TransCanada’s ham-handed property tactics have enraged Texans. Two thousand miles north along the proposed Keystone pipeline route, in Alberta, Canada, the feelings are similar.
TransCanada has promised great economic benefits to the U.S. if the pipeline goes through: a company press release noted that “when completed, the Keystone Pipeline System is expected to provide five per cent of current U.S. petroleum-consumption needs and represent nine per cent of U.S. petroleum imports.” Russ Girling, TransCanada’s president and chief executive officer, has promised that it will put “thousands of Americans to work.”
It’s also, by the way, supposed to boost Canada’s energy security, and revenues. But many Canadians who support tar sands development worry that American jobs will come at Canada’s expense–that the Keystone deal will strip mine a Canadian resource, leaving Canada little in return.
“It’s a job killer. It’s a total job killer,” said Dave Coles, head of the Communications, Energy and Paperworks Union, Canada’s largest union of energy workers. “The southern U.S. is going to get tens of thousands of jobs, and we’re going to get plundered.”
Coles: “We in Canada get stuck with the pollution…”
Here’s what Coles is angry about: the fuel that comes out of the tar sands isn’t normal oil. It’s bitumen, a sticky semi-solid (think asphalt). It takes a lot of work to turn that into something you can burn in your car. And that means jobs.
“There’s two stages,” Coles says. “You’ve gotta upgrade the bitumen to get oil. There are a tremendous amount of jobs in upgrading. Next whack of jobs is when you take the oil and refine it. There’s no jobs in this pipeline. There’ll be a few in the construction industry, but once it’s built it takes bugger all to run it. It’s just a few people nurturing the pumping stations.”
Not an economic booster
Until the 2008 crash, there had been plans to build seven large ‘pre-refineries’ on site, in Alberta. But the recession killed those, and has slowed expansion of a couple of existing plants. Now, the Keystone XL plan is to move bitumen out of Canada so it can be upgraded and refined on the Texas Gulf Coast, and then loaded on ships and sent to China, where gas prices are $2 to $3 a barrel higher.
That move is “actually weakening our economy in the long run,” said Robyn Allan, a noted Canadian economist who has been researching the economic case for the tar sands pipelines.
Why not go to Vancouver? It’s much closer to China than Texas is, not to mention much closer to Alberta, too. It’s been tried, and stymied by political opposition from British Columbia and Native tribes.
Allan: “With bitumen you’ve got an increased environmental risk…”
A pipeline could go east. It is a curious fact of the Canadian energy market that while Western Canada is a major oil exporter, very little of that oil makes it to Canada’s population-dense East. There’s no pipeline route to get it there. Some goes through the U.S., but Eastern Canada imports most of its fuel from places like Kuwait and Venezuela.
The CEP isn’t the only energy workers union to oppose Keystone—so does the 140,000-member Alberta Federation of Labor. Its president, Gil McGowan, has said that the pipeline will “dramatically undermine the economics of Canadian-based upgrading and refining. In the process, we’ll be forced, again, into the role of ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water.’”
Harper: pipeline is a ‘no-brainer’
Asked who wins if the Keystone deal goes through, the CEP’s Coles thought a second. “The companies building it. China. The refineries in the U.S., if it gets refined there. But not Canadian energy workers. Not Canada.”
Politically speaking, Canadians disagree support developing the tar sands, even if the refining gets done elsewhere. They are expected to help Canada improve its energy security and create lower gas prices. In Ottawa, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has thrown his support behind the pipeline. In September 2011, Harper told Bloomberg TV that the approval by the United States of the Keystone XL was a “complete no-brainer.”
In a December 2011 interview with Canada’s CTV National news, Harper said that “I am very serious about selling our oil off this continent, selling our energy products off to Asia. I think we have to do that.”
Until the tar sands shift again, that’s going to mean a large number of angry Albertans.