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Canadians Overestimate Oilsands Economic Impact: Survey

A majority of Canadians overestimate the contribution the oilsands make to the world’s 11th largest economy, according to a recent poll.

Non-conventional oil production -- which comes mostly from mining and steaming bitumen from beneath the soil of northern Alberta -- accounts for about 2 percent of national output, Statistics Canada data show. A majority of Canadians believe the impact is greater, according to a survey conducted by polling company Environics for the environmental group Environmental Defence.

“We are routinely told our economy will sputter, governments won’t be able to balance budgets, and social services will have to be sacrificed if we don’t triple the size of the tar sands as fast as possible,” Tim Gray, executive director of Environmental Defence, said in a statement.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has called the building of infrastructure to develop natural resource projects a national priority, and said companies plan to invest C$650 billion in projects over the next decade.

According to the Environics poll, 41 percent of Canadians think the oilsands contribution to the economy is between 6 and 24 times higher than it is. Seventy-six percent of those polled agree that Canada should shift its dependence on fossil fuels toward cleaner energy sources, the survey found.

“The tar sands are not the primary driver of our economy,” Gray said in the statement. “Their contribution is relatively small and certainly not sufficient to justify the risks of planned massive expansion.”

Factory Output

By comparison, manufacturing accounts for more than 10 percent of output, according to the statistics agency’s data.

Geraldine Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers industry group, didn’t immediately respond to phone calls seeking comment on the survey.

The value of exports of crude oil derived from bitumen has almost doubled to C$81.7 billion ($76.8 billion) in 2013 from C$42.8 billion in 2009, according to Statistics Canada data. Alberta has been the location of about 80 percent of the net jobs created in Canada over the past year, according to Bloomberg calculations using Statistics Canada data.

Toronto-based Environics conducted the online survey of 1,011 adults living in Canada between June 18 and June 23. No margin of error was reported.

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