Tar sands debate: Politicization dirtier than crude?
Daniel J. Graeber of Oilprice.com
Canada's natural resources minister told delegates at the International Energy Forum in Kuwait that his country was on the cusp of becoming an "energy superpower." Canada ranks No. 6 in terms of global oil production, but much of its crude exists in the form of oil sands. European leaders are considering a measure that would classify oil sands as an environmental issue, prompting Canada to threaten to take the issue to the World Trade Organization. With the U.S. political system in a deadlock over Canadian crude, the Ottawa government is now working to convince the international community that the global market is in jeopardy if polices "discriminate against oil sands."
Drill-happy critics of the Obama administration are painting the Keystone XL oil pipeline planned from Alberta as a panacea to U.S. economic woes. Because of debates over the planned route through Nebraska, however, the White House has pushed the issue aside for now. The pipeline company behind the project, TransCanada, has opted for a smaller leg in the United States while the Canadian government has thrown its support behind the Northern Gateway pipeline meant for Asian exports.
Canadian Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said his presence at the IEF summit in Kuwait proved his country was "an emerging energy superpower." Canada has around 175 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, which means it's the only non-OPEC member in the global top five, just behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.
European leaders in March were unable to reach a decision on whether or not to characterize oil sands as an environmental issue. Critics of oil sands note that its production releases much more CO2 into the atmosphere compared with regular crude oil and its tendency to sink in water makes it a particular concern if spilled. Some critics have dubbed it the dirtiest form of oil on earth and advocate an outright ban. The European government is set to consider the issue by June.
Oliver, however, complained to IEF delegates that any policy that would discriminate against oil sands would be harmful to the global market and overall energy security. Last year, the global economy was threatened by a loss of crude oil from war-torn Libya, OPEC's No. 7, so sidelining oil sands from Canada could be much more severe.
"Our government believes that the free market is the most efficient and cost-effective means to ensure the proper allocation of resources for the development and supply of energy," said Oliver.
Just as Obama said there's no "silver bullet" that can magically push U.S. gasoline prices to something American consumers consider fair, there's nothing in a global market that's easily replaced. Singling out Canadian oil means potentially sidelining an oil supply larger than Iran's, something a depressed European economy could hardly stomach. But as with Iranian crude, if the Europeans don't want it, they don't have to buy it. While that's an oversimplification of the issue, the world still needs as much oil as it can get. Europe is embracing a greener economy. But until global economic engines run on something other than petroleum products, when Canadian crude oil is at stake, it's time to just let it flow.
By. Daniel J. Graeber of Oilprice.com