In an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation prior to his February 19 with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, President Obama didn’t respond when asked if he considers oil sands “dirty oil.” During the presidential campaign Obama pledged to break the US addiction to “dirty, dwindling and expensive oil.”
Obama did acknowledge that oil sands “creates a big carbon footprint.” The dilemma, he said, is “how do we obtain the energy we need to grow our economies in a way that is not rapidly accelerating climate change.” Canada and the US “can collaborate on ways that we can sequester carbon, capture greenhouse gases before they are emitted into the atmosphere,” he said.
Alberta has immense oil sands resources and just to the south the voracious US energy market, which receives the bulk of the output from the Alberta fields. The oil is expensive to develop – compared to conventional oil – and is, let’s face it, “dirty,” producing three times the greenhouse gas emissions as conventional oil development, while the extraction process takes a huge environmental toll.
Oil sands development is expected to be a key topic for discussion when Obama and Harper get together, and the president apparently will try to balance his commitment to move the US towards a green energy, low carbon economy with increasing imports of Canadian crude.
In his remarks to the CBC, Obama may not have given much comfort to environmentalists who contend that extraction of oil from oil sands is unacceptable under any circumstances. It is possible, he said, to create a “set of clean energy mechanisms” to allow the use not only of oil sands, Obama said, but “also coal,” another least favorite energy resource among environmentalists.
Coal creates a “big carbon footprint” as well, Obama said, but the US is “the Saudi Arabia of coal.” By that measure, Alberta is the Saudi Arabia of oil sands. And Obama does not appear willing to write-off either Canadian oil sands or domestic coal as he moves to a green energy future.
“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,” he told the CBC.