Shopping Cart

Energy Security & Environmental Sustainability Can Co-exist

The U.S. Oil Dependency Factor Drops

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Written By: Sanjay Patel

Here is a glimmer of good news for the U.S. Oil imports to the U.S., currently the world’s biggest oil importer drop, as efficiency gains reduce oil demand, and reliance on new supplies such as light tight oil is increasing. In this post, I would like to discuss America’s dropping oil dependency factor.

With less than 5 per cent of the world’s population, U.S. oil consumption, today, accounts for over 21 per cent of the world’s total oil consumption – and it remains by far the largest user of oil, consuming approximately 19 million barrels of oil each day. The U.S imports about 9 million barrels per day of oil and Canada is number one supplier of oil to the U.S. However, the U.S has come a long way since 1970s in imroving its oil consumption.

In one of the previous posts, we discussed the relationship between nation’s GDP and oil consumption. A positive correlation between higher GDP and higher oil consumption continues to hold initially, however, as mature economies have a tendency to become more efficient over time, and able to sustain economic growth while oil consumption slows. The U.S. is a good example of this process of optimization.

The below Figure illustrates the production volume of the U.S., measured by GDP, compared with the country’s oil consumption, measure in millions of barrels per day. In the chart, oil consumption for each year between 1950 and 2011 has been paired with economic activity in the same year, or real GDP. We can observe that between 1950 and 1979, the rise in oil consumption kept pace with the increase in economic activity. In the chart, you can see a steep slop – reflecting a high oil dependency factor to grow economy.
This lasted until the 1970s, when the Arab oil embargo of 1973, combined with peaking oil production in the U.S., led to two years of recession, followed by above average inflation that continued for a decade. Under pressure, the U.S. managed to cut its oil intensity by almost half. We can see that the slope between 1983 and 2007 is much shallower – reflecting a low oil dependency factor, indicating that a great deal of economic growth was achieved in this period with a smaller amount of additional oil.
Continued gains in the efficiency of the U.S. economy are to be expected. According to the International Energy Agency, the U.S. will gradually be able to reduce its oil consumption from 19 million barrels per day (2011) to 14 million barrels per day (2035), while its economy continues to expand. The data points are trending downward in the chart (2011-2035 period) – reflecting a zero oil dependency factor. In other words, zero new oil is required to grow economy. The optimism is justified, if we consider that other developed nations, including Japan and several nations in Europe, have been able to achieve this, we can expect others (China, India, etc.) to follow in the future.
(Note: Opinions expressed here are my own and not that of Suncor)

A Must Read Book, The Future of Oil: A Straight Story of the Canadian Oil Sands

Saturday, 21 July 2012
Written by: Sanjay Patel
I am about to accomplish one of my goals of publishing my book titled “The Future of Oil: A Straight Story of The Canadian Oil Sands”. And it is coming soon !
About This Book:
Unless we are able to increase the global oil supply, we face a bleak future of depleting reserves and high energy prices. Since conventional oil reserves are dwindling, we have no alternative but to increasingly rely on unconventional oil, and for political, economic, and environmental reasons, the Canadian oil sands offer the very best unconventional oil we can get.

Never before has a book offered an insider’s view of this controversial industry. The Future of Oil objectively considers economic necessity and the nature of current technological limitations to arrive at a series of connected and inescapable conclusions. The transition to an age of cleaner energy production is necessary and inevitable, but we cannot yet live without oil. Oil must have a future, or we do not have one, and the oil sands of Canada are the centrepiece of that future.

The Future of Oil is a clear, concise, yet complete guide to the Canadian oil sands industry. It covers the topics of energy, history, economy, environment, technology, and ethics. The book will be a valuable resource – the ultimate resource – for those who want to know more and learn the facts about the oil sands. It addresses all the main objections to oil sands development that have been posed by journalists, environmentalists, First Nations leaders, and others. The author does not sugarcoat the hard facts, but objectively presents the arguments of oil sands critics and proponents alike. As a result, readers should have a much deeper understanding of all the issues involved, and be able to form their own opinions.

The straight-spoken, journalistic style of The Future of Oil will appeal both to a general readership and those working in the oil sands industry, serving as a valuable resource by providing the big picture. Most of all, it offers, for the first time, an insider’s view of a crucial energy debate that will be with us for some time to come.
Please stay tuned and forward this message to your friends in your network. Thanks.
Note: The views expressed in this post are my own and not that of Suncor.


Rising “Loonie” is More Complicated Than One Might Suspect

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Written by: Sanjay Patel

After weeks of intense debates, the Calgary Herald conducted an online poll to check what people think about the rising Canadian dollar (commonly called “loonie”). The poll result suggests Canadians are roughly split over NDP Leader Tom Mulcair’s contention that Alberta’s oil sands are responsible for raising “loonie” and its negative impact on country’s manufacturing sector. The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey, released Friday, suggests slightly more Canadians disagree than agree with Mulcair — 45 per cent compared to 41 per cent — although opinions varied across the country. You may not be a fan of public opinion polls anymore (If you live in Alberta !) but here are the survey results anyways. Read Here.

The issue is, the issue of rising “loonie” is not that simple for everyone to understand. I’m sure majority of the people who took the survey are not well informed about the issue and have sided with one of the groups (i.e. Alberta or Ontario) – like we always do – and either voted in favour or against the rising loonie.

There is a common perception that “Alberta’s Oil industry (and Oil sands in particular) is solely responsible for rising “loonie”. There is also the perception that “Ontario’s manufacturing industry is suffering, but only Alberta is benefiting”.
Before we delve into the details of rising loonie, let us look at some background information first. In last decade or so, the Canadian Dollar has done really well in financial markets, soaring from an average of 0.64 US dollar in 2002 to 1.01 US dollar in 2011. Currently, the “loonie” is at par with the U.S. dollar and it is explained by the soaring price of oil. Canada’s oil reserves are now officially ranked as third largest oil reserves in the world (It used to be second). When higher oil prices lead to an increased oil production which, in turn, increases the value of the loonie (due to the increased oil production and its export) in comparison with the US dollar. While a strong loonie is good news for Alberta’s oil industry, it hurts local manufactures, however. As loonie goes up in price, Canadian products become more expensive for U.S. buyers and as a result the export of manufacturing products (Automobile, wood, paper, etc.) declines.


Perception#1: Alberta’s Oil industry (and Oil sands in particular) is solely responsible for raising “loonie”.
It is true that Canada is a net exporter of oil, so the Canadian dollar moves in tandem with the world oil price, but there are many other reasons that are responsible for rising Canadian dollar:
·     Canada is a resource based economy: Although the price of oil has gone up in last 5 years, Canada’s metals and minerals sector have actually performed better over the last five years. According to Patricia Mohr (Scotiabank’s commodities specialist) metals and minerals account for 30 per cent of the value of commodity exports. Over the last five years, prices for metals and minerals are up 12.2 per cent, which exceeds oil and gas at 9.7 per cent, she said.
·     US Dollar has lost value: We all know that Canadian economy has performed much better than the US economy including many other economies around the world following the 2008 recession. The US economy has suffered a lot after 2008 economic and it still continues to post low growth figures. Two rounds of quantitative easing in the US have devalued its currency and we all remember that there was no quantitative easing in Canada. At the end of 2010, Canada was the only country in the G7 nations to have fully recovered all of its output and employment losses during the recession.
The correlation between the loonie and crude oil is breaking down, says Marc Chandler, who is a Global head of currency strategy at New York-based Brown Brothers Harriman. He provides some interesting perspective on this topic. According to Marc, Canada is a net exporter of oil, but not nearly as it may appear as the eastern part of the country that is home to most of the population and industry are substantial importers of oil. The dollar value of oil exports is a minuscule fraction of the overall turnover of the Canadian dollar in the foreign exchange market. Capital flows are more important than trade flows. Read Here.
Perception#2: Ontario’s manufacturing industry is suffering, but only Alberta is benefiting.
While it is true that the strong loonie hurts Ontario’s manufacturing sector, don’t you think the leaders of the major political parties have to show some maturity and stop thinking in terms of Alberta’s interest Vs. Ontario’s interest? After all, we are one country and all the provinces & territories of Canada are not fiscally independent of each other. It is simply a mistake to think that only Albertans stand to lose in any meaningful way from stopping or slowing Alberta’s oil sands. Halting oil sands production would take a heavy toll on Canada’s economy.
·      Alberta’s energy industry employees one in every 14 Albertans.
·      The current value of the oil sands plants is over $100 billion. The industry generates billions of dollars of tax revenue for the government and 60% go into federal coffers.
·      The provincial government collects almost $2 billion annually from royalties and this will increase to $350 billion (cumulative) by 2035, according to CERI. If future oil sands development continues as planned, significant benefits will be realized in terms of job creation including royalty and provincial & federal tax collection and its positive impact will be felt across the Canada. Read Here.
·      New and existing oil sands projects will require an estimated $55 billion worth of goods, materials, and services from suppliers in Ontario – Canada’s largest province – by 2035, according to CAPP. Read here.
Let us be honest. Alberta’s oil or oil sands companies don’t set the price of oil. The price of oil is mainly determined in the world oil market based on oil supply & demand dynamics. People who work in Alberta’s oil industry are simply doing their job by supplying energy demanded by our society. Halting oil production from Alberta’s oil industry is simply not an option when we look at the consequences & rewards.
True, there is a positive relationship between the two (i.e. oil price and loonie) and it does have some losses in manufacturing sector but blaming oil sands or to keep the Canadian dollar weak is not the answer. Productivity gains through efficiency improvement in manufacturing sector is one of the options to mitigate the loss of competitiveness caused by a strong loonie. Many countries blessed with the natural resources have experienced the similar situation and Canada can learn from them. Norway is often discussed as a role model in mitigating the economic difficulties caused due to the abundant natural resources. Norway’s experience demonstrates that fiscal & monetary policies such as the establishment of a petroleum fund can help alleviate the effects of strong currency. 
(Note: The opinions expressed here are my own and not of Suncor’s)

Chindia: A Tale of Two Growing Economies

The world economy hasn’t fully recovered yet but it seems that the price of oil has. It has been steadily rising after it dropped to a low of $32/barrel in December, 2008. Average WTI prices per barrel of oil during 2009, 2010 and 2011 were $62, $79 and $95. The price of oil for this year so far is $105. A discussion on higher oil prices is incomplete without talking about Chindia. Chindia is a phrase that refers to China and India together.
In the international media – particularly in North America – there is almost an obsession with Chindia, particularly with its economic growth and impact on the world oil market. For instance, when Republicans blamed President Barack Obama for rising gasoline prices in the US, the President (on Feb 24, 2012), blamed the emerging economies like India, China and Brazil for rising oil demand and the resulting spike in the price of oil.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that global oil demand will increase slowly over the next 25 years, from 87 million barrels/day in 2010 to 99 million barrels/day in 2035; this growth is attributed to the non-OECD countries and Chindia in particular.
There are a lot of similarities between these countries (China and India). Both have over one billion in population (together they contain 2.6 billion of the world’s 7 billion people), an unprecedented number of people in China and India are projected to rise above the poverty line and enter the global middle class, both are regarded as the fastest growing major economies in the world, and so on.
Yet there are, however, crucial differences between the two countries and one of the main differences is that, as of today, China’s oil demand is over two times higher than that of India and this trend will continue in the future. Today, China’s population is about 130 million higher than India’s, but because India is growing so much faster than China (in terms of population), it is expected that by 2035, India will become the world’s most populous nation. Despite this, by 2035, India’s oil demand will be only half that of China’s.
What’s the reason for such a big difference in oil demand? One way to think about this question is by comparing economies and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in particular. One of the main reasons for such a vast difference is that China’s economy is different and stronger than India’s and there are a number of factors that account for this.
Historically, there is a strong correlation between GDP and oil consumption. The more goods and services a particular economy has produced, the more oil it has needed in order to produce them.  More gasoline and diesel fuel is needed to move goods and people. Higher GDP growth results in higher income for the population, lower mortality rates, higher life expectancy, better education for people and, more importantly, higher consumer spending. This extra consumption and spending stimulates the economy, as supply is increased to satisfy demand, and, for this cycle to continue, more oil is required.
So, stronger GDP growth in China, compared to India, is the main reason for its higher oil demand. China retained the title of second largest GDP in the world, after the US, in 2010, with a GDP of $5.8 trillion. India occupied 9th position in the same year with a GDP of $1.6 trillion. Historically, the Chinese economy has grown at an average annual rate of 9 percent for the last 3 decades, while India’s economy has grown at around 6-7 percent per year over the same period.
Both countries were among the world’s most ancient civilizations and their differences in GDP growth are influenced by a number of social, political, cultural and economic factors. Among these factors, one that drives oil consumption higher in China is that China is strong in manufacturing and infrastructure while India is perceived to be strong in services and the IT sector.
We can picture the potential impact of the quick growth of Chindia by considering an extreme scenario, one in which Chinese and Indians eventually come to consume as much oil per capita as North Americans. In this scenario, even if all other countries apart from China and India were to maintain current consumption levels, the world’s oil consumption would be over 200 million barrels a day, instead of the 87 million barrels per day it is now.
There is some reason to be optimistic about the long term future, however, as mature economies seem to have a tendency to become more efficient over time and become able to sustain economic growth while the growth of oil consumption slows down and even stops. From the below Figure, you can see that oil consumption for OECD nations is expected to fall over the next 25 years.
The global outlook for the next few decades is nevertheless bleak. Although a handful of OECD countries have been able to achieve growth without increasing oil demand, in the fastest growing economies such as Chindia, there is still a positive correlation between GDP and oil demand and these economies are very far from mature. Their impact on global oil consumption is more than offsetting the comparably small gains in efficiency of the mature economies.
While it should be the goal for every nation to decouple GDP growth and oil consumption as early as possible, success will depend on a myriad of factors, including policies to curb CO2 emissions, fuel and efficiency standards for vehicles, the role of renewables and consumer behavior.

(Note: Above opinions are my own and not of Suncor Energy Inc.)

2°C Global Warming: A Deal in Durban

Keeping the increase in earth’s temperature to less than 2°C during 21st century, a goal agreed by global leaders in the past and intended to minimize effects of apocalyptic climate outcomes, has driven all negotiations on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to date. But the commitments made through the Kyoto protocol and other agreements, such as Copenhagen accord, are neither legally binding for the world’s major emitters  nor sufficient to achieve this objective.
Last Sunday, global leaders at the UN climate change conference in Durban, South Africa, determined a path towards a new, legally binding agreement to curb GHG emissions. While many critics are not happy about the deal, saying it is “too little, too late,” most world leaders have welcomed it. There is hope that the deal struck in Durban will avert a 2°C increase in global temperatures.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), since the beginning of industrial development more than 150 years ago, the average surface temperature of the earth has increased by about 0.76 °C. IPCC predicts that the global surface temperature is likely to rise at least 1.1 to 2.9 °C (2 to 5.2 °F) during this century, but could rise as much as 2.4 to 6.4 °C (4.3 to 11.5 °F). 
To keep the temperature increase below 2°C, climate scientists estimate we would need to limit GHG concentrations in the atmosphere to around 450 parts per million (ppm) CO2-eqivalent (CO2-eq). However, scientists can’t guarantee that limiting concentrations in this way would achieve the goal of keeping temperature increases below 2°C. There is roughly a 50% chance that the world will warm by more than 2°C even if global GHG concentrations are stabilised at 450 ppm.
Atmospheric CO2-eq levels before the industrial revolution were about 275 ppm on average and they have been rising ever since. Today they are at about 397 ppm. Taking this into account, the “correct” GHG concentration target depends on how much certainty we want.  According to various scientific estimates, if we want to give ourselves an even chance to stay below 2°C, 450 ppm CO2-eq is a reasonable long-term target, but if we want more certainty (say, at least a 90% chance), then the increase in GHG concentrations would have to be kept well below this target.
Most recent scientific studies agree that global GHG emissions would need to fall to around 50% or less of 2000 levels by 2050 in order to meet the target of 450 ppm CO2-eq.  If actions to curb emissions are delayed, it would demand even more rapid and drastic reductions down the road to achieve the same long-term goal. If global emissions peak by 2020, emissions would need to be reduced by about 3% per year, every year, for the next several decades. If global emissions peak later (say in 2030), they would then have to be reduced even more rapidly to meet the same long-term goal. If nothing is done, then GHG emissions could increase two to three fold before the end of this century.
While it is important for all nations to contribute towards the goal of reducing CO2, it is important to note that the world’s top five emitters produce 56% of all emissions. In 2009, global CO2 emissions were 34 gigatonnes (34,000 million tonnes) and 85% of those were energy related CO2 emissions. On the basis of absolute emissions, the world’s five major energy related CO2 emitters in 2009 were:
·         China (6,549 million tonnes),
·         United States (5,587 million tonnes),
·         India (1,586 million tonnes),
·         Russia (1,533 million tonnes), and
·         Japan (1,152 million tonnes).
But that is only one way to look at the data. If you take into account a nation’s population, a different picture emerges. The US is number one in terms of per capita emissions – with 17 tonnes emitted per person every year. China, by contrast, emits 5 tonnes per person and India only 1 ton per person. But per capita emissions for developing nations are increasing as these countries grow economically.
In terms of actual progress to curb emissions, not much has been achieved. Energy related global emissions increased from 21 gigatonnes in 1990 to 29 gigatonnes in 2009 despite the Kyoto protocol, which committed developed countries to reducing carbon emissions by 5% from 1990 levels before 2012.  It’s important, however to note that the US had opted out of Kyoto and India and China did not agree to a 5% cut in emissions. Emissions of Japan, Russia, Canada and Australia have all increased since 1990 and these countries are less interested in curbing emissions without the participation of US, China and India. Only European countries have made some progress – their emissions in 2009 are 4.9% less than the 1990 level.
One of the challenges in getting any commitment on climate change is, even if we stop the emission of CO2 completely, concentrations of CO2 will linger in the atmosphere for a century or more – meaning no matter how much we reduce emissions today, there won’t be much benefit in the short-term. Thus, we are asking citizens and nations to pay a price now (in terms of economic burden) for benefits that may not be evident for years to come.
Another issue is that, although climate change is a global problem, its impact is not felt equally. Cold countries in the Northern Hemisphere (e.g. Russia, Canada and parts of the U.S) may benefit to some degree from global warming, while countries in various other parts of the world (e.g. Sub-Saharan Africa, Bangladesh) will likely bear more of the negative burden of climate change and find it more difficult to adapt.
To determine who should take action and to what extent is not an easy task. Do we hold countries responsible for historical emissions or just for future growth in emissions? Should we consider absolute emissions or per capita emissions? Should we consider economic status of each nation? There are no simple answers. The argument made by developing countries (China, India, Brazil, and South Africa) is that, since developed countries have been mainly responsible for two hundred years worth of GHG emissions released into the atmosphere, they should act first to address it. But according to Canada and other developed nations, developing economies like China and India should be part of emissions reduction program, as should the U.S. China’s and India’s emissions are growing by more than 9% annually; America’s by 4%.
It seems that the Durban deal has put an end to this finger pointing and – for the first time in the history – both developed and developing economies, normally cautious, have made a commitment to take collective action to combat climate change.  The Kyoto Protocol, which expires next year, will also be extended for at least another five years under the Durban accord.
The Durban Action Plan is a binding framework that has provided answers to problems that have prevented meaningful discussions for years – problems such as shared responsibility for controlling emissions and the need to keep global temperature increases under the danger threshold of 2°C. However, it is important to keep in mind that the Durban agreement is just a beginning and most of the hard work still lies ahead: setting emission limits and reduction targets for all nations and actually implementing policies to curb emissions.
(Note: Above opinions are my own and not of Suncor Energy Inc.)

Keystone XL: Decision. Discussion. Potential Implication

Since this is my first blog, I was initially unsure what topic I should talk about.  However, by looking at all the top headlines and burning issues, I very quickly figured that I should begin with the Keystone XL pipeline project.

The Canadian oil sands industry has recently received a great deal of media attention in connection with the Keystone XL pipeline project – a project which is critical to future expansion of this industry.  The Keystone XL, a 2,763-kilometre long pipeline project, when complete, would deliver up to 830,000 barrels a day of crude from the oil sands in Canada and the northern U.S. to the Gulf Coast.
While some local residents are worried about the possibility of a pipeline leak – this pipeline will pass through an environmentally sensitive area in Nebraska – many environmentalists (including some celebrities) see opposing the pipeline project as an opportunity to slow oil sands development overall.  Despite clear advantages to the U.S. in terms of job creation and other economic benefits, planned construction of the pipeline faced such strong opposition by environmental groups that U.S. president Barack Obama announced last week that he will not make a final decision on its construction until after the November 2012 elections.
TransCanada, an owner of the $7 billion pipeline project, agreed to reroute the pipeline and expressed confidence that it will be able to address environmental concerns raised by opponents. However, oil sands proponents believe that, if the Keystone pipeline project doesn’t proceed, major impacts on the oil industry can be offset by another project (Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Project – a new twin pipeline project running from near Edmonton, Alberta, to a new marine terminal in Kitimat, British Columbia), which will help solve the problem of marketing Canadian oil.
There are, however, many reasons for the caution.  The Keystone XL project faces a “dirty oil” challenge and the Gateway pipeline project could face similar challenges, including, but not limited to, aboriginal rights issues.  While it is beyond anyone’s capacity at this stage to predict what’s going to happen, the recent decision to defer the Keystone XL pipeline project is definitely not good news for both the U.S. and Canada.
Currently, the U.S. is the only market for Canadian oil, including products from the oil sands.  Canada is by far the largest exporter of crude oil to the U.S. In 2010, Canada exported almost 2 MBPD (million barrels per day) of oil to Americans. Of this volume, 1.8 MBPD came from Western Canada and 1.1 MBPD of that came from the oil sands of Alberta.  By 2035, Canadian oil sands production is expected to rise two to four times from its current production level.  Canada and the U.S. are two of the most important stakeholders in the Keystone project and are those that have the most to gain and lose. Canada and the U.S. both need to maximize profits from the oil sands, since, economically, both countries could use a boost from the energy sector (a main driver for growth) to help recover from the recession.
The U.S. is the most natural market for oil sand products.  Pipelined oil can reach the U.S. quickly and at low cost and the U.S. has experience in processing oil sands products. But existing pipeline capacity is already very tight.  If the oil sands are not given appropriate access to markets via critical projects like Keystone XL, oil sands expansion will be slower and more painful, a possibility that has broad economic, social and political ramifications in North America and the world.  If this happens, environmentalists should not celebrate, because the needed oil will just come from elsewhere, and will likely be dirtier, more expensive, its supply less reliable, or all of these.
In 2010, U.S. import of foreign oil was about 9 MBPD (U.S. oil demand in total was about 19 MBPD, including biofuels) and Canada supplied about 1.8 MBPD of that.  If the U.S. decides to displace Canadian oil from their market, it will not reduce their total overall demand for oil but simply ensure that it will be met from other sources – Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Mexico or Nigeria.  For example, by displacing 2 MBPD of Canadian oil, the U.S. could put an additional $58 billion dollars (or more) every single year into the pockets of Saudi Arabia and other counties – assuming a price of U.S. $80/bbl of oil.  $58 billion dollars per year is a lot of money to empower countries whose interests often conflict with the U.S.
We are living in a world with a very tight oil supply-demand relationship.  The supply of conventional oil is declining and unconventional crude oil is now beginning to supplement this supply.  The U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) estimates that global oil production from unconventional sources will rise from 4% of the total in 2010 to 13% by 2035.  They estimate that, among all sources of unconventional oil, Canadian oil sands have the greatest potential to complement conventional crude oil, with production expected to increase from 1.5 MBPD in 2010 to 5 MBPD in 2035.  With the threat of a double-dip recession looming over world economies, getting a grip on rising oil prices is a particularly pressing need. To do this we need to increase, not decrease, the world’s oil supply.
The oil sands will play a very important role in moderating world oil prices if production is allowed to grow as per expectations.  If growth is prevented, global implications will be very severe. Take, for example, the case of Greece – one of the countries hardest hit by the 2008 financial crisis. In order to handle its debt obligation, Greece is facing massive tax increases and spending cuts. Thousands of people are now out of work and facing hardship, businesses are closing down and citizens, including immigrants, are leaving the country to settle somewhere else.  The most dramatic sign of Greece’s economic pain, however, is the surge in suicides experienced earlier this year. About 40% more Greeks killed themselves in the first five months of this year than in the same period last year, according to Greece’s health ministry.  This fact is disturbing.  While economic crises and high oil prices don’t significantly impact celebrities, high oil prices are believed to be one of the root causes of the 2008 economic meltdown, a financial crisis that has taken a significant toll on people’s mental health.
The relationship between the U.S. and Canada is among the closest and most extensive in the world.  About 300,000 people cross the shared border every day. According to the U.S. department of State, the U.S. and Canada trade the equivalent of $1.6 billion a day in goods – and energy is a big part of that trade relationship. According to CERI (Canadian Energy Research Institute), if Keystone XL and other oil sands projects proceed as planned, the impact on U.S. GDP from 2010-2020 is estimated at CAD $134 billion.  By 2020, U.S. employment totals related to this project are expected to grow from 80,000 jobs to 179,000.
Despite these benefits, opposition to the oil sands continues, mainly because of a perception that the industry is not doing enough to reduce its environmental footprint.  Among all the challenges that this industry faces, the most visible and controversial is the emission of green house gases (GHG) and their impact on climate change.  According to the IHS CERA (Cambridge Energy Research Associates),  Canadian oil sands produce only 5 to 15% more GHG emissions than conventional crude oil and are responsible for less than 0.1 % of the world’s total GHG emissions.  However, as oil sands production increases, the overall environmental impact, including GHG emissions, will increase.
To tackle this problem, technological advancement is necessary and the industry is spending billions of dollars to make it happen. For instance, Shell’s Quest Project will use CSS (Carbon Storage and Sequestration) technology to capture its GHG emissions and pipe them underground. Suncor is spending $1.2 billion this year to improve tailings management and Syncrude is spending $1.6 billion on its desulphurization units.
According to a growing number of environmentalists and activists, we cannot continue to rely on oil because of its GHG emissions and because of the fact that we will run out of oil soon anyway.  They say we should replace oil with renewable energy sources.  This is our long term goal but, unfortunately, the world’s reliance on oil isn’t just a political problem, it’s a technological problem.  There is simply no alternative to power the transport sector. With the technology available today, trucks, ships and planes cannot be powered by batteries, solar or wind power.  There is no realistic substitute for oil now and there is no guarantee that we will find one in the next few decades.
It is often argued by environmental groups that energy from renewable sources is relatively expensive because oil companies benefit from massive subsidies not available to renewables.  While this was true in the past, it has not been the case for years. Consider the U.S. case.  According to the U.S. Department of Energy, in 2010 wind energy producers received 42% of all federal subsidies for electricity production while only producing 2.3% of all electricity generated.  Coal received 10% of these subsidies and produced 44.9%. Natural gas and oil received 3.6% of these subsidies and produced 25%.  Nuclear received 19.8% of these subsidies and produced 19.6% of electricity generated.  Renewables receive a greater share of federal dollars than any other single source of energy and this share of total energy funding, which is close to 40%, is considerable.  Particularly if we keep in mind that they only provide 8% of total power generated.  The point is, political mandates can force an increase in the share of renewables in the energy mix, but they do not have the power to make them cheap, at least not in the short and medium term. More modest (and realistic) goals will have virtually no impact on oil demand and ambitious renewable projects are very likely to fail, or could negatively impact the already difficult post-recession economic recovery.
The world is searching for the right balance between finding a continuous supply of oil to secure our energy future and maintain high living standards, while at the same time protecting the environment – particularly in the face of climate change concerns.  Achieving the right balance is a very difficult task and often involves complex trade-offs and compromises.  But, among all the choices we have today, clearly Canadian oil is our best hope to bridge the gap between now and a full transition to renewable energy in the future.   The future of the oil sands development is of great importance to the economy of Canada, and the U.S. and it has global implications as well.
The pipeline projects such as Keystone XL has a very important role to play in ensuring oil sands growth by removing marketing constraints.  There is too much at stake – for Canada, the U.S. and the rest of the world. Let us hope that policy and decision makers on both sides of the border will take a balanced approach and negotiate a deal which will allow the expansion of oil sands in a responsible manner.
(Note: Above opinions are my own and not of Suncor Energy Inc.)