Oil sands attack lifts doubt about activists' motives

A stepped-up attack on the Canadian oil sands strengthens doubt about the motives of environmental activists.

Bob Tippee
OGJ Editor

A stepped-up attack on the Canadian oil sands strengthens doubt about the motives of environmental activists.
A declaration by the chief executives of 30 US and Canadian environmental organizations calls, among other things, for a moratorium on expansion of oil sands development.
It also seeks to “halt further approval of infrastructure that would lock us into using dirty liquid fuels from sources such as tar sands, oil shale, and liquid coal.”
This is the standard environmentalist remedy: stop commercial activity. It’s the political equivalent of snake oil.
The environmental leaders would replace oil sands development and petroleum consumption with the magic elixir of uneconomic energy and forced conservation.
“Strengthen investments in renewable energy and in energy efficiency and conservation through creating new, clean energy jobs and increasing prosperity through new technologies,” the declaration urges.
This is fantasy. “New technologies” can’t increase prosperity when applied in service to the displacement of activities that make economic sense by alternatives that do not.
Furthermore, the declaration makes clear that the environmental groups don’t want to limit their obstructionism to oil sands.
“Energy security is best achieved through investment in the cleanest available energy and through ending our dependence on fossil fuels,” it says.
Wrong again. Economies caught in money-losing spirals, which wholesale energy subsidization inevitably becomes, can hope for little security of any type.
In their demand for an economically untenable energy system, the environmental groups show alarmingly little interest in practical environmental progress.
To be sure, the oil sands of Alberta present the full spectrum of environmental problems: widespread surface disturbance, air and water issues, and byproduct handling to name a few.
But oil sands operators have strong economic, political, and societal pressures to find solutions—stronger, perhaps, than do energy operators anywhere.
Solutions developed to environmental problems in Alberta will become methods applicable to fossil energy production, processing, and consumption everywhere. Many already have emerged; many more lie ahead.
Because fossil energy won’t vanish from the energy mix on command, this progress is supremely important.
To curtail it because some groups favor stopping work over solving problems would be environmentally irresponsible.
(Online June 5, 2009; author’s e-mail: bobt@ogjonline.com)
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