The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.
Canadian oil production keeps on rising. Pipeline capacity to move that oil? Not so much. There is opposition from environmental groups, a fact that is neither a surprise nor, in a democratic society that needs environmental watchdogs, a bad thing. What has been more surprising, and troubling, has been the threats of provincial roadblocks. Canada is not a series of provincial fiefdoms, imposing tolls when a resource from another province moves across borders. That’s not how things are supposed to work under our Constitution.
Until a few years ago, rising Canadian oil production was a promise, not a problem. The pipelines needed to carry all of this new oil to market would go through the regular environmental and permit processes and, after review and any necessary modifications for safety, some would be approved and built. That’s what had always happened.
That’s not what’s happening now. One of the largest oil-moving projects, the Keystone XL pipe to the United States Gulf Coast, is stuck in an indefinite limbo. It’s been there since President Barack Obama’s first term; it may still be there by the end of his second.
Opposition to the pipe has become a lightning rod for the U.S. environmental movement, which is an important part of the Democratic Party’s voting and fundraising base. The Keystone debate in the U.S. is no longer about the specifics of the pipeline.
All out of proportion to its actual environmental impact, it has become target No. 1 for climate-change opponents. What’s more, thanks to the shale boom, which is fast turning the U.S. into the world’s largest oil producer, the Americans don’t need the oil. And President Obama understandably doesn’t appear to want the hassle of standing up to part of his base. So in limbo Keystone remains.
Which leaves Canadian solutions. There are, for example, two major West-to-East pipeline proposals, which would see imported oil in Ontario and Quebec replaced with cheaper Canadian oil, and even the export of Alberta oil across the Atlantic.
The potential roadblocks? Ontario has ordered its energy board to hold public hearings on one of those proposals, TransCanada Corp.’s proposed $12-billion Energy East project. The company plans to convert part of an existing natural-gas pipe to carry crude to Ontario, and then aims to build a new pipeline through Quebec to New Brunswick. Ontario says its review will look at Energy’s East impact on public safety, greenhouse-gas emissions and – because this plan involves converting some pipe from gas to oil – the province’s energy supply.
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