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Oil sands and government have not delivered on clean-up over the past year

2011: Time to buck up

Dec 23, 2010

by Paul Marck

It simply would not do to close out the year without offering comment on a couple of things: oil sands and government. I do not believe there has ever been a time when Alberta’s greatest natural resource has been under the spotlight more than it has been in 2010. And in three-plus decades as a journalist, I have not been as disappointed in or as angered by our elected officials as during this past year. A few observations:

– The ENGOs are not completely wrong about their clarion call for industry and government needing to do more — and a lot more — to clean up the air, water and soil from the oil sands that has resulted in massive disturbances, pollution and potential risks to human health and animal habitat.

– The ENGOs are completely wrong about their self-righteous assertions that shutting down the oil sands is the first step towards massive social change that will wean society away from fossil fuels. The place to start is with consumer behaviour in lowering society’s appetite for oil, not the companies that are providing a product that everybody wants. Shutting down the oil sands will only happen when the last gas-guzzling automobile on earth idles to a stop and is stashed in a museum alongside the dinosaur display.

– Resource companies have been a major disappointment in their lack of meaningful response to the criticisms both warranted and unwarranted that have been directed at the oil sands. I asked an executive about this at an event earlier this year and was told that while the honchos that lead oil sands companies are great engineers, entrepreneurs and innovators in getting the resource out of the ground, they’re not so hot as communicators. Sorry, but talking directly to the public is part of the job if you’re selling a product, even if it is as generic as oil. The industry is the brand.

– The very best thing the oil sands companies did in 2010 was deciding to pool their efforts on cleaning up tailings ponds. Overdue perhaps, but a brilliant strategy. Now if they could only communicate the importance of that it would go a long way towards dispelling any lingering notion that industry is not engaged or doing anything meaningful about tailings remediation.

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– The federal government is effectively usurping Alberta’s role to monitor, assess and regulate the oil sands over environmental issues. Sorry Premier Stelmach, but your band of merry men and women are too slow off the mark. Whatever you think of federal environment pitbull John Baird, he gets things done.

– Ottawa’s debacle in canceling Edmonton’s Expo 2017 bid is simply the latest dagger of federal malevolence to the heart of Alberta’s ambition. From the last sheep-faced Tory MP in this province to the cauldron of steeping ignorance in Central Canada, it is a shameful display. This bunch wants no part of a Western birthday party for Canada’s 150th and has no regard for our oil sands heritage. The Harper government is well beyond its best-before date. Let us hope that 2011 brings about a change in the ruling order.

– On that note, the best of the season and wishes for a prosperous New Year.

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