Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Turning Our Backs on Canada?

An emerging issue that sits at the crossroads of energy and environmental policy, and one that could have profound consequences for Minnesota, is the debate about the development of the Canadian oil sands. A recent New York Times article (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/07/business/07oilsands.html?_r=3&ref=busi) highlights the issues at the heart of this debate.

The Canadian oil sands represent a vital resource in bolstering our country's energy security. Because of the oil sands, Canadian crude oil reserves are second only to Saudi Arabia. For Minnesota, Canadian crude oil currently supplies over 80 percent of the oil that is refined into transportation fuels like gasoline and diesel.

However, some environmental groups in the U.S. and Canada want to halt oil sands production, arguing that the environmental impacts are too great. They believe that cutting off the U.S. market from this resource will help in their efforts to stop oil sands production.

It is foolish to think that by not using this resource in the U.S., the oil sands won't be developed. This view ignores the reality that energy use in developing countries is set to grow exponentially in the future. The article notes that the pipeline network in Canada only takes oil sands production south to the U.S. That may be true today, but it will not be true in the future if the U.S. market is cut off. Canadian crude oil will still be used and the next logical destination is developing countries like China and India that have less efficient industry and lower environmental standards. Meanwhile, the U.S. will have to rely even more on the Middle East for its crude oil supply.

As Canada's largest trading partner and consumer of its oil, we should be working with them and the oil sands industry, not against them, to address environmental concerns while not compromising energy security. Improvements have been made to lessen the environmental impact of oil sands production. We need constructive solutions, not policy threats, that realistically account for our energy needs while working to improve the environment.

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