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Canadian oil venture could <br />replenish U.S. supply

The Chicago Tribune featured two front-page stories recently about the growing number of Midwest refineries investing in equipment to refine crude oil from Canada.

They missed an important perspective: they focused almost exclusively on environmental challenges while almost totally ignoring the economic and national security benefits of increasing crude oil imports from our friendly neighbor to the north, Canada.

Illinois is an energy rich and significant energy producing state. It is in our state's economic interest to promote all forms of energy expansion and modernization to embrace the latest and greatest technology available to encourage continued research and development to promote the growth of energy producing companies in Illinois.

Business, environmental groups and elected officials all need to work hard as individuals and businesses to conserve energy, reduce CO2 output, encourage new alternative energy ventures and innovative new designs and technologies. But we also need to face facts: we're a country that will need crude oil and coal for the foreseeable future.

For years, people of all political stripes have lamented the dwindling supply of crude oil coming from domestic sources and our growing dependence on oil from less-than-desirable countries. Because of new economic realities and technological advances, production of crude oil from Alberta's oil sands is increasing and could continue for years.

Imported Canadian oil is a reliable and plentiful resource to meet our nation's growing energy demands. Contrary to conventional wisdom, Canada is the nation's number one supplier of oil, not Saudi Arabia. Access to this oil is particularly important to Illinois because we are home to four major refineries. Illinois is the fourth largest refining state in the nation, and 70 percent of Canadian oil production coming to the U.S. makes its way to Illinois via pipelines. New pipelines necessary to bring more of that resource to America are under construction.

Our refineries need to be allowed to modernize and expand their production facilities to accommodate Canadian crude as our nation's energy demands continue to grow. Canada is our most reliable source of oil and it has the capacity to meet our growing demands. Disruption from hurricanes or political turmoil in Africa or the Middle East is lessened due to our access to Canada.

Underground pipelines are another resource for handling Canadian oil in Illinois that is stirring controversy.

The Illinois Commerce Commission will soon review and vote on a proposal from Enbridge Energy to expand an underground crude oil pipeline. Underground pipelines are the safest, most reliable transportation method for oil needed to supply our growing energy needs. Some pipeline opponents insist any line connected to refineries outside Illinois is not in the public interest. However, Illinois and Midwestern refineries are the primary recipients of Canadian crude oil. These refineries provide fuel and other petroleum based products for Illinois consumers.

Even if some crude oil goes to refineries along the Gulf Coast, our region benefits: over 40 percent of refined U.S. products and more than one million barrels flow back into the Midwest daily. Just as Interstates traverse Illinois but connect us to nationwide commerce, we are connected through pipelines delivering crude oil to refineries shipping fuel here. We are interdependent with our neighbors for trade and energy. The U.S. is increasingly dependent on Canadian resources and Illinois' critical hub position in the nation's pipeline systems to deliver vital energy resources.

A growing source of energy from our most reliable trading partner makes sense. I think environmental non-government groups (E-NGOs) who oppose this growth tend to forget the basic facts that our economy needs energy to thrive.

The Illinois Chamber has recognized energy production and distribution as a cornerstone for the state's economy and has been deeply engaged in the many public policy debates and political arguments swirling around the future of environmental matters.

We need a balance here. It's not a matter of whether we should take advantage of the increased supply from Canada. It's a matter of how we produce, transport and refine the resource in the most environmentally conscious manner possible using the best available technology.

If environmental non-government organizations continue to erect unrealistic barriers to investment in our energy infrastructure and national energy security, perhaps we should acknowledge E-NGO essentially stands for "economic no-growth organizations."

- Doug Whitley is president and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at (312) 983-7100 or dwhitley@ilchamber.org.

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