Scientists call for oil sands development moratorium, new policy roadmap

A commentary published last week in the international journal Nature calls for a moratorium on new oil sands projects in Alberta, citing what the authors say are flaws in how oil sands decisions are made. Five Simon Fraser University scientists are among a multidisciplinary group of economists, policy researchers, ecologists, and decision scientists who wrote the piece.

They argue that the controversy around individual pipelines like Keystone XL in the U.S. or Canada’s Northern Gateway overshadows deeper policy flaws, including a failure to adequately address carbon emissions or the cumulative effect of multiple projects.

The authors point to a contradiction between the doubling of the rate of oil sands production over the past decade and international commitments made by Canada and the U.S. to reduce carbon emissions. “The expansion of oil sands development sends a troubling message to other nations that sit atop large unconventional oil reserves,” said lead author Wendy Palen, an assistant professor of biological sciences at SFU.

“If Canada and the United States continue to move forward with rapid development of these reserves, both countries send a signal to other nations that they should disregard the looming climate crisis in favor of developing the most carbon-intensive fuels in the world.”

The authors say debate in the news media and during hearings for individual projects is limited to evaluating the short-term costs and benefits to the local economy, jobs, environment and health, and do not account for the long-term and cumulative consequences of multiple projects or of global carbon pollution.

“Individual projects —a particular refinery or pipeline—may seem reasonable when evaluated in isolation, but the cumulative impacts of multiple projects create conflicts with our commitments to biodiversity, aboriginal rights, and controlling greenhouse gas emissions,” explains co-author Joseph Arvai, professor and research chair in decision science at the University of Calgary.

“Though we have the knowledge and the tools to do better—to more carefully analyze these tradeoffs and make smarter long-term choices — so far governments have not used them.”

A moratorium, they say, would create the opportunity for Canada and the United States to develop “a joint North American road map for energy development that recognizes the true social and environmental costs of infrastructure projects,” as well as account for national and international commitments to reduce carbon emissions.

For the complete commentary see: http://at.sfu.ca/tWWHmG

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