At the heart of much of the opposition to the Athabasca Tar Sands is that it exports dangerous contaminants that put entire ecosystems at risk. We export a semi-refined product bearing significant quantities of abrasives, corrosives, heavy metals and other toxins. We export this product to places where it is refined into synthetic crude. In other words, we export dangerous contaminants to distant places where they are removed.
Obama tossed out the Keystone XL pipeline proposal because of serious environmental risks it posed to Nebraska. If the stuff is too dangerous for wide open Nebraska how could it possibly be safe to pump it across BC's mountainous and seismically active north?
What I don't understand and what nobody seems willing to discuss is why doesn't Harper want that product refined on site in Alberta? Why don't we remove the contaminants right there and simply export a clean synthetic crude product?
I suppose one reason this doesn't fly is because of the surplus refining capacity these days in Texas. The same outfits that are extracting the bitumen are the outfits that own this refining capacity. They want to keep the whole thing "in house" and building new refineries in Alberta while their Texas operations sit idle isn't in their interest. But what about China?
If we must export oil to China, why should that not be refined in Alberta before it's exported? Why should coastal BC be exposed to a toxic, carcinogenic and virtually irreparable bitumen spill? Isn't an ordinary, refined oil spill risk bad enough?
There's an answer to this somewhere. My guess is that the profit margins for the Tar Sands are already so minimal that incorporating the cost of complete refining into the price would sheer Alberta's and Ottawa's royalty revenues to the bone. Imagine the state of affairs that would result if Athabasca carbon emissions were properly priced, if Tar Sand operators were required to pay world price for the vast quantities of water they consume for nothing, if their operations weren't bolstered by tax write offs and subsidies, if they had to fund up front a programme for contamination clean up and site remediation. All you would hear is a whooshing sound of Big Oil beating a quick retreat from Athabasca. And that's just sad.