Stephen Harper's right to call the Keystone pipeline a no-brainer

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The Gazette, Wednesday, September 28, 2011

As demonstrations go, it was pretty pathetic. At most, 300 people turned up on Parliament Hill on Monday morning to protest the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project to carry 700,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta to the Gulf Coast of the United States.

The demo was organized by the usual suspects, Greenpeace and the Council of Canadians. About 100 demonstrators achieved their goal of getting arrested and escorted away. Ten times as many managed to get themselves arrested in front of the White House last month, but they had unemployed movie stars such as Daryl Hannah as a draw.

By early afternoon on Monday, there were more cops than protesters. Only about 100 demonstrators remained on the Hill, chanting slogans such as "Keep the tarsands in the soil, we don't want your dirty oil!"

Maybe they don't, but the Americans could sure use a secure supply of up to a million barrels a day of additional oil from Canada.

Canada is already the largest supplier of oil to the U.S., at more than 2 million barrels a day, about half a million barrels a day more than Saudi Arabia ships there.

Of current western Canadian crude-oil production of 2.5 million barrels a day, 1.3 million barrels come from the Alberta oilsands. According to an article in Policy Options (the magazine that I edit) by Bruce Carson, former director of the Canada School for Energy and the Environment at the University of Calgary, oilsands production is expected to increase to 2.2 million barrels per day by 2015 and 3.5 million barrels a day by 2025.

Much of that additional capacity will flow through the Keystone XL pipeline to be built by TransCanada, and much more would be transported through the proposed Pacific Gateway pipeline that would be built by Enbridge to the West Coast. There are environmental challenges on that route, as well, to say nothing of the need to obtain the agreement of some 50 First Nations. But at present, 100 per cent of Canada's oil exports go to the U.S. If we are to develop other markets, such as China, the only way there is to the West Coast and across the Pacific.

As for the $7-billion Keystone project, not only does the U.S. need the oil, it needs the thousands of high-paying jobs that will be created for skilled workers. As Stephen Harper said in a New York interview last week, "It's a no-brainer." It's also become a priority for his government in managing Canada-U.S. relations. It came up in his bilateral meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House last February. It was one of two main points that Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird raised in his first bilateral meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. And it's the top file on the desk of our ambassador to Washington, Gary Doer, who has been working the pipeline issue with governors of prairie and Midwest states that will be affected.

The oilsands are also a major employer in Canada. According to the Canadian Energy Research Institute, they will create 5.5 million person-years of employment to 2020, "44 per cent of which," writes Carson, "will be outside Alberta." For example, one of the major players in the oil-services industry is SNC-Lavalin, the Montreal engineering firm.

Sustainable development of the oilsands is a work in progress, but Alberta has a goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by 50 per cent by 2050.

It's worth remembering that Canada, for all the "fossil" awards it gets at climatechange conferences, produces only 1.9 per cent of the world's greenhouse-gas emissions, and the oilsands account for only five per cent of that.

The hypocrisy of climatechange activists, and some U.S. politicians, also needs to be taken into account.

Derek Burney, our former ambassador to Washington, put it succinctly last year when he noted that the carbon footprint from the coalfired U.S. energy industry is 64 times larger than that of the Alberta oilsands. As long as there's a coal and rail lobby in Washington, that's not going to change.

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