The Canadian answer to U.S. energy

Commentator David Frum.

Kai Ryssdal: Here's the quirk about American energy policy, most specifically the part about oil. It's one big global marketplace, so we're not isolated from what's happening elsewhere. Domestic affairs in other countries play a big part on oil prices and in our debate over what to do here. Expand exploration in places like Alaska, invest more in offshore oil drilling.

Case in point, Canada. Our neighbor to the north is our number one source of crude. Commentator David Frum says Canada's recent election is good news for us.


David Frum: The United States cannot drill its way to energy independence. But Canada can.

While the U.S. landmass is relatively poor in oil resources, it's estimated that the Canadian province of Alberta contains more fuel energy than all of Saudi Arabia. Alberta's oil is mixed with sand, a fact that until recently pushed its cost prohibitively high.

But improving technology and rising global oil prices have burst the old constraints. Canada has surged into first place among U.S. oil suppliers. Good news for Americans concerned about where their oil comes from and how oil dollars are used: for Canada also ranks first among world purchasers of American products.

Environmental concerns are real, especially the greenhouse gas emissions associated with extraction. But the industry has made great progress reducing water pollution, to the point where the Royal Society of Canada has determined that oil sands development is not a threat to aquatic ecosystems.

Yet Alberta oil faces one remaining economic challenge: its location. Alberta is about as far from open water as it gets in North America. So Alberta oil must move by pipeline. One existing pipeline already carries about 600,000 barrels of oil per day.

A proposal has been advanced to expand capacity to nearly 1.3 million barrels a day: one-seventh of all U.S. consumption. Canada has approved it. On May 2, Canadians emphatically reelected the most pro-pipeline party as their government for the next four years.

The next decision rests with the Obama administration. And has rested and rested and rested.

On the plus side: secure oil, a responsible producer, no risks of oil spills at sea.

On the negative side: well, it's still oil. And some people think we shouldn't be burning it all. Fair point. And maybe someday we won't. But for now the question is not: shall we buy oil? The question is: from where? It should be an easy call. Why is it taking so long?


Ryssdal: David Frum was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush. Today he's the editor of Frum Forum. Next week in this space, Robert Reich. Your views whenever you like. Send us your comments -- click on this contact link.

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