But it's hard to see him and the environmental lobby winning the war. There's just too much money at stake. Who do these people think they are, corporations?
That oil is too valuable not to be sold. Period. That simple factor will swamp all other considerations: of CO2 and environmental destruction in Alberta and the fear of pipeline breaks. You'd have to be a saint not to rip that oil out and sell it, and there are very few saints among us.
After Obama's decision earlier this week Canada's Minister of Natural Resources issued a statement that said, basically: That's unfortunate. But this is going to happen.
Sure, there will be some jobs created if the pipeline were built: about 20,000 man-years worth, said TransCanada. That's not very many, really: the US worker force grows by roughly 100,000 people per month.
So the jobs created would be a drop in the bucket. The big factor is the profit -- for oil companies, and the Canadian government.
There's an estimated 175 B barrels of oil to be recovered from the Canadian tar sands, at current prices and with current technologies. That's worth about $17.5 trillion on today's market -- 10 times Canada's 2011 GDP of $1.7 B/yr (US$ or CAN$ -- they're almost equal now).
In 2006, Royal Dutch Shell said they made an after-tax profit of $21.75 per barrel from their Canadian oil sands unit. Canada wants to get production up to 4.4 Mb/d within this decade, so that's $35 B/yr in profit to be had. They will mumble something about carbon capture and sequestration and the Canadian government will do away with some more tax incentives in the name of "environmentalism" and they will find a way to get it.
CO2? Author David Strahan estimates that CO2 emissions from the tar sands are 20% higher than average emissions from oil (mostly from production), and that a barrel of oil, with production and refining and consumption, emits about 500 kg CO2e per barrel.
So the Canadian oil sands will put about 0.8 Bmt CO2e/yr into the atmosphere. If all that's recoverable eventually gets burned, it would put about 90 Bmt CO2e into the atmosphere, or 24 GtC using the famous 44/12 ratio.
Worldwide emissions in 2010 were 9139 Tg C, or 9.1 GtC. (Maybe it's weird, but I actually enjoy doing these numbers.)
So the entire recoverable Canadian tar
sands represents about 3 years
of current worldwide CO2 emissions.
Is that so bad? I don't have the exact numbers, but looking at this chart and calculating the area of the triangle it seems the world has emitted about (1/2)*(70 yrs)*(9000 MmtC/yr), or ~ 300 GtC. (Here Myles Allen said 500 GtC, and we'll probably emit another 250-500 GtC before we're finished.)
So the Canadian tar sands will increase "expected" "conventional" emissions about about 5-10%.
Instead of adding a total of about 800 GtC
to the atmosphere, burning the Canadian tar sands
will increase this to about 825 GtC.
If what we've burned so far (~500 GtC) has resulted in a ~1°C increase in temperature, and (throwing in some feedbacks) what we'll burn before we're through (~350 GtC) will add another ~ 1°C, then using all the Canadian tar sands (~25 GtC) we can get our hands on will add another ~0.1 °C.
Canadian tar sands = another 0.1 °C of warming
Is that so bad if, it makes the Canadians and a whole bunch of other people rich (~$15-20 T)?
I guess I'm just too cynical to think 350.org and the environmental lobby is going to stay in the way of $15-20 trillion worth of money sitting under the Canadian wilderness.