CALGARY - Building pipelines to connect Alberta crude to West Coast ports is a matter of Canadian sovereignty, says the former CEO of Canada's biggest oil company.

Rick George, who retired from the top job at Suncor Energy Inc. (TSX:SU) in May following a two-decade tenure, makes the argument in his newly released book "Sun Rise: Suncor, the Oil Sands and the Future of Energy."

George was born and raised in Brush, Colo. — "population around 5,000 people with maybe an equal number of cattle and horses" — but he has long called Calgary home and considers himself a "Canadian nationalist."

Currently, the United States buys virtually all of Canada's energy exports — and that gives our southern neighbour too much power, writes George.

"It's not inconceivable to imagine the United States insisting that Canada alter various standards to match its own," he writes.

"Why would we let another country dictate environmental policy and commercial terms to us? That's what happens where energy is concerned, and it's a breach of Canada's sovereignty when it occurs."

Two proposals are in the works to ship oilsands crude to lucrative Pacific Rim markets via the B.C. coast: Enbridge Inc.'s (TSX:ENB) $6-billion Northern Gateway project, which would end up at the northern port of Kitimat, B.C., and Kinder Morgan's $4.1-billion Trans Mountain line expansion, which heads to the Vancouver area.

Both have been controversial.

There are concerns a spill from a pipeline, or from enormous tankers moving along the coast, could have dire environmental consequences. B.C. Premier Christy Clark has said her province will block the proposals if conditions related to the environment, First Nations and — most contentiously — economic benefits aren't met.

George acknowledges no project is risk free, but notes oil tankers have long sailed from Scotland, Norway and Canada's East Coast safely.

While it's important to ensure the environment is protected, George argues the implications for Canada-U.S. relations should be a big part of the discussion, too.

"We won't have to be nearly as concerned about American criticism of our policies. The Canadian prime minister and every Canadian official visiting Washington will be treated with new respect, and the country's voice will be heard more loudly and more clearly."

In an interview with The Canadian Press from his office just outside of Calgary's downtown core, George said his book is not a springboard into politics or some other move into public life.

"What I'm hoping is the book actually kind of would provoke a better dialogue across Canada, where the dialogue is richer than people just taking sides without thinking about what's best for this country," he said.

George, who holds both Canadian and U.S. citizenship, is eligible to vote in the upcoming presidential election, but says "I don't exercise that right."

Though George says he tends to lean Republican, he expressed no strong preference for either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama.

No matter who wins, George said he wants to see more predictability in U.S. policies so that businesses big and small are more comfortable spending their money.

"The most important thing I think is that somehow Washington D.C. changes out of this acrimonious kind of rhetoric. I don't think it's doing anyone any good."

A proposal by Calgary-based pipeline giant TransCanada Corp. (TSX:TRP) to ship Canadian crude to U.S. refiners has been one of the bigger U.S. political flashpoints. After a string of delays, the U.S. State Department is expected to make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline early next year.

In the book, George said he considers Keystone XL to be a "double-edged sword" for Canada.

"While it will boost this country's crude oil sales to the United States, it also will bind Canada more tightly to the U.S. market. This prospect brings some inherent dangers with it, yet I rarely heard that discussed in the exchanges between the two sides."

The book traces Suncor's rise from a small company struggling to profitably squeeze oil from the crude-soaked sands of northern Alberta to Canada's dominant oilsands name.

A big step in that journey was Suncor's 2009 takeover of former Crown corporation Petro-Canada — a deal that was years in the making.

A decade earlier, the two companies were on the verge of announcing a deal, but the Petro-Canada board's 11th-hour demand to own a bigger share of the combined company scuttled the transaction.

When the idea was resurrected, a handful of top executives hammered out the deal during secret meetings at Calgary's Fairmont Palliser hotel.

While George says completing the largest transaction in Canadian history was a big personal achievement, it was also a "period of intense sadness" for him. During the negotiations, his father was diagnosed with brain cancer. He died four months later.

"He was a very small town business guy," said George in the interview.

George said his dad would be proud of his accomplishments — "but also kind of surprised, I guess."

"My dad had a high school education, no university. I think it was a long ways from his world. But the basic values of hard work, of optimism, of how to get through challenges — lots of that I learned from him."

Aside from writing the book and vacationing with his family in Turkey, George has been spending much of his post-Suncor life setting up a new fund to invest in small oilpatch companies.

"I'm not retiring to the farm or the ranch. You'll see me around town a lot. I'm going to stay very active in the industry."

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  • June 18, 2012 -- Elk Point

    Enbridge Inc.'s <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/19/enbridge-elk-point-spill-_n_1610613.html" target="_hplink">Athabasca pipeline leaked an estimated 230,000 litres of oil</a> about 24 kilometres southeast of Elk Point, Alberta. <br></br> A member of Greenpeace cleans up a mock oil spill outside the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline office in downtown Vancouver, Wednesday, June 13, 2012. The mock spill was set up by Greenpeace to show the risks of spills similar to the recent one outside of Red Deer, Alberta. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

  • June 18, 2012 -- Elk Point

    Although the spill didn't leak into any waterways, Energy Resources Conservation Board's Darin Barter said the<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/19/enbridge-elk-point-spill-_n_1610613.html" target="_hplink"> spill was considered "significant" in size</a>.<br></br> "Any amount of crude oil out of a pipeline is significant to us. Obviously we've had a number of pipeline incidents in the past short while and we're monitoring cleanup on them and we have a number of investigations underway."

  • June 7, 2012 -- Red Deer River

    An estimated 475,000 litres of oil <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/09/alberta-oil-spill-red-deer-river_n_1583579.html" target="_hplink">spilled from a Plains Midstream Canada pipeline</a> and proceeded to leak into the Red Deer River. <br></br> Oil from a pipeline leak coats a pond near Sundre, Alta., Friday, June 8, 2012. Plains Midstream Canada says one of their non-functioning pipeline leaked between 1,000-3,000 barrels of oil. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

  • June 7, 2012 -- Red Deer River

    Some of the oil <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/11/alberta-oil-pipeline-spill-red-deer-river-clean-up_n_1588536.html" target="_hplink">seeped into the Gleniffer reservoir</a>, which some Albertans rely on for drinking water. Plains Midstream Canada <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/11/alberta-oil-pipeline-spill-red-deer-river-clean-up_n_1588536.html" target="_hplink">trucked in drinking water</a> for those residing near the area.

  • May 19, 2012 -- Northwest Alberta

    Pace Oil and Gas's waste disposal line <a href="http://www.calgaryherald.com/business/energy-resources/Rainbow Lake spill pegged at 22,000 barrels/6683338/story.html" target="_hplink">leaked about 22,000 barrels of a mixture of oil and water</a> 20 kilometres southeast of Rainbow Lake. The spill was discovered on May 19 by another oil and gas company.

  • May 19, 2012 -- Northwest Alberta

    The oil spill "<a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/pipeline-spill-sends-22000-barrels-of-oil-mix-into-alberta-muskeg/article2447765/" target="_hplink">ranks among the largest in North America in recent years</a>," the Globe and Mail wrote.

  • June 26, 2011 -- Swan Hills

    A pipeline explosion and oil leak at a Pengrowth Energy facility caused a pipeline to leak <a href="http://edmonton.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20110627/edm_oil_110627/20110627/?hub=EdmontonHome" target="_hplink">500 barrels of light, sweet crude oil into Judy Creek</a> near Swan Hills, Alberta.

  • June 26, 2011 -- Swan Hills

    Energy Resources Conservation Board spokesman Darin Barter said the <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/story/2011/06/27/edmonton-oil-spill-swan-hills.html" target="_hplink">leak was relatively small</a>. <br></br> "It's what we would consider a minor spill with 95 per cent of the product coming out of the pipeline being water and five per cent oil," he told CBC. "However, we're taking it very seriously, as is the company."

  • April 29, 2011 -- Little Buffalo First Nation

    Plains Midstream Canada's 45-year-old Rainbow pipeline<a href="http://m.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/a-dire-warning-from-a-broken-pipe/article4262774/?service=mobile" target="_hplink"> spilled roughly 28,000 barrels of light crude oil</a> near Little Buffalo First Nation.

  • April 29, 2011 -- Little Buffalo First Nation

    Residents, including children, <a href="http://www.afn.ca/index.php/en/news-media/latest-news/urgent-measures-needed-for-citizens-of-little-buffalo-first-nation-in-" target="_hplink">reported incidents of burning eyes, stomach pains, disorientation, nausea and headaches</a>, according to the Assembly of First Nations.


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  • 10. Oil And Gas Accounts For 4.8 Per Cent Of GDP

    The oil and gas industries accounted for around $65 billion of economic activity in Canada annually in recent years, or slightly less than 5 per cent of GDP. Source: <a href="http://www.ceri.ca/docs/2010-10-05CERIOilandGasReport.pdf" target="_hplink">Canada Energy Research Institute</a>

  • 9. Oil Exports Have Grown Tenfold Since 1980

    Canada exported some 12,000 cubic metres of oil per day in 1980. By 2010, that number had grown to 112,000 cubic metres daily. Source: <a href="http://membernet.capp.ca/SHB/Sheet.asp?SectionID=9&SheetID=224" target="_hplink">Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers</a>

  • 8. Refining Didn't Grow At All As Exports Boomed

    Canada refined 300,000 cubic metres daily in 1980; in 2010, that number was slightly down, to 291,000, even though exports of oil had grown tenfold in that time. Source: <a href="http://membernet.capp.ca/SHB/Sheet.asp?SectionID=7&SheetID=104" target="_hplink">Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers</a>

  • 7. 97 Per Cent Of Oil Exports Go To The U.S.

    Despite talk by the federal government that it wants to open Asian markets to Canadian oil, the vast majority of exports still go to the United States -- 97 per cent as of 2009. Source: <a href="http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/statistics-facts/energy/895" target="_hplink">Natural Resources Canada</a>

  • 6. Canada Has World's 2nd-Largest Proven Oil Reserves

    Canada's proven reserves of 175 billion barrels of oil -- the vast majority of it trapped in the oil sands -- is the second-largest oil stash in the world, after Saudi Arabia's 267 billion. Source: <a href="http://www.ogj.com/index.html" target="_hplink">Oil & Gas Journal</a>

  • 5. Two-Thirds Of Oil Sands Bitumen Goes To U.S.

    One-third of Canada's oil sands bitumen stays in the country, and is refined into gasoline, heating oil and diesel. Source: <a href="http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/statistics-facts/energy/895" target="_hplink">Natural Resources Canada</a>

  • 4. Alberta Is Two-Thirds Of The Industry

    Despite its reputation as the undisputed centre of Canada's oil industry, Alberta accounts for only two-thirds of energy production. British Columbia and Saskatchewan are the second and third-largest producers. Source: <a href="http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/statistics-facts/energy/895" target="_hplink">Natural Resources Canada</a>

  • 3. Alberta Will Reap $1.2 Trillion From Oil Sands

    Alberta' government <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/27/alberta-oil-sands-royalties-ceri_n_1382640.html" target="_hplink">will reap $1.2 trillion in royalties from the oil sands over the next 35 years</a>, according to the Canadian Energy Research Institute.

  • 2. Canadian Oil Consumption Has Stayed Flat

    Thanks to improvements in energy efficiency, and a weakening of the country's manufacturing base, oil consumption in Canada has had virtually no net change in 30 years. Consumption went from 287,000 cubic metres daily in 1980 to 260,000 cubic metres daily in 2010. Source: Source: <a href="http://membernet.capp.ca/SHB/Sheet.asp?SectionID=6&SheetID=99" target="_hplink">Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers</a>

  • 1. 250,000 Jobs.. Plus Many More?

    The National Energy Board says oil and gas employs 257,000 people in Canada, not including gas station employees. And the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers says the oil sands alone <a href="http://www.capp.ca/aboutUs/mediaCentre/NewsReleases/Pages/OilsandsaCanadianjobcreator.aspx" target="_hplink">will grow from 75,000 jobs to 905,000 jobs by 2035</a> -- assuming, of course, the price of oil holds up.