President Obama, in close discussions with Energy Secretary Stephen Chu and Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach is to give the green light for US consumption of oil sand oil, or rather the import of fuels considered among the “dirtiest” in the fuel market. In a meeting last week, President Obama decided that the Canada’s oil sands represented an important part of national security supplies for petroleum in America’s near future.

The move is not without immediate precedent, as Francois Cardinal at notes, both Hillary Clinton had offered support for oil sands at a recent conference on energy security, and Obama’s national Security adviser General Jim Jones was similarly adamant that the US would be foolish to reject the possibility of a stable source from a close partner in Canada.

The move will disappoint many in the green movement, given Obama has previously been less supportive of oil sands, noting that the Us needed to ween itself off dirty and dangerous oil supplies. In particular at a recent summit with Canada, President Obama described US coal as equivalent to Alberta’s oil sands, given environmentalists hope that the US would take a tough line demanding far reaching cleanup efforts if the oil sands were ever to be imported.

Speaking at a recent energy conference the Calgary Herald noted Energy Secretary’s Chu’s position

“This is energy that one hopes to develop in a clean way, and so that you can decrease the environmental footprint, both in the energy invested in order to recover it and on the local environmental issues,” Chu said Monday in response to a Herald query.

“There are also environmental issues having to do with the recovery of the oil sands, the very tarry stuff that’s left behind, the residues. There haven’t been solutions to that yet,” added Chu, who met privately with Premier Ed Stelmach on Monday for about 30 minutes”

How far the environmental issues are pushed depends on a large number of factors, in terms of Canada’ s federal Climate policy projects such as oil sands are only required to reduce the intensity of their energy consumption in order to keep with Canada’s GHG targets, in short allowing growth in absolute Carbon emissions. Worse, of the projects designed to reduce emissions from critical polluting sectors, most of Canada’s research investment is going to “clean coal” rather than oil sands:

“Alberta Minister of Environment Rob Renner said Tuesday that the lion’s share of $ 2 billion planned for the burial of carbon was destined for the coal industry”

However, environmental movements within Canada, have made strong progress in other states such as British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec which could increase the pressure on states such as Alberta to set more ambitious reduction targets and forcing them to channel greater investment into cleaning up the oil sands. Furthermore, the role of California the US’s biggest car using state has effectively banned Alberta oil unless it cleans up, through regional Environmental alliances such as the WCI such policy could be diffused throughout other key states, potentially even within Canada.

In summary, oil sands as noted previously now look set for a stable future, one albeit without the much feared spectacular growth that marked environmentalists concerns prior to the recession and one in which increasing pressure will probably be put on the oil sands to reduce their environmental impact, but in terms of derailment, the oil sands appear to have escaped that pitfall.

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