October 14, 2011

On ethical oil

According to Kathryn Marshall, oil from Canada is ethical, because here in Canada we promote peace and social justice and uphold human rights, whereas Middle Eastern oil is unethical, because it fuels misery, repression and bloodshed. (See “Suzuki’s moral relativism on ethics of oil doesn’t stand up,” The Edmonton Journal, October 13, 2011.)

But Marshall is only skimming the surface. Were she to drill a little further, she’d find that we too, by her standards, are fuelling some misery, repression and bloodshed.

Many oil sands producers work in the OPEC nations; for example, Nexen in Yemen, Suncor in Libya, Total in Burma, Shell in Nigeria and China National in the Sudan to cite a few.[1][ 2] That would mean they’re producing unethical oil. So why isn’t Marshall railing against these companies in her “ethical oil cause?” At the very least she should explain how it is that what they produce here in Canada is ethical and what they produce there is unethical.

Bitumen won’t budge in pipelines without diluents, the most common of which is condensate.[3] To meet much of their future requirements, oil sands producers will have to import their condensate from the Middle East.[4] Imagine that! Ethical and unethical oils together in the same pipeline.

And where is Marshall’s denunciation of Eastern Canada? Surely she’s aware that most of their oil is unethical in that it comes from Algeria, Venezuela, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. [5] [6]
Clearly Marshall doesn’t give a hoot about ethics in the oil industry. For her this is simply an argument of convenience, one that she spouts only to push more oil for those she is beholden to. Says Marshall, “… the fact of the matter is that we’re going to be stuck with fossil fuels for some time yet.” That may be the case, but the reality is that we should be doing everything in our power to move away from them.

In a recent report entitled America’s Climate Choices, the National Academy of Sciences—think of them as the U.S. Supreme Court of Science—put forward as its number one recommendation that the U.S. “should reduce greenhouse gas emissions substantially over the coming decades.” In their 135 page report, they do mention ethics: ethical impediments, challenges, obligations, issues and judgements.

But they say nothing about ethical oil.

[1] The bulk of my argument comes from an option piece in The Tyee, http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2011/09/29/Ethical-Oil-Falsehoods/

[2] China National is noted as a major offender at Investors against Genocide, http://investorsagainstgenocide.net/problemcompanies

[3] http://www.cstc.bc.ca/downloads/Condensate%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf

[4] http://www.northerngateway.ca/files/application/Master_Vol%202_Final_11May10.pdf

[5] http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2011/09/29/Ethical-Oil-Falsehoods/

[6] http://www.canadians.org/energy/issues/energy_strategy/Canadian_oil.html

[7] http://americasclimatechoices.org/

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