Cameron Wigmore, Green Party Member: Albertans Or Industry Alberta Government Must Choose

August 8, 2007

Albertans Or Industry Alberta Government Must Choose

In September of '06 I wrote a submission to the Oilsands Consultation Committee and posted it on my blog. Now the committee has released their final report. You can download it as a 2.5 MB PDF file here.

Make your way to section 3, starting on page 33, for a list of non-consensus actions that were recommended but will very likely not be implemented. Observe how the industry and government representatives often side against the majority of the other panel members.

The general feeling is that we need to slow down. Infrastructure and services are lagging behind the huge increases in population & industrial activity, among other problems, but Premiere Stelmach says that he won't 'tap the brakes'. Yes, Alberta is in a speeding car and the driver won't use the brakes, even when it's apparent that we're heading towards a brick wall.

The Council of Canadians suggested a few things to the committee that make sense.

The Council of Canadians is demanding a National Energy Security Strategy that would:

1. Restrict foreign ownership of our energy sector, regulate the energy industry and renegotiate or scrap NAFTA so that Ottawa can limit fuel exports and reclaim our energy sovereignty.

Over 50 per cent of Alberta's Athabasca tar sands production is already U.S.-owned. These companies pay a 1 per cent royalty to the Alberta government for the right to extract oil - one of the lowest rates paid anywhere in the world for similar privileges.

Canada exports 65 per cent of our oil to the U.S. and yet we have to import 55 per cent of the oil that Canada needs from Algeria, Venezuela and Norway. The proportionality clause in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) ties us to these export levels so that even in the event of energy shortages, we would have to continue piping oil and gas south at the same rate as we do now.

2. Put a moratorium on new tar sands developments and environmentally catastrophic resource extraction projects like the Mackenzie Valley pipeline and the Athabasca tar sands expansion.

As reported by the Globe and Mail on March 16, 2007, "Alberta's production of heavy crude...from its oil sands reserves will more than quadruple by 2025...Alberta will produce 1.7 billion barrels of bitumen in 2025, or 4.65 million barrels of crude a day, well up from current output of just over one million barrels a day, said Neil McCrank, chairman of the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board...While there's been plenty of conjecture over the possible extent of oil sands output growth, the figures given by Mr. McCrank are the first officially made by a regulator that estimate the scale of Alberta's development by 2025."

On January 18, 2007 CBC News reported that, U.S. and Canadian oil executives and government officials met for a two-day oil summit in Houston in January 2006 and made plans for a "fivefold expansion" in oilsands production in a relatively "short time span," according to minutes of the meeting obtained by the CBC's French-language network, Radio-Canada. That media report also noted, "A fivefold increase would mean the exportation of five million barrels a day, which would supply a quarter of current American consumption and add up to almost half of all U.S. imports." The CBC also reported, as noted in the minutes of the January meeting, the proposed expansion would require Canada to "streamline" its environmental regulations.

3. Support cleaner, renewable sources of energy and reduce consumption.

Tar sands production is destroying the environment at an alarming rate. Alberta is poised to become one of the world's main sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Tar sands development destroys vast tracts of land and clears forests. It takes up to six barrels of water to extract just one barrel of oil. The resulting toxic wastewater cannot be put back into circulation.

As reported by the Winnipeg Free Press on January 24, 2007, "Projects now on the drawing board will produce 4.8 million barrels a day by 2020, almost five times current output. At that level, says Pembina's Dr. Matthew Bramley, the tar sands' annual greenhouse gas emissions will skyrocket from 25.2 megatonnes to as much as 141.6 megatonnes, almost double that now created by all the nation's cars and trucks." And as reported by the Globe and Mail on February 17, 2007, "Based on 2000 emissions data, collected by the U.S.-based World Resources Institute, the tar sands could soon match the CO2 output of the Czech Republic, while producing twice as much as Peru, three times as much as Qatar and 10 times as much as Costa Rica."

4. Return to Canada's previous policy of maintaining multi-year reserves for use by Canadians in hard times and to assist in the transition to greener energy alternatives.

On January 24, 2007, the Calgary Herald reported that, "The U.S. Department of Energy said Tuesday it plans to increase the capacity of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to 1.5 billion barrels from 691 million barrels...The U.S. government this spring will start buying 100,000 barrels of oil a day to fill the stockpile to its current capacity of 727 million barrels...The expanded reserve, stored in salt caverns along the U.S. Gulf Coast, would be equal to about 97 days of U.S. oil imports."

In short, the U.S. currently has a strategic petroleum reserve capacity of 727 million barrels which would theoretically replace about 60 days of oil imports for them. The U.S. Energy Secretary is now saying that it is a "wise and prudent policy decision" to expand this reserve to 1.5 billion barrels, which would be equal to about 97 days of oil imports.

Canada does not have a strategic petroleum reserve. If expanding the strategic petroleum reserve in the United States is "a wise and prudent policy decision to provide additional layer of protection" as their energy secretary says, what does it say about the Harper government that has not set aside a single barrel of oil for ourselves, wants to export a "fivefold" increase in oil from the northern Alberta oil sands, and wants to further entrench a trade agreement that prohibits us from cutting back these exports even in times when we run short?

5. Implement a distribution system which would ensure a west-east energy sharing arrangement, so that Canadians rely more on our own energy and less on off-shore imports.

In Canada, most of the oil we consume is imported. Overall Canada imports 58 percent of the oil we consume. About 40 percent of the oil used in Ontario is imported, while about 90 percent of the oil used in Quebec and the Atlantic provinces is imported. 25 percent of the oil Canada consumes comes from the unstable regions of the Middle East or North Africa. (This is a higher percentage than U.S. dependence which is at about 23 percent of their consumption from these regions.)

Straight Goods also reviews the situation and has some interesting things to say.

Last week, the Alberta Government released the much anticipated final report and recommendations of the Oil Sands Multi-Stakeholder Committee — the committee charged with carrying out a broad-based consultation with Albertans and making recommendations on the future of the Alberta tar sands.The report includes 120 different recommendations for action, all based on what was heard in public meetings, in written submissions and from expert symposiums over the course of the last 12 months.

Of those recommendations, 96 were presented as items on which there was consensus. These include some important and valuable recommendations on questions of reclamation of tar sands areas and community infrastructure.

The remaining 24 recommendations were items on which there was not consensus, but that were included in the report nonetheless in order that the government might consider them along with the others.

The problem is that among those 24 recommendations lie the key issues requiring government attention. These include questions about slowing the pace of development (or an outright moratorium); setting hard caps on greenhouse gas emissions; increasing royalty rates; and looking closely at both the health impacts on local populations and the long-term investment of resource revenues.

The fact that these are listed, as "non-consensus" items should not be taken to mean that the public submissions on these topics were evenly split. In fact, in some cases, quite the opposite is true.

On the question of the pace of development, for example, most of the submissions made called for a drastic slow-down and many went as far as to call for a moratorium on new leases and permits. Likewise, with the amount of support shown in the submissions for hard caps on greenhouse gas emissions and for increasing royalty rates.

The reason that these are listed as "non-consensus" items is that some of the members of the Multi-Stakeholder Committee did not agree with the recommendations. In other words, even though the committee was charged with carrying out a public consultation, and reporting back on the public's wishes, these members determined that their own personal opinions should override public input.

It should not come as a surprise to anyone that industry representatives lined up squarely against consensus on the issues above. Clearly, these folks were on the committee to protect their bottom lines from what they saw as unreasonable public interest demands.

For them to actually agree to recommendations of slower development, emissions caps and higher royalties would be completely contradictory to their reason for participating in the process in the first place.

What is more disconcerting, however, is the fact that the Government of Alberta reps on the committee lined up shoulder to shoulder with industry and against the public interest on every one of the issues above. In other words, the government reps on the committee chose to disregard the expressed wishes of Albertans and sided instead with industry.

Now the Pembina Institute has reviewed the recommendations, and points out that the committee has fallen short of what the people of Alberta & those who submitted recommendations were calling for.

Jul 25, 2007

Oil Sands Multistakeholder Committee Recommendations Fail to Address Runaway Pace of Oil Sands DevelopmentResponsibility Now Rests With Premier Stelmach's Government

The recommendations of the Oil Sands Multistakeholder Committee released today by the Government of Alberta fail to address the main concerns of Albertans, according to the Pembina Institute. The final report was submitted to the Government of Alberta on June 30, 2007, and is currently being reviewed by the Ministers of Energy, Environment and Sustainable Resource Development. The Ministers have not yet responded to either the consensus or non-consensus recommendations of the committee.

"The consensus recommendations of the committee fail to address Albertans' number one concern: the runaway pace of oil sands development. Now it's up to Premier Stelmach to tackle this concern head-on and make a decision about slowing the pace of development," noted Dan Woynillowicz, a Senior Policy Analyst with the Pembina Institute and one of three environmentalists on the committee. "Unfortunately some members of the committee were more interested in defending the status quo than in addressing the growing concerns that Albertans have about how oil sands development is occurring."

Joan Russow through the PEJ News site contributed to a recent piece on the oilsands.

So what will the Alberta Government do? Side with industry or the people of Alberta? See this post of mine for a clue to the likely answer. If we don't do anything, there's no reason why Stelmach should consider our collective needs or concerns. It seems to me that the Industry shouldn't need handouts or extra help from the government, but apparently land owners and municipalities aren't as good at lobbying the government as the oil & gas industry, so the industry has continued to get and do pretty much what it wants.

I'm a reasonable man, and all I'm asking for is that the government respect the wishes of and stand up for the people in this province. I don't want to shut down oil & gas operations. That would cause more problems than it would solve, and it would put many of my friends and family members out of work.

An interesting thing to note is that Alberta is unique in that it sees fit to cap wind power production. Think about that: no brakes for oil & gas, but the Alberta government is aggressively interfering with the renewable energy industry.

Steady Eddie needs to 'tap the brakes' and live up to his reputation, rather than speed ahead haphazardly and allow the industry to walk all over him and his government. Make the decision to proceed wisely. The people will support you, and the industry will get along just fine.


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