ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Le "sale" or noir d’Alberta attise le convoitises
by Marion d’Allard
Translated Monday 8 December 2014, by
With its giant oil pipeline project, TransCanada opens the way to massive exportation of Western Canada’s extremely polluting oil sands. Petrol producers are sharing the windfall whilst Europe, with France at the forefront, may well see it as a way of meeting its own energy needs.
Nothing seems to be able to stop Canada in its haste to exploit oil sands. The latest project, conducted by the mammoth TransCanada, is the Energy East Pipeline. Started at the beginning of the year, it surpasses all other northern America’s "tubes" in both capacity and environmental impact. The iron snake, Energy East will span 4,600 kilometers, from Hardisty in Alberta to Saint-John in New Brunswick. It will transport 1.1 million barrels of crude daily, from the oil sand mines to the Atlantic coast ports. By directly providing the east of the country with Western Canadian petrol, the pipeline will indeed lower their petrol imports. But for many experts, the aim of such a project is transatlantic exportation, to European countries amongst others. On one hand, western European countries, particularly France, will be less dependent on the Gulf States. On the other hand, Canada, which is suffering from a decrease in US demand due to its own domestic shale oil and gas production, has found a new market for its production. In other words, it should work out for everyone. That being said, oil sands, the latest Eldorado for black gold speculators is by far the "dirtiest" hydrocarbon in the world.
An environmental aberration
To reach oil sand layers, the petrol industry starts by massive deforestation of the areas to be mined. Once bare earth is reached the surface is scraped until the oil sand layer is reached. The thick and viscous bitumen is found at different depths, often up to several meters below the earth. A mixture of fresh water, chemicals and explosive products is then injected at a very high temperature to dilute the bitumen so that it can be pumped through the pipeline. This method alone is an environmental aberration. Compared to a barrel of traditional petrol, the production of a barrel made with oil sands triples greenhouse gas emissions and uses four barrels of fresh water. The arrival of Energy East makes a 40% increase in Alberta’s sand production possible. But it gets worse. Of the 4,600 kilometers of pipeline, 3,000 already existed as a gas pipeline built in the 1960s and 70s. Such dilapidated installations increase the risk of leaks. 1,600 kilometers of pipeline still need to be lain, crossing the south east of the Quebec province along the Saint Lawrence River which supplies half of the region’s population with drinking water. As well as the pipeline, TransCanada plans to build energy storage sites, pumping stations and two port terminals. The creation of one of the terminals at Cacouna on the banks of the Saint Lawrence represents a direct threat to the marine population which includes protected species. For the Canadian government headed by the very liberal Stephen Harper - who by the way withdrew Canada from the Kyoto Protocol in 2006 and refused Nicolas Hulot’s visit at the beginning of last October - the results are worth it, despite the warnings by environmental protection associations. The petrol producers lobbied masterfully and the road to a lucrative market is now open. The French company Total, which bought the Canadian company UTS Energy in July 2010, recently signed a cooperation agreement with the Canadian mining and petrol distribution company Suncor. An agreement regarding...oil sands mining.
François Hollande’s visit
Given the context, François Hollande’s visit to Alberta a few days ago is far from innocent. "I hope that France will be able to continue to develop North-West Canada’s enormous wealth, whether it be with mining processes, transformation, the transportation of hydrocarbons or by the construction of infrastructures", declared the President of the Republic during his visit - despite the fact that Paris will host the international climate conference COP21 in 2015. Apparently France is no stranger to contradictions when it comes to sustainable development.