Predictions for a new political era—forecasting energy trends for 2006

This is the first bulletin in a five part seriesconcerning the challenges and opportunities expected to present themselves overthe coming year.

This is no horoscope, but as we enter the second half ofthe third millennium’s first decade (sounds futuristic- I know), a little analysis and informed speculation is perhaps warranted.

The federal general electionspicked us all up in the political whirlwind of campaigns and debates, delayingthe Dogwood Initiative’s annual forecast of upcoming trends.

Nonetheless, the delay allowed us to mull over the agendathat a new government is likely to implement in leading us forwards (or backwards) this year. Withthe possibilities of blue skies and change on the horizon, it is perhaps useful to anticipatethe trends and challenges that we expect to gain momentum in 2006.

We waited until after the federal election to confirm the forecast of the new minorityConservative government that will inevitably affect the political climate. Thisrealigned federal political landscape will have profound impacts for British Columbia.

Despite having a different name, the provincial Liberals arephilosophically closer to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives than to the federalLiberals. It is important to note that both Campbell’sLiberals and Harper’s Conservatives have a strong belief that government can bereduced to an accounting exercise.

And it is no secret that both share a nearcontempt for all things environmental. The Conservatives’ contempt wasillustrated by their refusal, unique among the political parties, to answersurveys from BC Sustainable Energy Association, Sierra Club of Canada andGreenpeace on environmental and energy issues.

So 2006 should be a year of big change, with the looming potential oftectonic shifts giving us a big shake down , particularly in regards to energy, democratic reformand Aboriginal issues.

So after checking our sources, testing the prevailing windsand glancing at our tea leaves through our trusty crystal ball, we have madethe following predictions …


Tankers and offshore oil and gas

The fish, wildlife and peoples of BC’s fragile coast mayface the biggest challenge presented by the new Conservative government. Ourcrystal ball sees a Conservative government trying to move quickly to withdraw theexisting ban on offshore oil and gas development and tanker traffic.

This banhas been in place since 1972 serving to protect BC’s vulnerable coastline fromoil spills, but is unlikely to last under the Conservatives.

A parliamentarymajority is not necessary to withdraw the moratorium, or to create a loopholethat would allow crude oil to be transported on oil tankers 140 km inlandthrough the Douglas Channel to Kitimat.

However, with the NDP having wonmost of the ridings along BC’s coast, we now have potential partners in Ottawato help organize an effective opposition to the opening up of the coast totankers and fossil fuel development

Removing the moratorium will produce applause from Mr.Campbell’s provincial Liberals, but boos from most British Columbians.

Expectvigorous opposition from First Nations, fishers and environmentalists. ABC-wide poll, commissioned from Mustel Group by Dogwood Initiative and others,confirmed that three in four (75%) of British Columbians oppose tankers in BC’sinland coastal waters. This level of opposition to oil tankers was consistentacross all regions of BC and was highest on the South Coast and Vancouver Island (83.5%).

Support for a ban also cuts across all political partieswith over 72% of voters intending to vote for parties that oppose oil tankersin northern waters.

In the last days before the election, the variouscandidates’ positions on oil tankers and offshore oil and gas became a wedgeissue in some ridings, with a little help from Dogwood Initiative and ourfriends. Perhaps their positions on offshoreissues contributed to the near shutout of Conservatives in BC’s inside coastalridings.

Certainly the NDP’s opposition to offshore development and tankershelped them win in Skeena-Bulkley, Vancouver Island-North, Nanaimo-Cowichan, and Victoria. Given the new political landscape, heightenedcontroversy is foreseeable on tanker issues in the coming year.

Pipelines, tar sands and mega-projects

Linked with the threat to the offshore moratorium, is the issue oftankers needed to service Enbridge’s proposed Gateway pipelines fromAlbertato Kitimat.

Enbridge wants to build a pipeline that will move up to a millionbarrels of tar sands crude each day across this 1,200 km span, to be loadedonto tankers bound for fuel-addicted California, China and India. A parallelpipeline would allow a toxic mix of chemicals and petroleum derivatives called”condensate” to be imported and moved to the oil patch to help ease the flow ofheavy tar sands crude as it is shipped through pipes.

Although investors (particularly the Chinese) are veryenthusiastic, the Gateway pipelines already face stiff opposition. FirstNations whose unceded territories will have to be crossed have privatelyindicated their objections.

The removal of the moratorium, or creation of aloophole for oil tankers traveling east-west, is just one of the manypolitical-regulatory hurdles Enbridge’s project faces. The company isvulnerable because it is trying to move fast. Enbridge is competing for financingand crude oil supply with three other tar sands pipelines.

In 2006, the legal, financial and political fights focused around Canada’senergy priorities will begin to highlight the undesirable consequences of thetar sands’ unchecked growth. A new alliance of North American non-profits hasrecently formed to co-ordinate these efforts. The Enbridge pipeline will likelybe the first salvo- the catalyst of this debate- and Dogwood Initiative will beat the centre.

Climate Change, Kyoto and thelack of a Canadian Energy Policy

Canada’sattempts to be a leader on climate change and Kyotoare likely to be torpedoed by the new Conservative government. This puts Mr.Harper’s government at odds with the vast majority of Canadians, 74% of whomsupport Kyoto.

Despite vigorously critiquing the Liberals’ Kyotoefforts, Mr. Harper has failed to identify his plan for addressing climatechange. Like George W. Bush’s administration down south, the Conservatives haveplayed a shell game, trying to convince Canadians that addressing pollution isa better strategy.

The good news is Mr. Harper’s commitment to a new Clean Air Act that requires reductions insmog-causing pollutants such as Nitrogen Oxides, (NOx), Sulphur Dioxide (SO2)and particulate matter.

But reducing pollutants will do nothing to address thebiggest issue facing our nation and civilization-the growing climate crisis.Instead of moving forward, the Conservatives want to move sideways and create astand-alone, “Made-in-Canada” plan to reduce emissions.

Like their Liberal predecessors, the Conservatives seem to have  faith that science and new technologies will solvethe problem. Haven’t we heard this one before?

New technologies to reduceemissions are a part of the solution, but it isn’t the answer, especially ifwe continue to ground our energy strategy within a fossil fuel-producing paradigm.  

New technology will never be able to offset the enormous emissions caused by projects such as the tar san
ds,offshore drilling on both coasts, and the Mackenzie Valley gas and pipeline projects,all of which contribute vastly to the climate change problem.

TheConservatives and both the federal and the provincial Liberals are out of stepwith British Columbians’ priorities on energy. The Mustel Group poll we commissionedalso showed that over 8 in 10 (86%) of BC residents say that when it comes toenergy policy, Canada’s top priority should be alternatives like solar and windpower (chosen by 57% of those polled) and energy efficient technologies thatconserve power (30%), rather than new sources of oil (8%). Yet only the Greensand NDP make these alternatives and conservation a priority.

This trend willprobably begin to change in the next few years, as the hard facts andopinionpolls start to influence the other parties.  Expect the FederalLiberals to become much more aggressive critics now that they are nolonger responsible for implementing emission controls, particularly nowthat Anne McLellan from Edmonton in no longer an MP, being out of theLiberal caucus. 

NAFTA and the lack of a Canadian Energy Policy

The lack of a coherent, sustainable and secure plan for Canada’sfuture energy needs is a political omission with potentially disastrous consequences.Expect the debate to get more attention in 2006, as more human and naturalcrises interrupt supplies, cause spikes in prices at the pump and ferment thedebate about the effects of “peak oil.”

Some little known facts will drive the issues:

  1. Canadian fossil fuel consumption is going up.Canadian use of gas has increased by 11% and oil by 13% since 1997.
  2. Production of Canadian fossil fuels is dropping.Canada has surpassedpeak on gas production and is within a few years of peaking in oil output evenwith the tar sands.
  3. The proportionality rules in NAFTA Article 605have locked Canada
    into exporting current levels of oil and gas to the U.S.even if we face domestic shortages. Thus we must maintain our current exportlevels of 70% of our oil and 56% of our gas to the US,even if these supplies are dwindling on our side of the border.

Few Canadians are aware of these facts, so instead of protecting Canadians’long-term interests, our political leaders have been … well … doing nothing.

Buoyedby windfall revenues from fossil fuels, the Liberals never mention supplysecurity, probably in fear of Trudeau’s reviled National Energy Strategy legacy.

The Conservatives also avoid discussing supply security, perhaps because theircore Alberta supporters are getting rich off of Alberta and Ottawa’s currentexport-driven policies.

The NDP has suggested using oil as leverage in thesoftwood lumber dispute and promotes renewables, but is silent on energysecurity.

Meanwhile, Ralph Klein and his fossil fuel-fattened Albertacronies use this silence to define (and defacto set) Canadian energy policy.

The trends, and political inaction, combined with the “export markets first,domestic second” rules of NAFTA, leave Canadasusceptible to supply crunches-especially if a disruption limits global supply.

A recent op-ed article in the Globe and Mail pointed out that Canadais the only NAFTA signatory without an energy security strategy. While both Canadaand Mexicoexport substantial amounts of crude oil to the US,Mexico hasensured its own sovereignty by exempting itself from NAFTA’s rules on energyproportionality, in times of shortage. Unfortunately, Canada’s leaders signed on!

With the abandonment of Canada’sKyoto commitments, and a movetowards a so-called “Made-in-Canada” emissions strategy, expect the beginningof a vigorous debate on a national energy strategy.

Expect cracks to form inthe Alberta-led, fossil fuel dominated approach, particularly as Canadais framed as the “tar nation” internationally.

The consequences of decreasingdomestic supplies of oil and gas should finally hit the political radar ofCanadians beginning in 2006, when they realize NAFTA’s rules may appease theshort-term revenue goals of exporting corporations and producing provinces, butit puts Canadain an alarmingly precarious position.

Growing public concerns about the NAFTA proportionalityblunder may begin to force even the pro-trade, pro-American Conservatives tomake noise about renegotiating NAFTA.

Energy Security is the elephant in the room that wehad better start talking about, before the crisis faces us.

More predictions about trends in democracy, forests, First nations and Communities will follow in the coming days. Stay Tuned

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