Canadian Ambassador to US joins ABB forum

Gary Doer, Canadian Ambassador to the US (left) with Ian MacDonald of Policy magazine

The Canadian ambassador to the US holds forth on Keystone XL, cross-border cooperation and who really won the War of 1812.

For the record, Canada won the war of 1812.

That’s according to Gary Doer, the Canadian ambassador to the United States and former Manitoba Premiere, so perhaps not the most objective source. Doer was in attendance last week at ABB’s Energy and Automation Forum in Calgary, the company’s first-ever national event in Canada, and he touched on a range of topics during an hour-long interview.

Doer’s main message, though, was focused on the potential for North America to become energy independent within five years while simultaneously making significant improvements in air and water quality. He outlined four key ingredients:

  • Efficiency standards, such as the harmonized fuel efficiency targets for light vehicles adopted by the US and Canada
  • Renewable energy, which already makes up 63 percent of the generation mix in Canada
  • Shale gas, on which both countries are sharing technology and innovations
  • Unconventional oil, where continuing innovation will allow reduction in water use and intensity of emissions

It’s no secret that the Alberta oil sands are a veritable gold mine (make that black gold) for Canada, but Doer pointed out that the consternation over the Keystone XL pipeline in the US highlights a curious incongruity. In short, Americans are very keen to buy their oil from a friendly neighbor instead of hostile regimes in other parts of the world.

“The protests are over how the oil is moved,” he said.

Doer pointed out that Canada accounts for one third of America’s foreign oil imports, up from 19 percent just four years ago. Regarding the Keystone project in particular, he provided a refreshing dose of reason in what has become an almost entirely emotional debate. Doer pointed out that the US State Department’s own analysis shows that moving crude from the oil sands via rail is both less safe and less energy-efficient than sending it by pipeline.

The original fallacy of the anti-Keystone movement, said Doer, was that killing the pipeline would keep the oil in the ground. By now, there should be no question that the oil will be produced, and it will be moved to market. The only question is how, and on that point Doer was unequivocal in advocating for the safest alternative (i.e., pipelines).

It seems inevitable that Keystone will be built. Americans and their elected officials favor the project (and the jobs that come with it), but as Doer noted, electoral politics may keep it from moving forward until January 2017.

The remainder of Doer’s remarks were decidedly more upbeat, pointing out multiple instances of cross-border cooperation on energy issues and the tremendous potential for the US to reach its energy goals by drawing on Canadian resources. That includes hydro power and other renewables, made available to the US via an expanded transmission system that would also enable inter-provincial energy trade with more east-west lines.

But nothing is easy. Recalling his work in earlier government roles, Doer said that he had once calculated that transmission lines require “one lawyer per megawatt” to secure regulatory approval. Let’s hope that going forward Doer’s view that “logic and science in the long term will prevail” proves to be true.

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About the author

Bob Fesmire

Bob Fesmire is a Strategic Communications Manager at ABB, based in Cary, North Carolina. He has written more than 120 articles and white papers on a variety of topics including smart grid technology, energy efficiency and industrial automation. In addition to his work at ABB, Bob is also the co-author of Energy Explained, a non-technical introduction to all aspects of the energy industry. Currently, he is working on an introduction to power generation for the lay reader.
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