COLUMN | THE POLITICAL EYE: Why pipeline expansion isn’t the worst idea


[dropcap]P[/dropcap]ipelines: they’re hotly debated, especially at SFU where major protests against the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion have occurred in recent years. So, I will provide some arguments in favour of pipeline expansion in Canada, aside from the usual ‘growth of jobs and economy’ take.

Where does Canada get its oil? The National Post reports that the top source countries are the US, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Angola, and Algeria. Of these, Canada is a Western, liberal democracy with strong social programs and a commitment to human rights. When we import the $20 billion of oil, like we did in 2014, we directly support these foreign countries’ ruling governments and not our own.

Saudi Arabia, one of the top countries in world oil production, is a monarchy. There, women are not allowed to drive, and have to limit the amount of time spent interacting with men outside of their families. Contrast this with Alberta oil capital Fort McMurray, whose mayor, Melissa Blake, is a woman. Saudi Arabia also performs executions for crimes such as blasphemy, adultery, homosexuality, and even witchcraft and sorcery.

Canada also imports Nigerian oil. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation “manages the government’s interests in the Nigerian oil industry,” according to its website. The Niger Delta has seen immense environmental degradation and humanitarian crises as a result of oil production. Recent attacks on oil installations by the Niger Delta Avengers, a new militant group protesting the lack of resources for inhabitants of the Niger Delta, has cut production from 2.2 million barrels a day to 1.6 million a day.

Canadian oil sands are developed by private companies which, according to The National Post, are “subject to the rule of law, accountable to public shareholders, and disciplined by market forces.” Oil and gas contribute almost 11 percent to Canada’s GDP and about $20 billion in tax revenue per year. So, why don’t we reduce imports of foreign oil and move toward energy independence through projects like the Energy East Pipeline?

When we import the $20 billion of oil that we did in 2014, we directly support foreign countries’ ruling governments and not our own.

Pipeline expansion is also good for environmental reasons — wait, I’ve got to be joking, right?

This is not to say that Canadian oil development is clean and environmentally friendly. It isn’t. But our oil development is heavily regulated, more transparent, and much safer than in other countries.

When oil is extracted, natural gas flares. This gas flaring contributes an estimated 400 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere yearly, and wastes about 5.5 percent of the world’s natural gas. Nigeria’s gas flaring contributes more CO2 to the environment than all of Sub-Saharan Africa. Alberta, BC, and Saskatchewan have all implemented regulations to reduce flaring. Canada didn’t even make the top 10 for gas flaring between 2007 and 2012, even though it was fifth in the world for oil production in the latter year.

How about oil spills, which are arguably the key concern for pipelines? The National Energy Board estimates Canadian pipelines move roughly 1.3 billion barrels of oil per year, and approximately 1,084 barrels were spilled each year between 2011 and 2014, meaning pipelines safely moved 99.99 percent of the oil to its final Canadian destination.

The alternative to pipelines are trucks, rails, or boats, which are far from perfect themselves. Quebec’s Lac-Mégantic rail disaster in 2013 killed 47 people and spilled or burned a reported six million litres of oil. And let’s not forget the massive Exxon Valdez spill.

Pipelines aren’t perfect. Oil and gas won’t last. We need to switch to renewables and break our dependence on the carbon economy. But ideological opposition to pipelines simply doesn’t fit into current times, because pipelines are arguably the best and safest available method of transporting oil — a necessary evil, if you will. An increased Canadian share in global energy markets would be good for our economy, and could boost global environmental health and human rights.