The havoc currently being wreaked by rampaging wildfires out west, fueled in part by climate change, reminds us that reducing climate pollution is more urgent than ever.
This should be at the forefront this week as provincial energy ministers meet in Halifax, and premiers and territorial leaders gather in St. John’s.
In 2014, these meetings produced a draft Canadian energy strategy that promised to move towards a lower carbon economy. Such documents have little meaning, however, if our premiers don’t take the task of backing away from extreme energy seriously.
As conventional sources of fossil fuels are drying up all over the world, new intensive extraction methods are being pursued, requiring more energy and water and creating more pollution and destruction. Techniques like hydraulic fracturing (fracking) require 10 to 200 million litres of water and generate 30 to 50 times more methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, than conventional natural gas extraction.
Canadian extreme energy projects include fracking for shale gas and coal bed methane, oil sands extraction, and deep water and Arctic drilling. With few exceptions, the current federal government continues to push hard for extreme energy development.
Premiers have an important role to play in deciding our energy priorities. The wave of moratoria in Eastern Canada against fracking was instituted by the premiers of Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.
On the other hand, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has stated that a goal for the upcoming meeting includes getting Albertan oil to foreign markets. Premiers Brad Wall of Saskatchewan and Brian Gallant of New Brunswick are staunch supporters of TransCanada’s Energy East project, the largest oil sands pipeline proposed at 1.1 million barrels per day (bpd). Notley has also indicated support for Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain pipeline expansion in B.C. Filling these two pipelines would unleash up to 45 million tonnes of climate pollution every year — more than the annual emissions of six Canadian provinces and territories. It would be like adding 10 million cars to our roads.
Industry wants these and other proposed pipelines in order to achieve their expansive vision for the oil sands. Current rates of oil sands production is around two million bpd. An increase to 5.8 million bpd already has federal and provincial approval. Industry has expressed interest in pursuing closer to 10 million bpd. Infrastructure to export oil sands to international markets is reaching its limits.
Requiring far more water and energy to produce than conventional oil, oil sands bitumen production is Canada’s fastest growing source of climate pollution. The environmental footprint expands its reach with every pipeline spill. Unlike conventional oil, diluted bitumen sinks in water, as happened in the Kalamazoo River, costing more than $1 billion to clean up. Submerged oil still remains on the river bed.
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Instead of building more capacity to get this oil to international markets, we should be putting a stop to further oil sands expansion.
Indeed, this is what more than 100 leading North American scientists recently called for. It is the subject of legal challenges led by First Nations downstream from the oil sands. It is what the wall of opposition is demanding, recently witnessed in Red Head in Saint John, N.B., the site proposed for the Energy East deep sea port that threatens to triple the number of tankers in the Bay of Fundy.
Premiers have a critical role to play in stopping extreme energy expansion.
Premiers can insist that the climate pollution impact of filling pipelines is included in National Energy Board reviews.
Premiers can be steadfast in demanding that treaty rights are respected and that constitutional obligations to First Nations peoples are fulfilled.
Premiers can halt and regulate fracking and resist offshore drilling, including putting a stop to the looming offshore drilling threat in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Premiers can increase funding for alternative energy solutions, energy conservation, energy efficiency, and public transit, all of which generate more jobs per dollar invested than fossil fuels.
Decisions as to whether extreme energy projects proceed must not be left up to the whims of the market or industry. Any meaningful discussion of a Canadian energy strategy must put extreme energy at the forefront of the agenda. Premiers can be the ones to put it there.