After months and months of bad news for the tar sands industry, in which it has failed to push through the democratically-illegitimate Trans Mountain pipeline, there was a supposed glimpse of hope last week.
Bloomberg reported in an article entitled: “Cleveland-Sized Mine Signals the Path for an Oil-Sands Revival”, that a “colossal Canadian oil-sands project may be showing the way forward for an industry many thought would never see new investments.”
The project is called “Fort Hills,” which is a $17 billion “open-pit truck and shovel mine” project which will be larger than the city of Vancouver. This huge industrial scar which is run by Suncor Energy, might, according to industry analysts Wood Mackenzie, offer a “blueprint for new mines.”
Bloomberg reported that Suncor expects Fort Hills to produce an estimated 194,000 barrels a day of crude by the end of the year. No wonder there was a picture of a smiling Albertan Premier, Rachel Notley. She was surrounded by dozens of dignitaries and smiling tar sands workers. It is expected to bring her Albertan government $8 billion in royalties. It is also no wonder the article was re-printed on the worldoil.com website.
So are the boom times back for Big Oil and the dirty tar sands industry?
The answer it seems is no. We will not see another climate munching mega-mine like Fort Hills, according to a thoughtful piece by Kyle Bakx for CBC. The article, published this week, gives a different perspective to the glitzy press spectacle of the Fort Hills photo-shoot.
“The great oilsands era is over”, it says. Although last week had “all the hallmarks of a celebration, in truth, it also marked the end of an era: the close of the great oilsands boom,” argues Bakx.
Fort Hills has been a long time coming. Suncor first began developing the site back in 2002, when Fort McMurray was a boom town. But those days are gone. “The oilsands boom is over”, writes Bakx.
He points out that, between 2014 and 2017, tar sands investment fell 45 per cent. Capital spending this year will be the lowest for over a decade.
And for anyone who has raised the issue of climate change, for anyone who has protested against the tar sands expansion and Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline or the infamous Keystone XL pipeline or told Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau that you can’t be a climate champion and expand dirty oil at the same time – here comes the interesting bit. The bottom line is that your actions have worked. You are winning.
The lack of new pipelines is one of the reasons for low confidence in the tar sands. It is not just the oil price crash or the impending climate bubble that has shredded investor nerves. It is pure simple supply and demand. The tar sands industry cannot get its dirty product to market.
Bakx writes that “The number one issue facing the oilsands is a lack of pipeline capacity.” Rob Bedin, an analyst with the RS Energy Group tells him: “There is insufficient capacity to move today’s volume.”
So for anyone fighting the tar sands industry the bottom line is that Fort Hills and other tar sands mega-projects are the “last big gasp of oilsands growth”. The dying breath of a dying industry. One tar sands worker concedes it is “yesterday’s story”.
Bakx adds that “In a world increasingly focused on limiting greenhouse gas emissions and protecting the environment, the oilsands faces intensifying pressure. Governments are regulating carbon and methane emissions, while Indigenous groups and environmentalists are also worried about the impact on land, water and animal habitats.”
Even the tar sands industry knows when the game is up: “It’s unlikely there will be projects of this type of scale again,” Suncor chief executive Steve Williams said during an interview at the grand opening of Fort Hills.
So for those concerned about climate justice and leaving a living legacy to our grand-children, your everyday actions are making a positive difference. Every small postive action protecting our communities or our coastlines or our climate can have significant results. Sometimes, in these destructive days of Trump, and svengali politics of Justin Trudeau, we just don’t say that enough.