Friday, August 27, 2010

Alberta oilsands boycotts bad news for B.C. tourism

Alberta's oilsands - and its government - are about to become a big problem for B.C.
Advocacy groups have targeted the energy megaprojects, pointing to environmental destruction and the big greenhouse-gas emissions involved in getting the sticky oil out of the ground.
And this summer, they dusted off one of their most effective tactics - a call for a tourism boycott.
That's bad news for B.C.'s tourist industry, already facing what managers like to call "challenges."
Consider this headline in The Guardian: "Think twice about visiting Canada until it abandons tar sands destruction."
I couldn't determine if the column appeared in the print edition of the British national newspaper or just online. It doesn't really matter: The newspaper claims about 1.2 million readers a day; the web version actually has more visitors.
Note the headline doesn't urge people to stay away from Alberta. Shun Canada, it says.
It wouldn't make much of a difference even if the distinction were made. I just finished an RV trip from Victoria through the mountains to Calgary, Drumheller and back.
Most of the people in the campgrounds and at the big attractions were from Canada. But there were visitors from Germany, England, Italy, Asia. Many weren't visiting Alberta. They were touring Canada's two western provinces.
If the boycott message is effective, some travellers will head to another destination
The campaign is a problem for B.C. And worse, it has no direct ability to manage the response.
Alberta has done a mediocre job so far.
That's typical. B.C. governments complained about the unfairness of international campaigns against old-growth logging, but were ineffectual in countering them.
Graham Thomson is an astute Edmonton Journal columnist who spent a year on fellowship learning about the oilsands and their impacts.
He gives the Alberta government poor grades for addressing the international criticism.
Conservative Premier Ed Stelmach has defended the oilsands and the companies. The environmental groups are stretching the truth, he says. Environmental rules are effective. The critics are wrong.
The denial response plays well in Alberta, Thomson writes. But it won't ease doubts about the oilsands around the world.
"The best way for the Alberta government and energy companies to win the public relations battle over environmental concerns is through actions, not more public relations battles," he wrote last month.

The problem - for Alberta and now B.C. - is that there are real concerns about the costs of extracting the oil given current technology.
The oilsands - or tarsands as they used to be called - have vast amounts of oil mixed with sand. To make money, the companies have to scoop up the sand and process it with boiling water or steam. The oil, or bitumen, a precursor, is separated and can be sent off by pipeline. The nasty waste is pumped into giant tailing ponds or underground. (Yes, this is grossly oversimplified.)
Generating all that hot water and steam means burning lots of natural gas. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found producing a barrel of oil from the Alberta sands resulted in 82 per cent more greenhouse gas emissions than the average barrel produced in the U.S.
Which means the oil might be shunned in U.S. and state climate-change plans.
Then there's a federal parliamentary committee on the environment, which has been looking at the oilsands. MPs from the four parties couldn't agree on a report. Liberal MPs have released their version, which found the Alberta government has failed to protect water quality and the health of First Nations.
The boycott campaign - Rethink Alberta - includes billboards in the U.S. and England showing oil-soaked ducks in a tailing pond and calling Alberta "the other oil disaster," comparing it with BP's Gulf spill.
It might not be fair, but that doesn't matter. The campaigns work unless governments move quickly and effectively to make their case.
And unless they make real changes to address legitimate concerns.
Alberta isn't doing either. And the B.C. tourism industry will pay the price.
Footnote: In a move reminiscent of the campaign over B.C. logging practices, the anti-oilsands forces are also pressuring U.S. companies to shun oilsands-based energy. The drugstore chain Walgrens has said it will switch fuel suppliers to avoid the Alberta product. The Gap, Timberland and Levi Strauss they'll look for non-oilsands energy.

1 comment:

seth said...

The global warming adherent's opposition to tar sands oil would be eliminated if Alberta nuked the tar sands replacing gas generated steam with nuclear steam, saving big bucks and eliminating production GHG's at the same time.

Tar sands oil would be the most environmentally friendly crude in the world.

We'd need 8 big mass produced Candu ACR-1000 reactors or 300 hot tub sized Hyperion units ($400 kw of steam). The total cost of the zero GHG, clean and green Hyperion units is $9 billion. Natural gas at $4 a thousand cu ft is $3 billion a year. Payback - three years.

Any excess clean and green nuclear power would be delivered to the American power companies at a lower cost than they are paying for dirty carbon intense new coal and NG plant, and a tiny fraction of wind and solar, generating huge profits for Alberta.

Alberta could like Utah, start a motor vehicle CNG program to use the surplus gas for autofuel at 30 cents a liter equivalent.