Over the course of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, fossil energy mainly from his home province became Canada’s largest export earner, pipeline capacity was expanded by 58%, oil-train carloads tripled in number, and petroleum became the country’s most dangerous transported good.
Those findings are included in Canada’s shifting sands: Oil production, distribution and implications, a study published earlier this month by Statistics Canada that examines the years from 2005 to 2014. The Conservatives took office in early 2006; 2014 was their last full year in power.
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Canada’s crude oil exports grew by 80% under the Harper government, reaching 165 million cubic metres in 2014, the agency reports, with “virtually all (97%)” of that expansion coming as “crude bitumen and synthetic crude oil” from tar sands/oil sands producers.
In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, high prices “helped to catapult” oil and gas into first place among Canadian exports by value, the authors write. But by 2015, “energy’s run as Canada’s biggest export ended” as a global glut transformed fossil energy from boom-time boon into “a cause for concern”—not least because of growing greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands/oil sands development. “By 2014,” they note, “the oil and gas sector accounted for over one-quarter (26%) of Canada’s 732 MT of emissions.”
Over the same period, “a combination of newly constructed pipeline segments, line conversions from gas to oil, line reversals, and higher pipeline throughput with more powerful pumps” allowed pipeline networks to increase their deliveries of oil and gas products by 58%.
Meanwhile, after a brief dip in the post-2008 recession, “the number of accidents involving crude oil products has increased steadily, and now exceeds those involving all other dangerous goods.”
On average, 55 pipeline leaks are recorded annually, StatsCan states. In its news report on the study, La Presse notes that estimate is likely conservative, since reporting on leaks only became mandatory half-way through 2014.
Some 780 train derailments occur every year in Canada, of which a third involved dangerous goods, although fewer than 7% of those led to the release of dangerous material.
Most accidents involving dangerous goods take place out of the public eye, however, happening as they do “in facilities rather than in transit,” the federal agency added.