R23: Harper’s Economy & the Tar Sands

I wrote yesterday that Harper runs Canada like a business (Bowles, 2015); I thought I’d take a couple of days and look at some precise ways that he achieves that aim: and their impact on the country. First there is the tar sands. It is true that the tar sands remain one of the most significant sources of petroleum in the world: some estimates are that the deposits in Alberta are the third largest in the world. (Alberta Energy, 2014). The problem is, the oil in the tar sands is not as easily accessible as the gushers we think of in Texas. “Tar sands” is a fitting name, and the usable oil has to be extracted from the tarry mix of thick oil, water, sand and other materials the comprise the muck we call “tar sands”. Unfortunately, it costs money and energy to do that extraction, and there is an impact on the environment that is not generally included in the cost. It has only been recently that the cost of oil in general has been high enough to justify the expense: otherwise it costs more to extract the oil from the sands than it is worth on the open market. So although we have potential riches locked up in those tar sands: it is also expensive to get to them.

Canada has been an extractive economy since it was founded. As an enormous country, we have great riches in natural resources: unfortunately they are the kind of resources that can only be used once, and can cause enormous impact if used incorrectly. Originally beaver pelts, we’ve also moved though forestry,agriculture and mining. Some of those are sustainable: but not if done purely in response to markets. Other governments have tried to balance our economy between resources, manufacturing, services and high tech: but Harper has been determined to keep our economy based squarely on the tar sands. Although there was announced support for renewable energy development in 2012(NRCan), little has come it; our interest in such technologies of the future has been dubbed “indifferent” (International Business Times, 2015). The oil companies love it, and they’ve made enormous profits over the last few years… though because there are few refineries north of the border, little of that has stayed in Canada (Huffington Post, 2012). Harper wants to extract and sell Canadian oil, not process it.

The problem is: and we’ve predicted this problem since I was studying Earth Science in the 90s, though Harper chose to “overlook” it: the tar sands are dirty. First the extraction process destroys the environment; though because it’s all in unpopulated land of Alberta, people don’t notice as quickly. But it does take money to reclaim. And it’s so expensive to extract tar sand oil that when the price drops (as it has been) Canada’s whole economy shudders. Every sector feels the loss: because so much of our economy is tied up with oil and its use. Instead of leading the development and using renewable energies, the bulk of our economy is mired in petroleum.

And so Harper “vows to stay the course in face of economic headwinds” (Toronto Sun, 2015). And if we were talking about a retirement portfolio and investments, I might be tempted to agree. (My retirement funds are with Edward Jones in Arkansas; and that’s exactly what I do at a time like this. Because they are paid professionals in the investment realm.) To “stay the course” with Harper is to continue the Canadian dependence on oil from the tar sands: to trust that instead of developing new, efficient technologies and renewable energy, the world will stay focused on an energy regime that is rooted in the twentieth century. To “stay the course” with Harper is to exploit our own land and devastate our country: to shatter its value it now rather leaving it for our children. That is not a course I want to stay on, and I believe it is only a minority of Canadians who do: mostly those who own stocks in oil companies. Which is not a good enough reason.

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