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Anti-Oil Sands: Perverse Ethics in the Name of the Environment

[Ed. note: An important front in the energy-policy debate concerns the moral case for rich, dense, plentiful, reliable energy that is handmaiden to industrial society. In addition to the post below, see the contributions of Alex Epstein at this site.]

The duplicity and hypocrisy of environmental pressure groups seem to be matched only by their consummate skill at manipulating public opinion, amassing political power, securing taxpayer-funded government grants, and persuading people to send them money and invest in “ethical” stock funds.

In the annals of “green” campaigns, those against biotechnology, DDT and Alar are especially prominent. To those we should now add the well-orchestrated campaigns against Canadian oil sands and the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Background

Oil has been seeping out of Northern Alberta soils and river banks for millennia. Native Americans used the bitumen to waterproof canoes, early explorers smelled and wrote about it, and “entrepreneurs” used it in “mineral waters” and “medicinal elixirs.”

Today, increasingly high-tech operations are extracting the precious hydrocarbons to fuel modern living standards in Canada and the United States. Enormous excavator/loading shovels and trucks used in open pits during the early years are giving way to drilling rigs, steam injection, electric heaters, pipes and other technologies to penetrate, liquefy and extract the petroleum.

The new techniques impact far less land surface, use and recycle brackish water, and emit fewer air pollutants and (plant-fertilizing) carbon dioxide every year. Water use for Alberta oil extraction is a tiny fraction of what’s needed to grow corn and convert it into ethanol that gets a third less mileage per gallon than gasoline.

Affected lands are returned to forest and native grasslands at a surprising pace. And the operations are removing oil that would otherwise end up in local air and water.

Productive Addition

Instead of requiring perpetual subsidies, á la the “renewable” technologies that President Obama intends to redouble if he is re-elected, the oil sands generate vast sums in royalties and taxes: an anticipated $690 billion into federal and provincial coffers all across Canada over the life of the project.

That’s on top of tens of thousands of jobs of every description, including nearly 2,000 Native Canadians (Aboriginals), whose communities have enjoyed soaring living standards since the operations were launched. In fact, the oil sands project will ultimately generate 11,219,000 person-years of high-paying employment from Alberta to British Columbia, Ontario and the Maritime Provinces, say government sources.

This North American oil is displacing millions of barrels of annual U.S. oil imports from some of the least savory countries on Earth, while adding billions of barrels a year to planetary petroleum production, and thereby keeping world oil prices lower than they would otherwise be.

These are huge benefits. The oil sands project is hardly perfect. It causes environmental impacts, just as all human enterprises do, especially those that provide energy. Indeed, even fantasy fuel projects – wind, solar and biofuel boondoggles that provide comparatively minuscule amounts of energy, but require billions in taxpayer subsidies – have enormous ecological impacts.

Here’s the most important point: Canada’s oil sands (and the Keystone Pipeline that will bring their petroleum to the United States) must be evaluated on environmental and ethical grounds that compare them to real-world alternatives to them – not to some utopian energy resource that exists only in the minds of idealists, ideologues, and special interest environmental pressure groups.

These critics viciously attack Alberta and the oil sands industry – accusing them of “blood oil,” environmental devastation and unethical practices. In reality, oil sands petroleum is among the most ethical and ecological on Earth, especially when compared to real-world alternatives like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Sudan, Russia, Ecuador, and Venezuela, whose human-rights violations, terrorism sponsorship and reckless environmental records are legendary. And yet oil-sand critics give them a free pass, while heaping opprobrium on Canada.

The False Moralists

Whole Foods says oil-sands fuel “does not fit our values.” Perhaps the grocer and its “ethical” colleagues prefer the values of alternative oil-supplying nations re rights of women, children, gays, and foreign housekeepers; stoning, lashing and lopping off hands and heads; treatment of civilians during wars in Chechnya and Darfur; massacres and environmental degradation in the Nigerian delta region; rigged elections and Swiss bank accounts for oil proceeds; or treatment of aboriginals, minorities, and Christians.

Perhaps Whole Foods, Sierra Club, NRDC, Obama’s EPA and allied critics prefer to look toward China, which provides 95% of the rare-earth metals that are essential for wind turbines and solar panels. Those operations have brought unprecedented air and water pollution, cropland and wildlife habitat wastelands, widespread radiation contamination, and cancer and lung disease in workers and local residents.

Some 28 percent of Canadian oil industry jobs held by women is “not enough,” intones Kairos, a left-leaning coalition of churches. Compared to what? Women’s jobs in Saudi Arabia or Iran? The 3.5 million more American women who have ended up on poverty rolls since President Obama took office?

Bird Deaths?

Some 1,600 ducks died after landing in an oil-sands waste pit several years ago. A repeat of this isolated incident is increasingly unlikely as open pit mining and oil-water separation pits are replaced by in situ drilling and steam. Nevertheless, using analytical methods that only IPCC climate alarmists would appreciate, the “respected” Pembina Institute conjured up the fantastical “calculation” that “more than 160 million birds would die from oil sands development” over the coming decades.

The claim is not merely wild fear-mongering. It ignores the growing impact of wind turbines on raptors, and attempts by industrial wind developers to get U.S. Fish & Wildlife Serviceprogrammatic take” permits: 007 Licenses to Kill thousands of eagles, hawks, whooping cranes and other protected birds every year without fear of prosecution. Remember: it was a California representative of the Sierra Club that tagged wind turbines with the moniker: Cuisinarts of the Air.

Greenpeace routinely pillories oil sands companies as “climate criminals,” while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency uses their oil sands CO2 emissions to justify denying Keystone Pipeline permits. (Greenpeace lost its Canadian tax-exempt status, but still manages to con contributors out of vast sums, to retain its status as a $340-million-per-year pressure group. EPA conducts illegal experiments on humans, to justify regulations that are killing thousands of coal mining and utility jobs.)

Global Warming Issue

These positions reflect adherence to the shaky hypothesis of catastrophic manmade global warming and unsupportable claims that the oil sands contribute disproportionately to a looming climate Armageddon. However, the Alberta environment office show that “greenhouse gas” emissions from oil sands plummeted 38% between 1990 and 2009, and are now 5% of Canada’s total GHG emissions – and equal to or lower than CO2/GHG emissions from petroleum operations in Nigeria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

So-called “ethical funds” likewise excoriate oil sands developers like Total, Syncrude and Imperial Oil, while promising investors that their money will purchase shares in “responsible” companies that don’t produce fossil fuels, do nuclear power or contribute to climate change. Co-operative Bank’s is one of those modern day snake-oil “entrepreneurs.” Its über-ethical Sustainable Leaders Trust (don’t you love that name?) makes that pitch – and then invests client cash in Third World coal mines … and oil sands!

Conclusion

The rogues’ gallery of oil sands critics and their shady dealings is so vast that someone could write a book about them. In fact, Ezra Levant did exactly that. His Ethical Oil is an eye-opening companion to my own Eco-Imperialism, which chronicles the often lethal misdeeds of other self-righteous pressure groups.

Their misrepresentations, double standards, questionable practices, and perverse ethics would get them brought up on fraud charges, if they were oil companies or non-“ethical” investment “trusts.”

It’s time to apply the same legal, ethical and credibility standards to these “socially responsible” outfits that they insist on applying to the corporations they denounce. Keep that in mind the next time you see EPA, Greenpeace, Co-operative Bank or anyone else taking pot shots at oil sands or Keystone.

3 comments

1 Kermit { 10.22.12 at 9:51 am }

The “newer” techniques of extracting are used where the deposits are too deep to strip mine. They will account for increased production of very heavy crude rather than replace any of that being strip mined.

Too be sure, the increased production is ideal to replace that being imported from Venezuela to refineries already configured, in both processes and product stream, for such crude.

I trust Canada to much more environmentally friendly than Venezuela.

It would be nice to reverse Capline which could carry considerably more crude than Keystone XL, along with building of Keystone XL.

2 Green Goddess { 10.22.12 at 9:56 am }

But surely if the new techniques are emitting less ” (plant-fertilizing) carbon dioxide every year.” that is a tragedy. We need more CO2 emissions, to feed the plants that will feed the starving millions. Let’s go back to the old open pit ways and really ramp up climate change!

Go Big Oil!
Go America!

3 Robert Hargraves { 10.27.12 at 8:33 am }

Advanced nuclear power can lower the cost and CO2 emissions from extracting oil from tar sands. The small, modular thorium molten salt reactor is being considered by Canadian industry to heat the underground hydrocarbon goop to allow it to be pumped to the surface without disturbing the land. This is in the new book, THORIUM: energy cheaper than coal, described at http://www.thoriumenergycheaperthancoal.com

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