Oilsands: ‘Leave the Crud in the Ground’

Alberta oils sands plant
Alberta oils sands plant

After I graduated from journalism school in Toronto, a dark time long ago when folks had to get up from their couch to change TV channels, I found myself scrambling for a job. But finally a door opened, a paper in Edmonton, Alberta was up for hiring me as cub reporter.

Newly married, we packed everything up in a rickety Dodge Dart and drove the thousands of miles to Edmonton so I could take up my position at the now defunct Alberta Business weekly newspaper. I was in heaven as I couldn’t believe I was getting paid for a job that obviously was going to be way too much fun.

It was 1979 and Alberta was booming. The province was still producing oil from its conventional oil fields but the real promise, as everyone seemed to knew then, was its tar sands, a reserve of squishy gold that could rival anything found in the Middle East. The crude oil was costly to extract but we were all busy predicting that if world prices would just go a little higher — well, the province would really begin to boom.

I did love my job but I remember being heartily sick of the word “boom” in my two years at Alberta Business. It seemed every article and every headline had to include that word. Yet we could hardly help it, the province was, ah, booming, and we never ran short of things to write about. And the oil sands was the backdrop to everything.

I can’t remember anyone speaking up against oil sands development, least of all me. I do remember taking terror-filled flights up to the Peace Country in northern Alberta — to report on how the area was “booming” — and being stunned with the untouched beauty of the place. Did I worry that one day it would be threatened? I doubt it.

We know now that the tar sands bet has paid off. Lot of doubling down on the big gambling board that is Alberta. The jackpots have been struck many times over in the province.

But what we didn’t know then but we sure should know now is that the oil sands have a dark underside. I wrote in a post this week that the oil sands should be seen as more “burden than bounty”  because of the horrific costs involved in the extraction and burning of the fuels.

And now we just don’t have Alberta betting on its tar sands, we have the Canadian government fully invested in the resource like it’s the only future for the Canadian economy,

Tech wunderkinds such as Blackberry can go tits up and oil-laden rail cars can blow a small town to smithereens but the only thing that seems to matter to Ottawa now is getting another pipeline built so we can get more stuff out of the ground to a waiting world. In juxtaposition to a lot of western countries, we are not worried about pollution or global warming, or heck, finding that elusive northwest passage to more sustainable fuels.

After many years of living and travelling around the world, I have obviously changed my mind on the oil sands. And so have a lot of other people. At the end of this week’s column that also appeared on in the Huffington Post you will find a rather a succinct comment from a reader: “Leave the Crud in the ground.”

Yep, that pretty well sums it up for me now.







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