Are Canada's Tar Sands in Peril?

Stephen Harper could be in for rude awakening. For years, he has been dealing with likeminded climate change deniers in the Bush Administration who were only too happy to buy as much oil from the filthy Alberta tar sands as they could get their hands on.

The times they are a changing.

In the last week, key appointments in Obama’s cabinet have all made a point of detailing the perils of climate change.

At his confirmation hearing today, Dr. Steven Chu, the Nobel laureate physicist and incoming head of the Energy Department, warned of the dire consequences of unchecked global warming. In her confirmation hearing, Senator Hillary Clinton said that climate change is an "unambiguous security threat" and pledged an energy policy to reduce our carbon emissions.

Obama himself has detailed a cap and trade carbon system for the US that will rely on absolute rather than so-called “intensity” targets championed by Harper’s friends in the Alberta oil patch.

In contrast, Harper’s own credibility on climate change is almost laughable:

Many suspect that Harper is now lobbying Obama for a continental energy policy that would give a “pass” to Alberta tar sands.

Given the enormous expectations on Obama to bring in real and green change, it is unlikely that he will want to be associated with this tarry mess.

To say that the tar sands project has a credibility problem is an understatement:

There is also no legal requirement for tar sands producers to invest in the highly touted and dubious carbon capture and storage technologies. A recent leaked government memo showed that not even the Alberta government believes this is viable solution the massive carbon emissions from the tar sands.

The laundry list of reasons why Obama will not want to hitch the US energy wagon to the tar sands only grows longer.

A variety of prominent environmental groups in Canada and the US today co-signed a letter to the incoming president and his cabinet urging him to reject any overtures from Harper to exempt the oil sands from meaningful regulation of carbon.

Today there was an article in the New York Times detailing the declining economics of the tar sands, and the glaring policy inconsistencies with Obama’s stated energy, environmental, and security goals.

Much of the tar sands oil is simply uneconomic to extract if oil prices stay low - something that is bound to continue given the protracted global economic slump. Beyond the obvious environmental issues, long-term production of tar sands oil depends on the whims of world oil prices, adding to the uncertainty of long term supplies.

It is little wonder why Harper is lobbying the US so strongly to keep this bitumen boondoggle going. After billions of dollars of investment, this project remains almost entirely dependent on the US market. The NYT article detailed how tar sands producers lack the pipeline infrastructure to send their oil elsewhere if the Obama Administration decides it is too unethical to buy it.

It seems increasingly doubtful that Obama would be inclined to compromise his substantial green credibility so early in his presidency by climbing into a tarry bed with Stephen Harper.

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