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Pipeline decision a no-brainer given our oil addiction

No one is surprised Ottawa is going ahead with plans for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project: it’s all about the money, which trumps the environment no matter the rhetoric.

Turning on the Alberta oil taps also provides a national unity benefit, easing the always simmering discontent in the Prairies. Not that B.C., which has its own version of western alienation, is going to make things easy. Splits in the Indigenous groups will also play a role, more discontent that will be particularly troubling for a government that has been both vocal and active in dealing with those communities.

All of that pales in comparison, however, to the profit that will come from extracting and transporting tar-sands oil. The oil lobby has been incessant, with the employment prospects being a big carrot dangled before politicians. And the government stands to rake in billions of dollars, despite notoriously poor royalties and low taxes on the industry – corporate tax revenue alone has been estimated at $500 million per year. Though Justin Trudeau has pledged to direct earnings towards green energy projects, the details remain up in the air.

Studies have shown that the project, which will give Alberta oil an outlet to the B.C. coast, is rife with hazards to the environment, but the benefits outweigh the risks, say officials. No matter what, the decision was always going to be thus.

A pipeline to funnel more tar sands bitumen to refineries may not be in keeping with plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the wake of climate change. And the inevitable spills will be harmful to the natural ecology along the pipeline corridor, with a major event potentially catastrophic. Those opposed to fighting greenhouse gas emissions often cite economic reasons, saying we’d kill the economy by cutting back on energy production and manufacturing. Again, it’s the dollars that matter.

Much of the public remains skeptical about pipelines.

The industry claims the technology is 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, industry claims notwithstanding. In fact, 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. That being the case, supporters essentially tell us that the spills are the price of doing business, the business of feeding an oil addiction that shows no sign of abating soon no matter how much we talk of shifting to electric cars and other non-petrol options for getting around.

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. Oil offers us many advantages, which we may or may not choose to enjoy over the many negatives. While we use the stuff, we’re all complicit in the pollution, habitat destruction and increased cancer rates and other health problems that come with that arrangement.

That doesn’t mean, however, that we shouldn’t be more careful about how we do that while we go about finding alternatives.


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