Sense and Function

Politics, Philosophy, Art, Media, Environment, and Economics
MARCH 21, 2012 12:00AM

Tar Sands: Risky or Damaging?

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There are two Alberta tar sands pipelines, which environmentalists and people from the community have condemned as damaging. The communications manager for the Northern Gateway pipeline to the Pacific coast of Canada, Paul Stanway, re-cast its existence not as damaging, but as risky. He calls the assessment unfair fear-mongering. He says they “deal with the risks [of building pipelines] every day” and that they “aim to minimize them to a reasonable level.”

In these comments, he seems to have slipped. First, he seems to be saying risk when what is actually at stake is damage. Either way, he is saying that the “reasonable level” of damage has already been set by the companies, namely, in a cost-benefit analysis. This means that the risk he is citing is the financial costs, and these not to just anyone but to Enbridge. The well-being of communities and our living world is a line or two on their balance sheet.

One of the major problems is, of course, the externalization of costs. Susan Casey-Lefkowitz of the NRDC observes that the pipeline will not sustain communities, but that they will have to absorb the externalities: “British Columbia has some of the most amazing natural resources and the communities that live in those regions really depend on those natural resources. It simply doesn’t seem worth the risk… when you look at who would be benefiting,” she said. “The benefit really stays with the oil industry… and all the risk is being borne by the communities and the ecosystems in British Columbia.”

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