If Carbon Energy Will Continue To Be Dominant, Why Not Mention Added Supplies That Can Come To the US From Canada? By relying on more oil from Canada, on top of added domestic production, "Hemispheric Energy Independence" is now a real possibility for America

By Paolo von Schirach

June 2. 2013

WASHINGTON – The high brow The Atlantic news magazine devoted 12 long pages to its May 2013 cover story titled We Will Never Run Out Of Oil, by Charles C. Mann. This interesting piece discusses in a sober manner the wider implications of a US-led carbon revolution. It talks intelligently about the impact of more US produced oil and natural gas (thanks to “hydraulic fracturing”, or “fracking”), on carbon emissions, climate change and on the still struggling renewable energy technologies. (Yes, despite all, wind and solar are still a bit too expensive and less reliable than conventional carbon based fuels). Furthermore, Mann goes at great length to explain that the new “dark horse” within the family of carbon energy products is methane hydrate, essentially gas blended with water that one day could be extracted profitably by drilling ocean floors. He also discusses the real long term potential of shale oil and shale gas, and a lot more.

Is there any oil in Canada?

Still, in such an erudite and comprehensive piece delineating the future prospects of carbon based energy there are only a few, and quite dismissive, words devoted to Canada, America’s key ally, neighbor and most significant oil supplier. The author does not say clearly that the US, even with the net addition of shale oil now developed in Texas and North Dakota, can reach “Hemispheric Energy Independence” –that is no more oil from OPEC– only with the help of substantial additional oil imports from Canada.

True enough, thanks to shale oil, North Dakota went from zero oil just a few years ago to almost 1 million barrel a day in 2013. This is most remarkable. But North Dakota will not go to 5 or 6 million. The simple point is that America, while its oil reserves outlook has improved quite substantially, assuming current levels of consumption simply cannot produce all the oil it needs.

Energy independence

Now, if you believe, as I do, that enhanced US energy security is an extremely valuable objective, then the opportunity to combine increased American oil and gas production with increased oil imports from Canada, this way displacing imports from Africa, Venezuela and the Persian Gulf, should be discussed and given its proper relevance in the context of a very long piece on the future of fossil fuels.

Worthless “tar sands” oil

Well, not so. Mann talks briefly and dismissively about Alberta’s “tar sands”, (choosing this deliberately pejorative term, as opposed to the more neutral “oil sands”). He says that extracting this type of oil is a mess. The process requires untold amounts of water. It is way too expensive; therefore not cost effective. (Then how come that they keep going at it?) Besides, the Canadians will not be able to export this low grade oil extracted from the “tar sands” because internal opposition will stop the construction of the necessary pipelines. Likewise, the US State Department may not grant permission to build another north to south, Canada-US, pipeline that would link producers in Alberta to the refineries located in Texas. End of story. On to the next subject.

US-Canada relations?

This is rather amazing. No discussion of Canada’s enormous oil reserves. (Yes, call them “tar sands” or “oil sands”; but all that “stuff” amounts to huge oil reserves). No discussion of the positive implications of an enhanced  strategic US-Canada energy partnership, keeping in mind that the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline, if built, would carry daily into the US about the same amount of oil produced by North Dakota. No discussion of the geopolitical significance of displacing imports of OPEC oil, this way insulating America from the impact of  possible Middle Eastern crises. No discussion of the economic advantages of increasing our energy related commerce with Canada, our ally and major trading partner.

Canadian oil today, or methane hydrate some day?

I am not suggesting here that importing more oil from Canada all by itself would provide the final solution to all of America’s present and future energy supply problems. Far from it. But Canada’s oil is abundant, real and tangible; and we could get a lot more of it today, (if the long delayed TransCanada pipeline had been authorized and built).

I submit that humble Canadian oil is a more realistic addition to America’s (and world) energy supplies than counting on the future (and costly) development of  ocean floor based methane hydrate the author describes to us in such minute details.

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