Friday, 5 August 2011

A conflict over ethical oil

By now anyone who follows energy, economics, or the environment has probably heard the term "ethical oil". If you are not familiar with it; it was coined by Ezra Levant in his book Ethical Oil: The Case for Canada's Oil Sands. It also coined a lesser known term "conflict oil".

Recently a new blog came to my attention which was influenced by Ezra's book and it's causing quite the stir amongst environmental groups not sure how to counteract the image being portrayed. This image or argument is essentially that right now society requires oil, so would you rather get this oil from unstable, civil rights violating dictatorships or from friendly democratic Canada. This argument is painted for you in colorful contrasting advertisements which pop up on the blog showing the clear contrast between "life" and "death" (green or orange), along with exaggerated images to reinforce the idealism. A happy worker in a green field for "life", and a destroyed oil excavation site with Hugo Chavez imposed over top for "death" for instance.

Inside the site is scattered with cherry picked statistics, such as the employment statistics for nearby native communities. It is certainly a clever ploy by Big Oil which more or less renders the environmental aspect and argument moot as no matter what anyone says regarding environmental impact the response has become "well would you rather have 'ethical oil' or 'conflict oil'?". Clever indeed.

What the website fails to mention however is that as long as we have dependence on oil the world will always require conflict oil. Lets put this in perspective, here is a chart showing world oil consumption and production. Do you see the spread between European oil usage and production? How about for North America? Never-mind even about Asia-Pacific, but consider it none-the-less. For this argument we will not look at it as we don't need to. So roughly from that chart, you could say that if Europe and North America didn't import (or export), production would need to increase by what? 20million/day? 30million/day? Well according to Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers Canada's total production in 2010 was 2.8million barrels / day. By 2025 they estimate 4.3!!! (Keep in mind, this is the oil industries estimates, not the *REAL* numbers.).

So here is what I ask you Ezra, how is your argument for Canadian oil relevant at all? The world doesn't just need oil, the world needs conflict oil. There is no magic bullet to make that not so, and no amount of Canadian ethical oil (rated at 1.5million barrels / day in 2010 (World usage = at least 85 / day)) will change that. Do you know why Ezra? Because unlike ethical oil, conflict oil doesn't need $100 / barrel to pretend a profit is coming in.

The oil sands are environmentally damaging and are not financially viable. We don't even know what the untold costs in environment and water usage are. They will never ever ever add up to more than a drop in the world oil usage bucket, because production is inefficient. It requires too much energy to make a barrel of low-quality "oil" from these projects of last resort. Remember when $70 / barrel was "expensive" and enough to make Alberta a profit? What happened to that? now we need $100. What happened is the input costs caught up with the output costs, and we don't want to know what happens if a sudden market move drops oil well below the input costs as it takes time for those price fluctuations to reach production. In other words the oilsands *only* bring in profit during sudden upward market moves in oil up until the time input costs rise due to the cost of oil. Get it?

Conflict oil vs. Ethical Oil is a straw-man argument. The infinite growth economy doesn't care how many people die to fuel it, or how much of the environment is destroyed. All it cares about is fueling more growth, which needs more resources, or the debt pyramid we've sold our kids into will collapse on our heads. You've been warned.

PS: Here is another reason to not buy into ethical oil vs. conflict oil.

* Updated | 08/08/2011: Well it's Monday now. The U.S. S&P downgrade has taken effect in the market; and what do you know, this appears in my twitter feed. Yea, wow. Amazing I know. Get it yet? The oil sands are a MONEY LOOSER. The price CAN NOT climb forever. What is worse: we are selling our resources short, without our own stock or "strategic petroleum reserve". That's right, we have no SPR.

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