By Paolo von Schirach
July 3, 2012
WASHINGTON – A simple question. Taking all into consideration: overall cost, trade relations, environmental concerns, geographic proximity, relations with foreign governments and US energy security, answer this: “Is it better for the United States to import more oil from neighboring and friendly Canada, or is it better to forgo that source and keep importing a share of the oil we need to fuel our millions of cars from Saudi Arabia and other OPEC countries?”
Canada or OPEC?
The fact that we even have to pose the question, means that unfortunately the issue is not settled. And this is amazing. Do we really need to ponder as to whether –taking everything into consideration– is it really a good idea to rely more on Canada, a friendly neighbor, for increasing supplies of a commodity we desperately need, rather than taking our chances on distant suppliers, half a world away, located in an inherently unstable, conflict prone region like the Persian Gulf?
Of course we should opt for Canada. With oil sands reserves estimated at 170 billion barrels, Canada can supply America for decades. The stark reality is that America, even with significant new oil discoveries in North Dakota and elsewhere, still needs to import almost half of what it consumes, at least until we find something that will replace oil as transportation fuel. (I noted, see link above, that natural gas can help a lot to lessen our dependence from imported oil. It will do great as fuel for heavy trucks. But natural gas would not provide a total solution.)
Well, The Washington Post is not convinced. On July 1, 2012, the Post run a long and exhaustive front page article on the Canadian oil sands located in the Province of Alberta, (An Oil Rush Up North). The article mentioned in passing US energy security and gave a little space to the arguments of the oil producers.
Otherwise, the entire story is an indictment of the whole idea of extracting oil from the sands of Alberta. This is an environmental calamity, with damages to the land and to the global environment, as the process for extracting oil from the oil sands requires large amounts of water and energy. The land from which oil is extracted cannot be fully restored. All in all, oil from oil sands pollutes more, while it releases more greenhouse gases.
Fort McMurray is a bad place
On top of that, a less than flattering companion piece on Fort McMurray, a Canadian oil boom-town, describes the place as a modern Sodom and Gomorrah where poor people are sucked in, attracted by high salaries in the oil industry, and end up losing everything because of high prices, drugs and alcohol. So, we may as well shut down the whole thing. Bad for the environment and bad for the people. Talk about a developed world version of “The Oil Curse”.
Needless to say, I find this coverage of this immense supply of a strategic commodity critical to America’s survival one sided and unhelpful. Remember that we are talking about 170 billion barrels of oil, the second largest crude reserves in the world.
Coverage lacks context
I am not suggesting that what was written is wrong or inaccurate. I am suggesting that it fails to present the issue in its proper context. And the context is that, for decades to come, unless some major technological breakthrough comes along, the US will need to import large amounts of oil. May be less than we used to, on account of higher efficiencies and increased domestic production, but still several millions of barrels a day. This is not optional. This is a matter of national survival. We simply cannot function as a society without it.
Canada is a better supplier
That said, from the stand point of our national security, energy security, trade relations and international politics, which one is a better and more reliable supplier: Canada or Saudi Arabia? Canada, of course, because it is next door and a trusted friend.
Or are we really saying that since Canada’s oil pollutes more, (by about 20%, mind you), then we should stay away from it? This would be really silly. It is obvious that, if the US will not buy more of the Alberta oil, others will. In this energy deprived world there will be plenty of customers.
This is not to say that environmental concerns should not be noted. They should be aired and discussed in order to have policies in place that will minimize any damages. But, unfortunately, for the time being, we cannot do without oil. As we need to buy it anyway, better to source more of it from our friends next door.
So, let’s do the smart thing and build all the pipelines we need in order to get all the oil we can from Canada.