The biggest surprise coming out of the provincial Oil Sands Consultation - Multistakeholder Committee Final Report is that the diverse panel reached consensus on 96 of the 120 recommendations.
"There were very strong levels of agreement," said Greg Stringham, vice-president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). Recalling that industry held just three of the 19 panel seats, the amount of agreement was a surprise because there was such an expectation of disagreement. "I think everybody saw there were real issues here," he noted.
The report was initiated by the province in 2005 to clarify and update policies that guide and regulate oilsands development.
No consensus was reached on 24 issues including the pace of development though Stringham said it was more to do with the moratorium. "It was the question of shutting things down that people couldn't come to consensus on. That one didn't surprise me," he added.
Mayor Melissa Blake, who has repeatedly asked for a slowing of development and a moratorium on approvals to allow the municipality time to catch-up on infrastructure concerns was not available for comment. Similarly, Wood Buffalo regional manager Bill Newell had not yet reviewed the final report and was unable to comment this morning.
For the report, the committee held a two-phase series of public meetings across Alberta including a community summit in the Fort McMurray region. Common themes were the pace of development including calls for a moratorium, capturing more value-added industry, stronger government leadership and, especially in the Fort McMurray area, a view the infrastructure and service deficits require urgent attention.
The need for environmental protection and conservation was a concern the panel heard at all public meetings.
On the leadership issue, Stringham said "I think (the provincial government) still needs to do more but they've actually really taken a big step forward." He cited the length of the process, the previous Doug Radke Report and the provincial government's infusion of several hundred million dollars into infrastructure as examples.
"Now that's certainly not going to solve the entire issue. We know there's more demand there but it shows, I think, the government is getting more involved," he added.
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, made two presentations during the public consultation process. He wasn't surprised by the non-consensus.
"We're not much further ahead than we were six months ago. There's still a glaring lack of leadership on the issues that matter," he said.
McGowan added it's becoming more clear that while the government is happy to hold consultations, it's still on the sidelines when it comes to significant concerns such as the "burning issue" of pace of development.
Increased communication about initiatives already underway in the industry is another issue outlined in the report, according to Stringham. He noted there are some people who believe no land reclamation has occurred "yet there's a significant amount of reclamation." He said this report tries to narrow "those kinds of gaps in knowledge."
Stringham added it will take industry, government and environmental groups working together to completely close the gaps.
Fort McMurray Today, Page A1, Thurs July 26 2007
Byline: Carol Christian
Oilsands construction unions vote to strike; 'Historic' walkout as early as next week would be first under tough Alberta law
CALGARY -- Five oilsands construction unions have voted overwhelmingly to strike, in a move that could halt work at oil-sands projects in Fort McMurray, Alta., as early as next week.
The results of the July 4 votes were presented to the Alberta Labour Relations board on Monday. Once certified, 72-hour strike notice could be served as early as Friday, said Barry Salmon, a spokesman for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 424, based in Edmonton.
"These are rather overwhelming mandates," he said. "Historic is a word that's used far too often, but that's what this is -- historic."
The five unions -- boilermakers, plumbers and pipe fitters, electrical workers, millwrights and refrigerator mechanics - held simultaneous ballots in Calgary, Edmonton and Fort McMurray earlier this month, the first such votes in almost three decades.
The electrical workers voted 94 per cent in favour of strike action, while the boilermakers and plumbers voted 99 per cent and 97 per cent, respectively, in favour. Millwrights were 90-per- cent supportive, while refrigeration mechanics came in at 85 per cent.
At issue are quality-of-life issues as opposed to wages, Salmon said. Journeyman electricians make about $35 an hour, for example.
"It just shows the level of frustration among trades," Salmon said. "We want a contract, not a strike. This is all about getting back to the table."
In addition to oilsands projects, a walkout could threaten big public-works projects that use union labour.
The unions have been without a contract since May 1. Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan described the votes as "unprecedented," in light of the province's existing labour law, which critics have complained is overwhelmingly biased in favour of contractors.
Consequently, there have been no strike votes under the legislation since it was enacted in the early 1980s.
"Alberta's labour code was deliberately written to make it impossible for construction unions to go on strike," McGowan said. "These workers are sending a very strong message, and employers ignore it at their peril."
Mark Friesen, an oilsands analyst at FirstEnergy Capital Corp., said the labour unrest is another layer of ambiguity in an oilpatch already grappling with a government-sponsored royalty review and skyrocketing capital costs.
He's not surprised the unions would vote in favour of walking off the job. However, he held out hope strike action could be averted.
Vancouver Sun, Page D9, Tues July 24 2007
Byline: Shaun Polczer
The temporary foreign worker program is perhaps the most contentious labour issue in the oilsands but a new provincial and federal government agreement is expected to clarify its parameters.
"We'll be able to share information and that'll hopefully help us be alerted to any abuses that could come forward," said Alberta Minister of Employment, Immigration and Industry Iris Evans. "I think you'll see a lot of the concerns that have been emerging addressed," she added, when the agreement is finished in November.
Monte Solberg, federal minister of human resources and social development Canada, said in an announcement the new agreement will include penalties for program abuse, such as refusing future requests for foreign workers. While there must be a "zero tolerance" for abuse and mistreatment, Solberg said "we need to recognize that temporary foreign workers must supplement Canadian labour, not displace it."
With the use of Chinese temporary workers predominant on the oilsands, training and qualifications remain top concerns, said Gil McGowan, Alberta Federation of Labour president.
Training is, he said, "One of the big questions we were asking after the deaths on the tank farm and it's a question we continue to ask: 'Are the workers being brought over from other countries trained up to standards that would be acceptable in Canada?' So far, we haven't been convinced." McGowan is referring to a tank collapse at the Canadian National Resources Ltd. site in April that killed two Chinese temporary workers.
McGowan said neither level of government has adequate screening mechanisms to properly evaluate qualifications.
He said federal bureaucrats have "essentially admitted to me that they only do paper audits on workers coming into the country under the temporary foreign worker program."
That may be acceptable with workers coming from countries with comparable standards to Canada's, but for workers coming from countries like China with lower standards, "Paper audits clearly won't be enough."
He's also concerned about a "loophole" in the practical testing of compulsory certified trades. Workers have up to six months to take the test but can work during that time.
"The paper audits and the loopholes that are being exploited by employment brokers make a mockery of our standards when it comes to training and health and safety," stated McGowan. "We're creating this underclass of workers who are much more vulnerable and much more open to exploitation."
It also discourages employers from investing in domestic training. McGowan asked why companies would invest in a domestic apprentice for four or five years, when they can get, for example, a journeyman right away through the temporary foreign worker program.
"The temporary worker program has been identified as one of the components to get through the human resources challenge," said Brian Maynard, human resources specialist and a vice-president for the Canadian Asociation of Petroleum Producers.
He noted a lot of people accuse the industry of trying to circumvent Alberta's labour movement by using temporary foreign workers.
While that could sometimes be the case, he acknowledged, it's "the most expensive solution we can find."
Costs for this "short-term solution" include such integration issues as moving, transportation, training and regulatory approvals. "It's a real challenge to integrate a temporary foreign worker," he said. Those costly challenges act as an "incentive for companies to hire locally," added Maynard.
MLA Hugh MacDonald, Liberal energy critic, wonders why, with nine other provinces and three territories, employers look overseas.
"Every rock and stone should be overturned looking for people here," he told Today. "I'm not convinced we're making enough of an effort." He added the unemployment rate among First Nations youth aged 15 to 24 is high.
"The last place we should be looking is the temporary foreign worker for exploitation," said MacDonald, adding the program is "designed to drive down Canadian wages and work conditions."
Last year, according to Evan's office, the top three countries suppying temporary foreign workers were the United States with 2,772, Philippines at 2,211 then the United Kingdom at 1,438. China ranks ninth out of the top 12 with 293. The U.S. is generally always the leading country. The year before it was the U.S., U.K. then Australia. The top three positions are babysitters/nannies, parents' helper at nine per cent; general farm workers at six per cent and processional occupations/business management at five per cent. Oilsands workers are not in the top 10. However, a group of "other occupations," which covers the remaining jobs not mentioned could include these workers. But because of the way the federal government collects the data, there's no way to break down this 68.6 per cent. There's also no way of knowing the top three countries supplying foreign workers to oilsands projects.
Fort McMurray Today, Page A1, Fri July 20 2007
Byline: Carol Christian
A union leader says the province has quietly lifted a stop work order imposed on an oilsands tank construction site in northern Alberta after two workers died.
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, says officials in the Immigration Department told him about the development Thursday.
In a letter to Immigration Minister Iris Evans, McGowan says he believed the stop-work order would remain in place until the end of an investigation into what happened at the site near Fort McMurray.
McGowan wants to know whether the review into the deaths and a second non-fatal collapse three weeks later has been completed.
He has also written a letter to Justice Minister Ron Stevens asking for a public fatality inquiry into the deaths.
The Chinese men were working on the multibillion-dollar Horizon oilsands project belonging to Canadian Natural Resources (TSX:CNQ).
The Edmonton Sun, Page 33, Sat July 14 2007
Help may soon be on the way for the province's growing energy sector in the form of a collaborative approach addressing labour shortages.
A Workforce Strategy for Alberta's Energy Sector, developed by 37 energy associations, labour organizations and employers developed, was announced Tuesday. It contains 46 new actions to inform, attract and develop the workforce.
But while government and industry is heralding this strategy, labour unions are disappointed with the "business as usual" plan.
Alberta obviously needs an answer to the overall high demand for skilled and unskilled workers, according to Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"Yet we see nothing new in this document, nothing innovative. It's really business as usual after you get through the PR and promises to study various issues," said McGowan in a statement.
Describing the strategy as lacking in substance, he added it includes "vague intentions and promises."
The strategy was kick-started by the Alberta departments of Energy and Employment, Immigration and Industry, the Alberta Chamber of Resources and the Construction Owners Association of Alberta.
Brian Maynard, vice president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said 400,000 new jobs will be created in the province between now and 2015 but it leaves the province still 100,000 workers short.
Between 150,000 and 200,000 of the jobs will be in the oil and gas industry, he said.
''This is the biggest issue we face,'' he said. ''We can't do this without people.''
A highlight of the strategy includes a one-stop website about entering and working in the energy sector and living in Alberta to attract out-of-province workers, he said.
The purpose of the program is to develop ways to attract skilled workers to the whole industry through, for example, education and immigration, said Cheryl Knight, executive director and CEO of the Petroleum Human Resources Council of Canada.
''It's more proactive and long-term,'' she said.
Energy Minister Mel Knight called the program ''a road map'' to ensure Alberta's energy sector continues to thrive and contribute to the province's economy.
''All of the pieces that have been brought together are certainly very valuable and can work in concert to get us to a goal,'' Knight said.
Fort McMurray Today, Page A1, Wed July 11 2007
Alberta faces a potentially crippling shortage of workers that could stall development of multi-billion-dollar oilsands projects and the economy at large, government and industry officials said Tuesday.
Government forecasts say Alberta needs 400,000 new workers by 2015. But that analysis also shows 100,000 of those jobs won't be filled unless new strategies are engaged to recruit and train people from every possible demographic.
Brian Maynard, a vice-president with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, says the energy industry alone faces a shortfall of 40,000 workers over the next eight years.
Failure to find the right number of workers could jeopardize billions in investment planned for the booming energy sector. Energy contributes about a third, more than $59 billion annually, to Alberta's gross domestic product.
Maynard said Alberta can't afford to ignore the brewing demographic storm. "There's just too much at stake," he said. "This is one of the biggest issues our industry faces."
Maynard was on hand for the unveiling of the Alberta government's workforce strategy for the oil and gas industry, a series of training and education initiatives designed to increase the labour pool by attracting more women, young people and aboriginals to the workforce.
Women in particular make up about three per cent of an oil and gas workforce that is typically Caucasian, older than 45 -- and male.
"The 100,000 (workers) come in pieces," said Energy Minister Mel Knight.
The energy industry has 150,00 direct employees and almost double that when indirect employment is counted.
By 2015 the oilpatch faces critical shortages of skilled trades ranging from process engineers to quality control supervisors. The province defines a critical shortage as any sector with less than three per cent unemployment.
The government's 10-year strategy was hashed out with the help of 37 energy associations, labour organizations and employers and aims to broaden the workforce with a suite of programs including training, education and attracting more people to move to Alberta from within Canada as well as overseas.
"The important thing to remember is that this is an industry led approach," said Lloyd Dick, speaking on behalf of the Alberta Chamber of Resources and Construction Owners Association of Alberta.
In addition, the program aims to recruit more young people. Youth unemployment is roughly double the province's official 3.8 per cent rate and energy is held with a certain amount of disdain among young people who see it as old-fashioned
"To attract the labour force of tomorrow we have to promote the petroleum industry as an employer of choice," said Cheryl Knight, executive director of the Petroleum Human Resources Council of Canada.
But Gil McGowan, who heads the Alberta Federation of Labour, said his group is "suspicious" of government efforts to bring more workers to Alberta at a time when dissatisfaction with working conditions is running high.
Last week, five construction unions held strike votes in Edmonton, Calgary and Fort McMurray for the first time in more than 30 years, voicing displeasure with working conditions on major oilsands projects.
If the votes are positive, construction work in northeast Alberta could come to a halt before the end of the month.
McGowan accused the government of trying to circumvent Alberta's labour movement by bringing in temporary foreign workers.
He said employers are partly to blame for failing to attract and train new workers during the downturn. Instead many potential new recruits were turned away and took up careers in more "stable" sectors of the economy.
"What we're saying is that there has to be a better way to develop the workforce of the future so we're better ready for when the boom comes," he said. "Throwing money at the problem is not enough."
According to Iris Evans, Alberta's minister of Employment, Immigration and Industry, her department received about 8,000 applications for foreign workers, a four-fold increase from 2,000 applications at this time last year.
But CAPP's Maynard countered that hiring foreigners is an expensive last resort. Most companies would prefer to hire Canadians first, he added.
Skilled oil workers are as scarce as steel and equipment around the globe. The oil industry would still be hard-pressed to attract all the workers it needs even if immigration levels were dramatically increased, he noted.
"We need them in every area . . . and it's going to fall to immigration to fill the gap," he said. "There's nobody that's going to be left aside. Usually governments have had to deal with unemployment, now they're having to deal with full employment and that's a complete reversal from what they're used to."
Calgary Herald, Page A1, Wed July 11 2007
Byline: Shaun Polczer
Alberta yesterday published a new "work force strategy" to attract more workers to the province's booming energy industry. The project, which involved industry, proposed 46 ideas to recruit, retain and develop the work force. Highlights include a mobile training facility, to be used in remote areas of the province, and development of a "one-stop" website with information about living in Alberta and working in the energy sector, in the hopes of drawing workers from other provinces. The Alberta Federation of Labour earlier yesterday said it is worried Alberta is relying too heavily on temporary foreign workers and is skeptical about the new strategy.
The Globe And Mail, Page B9, Wed July 11 2007
Byline: David Ebner
A worker shortfall in the energy industry could stall Alberta's motoring economy, although government and industry representatives outlined plans Tuesday to grapple with the problem.
Officials unveiled a 10-year workforce strategy for Alberta's energy sector, although there's no silver bullet solution to solving the problem, noted Cheryl Knight, executive director and chief executive officer of the Petroleum Human Resources Council.
"Change takes time and we're working on it," Knight said in an interview.
The Alberta government facilitated collaboration among 37 energy associations, organizations and employers to develop the strategy.
There are a number of areas where new workers could be sourced, Knight said. "Youth, immigration, temporary foreign workers, aboriginals, women. There really isn't one source."
The key, she said, is having industry promote the range of occupations.
"To attract the labour force of tomorrow we have to promote the oil and gas industry as an employer of choice."
At the end of July, the council is launching 'draw the world into your workplace' which is a 40-page workplace booklet to help companies reach out to the five under represented groups including youth, women, aboriginal peoples, immigrants and visible minorities.
Shying away from the human resource challenge is not an option as there is too much at stake, noted Brian Maynard, vice-president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
"It is increasingly difficult to find people with the right skills in sufficient numbers," he noted. "Forecasts suggest that by 2015, Alberta will be facing a worker shortfall of approximately 100,000 people."
Annual capital spending in the oil and gas industry tripled from $11.5 billion in 1998 to $36.6 billion in 2006. As of May 2007 there were $121.3 billion energy-related construction projects planned, underway or recently completed in the province.
As of April 2007, the oilsands (including upgraders) accounted for over $105 billion or 61% of all major construction projects planned, underway or recently completed in the province.
The total number of Albertans employed in the energy sector, as defined for the purposes of the strategy, was estimated at 146,000 in 2006. Approximately 132,000 individuals worked in oil and gas extraction and support activities. A further 10,000 were estimated to be employed in Alberta's electricity industry and 2,000 each in the coal and pipeline industries.
In 2006, the unemployment rate for mining, oil and gas extraction was three per cent, below the provincial average of 3.4%.
However, parts of the energy sector are experiencing demographic challenges. Economic downturns in the 1980s and early 1990s led to downsizing and the current demographic gaps in the workforce are due to the loss of experienced mid-career employees and difficulty in attracting new entrants, the strategy document notes.
As well, a number of occupations in the oil and gas and electricity industries are experiencing the challenges of an aging workforce. Forty per cent of the labour force in oil and gas supervisory, engineering, technology and operations-related positions are 45 years and older.
The energy sector also employs proportionally more men than women. Men represent almost 75% of the total workforce in mining, oil and gas extraction while they only account for 55% of all employed Albertans. However, the numbers of women in mining, oil and gas extraction are steadily increasing, up 9,600 between 2005 and 2006.
Some of the strategies are hoped to stem the problem before it becomes dire.
Key actions include developing information on career opportunities and occupations in the upstream petroleum industry and disseminate it to traditional and non-traditional pools of labour while continuing to promote careers in the trades (develop brochures, attend career fairs).
Others called for the exploration of alternative approaches to altering public perception of the oil and gas industry, partnering with government and individual communities to provide improved support programs and networks for integrating new immigrants, partnering with the Canadian Council of Directors of Apprenticeship to develop a strategy to improve the Foreign Credential Recognition (FCR) process, including the development of an FCR assessment tool for foreign trained construction trade workers and work to improve labour mobility within Canada, particularly for occupations in the trades (recognition of credentials, free movement of apprentices).
The Alberta Federation of Labour, however, was "disappointed" by the workforce strategy.
"Instead of substance all we have is vague intentions and promises," Gil McGowan, president, said in a statement. "We also note with disappointment that the union most involved in the energy sector, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) was not consulted.
"We had hoped to see proposals for changing the way we engage in workforce training in both our post-secondary and apprenticeship training systems. We also expected some specific goals and targets for dealing with the social and economic dislocation that drives workers away from isolated worksites and boomtowns like Fort McMurray."
Meanwhile, Petro-Canada's Andrew Stephens noted that with the company's stake in the oilsands, rolling out a strategy is key to address the labour needs going forward.
"The projected workforce for Petro-Canada on our Fort Hills project alone is expected to peak in the third quarter of 2009 at 8,000 construction workers and when operating will need 1,600 operations personnel and then on top of that we'll need the people to maintain the facility," he said.
Employment Minister Iris Evans said that if the strategies aren't followed, it could lead to a slowdown of economic growth.
"We've got a full and complete way to look at things," she said. "Expose young people to trades. Talk to kids in school."
Energy Minister Mel Knight added the solution will not come together at once.
"You put together a roadmap to bring those pieces together so that at the end of the day we can clearly see," he said.
Daily Oil Bulletin, Page 1, Wed July 11 2007
Byline: By Richard Macedo
Keystone pipeline to the United States by 35 per cent, citing strong support from Canadian oilsands producers.
The pipeline will be capable of carrying 590,000 barrels per day (bpd) to Cushing, Okla., when subsequent expansion phases come online in 2010, up about 150,000 bpd.
TransCanada said the expansion was driven by the signing of binding contracts for 495,000 bpd of the total available capacity at an average term of 18 years.
"This commitment from shippers clearly confirms the value of Keystone as a cost-competitive way to link growing oilsands supply to U.S. energy markets," said Trans-Canada CEO Hal Kvisle.
"With this support, we expect to move to the next phase of the project, expanding the pipeline to the U.S. Gulf Coast."
A public hearing to construct the Canadian facilities for the pipeline concluded June 21. TransCanada said it has also submitted applications for similar U.S. federal and state approvals.
If it gets the go-ahead, construction of the 2,969-kilometre pipeline is expected to begin in early 2008.
TransCanada spokeswoman Shela Shapiro declined to provide cost numbers for the latest expansion beyond the previous $2.8 billion US estimates for the pipeline and Cushing extension.
"We continue to refine the estimated cost," she said.
Keystone is just the latest in a series of pipeline proposals designed to take up Alberta's growing oilsands output.
Last Thursday, Enbridge Inc. filed commercial terms with the national regulator for the $2-billion Canadian segment of its proposed Alberta Clipper heavy oil pipeline.
Enbridge is also filing with American regulators to the build the $1-billion U.S. portion of the project.
Alberta Clipper will see the construction of 1,600 kilometres of new 91-centimetre diameter pipe from Hardisty, Alberta, to Superior, Wis., where it will trickle down feeder pipes to the Gulf Coast.
Initial capacity of 450,000 bpd will eventually top 800,000 bpd after it comes into service in mid-2010.
On Friday, Enbridge also filed for regulatory approval to build a $300-million extension from Hardisty to Edmonton and expand the capacity of the line to 880,000 bpd to match Alberta Clipper.
The announcements come as Canadian oilsands producers begin to dramatically ramp up output.
Last week, the Canadian Association of Canadian Petroleum Producers (CAPP) said it expects oil production to average 4.6 million to 5.3 million bpd by 2020 due in part to the explosive growth in the oilsands.
Over the same period, total U.S. refinery demand for Alberta oil is projected to increase from about 1.6 million bpd to almost 3.1 million bpd in the same period, or nearly 100 per cent.
Demand for heavy oil is by far the largest of the crude types, necessitating the need for new pipes, the association said in its report.
Greg Stringham, the association's vice-president of markets and fiscal policy agreed the Keystone expansion comes sooner than even he expected but suggested additional capacity will be needed to meet even the base case forecast.
"Even this announcement won't be enough to meet our moderate growth case by 2020," he said. "We may even need more after 2012."
But Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said the province needs more refineries and upgraders -- not new pipes.
He testified as an intervenor against Keystone during the public hearing that closed last month.
His group is concerned there won't be enough bitumen left over to support a domestic processing industry and urged the federal and provincial governments to take steps to encourage value-added processing and jobs at home.
"This (TransCanada's expansion) should be setting off alarm bells with the policy makers in Edmonton," he said.
"We'd rather see half a dozen state-of-the-art upgraders and refineries than five or six new pipelines."
TransCanada shares fell eight cents in Toronto, to close at $36.56.
Many Albertans get prickly at the prospect of oilsands bitumen flowing to the U.S. for refining. And rightly so -- for how can the province make most of its finite resource if low-priced bitumen and high priced refinery jobs go south? Last fall, Ed Stelmach raised exactly that concern when two major exporters, BP and Encana, announced plans for two large-scale export projects. Stelmach likened bitumen exports to selling off topsoil, clearly a bad idea.
As it turns out, more than a dozen U.S. refineries want to gear up to accept bitumen.
Some forecasts say 1.5 million barrels a day will be going south by 2020 -- more than today's entire oilsands production of 1.25 million barrels a day. About one-third of the bitumen produced today is exported.
The crucial first steps to implement in this export strategy are already being taken. This month, the National Energy Board started hearings into the $2.1-billion Keystone pipeline proposed by TransCanada Pipelines to carry around 435,000 barrels of bitumen a day to Illinois and Oklahoma.
Enbridge is also putting together a pipeline proposal, the Alberta Clipper, for U.S.-bound bitumen.
Approval of a new export pipeline is an irrevocable decision about the use of Alberta's oil reserves, and there's been no opportunity for a public discussion about what's at stake for the province.
The proposed bitumen exports, for instance, are already creating thousands of jobs in Texas to renovate aging refineries, for instance. What other opportunities will flow south? A group of Alberta labour unions is trying to raise that red flag at the NEB hearings. The Alberta Federation of Labour says 18,000 upgrading and refining jobs will be lost if the pipeline is approved, as well as the opportunity to build a more diversified economy.
AFL president Gil McGowan asked the NEB to delay its approval until Albertans and policy makers have a chance to address those issues in a public forum. Because once the pipes are in the ground and the billions invested in re-tooling U.S. refineries, there's no turning back. Alberta and Canada will be tied into the "limited role of miner and extractor." "We're at a crossroads and decisions we make now will affect Alberta and Canada for generations to come. We can't afford to get it wrong," said McGowan in an interview.
"I was asked at the hearing what is the right proportion for export and I said that's what the public should be discussing. These are the resources they own collectively." "The public should be setting the course, not just narrow interests of the big industrial players." The NEB sent a message earlier this year that it does not want to consider the labour federation's concerns: "these are matters of broad public policy that are properly under the purview of federal and provincial government," it said in a February report.
Albertans have heard the NEB refrain before. The Alberta Energy and Utilities Board last fall declined to consider Ft. McMurray's request to delay approval of the three giant projects on the same grounds.
Municipal problems coping with boom are not an EUB responsibility.
That's correct, strictly speaking. But in this deregulated environment, Alberta has no public forum for raising these issues around energy projects. There's no discussion of what's an appropriate target for domestic upgrading nor a policy to promote refining in Western Canada, for instance.
Alberta Energy Minister Mel Knight, like his boss, has backed off earlier concerns about selling off the topsoil. Large-scale exports have the advantage of creating a bigger demand for bitumen, says the department. That will help raise the price (about one-third to half of the price of oil) and that in turn means higher royalties.
The Alberta government is content to delegate these difficult decisions to regulatory agencies, or the market. If a proposal for a nuclear power project came forward, would that too be delegated to the EUB? Or how about the issue of water exports? But elected representatives should remind themselves that delegating these tough decisions doesn't make the MLAs less accountable for the impact of these decisions and the direction they take this province.
Edmonton Journal, Tues June 12 2007, Page A16