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Stephen Harper’s Petro-State Is Built On Tar Sands

This article first appeared in the Washington Spectator.
Late 21st-century graduate college students of business learning the growing drawback of stranded belongings will virtually certainly deal with the history of Canada’s Athabasca Oil Sand (aka tar sands). The case research they read will either describe the gradual abandonment of the world’s largest reserve of bituminous crude or they will learn concerning the tar sands’ miraculous last-minute escape from becoming the world’s largest stranded asset. For either final result, the turning level they are going to look back on is just about now.

Of course, some of Alberta’s crude has made its technique to market, but a lot slower than it could have, or was projected to, that producers, refiners, shippers, banks and different traders in tar-sands growth are starting to wonder whether they’ve backed an excellent play by investing over $160 billion to show tar into oil.

So the financial stranding process has already begun. Five international vitality giants–Shell, Whole, Suncor, Statoil and Occidental–have lower bait on major bitumen deposits in Alberta, during which they’d already invested billions. Suncor has simply slashed one other billion dollars from its capital spending program and $800 million more from operating expenses. And as oil costs slide decrease, commercial and funding banks are reconsidering future underwritings. An industry that recently envisioned doubling production over the following 20 years is now taking a look at one thing nearer to the alternative, a halving of production or worse in far fewer than 20 years.

American media coverage of the tar sands has centered primarily on the approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which, if accomplished, would carry 830,000 barrels of Athabasca crude, daily, to the world’s largest refining heart close to Houston next to a booming export hub. Because American and Canadian politicians and oil execs have lobbied so onerous for its approval, People are inclined to imagine that construction of Keystone will safe the way forward for the tar sands. Not true. To even strategy break-even, at least 4 other pipeline routes can be needed to hold bituminous crude to the world’s market: two to the Canadian west, one to the east and one north. If two or three of those lines are in some way stopped, and that is quite prone to occur, the stranding of the tar sands will escalate, Canada will cease being a petro-state, and its enterprise leaders will start their seek for yet another staple to drive its national economic system.

Staples Financial system
Canada has always been what economists buy superman t shirt india vs england name “a staples economic system,” reliant nearly utterly on one staple resource after another. Fur was followed by cod, then wheat, potash, minerals, timber, and hydropower. Immediately, Canada’s staple useful resource is carbon, some of which derives from coal but most of it from oil. Oil, the truth is, represents 46 % of Canada’s commodity production. Sadly, over 90 % of its reserves are bitumen, the pricey manufacturing of which nets only 4 p.c to Canada’s GDP. But oil represents forty percent of the country’s exports. So the urgency to develop and export the tar-sands oil has change into a national priority.

Canada’s tar-sands booster-in-chief is Prime Minister Stephen Harper, an Alberta-based petrolero who rose to prominence in politics as Chief Coverage Officer of the Reform Occasion, Canada’s model of the American Tea Social gathering. Based in 1987, Reform merged in 2000 with the floundering Progressive Conservative Social gathering to type a brand new and virtually unbeatable nationwide coalition calling itself the Canadian Conservative Reform Alliance (after including “Party” to its identify, it grew to become CCRAP, and was nicknamed “see-crap”). Harper turned celebration leader of CCRAP, which has since won two national elections. It’s as if Ted Cruz grew to become the Republican front-runner and won the White Home twice.

Map by Kevin Kreneck
As soon as a member of Canada’s Younger Liberals and a supporter of Pierre Trudeau, Harper went west as a younger man, worked in Alberta’s oil fields and followed his father into employment with Imperial Oil, Canada’s second-largest petroleum firm (69 % owned by ExxonMobil). There, like so many other western Canadians, he grew to despise Jap Canada, reasonably just like the scion of a prominent American family moving from Connecticut to Texas. In Calgary, he turned an outspoken and eloquent opponent of Trudeau”s National Vitality Plan, which seemed set upon nationalizing Canada’s last staple resource. While there is still speak of nationalizing oil and tar-sands oil in Canada, and in some polls a majority of Canadians help the idea, that couldn’t possibly occur with Harper in power.

At the 2012 World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland, Harper announced that the expanded production and export of tar-sands bitumen was a nationwide precedence. Canada, he predicted, was set to grow to be an vitality superpower. In Ottawa, he took instant and aggressive steps to weaken environmental protections like the Navigable Waters Protection Act, which was hindering pipeline building, and to fast-monitor tar-sands manufacturing.

But Harper’s focus remained on Europe, the place in 2012 the European Parliament and member European Union governments have been debating phrases of a revised Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) and considering an official ban on the import of “soiled fuels” — oil shale, liquid coal and tar sands, all of which have high extraction impacts, releasing more greenhouse fuel than standard oil by their “properly to wheel” life cycle. A Stanford College examine that many members of the EU Parliament relied on projected a 23 % improve of lifecycle carbon emissions from tar-sands manufacturing.

Harper and his advisers immediately saw the hazard of that examine and the disaster a European ban on soiled gas represented for Canada’s largest new staple. One vote in Brussels could go away the tar sands stranded instantly and eternally, even when oil producers found a route to the Chinese language market.

Throughout the 2 years leading up to the EU parliamentary vote on the issue, Harper mobilized Canadian oil executives and his cabinet behind a $30 million nation-to-nation lobbying effort. Their first target was the Stanford examine, which they drove into the ground with their very own trade-funded research.

Week after week, planeloads of oil execs and PR flacks crossed the Atlantic, Harper aboard each time he may very well be, laterally threatening a trade struggle with Europe if the vote went the wrong Anakin_Skywalker way. Side trips had been made to Washington. And members of the European Parliament have been flown to Ottawa and Alberta for gold-plated junkets.

With out Harper’s effort, the Parliament in Brussels would almost definitely have voted to ban dirty fuels. After two years of intense lobbying, the measure lost by a 12-vote margin 337 to 325, with forty eight abstentions. A few months later, within the fall of 2014, the first shipment of tar-sands crude arrived in Europe, with many extra to observe, as a vote on the Fuel Quality Directive will not come up again for at least four years.

Within the meantime, if a few EU member nations condemn tar-sands oil, and ban its import, extra small nails might be driven into the tar-sands coffin. And if two of the proposed supply-to-port pipelines on the drawing boards are blocked (see map and sidebar here), extra producers and traders will abandon the sands.

If Canada’s tar sands do one day develop into stranded, the equivalent annual emissions of over 65 coal-fired plants and 50 million passenger automobiles will remain underground. And a number of the credit score (or blame) will go to environmental activists, aboriginal communities, litigious farmers and teams like Greenpeace,, who’ve added to their anti-pipeline advocacy a marketing campaign to stress institutional buyers to divest their “Massive Fossil” holdings. Even earlier than divestment started, 9 of 10 tar-sands producers’ stocks had underperformed the market. So they are susceptible.

Strand Their Capital
In keeping with the Institute for Vitality Economics and Monetary Evaluation, a think tank in Cleveland, the campaigns of environmentalists and native communities have already price tar-sands producers $17 billion. However that has not stemmed the willpower of the North American fossil-gasoline business to maneuver Athabasca crude to refineries world wide.

Despite the insistence of American Republicans and petroleros that every thing rests on completion of Keystone XL, the pipeline means little to the U.S. economy. In Canada, however, economists estimate that U.S. rejection of the pipeline may price the country as a lot as $1.7 billion a 12 months, far more significant than the lack of two or three hundred everlasting jobs the pipeline would create in the U.S. And by merely raising break-even increased than it already is for bitumen producers, stopping Keystone might place the tar sands in far greater danger of being stranded.

While assets just like the tar sands ought to be stranded, because mining and burning them will increase the temperature of an already overheated planet a level or extra, they are more likely to turn into stranded, because they’re both unable to reach market or have misplaced market worth.

The unhappy irony is that before Canada chosen tar-sands crude to be its staple export, the nation was poised to grow to be a serious international contributor to clean power. It had signed climate treaties, promoted solar-power, developed hydroelectric power and had a prosperous buy superman t shirt india vs england renewable-vitality trade under sail, for which the country possessed all the required natural and financial assets. Then one highly effective neoliberal free-market zealot decided to double down on excessive-carbon fuels and announce to the world that tar sands would turn out to be the subsequent nation-building staple for his country.