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Island Voices: Balanced dialogue is needed on oil

Re: “Renewable energy no quick fix for pipelines,” column, July 8.
In an ongoing debate, Thomas Gunton of Simon Fraser University says he criticized business executive Gwyn Morgan for blaming rising gas prices on taxes. The fact is that taxes account for less than 10 per cent of the increase, Gunton writes, with the remaining 90 per cent-plus accounted for by the oil industry.

Re: “Renewable energy no quick fix for pipelines,” column, July 8.

While I appreciate Gwyn Morgan’s response to my commentary calling for more balance in discussing energy issues, his response does not address my concerns that he omits key facts and is prone to exaggeration.

I criticized him for blaming rising gas prices on taxes, when the fact is that taxes account for less than 10 per cent of the increase, with the remaining 90 per cent-plus accounted for by the oil industry. His response fails even to acknowledge his error.

I criticized him for failing to mention three major new oil pipeline projects totalling 1.7 million barrels per day of new capacity and consequently missing the fact that we are planning to build more pipeline space than we need and there are alternatives to Trans Mountain that do not put B.C.’s coast at risk. He provides no explanation as to why he did not mention these pipelines in his original articles.

He acknowledges the existence of these options in his response, but dismisses them because they do not reach world-priced markets at tidewater. But the fact is that industry has already invested billions in these Enbridge and TransCanada projects because they are viable and connect to world prices at the U.S. Gulf Coast (which is at tidewater).

Other proposed Enbridge pipeline expansions, meanwhile, can use Alberta oil to displace imports into Canada, which would help to reduce our dependence on the U.S. market with no risk to B.C.’s coast. We can debate the merit of these options, but leaving them out of the discussion makes no sense.

While I agree with Morgan that we need some additional pipeline space to get world prices for our oil, I criticized his assertion that we are losing $40 million “each day” by selling oil to the U.S. at below market prices by pointing out that this estimate is based on a short-term market aberration that is not representative of the market over the past several years. To his credit, his response replaces his original exaggerated claim with the somewhat less exaggerated claim that our losses could be “as high as $40 million.”

He dismisses renewable energy because it is “intermittent.” But while he’s eager to include the cost of intermittent fluctuations in wind and sun, he inexplicably leaves out the offsetting environmental benefits of renewables and emerging energy-storage technologies that help address this constraint and makes no reference to the merits of energy conservation.

He also fails to reference the International Energy Association forecasts that show that renewables will meet 40 per cent of our increased energy demand and recent U.S. Energy Information data showing that renewables are indeed competitive with fossil fuels, especially when the environmental benefits are included.

On a minor point, Morgan mistakenly asserts that renewable energy is incapable of “fuelling” automobiles and green energy has increased Ontario’s electricity costs to “the highest in North America.” He has apparently forgotten about the emergence of electric vehicles that can be “fuelled” by renewable electricity, and his claim that Ontario’s rates are the highest in North America is factually incorrect.

But my most serious criticism is his failure to even mention climate change in his original articles. I pointed him to the recent IEA forecast that showed that oil consumption must decline if we are going to meet our Paris emission targets.

To his credit, Morgan now acknowledges this IEA forecast (while inexplicably criticizing me for referencing it), but then dismisses it by concluding that meeting our climate-change targets is impossible. In Morgan’s world of expanding fossil-fuel consumption and massive new pipeline construction, this might be true. But the scientific consensus is that we have to do everything we can to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels to mitigate the potentially catastrophic impacts of climate change.

It is clear that solving our energy and environmental challenges requires balance, compromise and creativity. Knowledgeable industry representatives such as Morgan have an important role to play in this collaborative dialogue.

However, we have to consider carefully all the evidence and listen with an open mind to other points of view if we are going to develop solutions that meet both our environmental and economic objectives.

Thomas Gunton is director of the Resource and Environmental Planning Program at Simon Fraser University.