Oil, particularly that produced from Alberta’s tar sands, is the liberal eco-movement’s devil in need of exorcism. However, what has been forgotten in the oil “debate” is that every form of energy has a cost: an economic, environmental, political and social cost.
And what is deliberately overlooked and misrepresented by fossil fuel haters is what those costs actually are.
Coal, the fuel that powered the industrial revolution, is cheap, but as we have found out, produces enormous amounts of green house gas (GHG) and is gradually, rightfully, being phased out in favor of natural gas.
Natural gas, although it produces less GHG than coal, can only slow, not stop, global warming. It is at best a stop-gap measure in our drive to curtail emissions. Hydro is GHG free, but it destroys the local environment and often forces communities, aboriginal communities, to relocate, something that is political unpalatable. Nuclear power is also GHG free, but has been regulated into oblivion. Paradoxically, nuclear waste, which can be treated and contained, is viewed for ideological reasons as more dangerous than GHG emissions.
Solar, geothermal and wind are becoming affordable, but are neither consistent nor viable in all locales. The stark reality is that cities with all their inhabitants, commercial enterprises and industries cannot be powered by renewable energy. The energy density of those sources is too low. We will have to find an economically and environmentally sound compromise between the extremes promoted by self-interested businesses and environmentalist ideologues.
Oil, however, is very different from those aforementioned energy sources. Firstly, it does not power our cities, but rather it is the fuel, the blood, of our transportation system. Refined oil provides us with the gas, diesel, kerosene and bunker fuel that moves our trucks, trains, planes and ships. Those fuel products are inexpensive, easy to transport, pervasive and can do work immediately upon the filling and starting a generator or engine. Oil is responsible for delivering the produce of the US and South America, the furniture of Sweden, the clothes of India and the electronics of Japan and Korea to every city and town in the nation.
There is no source of energy that replace what oil does. The price for that unprecedented access to goods is GHG emissions.
What of batteries, some ask? We have battery powered cars after all. The fact is, batteries cannot power airplanes or locomotives or cargo ship or tractor trailers. The energy density does not compete, and the physics cannot be changed:
Gasoline produces 46MJ/liter. Cutting edge batteries (lithium-ion 18650 series) can produce 2.5 MJ/kg, but typically produce less than 1MJ/kg. In understandable terms, six litres of gasoline contains as much energy as a fully charged Tesla (which stores it charge in thousands of 18650 type cells).
And even if, for the sake of argument, all our cars were to switch to battery power, we would need to build new, preferably non-GHG emitting, power plants to charge them.
After converting units, rounding up and down, taking into account gas and electric motor efficiencies and the efficiency of power plants, we would have to increase our electrical capacity by fifty percent, or an additional 13 Bruce Nuclear Generating Stations (that is, 104 CANDU nuclear reactors), or 18 hydro projects, each the size of Churchill Falls.
Secondly, and entirely forgotten, is that oil is necessary for the creation of plastics, the one product that has saved this planet from ecological devastation, because it has has replaced woods, animal fibres, and metals for many of the goods that we use. Plastics were and are central to the electrification of our nation, sterile medical environments and the explosion in electronics.
Our world, our quality of life, our civilization, is inextricably linked to oil. There is no substitute.
The issue has never been, as the environmental movement would have us believe, that oil needs to be replaced with something else, whatever that might be. The problem is the environmental movement’s opposition to solutions other than the science fiction solutions they propose.
We have clean energy alternatives, namely nuclear and hydro. Politicians need only tune out the propaganda of the few, base their decisions on fact and act to the benefit of the many.