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October 3, 2011

The longstanding attitude of the Alberta government that all of the province's petroleum resources must be developed as rapidly as possible remains one of its most morally dubious stances. Oil and gas are finite resources, resources that, however, will not disappear of their own accord. As well, the markets for those resources are not going away in the foreseeable future.

Nevertheless, the residents of Alberta have been subjected to a boom-and-bust economy with a discouraging rhythm of a skyrocketing cost of living followed by unemployment and government cutbacks. As well, while environmental safeguards for the industry and oilsands development are improving, there is still vast room for improvements.

These issues are again coming to a head over the $12-billion Keystone XL pipeline extension, which has drawn protests in Washington and Ottawa. Exactly why there is a mad panic to export Alberta's finite oil resources to the U.S., no one is saying. It will, of course, mean quicker profits for the oil industry and more jobs today (and lower profits and fewer jobs in the future). Given the Alberta government's reluctance to charge more than the merest pittance of a resource royalty, the people of this province will not reap anything resembling a fair return on their resources.

Defenders of the pipeline say all opposition to it comes from the proponents of the global warming theory. This is far from the truth.

If global warming is a reality, we ought to be deeply concerned about it. But there are plenty of other environmental concerns resulting from oilsands development that are not a matter of conjecture. They were neatly outlined in St. Paul Bishop Luc Bouchard's 2009 pastoral letter on the topic and include:

  • Destruction of the boreal forest ecosystem.
  • Potential damage to the Athabasca River watershed.
  • Heavy consumption of natural gas in oilsands mining.
  • The creation of toxic tailings ponds.

The choice is not between all-out development of the oilsands and a return to the Stone Age as some proponents of development maintain. There is such a thing as reasoned, orderly development that makes the present and future needs of the people of this province the central priority.

For too long our decision-makers have ignored the future. They have no apparent concern for the natural environment that our grandchildren will inherit. They show no apparent desire to build an economy that is stable and sustainable over a 10-year period, let alone the long term.

Given the offer, the U.S. government may decide to buy massive quantities of oil from the oilsands. The moral question that the Alberta government repeatedly and without shame refuses to ask is, Should we be giving them the opportunity to buy it?