Canada’s environment minister is doubling down on his stance that increasing production and exports of Canadian oil and gas isn’t a solution to the looming energy crisis in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The solution is to move away from fossil fuels,” Steven Guilbeault told Canada’s National Observer. “That’s how we ultimately reduce our dependency.”
His comments come after the United States announced a ban on imports of Russian oil, natural gas and coal in yet another effort to strangle the economy and weaken the power of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The U.S. move, which President Joe Biden characterized as “another powerful blow to Putin’s war machine,” followed Canada’s announcement of a ban on Russian oil imports last week. Canada hasn’t imported oil from Russia for several years; the ban was a symbolic gesture to pressure other countries to follow suit.
The U.S. imports upward of 600,000 barrels a day of Russian oil, accounting for only about eight per cent of its total. “Americans have rallied … to support the Ukrainian people and made it clear we will not be part of subsidizing Putin’s war,” said Biden, also noting the U.S. produces far more oil domestically than all of Europe combined, making it possible to lock out Russian energy when European countries cannot.
“But we’re working closely with Europe and our partners to develop a long-term strategy to reduce their dependence on Russian energy as well,” Biden said. Europe depends on Russian oil for about a third of its supply.
The U.S. move prompted a flurry of commentary from politicians, pundits and at least one editorial board suggesting Canadian oil should come to the rescue in the event of shortages in the U.S. and Europe. “Hey, America, look up north,” suggested a Globe and Mail editorial headlined, “The world needs more Canadian oil and gas.”
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has been pitching his province’s oil since Russia invaded Ukraine late last month, tweeting Thursday: “Alberta is ready, willing and able to be a key part of the solution to the global energy crisis.”
Not so, said Guilbeault. “The reality is, it's not like oil is in Canada just waiting for this moment to happen and we've kept all the export capacity on trains open for the one day where this might happen,” he said. Canada doesn’t have much export capacity to move more oil to the U.S., and building that capacity, whether by pipeline or rail, takes years. When it comes to Europe, it’s equally infeasible — and unwanted.
“We’ve heard loud and clear from Europeans that fossil fuels (aren’t) the way to our climate goals. They’re doubling down and they see this crisis as an opportunity to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy,” says Steven Guilbeault.
“We’ve heard loud and clear from Europeans that fossil fuels (aren’t) the way to our climate goals,” he said. “They’re doubling down and they see this crisis as an opportunity to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy.”
Canada doesn’t have the capacity to increase exports to the European market, and refineries on the other side of the Atlantic aren’t equipped to process the heavy crude that comes from Alberta’s tarsands. Increasing that capacity and retrofitting refineries would be expensive and long-term, he said. “The need is short-term.”
Canada can, however, play a role in supporting Europe’s energy needs by, for example, sharing green technology and supporting countries as they transition to renewable energy, he said.