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Ethical Oil is Green Oil

In 2009, Edmonton author Satya Das wrote a book entitled Green Oil. The book strongly advocated what is frequently called, by those progressives who favour the development of the oilsands, sustainable development of this resource.

One year later, Ezra Levant stole Das' thunder with his book Ethical Oil. In it, he noted that while Albertan oil is far from perfect, when judged by a liberal-progressive ethical standard, it remains ethically superior to that produced by Canada's global adversaries. In terms of the promotion of peace, the equitable distribution of profits, respect for human rights, and environmental protection there are few oil sources in the world -- all of them within the western world -- that compare.

It's with this last principle in mind -- environmental protection -- that an undeniable truth emerges: ethical oil is green oil. Or at least as green as it can be. When the two works are taken together, Das' work (at least on the ledger) enhances Levant's, and vice versa. Das argues that Alberta has not only the right, but the moral imperative, to develop the oilsands and to do it in the most ethical way possible.

That is not to be said that Green Oil is a perfect work. Das' book contains its share of flaws and fallacies.

For example, Das advocates for the re-nationalization of portions of Alberta's oil and gas economy (albeit by acquiring companies at market value) and for the raising of royalty rates. Albertans, he insists, must act as the owners of their resources.

Fair enough. But Das also argues for the abolition of tax incentives that promote the exploration and drilling for oil and gas. So Das' idea of Albertans acting like owners is to have the government wade into the industry as an owner, collect higher royalty rates that have, when instituted in the recent past, harmed the industry, and all the while refuse to make any sort of broader investment in the development of this resource.

Das frequently advocates for best practices of various sorts throughout the book. So far as an economic best practice goes, that's not a good one. For the government to enter the market as an owner risks compromising the high rate of economic freedom that has helped make Alberta the economic juggernaut it has become.

And to forsake any degree of investment -- even the comparably-modest rate of investment Alberta and Canada -- into the development of oil and gas reserves is to invite their neglect.

Perhaps the most glaring fallacy of the book is his notion that Albertans don't strive toward leadership within Canada. Nothing could be further from the truth, especially at a time when Albertans lead the government of Canada.

Perhaps the idea that Albertans don't strive toward the leadership of Canada is a comforting myth that central Canadians prefer, shared within Alberta only by those foolish enough to cast their votes for Liberal candidates. But it is not true. Albertans have sought and earned the leadership of the Canadian government and of its economy.

But for these flaws, Green Oil remains an invaluable philosophical resource; a book mixed with equal parts vision and optimism. In it Das reminds us that there are technologies in use, under development, and on the drawing board that will enable us to transform Alberta's energy economy into one that is carbon-neutral. That is worthwhile.

For the past several years, my commentary on oilsands-related issues on this website has been tagged "ethical oil." The reason for this is that I strongly believe in the idea that, by liberal ethical standards, Canadian oil -- and Albertan oil -- is ethically superior to that produced and sold by Canada's adversaries.

The most important principle of the ethical oil philosophy is that, while Canadian oil is far from perfect, we strive to produce it in the best way it can be done; and we continually strive to do even better in future. As ethical oil innovator Mark Miike notes, the perfect is the enemy of the good. While we may not be so hung up on the imperfections of Canadian oil that we will falter from the pursuit of the good.

Das makes a powerful, if at times flawed, argument. It's in light of this argument that I will devote a portion of the coverage here to highlight technologies that are providing Albertans with the opportunity to reduce the environmental footprint of oil and gas in terms of its production, transport, refining and consumption. Those posts will be marked with the tag "green oil," beginning with this one.

Green oil is more than just a pipe dream; it's a work in progress. Albertans -- and people around the world -- are working very hard on it indeed.

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