Geopolitics, oil, and the ultimate inevitable celebration of the oil sands

Decades ago, when the west cared about energy security, weird things happened around the world. Major new hydrocarbon discoveries in various undeveloped corners of the world led to instant new ‘friendships’ – hey look everyone, we just signed a new trade deal with Angola! And a generation of political pundits scrambled for their atlases. Political alliances were formed with virtually anyone that helped with petroleum supply (I bet there were even instances where hard-core pro-war ultra-conservative military-industrialists raised their eyebrows and said “Really? That guy? He’s nuts.” But they supported him anyway…).

The phenomenon is of course not unprecedented – big powers have always sought out what they needed to survive. Petroleum was just the most recent commodity, in desperate demand as the west’s lifestyle spiralled up and out. And it only spiralled up and out because of affordable hydrocarbons.

Now that the west has been brutally afflicted by comfort – perpetually full supermarkets, ultra-reliable energy, endless leisure options – some circles have lost interest in reliable, secure energy in the ignorant belief that it can simply be replaced by renewables. It can’t, and we will find that out after some as-yet-undetermined level of damage, but the interesting part here is the repercussions for current hydrocarbon supplies.

The petroleum-supply geopolitical machine that the west once relied on has been tossed on the scrap heap due to a belief that US shale supplies will provide a hundred years’ of supply, and by the notion that we won’t be relying on hydrocarbons for much longer anyway because of the ‘energy transition’. 

The latter in particular is changing the west’s petroleum outlook, to the extent that rabid activists are trying to hound Big Oil out of existence. They may succeed; recent court cases and shareholder activists are changing the course of large multinational oil companies. These slow-moving behemoths are being forced to adopt new green strategies, cut exploration budgets, and  exit oil production as fast as possible. They seem to have few friends in the house, anywhere, except of course the faceless and endless stream of consumers that rely on their products for survival. (It may soon be illegal to say that, so just getting in while I can.)

But from a global perspective, it is as though we are moving back in time 70 years, with different players. China, India, other parts of Asia, and Africa are on a development trajectory much like North America and western Europe were in the middle of the last century. They are now the ones looking to secure energy supplies (China being the most aggressive; places like Africa simply want to develop the reserves they have). There is one huge difference, of course – those regions in combination have a population ten times that of North America.

India and Africa have recently made it clear that they intend to develop and utilize hydrocarbon resources to the maximum extent possible, for as long as they see fit. China has said something else – pledging carbon neutrality or some such metric by 2060 – but for any rational person their promises should have the credibility of a manic pro wrestler. (Despite what China says about plans to slash emissions, the country is building new oil refineries, building tens of thousands of kilometres of hydrocarbon pipelines, and constructing new coal-fired power plants).

So, in the coming years, we can expect to see these regions – Asia and Africa, predominantly – with their combined 4 billion citizens scooping up all the properties the west is being forced to sell (for example, Shell will be hounded out of Nigerian oil production sometime pretty quickly). They will buddy up with the Middle East’s key cantankerous players, in the name of energy security. They will act to guarantee supply.

The west? We will be in trouble. We are going to need hydrocarbons for many decades as well, no matter what a hundred thousand academic sociologists and climatologists and soft-science PhD politicians say. We will be forced to look in unsavoury places for our hydrocarbon fix.

The ultimate irony out of this? Mark these words: In 30 years, Canada’s oil sands, recently decried as a ‘carbon bomb’ and killer of the world’s climate, will be the most valuable asset in North America. It is an unbelievably huge, landlocked resource that will be available for another hundred years, long after today’s hot shale plays are drilled up like Swiss cheese.

Energy security will one day be popular again, and we will be grateful for what we have in our own back yard.

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19 Comments

  1. OG says:

    Appears that humans are willing to take the chance that climate change will be something we can live with and survive.

    Like

    • Terry Etam says:

      I agree. Humans profess to be concerned but their actions do not support any genuine concern. The odd (very odd) person walks the talk, but very few. The sooner this is understood the better.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Craig Austin says:

      No evidence of climate stasis on a global scale over an appropriate timeframe exists, climate change is a constant and will continue to be so, regardless of the green maniacs zeal.

      Like

  2. John Chittick says:

    To be a little optimistic for a change, the resulting politically engineered (consciously intentional or not) supply short fall is resulting in prices making the Alberta Oil Patch extremely attractive for investors not intimidated by the continuous propaganda and noise coming out of the institutional left. This is a generational opportunity to personally benefit and prepare while most everyone else, in bovine splendor, enter the chutes leading to the green intoxication of energy poverty coming to a formerly appreciated energy powerhouse near you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Deb says:

      Investment isn’t being allowed. Pay attention to current events in Canada. A company with the correct ideology might be allowed to invest. If you are paying attention to Trudeau, this means China.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Roger Dee says:

      Hey John, good comment. BTW, are you the same John Chittick who worked for Canfor on Vancouver Island?
      If so best regards, it’s been a long time!
      Roger D.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oil and gas are some of the most reliable forms of energy and the cheapest form of energy due to their high energy concentration. The result is cheap energy, which keeps the cost of ALL items low, and more competitive industries, resulting in a higher standard of living. Unreliable renewable energy is less energy concentrated and more expensive. This results in higher cost for ALL items in the economy along with energy interruption brown outs. This means less competitive economies (in Europe, Canada and USA), RESULTING in a lower standard of living in Europe, Canada and USA due to much higher energy costs, higher unemployment and energy supply disruptions. Our politicians need to get educated on the reality of the SCALE of global energy demand and the SCALE of the GROWTH of energy demand. The exponential growth of renewable energy in the last 15 years has displaced less than 25% of just the GROWTH in global energy demand. Renewable energy alone simply cannot replace fossil fuels due to the global SCALE of energy demand. They also need to wake up and realize 3/4 of the global population want a standard of living that we take for granted in the G7 countries. These countries in Asia, Africa and South America will use their own fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) to create employment and obtain a higher standard of living. It may take 10 years before our governments in the G7 countries wake up to this reality. This “one atmosphere blue planet” we all live on will require a mix of ALL forms of energy in the future to be used to meet the SCALE and RELIABILITY to have a semblance of the present standard of living we enjoy. The next two generations will pay dearly for our governments’ decisions in the next 5-10 years.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Rand West says:

      First, I think the politicians have more information about the world than you give them credit for. But they mostly care about winning the next election, so there’s zero chance they’ll take action either way, and economics make most major decisions anyway. It’s why there’s been no news and no action on hard problems like mercury pollution at Grassy Narrows.

      If they really wanted to lower CO2 emissions in short order, everything would switch from coal and diesel to natural gas as fast as possible. Cars, trucks, buses, trains, power plants, furnaces.

      Then there would be a construction boom as every older building was rebuilt or re-insulated to be more efficient, and heated by heat pumps and combined heat and power systems. Or at least we could mandate high efficiency gas appliances?

      New long distance transmission lines would be built to shift power east to west, new hydro and maybe a few nuclear power plants could be built in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

      But it won’t happen, because there’s little actual political urgency, and the cost would be higher than Canada’s non-energy grain, lumber, and coal exports could ever pay for in trade. And most of it’s already been sold off.

      Like

      • OG says:

        Ian is using short term thinking. Oil and natural gas will run out soon even if we tried to burn it all, which we can’t because of the missions problem. Coal is too dirty yo use much longer.

        Like

    • OG says:

      Short term thinking. Fossil fuel use has to stop quickly.

      Like

  4. fgsjr2015 says:

    The fossil fuel industry and governments can tell when a very large portion of the electorate is too tired and worried about feeding/housing themselves or their family, and the devastation being left in COVID-19’s wake — all while on insufficient income — to criticize them for whatever environmental damage their policies cause/allow, particularly when not immediately observable. Without doubt, mass addiction to fossil fuel products helps keep the average consumer quiet about the planet’s greatest polluter, lest they feel like and/or be publicly deemed hypocritical. It must be convenient for the industry.

    Regardless of which political party, our federal governments have consistently propped the already profitable fossil fuel industry. In 2019 alone, Canada’s (neo)Liberal government gave the industry 12-fold the subsidization it allocated towards renewable green-energy innovation. This is on top of agreeing to triple the diluted bitumen pipeline-flow westward through B.C., which means increasing the oil freighter traffic seven-fold through pristine whale-bearing waters.

    The industry must have a solid footing when even our mainstream print news-media formally support Canada’s industry. News conglomerate Postmedia is on record as being allied with not only the planet’s second most polluting forms of “energy” (i.e. fossil fuel), but also the most polluting/dirtiest of crude oils — bitumen. [Source: “Mair on Media’s ‘Unholiest of Alliances’ With Energy Industry”, Rafe Mair, Nov.14 2017, TheTyee.ca]
    Furthermore, in late May, Postmedia refused to run paid ads by Leadnow, a social and environmental justice organization, that expose RBC as the largest financer of fossil fuel extraction in Canada.

    Like

  1. […] Last century, the west scrambled to secure access to cheap energy, meaning hydrocarbons. This century, an excess of familiarity and contempt has us turning our back on that fuel source, and trying to obliterate our energy pillars (ask Shell or ExxonMobil about that). But 4 billion people in China, India, Africa and elsewhere are embarking on that same path the west did. A consequence is that in a decade or two, North America is going to be very fond of those oil sands. Read on… […]

    Like

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