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U.S. President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks during an event at Georgetown University March 30, 2011 in Washington, DC. Obama outlined his plan for the nation's energy security calling for a one-third cut on oil imports by 2020 to reduce the U.S. dependence on foreign energy. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks during an event at Georgetown University March 30, 2011 in Washington, DC. Obama outlined his plan for the nation's energy security calling for a one-third cut on oil imports by 2020 to reduce the U.S. dependence on foreign energy. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Globe Editorial

Obama's oil independence speech no gift to Canada Add to ...

Canadians have little cause to be encouraged by Barack Obama's brief description of Canada as "stable and steady and reliable" in his speech on Wednesday about energy independence - one of a long series of mostly empty discourses on that topic by American presidents, going back to Richard Nixon in 1974.

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Instead, Mr. Obama is advocating incentives - that is, subsidies of one kind or another - for more petroleum production in the U.S.; he wants to "push the oil industry" which is "just sitting on supplies of American energy that are ready to be tapped" in "tens of millions of acres of leases where they're not producing a single drop."

Of course, the oil companies are not merely lazy; those untapped acres are properties in the U.S. where production is not profitable under present conditions.

Among Mr. Obama's more persuasive proposals, however, is an idea influenced by the former wildcat oil prospector T. Boone Pickens. The President intends to convert much of the federal government's own fleet of trucks and other vehicles to natural gas, a domestic energy source that has become accessible quite recently.

The purchase of many natural-gas vehicles would create a critical mass that would lead to a healthy number of gas stations equipped accordingly - thus making natural gas convenient for consumers and private businesses as well. This policy would bear its own considerable cost, but at least the national government's procurement choice would be nudging the rest of economy, instead of distorting it with subsidies and tax breaks.

Canada is not mentioned at all in the long Blueprint for a Security Energy Future that accompanied Mr. Obama's speech. He is not offering to give steady, reliable Canadian oil any preference, or suggesting any exclusion of Middle Eastern or Venezuelan oil imports. Nor should he. But Canada, and in particular the Alberta oil sands (not mentioned in the speech) should continue to be treated fairly, under NAFTA.

Canadians have good reason to object to subsidized U.S. oil production, but they cannot expect to be, as a matter of U.S. public policy, a specially favoured oil supplier.

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