Crunch time for oil exports puts focus on the east – by Tim Harper (Toronto Star – February 13, 2013)

The Toronto Star has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on federal and Ontario politics as well as shaping public opinion.

Alberta’s revenue problem is ultimately a national problem but a west-east oil pipeline could be the answer.

OTTAWA – This country is fast approaching crunch time. Just lend an ear to some of the words being tossed around by the country’s business and political leaders.

Canadian oil is not getting to export markets, creating what is being described as the country’s “biggest challenge” in decades, has been deemed a “crisis” in Alberta and causing “concern” in Ottawa where Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has chosen rather cooler language.

A reversal of the flow of oil is sought as a means to turn around an “apocalyptic” economic situation in New Brunswick and every environmental syllable uttered by Barack Obama is fiercely parsed here to try to divine clues to the future of our southern export market. Something has to give, because there is simply too much at stake.

Canada’s inability to move its most lucrative export at world price, according to a CIBC analysis, cited in a new report by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, cost the Canadian economy an estimated $19 billion last year, more than $50 million per day. Another analysis has broken it down further, costing each Canadian $1,200 per year.

But how to unlock this pipeline gridlock?

First, Ottawa has to convince First Nations and environmentalists that it is paying more than just lip service to their legitimate concerns. It must also convince its potential customers of the same.

Then, and only then, it can move the oil. But west, south or east?

Here’s some handicapping on how — or if — our resource riches will get to key export markets.

West: It is likely too late to save the largest westward route, the $6.5 billion Enbridge pipeline from the Alberta oilsands to the British Columbia coast. It is opposed by a powerful environmental movement, most of the First Nations in the province, conditionally by the Liberal government of B.C. and unconditionally by New Democrats, who may take power in about eight weeks.

The National Energy Board has until the end of the year to pronounce on the pipeline proposal and Harper could forge ahead regardless, but the political price would be too high.

This proposal appears dead.

South: The future of the Keystone XL pipeline rests with Obama, but an expected pro forma approval has been thrown into question because of the U.S. president’s sudden concern with climate change.

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