04/28/2016 06:52 EDT | Updated 04/29/2017 05:12 EDT

Let's Have An Honest Conversation About Pipelines And Ethical Oil

Tomasz Wyszołmirski

I have written a lot about oil and pipelines in the past. In doing so I have received a stream of feedback and comments which all pretty much say the same thing: "you can't talk about the concept of ethical oil because that brand has been soured."

You see, a while back an activist/social commentator by the name of Ezra Levant wrote a book titled Ethical Oil. At the same time a website was started called I am not sufficiently familiar with Mr. Levant or the group to really comment on either but bring them up for the simple reason that those arguing against the upgrade of our fossil fuel infrastructure repeatedly do so.

Mr Levant is a very political fellow and has quite a following. As a consequence a lot of people associate the term "Ethical Oil" with Mr. Levant. In doing so they claim that the term has been tainted and that anyone who discusses the idea is taking Mr. Levant's side. This is not true.

The reality is that you can't have a legitimate discussion about the topic of oil without considering the ethics underlying our oil supply. Regardless of branding, ethical sourcing has to be part of the discussion. As a pragmatic environmentalist seeking only to ensure a healthy economy on a healthy planet, I would be remiss if I ignored the topic for such an inane reason.

Some commentators say we should get out of the oil business and cede the field to the despots, the tyrants and the murderers. I disagree.

I have read many recent articles written by activists who repeat ridiculous claims like: "new research shows that the fossil-fuel era could be over in as little as 10 years." As I demonstrate at my personal blog (A Chemist in Langley), the claim that we could eliminate our reliance on fossil fuels in the next 10 years does not even rise to the level of laughable. It is simply magical thinking. If we undertake herculean efforts and dedicate a historically unprecedented per cent of our national gross domestic product to the task we have a reasonable chance of weaning ourselves off fossil fuels in 30-50 years. Even then it is likely closer to the 50-year than the 30-year timeline.

The problem is that, in the meantime, we will still need oil. In addition, the whole premise of the argument requires that we have a lot of money to throw at the task. That money has to come from somewhere. That somewhere is the Canadian tax base and the way to build that tax base is to take advantage of Canadian natural resources not to undercut them.

Some commentators say we should get out of the oil business and cede the field to the despots, the tyrants and the murderers. I disagree. I see a need to supply the Canadian market with Canadian oil, produced by Canadian workers who pay into the Canadian tax system and thus underwrite the costs of Canadian civil services, the Canadian way of life and the Canadian move away from fossil fuels.

So what is needed to get us to this future? Well the obvious first choice is the Energy East pipeline. The Energy East pipeline builds heavily on existing infrastructure which means it will be faster, easier and cheaper to complete. Contrary to what some critics claim, the Energy East pipeline is not primarily an export pipeline. As the regulatory documentation clearly states Energy East is designed to move low API feedstocks (lighter crude) from the oilfields of Saskatchewan to supply the needs of low API refineries in eastern Canada. It is also intended to supply Canadian oil sands oil to a Canadian refinery in Montreal, owned by a Canadian company (Suncor) that already has plans on the books to upgrade their facility to process that feedstock.

As for the export component, Energy East would also allow Canadian oil sands oil to be shipped to our closest ally (the United States) where it is the ideal feedstock for existing refineries on the Gulf Coast. Those refineries are currently dependent on conflict oil to meet their needs as their traditional sources have dried up. We have a win-win scenario here. We supply conflict-free Canadian oil to a Canadian ally thus helping to pay for our transition away from fossil fuels while immediately taking money out of the pockets of the despots, tyrants and murderers? What can possibly be wrong with that?

As I have written previously:

"I want my personal gasoline purchases to go towards subsidizing Medicare and not subsidizing a despot or paying for a tyrant to bomb his neighbour.

I want to know that the oil used in my car was not generated using slave labour in a country without a free press, and where environmental regulations are noted by their absence rather than their application. I want my oil being produced by well-paid Canadians in a country with a demonstrably free press, strong government oversight and a strong tradition of NGOs to watch over the regulator's shoulder."

Put simply, I want the funds generated by Canadian oil to help fund our Canadian transition away from our dependence on fossil fuels. The first step in that process is getting that oil to market in the safest, least environmentally harmful manner and that means via pipeline.

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