First, a story. I bought a home in Canmore, Alberta four years ago and I have lived here permanently for the past two years. Last summer I was sitting on the outdoor patio at the local Canmore Golf & Country Club, surrounded by mountains, on a beautiful sunny day without a cloud in the sky. I was having lunch with a man I hadn’t met before. Wally Berg is an American and he owns a company that organizes climbing tours around the world.
I was listening to him talk about his adventures; he had climbed most of the highest mountains in the world and he was leaving the following week, with a family from California, to climb in the Himalayas.
I asked Wally a simple question. “You have been all over the world, why are you living in Alberta?” Wally reached over and touched my arm, looked up at the mountains surrounding us, and said: “Gordon, look around you, there is no place in the world as beautiful as where we are right now”.
For the last two years Alberta has been the target of a world-wide campaign by the environmental movement to stop, or curtail, the development of the oil sands in Northern Alberta. As a result of my 14 years on the Adams Mine landfill project, I have watched this well orchestrated effort closely. Everyone is in on the act. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, met with all sides of the issue in Ottawa a couple of weeks ago; Greenpeace has had people arrested at Fort McMurray; somebody from Belgium got up on the highest building in Calgary and released a banner; and today, James Cameron, the movie producer of the Titanic and other blockbusters, is meeting with the Premier of Alberta.
Over the past few years, while the Alberta government and the industry were aware of the environmental concerns, a degree of complacency had set in on the need to keep the environmental message at the forefront. I think it was because of the huge explosion in the price of crude oil in 2007/08 (it went over $140 per barrel). The environmental movement, aided by a sympathetic press, was able to get the upper hand in the world of public opinion during the last twelve months.
I am not sure that everyone understood that this was a “War” and the term “dirty oil” was the mantra being used around the world to slander the industry. But the tide is turning. There is a new term, “ethical oil”, coined by a conservative commentator called Ezra Levant. As reported in the National Post, he believes it is time to stop apologizing for Canada’s oil industry and start supporting it as the oil of choice for people who are concerned about peace and democracy.
Levant is quoted as saying that the trick to winning friends for the oil sands is not to defend the oil patch but to actively sell its social, political and indeed, superior ecological superiority over the alternative sources of hydrocarbons – Saudi Arabia, for example. What’s that saying; “an offence is the best defence”. Very true, if you are continually on the defensive, you will eventually lose the war.
And there are important stories to tell. Suncor just demonstrated that an industry milestone was reached when it became the first oil sands company to completely reclaim a major tailings pond north of Fort McMurray. New technologies in how the extraction of oil is done, and reductions in reclamation time to reclaim the land, are moving quickly. All positive stories!
Industries of all kinds, like coal and mining operations for example, are located in countries around the world and all have some negative effect on the environment. Yes, in Alberta, we have the oil sands. However, few countries can say they are located in the most beautiful Province in the world. Let’s win the war!
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