The provincial economic and energy plans espoused by government, former politicians and editorial writers are based on denying any facts that contradict fossil fuel and big business lobbies.
The latest scheme is a diluted bitumen pipeline (tar sands crude) from Alberta. Left unspoken is that this ‘great opportunity’ exists only because no place else will accept the risks these pipelines pose, and with good reason. Diluted bitumen pipelines leak with alarming regularity and consequences.
TransCanada and Enbridge are the companies that would build this pipeline. TransCanada’s 1,070 mile first leg of the Keystone XL pipeline has had more than 30 leaks and incidents in just two years.
Enbridge is responsible for the best-known bitumen spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan. After two years, 30 miles of the Kalamazoo River remains closed to all uses, because diluted bitumen is heavier than standard crude and sinks in water rather than floats. Conventional methods of cleaning it up are useless. Airborne toxins, including carcinogenic benzene, sickened 60 per cent of the local population. Cleanup so far has cost more than 10 times that of a normal oil spill, making Kalamazoo the costliest on-shore oil spill in U.S. history.
Enbridge’s Alberta offices were accused of gross incompetence in detecting and responding to the leak, and for not even having a plan to deal with sinking bitumen, despite government regulatory oversight.
U.S. records show that in the last 10 years, automated leak detection systems caught only five per cent of spills. Canada’s National Energy Board’s 63 regulators are each responsible for about 1,000 kilometres of pipeline, and from 2007 to 2010 checked only seven per cent of cases for corrective actions.
Scientific studies have only just begun to determine if bitumen is even safe to move through pipelines. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences findings are due next year.
The U.S. and British Columbia rejected bitumen pipelines, despite extraordinary claims about job creation.
TransCanada claimed 20,000 direct jobs for the U.S. Keystone pipeline, plus spin-offs. However, the U.S. State Department put the number at 5,000 to 6,000. An independent review by Cornell University Global Labor Institute calculated 500 to 1,400 temporary construction jobs.
If poorly studied environmental and health risks, poisoned water and air, high incidence of failing technology, overwhelmed regulatory agencies, and inflated jobs claims sound familiar, they should. They are the same issues surrounding shale gas.
More importantly, both fossil fuels are among the worst contributors to climate change.
Recently, financial and business institutions (the World Bank and PriceWaterhouseCooper), the U.S. intelligence community, and virtually every climate scientist agreed that climate change is happening faster than forecast, passing the point of prevention.
Immediate drastic reduction of fossil fuel usage is necessary to limit catastrophic consequences. Experts say if the tar sands are developed, it’s game over for climate change.
Thus, N.B.’s use of these industries to solve our budget woes means explicitly denying the reality of climate change, and accepting the implicit destruction of our children’s future.
Our denial springs from a craving for a silver-bullet solution from the last century to address our 21st century problems. It shows up when front-page news stories decry the lack of funds for road repairs, without mentioning that the shale industry is a major destroyer of roads.
Editors warn that government can’t finance industry, but in the next breath call for a second nuclear reactor – the most heavily government subsidized undertaking in the world.
Ignore the marketing slogans that only some big business can save us. We’ve put our economic eggs in that basket before, and yet here we are again.
Einstein said that you can’t solve a problem using the same thinking that created it. We must change our mindset and examine the many possible alternatives suited to the world we will face. In economics, as in nature, diversity is the key to resilience.
Presently we have time and resources; later we will have exhausted both.
Adapting to change is scary and requires work, but is necessary and rewarding. Denial may be comforting, but it simply delays disaster.
Jim Emberger is a retired software developer, environmental educator and former investigator for the U.S. Federal Energy Administration. He lives in Taymouth.