Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Preston Manning's refreshing view on the oil sands

During the summer, CBC Radio One has been running an excellent series about environment and business called The Bottom Line, hosted by no less than David Suzuki.   The last three episodes were about the Tar Sands, and surprisingly Suzuki actually got a warm welcome in Fort McMurray and many who work in the oil patch that Suzuki interviewed have the same concerns as he does -- especially about the amount of water being used to get the oil out of the bitumen that has about the same consistency as peanut butter.

The third installment about the sands included an interview with Preston Manning -- you remember, "I love that word, Reeefoooooorm!"    To my amazement, this larger than life guy said things that would make our current PM, Stephen Harper and the Alberta Premier, Edward Stelmach, very angry.    Not the least of which was his response to one of the alternatives being suggested on how to extract the oil -- the natural gas that will be piped in from the Beaufort Sea once the Mackenzie Pipeline is built.

Manning pointed out correctly the original purpose of the pipeline was to serve heat homes and power industries in the United States while ensuring a steady stream of income for the Northwest Territories government and the area's nine First Nations (and making them less reliant on federal transfer payments).    It makes absolutely no sense, he said, for one of the cleanest fuels to be used to pump out one of the dirtiest.

To be clear, Manning wasn't saying shut down the tar sands all together.   He was saying, if we're going to mine the stuff, do so in a responsible way and one that returns as much to the environment as we take away.

Keep in mind, this is a very pro-business, small-c conservative guy, the man who basically revived the Social Credit movement that is now the "Conservative" government in Ottawa.   And yet he is a deeply religious man (long ago he hosted the Canadian edition of the "Back to the Bible" radio broadcasts) and one who cares for the environment, someone who understands "dominion" over the earth does not mean "domination" unlike what some others in the religious right think.

Sustainable development means just that.    Creating tailings ponds and replanting only a handful of trees for every hundred or so cut down to strip mine bitumen sure isn't sustainable.   And while new licenses call for underground mining, as for gold or copper, the methods being used to get that oil out aren't all that pleasant either.

The ancients once said there were four elements -- earth, air, water and fire.   We take from the earth, pollute the air, put contaminants in the water and create the perfect conditions for forest fires.   I thought the Heritage Fund that Alberta had was supposed to help diversify the province's economy.    Instead they go into the province's general revenues to maintain its no sales tax and flat income tax status.   The North of the province needs better roads, but if all they're doing is carrying out dirty oil for processing then piped for export to a sworn enemy of Canada -- Mainland China -- then we're shooting ourselves in the foot.    And sooner or later, the oil will run out, even if they are the second largest reserves on the planet after Saudi Arabia (because of the voracious appetite of China and India).

Manning is on to something.   I have to ask why Harper won't heed his predecessor's wisdom.

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