Center for American Progress president John Podesta brought a dose of reality to a tar sands public relations session organized by Canada for Washington policymakers. At the Canada 2020 conference “Greening the Oil Sands,” Podesta responded to Canadian ambassador Gary Doer, who accused Americans of a “holier than thou” hypocrisy about Canada’s high-pollution synthetic petroleum production from Alberta’s bituminic deposits. Podesta also debunked the rosy picture painted by a cavalcade of industry officials, who spoke of their progress in “greening” tar sands production:
Oil extraction from tar sands is polluting, destructive, expensive, and energy-intensive. These things are facts. I think suggesting this process can come close to approximating being “greened” is largely misleading, or far too optimistic, or perhaps both. It stands alongside clean coal and error-free deepwater drilling as more PR than reality.
“Unconventional sources of fossil fuels cannot be our energy future,” Podesta explained bluntly. “There are no leapfrogging technologies on the horizon that suggest with any plausibility that this could be otherwise. There are no silver bullets waiting to be fired.” The BP Gulf of Mexico disaster is “one in a long line of wake-up calls, and we ignore it at our peril.”
“Beyond Petroleum is an ironic slogan, but not a real strategy,” Podesta noted. He criticized the oil industry for using clean energy for public relations instead of investment, citing research by the Center for American Progress that the big five oil companies invested only 1.7 percent of profits in clean-energy R&D, “because the corporate culture and core competence of oil companies favor large, centralized investment opportunities, like the unconventional resources in Canada and or deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.”
The U.S., Canada, and the rest of the world are “absurdly trying to ride two horses galloping in opposite directions,” as “we have to keep global temperatures under 2 degrees Celsius to avoid catastrophic climate change” but continue to pump investment and planning into a fossil-fuel future. “The oil industry is extracting oil from sources that are harder and riskier to access, and where a one-in-a-million failure, even if that is an accurate risk assessment, nevertheless has huge, unaffordable consequences.”
During the Q&A that followed, Gary Mar, Alberta’s representative in Washington, thanked Podesta for his talk which was “valuable,” Mar said, because it “compels the Alberta government to sharpen its case for the oil sands.”