There has been significant ink devoted to the recent pipeline proposals in the United States and Canada linking oilsands production to world markets. There has also been some interesting rhetoric being thrown around by the federal government and others lobbying in support of these projects.
In my opinion the “radical” rhetoric results in one primary reaction among those opposing the Northern Gateway and Keystone pipelines. Opponents, recognizing attempts to marginalize their opinions, will undoubtedly feel embattled and emboldened in their positions. It is also unlikely that such rhetoric will shift public opinion to any great degree. There are, and will always be, those who will feel the risks associated with pipelines and tanker traffic off the West Coast, in the case of the Northern Gateway Pipeline, are not worth the risks to land, water and biodiversity and others who feel the benefits outweigh those risks.
Making matters worse, these proposals hit the airwaves and those impacted by them with a “my way or the highway” approach. People are confronted late in the planning and assessment stages by industry proponents and government alike. This leaves people wondering, “There must be a better way”. It doesn’t help optics when, in the case of Keystone, TransCanada appeared adamantly wed to a specific route, only to change its tune once things didn’t appear to be going well.
I would argue that we are failing to have effective and timely dialogue on these important issues of public interest. There is a need, as espoused by the Alberta Premier and others, to have a national energy policy (or a Canadian energy strategy), to truly canvass options and alternatives to how we develop our energy resources in a manner that minimizes impacts. What alternatives exist to the Northern Gateway proposal, if any? What would happen if we refined more bitumen nationally or provincially? What export requirements would still exist? What routes would ensure the least risk to the environment?
The key is that a Canadian energy strategy must truly consider environmental outcomes. This means recognizing that some approaches to energy development will be deemed inappropriate, and others will be accompanied by increased costs. Now some people reading this may get their hackles up and claim that such an approach would create barriers to investment and frustrate the free market. To those I say, we can rely on the invisible hand but don’t be surprised if there is a “radical” slap to the face, coming from those with legitimate public interest concerns. The market doth not the public interest make.