Oil was the focus at the Global Business Forum in Banff, Alta., last week, but water will become the New Oil.
And Canada has an embarrassment of riches, while other nations are sorely disadvantaged. Fresh figures from an expert invited to the conference underscored a very bright future for Canada’s water largesse.
For instance, one pipeline carrying surplus fresh water from Manitoba to Texas could double provincial and municipal government revenues each year.
“It would cost between $4-billion and $9-billion to build a pipeline of water to Texas from Manitoba,” said Paul Wihbey, president of GWEST LLC of Washington. “Annual revenue could be $7-billion, which is about the current budget of the provincial government and City of Winnipeg government combined.”
The problem, of course, is pricing. But that will be sorted out soon as parched areas of the United States and the rest of the world begin to attach economic value to the commodity.
“Bulk-water exports will take place from Canada – Manitoba, Newfoundland, Quebec and British Columbia – in two to five years,” said Mr. Wihbey. GWEST is an acronym for Global Water & Energy Strategy Team and is a think-tank that, among other collaborations, teams up to prepare a quarterly energy report with investment bank FirstEnergy Capital Corp. of Calgary.
Their quarterly reports have examined many related topics since 2003 such as shifting energy centres of gravity, security of supply, terrorism, OPEC, technological breakthroughs and alternative energies.
Ironically, Canada’s wing-nut politicians – Liberals and NDPers in particular – have spoken out against water exports, as though it was somehow bad for the nation or that Canadians would die of thirst.
Some even spoke about water as the “hidden agenda” behind free trade with the United States. But water is in huge surplus in Canada and is, unlike oil or natural gas or metals and minerals, a renewable resource.
Here are the facts Mr. Wihbey recounted, drawn from a number of global sources:
Water was the topic at this forum, mostly concerned with oil issues, because production around the world is increasingly dependent upon readily available water supplies. Water is used to inject steam to coax heavy, less-valuable oil out of underground fields, as well as heavily used in the upgrading and mining process for Alberta’s gigantic oilsands.
In fact, some have worried that semi-arid Alberta doesn’t have sufficient water to sustain the development of the oilsands, where production is estimated to grow from one million barrels daily to four million barrels by 2015.
“There is no problem there,” said Mr. Wihbey. “The oil and gas industry has been allocated 7.2% of potable water in the province, which is more than enough.”
Hopefully, water won’t be a rallying cry for the economically and technologically ignorant left-of-centre parties in Canada or its provinces.
Fresh water represents another massive opportunity bestowed on the country, which could benefit every Canadian in future. As well, it’s a matter of responsible stewardship. The price and terms must be fair.