We’re not ready to give up oil just yet, but there’s a high price
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We’re not ready to give up oil just yet, but there’s a high price either way

It’s perhaps a case of appearing supportive rather than actually being able to deliver, but Canada has pledged to help Europe move away from its dependence on Russian oil and gas.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, attending a G7 meeting in Germany last week, suggested Canada could provide liquefied natural gas to Europe in a few years time. As there’s no LNG infrastructure and every little development in the oil and gas industry is fraught with both peril and delays, there are plenty of questions about just how realistic he’s being.

While we’re a long way from seeing any movement on that suggestion, there’s already been pushback from environmental groups. That puts the government in something of a quandary: it’s pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but is being squeezed by public response to skyrocketing fuel prices. It’s a case of being unable to both suck and blow at the same time.

Given that there are no short-term alternatives to petroleum, Ottawa may be forced to concentrate on moves that help with pricing in the near term – reduce or eliminate carbon taxes, boost supplies, remove other disincentives – while at least signalling long-term plans to phase out fossil fuels.

If Canada and the world community are going to turn the screws on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, helping Europe find alternatives is the key. For now, alternatives mean other suppliers of fossil fuels, particularly natural gas. We’re also busy providing energy south of the border, which has much more refining capacity.

Canada is now the largest oil supplier to the US, sending about 3.8 million barrels per day in 2021 or about 62 per cent of total oil imports, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Down the road, alternatives will mean the kind of green technologies that are still not a viable replacement option.

Even with more renewable energy coming online, the EIA projects that U.S. petroleum demand will continue rising in the coming decades, reaching nearly 19 million barrels per day in 2050 compared to 17 million barrels per day in 2021.

That doesn’t mean we don’t keep our eyes on the prize.

Our addiction to carbon-based fuels is, we’re told, the single-largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. That’s particularly true of our transportation choices.

Imagine, if you will, a world in which we’ve come up with alternatives for coal, natural gas and gasoline to generate power, heat our homes and get us around. Beyond the environmental improvements – assuming, of course, the alternatives we’ve turned to are benign or much less harmful, at least – there would be perhaps even larger benefits attributed to stripping power away from oil companies and eliminating the wars, violence and international crime associated with keeping the oil flowing.

The cost savings would also be enormous. Oil companies are some of the largest recipients of corporate welfare. They’re also among the most invasive lobbyists, with connections to some of the worst meddling in electoral politics – see, for example, the Koch brothers.

Oil and other natural resources are at the root of many colonial atrocities in global history, and remain a fundamental part of today’s neocolonial pursuits. Nowhere is that more abundantly clear than in the Middle East, where the colonial and geopolitical issues that shape the region today existed from the very start. The creation of the region we know today was itself a colonial exercise, part of the spoils of war following the First World War.

The region was divided up with little thought to the history and culture of the area, arbitrarily drawn lines put in place to serve colonial aspirations, not the good of the people there.

As oil became increasing important following the Second World War, matters only got worse. The US emerged as the dominant world power, and it became entrenched in the region to secure the oil, protect corporate interests and, during the Cold War in particular, to maintain its hegemony or, at a minimum, to keep the Russians in check.

Recent military adventurism in Iraq, Iranian tensions and support for totalitarian Gulf states all stem from the geopolitical importance of the area, largely due to oil. The sordid tale, from the earliest colonial efforts to the unethical and illegal dealings going on this very minute, can – and does – fill volumes.

Ideally, alternatives would involve neither today’s large corporations nor the war hawks intent on fanning the flames, but that’s a tall order. Still, it’s a worthwhile pursuit given the environmental benefits and the prospect of altering, if not ending the Middle East conflicts … or at least making them less important on a global stage.

From the Canadian perspective, moving away from Middle East oil during a green transition could be a selling point for this country’s admittedly dirtier tar sands. Using the funds taken from the tar sands to invest in new technologies is the key to making that argument work. Taking money out of fossil fuels is a great idea; putting that money into green options would speed up a large-scale shift away from our dependence on coal, gas and oil.

Those are prime considerations in debating royalties paid for natural resources, not only oil and gas but a host of others, from potash to nickel. If we look at the Norwegian model – the country has been setting aside most of its huge oil revenues into a fund for future generations – then we’re certainly falling down on the job here. Non-renewable resources are by and large a short-term windfall for both the companies involved in extracting them and the provincial governments who collect royalties for taking from the public trust. If we’re going to push ahead with oil extraction, there should be a greater good than short-term gains such as corporate profits.

Alternatives aren’t going to come online overnight, so there’s something to be said for taking geopolitical issues into mind given the lack of direct warmongering involved in our industry.

And make no mistake, the wars and very profitable arms sales to states in the Middle East are the primary impetus for the US and other foreign powers involved in the region.

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