Despite Justin Trudeau's sunny assurances that meeting greenhouse gas emission reduction goals and pipeline expansion are not mutually exclusive, most people, if they think about it at all, will see such a position as both risible and impossible.
That is certainly the assessment of J. David Hughes, who writes that we can't have it both ways:
In 2014 (the most recent year for which we have data), Canada’s emissions were 28 per cent above the 2030 target. Meaning, even with existing levels of oil and gas production, we have our work cut out for us.Hughes, an earth scientist who recently authored a report on the issue, says, in fact, that no new pipelines are needed, as the existing infrastructure is more than capable of moving our fossil fuels.
But Alberta’s new Climate Leadership Plan allows for a 47 per cent increase in oilsands emissions from 2014 levels (up to a maximum cap of 100 million tonnes per year). And B.C. plans to develop a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export industry, aiming for five large LNG terminals to export fracked gas from province’s northeast. This means a large ramp up of emissions from natural gas production as well.
Under a scenario where Alberta’s oilsands emissions grow to its cap, and B.C.’s LNG industry is developed to the level planned, economic sectors outside of oil and gas would have to shrink emissions by more than half (55 per cent) in order for Canada to meet the Paris commitment. This is simply not feasible, barring an economic collapse.
Detractors of rail should note that bitumen in its undiluted form is highly viscous and much less volatile than the light oil “Bakken bombs” that resulted in conflagrations at Lac Mégantic and in Oregon recently and therefore is unlikely to have such serious consequences in the event of an accident.Furthermore, the economics of constructing more pipelines make no sense, despite the arguments that getting oil to tidewater will net a price premium on international markets:
Although oil is a globally priced commodity, between 2011 and 2014 the international price (“Brent”) was considerably higher than the North American price (“WTI”). In September 2011 the differential reached $25.26 per barrel. However, the average differential in the six months ending May 2016 was 88 cents per barrel and recently Brent has been trading below WTI.There are some very compelling reasons to dampen enthusiasm for new pipelines. However, in the world of high-stakes politics, reason often has but a peripheral role to play in decision-making. Only very strong and principled leadership can promote wise choices.
Not only has the international price advantage evaporated, but Canada’s primary oil export, Western Canada Select, sells at a discount to WTI. That’s because it is a lower grade heavy oil and will sell at a discount whether sold internationally or to North American markets.
To say the least, I am not especially optimistic that will play a role here.