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Over the past decade, surging demand from the United States for Canadian fossil fuels has coincided with deregulation of the energy industry and increasing control of Canadian energy companies by U.S. interests. The resulting oil and gas free-for-all in Canada is causing profound environmental problems, all in the service of turning Canada into America's gas tank.

Government deregulation of the Canadian energy sector began in the mid-1980s and led a decade later to energy provisions in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In the name of free markets, Canada has limited its capacity to influence energy production and consumption and fostered a takeover of much of the Canadian energy industry by U.S. companies. Today, the majority of oil and gas produced in Canada is exported to the United States, and many of the key extraction and production decisions affecting Canadians and the Canadian environment are made in U.S. board rooms.

Photo of oil rigs

photo: Charles Truscott/CPAWS Edmonton

The environmental costs of this oil and gas boom are massive and, if current trends continue, will only worsen. Canada's wilderness faces an onslaught of oil and gas development that is right now destroying and degrading habitat for endangered species. Greenhouse gas emissions from Canada are escalating rapidly, largely because of the fossil fuel industry, and in particular because of oil production in Canada's tar sands. Canadian companies are also helping to increase greenhouse gas emissions outside of Canada by selling fossil fuels that are burned beyond Canada's borders. Canadian citizens, particularly those living in rural areas, face serious health threats from the environmentally hazardous air emissions of the industry. Canada has a weak or non-existent legal framework for protecting endangered species and controlling carbon emissions or air pollution. As a result, Canada currently has no legal remedies for these high environmental costs.

To reverse this damage, Canadian federal and provincial governments will have to take concerted action to shift their policies away from the current tilt to fossil fuel production and toward renewable energy production instead.

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last revised 10/16/2002

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