Green Oil author Satya Das charts course for clean energy future
Book combines climate change politics with Alberta economics, the royalty debate and an awful lot of report summaries
The latest how-to book about making fossil fuels respectable begins with an anecdote describing a sneering Saddam Hussein minutes before his death by hanging. Were it not for oil, argues Edmonton author Satya Das, no one would have cared about this gangster-dictator and the cellphone camera taping of his final moments.
The execution scene gives Das a dramatic opening for his Green Oil: Clean Energy for the 21st Century? The rest of the first chapter, titled “The Tyranny of Oil,” expounds on the idea that society is addicted to petroleum. This infatuation causes North Americans to behave in ways that are not in line with their declared democratic and peaceful beliefs, claims Das – like supporting and then overthrowing nasty fellows like Saddam Hussein who wield power in oil-supplier countries.
The petroleum addiction chapter echoes most of the current library of literature about the need for environmental action and energy security. Yes, there is an addiction to oil for fuels and its magic barrel of synthetic products. Yes, this puts one and all at the mercy of Middle Eastern tyrants whose values, or lack thereof, are widely abhorred. Yes, burning fossil fuels causes emissions that are believed to be the leading cause of human-based climate change.
It would be logical to expect the rest of the book to dwell on yet more familiar themes: ailing caribou herds and a call for Albertans to install solar panels on snow-covered rooftops and demand a halt to the oil sands as the only way to get to the Green part of the title. But that is not where Das goes. Instead, the book combines climate change politics with Alberta economics, the royalty debate and an awful lot of report summaries. He aims to “try to get people to start acting like owners” of the biggest hydrocarbon deposit in the free world – and to do so with the intent of using rent extracted from its exploitation to ease the transition into a fossil fuel-free future.
As owners of the oil sands by virtue of the provincial government’s constitutional mineral rights ownership, Albertans have a moral obligation to ensure that the resource is managed in a way that reflects what they believe, or at least what they tell pollsters they believe, asserts the Edmonton journalist-turned-consultant. They are “natural stewards of the environment,” adds Das.
If Albertans would just start acting like owners, they would demand action on “bold recommendations” that the province’s thinkers have placed in various reports, commissioned by the government or otherwise. This would create a more sustainable economy and do more to correct the province’s dirty oil image than any official public relations campaign.
Only if Albertans take the responsibility of ownership and go beyond their Canadian “bronze-medal mentality” can they force their government to come up with a cogent energy policy, says Das. He is frustrated, he adds – frustrated that the Alberta government only tepidly acted on tepid recommendations for changes to royalties. Frustrated that so soon after a boom, the provincial government is now reporting budget deficits. Frustrated that ideas about making the oil sands carbon neutral are being ignored. Frustrated at the lack of clear environmental regulation, a gripe that he points out he shared until recently with Royal Dutch Shell.
Das argues for an energy policy that would move Alberta closer to a European model of resource management with well-defined, all-encompassing environmental regulation, state resource ownership and high royalties dedicated to expanding the social welfare state and implementing new energy technologies. His targets include carbon-neutral oil sands development, world-class societal development, support for the burgeoning field of nanotechnology and the proposed high-speed rail connection between Edmonton and Calgary.
Among the author’s suggestions for achieving any of this is state ownership (although not management) of an oil sands company. He wants the provincial government to buy EnCana Corp.’s spun-off oil company Cenovus Energy. “By assuming a controlling interest in Cenovus, the Alberta government will, in effect, be re-nationalizing part of a company it started and owned,” he writes, referring to EnCana’s ancestry as Alberta Energy Co.
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