Fraser Forum

Another celebrity tour of the oilsands, another woefully incomplete picture

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We’re barely into 2017, and we’ve had our first celebrity tour of the oilsands, with much rhetoric and lamentations (not to mention lots of spent jet, helicopter and motorcade fuel). Jane Fonda is visiting Canada for the now obligatory celebrity oilsands bashing. We had Neil Young visit in 2013 and compare Fort McMurray to a destroyed Hiroshima, we had Leo DiCaprio film a movie up here and then claim that a Chinook weather pattern was evidence of climate change, and now we have Jane Fonda.

Flying over the oilsands in the obligatory high-altitude photo-op, Ms. Fonda said:

"It's like someone took my skin and peeled it off my body over a very large surface," Fonda said after she had lunch with members of the Fort McMurray First Nation. "It made my body ache to watch it."

So there will be the inevitable camera footage focused only on ongoing mines, without a perspective on how little of Alberta is touched by such mining. Once again, a few facts from the government of Alberta:

• The oilsands industry accounts for only 0.12 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

• The industry has reduced its emissions per barrel by 28 per cent between 1990 and 2012.

• Alberta was the first jurisdiction in Canada to institute a significant carbon levy.

• 80-95 per cent of the water used in oilsands production is recycled.

• Oilsands mine operators must post reclamation bonds to ensure the environment can be remediated once operations conclude. That has happened—the first successful remediation of an oilsands mine took place in 2008.

And here’s what perspective you won’t get from a helicopter:

•  In 2013, the disturbed area of oilsands surface-minable area was about 895 km2 accounting for less than one per cent of total oilsands area and about 0.2 per cent of Alberta boreal forest, which covers 381,000 km2.

Interestingly enough though, Ms. Fonda’s visit focused as much on attacking Prime Minister Trudeau and Premier Notley for daring to entertain the thought of continuing or increasing oilsands production.  They apparently get no credit for instituting carbon taxes, coal-plant phase-outs, emissions caps, climate action plans, and so forth. Despite these actions, Ms. Fonda accuses the prime minister of having “betrayed” his commitments in the Paris climate agreement, essentially dismissing him as just another pretty face. Of course, had he and Premier Notley not campaigned on a promise of continuing oilsands production and building pipelines, there’s a good chance neither of them would have gotten elected. A majority of Canadians supported all three of the prominent pipeline proposals up for debate in early 2016.

When asked whether or not, for example, phasing out coal gains Alberta some social license to build pipelines, the actress shouted, “Well that’s ridiculous. That’s absolutely ridiculous.”

Amazingly, I have to agree with Ms. Fonda. The idea that any actions we might take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will lead to the granting of “social license” from environmentalists is indeed ridiculous. Let’s hope that our prime minister and Alberta’s premier take that reality to heart and are resolute in moving infrastructure forward without attaining that unattainable license.


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