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General · 26th September 2013
Barry Saxifrage
In a nutshell

What the tar sands industry says Rapid expansion of bitumen extraction from the tar sands should be a "nation-building" priority. The many thorny climate, environmental, social-license and First Nations issues should not be allowed to significantly impede the industry because rapid expansion offers hundreds of billions of dollars to Canada's GDP over the next 25 years.

What they leave out How do the tar sands compare to other industries? Missing from the discussion is this needed piece of information: the percent of GDP that comes from the tar sands.

In years of researching the tar sands I've only seen this basic data point published once. Seven years ago the Canadian Energy Research Institute (CERI) estimated that the tar sands and related activities were around 1.5% of GDP in 2000. Since silence.

If the Canadian public can't compare the economic impact of different industries how can they possibly make informed decisions on which if any deserve priority status, "nation-building" trump cards and special exemptions?

In an effort to provide you with this essential "tar secret" I dug into several data sources and made my best effort at calculating it.

My calculations show the tar sands provide roughly 2% of Canada's GDP today. For every province outside Alberta the impact is less than one half of one percent of their GDP.

What about the future?

CERI estimates that if the tar sands industry is allowed to triple carbon extraction it could provide up to $2,106 billion in GDP over the next 25 years. But, again they don't tell you how that compares to the other parts of our huge economy. My calculations show that this would represent ~3.7% of Canada's $57 trillion dollars of GDP over that time. The province that would see the largest percentage impact outside Alberta would be BC at ~0.4% of our provincial GDP.

At a glance

My two charts below let you quickly see the relative contributions of the tar sands to our national and provincial GDPs.