Bring western oil to Quebec

If you believe certain environmentalist groups, Enbridge's plan to reverse the flow of the pipeline that runs from Sarnia, Ont. to Montreal in order to bring western oil to Quebec is a bad idea.

The oilsands are dirty, they say, and pipelines are dangerous. They want governments to block that plan.

Of all the positions taken by the anti-oil movement in Canada, this must rate as one of the most irrational.

First, Quebec's refineries already receive oil from elsewhere, in particular from the North Sea and from Algeria. This oil, aligned with the European Brent index, currently costs some $20 more per barrel than Canadian oil, which is tied to the American WTI index. Less expensive oil from Canada's western provinces would help refineries in Montreal and Levis, near Quebec City, survive, preserving the jobs of the 1,000 people they employ.

Second, it's not as if a new pipeline needs to be built. It already exists. In fact, it used to flow eastward in the 1970s and '80s. It was only reversed when overseas oil became cheaper than Canadian oil in the 1990s. Now that Canadian oil is cheaper again, reverting it to its original, eastbound direction just makes sense.

Third, pipelines are safe. They require less energy to operate and have a much lower carbon footprint than rail cars or tanker trucks. No technology is entirely without risk, but the odd spill does not change the fact that pipelines are the best way to transport oil by land.

Fourth, whatever happens to this pipeline, Quebecers are still going to need a lot of oil. Oil is going be with us for many years to come. Virtually all of the energy used in transportation in Canada comes from petroleum products. That will not change significantly in the near future.

Fifth, whether or not this plan goes through, the oilsands will continue to be exploited – increasingly efficiently and with less and less negative impact on the environment, thanks to ongoing technological innovations.

According to a CROP poll published last week, 71% of Quebecers favour the Enbridge plan. When Quebec Premier Pauline Marois met with Alberta Premier Alison Redford last month, she did not close the door and recognized its potential economic benefits. She should simply ignore the environmentalists' wailings on this issue.

Michel Kelly-Gagnon is President and CEO of the Montreal Economic Institute. The views reflected in this column are his own.
* This column appears in Sun Media newspapers, published both in several of Canada's key urban markets (Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and London) and in its 28 community dailies

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