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Stances aside, pipeline debate is far from over

The last week of June means different things to various people, especially the average worker paying for those enjoying more than a long weekend.

The pipeline is dead. Long live the pipeline.

Depending on which side of the debate you sit on, you took U.S. President Barack Obama’s reference to the Keystone XL pipeline as either a condemnation or tacit support for the project.

Opponents see Obama’s remarks that the pipeline will go forward only if it “does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution” as the project’s death knell, arguing the tar sands create so much pollution, they could never meet that condition. Supporters, on the other hand, say the President was intentionally ambiguous in order to clear the way for eventual approval.

The last week of June means different things to various people, especially the average worker paying for those enjoying more than a long weekend.
The last week of June means different things to various people, especially the average worker paying for those enjoying more than a long weekend.

Obama’s eventual decision will dictate just how serious his commitment to combating climate change, the crux of his impassioned speech this week, really is.

Significantly, proponents in this country see the U.S. decision as the only real hurdle, despite significant resistance to the plan here. Given Alberta’s position and the mindset of the federal government – clear in the tar sands propaganda advertising/Tory election ads masquerading as an economic action plan, with the bill picked up by taxpayers, no less – the goal must be to cram down Canadians’ throats, resistance be damned.

And we’re clearly unsure about these large pipeline projects. Keystone has been slammed. Northern Gateway, which would see bitumen flow to a West Coast port, has been panned by almost everyone, including the B.C. government. Now, a plan to run a pipeline east is meeting increased resistance.

Our hesitancy is understandable. Spills, commonplace already, are inevitable.

The industry claims pipelines are still the safest way of transporting oil. That’s true. It would take millions of trucks or railcars to move the oil, each providing numerous opportunities for spillage. But that doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement, as problems occur far more frequently that we hear about.

In Alberta alone there have been thousands of pipeline ruptures since 2005, spilling the equivalent of some 28 million litres of oil. In 2010, for instance, the province’s pipelines had some kind of failure every 1.4 days, releasing about 3.4 million litres of oil.

Pipeline problems aren’t rare, Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s claims notwithstanding. They’re fairly commonplace. That said, the infrastructure still delivers far more oil and gas on a daily basis than is inevitably released at intervals. Supporters essentially tell us that the spills are the price of doing business, the business of feeding our oil addiction.

As long as we’re so reliant on oil, we’ll be taking it out of the ground and moving it around in large volumes. That doesn’t mean, however, that we shouldn’t be more careful about how we do that while we go about finding alternatives.

Unfortunately, neither the Alberta government nor its Conservative cousin in Ottawa has any interest in more controls on the oil industry and its ilk. In fact, the federal government has been reducing oversight even as numerous studies have shown efforts to date have been inadequate, with the situation only getting worse as tar sands production increases.

That’s not going to help proponents meet Obama’s conditions, nor convince Canadians pipelines are safe. We’re all addicted to oil, but we’re finally starting to look beyond the pump when asking questions about the price.

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