Pipelines to the east?

On Thursday, April 25th, 2013 in Island Tides

As the pro-bitumen export crowd notices the gathering storm clouds over their Northern Gateway and Kinder-Morgan options, and, further south, sees long shadows falling over the Keystone XL pipeline to refineries on the shores of the Texas Gulf coast, support is mobilizing for pipelines running east.

Debate has been about how best to export raw, virtually unprocessed bitumen — as much as possible and as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, the eastern half of Canada depends on imports of foreign oil from Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Kazakhstan, Venezuela, and Norway. As Gordon Laxer of the Parkland Institute tried to point out to a Parliamentary committee (before the Conservative chair ordered him to stop talking and stormed out of the room), Canada has no energy security.

I feel some responsibility for this shift in debate, as I was the first political leader to point out that there was something wrong with the picture.

RELATED: Sign the petition for an oil-free coast.

Unlike the US, we have no Strategic Petroleum Reserves. If there was a blockade of foreign oil or an economic embargo, those in Eastern Canada would have to wait for tankers to bring them bitumen for processing through the Panama Canal and up the eastern seaboard. As bizarre as that sounds, it was the solution offered by a Suncor executive when asked in committee about the vulnerability of eastern Canada to embargos.

Oppositional Canada

The irony is that the dividing line of foreign oil to the east and Alberta oil for the west was the result of deliberate government policy—aimed at helping the Alberta oil and gas sector. Back in 1961, the National Oil Policy decreed that eastern Canadians (east of the Ottawa River) would only receive imported oil while those in the West had to purchase Alberta product. By deliberate policy, Eastern Canadians became dependent on foreign oil, while Alberta oil was consumed by those in western provinces and exported to the US. Now it is time to think like a country.

The Solution: Shipping East?

However, the current proposal also makes no sense. Former New Brunswick Premier Frank McKenna has proposed shipping unprocessed bitumen to St John, New Brunswick, to put it in tankers to export it from there. Others are proposing refining it in New Brunswick.

The first decision point is Enbridge’s application to reverse its Number 9 pipeline. This pipeline was built in the 1970s and had originally flowed west to east. It was reversed in the 1990s as the markets favoured cheaper foreign oil.

Now, Enbridge is applying to reverse it once again, running a different product, dilbit, from west to east. The request to the National Energy Board is being considered in two stand-alone applications; Line 9A (Sarnia to North Westover) and Line 9B to Montreal.

From there the bitumen would likely go south through New England. When I was in Washington DC, I heard from quite a few Congressmen and Senators that they do not want those pipelines over their territory.


The nature of bitumen and diluents in pipelines is a critical issue in why the Green Party oppose pipelines of unprocessed product to either coastline. So, before talking about the direction of pipelines, we need to talk about the product.

Even after the extensive and intensive process of extracting the viscous material known as bitumen from the soil in which it is found (generally about 10% by volume), it is still not processed to even the level of crude oil. Crude oil can flow. Bitumen cannot. It has the consistency of peanut butter, so needs to be mixed with something else to flow. That something else is called ‘diluent’—a mix of undisclosed chemicals. The most commonly used diluent is a natural gas condensate, similar to Naptha. The public does not know the make-up of any particular diluent. Some have more benzene than others—benzene is a well-documented carcinogen.

The resulting so-called dilbit product is about 30% diluents and 70% bitumen. We do know a lot more about dilbit than we used to. And we did a lot of that learning through the 2010 Enbridge dilbit spill in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. We know it both floats and sinks; that it is far harder and far more expensive to clean-up than unprocessed conventional crude. The Kalamazoo spill is still not cleaned up.

Meanwhile a debate rages about whether dilbit is more likely to cause pipeline failure. Cornell University found that between 2007 and 2010 pipelines carrying dilbit had a spill-rate three times higher than pipelines carrying conventional crude. Oil sands products have a higher sulfur and a higher acidic content than conventional crude and those properties could explain its increased corrosive nature.

This finding led to the Department of Natural Resources to commissioning a study by a group called Alberta Innovates Technology Futures (ATIF). That study compared dilbit and conventional crudes and concluded the types of corrosive compounds between the two products were comparable. So we have labwork versus the real life rate of spills in US pipelines. At the moment, despite what Harper’s Cabinet ministers claim, the science on the corrosive nature of dilbit is not settled.

Meanwhile, if local residents along the Number 9 pipeline wish to speak before the NEB hearings, or even submit a letter, they are required to fill out a 10-page form, and are also encouraged to submit references and a resume! This is an NEB effort to meet the new requirements imposed by the horrific overhaul of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act that took place last year in the Omnibus Budget Bill (C-38).

Unlike the previous CEAA, which was premised on a fundamental commitment to rights of public participation, the Harperized CEAA restricts access to only those ‘directly affected’. The NEB has made this restriction even worse by demanding that any citizens who want to make comments, fill out the forms and apply within a two-week period—which will close before this article will be in print.

Refineries In Alberta

So, what should be done? The best environmental, economic and climate outcome would be to slow down the boom-and-bust cycle of constant expansion in the oil sands. What the late Peter Lougheed used to describe as the ‘traffic jam’ of feverish expansion in the oilsands prevents the construction of ancillary infrastructure, like upgraders and refineries.

The hyper-inflationary bubble that sits on northern Alberta is what makes it cheaper for Big Oil to build a $7 billion pipeline to Texas, rather than build facilities in Alberta. Any reasonable carbon plan would set a level of managed growth for oil sands production—say 2 million barrels of oil a day (more than the current 1.7 million barrels, but less than Harper’s goal of 6 million barrels of oil a day). That level of production could cool down the capital and labour markets enough to build upgraders and refineries near the resource. Then, we could be talking about shipping—by pipeline, truck or train—a finished product whose properties are better understood. Shipping a product with a far lower risk of environmental impact in the event of spills.

If we are thinking like a country, we should get Alberta oil to Eastern Canada, but we should not ship bitumen + diluents.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/steveleenow Steve Lee

    I agree 110%!

  • http://www.facebook.com/alice.hooper56 Alice Hooper

    Once again, Elizabeth, you are the voice of reason and common sense. Obviously, common sense isn’t that common!

  • robfromcalgary

    Elizabeth, The Borden Line (created by the Diefenbaker Gov’t) initially resulted in Western Canadians paying higher prices for oil to subsidize the oil industry in Alberta. But now it results in folks in the East having to depend on foreign sources for oil. Certainly agree that now is the time for a national solution, rather than shipping oil to Texas.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mikeschaber Mike Schaber

    I’m not claiming to be an expert on anything but why isn’t it feasible to open a refinery in the central provinces somewhere? Saskatchewan and Manitoba seem to be having a downturn in the economy. Why couldn’t we take our Bitumen, send it to them to refine, then sell our oil products as opposed to sending raw bitumen overseas. It would create more jobs for Canada. I don’t know what logistics would be involved though.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004951685059 Richard Meaden

      Mike, at present, there is a Upgraders in Fort MacMurray, there is one in Fort Saskatchewan Alberta that is in the process a upgrader. Out west, Trans Canada Pipelines want to upgrade and existing line to go from Hardisty in Alberta to the Ultramar refiner in Quebec and the Irving Refinery in St John’s; Enbridge Pipe line is trying to get regulatory approval to build a line to Kitimat B.C. Where there has been a proposal to build and upgrader at Kitimat for shipment to Asian Markets. With access to Markets in Europe and Asia, Canada will be able to sell their oil at world oil prices @ 120.00 per barrel. At present the only access Alberta has is to the US were we only received West Texas Intermediate price of 88 dollars a barrel.
      This has been and is a problem because of the negativity from environmental groups that are more interested in shutting down Canada’ s resource industry. Just think of the vast wealth Canada would access to that would pay for social programs, Health & Infrarstructure come to mind.

      • http://www.facebook.com/melldclute Mell D’Clute

        Clearly, you work for the pipelines and are trying desperately to sell the Enbridge pipeline and other pipelines to the people. The fact is, BC residents like myself do not want to take the risk of a spill on our coast or through our vast wilderness to make some already rich people even more money. And using a company that has the worst track record known to mankind is just foolhardy. You have dollar signs in your eyes and can’t see the big picture on how devastating and how expensive an inevitable oil spill in our wilderness would be. Enbridge and the Cons are trying to address the tanker problems, but I haven’t heard anything about the pipeline itself. Putting a pipeline through mountains and forest that every year is subjected to potential avalanches, rock slides, mud slides, flooding, forest fires, and even a possible threat of a major earthquake on the coast, is just a scary concept for us “environmentalists” to comprehend. (Not to mention could threaten some already threatened species in our wilderness and their habitats.) This would be considered an “act of God” or something, so the company would claim it isn’t responsible for cleaning it up. The federal government has shifted environmental oversight on to the provinces and have washed its hands of such things, which means it will be the province of BC’s responsibility to clean it up when this happens. Therefore, the people of BC should have a vote to see if we want to take this risk. At the last poll, around 70% of BC residents do not want this pipeline and do not want this risk. That will cost taxpayers billions of dollars to clean up this mess that we all know is inevitable. So if you truly only believe in money, where are we going to get the money to clean up all of that from? Can we come to you and other Conservative trolls like yourself and demand you pay for it?

        • Seeking Truth

          well said! a clean & healthy environment SUPPORTS ALL OUR RESOURCES – FOOD, TREES, TOURISM, WILD FISHERIES (earn many times more than aquaculture), you name it, a clean environment keeps us healthy!

          RM is scared for his pension. … all his eggs in one basket? poor guy.

        • http://www.facebook.com/phyllis.kerr.397 Phyllis Kerr

          your comments make sense for we who are living in BC and i agree that Richard must be employed by an oil company. Why else would he explain the merits of pipelines. He should listen and support Elizabeth May.

        • janice O’Keeffe

          completely agree! $30.00 more a barrel does not justify risking the pristine areas of the B.C. coastline or the mountain ranges. these areas wouldn’t be accessible at certain times of the year when, not if, there was a spill. As for the earthquake, that is also a definite and no pipeline is going to withstand the so called ‘big one’. B.C. takes all the risk, while Alberta reaps more profits. B.C will also get stuck with a large portion of the bill for clean up. Greed is an ugly thing. Thank you Elizabeth for your endless fight for the enviroment, and knowledge to inform us all of the process of these pipelines.

      • Jean

        And we in Canada would be paying the same inflated prices for our oil AND paying for the inevitable massive cleanups. No thanks

      • northern flicker

        Who but greedy, shortsighted and generally ignorant persons would choose wealth over a world in which we can actually live. Once we destroy the forests as is happening in the Amazon, here, and elsewhere, and further acidify the oceans killing all the plankton which are the main producers of oxygen, we won’t have anything left to breathe. You can have all the money you want in your pockets but you won’t be able to spend it because you and everybody else will be dead of suffocation.

  • Pierrre

    Canada exports about two-thirds of its oil to the United States, while half of the oil used in Canada is imported from other countries.

    Western Canada is self-sufficient, supplying its own oil before exporting the rest. But Eastern Canada relies on imported oil, despite the fact that some provinces are oil producers.

    In 2006, in addition to producing 1.2 billion barrels, Canada imported 440 million barrels, consumed 800 million barrels itself, and exported 840 million barrels to the U.S.

    It would seem to me a smarter thing to not import any oil and instead export what we don’t use.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004951685059 Richard Meaden

      Pierre; Canada is trying to export oil to other markets besides the U.S.; that is why we need pipe lines to the west & east coast of Canada, this would open up markets in Asia and Europe. If you look on the map of Canada, you will notice that Alberta & Saskatchewan are land based and do not have any ports without access through Montreal, Vancouver, or St. Johns this export is not possible. With exports to Europe and Asia, Canada can get world oil price of 120 per barrel, to the US only receive West Texas Intermediate price which currently is at 88 dollars a barrel, less a 20% discount. Canada must get Northern Gateway, Trans Mountain to Vancouver and also the west to Eastern Canada pipe line proposal to Irving Refinery in St John’s, New Brunswick as well as to the Ultramar Refinery in Montreal.

      • Pierrre

        You obviously didn’t read my post.

        I didn’t say anything about not having piplines. I said that we should stop buying oil when we can produce our own.

        • Seeking Truth

          well, RM is obviously a complete oil promoter – pump, frack, pipe, move by train pipe tanker planes satellites if they could suck up & pump down, if he could design them, anything that PROMOTES THE USE OF OIL. His pension must depend on it.

        • Jeff H

          I think what Richard has done is taken a pro-pipeline advertisement and tacked the word “Pierre” onto the front to make it appear to be a genuine response.

      • J Mabbott

        The price Canada gets on oil exported to the USA is part of the Free Trade Agreement heritage, which no one wanted. I regularly hear about people complaining about having to pay duty on imported items and saying “so much for Free Trade” and then someone else says “it has nothing to do with Free Trade, it has everything to do with access to resources.” When will someone put all the Conservatives in a rocket and shoot them into the Sun?

        • Herman

          It has to do with the US having free access to OUR resources.

      • Herman

        Actually, from a purely, profit perspective for big oil, you are correct. From the perspective of what is best for the whole country and the environment, you are so wrong.

      • Ray Comeau

        Saint John’s is in Newfoundland ! saint John is in New Brunswick. The goal is to bring ta sands oil to Saint John, New Brunswick, and the Irving Refinery will refine the tar sands oil . Richard have a look at your Canadian atlas, to get this clear in your mind..

        We, here in saint John New Brunswick, often get people from Europe getting off planes and think they are in Saint John’s Newfoundland. So you are not alone in your error.

        • Henry

          i am sure we are glad for your lecture on geography….you may go back to your sandbox again

    • J Mabbott

      I agree that we should not be importing any oil whatsoever. It’s insane now that we have nearly reached Peak Oil and prices will remain high and go higher in the coming years. Nevertheless it is time we moved off of oil: it’s dangerous to the environment, the carbon dioxide released to the atmosphere, as we all known, has potentially catastrophic climactic effects, and lastly, it smells awful. :-P

  • Holly

    thank you Elizabeth. I think Harper wants to sell it as quickly as possible, with no money into infra structure, is that the oil economy is going to go bust one of these days. the cost of production is so high, we will be forced to look to solar, wind, etc other forms of power. remember those 18,000 electric cars Gm mothballed some years ago… Now how stupid are we? Rather than lead the field in new development and sell our resources, we put all our eggs in the OIL PATCH basket… and it will haunt us. I like your logic and thank you for explaining things so people can understand… everyone except Conservatives, I fear.

    • M L Stathers

      Saw ‘Who Killed The Electric Car?’ Didn’t GE collect them all (even from owners who wanted to keep theirs) &smash them? or were there some ‘mothballed???? That doc made me sick.
      Your first remark would make sense if we knew SH’s true agenda, which he seems to be hiding through the sneaky OMNI-BUS bills.

      • J Mabbott

        If oil were used to generate electricity then used to power electric vehicles, we could get twice the milage from the oil, simply because an oil fired power plant is 40% efficient, whereas your car is only 20% efficient. That said, the remaining 60% of the energy lost as heat in the oil plant could easily be distributed as hot water for heating. It’s time we began issuing permits for Wise Use of Resources, without which, you cannot legally use said resource (and those neo-Fascists in opposition can simply be deployed to a level more in keeping with their character, one six feet under).

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004951685059 Richard Meaden




    • Seeking Truth

      guess we have to depend on the rising sea levels & the inevitable “big one” on the Pacific Rim of Fire, to clean our much of human ignorance of earth science that gets us to this unsustainable position.

      • Seeking Truth

        correction “clean OUT”

  • http://twitter.com/DianeShears Diane Shears

    Line 9 runs through our backyards here in Toronto. DilBit shouldn’t be shipped anywhere, period.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004951685059 Richard Meaden

    Victoria, BC, Plans to Stop Dumping Raw Sewage in the Ocean

    From Larry West, About.com GuideJune 23, 2009

    Canada Takes Crap for Flushing Raw Sewage into the Ocean

    As B.C. Prepares for 2010 Olympics, Victoria Continues Sending Sewage to Sea

    From Larry West, former About.com Guide


    • Seeking Truth

      but are the building trades still adding to their gyproc pile somewhere in the middle of Georgia Strait??? “too soon old … too late schmart!”

  • Janis Warne

    Once again Elizabeth you have shown that you are the leader this country needs. This is the best, clearest, most well reasoned article I have read about the pipeline reversal and energy security. I wish you were our PM!

  • http://www.facebook.com/shaun.bartone Shaun Bartone

    I live in Fredericton, New Brunswick. There should be no additional pipelines anywhere, in any direction, regardless of the quality of the product that flows through it, whether dilbit or more refined oil. Even if the pipeline (train, truck) carried the best quality upgraded oil to eastern Canada, it would create a political situation in which Atlantic Canada becomes dependent on the Tar Sands, and that would be the political death knell. Yes, eastern Canada is dependent on foreign oil, but what that means is that we will be forced to GET OFF OIL ALTOGETHER asap. An Eastern pipeline will hook up New Brunswick to an IV from Alberta’s dirty politics, the very same petrol dictatorship that elects guys like Stephen Harper and his ilk.

    Sending Tar Sands oil to Saint John, New Brunswick is of no benefit to people in Eastern Canada, especially New Brunswick. It only benefits the Irving Corporation. Adding bitumen refining to their industrial empire increases the political stranglehold they have had on the Province of New Brunswick, which functions as a mere client of Irving.

    Building any more pipelines, upgraders, refineries, or any more oil infrastructure that increases or even maintains production in the Tar Sands is GAME OVER for the Climate. It doesn’t matter if you build it in Canada or the US. It’s not where it’s refined that matters, it’s how much we BURN once it’s refined. We need to shut the Tar Sands down over the next decade and completely switch our economy clean, renewable energy sources.

    If we block all Tar Sands pipelines going east, Eastern Canada will be forced, sooner than the rest of the country, to switch to solar, wind (esp. offshore wind), tidal, hydro, geothermal and many other forms of decentralized renewable energy.

    The only message that the Green Party should be putting out there is NO MORE PIPELINES. We do not have to produce any more oil from the Tar Sands than we have already. In fact the whole Tar Sands operation should be shut down ASAP. NO MORE TAR SANDS PIPELINES EAST, WEST, NORTH OR SOUTH. Refined tar sands oil that flows east is no cleaner, more ethical or more economically sound than refined Tar Sands oil that flows in any other direction. IT’S NOW WHAT FLOWS THROUGH THE PIPE, OR THE DIRECTION IT FLOWS IN. IT’S HOW MUCH OIL WE BURN AT THE END OF THE PIPELINE.

    • gerane

      Shaun, I just learned something today, thanks. So people, go out and buy
      shares in your favorite green energy project. I am.

  • Kirsten Mawle

    Thank you

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.payne.18659 Michael Payne

    Elizabeth: Thank you for supporting a solution that makes sense. Proponents of the current rash of bitumen pipeline proposals like to argue there are no viable alternatives, but this is nonsense. (Should I also thank your researchers, or is that redundant?)

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.skelton.100 David Skelton

    This plan suggests a further reliance on fossil fuels. How does it incorporate the significant reduction of fossil fuel and development of and reliance on
    sustainable energy technology?

  • http://www.facebook.com/shaun.bartone Shaun Bartone

    Moreover, mining and refining Tar Sands oil, whether at the source in Fort McMurray or somewhere in Texas, Louisiana or Saint John New Brunswick, requires ungodly amounts of WATER, and METHANE GAS, which only strengthens the SHALE GAS FRACKING INDUSTRY. Any Tar Sands oil, of any quality, flowing in any direction, is a LOSE-LOSE-LOSE situation. it’s a GAME OVER for the climate, which right now is at the 400 PPM CO2 tipping point; it’s loss of people’s power to stop the FRACKING industry, and it’s a loss for protecting our FRESH WATER supplies, our landscapes, our farms, and our fellow species.

  • Rod

    Have thought this for some time and pleased to hear that it is NOW being considered.

  • Rudolf Dyke

    Elizabeth- this is the best overall explanation of the entire energy pipeline problem-at least the portion of it that we should be dealing with. Your analysis is intelligible and makes the most economic sense! Best wishes in bringing sense to Parliament. Rudolf

  • Elyott

    Is it time for a protest or riot yet? Every day I hear more and more about Harper destroying our country, ruining the environment and boosting the oil companies, which will inevitably fall hopefully before the earth is a giant uninhabitable ball. It makes me physically ill the thought that he still has two more years in power. Even if Enbridge promise to take on the cost and clean it up proper, which I doubt, as soon as a leak happens irreversible damage occurs. The sad thing is China is one of the leading developers of green technology. Although they still use a lot of nongreen forms of energy, they are at least taking steps towards a green future. We are building fighter jets that will never be used and are obsolete before they ever take off. I have my mask and torch ready.

    • Beibs

      Yes, it is time.

    • http://www.facebook.com/rocky.racoon.334 Rocky Racoon

      And they will leave the rest of us in the dust.. What and see 5 years time China will be running on renewable energy over 50%.

    • Ron Howse

      I personally believe that we need a recall system for an elected government both federal and provincial that does not represent the interests of it’s people to the best of it’s ability. Not only has Harper’s govt lost the support of the people as per recent polls their are other Premiers in this country that also have become very unpopular. Lets start a petition to change our constitution to allow for recall system as a safeguard against corrupt govt’s. The way the west to east pipeline is concerned it is big business against the environment all over again. Do you really think that Irving cares about the Environment. Just look what they have done to our forests and know they back shale gas as presumptuous as they always are as money is he driver and not ethics. Just like Suncor and the other oil sands producers who tell a pretty story when it comes to the environment just like Joe Oliver the two faced>>>>>>>>. You know what I mean!

  • Rick

    I wonder why no refinery near the oil sands has not been proposed?
    Seems insane to ship bitumen along with toxic diluents.

  • Granddad

    I like Elizabeth’s attitude but there is an elephant in this room that nobody is discussing.
    The Alberta Tar Sands have been developed by and most of the extraction processes are owned by off shore interests – largely American.
    The investments are in the $Hundreds of Billions and they cannot return a yield on investment unless the product is sold somewhere.
    The government cannot shut down or even limit this monstrously polluting source without invoking retaliation and penalties under the North American Free Trade Agreements originating with Mulroney and Chretien.
    I would favour nationalising the entire operation, shutting it down and paying off the investors even if this put 100,000 workers out of work.
    You have to think on this scale if you want to actually do something constructive.
    Derek Skinner, Victoria, B.C.

    • Beibs

      Well, all we have to do is give the U.S. 6 months notice that we are pulling out of NAFTA and that will solve part of the problem. However, saying that, if Harper ratifies FIPA, we are screwed for 31 years. Sorry, but this man running our country is brain dead.

      • granddad

        Beibs,The Free Trade Deals have resulted in over 15,000 of our best and brightest companies and resource industries being purchased by offshore interest – again largely American.
        On a smaller scale some Canadian industries – notably banks- have invested in America.
        The retaliation by America if we abrogate NAFTA could well involve sending in troops to “protect U.S. interests”.,
        Nationalise or abrogate, the consequences could be horrific.
        Our corporate controlled government will finish off Canada as an independent, sovereign country by 2015 and any ensuing government will not have the balls to do a Chavez.
        Sorry to be so pessimistic but I agree with you. We are screwed.

  • Jade

    Elizabeth is, as usual, right on the money. The issue we need to now grapple with, is how to get this topic front and centre on the national stage, without it being hijacked into the various us/them debates such as environmentalists/capitalists.

    How to capture the public’s attention and concern. Elizabeth’s policy ideas are brilliant, but they’re only half the solution.

    Sadly, a National Energy Debate doesn’t seem sexy enough to get people to pay attention.

    • Kootenay Belle


  • http://twitter.com/derykhouston deryk houston artist

    Elizabeth’s arguments are interesting but I am not sure it is so easy to suggest an oil refinery as the solution.
    It is my understanding that no one wants an oil refinery in their backyard because they are extremely toxic in terms of pollution. They involve a million pipes and a million connecting joints…. all of which are subject to leaks and even explosions. Cancer rates are high around these kinds of facilities…… even more so than the cancer rates around pulp mills which are also very high.
    I would much prefer to see us reach higher ………and contribute as much as possible to develop alternative power such as nuclear fusion.
    There is aprox 16 trillion dollars spent on oil energy around the world and yet only .05 percent is spent on alternative energy research, We need to change that.
    Until we stop driving our gasoline powered cars things will not change.
    That is what I would do if I was leader of Canada. I would scrap the fighter jets which will cost us billions. I would not get us involved in costly illegal adventures such as regime change in Libya, as both the NDP and even the Green Party of Canada supported. (That was astonishing to watch)
    Our leaderships need new thinking if we are to avoid sliding down rabbit holes.

    • Kootenay Belle


      • Beibs

        so agree with you Kootenay. I have been posting this about Thorium on every energy article I read. People just don’t get it. And what government will support something that will not make corporations billions and billions of dollars like oil does. The best thing about thorium, is we will never ever run out of it, and it does not pollute any where near what oil does.

  • Andrew Jackson

    Great article, Elizabeth. You’ve explained some of the issues with pipelines very clearly.

    I also wanted to draw your wonderful community’s attention to a recent article in the Guardian that argues if we use more than 30% of existing fossil fuel reserves, we run the risk of releasing CO2 emissions that will lead to an increase of more than 2 degrees Celsius in the average global temperature.

    This would lead to irreversible cataclysmic climate change as the ice caps and the permafrost would melt releasing methane deposits that would truly alter the course of history for our beautiful planet.

    The article also explains why investing in the oil sands will be too risky because of a ‘carbon bubble’ on the horizon where companies currently valued high because of current reserves will not be able to capitalize due to future restrictions on carbon polluting energy.

    It’s time we spent the money wasted on finding new reserves of fossil fuels, 1% of global GDP ($674 billion), on cleaner green renewable energy sources. Then we’d stand half a chance…

    Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/apr/19/carbon-bubble-financial-crash-crisis

  • http://twitter.com/OccupyCoscienza altor

    The time has come to have our Green leader cloned-Wisdom is a quality not shared among #cdn politicians of other colours.

  • Brent Swain

    Thwe shipping of dilbit means the exporting of 8,000 jobs from Alberta and BC in the refining industry.If we pipe gasoline , diesel and kerosene, it evaporates if spilled.
    If we build Mr Blacks proposed refinery in Dawson Creek, rather than Kitimat, before it reaches the continental divide, there is zero chance of diblit reaching the Pacific Coast.

  • Barbara Macartney

    Elizabeth, Thank you for your cogent comments. I have come to rely on your educative articles to inform me on such complicated political issues. As usual the conservative politic confounds important straightforward Canadian environmental and business concerns.

  • BobA

    Given my scientific training as a chemist, and my knowledge of oil production and economics, I could not agree more. Refining at least to the level of conventional crude – in Alberta – is the only thing that makes any sense at all. The Harper Conservatives (not to be confused with the PC’s of old) seem to be totally clueless on this stuff. Makes one wonder either where they left their brains, or where their funding is coming from.

  • J Mabbott

    Something that is often neglected is the cost of cleaning up the Alberta tar sands once corporations, and people of Harper’s character [sic], are finished with it. I remember reading an article about ten years ago that suggested the cost of cleaning up the tar sands could equal the entire profit margin earned on the tar sands. This alone does not make “business” sense, but then again, perhaps business has no sense. Alberta may become the largest toxic waste site on the planet, even after considering those left by the USSR over twenty years ago, none of which have been cleaned up.

    • http://www.facebook.com/rocky.racoon.334 Rocky Racoon

      they have no intention of cleaning up anything. Their reclamation projects are a greenwash.

  • Liz

    This is a much more sensible policy than Canada currently has. Nice discussion – I’ve been following the oil and pipelines issues for a while and I still learned something.

    Why doesn’t Canada have logical policy on the oil sands? Is it just oil money having too big a voice in the current government?

  • http://www.facebook.com/wayne.clark.338 Wayne Clark

    If memory serves I just read that in the USA dilbit is not even classified as oil by the EPA and because of that fact there is speculation that oil companies do not even have to clean up the spills of dilbit because they are not covered by legislation.

  • Dorothea

    thank you Elizabeth – sanity SHOULD prevail opposite insanity

  • http://www.facebook.com/rgdoll Robert G. Doll

    Good one, Elizabeth. Thank you!

  • belle400

    Once again thank you Elizabeth. Lets not forget a group of First Nations proposed to finance a refinery “at source” for this stuff … so there is no reason if we are going to go ahead with mining the bitumen, that it can’t be refined at source and a relatively safer product shipped to market. Also, apparently the same folks with ties to the extractive industries that advised the Harperites on the omnibus bills, also advised Honduras on the rewriting of their mining friendly new constitution that was brought in after the military coup in that tiny country. Let us not forget the connectedness not only of the issues but the people.

  • http://www.facebook.com/brian.seaman1 Brian Seaman

    Elizabeth May is my choice for Prime Minister.

  • jane henderson

    Why are we even wringing the oil sands oil out of the ground? The extraction process itself is an environmental and climate change disaster……long before it gets transported anywhere……I would have hoped the Green party would be the party to recognize that we cant afford oil sands oil under any circumstances, if the Green Party wont talk about the real cost of tar sands oil, who will?

  • katannes

    very informative explanation in layman’s terms….helping the average person to engage in the debate which affects us all – unlike harper’s agenda foor restricting participation and input of the general public, if i might have a dissenting voice!

  • http://www.facebook.com/martin.pratt.940 Martin Pratt

    Finally a politician talking the obvious sensible solution. Cap production at current levels, build another upgrader or two in Alberta, and ship actual syncrude not dilbit through the line 9 reversal and maybe some bitumen by rail to refineries in Ontario, Quebec, or New Brunswick for Candian use. Reduce exports to the U. S.! Pull out of NAFTA if necessary to do that! Run natural gas not oil or dilbit through the natural gas pipeline through northern Ontario! Invest in alternative energy sources including ground and sea source heat pumps, and large investments in efficiency and efficient appliance manufacture, and in cogeneration! Gradually phase out tar sands production!

  • Beverar

    Thank you, Elizabeth for keeping the great unwashed up to date on the facts. That is something the Haperites are careful not to do. Keep the pressure on. Thank you for the work you are doing.
    North Vancouver

  • Diane

    Currently we seem to be living in a communist country where the leader has the only say. And it has no bearing on what is best for us.

  • Mike MacKinnon

    Some of us are old enough to remember Pierre Trudeau’s attempt to make oil a shared resource through his National Energy Program. This was during the late 70′s oil crisis, it made sense then and it still makes sense now. It is opposed by the greedy, short-sighted, and definitely unpatriotic oil barons of Alberta. Stephen Harper was serving his political apprenticeship at this time and had that philosophy drilled into his head. (He actually took time off his university studies to support the local PC candidate and then got appointed as a parliamentary aid as a reward). He was subsequently groomed for leadership as a pro-oil candidate and he has never changed his viewpoint that Alberta oil is for Albertans only and the rest of Canada is only a secondary concern.

  • Geoff Bowie

    Thank you for this. It sounds most reasonable to me. I always thought that it was a good thing if the west supplied the east with its oil rather than relying on offshore. But even so it should be shipping finished product rather than dilbit. Limiting the scope and scale of oil sands development I absolutely agree with.

  • PatrioticNationalRevival

    Energy Security is a national security issue, why are we so focused on delivering our supplies to assist in the Communist Chinese military buildup. The oil companies are acting against the interests of the nation and we should take measures to ensure that they either get on-board with Canada’s national security interests or lose access to our Canada. Elizabeth May has vision and the public interest at heart, her proposals are a fair compromise and make common sense. Shipping bitumen + diluents never made sense from a public interest perspective. I am glad to have a member of parliament sitting in the house who has the capability to comprehend the issue and communicate it to a public who thirsts for representation. You should give this issue a more prominent place in your communications strategy. Refine in Alberta, ship finished product, establish a strategic reserve, establish a national energy security plan. Hit the government from the right that is where they are most vulnerable.

  • Ellen Kelley

    Great explanation – I agree

  • http://www.facebook.com/martin.pratt.940 Martin Pratt

    Ms. May, I see that I misread your statement the first time and that you support capping the rate of expansion of production of tar sands at just above the current rate of expansion. I think your position doesn’t go nearly far enough to protect the environment and that we should cap the rate of production. Maybe you’re not so green after all!!

  • Bruce in Victoria

    Whatever my opinions on this topic, it is SO refreshing to have you in Ottawa taking the time to write coherent explanations of the issues in language for adults who want to understand the world. I haven’t seen anything like this from other MPs, although they may exist.

  • Paulette

    Thanks your that wonderfully concise explanation. You truly are a voice of reason and your thought train is too logical to argue against. You have answered my oft asked question: Why are w not refining our own oi in Canada”. I have been given many answers but the most frequent is the old saw about ‘there is not enough capital in the country for that kind of development’! To which I have asked myself, “How can that be when there is enough money to extract it in the first place?” You have given me the answer. This is crazy and must be changed!

  • Alan Dolan

    An excellent summary of the issues. Thank you Elizabeth. Along with the need to slow the tar sands down to a reasonable pace (my preference would be to stop them entirely) is a need for a massive efficiency and conservation program to reduce demand. These initiatives create lots of local jobs, save energy, save money and don’t rely on the whims and greed of multinationals and governments.

  • Edie

    What I have been saying for years….but MP’s don’t listen (until You!)

  • http://www.facebook.com/rocky.racoon.334 Rocky Racoon

    By the time refineries are built fossil fuels will be redundant. I say technology is going to put an end to this mess within that time. Thus, the rush.

  • Robby

    Thank you for a clear and succinct explanation of dilbut and west-east pipeline issue. Alas, the powers that be do not reason, do not listen, do not care about our country. Thank you Elizabeth for caring.

  • Ed Chessor

    You have nicely summarized my comments to the Enbridge review panel. Refining the bitumen in Alberta will greatly reduce the carbon footprint of fuel delivered to any market, be it Quebec or Beijing. A spill of diesel fuel or gasoline wall also be far easier to clean up than dilbit. As you say, the refined products are easier to transport, and less likely to spill.

  • Henry

    The question i have: Where ever you send this black sandy muck to be refined, what happens to the tailings, mainly sand and mostly unknown chemicals. Is that stuff going to end up in tailing ponds polluting the environment and eventually the groundwater? No wonder Alberta does not want to refine the stuff. One thing though, if it were refined in Alberta, at least there would not be any of those chemicals involved.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jenn.chic Jenn Chic

    Yes! I agree! Thanks so much for all the information.

  • TonyGuitar

    cORRECT YOU ARE, Elizabeth.. Refine in Alberta because pipelines can not be shifted like one can redirect a fire hose. Recent events in Boston should tell us not to depend on pipelines that can never be fully secure. Bitumen is like all your eggs in one basket. Target a pipeline and a whole range of products are lost. Distribute refined products from Alberta they become much less of a target. Av-gas for instance can be redirected when needed in Canada or the USA. There was a scramble for jet fuel when we had a fire at Cherry Point recently. Stupid, stupid, stupid. We seem to have no reserves. TG, [TonyGuitar]

  • old grannie

    It seems Canada continues to advocate for being ‘hewers of wood’ rather than producers of finished prodcuts. Which would have the highest market value? Does Alberta really need to ship their environmental issues to other provinces without assuming some responsibility themselves? ‘Profit only’ and as quickly as possible seems to be the mantra. If I understand the Free Trade Agreement, if we ship something to the USA, we are obligated to continue that process regardless of changed circumstances that may require Canada to use resources for its own purposes. Do we leave the East in the dark without heat in order to provide the USA with our resources? Doesn’t sound like good federal planning to me!

  • Christopher Hoare

    You have it mostly right, Elizabeth. I recall a time in the 70s when Alberta wanted to send oil to Eastern Canada, and were told “thanks but no thanks, we pay less for offshore imports”.
    For a few years I worked in the old Calgary refinery, producing octaine from natural gas condensate—basically what diluents are. I do not recall if the pipeline from Turner Valley was prone to leaks, but I think not. Since it was in operation for over fifty years transporting pure, sour condensate ( a low level of H2S) its records could supply useful corrosion information if Exxon would release them.
    I think your response is more measured that those who oppose all oil transport…we are a long way from freeing ourselves from non-renewables and cutting back the output from the tar sands would be much closer to both our economic and our environmental responsibilities.

    C. Hoare; in demon Alberta.

  • Fred Hachey

    I wish you were the PM or at least the official opposition. I believe you know more of what is happening in this country than the other two.
    Keep up the good work.

  • Susan Burns

    Thank you for your clear and straight forward information on what is known and unknown. It is helpful even though disturbing.

  • Brenda Lee

    All of this debate about oil is superfluous. We (the world) must stop our dependence on fossil fuels ,,,,

    PERIOD !

    And China is much further ahead of us in accomplishing this. So we pour billions into refineries and pipelines and nobody needs our gas anymore except us! And then the world starts to pressure us (as they should) to stop polluting. And we have to buy the knowledge and technology from places like China to even begin to master our own energy needs.

    Could we for once be proactive in the way we see the world as it exists and not spend our resources on something that is killing us and the climate???

    Kind of backward thinking isn’t it?

    Its an outdated source source of energy …. WE NEED NEW KNOWLEDGE AND TECHNOLOGY.

  • Mike Bray

    What about the people living downstream from the tarsands? No one seems to mention them. Even 2 million barrels a day is too much with leaking, expanding tar ponds. What about the contaminated fish and animals and the disappearing caribou habitat? This devil‘s latrine has to be phased out of existence.

    • D Vandeleur

      Well, when Joe Oliver was waxing enthusiastic on the cleanliness of Tar-Sands’ environment, it was suggested that he seek a summer-long holiday, with all his family – children grandchildren nieces & nephews- spending wonderful times all day long swimming & diving, on the banks of Athabaska Lake or River. No takers in the Oliver family! I wonder why …..

  • Connie

    Elizabeth, we need you as our PM!!!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.abbott.771 Steve Abbott

    To clarify the point that is implied but not spelled out, upgrading needs to become an initial stage of refinement, into bunker crude or equivalent, rather than into a combination of bitumen and diluent, which seems to be the meaning that has been adopted. I am not a chemical engineer, but I believe it is obvious that a different set of questions needs to be raised in the various hearings on the subject of oil pipelines.

    The corporations make the point that they can not refine the bitumen at source into various products, because that would require them to ship separate products over long distances. Neglecting the fact that we are already shipping those various products back from the refineries in the south, the point needs to be made, that the initial stages of refinement might quite economically be performed at source, so that a less dangerous and more valuable product, say, bunker crude could be shipped to refineries closer to the various markets in Eastern and Western Canada.

    Upgrading should not mean diluting with various toxic products that themselves have to be shipped back to Alberta for reuse. It should mean the initial stages of refinement.

  • Frank Manuel

    Bravo Elizabeth! Clearly you are not on the payroll of the despoilers.

  • Redtory

    Makes 100% sense, We should use Canada’s resources to benefit Canadians, why give it away at a discount price for Americans to process and export, while at the same time pay a premium price to supply Canadians in the east. We need to convert to ecolological sustainable energy resources but in the short term manage our current system with some intelligence.

  • Allan Grose

    Thank you for presenting the options in such a reasonable fashion. It is frustrating, indeed, that Harper & Co. seem hellbent on doing things there way, and all but preventing ordinary Canadians from having a voice.
    Allan Grose

  • Bill Murdoch

    I agree wholeheartedly. We Canadians seem to have the mindset that we should continue to export unprocessed natural resources as fast as we can without any processing here – be it raw logs in BC or Alberta “sludge”. Why do we want to remain a commodities exporter rather the an exporter of finished products? I don’t get it.

    • DavidMyers

      Four simple words: “Short-sighted corporate greed”.

  • Ross Brownlee

    Fantastic and realistic approach to energy! Thank you again for this logical and thoughtful approach to major issues of our country. May more and more people have the chance to look at your ideas with long term and systematic plans. Please keep working for us, and thank you!

  • nannyberr

    Fantastic analysis, Elizabeth. Somewhat over my head, but are you saying basically that we should set quotas on oil as we have on other products like milk and wheat?

  • Chris Armstrong

    The proposed NGP/Northern Gateway Pipeline is a guaranteed economic
    and ecologic disaster for BC! It is NOT an “oil” pipeline, as many writers
    state, it is a proposed pipeline to carry HIGHLY ABRASIVE DILUTED
    BITUMEN/”DILBIT” which, as Kalamazoo (July, 2010) demonstrated “in spades”, can
    chew through a pipeline very quickly. Proven, obscenely incompetent, and
    highly unethical, (“1000 sq km of islands removed from their maps of Douglas
    Channel”) Enbridge, should not be permitted to operate in BC, period! As with
    Canadian Natural Resources, who, with a partner, are reported to be building a
    refinery in Alberta to produce DIESEL FUEL, (uncharacteristically?) timid “Big
    Oil” should, collectively, step up to the plate and build a refinery in Alberta
    to yield high value (non abrasive) hydrocarbon products that can be pipelined,
    or otherwise sold, safely and profitably. Get with the program,

  • Pat

    thank you for this informative article!!

  • David Gilday

    Elizabeth, you are a bright light on the stormy seas of politics and oil. More reasonable people are needed in positions of leadership in Canada. I hope everyone who reads this and other Elizabeth May articles will post them on their Facebook and other social media sites and pass them along to friends in general. The strongest revolution against the horrible government we have today is to insist upon knowledge and a moderation of hyperbole.

  • Di McMahen

    Thanks Elizabeth: Despite my unrealistic wish to close the tar sands altogether, I do realize that they are looked upon as the equivalent to a gold mine in the eyes of the government and the oil business and they do provide jobs. It seems to me that the majority of non Conservative parties believe that the slow development of the sands with supporting infrastructure could be done safely, and with that in place, we just might be able to keep jobs here and transport safely within our country. But once again greed is rearing its ugly head over common sense. Because there in more money in exporting, capitalism takes over. The short-sighted lure of fast cash kills any desire to develop alternative forms of energy, or even to look towards long term development of the tar sands in an environmentally sustainable way over time–if there is such a method. There is no incentive presently to innovate. Once again we fall behind the rest of the developed world, and a large part of the undeveloped world, in our ability to plan for a sustainable future. Oh how embarrassing it is to be Canadian! I never thought I’d feel that way a few years ago…..

  • Daphne Tobler

    Well done – the information you present is much appreciated – and much needed.

  • Donna Shumaker

    These restrictions are sounding more and more like the restrictions they placed on Negro voters in the south. When are we going to have to answer questions like “How many bubbles in a bar of soap?”

  • Look at Norway

    IF exploitation of the tar sands must continue, then without a shadow of a doubt it’s in our country’s best interest to add as much value as possible to what comes out of the tar sands by ensuring we refine the stuff at home first!! That means shifting our focus OFF building more frigging pipelines onto where it belongs – building state-of-the-art refineries (like the one Black has proposed for Northern BC) but closer to the source and then using the existing pipeline and/or rail infrastructure to supply the finished product(s) throughout Canada first then to the United States second.

  • Mavis

    Before Canadians will trust Harper and the Alberta Oil Industry, they need to clean up their act, quite literally. Do the processing in Alberta, and stop blaming other people for their shortsightedness in Refinery development.

  • http://www.facebook.com/shaun.bartone Shaun Bartone

    “If we are thinking like a country, we should get Alberta oil to Eastern Canada, but we should not ship bitumen + diluents.”

    Thinking Like a Planet: If we are thinking like a PLANET, then we shouldn’t build any more Tar Sands pipelines in any direction, or any more Tar Sands capacity in Alberta. Instead we should put forward a plan for degrowth, to phase out and eventually shut down the Tar Sands.

    I lie in Fredericton, New Brunswick and I am against any proposed pipeline to Eastern Canada, regardless of what type or quality of fossil fuel product flows through it.

  • Andrew Scott

    Who is advising the Harper government? Surely they must be held responsible as well.

    • Seeking Truth

      good question! Mark Carney, as ‘star graduate’ of Goldman Sachs (The Bank That Rules The World), has been advisor to a Japanese bank, & advisor to both Martin & Harper FINANCE MINISTERS BEFORE BECOMING HEAD OF OUR BANK OF CANADA!!! & now is a surprise choice for the Bank Of England in London, where (surprise, surprise) the International Headquarters of Goldman Sachs resides! This fits with the purpose of the Trilateral Commission & the Bilderbergers’ “One World-ism’ or the euphemism ‘globalization’. He used to be my most admired economist until I learned about him. Do your own research “Mark Carney/Goldman Sachs”

  • ChristianJustice

    MP Elizabeth May never fails to inform and educate! Great article! I couldn’t agree more with the refineries in Alberta, but that’s too slow for the corporations who run our current government… Keep up the good work! :D

  • Harry McCaughey

    Excellent summary as is usual. I really appreciate your detailed explanations on various environmental issues and especially on the dangerous expansionary trend of the tar sands.

  • Treehugger

    This women amazes me every time she speaks! She is the educated voice of reason and has shown everyone how to behave like adults in the House :) Kudos to Elizabeth May!!

  • wonderful world

    thanks for your article. It makes sense to me what you are proposing. I do believe the oil should serve all canadians in the correct fashion. but in the meantime we need to develop clean energy. Seems the pcs are fixated on oil to fill up their coffers and do not have a vision for a better environment.

    It is always about the money and not sharing. When will we learn. .

  • Stu

    If we take climate change seriously, we need to entirely shut down the tar sands. Oil is will soon be history, and we should be prepared by moving away from it as quickly as possible.

  • micWeekly

    I can believe how easily everyone commenting on this allows the Green Party Leader to actually advocate increasing Tar Sand extraction. If this is supposed to be the far left in Canadian politics we are in more trouble than I thought(and I already thought we were F**KED). This is would be a rational argument from an ultra pro business standpoint like Liberals, fiscal Conservative economists and even centrist NDP’ers but to truly understand the numbers of Tars Sands vs Ecological stability one must know that extraction must end and I although this outcome is unlikely to happen immediately or all at once it wont happen at all if you don’t try and first oppose it. Surely Elizabeth you can see the damage done to the conversation by accepting a happy “business rational” middle ground. Shame.

  • Judy

    Thank you for these educational posts. I do appreciate a better understanding of issues. This makes good sense.

  • satinka

    Simply put, I’d like to see the demand for oil fade. That would put the oil companies out of business in the most natural way. End of story.

  • Helena Handbasket

    I love you, Elizabeth

  • Gayle

    “Thinking like a country”, sounds great. Not what we’ve seen from the Harper government. I’m afraid of what this country will look like when Harper is finished with it. *sigh*

  • jessabun

    Great balanced article, particularly regarding development of the oil sands and forcing these massive companies to use their outrageous profits to build refineries close to the resource. This is the only sustainable way to utilize natural resources. One thing that I feel important to note is that current pipelines also contain Naphtha/benzene/light fraction products. The Diluents are just other petroleum based products, commonly used in pipelines everywhere (and present in many petro products). I think the focus needs to be not on what we carry in those pipelines (all petro products are toxic and contain carcinogenic products), but rather how those pipelines are managed. Any change to the pipeline use needs to be open for public comment in a functional EA, but also, the pipeline company should be forced to test the pipeline durability and perform any maintenance to prevent/reduce spills. Not only would this create technical jobs, but it would help ensure the stability of old infrastructure and security of continued access to the resource while we work on finding alternatives. I’m all about using what we have more efficiently (rather than building new infrastructure for old technology), but it has to be done properly.

  • micWeekly

    I’m sorry there is nothing sustainable about Tar Sand oil no matter how close the refineries are, this is not common sense policy when it comes to the people living downstream.

  • http://www.facebook.com/shaun.bartone Shaun Bartone

    NEB finds massive safety violations on Enbridge’s LIne 9, which is the Eastern Pipleline. “The problems with Enbridge’s pipeline safety came to light in 2011 during an NEB inspection of facilities on the company’s Line 9 pipeline between Sarnia, Ont., and Montreal and at its Edmonton terminal. [Editor: Line 9 is the 'Eastern Pipeline'.] Inspectors found that the terminals at Edmonton, Sarnia and Westover (near Hamilton, Ont.) and pump stations at Westover and Terrebonne (near Montreal) were missing emergency shut-down buttons. The pump stations were also missing backup power systems.”

    How can the Greens possibly advocate for use of this pipeline, Line 9, to transport oil of any kind, whether refined or dilbit, which would eat right through this 40 years old pipeline?

  • Jo. Unrau

    We need to go solar with everything. When will they find a way to make it affordable ?

  • Bob

    The Kalamazoo is cleaned up! Cleaner than it was before the spill. Perhaps you should get out of your office and see the real world. If everyone is so anti-oil and anti-pipeline, then perhaps you should stop typing on your keyboard, yes they’re made from oil, along with your TV, running shoes, bicycle tires for riding to all your rallies, car seats for your babies, artificial hearts for your family members, etc,etc, etc. Enbridge is the safest pipeline company in NOrth America, and they care about the communities they live in, and about Canada. It’s one of the only large corporations left that is actually Canadian. Way to stand behind your Country people! Shut the all pipelines down in North America for a day or two and see how you enjoy your life then. You’re a bunch of hypocrites.

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