POLITICAL CHANGE AND SOW OIL PRICES STRANGLING CANADIAN TAR SANDS INDUSTRY

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1 february 2016

Once Unstoppable, Tar Sands Now Battered from All Sides

Canada’s tar sands industry is in crisis as oil prices plummet, pipeline projects are killed, and new governments in Alberta and Ottawa vow less reliance on this highly polluting energy source. Is this the beginning of the end for the tar sands juggernaut?

by ed struzik, Yale Environment 360, February 1, 2016

In the summer of 2014, when oil was selling for $114 per barrel, Alberta’s tar sands industry was still confidently standing by earlier predictions that it would nearly triple production by 2035. Companies such as Suncor, Statoil, Syncrude, Royal Dutch Shell, and Imperial Oil Ltd. were investing hundreds of billions of dollars in new projects to mine the thick, highly polluting bitumen.

Eyeing this oil boom, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he was certain that the Keystone XL pipeline — “a no-brainer” in his words — would be built, with or without President Barack Obama’s approval. Keystone, which would carry tar sands crude from Alberta to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico, was critical if bitumen from new tar sands projects was going to find a way to market.

What a difference 18 months makes. The price of oil today has plummeted to around $30 a barrel, well below the break-even point for tar sands producers, and the value of the Canadian dollar has fallen sharply. President Obama killed the Keystone XL project in November, and staunch

opposition has so far halted efforts to build pipelines that would carry tar sands crude to Canada’s Pacific and Atlantic coasts.

Equally as ominous for the tar sands industry are political developments in Alberta and Canada. In May, Alberta voters ousted the conservative premier and elected a left-of-center government. The new premier, Rachel Notley, is committed to doing something meaningful about climate change and reviewing oil and gas royalty payments to the province, which are among the lowest in the world.

In October, Canadian voters tossed out Harper and his Conservative Party government and elected liberal Justin Trudeau as prime minister. Last month, Trudeau vowed not to be a “pipeline cheerleader” and said he would take greenhouse gas emissions into account when evaluating oil pipeline projects. Trudeau signaled that a new era had arrived when he told The World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, “My predecessor wanted you to know Canada for its resources. I want you to know Canadians for our resourcefulness.”

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