This Globe and Mail article on the oil sands and the new Obama administration makes a very dubious assertion: namely, that it is unambiguously in Canada’s interests for the oil sands to keep expanding and feeding US energy demands. It argues that, while most of Obama’s cabinet seems serious about restricting greenhouse gas emissions, General James Jones “may turn out to be Canada’s best ally,” because he supports the continued use of fuel from the oil sands.
In the long run, I think Canada will be better off if most of that carbon stays sequestered as bitumen an boreal forest. It certainly isn’t in Canada’s interests to see a delayed transition to a low-carbon economy in the US, given the extent to which it would increase the probability of abrupt, dangerous, or runaway climate change.
This is a case where short-term economic incentives have been trumping those based on a long-term view and a risk weighted analysis. In that sense, the oil sands boom is quite a lot like the housing boom that is in the process of unraveling worldwide. Canada would do well to accept how newly prominent environmental concerns (coupled with less access to capital) should combine to curtail the oil sands initiative before it becomes even more harmful.
[Update: 8 March 2010]. BuryCoal.com is a site dedicated to making the case for leaving coal, along with unconventional oil and gas, underground.