Fossil fuel industry gives us cause to be skeptical | Science Matters | David Suzuki Foundation
Photo: Fossil fuel industry gives us cause to be skeptical

We need to take a hard look at our energy use and sources (Credit: seng1011 via Flickr).

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Communications and editorial specialist Ian Hanington

The priority for people who run oil companies is to maximize profits. We know their words and actions are largely guided by a commitment to shareholders, and so we consider them in that context. Politicians, on the other hand, are supposed to represent the public interest. Supporting industry can be good for citizens, but when elected officials devote more effort to creating opportunities for industry than for the people who elect them, they lose our trust — especially when industrial growth comes at a cost to the public interest.

Given the fossil fuel industry's record of misleading the public and endangering the environment, its support from political leaders should give us pause. The disaster in the Gulf of Mexico a year ago when BP's Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, killing 11 people and spewing oil into the Gulf, was a wake-up call, but it already seems to be fading from memory.

We shouldn't forget this disaster, and not only because some of the millions of barrels of oil is still wreaking havoc on ecosystems. Last year's crisis was the result of a blow-out preventer failure, but the Gulf is still dotted with drilling rigs with similar devices, and most have not been properly inspected or maintained. With the Deepwater Horizon rig, owners were permitted to fill out their own inspection reports, which were then submitted by U.S. government regulatory agencies as being accurate.

The Gulf is also home to 27,000 abandoned oil and gas wells and 3,500 “temporarily abandoned” wells. The Associated Press reports that no one is regulating these well to ensure they are secure and safe. Of course, cleaning up can be costly. Even though the fossil fuel industry is the most profitable in history, and even though it continues to receive massive taxpayer-funded subsidies in Canada, the U.S., and other countries, its executives are reluctant to spend money if they don't have to. That would cut into profits.

Meanwhile, the governments of Canada and Alberta have been waging a taxpayer-funded campaign against the European Union's science-based proposal to label tar sands oil as a “high-carbon fuel”. And both governments have only recently admitted that the tar sands are having a negative impact on the Athabasca River. Even in the face of scientific studies showing otherwise, politicians and industrialists were insisting that the tar sands were not affecting the Athabasca and that any contamination found was "naturally occurring".

Our insatiable appetite for fossil fuels has also led to concerns over hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, whereby great amounts of water, sand, and chemicals are blasted into wells to fracture the underground shale and release natural gas. Leaks, blow-outs, water contamination, increased ozone in the atmosphere, and emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, are just some of the possible consequences of this procedure.

What this tells us, along with facts about pollution and climate change, is that we need to take a hard look at our energy use and sources. We can't expect to get reliable information from the industry; after all, its priority is to promote its own interests. And, it appears, we can't expect much better from governments, which are often led by people who are more interested in their own short-term interests, based on election cycles, than in the longer-term interests of the people who elect them.

Canada has a petro dollar. Our economy is currently fuelled by high oil prices. But where will that leave us when our water, land, and air are polluted, when our children are suffering from the effects of pollution and climate change, and when the oil has all but run out and the rest of the world has switched to cleaner energy?

We need a better plan than just getting as much oil, gas, and coal as fast as possible. Slower and wiser development of these resources and better ways to manage the money they generate, ensuring that the wealth is used for the good of all Canadians, could help us make the shift to cleaner energy. Better planning and a greater focus on renewable energy sources would benefit the health of our water, land, air, and people. It would also be much healthier for the long-term economic prosperity of our country.

April 28, 2011
http://www.davidsuzuki.org/blogs/science-matters/2011/04/fossil-fuel-industry-gives-us-cause-to-be-skeptical/

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1 Comment

Apr 30, 2011
10:32 AM

David, I’m trying to figure out your support for fossil fuel-extenders such as industrial wind turbines (IWTs), especially when you know the fossil industry’s record of misleading the public. IWTs must be paired with fossil turbines when attached to the grid. If the energy was stored to be used as required you could call it “renewable”. However, that is not happening. Did you ever wonder why it’s the fossil fuel industry erecting most of these turbines? They increase our dependency on fossil fuels and they extend their life span. In other words, we’ll ultimately burn more fossil fuels over the long run. This does not make sense if the goal is to reduce fossil dependency and emissions. There are alternatives and we must demand energy storage:

http://bpeg.ca/b2blog/index.php?blog=6

Also, these monsters are making people sick:

http://www.kincardinenews.ca/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=3101991

This is a small community. These are my neighbours. They’re not nuts. One is a school teacher. I don’t think people appreciate the immense size of these. They are now 49 stories tall. You can feel their vibrations long before you can here them. Industrial generators of this size do not belong next to people’s homes.

Have you been mislead or have you joined the industry in doing the misleading?

Keith

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