At a seminar hosted by the World Bank last week, Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, told attendees that a significant amount of the world’s fossil fuel reserves will need to remain in the ground. Carney, former head of Canada’s central bank, warned investors of a “carbon bubble” which could negatively impact the value of assets, such as heavy oil and gas fields, which are likely to become stranded as a result of market failures which don’t adequately assess environmental liabilities (see: "Mark Carney: Most fossil fuel reserves can't be burned", The Guardian, October 13, 2014)
Equally, Carney could have warned investors
about the risk of sinking money into infrastructure needed to expand
of fossil fuel extraction, including the many pipelines now being
proposed to transport tar sands bitumen. Increasingly, it is
becoming apparent that significantly expanding fossil fuel
enterprises such as the Alberta tar sands is incompatible with
limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius – a limit acknowledged
at Copenhagen in 2009 by all national governments as one we dare not
With this in mind, there are only two options available. We could
continue to expand the burning of fossil fuels, which leads to
between 4 and 6 degrees of warming by the end of the century. Or, we
seriously begin shifting towards a renewable energy economy, and
leave unburnable carbon safely sequestered in the ground.
If we follow the path we’re on, we will almost certainly doom
our children to a future of political, economic and social turmoil
caused by global warming and high energy prices. Taking the path
towards a renewable energy future, however, requires that we change
how we buy, sell and use energy. Specifically, it means shifting
our private and public sector investments out of coal, oil, gas and
pipelines and into conservation and renewables.
The latest pipeline proposal up for approval is TransCanada’s
Energy East – a $12 billion project which will transport dilbit
(diluted bitumen) by converting an existing 40-year old natural gas
pipeline between Alberta and Ontario, and constructing about 1,500 km
of new pipeline through Quebec and News Brunswick. Over 1.1 million
oil-equivalent barrels per day will flow out of Alberta, at about
twice the rate of Enbridge’s recently approved Northern Gateway.
Most of this unrefined product will be shipped out of Canada.
Alex Pourbais, TransCanada’s Executive Vice President and
President of Development, referred to the federal government’s
approval of the Energy East pipeline as “virtually a done deal” (see: "Keystone be Darned: Canada finds Oil Route Around Obama", Bloomberg, October 8, 2014).
It seems that TransCanada is anticipating yet another rubber-stamp
exercise from the National Energy Board (NEB) through a rigged review
process. The Pembina Institute estimates that Energy East’s
approval would allow the tar sands to significantly expand, adding an
additional 30 million tonnes of carbon pollution to the atmosphere
from extraction alone.
Yet, the NEB, in its “List of Issues” notes that it does not
have “authority over upstream or downstream activities associated
with the development of the oilsands” and won’t consider higher
carbon emissions from expanded industrial activity as part of its
review (since publication of the print edition of this post, the National Energy Board has removed this document from its website). That the regulatory authority tasked with assessing pipeline
proposals doesn’t have the mandate to examine known negative
impacts is an absurdity brought to us by Canada’s Conservative
government through sneaky changes made to the environmental review
process in omnibus budget bills.
In its approval of Northern Gateway, the NEB concluded that the
pipeline would provide Canada with a net economic benefit because it
would lead to increased output from the tar sands. With Carney and
others warning of a carbon bubble, those who expect positive results
from sinking money into fossil fuel extraction should give these
plans a serious rethink. That includes the Conservative, Liberal and
New Democratic parties, all of which support Energy East.
(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Party of Canada)
Originally published in the Sudbury Star, Saturday, October 18, 2014 online as "Rethink Energy East Pipeline", without hyperlinks)
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