What impact is the Alberta energy crisis having on the South Okanagan?
Left-wing and right-wing critics for the oil sands have different perspectives.
Shannon Stubbs, an MP from rural Alberta who serves as the Official Opposition Critic for Natural Resources, was in the riding last week to bolster support for the development of the oil sands, and condemn the Prime Minister and Liberal Party for hindering progress.
“The people I represent feel like they’re being kicked while they’re down,” she said at a town hall meeting in Penticton.
Local MP Richard Cannings, who’s the NDP’s Deputy Critic for Natural Resources, said the “so-called crisis” stems from just 15 to 20 per cent of Alberta’s producers.
Cannings said Alberta’s provincial government is doing a good job handling the challenges, and that “a lot of provinces would be happy to be in their situation.”
At the town hall discussion, Stubbs was joined by Dan Albas, a Conservative MP in the riding north of Oliver’s. To stop Alberta crude from getting undercut by the limited American buyers, he said the construction of the Keystone Pipeline will allow the product to sell at international prices.
“Amen,” one person praised from the audience.
Early during the event, Stubbs criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for a comment he made about eventually phasing out the oil sands. Then later on when a member of the audience asked why she didn’t mention anything about renewable energy during her 45-minute speech, she embraced the idea of phasing out non-renewable energy, saying the largest investments in Canadian renewable energy are being made by oil and gas companies.
“It’s a continuum of innovation,” she said. “If you decide to leave all the oil in the ground, and you drive all those companies and jobs away then what happens is a declining investment in innovation and technology, to do exactly what opponents of the oil sands say they want – which is a long-term transition and increased use of alternative and renewable energies.”
But until renewable energy becomes more practical, “right now, oil and gas continues to be the most abundant, affordable, available source of energy for people’s daily needs,” she said.
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When that audience member used the term “tar sands,” Stubbs took offence.
“There is no tar in the oil sands,” she said.
Although the NDP and Conservatives have vastly different views on resource development, there is one thing they can agree upon – it was a poor decision for the Liberal Party to spend billions of taxpayers’ dollars on a pipeline.
To get even better value for the natural resource, one town hall attendee said he would have preferred the federal government to invest in an oil refinery instead of an oil pipeline.
Albas said a new refinery in Canada wouldn’t be feasible because environmental standards and labour laws are too strict, and therefore cannot compete against countries with weaker regulations.
In order for refined Canadian crude oil to become competitive globally, Albas said the best way to get there is by selling more of the unrefined product.
“We should get full market prices (for the raw product),” he said, “and use those things to continue to find efficiencies and innovation that perhaps might make those refineries more environmentally compatible and make us competitive internationally.”
However, Cannings argued that refineries are already feasible in Canada. He said the many oil producers that already have their own upgrading capacity “are selling at world price, they’re doing just fine. It’s the ones selling bitumen that are having the trouble.”
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If Canadians actually had the choice between publicly funding a pipeline or a refinery, Cannings said a refinery “makes a lot more sense.” It would produce more steady employment, he argued, and give Canada more control over where the oil is shipped to.
“It would increase our oil security if you will.”
Refined oil takes up less space and doesn’t require as much pipeline capacity for shipping. So if Alberta stops exporting crude oil in its raw form, Cannings believes the existing pipeline capacity – as well as Enbridge’s planned Line 3 pipeline – would be enough infrastructure to meet Alberta’s needs.
While Cannings openly doesn’t want Trudeau to build the pipeline, Stubbs doesn’t think Trudeau wants the pipeline to get built “that bad.”
Would the Prime Minister really commit billions of dollars to a project that he wants to fail?
Cannings doesn’t “think there’s any truth to that at all.”
The government’s purchase of the pipeline “spoke to the desperation of getting the project going,” he said. “I don’t think the government would have bought it if they didn’t want it built … shows you what government can do when they put their mind to it. Shows what we could do if we needed $5 billion to fight climate change. That would put people to work in a much more productive way, and create jobs across the country.”
Stubbs said it was Trudeau’s fault when the Alberta government decided to boycott B.C. wine last year. But her deepest concern with the Prime Minister is that she doesn’t think he is proud of Canada’s history or values.