Canada’s crude, black future

Black Friday has come and gone, and it wasn’t so black after all. The sun still shines, the moon still rises, but you’d hardly believe…

Black Friday has come and gone, and it wasn’t so black after all.

The sun still shines, the moon still rises, but you’d hardly believe it was possible after the howls of dismay that erupted out of the oil executives, who practically ripped off their shirts, and pulled out their hair at the cataclysmic doom threatening their poor, struggling industry.

Yes, they are actually going to have to pay for the right to gut our resources, pollute Alberta, and make Canada’s biggest contribution to climate change.

The uproar began on September 18th when a blue ribbon panel which included two former oil executives, recommended Alberta raise the royalty rates on oil and natural gas, since they were the second lowest in the industrial world.

Even former Conservative premier Peter Lougheed said it was about time.

The last suggestion of an oil hike failed in 1997 under a barrage of righteous umbrage from the oil sheiks of Alberta.

The sheiks claimed hardship despite record oil prices, record profits, and record rises in management salaries.

In addition, royalties had declined by more than 32 per cent due to Klein’s giveaway of a capital cost allowance that allows companies to dodge royalties until they recover their costs — these ‘costs’ presumably include the Learjets, the salaries and stock giveaways to management.

Murray Edwards, vice-chair of the second largest producer, Canadian Natural Resources, was one of the complainers.

He owns a mere $830,000,000 worth of his company’s stocks, and is currently planning a $200,000,000,000 expansion of its fields.

Straight-faced, he told the world, “The fear is that some of the proposals are so Draconian and so drastic it may end up resulting in less economic activity and less revenue overall for Albertans over the long term.”


First of all, one can only hope that some kind of slowdown will happen. The gold-rush fever in Alberta is warping the entire Canadian economy.

Out West it’s damaging many communities with labour shortages, skewed housing prices, and a rising dollar. This currency surge is also crippling small businesses, other resource industries, and our national manufacturing base.

And it’s creating an infrastructure debt in almost every Albertan community being overwhelmed by the reckless surge.

The Yukon should know the boom-and-bust cycle by now.

All you have to do is look at the polluted ghost towns and mining sites, and the social carnage uncontrolled booms can cause to workers caught up in gold-rush hysterias.

While extravagant wages and many jobs are being created, living costs are also growing disproportionately, especially for the low-wage workers on the fringe.

Inevitably, even some of the successful workers will wake up with a big hangover and broken homes when the crash comes, as all crashes do.

We know we’re going to need the oil and gas for a long time ahead, but a steady, environmentally friendly, community-responsible path is the only healthy course.

That is, unless you are a multi-millionaire oil executive and you can trumpet to your cronies who own all the national media how the sky is going to fall, which is what the executives did when they predicted “Black Friday” for the day after the royalties were announced.

But what happened?

Oil stocks actually went up last Friday while the oil sheiks counted up their bonuses and smirked into their cognac glasses when Stemlach backed down on implementing the recommended royalty rate.

And, oh yes, the cost of oil rose again — some Black Friday.

Premier Danny Williams of Newfoundland made his reputation when he faced down the corporate dragons on offshore oil royalties and won a landslide re-election for his courage.

The latest poll shows that 78 per cent of Albertans support raising the royalty rate.

Meanwhile, the current rate of deforestation of the boreal forest caused by the oil companies is second only to the destruction of the Amazon basin.

Twenty-six per cent of Alberta’s potable water will be used and polluted (it takes three to six barrels of water to produce one barrel of tar sands oil, depending on the extraction method).

If the planned projects go ahead, by 2020 the tar sands industry will annually produce almost twice the greenhouse gases emitted by all the cars and trucks in Canada.

And can we trust this industry’s glib promises to fix the environment it destroys?

Since production began in 1967 not a single acre has been officially certified as reclaimed during those 40 years of bulldozing and polluting the land. In fact, it’s still unknown if it’s possible to reclaim such ravaged landscapes.

While dismantling an infrastructure for the tar sands, conventional oil and natural gas production would be folly in the face of today’s diminishing oil supply — that’s not going to happen.

These royalties and the higher dollar could mean we might sell less to the Americans for a year or two. Is that bad?

The Americans are already consuming 70 per cent of Canada’s oil wealth.

Some natural gas could temporarily “go to waste,” left in the ground where it has survived for millions of years. Imagine, there might even be enough natural gas for another generation of Canadians because of these shortsighted royalties.

Wasteful indeed!

Hell, let your children freeze without fuel in the winters of the future and die of starvation and thirst when the great droughts of climate change torch the prairies. And those useless polar bears will just have to learn to walk on water.

Thanks to Stemlach’s weak decision to only partially implement the recommended royalties, the oil executives made another few million on their stocks last Friday, and the tar sands rush is not abating.

Maybe it was a Black Friday after all.

Brian Brett, poet, journalist, novelist, lives on Salt Spring Island and returns to the Yukon whenever he can. His new book of poetry and prose is Uproar’s Your Only Music.