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Gordon Laxer’s new book, ‘After the Sands’

Gordon Laxer has just written a new book titled After the Sands: Energy and Ecological Security for Canadians. In it, the founding director of the Parkland Institute and long-time Council of Canadians Board member, argues for the need to plan beyond the tar sands, which he refers to as the Sands.

He writes, a “first step is to cap and then phase out the Sands over fifteen years [so by 2030], starting with the oldest projects.” And he highlights, “Canada can meet its target of reducing carbon emissions by 80 per cent if it phases out Sands oil and relies instead on our slowly falling output of conventional oil and natural gas as transition carbon fuels to get Canadians to a low-carbon future run on renewables.” Many argue this could be achieved by 2050.

More specifically, Laxer writes, “The Energy East oil line would be one of the world’s most capacious oil pipelines, at 1.1 million barrels per day. For years, I called for oil pipelines to bring Western Canadian oil to Eastern Canadians.” But he’s not a supporter of Energy East because that’s not what the pipeline proposal is about. He sees it primarily as an export pipeline. “Will it ever be converted and built? Even if it is, most of the oil it would carry will be for export.”

And he notes, “Energy East’s plan includes building a new oil pipeline from near Quebec City to Saint John, New Brunswick. This line would be useful for exporting Sands and US shale oil. It’s not needed to bring oil security to Atlantic Canadians. TransCanada and the Irving group are planning an ice-free, deep-water port in Saint John to load the world’s largest oil tankers with Western Canadian and shale oil to be carried to the globe’s most lucrative markets.”

He is also biting in his observations on how the pipeline is being pitched. “Comparing TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline that would terminate at Irving Oil’s giant refinery in Saint John to the building of the iconic Canadian Pacific Railway, [Frank] McKenna declared the coast-to-coast project would be good for all regions, spreading oil-related jobs beyond Alberta. What McKenna failed to say is interesting. As a former New Brunswick premier, you’d expect he’d promise New Brunswick oil security by replacing imports with Canadian oil. But he couldn’t do that because the Irving refinery wants to mainly export. Nor does McKenna’s nation-building vision include cutting carbon emissions, protecting habitats threatened by Sands projects or recognizing Aboriginal land claims.”

That all said, he does see a future for the pipeline to supply Eastern Canadians with conventional oil before the transition to renewable energy, while acknowledging the obstacles to this, most notably the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). “…If it is repurposed from a Sands-exporting line to a Canada-first line bringing domestic, non-fracked conventional oil to Eastern Canadians for energy and ecological security reasons. To send domestic conventional oil to Ontario and Quebec, oil exports to the US will have to end. This would require Canada to challenge and overcome NAFTA’s proportionality rule.”

And he notes this would mean a smaller and shorter pipeline. “If Energy East were transformed to carry only Western Canadian conventional oil, it would need drastic downsizing. Its proposed capacity of 1.1 million barrels per day is more than double the amount needed to replace all oil imports to Ontario and Quebec.” In his vision the pipeline would end in Quebec and not be extended to New Brunswick and the export terminal.

In short, Laxer makes the provocative argument that TransCanada should not be allowed to extend its pipeline to New Brunswick or build a marine export terminal in Saint John, but that instead that the pipeline could be used for conventional oil (not bitumen), reduced in capacity (from 1.1 million barrels per day to perhaps about 550,000 bpd), that it serve just Ontario and Quebec (no exports, in fact no export pipelines at all) and that its use be phased out within about 35 years.

We also want to acknowledge Gordon’s kind words about us in his book. He writes, “The Council of Canadians, Greenpeace, the Suzuki Foundation and many other citizens’ organizations are taking action to stop the export of Sands oil and to promote renewable and conservation. Their message is resonating with more and more Canadians, especially the young. Maude Barlow and her team of well-informed activists at the Council of Canadians have held big meetings in just about every community along TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline route, from Saskatchewan to New Brunswick, to explain that the pipeline will carry Sands oil and endanger their habitats. TransCanada is running scared, and has hired Edelman, the world’s largest public relations firm, noted for their dirty tricks.”

For more on After the Sands, please click here.

Photo: Gordon Laxer spoke in Ottawa last night about his new book After the Sands.