By Gary G. Mar
Published in the Calgary Herald

March 15, 2022

The situation in Russia and Ukraine exposes the geo-political gap in the approach of Western democracies to environmental policy. Surely it is ridiculous to produce less oil and natural gas in Western democracies only to import more from dictators who do not share our values on the environment, human rights or multilateral rule of law.

Energy security is a key component of national security, both of which have been ignored in recent years in our laudable goal to make our energy use cleaner. Canada and the United States are blessed with abundant supplies – Western Europe not so much. The transition to a lower carbon economy will not happen overnight and large investments are needed to achieve our goals. But recent events in Ukraine remind us that threats to energy security can happen almost overnight and that the West ignores energy security at our peril.

Some facts. In 1997, fossil fuels accounted for 80.5 per cent of world energy production. The International Energy Agency released figures that show in the 25 years between 1997 and 2019, global consumption increased by 50 per cent, with fossil fuels accounting for roughly the same share of the energy mix. Last year, the U.S. Energy Information Agency projected that global energy consumption will grow by another 50% by 2050. Coal’s share of the mix will decline, renewables will increase, but fossil fuels will continue to account for the lion’s share at just over 70 per cent. To put it simply, the world will need 50 per cent more oil and natural gas in 2050 than it does today. Where should it come from?

Fossil fuels have negative environmental impacts. To avoid those consequences, we must continue to increase energy efficiency and develop and deploy more economically competitive renewable and nuclear clean energies. That said, we will still need large quantities of oil and natural gas and must also continue to improve technology to reduce their environmental footprint. We can do all these things because we have a great track record of doing all these things. But we must also develop these technologies in tandem with reasonable regulations and policies that consider other goals – including national and energy security. This lack of foresight has handicapped our own production to the benefit of dictators.

The invasion of Ukraine has painfully reminded us of Western Europe’s current dependence on Russian oil and gas, just as we are also aware of the oil and natural gas market power of dictatorships such as Iran and Venezuela. While energy markets do not change over night, they do change over time.  Just look at recent history.

In the last quarter century, the development of oil sands and shale gas technologies created an exponential rise in energy production in Canada and the United States to the point of net energy independence.

Despite recent public attention focused on the Keystone XL pipeline and Line 5 in Michigan, 136 pipeline projects were completed in the U.S. between 2015 through 2020 and more are under construction. During the same period there were no new Canada-US connections and the Line 3 replacement project was finally operational in September 2021. As a result, Canadian oil could not easily replace declining U.S. imports, notably from Venezuela which peaked in 2004. Currently, Canada and the U.S. are each other’s largest supplier of crude by far. The ability of Canada to replace declining sources peaked with the cancellation of Keystone XL and notable opposition by some in the U.S. to other new oil pipelines from Canada. This opposition has not reduced U.S. oil consumption by one drop. It simply changed the options for where the U.S. can import oil – notably Russia.

We will be using large quantities of oil and natural gas for decades to come. Where it comes from matters. Increased oil and natural gas production in Canada and the United States will never fully replace production from dictatorial regimes. But increasing our own responsible production can enhance economic and energy security in North America and also in other democracies, to the detriment of dictators everywhere.

Gary Mar is president and CEO of the Canada West Foundation


IEA data; 2019 is last complete year of stats.

US EIA International Energy Outlook 2021.