Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. sent John Kerry a letter urging his approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, warning that the oil sands are going to be developed anyhow and suggesting new environmental regulations would be coming.
Gary Doer’s letter to the Secretary of State, published Thursday by the U.S. government as part of its public consultation process, is the latest effort in a heavy diplomatic push by Canada. Mr. Doer is one of a long line of officials who have been making the case to the U.S. for the pipeline, which would link Alberta’s oil sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast.
But some of the letter’s assertions omit key details.
The letter, sent in April, notes Canada’s heavy oil has been found to be about as carbon-intensive as heavy oil from other areas, including California. Mr. Doer points to the findings of this year’s State Department review, that Keystone would have no significant environmental impacts along the route. “A vibrant Canadian and U.S. oil industry, disciplined with effective regulation and committed to continual reduction of its environmental footprint is of great benefit to the North American economy,” Mr. Doer writes.
However, Mr. Doer’s letter notes that “per barrel,” oil-sands emissions have “fallen sharply,” but does not mention that total oil-sands emissions have sharply risen since 1990, as more barrels are churned out, and are projected to keep increasing.
Mr. Doer also claims Canada is “one half of the way to our target” of cutting emissions by 17 per cent by 2020, as compared with 2005 levels. If Mr. Kerry were to assume Canada is then on track to meet what’s known as its Copenhagen target, he’d be mistaken. Current projections show Canada will fall 113 megatonnes short of its goal of cutting 243 megatonnes. Rather than being halfway there, Canada is on pace to fall halfway short.
“It’s a big gap, so we certainly would not see Canada being halfway to the target,” said Clare Demerse, director of federal policy at the Pembina Institute, a Canadian environmental think tank.
Mr. Doer also alludes to emissions-cutting plans. “To make further progress” on cutting emissions, Canada “is turning its focus to other key economic sectors, in particular the oil and gas sector including the oil sands,” he writes. The federal government has been pledging new regulations, but hasn’t yet announced any. “I’d love to see those regulations. They do not exist,” Ms. Demerse said, adding: “I mean, yeah, and I’ve committed to losing 10 pounds, but I haven’t gone to the gym yet.”
Mr. Doer cites Canada’s “transparent environmental monitoring regime for the oil sands,” though it is still being implemented, and makes a reference to Alberta’s carbon tax, which requires major facilities to reduce emission intensity, rather than total emissions, by 12 per cent.
“For every tonne of emissions that they fall short, emitters must pay into a climate change and emissions management fund,” Mr. Doer writes, without mentioning that Alberta emitters can also buy offset credits. They don’t need to pay into the fund.
The ambassador also includes what is, in essence, a threat. “The oil sands will be developed regardless of KXL … because oil will move by rail,” he said in the letter, written before last weekend’s derailment and explosion in Lac-Mégantic, Que. The deadly disaster has directed attention at the regulations for shipping oil by rail.
Mr. Doer notes that Canada is planning to “phase out coal-fired electricity.” Under the federal regulations, existing plants can continue operating for decades. Mr. Doer also celebrates how “coal’s share of electricity fell to 11 per cent in 2011 in Canada.” This is largely due to Ontario unilaterally shuttering its coal power and fails to mention Alberta still relies heavily on coal power and approved a new plant as recently as 2011.
Mr. Doer pitches North American energy self-sufficiency, saying Canada and Mexico can fully meet American foreign-oil requirements within a decade. U.S. President Barack Obama’s energy plan, however, stressed the need to “cut our dependence on foreign oil,” rather than championing a North American strategy.