Alberta Bound: Observations from the Canadian Oil Sands

Alberta Bound: Observations from the Canadian Oil Sands

By the Honorable John Piscopo, CT (HD-76)

ALEC National Chair

Like everyone else, I had heard about the vast reserves of crude oil in Canada called the “Oil Sands,” so I jumped at the chance when given the opportunity to tour and learn more about them. I flew to Calgary in the Province of Alberta, where my first impression of the people was a genuine friendliness in the midst of a city experiencing dramatic and rapid growth. Our small group of nine ALEC member legislators and ALEC’s International Relations Task Force Director met in the hotel lobby and walked from there to our first stop at the headquarters of pipeline manufacturer and operator, TransCanada, to learn about the pipeline itself. Company representatives gave us a quick overview of the company, its products, and safety procedures stressing their exemplary safety track record. They are responsible for pipelines that already go the distance through Canada, and much of the US. To say I was impressed is an understatement.

Later that evening, we met with representatives from the Alberta Government. They emphasized Canada’s position as a consistent ally, neighbor and friend and admitted to being more than a little puzzled by our resistance to accept their oil. It is a compelling message considering our eagerness to import oil from countries with which we don’t enjoy such close ties. Canadian governance is much like ours, but they have a greater degree of sovereignty for their states (Provinces) – which have more power to make their own regulations and trade policy. We ended the evening with a briefing on Low Carbon Fuel Standards from the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers. A low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) is a cap and trade program for transportation fuels that is designed to block imports of Canadian oil sands and ration gasoline use in order to drive up the use of alternative fuels. California has adopted LCFS and several other states are considering them. While bringing more electric and natural gas vehicles into our transportation system sounds like an admirable goal, raising gasoline prices by up to 180 percent (which an LCFS would do) is not a very appealing way to do it.

Early the next morning, we boarded a small plane and traveled about two hours to northern Alberta and the oil sands. The entire time we were in the air, we flew over the boreal forest, a beautiful ecosystem spanning the length of Canada. This is a huge country and the oil sands take up a very small portion of it. We visited an above ground mining operation in which the sand is dug up, processed and returned to the land. We also visited another operation where the reserves are deeper below the surface and cannot be mined. Steam is injected down a well and the loose oil is pumped to the surface. At each facility, everyone who spoke to us stressed the absolute necessity of putting the environment first, showing us examples of how they have made stewardship of the land a priority. After all, this is their home and they have an interest in preserving it.

On the final day, the Pembina Institute, an environmental group, gave a thoughtful and informative presentation. They were rightly worried about a number of issues surrounding oil sands development in Alberta. Representatives from industry and the Alberta government also attended the meeting and I was struck by the give-and-take attitude between all present. Everyone was respectful, the conversation was enlightening and all of our questions were answered.

 

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