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Graham: Canadians need to improve their energy literacy

energy literacy

By Bruce Graham, Calgary Herald

April 24, 2013

At its core, Canada is an export nation. And our largest export is oil and gas.

As Canadians, we’re lucky to have the third largest oil reserves in the world — 97 per cent of them located in the oilsands in northern Alberta.

We’ve gained the skills to exploit these reserves in an environmentally friendly manner and to export them primarily via pipelines using innovative technology and tough environmental regulation.

During the next 25 years, the oilsands are expected to contribute more than $2.1 trillion to the Canadian economy — about $84 billion a year. That’s money that goes to all parts of Canada and creates jobs and industry.

Over that same period, the oilsands are expected to contribute about $311 billion in federal taxes to help pay for Canada’s health, education and social programs.

And new oilsands investments are predicted to grow Canada’s oilsands-related jobs from 75,000 in 2010 to 905,000 in 2035 — creating 126,000 jobs in provinces other than Alberta.

The energy sector remains the largest employer of aboriginal people in the country, and in 2010, purchased about $1.3 billion in goods and services from aboriginal-owned businesses.

So why, given the enormous importance of this industry, does the energy sector need to apologize or suggest we can do better? Sure we can do better — we are still in the early stages of developing this resource.

Let’s stop apologizing.

Indeed, this country has some of the toughest environmental and human rights laws and regulations on the books. Oilsands greenhouse gas emissions account for 1/1,000th of the world’s carbon emissions, and through the ingenuity of Canadians, those emissions per barrel have been declining. Since 1990, carbon emissions intensity from the oilsands has been reduced by 26 per cent.

In Canada, we are developing world-leading carbon capture and storage projects. In fact, a Calgary-based company is among the finalists in the Virgin Earth Challenge for carbon negative technology — further reinforcing our technical expertise and commitment to the environment.

Alberta’s oilsands and Canada’s extensive pipeline network are highly regulated and closely monitored.

New proposed pipelines, like the Northern Gateway, will be among the most advanced, safest pipelines in the world, and will include sophisticated computerized monitoring systems, aerial patrols, routine inspections and detailed education outreach to local landowners and communities.

Unfortunately, many Canadians simply don’t understand how important the oilsands — and the pipeline networks that transport this oil — are to the future strength of the nation.

A recent study by the University of Calgary on energy literacy demonstrates how much work needs to be done to educate Canadians on energy issues.

As the university’s Jean-Sebastien Rioux notes, “Canada is in danger of having a general population that is divorced from the process of wealth creation via the responsible development of our plentiful natural resources — both renewable and non-renewable — which accounts directly for over 15 per cent of our gross domestic product, and about 20 per cent if we include the indirect contribution to our GDP through the purchase of goods and services such as construction, machinery, professional services and transportation.”

We need to vastly improve energy literacy in this country so that we can have intelligent debates about energy policy.

We must begin to realize the importance of diversifying our energy market beyond the United States. Canada loses $50 million a day, or $17 billion a year, because our only customer, the United States, receives a discount on the international market price.

If Canadian oil could reach tidewater via pipelines to the West Coast, like Northern Gateway, we could eliminate this discount, meaning more money in provincial and federal coffers — and more jobs across the country. Similarly, moving product east via TransCanada’s converted gas pipeline to Quebec and New Brunswick provides opportunities to get to tidewater.

The risks of building and operating pipelines are manageable; it can be done in a safe and environmentally sound manner.

The real risk is a public that’s been and continues to be misinformed on energy matters.

The focus must now be on better educating Canadians on our natural resource and energy abundance — and on the transportation networks that get these resources to market.

No less than the future prosperity of this country depends on it.


Bruce Graham is president and CEO of Calgary Economic Development.

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