Sunday, March 11, 2012

Some things I just don't understand

I would like some help understanding something. Canada has turned into a fossil fuel economy and I'm struggling to understand how that benefits ordinary Canadians.

The oilsands projects are frowned upon by people around the world. Neither the government nor the industry seem to be going out of their way to prove that the projects are environmentally sound - at least - I'm not convinced. Is the reason I'm not convinced because it's as dirty as it seems, or because the job of educating the masses is a failure?

The oilsands uses a large amount of energy to extract the oil from the ground. This energy use creates demand that raises our cost of electricity. The Canadian dollar is high because of our economy being heavily resource based. This makes it cheaper for us to buy things with American dollars, yet we don't seem to be seeing price tags go down - we still pay more than Americans do for goods, before taxes. The high dollar results in a dwindling manufacturing base. This in turn makes our unemployment rate higher than it would be, which costs the government money (in EI benefits). That cost is passed on to us.

We have a lot of oil, but we lack enough refining capacity to drive the price of gas and diesel down. As a comparison, gas in Dubai is 46 cents per litre. I have recently learned that the oil we produce  doesn't even get used across our country. Canada exports about two-thirds of its oil to the US (mostly from the west) while half of the oil used in Canada is imported from other countries. Western Canada is self-sufficient, supplying its own oil before exporting the rest. But Eastern Canada relies on imported oil despite the fact that some provinces are oil producers. There are several offshore operations in Newfoundland and Labrador, but none of that oil is actually used in Canada. The eastern provinces rely on an oil supply that's imported from Saudi Arabia, Africa and Venezuela. I don't get it - why are we selling oil to the US and now perhaps China when we need more of it for ourselves? I hear part of it is because most of our eastern refineries can't handle oil sands oil. Ontario gets its oil from Western Canada, but it is sent to the US first to be refined before being re-imported.  The other reason is that there is no pipeline directly connecting western Canada to eastern Canada. Can't we fix that?

The fossil fuel industry creates jobs. I'll grant you that. Heck, my current job is the result of our industry. Energy company profits are good. But aside from jobs and some well lined pockets in the upper echelons of the oil industry, where's the real benefit? Where's all the new infrastructure and the old infrastructure repair? Where's the world leading health care system and education system? Why are there more homeless people than ever before?

So in summary, if being an oil producing country is so great, what are the benefits for ordinary Canadians? And for our next topic, what happens when we start to run out and the price of gas is $3.00 per litre? Imagine a world where your family sedan takes $150 per fill-up.

Charts here.

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