BOSTON – As the Portland City Council considers a resolution to adopt an environmental performance policy, I would like to weigh in with information that I recently presented to the council.
Let me first say that Canada greatly values its historic relationship with Portland and the state of Maine: as a business partner, a friendly neighbor and an ally.
The trade relationship is especially deep, with Canada being the largest export market for Maine products. These exports support about 29,000 Maine jobs.
More than 1 million Canadian tourists visit Maine every year, many of whom you see on Portland streets.
There are 60 Canadian companies located in Maine, employing roughly 6,300 Mainers.
The point is that we are deeply connected.
We are also energy interdependent. We sell you petroleum, electricity, coal and natural gas. Energy has moved safely and freely across the border in our region through transmission and pipelines for decades.
For the past 71 years, the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line has delivered imported crude oil from Maine’s coast to Canada for refining and distribution.
Canada is a major exporter to the region of hydroelectricity, a stable, non-greenhouse gas-emitting, renewable and competitively priced resource. The Kibby Wind Project, the state’s largest wind farm, has Canadian roots. In fact, Canada has committed to reducing Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, a target that is aligned with that of the United States.
We are currently mounting major new hydro projects in Labrador that will help take coal plants offline in Canada and bring more clean energy to New England.
Of course, oil is also a large percentage of our energy exports to the U.S. In 2011, approximately 24 percent of your country’s imported oil came from Canada, most of it from Alberta. This oil has been produced and delivered by various means, including pipelines, to North American customers for 40 years. The U.S. is the largest foreign investor in the oil sands, and about 65 New England companies are suppliers.
And technology is making oil sands production increasingly efficient and environmentally responsible. From 1990 to 2010, oil sands’ greenhouse gas emissions per barrel were reduced by 26 percent, and technology will reduce those emissions further. Oil sands emissions are now comparable with many conventional oil fields.
IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates found that greenhouse gas emissions from oil sands are 11 percent higher than for the average crude refined in the U.S., but in the same range as many heavy crude oils produced, imported and refined in the United States, including crudes from less secure suppliers, such as Venezuela, Nigeria and Iraq.
The portion of the oil sands that can be mined in open pits represents less than 0.2 percent of Canada’s boreal forest. All disturbed land must, by law, be fully reclaimed. The governments of Canada and Alberta have protected 28,300 square miles of the Lower Athabasca region and the Wood Buffalo National Park.
What about pipeline safety? Frequently cited allegations that diluted bitumen from Canada’s oil sands is more corrosive in pipelines are false. Both scientific research and industrial experience have determined that bitumen-derived crude oil is no more corrosive in transmission pipelines than other crudes. Pipelines have proven to be safer than all other methods of transport including trucks, rail and ships.
While both of our countries work together to develop lower-carbon alternatives, experts acknowledge that we will continue to rely on fossil fuels for decades.
The governments of Canada and Alberta work with industry to ensure that the oil sands are developed in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. And new technologies, such as carbon capture and storage and in-situ mining techniques, are improving environmental performance.
In an increasingly competitive and globalized marketplace, it’s more important than ever to work together to grow our economies, create jobs in our communities and act collectively in the responsible stewardship of our shared environment.
Our energy markets are no exception; they are highly integrated, and that is not likely to change any time soon. As such, while I applaud the city’s initiative to green its operations, a policy decision such as this one needs to be well-informed and take all the facts into consideration.
Pat Binns is consul general of Canada to New England.