Nationally, Canada has a decision to make: boost the economy or protect the environment. The global demand for oil is growing, as the resource is declining, bringing Canada’s northern reserves into the spotlight as the spare tank for North America’s requirements. It has been stated that there are enough resources, at the Athabasca tar sands, for North America to continue our oil-dependent lifestyle for the next 100 years, a figure that includes the inflating demand and a decline in imported oil. Much to the chagrin of the Canadian and international oil barons, the Earth’s climate is changing. Global climate change has been correlated to the burning of fossil fuels. Many uncertainties still remain but there has been conclusive evidence correlating Carbon dioxide and Global Warming (Dearden, 188). Lobbyists, as well as the press, manipulate the uncertainty around climate modeling leaving the public confused as to what the concern about fossil fuel use and climate change is. Globally, the Kyoto Protocol has been suggested to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Each region of the world has an individual perspective on the Kyoto Protocol some agree that it is necessary to preserve our way of life, some disagree and say that it will handicap their economy and limit their country’s ability to compete in the industrial sector. Federally, the Canadian government has ratified the Kyoto protocol with an amendment not to implement until it suits the needs of Alberta and the oil production industry. The suggested made in Canada alternative to Kyoto will break our international commitments and increase green house gas emissions because of the enviromental costs of extraction.. This compromise shows where the federal government stands but where should the public stand? This will be a critical isssue for next federal election, and a closer look at the Athabasca oil sands project is needed so Canadians can determine the future of their country, economy and environment.
The controversy surrounding Alberta’s fossil fuel reserves stems from the extraction and refinement process. Surface strip mining, the first step of extraction, involves sifting the sand and clay from the tar sand or bitumous rock, a process that disturbs ecosystems, destroys forests and creates polluted waste water. The low grade crude bitumous rock is then taken and mixed with high grade oil in order to create a sellable product. This process, although environmentally damaging and costly, is profitable at the current costs for a barrel of oil. This method is profitable enough for the Alberta Provincial Government to give each citizen a four hundred dollar prosperity check and take the province out of financial debt, making it the only deficit free province in the country.Giving a pogie to the citizens may pacify their objections to the pollution but the stance the provincial government took isolated them from the rest of country, refusing to put the surplus from the resource revenues into the Federal deficit. This has forced the “have-not” provinces to explore their own oil and gas exploration possibilities, threatening their environmental sustainability, and further our country’s required levels of green house gas emissions, according to the Kyoto Protocol. Both neighboring provinces, British Columbia and Saskatchewan, stand with the Albertan Government in criticism of Canada accepting the Kyoto Protocol because they both produce natural gas and oil. Major criticisms stem from Quebec and Manitoba who export hydroelectricity, which is considered “green” energy, but meet the acceptable levels of emissions (221, Dearden). Environmentalists and Oil executives agree that if extraction and mining continue Canada will fail to meet Kyoto standards. Some see the Kyoto Protocol as a device to slow or stop oil production in Alberta, paying close attention to how the resource has affected the economy and turning a blind eye to how it has affected the physical and political environment.
An example of perspective shift is how the Athabasca project in Alberta has been viewed in the past and how it is viewed now. Before present extraction methods were developed and profit was minimal, the product was called tar sands, down-playing its worth due to the low profit margin for extraction at that time. With the present boom, new technologies, and the high price of a barrel of oil, the “tar” sands are now titled “oil” sands portraying a new view on a previously undervalued commodity. The estimated amount of “tar” or “oil” sand on the surface is estimated to rival Saudi Arabia’s reserves, and below the surface sands there is estimated to be over a trillion barrels of oil (Mihailovich). Imagine what the extraction of a trillion barrels of oil would do to Canada’s economy. Federal and Provincial Governments could pay all citizens a prosperity check and create jobs for anyone in need. Presently, jobs on the oil rigs can pay tradesmen enough to retire in under ten years of work. A colleague of mine, after two years in Fort McMurray, has bought a house and is currently on a year long trip to Africa. The prosperity of the Albertan oil fields is distracting from the pollution it is creating. Consider that for each barrel of synthetic oil created 80 kg of green house gases are emitted but also take into consideration that Alberta’s unemployment rate is at the lowest it has been since 1976 (Statcan). Both of these statistics are staggering but this is not a black and white issue.
The Prairie Chapter of the Sierra Club is calling the tar sands an “energy onslaught” and are trying to police the industry into implementing sustainable practices.They state that alternative energy is the best option for Canada’s environment but the Government is not regulating oil extraction or sale. The evidence of the environmental degradation is blatant, still their concerns and suggestions are falling on deaf ears. Many of their suggestions could be adopted without noticeable impact on the economy and would actually increase profits of the oil and gas industry by conserving oil use nationally allowing more resource for export internationally. They suggest an integrated energy plan, where a combination of resources are used, instead of the dominant use of fossil fuels. This plan is easier said than implemented. What needs to be done, according to the Sierra Club, is to have government legislate a limited amount of extraction along with investment in the alternative energy sector and programs for rehabilitating the forests for carbon sequesturing. This middle ground solution may seem reachable but so far no part of the boreal forest has been replaced and a gas pipeline, along the Mackenzie River from the North West Territorries to Alberta, futher threatens Canadian Ecosystems (Wiki). Enviromentalist groups have their hands full in contesting the progress, of oil and gas exploration, but companies and government must act to increase profits.
This debate is complex, Oil Companies are seen as a threat to Canada from enviromentalist groups and as a cash cow by the Canadian Governrment. The voice that will effect how this all pans out is the public’s. Even against International business, the people of Canada will have to be aware and influence this issue. An ideal resolution would be for the Federal Government to claim responsibilty for oil production, like Venezuela did with their company PDVSA, and have non-governmental oganizations police their actions. This nationalistic approach may be what is needed to avoid an environmental catastrophe but is unrealistic judging from past decisions. Prime Minister Steven Harper is correct, we do need a “made in Canada” solution, but this approach should include all stakeholder’s imput not just those that have profits at stake.
Dearden, Philip. Enviromental Change and Challenge: a Canadian perspective. Second. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Freeman, Matt. “America’s Gas Tank.” (2002) 1 – 23. 04 Nov 2006 .>
Mihailovich , Draggan. “60 minutes.” The Oil Sands Of Alberta. 25 June 2006. 4 Nov 2006 .
“Sierra Club of Canada.” Tar Sands. 03 Nov 2006. Sierra Club of Canada. 4 Nov 2006 .
“Tar sands.” 01 Nov 2006. Wikipedia. 4 Nov 2006 .
“The Daily.” Labour Force Survey. 03 Nov 2006. Statistics Canada. 4 Nov 2006 .