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VIEW: ‘Alberta must reconsider pace of tar sands’, says Jeffrey Simpson

Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson writes today that, “Instead of rushing toward exploiting the sands as quickly as possible, with all the attendant environmental problems, Alberta (because the recession has slowed down, or halted, oil-sands projects) can now reconsider the pace of development and, more important, establish a new set of rules that will reduce emissions.”

He continues, “If Alberta takes this unexpected opportunity, the province can shield itself from the various threatening environmental measures now being developed in the United States.”

“If Alberta (and Canada) doesn’t do it, the Americans will, through carbon tariffs, a cap-and-trade system or barriers to selling oil from the sands.”

“Alberta’s new approach should be based on a simple premise: Reducing emissions is the cost of doing business. It’s not an afterthought or what economists call an externality, but a bottom-line cost to companies that will be passed on to consumers.”

“At the moment, Alberta’s principal policies against greenhouse-gas emissions are a $2-billion investment in carbon capture and storage (CCS) and a $15-a-tonne tax paid into an investment fund by emitters of more than 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases a year.”

“These two policies are inadequate for the province with the most emissions in Canada. The CCS projects, the first of which will be announced shortly, will not soak up many emissions, and the per-tonne cost will be sky-high. The $15-a-tonne tax is far too low, because companies would rather pay it than reduce emissions.”

Unfortunately, he then references the recent Canadian Energy Research Institute paper, and suggests technology such as “small nuclear plants, more carbon capture and storage’ is needed.

Nor does he mention the impact of the tar sands on water. In that the production of 1 barrel of tar sands bitumen requires 3 to 5 barrels of water, we can estimate that the recently approved Kearl project alone will use 330,000 to 550,000 barrels of water per day in its first phase of production, then eventually 900,000 to 1,500,000 barrels of water per day as production increases.

Jeffrey Simpson’s column is at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/recession-benefit-alberta-can-pause-and-rethink-the-oil-sands/article1154307/