Greenpeace and other NGOs have a new bee in their bonnets. They are mounting a massive and very expensive and professional propaganda campaign against the extraction of oil from Tar Sands. Outside the European parliament in Brussels, they have a slick display of photographs and slogans, saying that the mining of tar sands is causing the despoliation of huge areas of Canada, damaging the environment and wild life and indigenous peoples (presumably in that order of priority).
These are the people who hate nuclear energy with a passion, and have been energised by the Fukujima incident. They hate coal and are trying to prevent its use (at least without “Carbon Capture and Storage” — which remains a fanciful dream). They hate oil and gas because it is supposed to cause “Global Warming”. What do they want? Horsepower?
Their campaign has scored at least one success. A trickle of constituents are writing to their MEPs calling for the EU to ban the importation of tar sand oil from Canada (although I understand that all tar sand oil currently available is going to customers in North America, so we probably couldn’t access it even if we wanted to). I have replied to these constituents in the following terms:
Thank you for writing to me about the issue of oil extraction from tar sands in Canada. I can quite understand your concern, especially in view of the alarmist propaganda we have seen from a range of environmental organisations.
But I think we need to get the issue into perspective. First of all, the world is facing a range of energy challenges. There has been an understandable but exaggerated reaction around the world to the Fukujima nuclear problem, and Germany is threatening to close its nuclear plants. (I am interested to see, however, that famous green campaigner George Monbiot has concluded that because the Fukujima reactors survived the greatest imaginable natural disaster, yet without significant loss of life from radiation, we should now have more, not less, confidence in nuclear technology).
With gas, we have seen the attempts at blackmail by Russia as they turn off the gas taps (although thankfully huge new gas reserves have now been found in America — indeed the world is awash with gas).
There is chaos in the Middle East, and many people believe that the West’s oil supplies are at risk. Even if Saudi Arabia remains stable, potential hostilities in Iran could close the Gulf sea routes.
There is resistance to coal from those who believe that CO2 emissions cause climate change (though this view is increasingly challenged, and I do not myself accept it). Even so-called renewable options like solar and wind are challenged on both cost and environmental grounds. In these circumstances, we should not rush to rule out new sources of oil, or new technologies.
Of course any kind of mining causes a temporary scar on the landscape — as in open-cast coal mining. But in properly regulated countries, mining companies are contracted to reinstate the environment when extraction is completed. GreenPeace talks about damage to local communities and indigenous people, but fails to mention the huge amounts of money and investment brought in by mining activity.
Canada is a civilised, environment-conscious and democratic country, and I have every confidence that they will manage this industry in a responsible way. In any case, it is not my place to interfere in their internal affairs. Nor am I prepared, in these times of serious energy-security risks, to cut the EU off from a potentially important new energy source.
I have had a handful of letters of complaint about tar sands. I dread to think how many I should get if we let the lights go out.