What happened to the bitumen export ban?

During the 2008 campaign, Stephen Harper promised to ban the export of raw bitumen to countries with weaker emissions targets.

“We will not permit the export of bitumen to any country that does not have the same greenhouse gas regulations that we are imposing,” Harper said in Calgary, where he was campaigning for re-election in an Oct. 14 vote.

Mr. Harper said the federal government had the constitutional authority to enforce a ban. And the Prime Minister acknowledged that such a ban could impact exports to Asia.

Harper’s promise is likely to have no impact on bitumen exports to the United States, said Environment Minister John Baird, but could affect the construction of a major pipeline from Alberta to the Pacific coast to feed the Asian market. Questioned on whether the emission target proposal would have an impact on future bitumen exports to Asian countries, Harper replied: “Well, it could. It absolutely could.”

Nearly four years later, the Harper government is quite keen to sell this country’s oil to Asia. But for all the discussion in recent months about resource development and oil exports, Mr. Harper’s pledge has gone unmentioned. What happened to promised ban? I sent the following query to the Prime Minister’s Office.

During the 2008 campaign, the Prime Minister promised to ban the export of raw bitumen to countries with environmental standards that were more lenient than Canada’s. Does the Prime Minister still intend to fulfill that promise? And, if so, how does he square it with the government’s desire to export oil to countries like China and India?

That question was forwarded to the office of Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver. Mr. Oliver’s spokeswoman sent along the following statement by way of response (emphasis mine).

“Our government is focused on jobs creation, economic growth and long-term prosperity. Our plan for Responsible Resource Development will help unleash enormous economic growth, by streamlining environmental assessments while maintaining the highest possible standard for protecting the environment. In the next 10 years, more than 500 projects representing over $500 billion in new investments are proposed across Canada. We currently are continuing to review this policy.”

That roughly matches what Minister Oliver’s office said more than eight months ago when Postmedia checked on the Prime Minister’s promise.

“Our 2008 platform commitment remains in effect. We continue to review on an ongoing basis,” said Julie Di Mambro, press secretary to Oliver.

At that time, a “person familiar with Prime Minister Harper’s surprise announcement” said the promise was to be “buried and never seen again.”




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What happened to the bitumen export ban?

  1. “We will not permit the export of bitumen to any country that does not have the same greenhouse gas regulations that we are imposing,” Harper said in Calgary, where he was campaigning for re-election in an Oct. 14 vote.
    My impression is that there are two ways to skin this cat. The first is to ensure that all countries importing Canadian tar are meeting Canadian emmissions targets. The second is bringing Canada’s targets down to the levels of our export targets. The second method satisfies this formula, while simultaneously throwing a bone to Harper’s crazy climate denial base.

    • And the gutting of current environmental legislation as part of the “budget implementation” bill is a pretty clear indication of which of the two approaches Harper & Co plan to take.

  2. Ah…well you see he would like to keep that promise but he’s discovered it rather gets in the way of him getting reelected in ’15, and it may hamper any future hopes he has of sitting on some lucrative boards after he’s finished in Ottawa – it’s not as if he has other skills to fall back on; can’t expect the guy to live on fresh air, or have to resort to sordid lttle brown envelopes like his Conservative predecessor, can you now?

  3. We will not permit the export of bitumen to any country that does not have the same greenhouse gas regulations that we are imposing,”

    Could it be? YES! It is another case of……Harperbole

  4. All the pages devoted to gutting environmental legislation in the budget could have a bit to do with this — climate change — what climate change??

  5. You realize that upgrading bitumen doesn’t always have positive economic value. Upgrading and refining is a low-margin spread business, because the upgrader/refiner does not control the price they pay for feedstock nor the price they are able to sell the upgraded product, both of which are set in the futures and derivatives markets.

    i.e. Refining and upgrading is something you only want to do if you have to. Ideally, one wants to do as little of it as possible because it tends to be a horrible business economically speaking.

    Alberta has solved this problem with the provision that it is able to take its bitumen royalty in kind (i.e. in bitumen) if it so chooses. Long term, once oilsands projects payback, the royalty is 25-40% based on the free market bitumen price. Thus, Alberta can guarentee it can have as much bitumen upgrading as it wants or desires.

    Perhaps you should have taken a couple of basic economics classes in journalism school, Aaron.

    • “Perhaps you should have taken a couple of basic economics classes in journalism school, Aaron”

      Although Aaron wrote this piece, a careful reading reveals that it was Harper touting an export ban.
      You can contact Harper with your suggestion @: pm@pm.gc.ca

    • Funny, when I look at the annual reports for both Suncor and Imperial, they made craploads of profit from their downstream units (i.e. refineries and marketing) in 2011. Those are supposedly both low-margin parts of the business, but they account for nearly 1/4 of Suncor’s net revenue. The only unprofitable refinery owned by those two giants was the Imperial Oil refinery here in Halifax (because it relies on more expensive feed stock – North Sea sweet crude). If what you say about the low margins are true, why do Imperial and Suncor consider most of their refining units to be essential parts of their businesses, going forward?
      Besides, we all know what happens when the feed stock price increases, either because of real operational expenses, supply issues, or wild market speculation (usually the latter): The price at the pump goes up immediately. They gotta maintain that margin. Not so much when the feed stock price decreases, though, I’ve found.

  6. “Our government is focused on jobs creation, economic growth and long-term prosperity. Our plan for Responsible Resource Development will help unleash enormous economic growth, by streamlining environmental assessments while maintaining the highest possible standard for protecting the environment.”

    This sounds like something right out of “1984.” Reckless and unfettered development of resources becomes “responsible.” Gutting environmental oversight becomes “streamlining.” The “highest possible standard for protecting the environment” is the lowest in the developed world. “Enormous economic growth” is actually anemic GDP growth.

  7. The recession halted emissions growth for one year. They are growing in the developing world again. You could just say they (and S.Europe) are screwing over their own future children. Where the Stanley Cup rings in ears, position, fails is we don’t get their future imports if they screw themselves over. China is rare Earth minerals and CNT king. India is call centre king and growing in software. These countries can make things like machines that kill cancer and OLED wallpaper for your interiors and computer applications like finding where your preferred most beautiful or most personality compatible or CV compatible, girls are, who are single and living near you. They can make $%^& robots. Their robots can wash your grandma so she won’t die of a skin infection. They can make decontamination robots. Or they can be cannibals.

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