Much of the talk in Alberta centers around the two proposed pipelines intended for the shipping of bitumen out-of-country. Broadly, two issues are discussed. Outside of Alberta, the concerns revolve around environmental issues, mostly those associated with oil spills (pipeline leaks). Within Alberta we should be asking ourselves if we really want to ship unrefined bitumen outside of our borders.
Regarding environmental concerns: these are legitimate. Pipelines do leak. Nearly all pipeline pumping stations are characterized by very small spills due to equipment leakage and maintenance spillage. Over time these add up. More catastrophic spills are the result of pipeline pressure coupled to corrosion of the pipe, which can lead to pipe failure. One would think that with modern materials and pressure-sensing equipment… not to mention centralized computer monitoring stations, that pipeline spills could be eliminated. The reality is that pipeline spills still occur. An important truth of pipeline spills is that they tend to be more spatially limited and smaller in scale than offshore spills. Is this yet another “to make an omelet you have to break a few eggs” issue?
Shipping bitumen out of Alberta is definitely erosive to future industrial expansion in Alberta. Every refinery we feed is one refinery less in Alberta. Supporters can point to labor shortages in Alberta, protecting ourselves from industrial pollution, and the presence of oil-starved refineries in the USA. Fair enough. But where I come from, the availability of more (highly paid) local jobs is considered to be a good thing. At least regarding the shipping of oil to the USA, a major driver is that the bitumen producers in part own the proposed refinery destinations. I get that. An economic decision on their part. But, not an economic decision on Albertan’s behalf.