Keystone compromise faces up to economic and climactic realities – by Tom Rand (Toronto Star – April 2, 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.

Ottawa should link additional petroleum flows going south on Keystone to a hard cap on future extraction rates.

The expansion of the Keystone XL pipeline has become a lightning rod for the battle between long-term climate concerns and shorter-term economic benefit. Opponents say Canada’s tarsands are one of the world’s most carbon-intensive and environmentally destructive sources of oil.

Proponents argue they’re a politically stable source of oil in a world fraught with risk. Both are correct. A compromise on Keystone is essential if Canada is to become a responsible energy superpower in the complex 21st century world of carbon constraints.

I suggest the Canadian government take the lead by linking additional flows going south on Keystone to a hard cap on future extraction rates and priority access in all Canadian pipelines based on the carbon content of the oil. This compromise reflects facts on the ground and aspirations for change. Like all good compromises, everyone loses and everyone wins.

Climate hawks like me recoil in horror at yet another long-term high-carbon infrastructure project, built in the very teeth of an increasingly angry climate. For us, Keystone reaffirms industry’s capacity and willingness to burn enough fossil fuels to tip an already unsteady climate into a very unfriendly state.

The question behind the Keystone protests is simple: if we can’t stop now, when? But let’s be honest. We’re not shutting down what’s already developed anytime soon, no matter how urgent the climate crisis. That oil will get to market, by pipeline, truck or rail. A pipeline increases profit, not production.

But the oilpatch has not yet spoken openly about the hard limits on extraction that climate change demands. They, too, must be honest: we cannot burn all the economically recoverable resources we want. According to the International Energy Agency, more than 80 per cent of the world’s proven reserves of hydrocarbons must be left in the ground if we are to have even a slim hope of limiting warming to 2C.

Oil companies the world over face the same problem. Canada has an opportunity to take the lead in that discussion. Our energy sector can easily accept development constraints and still profit. Indeed, a shortage of skilled labour already limits development.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Toronto Star website: