What is next for tar sands? Saskatchewan comes to woo Washington

We greeted Canadian Environment Minister Prentice in DC at the start of this week. Minister Prentice has been a strong proponent of expansion of Canadian tar sands oil development, despite the high global warming pollution, and the extensive damage to land, water, wildlife and public health. Now the final days of the week see Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall in town to woo lawmakers and speak at a local conference about the provinces tar sands oil and uranium resources, among other things.

I have heard that the Premier is coming to promote Saskatchewan's green energy technology - but for him I fear this means capturing and storing carbon from tar sands oil development and increasing nuclear power. Capturing carbon is an expensive and technologically flawed solution to meaningful reductions in the very high global warming pollution of tar sands. And nuclear power has many well documented environmental and health problems from the mining, as well as the expense and risk of production and the expense and risk of waste storage.

We think of Alberta's Boreal forest as home to Canada's tar sands, but neighboring Saskatchewan has its own deposit under its Boreal forest. An estimated 27,000 sq. km of northwestern Saskatchewan has some level of tar sands oil potential. The deposit is deep - approximately 185m below the surface and part of it abuts the Clearwater River Wilderness Park, one of Saskatchewan's greatest areas of natural beauty. There may be tar sands oil in Saskatchewan but it is in the exploratory stage so far and until oil prices rise, it is unlikely that there will be the interest among the major oil companies to invest.

When I think of "green energy technology," my first thought would be renewables, energy efficiency and energy conservation - not tar sands oil. Many in Saskatchewan agree with this and have outlined an alternative path to tar sands and nuclear for their province. The Saskatchewan Environmental Society analysis of the province's green energy potential recommends energy efficiency and conservation, transition to wind power, solar and other renewable energy sources, environmentally sustainable transportation solutions, and green buildings. Wait - that sounds more like what the Obama Administration has in mind with its clean energy plan and stimulus package investments. It also sounds more like what was intended with the new U.S.-Canada Clean Energy Dialogue. Unfortunately, it does not sound like what the Saskatchewan government is touting this week in Washington. The new U.S.-Canadian clean energy dialogue should be used to promote truly green forms of energy. Tar sands oil does not fit in a green energy future.