Saturday, November 19, 2011

A reply to my tar sands entries

In response to some of my recent posts about the tar sands, I got an e-mail the other day in reply that was quite compelling enough that I asked the writer if I could use it here.   He agreed provided I not use his last name.   I am okay with that, so here are some thoughts from Jared:


Dear Robert: 

I'm a long-time reader, first time contacter of your blog posts. I really enjoy your blog in general, particularly in that you aren't rigidly left- or right-wing, something that I really like a lot. As an Albertan, I would however like to comment on what you said about the oilsands:
One of the funny things is that, for all that Alberta is the most conservative province in Canada, even we can become economic nationalists when we feel it's in our interests to do so. The royalty rate review we had a few years back in Alberta was convened because a lot of people weren't convinced that enough of our oil wealth was staying in Alberta. I somehow doubt it would have been convened if the Alberta Liberal and NDP parties were the only ones who wanted it. There's also a considerable movement in Alberta to have more of our bitumen refined here in Alberta, or at least in Canada, rather than shipping the raw material to the U.S. Even our former Premier Ed Stelmach likened it to selling off the raw topsoil on the family farm! 

The other thing I wanted to mention was the discussion about Alberta requiring improved oil extraction processes and the notion of Alberta's oil being "dirty". Although Ezra Levant and others are making an effort to promote the idea of Ethical Oil, what they seem to forget is how much Eastern Canada relies on "dirty" oil from overseas. One thing I'd like to know is what Levant et al. have to say about this question-I personally would love to see stronger energy links between Eastern and Western Canada if it benefited both parts of the country. And judging by the reaction among many Nebraska landowners-people who aren't known for their left wing sympathies-to Keystone XL it's clear that there are still a lot of questions still in the air about how oil is extracted and developed in North America, and it'd be a big mistake to assume otherwise. 

Of course, although there are still issues we need to resolve over oil and gas development, the idea of shutting down the Alberta oilsands is absolutely ridiculous. Doing that would destroy Alberta's economy and give Canadian unity a major kick in the teeth, to say nothing of all the problems it would cause for the Easterners who come out here to work on the rigs and then send money back to their communities. Besides which, it should be pointed out that many of the better players in the oil industry are making a commendable effort to develop the tarsands in a more sustainable fashion. Many of those oilmen are probably avid outdoorsmen themselves, and have friends or family working in the agriculture and ranching industries. They have a vested interest in a healthy environment too. Unfortunately, some anti-oilsands activists seem more interested in portraying the energy industry and its workers as evil moustache-twirling villains who seem to wake up every morning plotting about how they're going to pollute the land today, when all they really are is people who are just trying to make a living. 

The danger here is that we end up with a polarized debate where you're either with someone, or you're against them. On the one hand, any pertinent questions about oil and gas development are dismissed out of hand and the people who ask them are insulted and mocked, or those who try to defend the need for the oilsands are condemned as corporate sellouts and stooges. I don't know what the answers to the debate are myself, but I do know that blithely dismissing concerns over development out of hand or trying to shut down the tarsands aren't going to get us anywhere. 

All the best,

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