By Mark Milke
and Lennie Kaplan
Canadian Energy Centre
“Designing hypothetical roadmaps outlining complete elimination of fossil carbon from the global energy supply by 2050 is nothing but an exercise in wishful thinking that ignores fundamental physical realities,” wrote Vaclav Smil a year ago.
Smil, a University of Manitoba professor of the environment (emeritus), wants less carbon emissions but is also a leading expert on how energy transitions take place.
If that’s the fact of energy life for the next few decades, then it makes sense to grasp some other relevant facts: how interdependent United States and Canadian consumers are on each other’s oil and natural gas, and the pipeline infrastructure that carries both.
That pipeline network carries oil and natural gas along 117,000 km in Canada and over 336,000 km in the U.S.
That’s 453,000 km worth of tubes that carry a variety of crude oil, refined petroleum and natural gas products, with a plethora of jobs, incomes, families and homes dependent on that network.
Specific to the pipeline industry – skipping oil and gas extraction, refining and other such activities – an estimated 13,434 full-time jobs depend on the Canadian network and another 49,970 jobs are linked to the American network. Such jobs pay well, averaging US$77,340 in the United States and C$80,155 in Canada.
The oil and gas pipeline industry contributes significantly to the gross domestic product (GDP) in both countries: C$9.2 billion for Canada and US$50.5 billion for America.
By comparison, the GDP contribution of the oil and gas pipeline sector in the United States in 2019 was nearly one and a half times the US$34 billion GDP the same year in Vermont, home to Sen. Bernie Sanders.
In Canada, the pipeline sector was worth 35 per cent more than the GDP of Prince Edward Island ($6.8 billion in 2017) and nearly 20 per cent more than the $7.7 billion combined GDP of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories in 2017.
The Canada-U.S. pipeline network is a web of infrastructure interconnectedness. The jobs, incomes and GDP matter directly to more than 63,000 Canadians and Americans, and their families. And almost every American and Canadian is dependent on that continental crisscross of oil and gas pipelines.
In 2020, Canada’s pipelines sent an average of 3.2 million barrels of oil a day to America. Americans sent 324,000 barrels of oil daily to Canada.
And Canada sent nearly 7.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas to the U.S. every single day in 2019. The U.S sent nearly 2.7 billion cubic feet daily to Canada that same year.
All that natural gas kept tens of millions of families warm in winter and cool in summer in both countries. That gas also allowed greenhouses to operate, and a lot of propane (also transported by pipelines) heated homes and powered barbecues.
To avoid such pipeline benefits, you would have to live off the land in remote areas in either country. You would also have to never use anything helped along by oil and gas – medical supplies, the transportation of food, or even the axe to chop down a tree for firewood (that axe was delivered to a store by a truck).
According to the Association of Oil Pipe Lines, a single major pipeline project in the U.S. is estimated to employ 7,000 construction workers and is worth $US400 million to those workers and their families.
More than 500 workers are needed to construct each 160-km section of pipeline: heavy equipment operators, labourers, welders, truck drivers, foremen, engineers and quality control personnel.
Those are the facts of energy, pipelines and modern civilized life.
Mark Milke and Lennie Kaplan are with the Canadian Energy Centre, an Alberta government corporation funded in part by carbon taxes. They are authors of the report, “Circling the Earth 11 Times: Key Facts about the Canada-US Energy Pipeline Network.”