Canada Thinks Green Cars are a Problem (Really)

 

Alberta’s tar sands have been called “the dirtiest oil in the world” by Greenpeace and National Geographic, and “mining” these fields means high carbon emissions and serious pollution of natural water supplies. So why are Canadians afraid of electric vehicles?

Canada’s own government agents claim that the area’s boreal forests “could be gone within a generation.”  Canadians in Alberta, of course, are very interested in the progress of EVs, battery technology, and alternative fuels programs …

… they’re interested, because they’re scared to death of them.

“The entire country has evolved into a petro-dollar economy,” says Canadian news source CTV News.  “Canada’s fortunes – and its currency – are now more closely tethered to oil than any other industry.”  So, while the rest of the world looks to EVs and new technology to safeguard resources and global environmental health, Canadian newspapers like the St. Albert Gazette worry that EVs “could put some Albertans out of work.”

Think this is a short-term problem for Canada’s environment?  Think again.  CTV reports that “economic power is shifting, and the trend will continue and gather momentum as oil sands production increases over the next couple of decades.”

That’s right, people.  Canada is pushing for increased oil output over the next.  Few.  DECADES.  (!?)  Kind of makes your Monday morning, doesn’t it?

It’s not like the Canadian government isn’t aware of the environmental impact of the tar sand oil extraction, either.  Preston McEachern, who works for Alberta Environment (a government agency in the province) says that (beyond the greenhouse emissions) the tailings ponds are his top concern.  According to McEachern, the mines dump waste­water in the ponds “because they need to reuse the water.  As the thick, brown slurry gushes from the discharge pipes, the sand quickly settles out, building the dike that retains the pond; the residual bitumen floats to the top. The fine clay and silt particles, though, take several years to settle, and when they do, they produce a yogurt-like goop—the technical term is ‘mature fine tailings’—that is contaminated with toxic chemicals such as naphthenic acid and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and would take centuries to dry out on its own.” (from National Geographic)

Defenders of the oil-recovery effort are quick to point out that, under the terms of their license, mining companies are required to reclaim these chemicals.  However, these companies have been missing their deadlines and still have not fully reclaimed a single pond.

Are you horrified yet?

Even decidedly pro-big-block blogs like The Truth About Cars are pointing out the seemingly backwards stance the Canadian government is taking on the matter, reporting that, as Canadians are “reading the papers about the success of EVs, Albertans are worried about a bust cycle. People did what people do when they don’t know what to do: They assembled a panel of experts.  The panel will first meet next Tuesday in Edmonton.”

The proceedings of the panel’s meetings will be available at www.abctech.ca, and I (for one) hope someone organizes an EV / alt-fuel rally to meet these guys at the gates.

Sources:  National Geographic, CTV, TTAC, etc. (links, above).

Photos:  National Geographic (full, maddening photo gallery AVAILABLE HERE).





About the Author

I’ve been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.

  • I thought all of this was common knowledge.

    Canada and Mexico (NAFTA trading partners) are our two biggest oil trading partners. Saudi Arabia is a very close 3rd (sometimes 2nd depending on the oil market). Canada and Mexico helped us break OPEC pricing power, and Saudi Arabia joined our side after GWI and after the royal family realized that high oil prices would lead to American efficiency and alternative energy (oil price instability).

    We pay Canada, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia exorbitant amounts of money to protect us from shenanigans in the global oil marketplace; however, this relationship has been strained b/c the arrangement failed miserably during the oil spike of 2008. Our oil trading partners may not be strong enough to break the power of the Chinese as a mercantile customer (resource hoarders) or break the power of oil speculators.

    What do we do? Do we pedal to the metal for alternative energy and then buy what oil we do need from Canada, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia (basically ween the US off of the global oil market)? or do we slow play change and let our oil allies leech our cash while they figure out how to live in a post oil economy with few imports from China and the US? Slowplay seems best, but China aren’t going to slowplay alternative energy.

    The US government is handcuffed, and they are basically trading away the future of my generation for the stability of the present. They dawdle and fight about how to “fix” the situation. The real work will have to be done by the US people and the private sector. If you want off of oil, start now. Don’t wait for the government to solve it’s impossible problems. Uncle Sam worked so hard to stabilize supply during the 80s and 90s, and now they can’t get rid of the supply we’ve got. Par for the course. American people have to rescue the government, and our society yet again.

    • The issue isn’t that we’re getting oil from Canada, it’s that Canada’s companies, governments, and people are openly fretting about the success of green cars, while (apparently) simply ignoring whatever regulation is in place to keep the miners even halfway “clean”. Countries like Saudi Arabia and others in the Mideast are planning for economies AFTER oil, Canada is trying to figure out new ways to keep the oil flowing for decades to come. It’s a horribly backwards embarrassment, or (at least) it should be!

      • Why blame Canada? This is a self fulfilling prophecy as we reach the backside of the peak oil curve. The USA represents 5 percent of the global population and uses 25 percent of the world’s oil, then complains about the environmental impact of a situation they are directly responsible for…

        • How is the US “directly responsible for” Canadian companies (allegedly) not cleaning up waste and reclaiming water supplies as required by their licenses with the Canadian government? Are you saying that because the Canadians have a ready customer for their goods that gives them free right and license to do as they please? Give me a break, Dean. This has nothing to do with who buys the oil or the price of goods, it has to do with a group of individuals acting in the interests of their pocketbooks without regard to the environmental impact of their actions, and actually hoping that others do the same. Get the Albertan oil miners to clean up their act (raise prices, if they need to cover the costs of the cleanup effort – you know, since oil companies are so broke these days) and watch the world back off.

          • The gist of your article is that Canada doesn’t want EV’s, because they will put Alberta oil patch workers out of a job. This is just not true, and indeed quite comical…

      • I know Canada is openly fretting about green energy. It’s the same for all oil producing countries whether they pretend to develop clean energy or not. Canada are not under constant scrutiny like ME nations so they don’t bother to disguise their trepidation. All oil producing countries are worried about another 1986 oil price collapse if green energy becomes plentiful or if it becomes the next hot technology.

        However, afraid the producers may be of 1986, the US government will not enter into, let alone win, a dispute with our major oil trading partners. Our oil trading partners will manipulate supply in order to persuade the US government to maintain the current oil game. They will tie us up with trade disputes in the WTO over green subsidies, NAFTA trade quotas, and energy taxes. They will spook/entice the American people into maintaining the status quo.

        Oil producers will win. They are already winning. Look at the pathetic efforts of our government to make green energy. Producer subsidies for crony socialists/capitalists, and tax credits for wealthy electric car buyers? Picking winners and losers arbitrarily via Federal committees? What the hell is that?! The US government is clearly trying NOT to eliminate oil imports in the near term, instead they are slow-playing and wasting taxpayer money while the Chinese run circles around us. Even President Obama proudly proclaimed that he had convinced the Saudi’s to raise supply (as if they weren’t already going to raise supply). Imo, the oil producers want an arrangement where they knock 20%-30% off the price of oil, and then the US basically continues to expand consumption at pre-2006 levels.

        Welcome to the wacky world of oil. Consumers preach $500 oil doomsday, and peak oil apocalypse. Producers are terrified of 1986 price collapse, and resource under-utilization. Governments will never resolve this mess in a way that makes everyone happy, and the citizens of each nation will be at the bottom of the list of priorities.

        The real meaning of this article is not that the Canadians are bad people, but that our oil trading partners (all of them) will exert intense pressure on our government to continue the oil game. Oil producing nations will likely defeat the will of the American people in the arena of US government affairs, but oil producing nations cannot control the market. They can make oil cheap, but they cannot force consumers to drink from the poisoned chalice of temporarily cheap oil. Oil producers cannot stop consumers from buying domestic green energy.

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  • And you’re lisening to radical assholes like Greenpeace? How much pollution do they pump out of their ships? There are two kinds of people in the world. Those that produce, and those that take while whining about the producers.

    • Denadii, you’re right that Greenpeace are radicals (and many of the Greenpeas I’ve met IRL are, in fact, a**holes) so you’re not getting any argument from me there. Still, WHO they are is irrelevant to their point – what you’re engaged in here is an attack ad hominem, which tries to shift focus from the issue being presented, implying that the source of information determines the truth/falsehood of that statement. Let me save you some philosophy class tuition here: it doesn’t, and even a broken clock is right twice a day.

      I found a link for you here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_hominem in case you’re interested.

      As for the producer/taker argument, that’s called a false dichotomy fallacy, wherein an arguer presents a limited number of alternatives and falsely proclaims that they are the only two alternatives. Tuition saving plan no. 2: there are many kinds of people in the world, and one kind you left out is “looter”, which – in my reading of facts/events – is exactly what these Albertan oil companies seem to be.

      False dichotomy fallacy, in case you’re interested, can be looked up here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_dilemma

  • ph

    Who is reading the papers about the success of EV? HEV and EV has been fairly successful for delivery trucks and transit. For passenger vehicles – even with heavy subsidies and high gas prices – gas powered cars are putting up better sales numbers (see hybridcars.com market dashboard and draw your own conclusion).

    What exactly is the story here? If Albertans are not following laws and regulations, then enforce them. Otherwise, give them a chance to succeed or fail in the energy marketplace. I don’t care if my next car uses gasoline, propane, or Li-po batteries charged from the local coal-fired and nuclear power plants. None of these has proven to be perfect, so let them compete and improve.

    • I agree 100%. Let the story be told, and if the people (market) does not care about the environmental impact of Canadian oil, then they will continue to buy it. I just ask that people make informed decisions, so that – as much as anything else – I don’t have to sit through another round of “but we didn’t know!” whining.

      If you don’t care about the planet, then go buy cheap oil – but know what you’re buying. If you do care, then find an alternative – there are plenty out there.

      The other story is the hypocrisy involved when you contrast the realities of a petrodollar economy and a nation whose PR machine, which says things like “Canada takes the lead on ecosystems and health“.

      • Jo, when you pull up to a gas pump, how do you know the origin of the hydrocarbons coming out of the hose? Tell me, how do I make an informed decision as to which gas station I need to patronize in order to support non-oil sands oil…What about if I disagree with deepwater-origin oil, that is also highly detrimental and damaging to the environment?

        By the way, I don’t disagree that the Athabasca tar sands are an environmental nightmare…

        I just think that you’re deluding yourself.

        • It’s tough, sure, but I wouldn’t say I’m delusional (delusional people rarely do, though – so there’s that). Case in point: BP. Ever since their gulf fiasco I’ve avoided their stations because I thought (perhaps erroneously) that, by choosing to buy from BP’s competitors, I’m doing some small part to encourage more responsible drilling.

  • The world has too many politicians. Democracy is the opportunity for the majority “be wrong and make mistakes”. Most politicians are in some way courrupt, because they represent a certain “group” of people/voters, and they are therefore “forced” to “take care of those people”.

    All, everyone of us needs to do is, sell your gazoline driven car, and buy a car driven by propane/gas or batteries. Every change starts with…not the neighbour…no, with me and you!!!!! So, Americans and Canadians, Mexicans and other USA related countries, sell your big V6 /V8 V10 and V12 cars and buy a car that runs 70 miles on a gallon or 130 km pr. ltr. So get out of your big pickup cars and creep into a small Peugeot for instance. Change STARTS WITH YOU. And ofcourse, the politicians deside (not the courupt-self-interest-oriented oil industry) when we can drive in cars run on hydrogen from our seawaters…

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  • Canada is going from bad (one of the highest greenhouse emission per person, though to be fair it’s partly due to the cold climate) to worse — tying itself to an industry that in the long run is unsustainable

    • Maybe they’re just sick of the cold and want climate change to hurry up and “kick in to high gear”?

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  • SG

    The tar sands are HUGE business for the Canadians. Consider that the head of Environment Canada said it’s not his department to advocate for the environment!

    Find out more about the tar sands at:

    Hopefully they’ll start using Ionic Salt ( http://gas2.org/2011/04/14/liquid-salt-could-clean-up-canadian-tar-sand/ ) so they don’t have to create tailing ponds.

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