Keystone, Northern Gateway pipelines raise questions that need answers before approval – by David Olive (January 14, 2012)

The Toronto Star, has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on federal and Ontario politics as well as shaping public opinion.

In hearings that began this week on the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline to carry tar-sands oil from Athabasca to the B.C. coast, we have a rare opportunity to insist on the world’s most carefully planned energy megaprojects ever.

In an ideal world, we would embrace conservation and greatly accelerated development of alternative sources of energy to make unnecessary the construction of Gateway and the even longer Keystone XL pipeline to take Athabasca crude the entire length of the U.S. to refineries on the Texas coast.

But that won’t happen, not for decades if ever. Canadians and Americans will ultimately consent to these two projects with their combined 4,000 km of three-foot-diameter pipe at a total estimated cost of $13.6 billion. Energy security will trump the many risks.

Our prime minister trembles with unseemly rage that the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio may voice an objection to projects that will have a multi-generational, and irrevocable, impact on nature and social conditions in hundreds of communities across North America. We’ve not actually heard yet from the screen star, but Stephen Harper is fixated with delaying tactics by the more than 4,000 interested parties scheduled to speak at Gateway hearings that will, in truth last a mere few months.

The only compelling reason to proceed with these two controversial projects is the consensus view of forecasters worldwide that more than a quarter-century from now, in 2035, we will still be reliant on fossil fuels for 81.1 per cent of global energy consumption. That’s down, but scarcely, from 83.5 per cent today.

“Renewables” will be the fastest-growing energy source over that period, but starting from a low base. They will account for just 13.8 per cent of global energy consumption in 2035, compared with 7.2 per cent today. That’s according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

And renewables are mostly hydro-electricity, the social disruptions we’ve seen in harnessing James Bay hydro-power and China’s Three Gorges Dam. Even solar panels, wind turbines, biomass and geothermal – currently accounting for just 1 per cent or so of world energy demand – consume a fair amount of fossil fuels in their manufacture and exploitation.

These two megaprojects raise enough disturbing questions that their advocates have resorted to scare tactics in promoting them. In separate reports, the tar-sands producers and an Alberta-commissioned study by a Houston consulting firm warn that $1.7 trillion in oilsands activity between 2017 and 2025 will be jeopardized if Athabasca tar-sands crude is “trapped” absent pipelines to carry it to faraway markets.

Some 456,000 direct and indirect jobs also could be lost, along with $483 billion in royalties and taxes paid into government coffers. The oil producers themselves would forsake about $72 billion in revenues without access to the specialized refineries in the U.S. and Asia (read China) capable of processing the viscous goo mined in the Fort McMurray vicinity, the world’s only major tar-sands operation.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Toronto Star website: http://www.thestar.com/business/article/1114987–keystone-northern-gateway-pipelines-raise-questions-that-need-answers-before-approval

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