Speaking with Candian television yesterday, Barack Obama said he thinks the problems with Canadian oil sands “can be solved with technology.”
Canadian oil sands in Alberta are estimated to have 1.7 trillion barrels of oil in them, second only to Saudi Arabia. But to get those barrels of oil it causes tremendous damage to the environment. Pulling oil from Canadian tar sands, as they are also called, is three times as polluting as pulling oil from typical sources.
Canada provides the United States with the largest per cent of its oil, over 2 million barrels daily. Of that 780,00 barrels came from oil sands production. As a result, any improvements to the oil sands process would greatly benefit the US. But with oil prices hovering below $40 a barrel, oil sand investment is sinking. FBR research estimates that oil needs to be at $70-$85 for oil sand companies to break even.
Obama gave no indication of what technology he thinks will emerge, he might was well have said, “we need magic.” But the guy is known his optimism. He compared the challenge for Canada to the United States’ challenge with carbon capture for coal:
(Via Grist) Q. Part of that trade involves the energy sector, a lot of oil and gas comes to the United States from Canada, and even more in the future with oil sands development. Now there are some in your Canada — and Canada, as well — who feel the oil sands is dirty oil because of the extraction process. What do you think; is it dirty oil?
THE PRESIDENT: What we know is that oil sands creates a big carbon footprint. So the dilemma that Canada faces, the United States faces, and China and the entire world faces is how do we obtain the energy that we need to grow our economies in a way that is not rapidly accelerating climate change. That’s one of the reasons why the stimulus bill that I’ll be signing today contains billions of dollars towards clean energy development.
I think to the extent that Canada and the United States can collaborate on ways that we can sequester carbon, capture greenhouse gases before they’re emitted into the atmosphere, that’s going to be good for everybody. Because if we don’t, then we’re going to have a ceiling at some point in terms of our ability to expand our economies and maintain the standard of living that’s so important, particularly when you’ve got countries like China and India that are obviously interested in catching up.
Q. So are you drawing a link, then, in terms of the future of tar sands oil coming into the U.S. contingent on a sense of a continental environment policy on cap and trade?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think what I’m suggesting is, is that no country in isolation is going to be able to solve this problem. So Canada, the United States, China, India, the European Union, all of us are going to have to work together in an effective way to figure out how do we balance the imperatives of economic growth with very real concerns about the effect we’re having on our planet. And ultimately I think this can be solved by technology.
I think that it is possible for us to create a set of clean energy mechanisms that allow us to use things not just like oil sands, but also coal. The United States is the Saudi Arabia of coal, but we have our own homegrown problems in terms of dealing with a cheap energy source that creates a big carbon footprint.
And so we’re not going to be able to deal with any of these issues in isolation. The more that we can develop technologies that tap alternative sources of energy but also contain the environmental damage of fossil fuels, the better off we’re going to be.
Q. I know you’re looking at it as a global situation, in terms of global partners, but there are some who do argue that this is the time; if there was ever going to be a continental energy policy and a continental environmental policy, this would be it. Would you agree with that thinking?