Whether we like it or not, this world runs on petroleum and petroleum-based products. Without oil manifested into its many forms, a far different civilization from the one we know would have developed on our planet. It is a fact of life in our modern world that we use and benefit in myriad ways from petroleum and its product derivatives.
Try to imagine our world without the following: plastics, internal combustion engines for cars, trucks, ships and early aircraft. Almost all modern-day aircraft use petroleum-based fuel — with the arguable exception of hot-air balloons and gliders — and just try to manufacture any of them without modern petroleum products.
The benefits of the petroleum-based economy are far too numerous to detail here, but in the transportation, mining, medicine, sports, construction and technology sectors are all heavily-dependent on oil-based products.
Therefore, the question that needs to be asked: “How can our petroleum-based economy operate in an environmentally responsible way — while costs to industry and consumers remain reasonable?”
As I write this, the Keystone XL pipeline and the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline are still under consideration.
What hasn’t been a part of the debate is the most obvious discussion of all: How “clean” will that oil be while it is flowing through a pipeline or while being transported in a super-tanker? From this environmentalist’s perspective, it can’t be clean enough.
Both pipelines will cut across some of the prettiest scenery on the planet. Accidents do happen — of that there is no doubt. There WILL be a spill somewhere, sometime, and other than building the best pipeline possible and following the safest route, the only other factor that could make a difference is the quality of the oil flowing through the pipe.
photo by: Amanda Lang
Take a minute to look at the scenery within a five-minute drive of the port at Kitimat, B.C. — the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline terminus — while you decide if having the best environmental standards applied to the tar-sands petroleum transport system qualifies as “spending” or “investing” in B.C.’s future.
See, you’re an investor in Canada’s environment. I knew you were a good person! We are all environmental stakeholders when it comes right down to it.
Because B.C. has some of the most gorgeous scenery on Earth with a $15 billion dollar tourism industry attached to it, I advocate strongly that every drop of oil loaded into pipelines should be highly-refined at or near the source of extraction to minimize transport of toxic crude oil over our environment.
Highly-refined oil — prior to the addition of other ingredients — is of low toxicity. Shipping low-toxicity liquids would be light-years better than the present practice of shipping toxic crude oil.
As an interesting alternative to shipping raw crude oil — the world’s number one oil exporter, Saudi Arabia — highly-refines much of their petroleum into ethane gas which is a safer product to transport from an environmental standpoint. If a leak occurs while the product is in transit, it doesn’t destroy underground aquifers or kill many thousands of animals which live in the ocean — it simply evaporates into the air.
Another 21st-century method employed by Saudi Arabia is to highly-refine petroleum into products. Saudi Arabia has just signed a $20.6 billion-dollar agreement to build yet another petro-chemical plant in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia for the purpose of manufacturing and exporting various plastic products which have been refined from Saudi crude.
China is so thirsty for oil that it is happy to purchase petroleum product in any form that the Saudi’s, or us choose to sell it in — and their economy is cash-rich and oil-starved. How does that work for you?
China has financed many projects all over the world in recent years, including billion-dollar oil refineries and the $15 billion-dollar Lesotho Highlands Power Project (LHPP) which consists of 10,000 megawatts of combined wind turbine and hydro-electricity for Lesotho and South Africa’s electrical grid.
There is no reason at all for Canada to be shy about approaching China with a financing proposal for a world-class petroleum refinery located near the tar sands site — thereby earning a lifetime customer and committed partner to the project’s success.
For once, getting the financing to build a world-class, environmental best-practices oil-refinery and the necessary transportation links required to get it to market isn’t that much of a problem. Thanks, China!
We need to admit that this country is going to mine, upgrade, sell and transport tar sands product and there is no longer any thought about stopping it. Why not allow China to finance a world-class refinery to highly-refine oil into a low-toxicity state so that at the very least it can be safely transported and shipped over our landscapes and seaways?
A win-win solution exists for both Canada and China and the only worthwhile question remaining is: Which does China want to finance?
A) An “ultra clean oil product” pipeline
B) An ethane gas pipeline
C) Plastic products delivered to the coast by upgraded rail link
D) All of the above
How does my environmentalist viewpoint compare to the present practice of flowing toxic dilbit liquid through pipelines and shipping toxic liquids using single-hulled super-tankers?
Affix your gaze to the end result I propose: World-class tar sands refineries located near the extraction site, dedicated to highly-refining tar-sands into some of the safest and cleanest products available and then transporting it using world-class transportation methods — all financed by China.
Think of all the value-added activity for Canada, as opposed to merely exporting a raw resource. Just try to estimate the number of jobs this would provide for Canadians.
No doubt, it will take leadership to bring this improved environmental vision to completion.
Follow John Brian Shannon on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@JBSCanada