when it emits less than 2 percent of the total global emissions? I understand your point. Canada needs to keep its oil in ground so every other country can bring its oil out of the ground. That way, we in Canada can actually purchase our oil from other much larger emitters like the US (who is currently the largest producer of oil in the world), Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and South America. Brilliant! Meanwhile, we will waste taxpayer dollars propping up companies that depend on oil and gas to business. Shouldn’t you let Mr. Trudeau know this before he gives Bombardier a billion dollars for jets. Also, please tell your friends who attend oil protests in small water vessels made out of petroleum that they are really f&cking up the message.

    • I agree that fossil fuel CONSUMPTION needs to reduce in order to reduce GHG emissions. Unfortunately the enviros have chosen to attack the production of fossil fuels to make this happen when a far more effective approach would be to encourage reduction of the CONSUMPTION of all fossil fuels. The enviros should be entreating governments to use whatever means to encourage us all to take our IC engine vehicles off the road then buy and use zero CO2 emission vehicles. Then the enviros should be entreating governments to encourage the development and building of zero CO2 emission electricity sources. They could also encourage people, companies and governments to increase the efficiency of energy use to reduce the CONSUMPTION of fossil fuels.
      I realize that this is a far more difficult task than getting people all mad at large oil and gas companies and it does not satisfy the movements anti-capitalist agenda but it is the only truly effective way to reduce GHG emissions worldwide. The environmental protests against oil and gas companies is only effective in North America where their protests can affect approval processes but the rest of the world’s producers are immune to their protests and go right on producing.
      If the environmentalists would focus on reducing the CONSUMPTION of fossil fuels they would not have to have one protest against the oil and gas industry since if they were successful in reducing CONSUMPTION the oil and gas companies would slowly go out of business.

  3. It isn’t just about emissions. It’s about the west coast’s vibrant and growing eco-tourism industry. It’s about protecting the diversity of our salt water species and the land-based species that depend on them, including us. It’s about respecting First Nations who don’t have treaties, who have been tolerating their land, food sources, and incomes being taken away while they wait for treaties and the respect they deserve. You can throw numbers around and think that proves something, or you can actually come to the west coast and talk to people living in places like Hartley Bay, Lax Kw’Alaams, and Fort Rupert. Don’t know where they are? Then don’t presume to know what we need here on the left coast of Canada. The west does not end at the Rocky Mountains.

  4. Shipping oil by pipeline creates less carbon dioxide emissions that shipping oil by rail. Rail requires diesel electric engines which create both pollution and carbon dioxide emissions, and pipelines only require pumps. If the electricity is created by hydro falling water or nuclear, there are no emissions. The Energy East pipeline will use mostly Quebec’s green electricity, and New Brunswick has a nuclear power plant. So it is clear that pipeline is better.

Sign in to comment.