In response to a recent shareholder question, Athabasca Oil Corp. chief executive Rob Broen is reported to have stated, “Near as I can tell, we have a tax – we have a carbon tax – but we don’t have a pipeline and the opponents of those pipelines are more entrenched than they’ve ever been.”
Mr. Broen was expressing frustration about the apparent fraying of what many understood as the grand bargain of oil sands development. The bargain was that governments would impose carbon taxes and regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and control environmental impacts, while producers would get infrastructure (pipelines) that would let them carry the product to international markets and fetch better prices.
Today, the carbon tax and other environmental measures are a reality, but environmentalists continue to fight the pipeline, and Kinder Morgan, the pipeline’s proponent, has pointedly announced that it’s pausing investment in the project.
Is it surprising that protesters are protesting, despite their policy victories on a carbon tax and other regulations? Not really. In the energy development/environment debate, as on many other issues, minorities at both extremes are vocal and unlikely to change their minds.
In the case of oil sands development, about 3 per cent of Canadians consider themselves full-fledged supporters and advocates for oil sands development, while another 15 per cent are strong supporters but not advocates. Conversely, about 3 per cent are fully opposed to and advocating against the oil sands, while 16 per cent are strongly opposed but not advocates against.
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