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Pipeline Sustainability

Pipeline sustaniability

The sustainability of Pipelines

Patrick Moore, guest columnist
Tuesday, March 26, 2013


When it comes to producing, transporting and ultimately exporting Alberta oil to U.S. and Asian markets, the rhetoric is in high gear in Canada and the U.S. So it might be useful to take a hard look at our options in the hope of resetting the discussion.

Oil is essential for more than 90% of transportation worldwide and will remain so, at least until two things change: Electric cars become as affordable as those powered with gasoline and diesel, and can travel 500 km or more on a single charge, thereby eliminating so-called “range anxiety.” Until these ‘game-changers’ occur, the strong demand for fossil-based transportation fuel will likely hold for a very long time. After all, there are more than 20 models of all-electric cars to choose from today, yet they account for well below 1% of new car sales. The market is signalling a strong preference for conventional, affordable gas- and diesel-powered cars, despite the generous subsidies many governments have offered for all-electric vehicles.

Having visited Canada’s oilsands extensively, and having worked on environmental issues for more than 40 years, I am at ease with the notion that the oil is produced under the best environmental regulations, labour conditions, human rights laws, and First Nations participation in the world.

I’m an ecologist, not an economist, but I understand economics well enough to know oil will be delivered to markets that demand it, by one means or another. There are more than one billion automobiles and millions more buses, trucks, trains and aircraft that cannot operate without oil. Without oil, economies and civilization in general would come to a virtual standstill.

From the perspective of sustainability, where aspects of environment, economy and society work in balance with one-another, decisions that bring civilization to a virtual standstill are obviously to be avoided. Pipelines, properly constructed and properly maintained, make sense and should be part of our sustainability equation.

I don’t have to tell you that oil can also be delivered overland via rail cars and tanker trucks. But it is clear that pipelines are superior both environmentally and economically.

It is an added environmental benefit that less fossil fuel energy is consumed while delivering oil by pipeline than by rail or truck transport.

Having stated my preference, on sustainability grounds, for pipelines, I also believe the environmental movement has every right to demand the highest environmental standards for any industrial development — including pipeline projects. But I do not accept that the environmental movement should be given a veto over national energy or economic policy. That is for elected governments.

My strong conviction on who should, and should not, have a veto on environmental issues stems from years of international sustainability work. I’ve had several meetings lately in India on issues around energy and agriculture. About 300 million people, mostly farmers, are without electricity in India. Yet environmental activists have blocked virtually every hydroelectric project recently proposed to provide electricity, irrigation and flood control.

As a result of this effective environmentalist veto, India has embarked on a massive build-out of coal-fired power plants that blacken the skies and provide no irrigation or flood control. This is what results from misguided campaigns led by ill-informed activists who do not think about the consequences of their wrong-headed positions, and demand veto power.

Let’s avoid this notion of providing a single interest group with a veto over important aspects of energy policy, including pipelines. And while we’re at it, let’s avoid making decisions on crucial energy infrastructure on the basis of sensationalism, misinformation and fear.

—Dr. Moore is co-founder and former leader of Greenpeace and Chairman Emeritus at


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