The Oilsands: A Source of Prosperity for All *

In La Presse, we learned recently that there seems to be a difference of opinion between environmentalists and the business community in Canada on the subject of exporting oil that comes from the oilsands. Far from being a scandal, such debate is normal, even necessary and desirable. We want to live in a healthy environment while still benefiting from the development of energy sources that have the potential to enrich Canadians.

But the full-scale propaganda attack directed against the oilsands by certain environmental groups – of which the publication of a series of government emails is the latest volley – is uncalled for. According to Environment Canada data, the oilsands are responsible for 5% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Canada and only 0.1% of global emissions. Agriculture, by comparison, accounts for 9% of Canadian emissions.

It is reassuring to see, though, that the general public takes a more pragmatic view of the matter. According to a Harris-Decima poll of Canadians carried out in 2010, 74% of respondents believe that the best course is to develop the oilsands while taking care to limit the environmental consequences of doing so.

It is absolutely essential to make sure that our commercial exchanges, including those involving oil from the oilsands, respect all international accords and take place without unjustified obstacles.

Thinking that we can free ourselves from fossil fuels in the short term is simply utopian. Indeed, global consumption of all kinds of energy will keep rising. That was one of the conclusions of the World Energy Congress held in Montreal this year. And oil is no exception.

According to the International Energy Agency, the demand for oil will reach 99 million barrels per day in 2035, which is 15 million barrels per day more than in 2009. This estimate is based on the agency's central scenario, which presumes that governments will respect their commitments to meet their announced targets for reductions of GHG emissions.

The world is developing. Countries like China and Brazil, where more and more people aspire to better living conditions, will need energy to run their factories, light their homes and power their cars.

The world will need energy, especially oil, if the global population's living standards are to continue improving. The important thing is to know where this energy will come from. Would we prefer it if the world turned to OPEC countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia rather than import Canadian oil?

Canada has the advantage of offering a reliable and predictable source of energy. Personally, I think it is preferable to create wealth, jobs and innovation here, rather than support non-democratic political regimes.

We also need to remember that the Canadian oilsands are and will continue to be a source of prosperity for all. When public finances are in the red just about everywhere, we have the opportunity to develop an industry that will enrich us. Let's hope that, on the one hand, we have a solid plan for promoting an important resource that will play a central role in the world economy, and on the other hand, that the industry continues its efforts to improve its environmental record, notably through the use of carbon capture and cogeneration.

*This article was originally published in French on www.cyberpresse.ca.
Jasmin Guénette is vice president of the Montreal Economic Institute.

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