When it comes to energy, America is lucky to be next to Canada, whose proven oil reserves are estimated by Oil and Gas Journal at 175 billion barrels. This ranks just behind Saudi Arabia (260 billion) and Venezuela (211 billion) and ahead of Iran (137 billion) and Iraq (115 billion). True, about 97 percent of Canada’s reserves consist of Alberta’s controversial oil sands, but new technologies and high oil prices have made them economically viable. Expanded production can provide the U.S. market with a growing source of secure oil for decades.Agreed.
We would be crazy to turn our back on this. In a global oil market repeatedly threatened by wars, revolutions, and natural and man-made disasters -- and where government-owned oil companies control development of about three-quarters of known reserves -- having dependable suppliers is no mean feat. We already import about half of our oil, and Canada is our largest supplier, with about 25 percent of imports. But its conventional fields are declining. Only oil sands can fill the gap.
Will we encourage this? Do we say yes to oil sands? Or do we increase our exposure to unstable world oil markets?
Those are the central questions raised by the proposed $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline connecting Alberta’s oil sands to U.S. refineries on the Texas Gulf coast. The pipeline requires White House approval, and environmentalists adamantly oppose it. . . .
Actually, the reality is more complex. If Obama rejects the pipeline, he would -- perversely -- increase greenhouse gas emissions. Canada has made clear that it will proceed with oil sands development regardless of the American decision. If the United States doesn’t want the oil, China and other Asian countries do. Pipelines would be built to the West Coast. Transporting the oil by tanker to Asia would almost certainly create more emissions than moving it by pipeline to closer U.S. markets.
Next, oil sands’ greenhouse gases are exaggerated. Despite high per-barrel emissions, the cumulative total is not large: about 6.5 percent of Canada’s emissions in 2009 and about 0.2 percent of the world’s, according to Canadian government figures. More important, most emissions from oil (70 percent or more) stem from burning the fuel, not extracting and refining it. Here, oil sands and conventional oil don’t differ. When all these "life cycle" emissions - from recovery to combustion -- are compared, oil sands’ disadvantage shrinks dramatically. Various studies put it between 5 and 23 percent.
Monday, August 29, 2011
Robert Samuelson in the Washington Post: