Cutting the crud: Debunking five Big Oil myths

| March 12, 2015
Photo: flickr/Ian Burt

The Harper government and Big Oil have been spouting some colourful myths about how vital the tar sands industry is for Canada. The jobs! The money! The environment!

Can't we just cut the crud and get down to the dirty truths? Why yes we can.

Let's debunk the five biggest myths about the tar sands.

 

Myth #1: The tar sands industry is great for Canada -- look at all those jobs it creates!

While 'Jobs, Jobs, Jobs' is one of the favourite phrases for tar sands proponents, it looks like Canada's green energy sector is producing more direct jobs than Alberta's oil patch.

A report by Clean Energy Canada shows that as of 2013, Canada's clean energy sector produced 23,700 direct jobs, while the tar sands produced 22,340. However, the number of clean energy jobs in Canada is likely much higher than these stats indicate as the analyzed data only deals with private sector jobs. Thousands of jobs related to publicly owned hydro electric stations in Canada are excluded from these totals.

Considering the enormous amount of resources the Conservative government specifically directs towards developing the tar sands -- subsidies, tax breaks, diplomatic efforts, etc. --, it's striking that the clean energy sector is still outpacing the oil patch. Imagine if clean energy was a government priority.

 

Myth #2: The tar sands benefit all Canadians economically -- if you don't think so, you're anti-West!

Tar sands proponents have barred their teeth at anyone who would dare to suggest that the pace and fashion of tar sands extraction has Canada suffering from a case of 'Dutch Disease'. However, evidence is mounting that as the tar sands pump up the value of the dollar, the manufacturing sector and the jobs associated with it disappear.

A 2014 report by economic policy think tank the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that development of non-renewable resources in Canada had created "wide regional economic disparities," and that while income has risen in resource-rich areas, the resulting appreciation of the dollar has "placed pressures on manufacturing."

NDP leader Tom Muclair campaigned with similar findings last year, arguing that more than half of 500,000 manufacturing jobs lost in Canada to date are a product of the "artificially high" dollar. Muclair suggested that such a hollowing of the manufacturing sector could be remedied by enforcing environmental protection legislation on projects exploiting resources such as the tar sands.

While the Harper and Alberta government went into attack mode over Muclair's comments, the collapse of the price of oil late last year had Finance Minister Joe Oliver suggesting that the manufacturing sectors in Quebec and Ontario should profit from the correlated plunge of the dollar.

 

Myth #3: Indigenous communities are 'neighbours, collaborators, business partners and often friends' with the tar sands industry.

While tar sands PR machines like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers love to point to Indigenous employment stats in the tar sands as proof of consent, the relationship between oil and gas companies and Indigenous communities has been very rocky.

Enbridge's Line 9 and Northern Gateway have each garnered ongoing lawsuits on the part of affected Indigenous communities, and the Blueberry Bands -- a group of six First Nations on the west coast -- are taking the government to court with a suit that threatens the legality of many significant oil and gas projects in the Fort St. John Region. There is also a very healthy Indigenous-led resistance to various tar sands expansion projects, such as the Unist'ot'en Camp, which stands in the way of 11 proposed oil and gas projects.

Considering the wide-spread Indigenous opposition to tar sands related projects, it takes a special kind of denial to suggest that the industry is 'friends' with Indigenous communities in Canada.

 

Myth #4: Companies proposing pipelines want to have a 'respectful conversation with Canadians and Quebecers.'

While companies like Enbridge, Kinder Morgan and TransCanada seem stoked to have conversations with citizens concerned about pipelines in their communities, the energy sector and their lap dogs in government also enjoy listening to conversations between citizens through CSIS and the RCMP.

In 2011, the CBC reported that the RCMP was spying on community groups and presenting their findings to stakeholders in the energy sector. Similar events were reported in 2013 as Freedom of Information requests revealed that the National Energy Board, CSIS, the RCMP, as well as Enbridge and TransCanada were swapping information gathered on pipeline opponents.

Much has also been written about Bill C-51 and its far-reaching ramifications. But what strikes many Big Oil opponents is the extent to which Bill C-51 is a thinly veiled attempt to spy on what the RCMP calls the 'anti-petroleum' movement.

While one might support the passion of sharing and conversation generally, it's problematic when it's between government agencies and the energy sector for the purposes of criminalizing dissent. That's one a hell of a way to have a respectful conversation!

 

Myth #5: Tar sands industries prioritize 'environmental responsibility.'

Ha! While energy companies looking to pump tar sands products to new markets Canada talk a good game about prioritizing environmental protection, attempts to re-purpose ancient pipelines would indicate otherwise.

Enbridge's Line 9 -- proposed to be reversed to flow west to east and carry diluted bitumen from the tar sands from Sarnia, Ontario, to Montreal, Quebec -- is a pipeline that is nearly 40 years old. While building a new pipeline designed specifically to carry more corrosive tar sands products would dramatically reduce the risks of a spill, Enbridge is content to trade the savings of using an old pipeline for the enhanced risks of running diluted bitumen through Line 9.

Enbridge is aware that there is an over 90 per cent probability of a rupture on Line 9, and the energy giant also understands that there are already significant pressure cracks in the line as well. After another Enbridge pipeline of the same vintage -- Line 6B -- spilled near Kalamazoo, Michigan dumping around one billion litres of diluted bitumen from the tar sands in the area, Enbridge should know better.

So should TransCanada, which is proposing to pump diluted bitumen from the tar sands through parts of its Energy East pipeline, an equally old, and re-purposed pipeline. They should know better, or perhaps they're not quite serious about protecting the environment.

 

Steve Cornwell is interested in social movements, science and technology. Steve has worked on energy issues with Greenpeace Canada, Environmental Defense, Safe and Green Energy Peterborough, and SumOfUs.org. Follow Steve Cornwell on Twitter @steve_cornwell

Photo: flickr/Ian Burt

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