Alberta: Tonto to the Oil Companies Lone Ranger

By A. B. Thomasalberta-oil

The sun shines down upon a family romp rambunctiously as they enjoy an afternoon picnic in the park; the family dog is barking and jumping as he chases a ball one of the children throws for her.

Suddenly she stops in mid-stride, her fur stands along her back as her only moment ago lolling tongue rolls back into her mouth as she begins to growl towards the west. The family stops their playing, moving close to their beloved pet. They look toward the west and see a bank of rolling ominous black clouds quickly moving their way. The exposed skin on the family begins to prickle from the stings of the lashing cold wind that is preceding the clouds. Five year old little Suzie looks at Theresa White with wide frightened eyes.

“What is it, mommy?” Suzie asks.

“The oil companies are coming,” is the strained response Theresa gives her daughter.

“I’m scared,” Little Bobby says as he scrunches himself in between the goose bump laden skin of his father, Bob White.

“We all are son,” Bob White says as his eyes begin to tear up, knowing the bleakness that is about to befall his family is something that he can’t prevent or protect them from, “We all are.”

Oil companies, the modern day version of the Huns, the twenty-first century equivalent of the seven plagues of Egypt, the Darth Vader to the ecological rebel alliance of green power, Scrooge to the working family’s Jacob Marley. Much maligned are these mammoths of industry; the public image is of greed and unconcern for the average person who is just trying to make ends meet. They are labelled as Satanic without souls that can be redeemed – but what if, as Luke found inside the deformed body of Anakin Skywalker, there was good buried deep inside the dank shell?

If you were to ask the populace of the province of Alberta, Canada they would answer that there is a good side to the oil companies; Alberta, due mostly to the oil and natural gas that it sits upon is proof of it. Canada ranks eighth in the world’s oil producing market with 70% of that coming from Alberta. For natural gas, Canada is ranked as the world’s third largest supplier with Alberta producing 80% of that. 18% of all the jobs in Alberta, which is approximately 275,000 positions, are in the oil industry – Alberta is all about the oil companies. The average in a year that the Alberta government takes in is 14 billion dollars in royalty taxes and an additional 3.5 billion in mineral lease sales from the oil companies, just over 40% of the total provincial revenue. But what has this meant to the average Albertan?

When government pockets are fat the effect bleeds down upon the citizenry of the state. In Alberta’s case, it is the only province in Canada without a provincial sales tax which in theory is supposed to make items cheaper to buy; Alberta as of 2006 was the only debt free province in Canada which led to an easing of the already lower than the rest of Canada’s income tax. The provincial road ways are in better repair as there is a larger pot for infrastructure monies to be passed onto the municipalities. The latest benefit for Albertans was that as of January 1, 2009, paying health care premiums were a thing of the past.
With oil comes jobs, lots of jobs, not just in the oil industry but because of the need for housing for the immigrating workers, construction jobs are created, which leads to stores being built which leads to employment in other service sectors. The universities and colleges also benefit from offering courses that are designed to encourage the study of research and development in the oil industry. Most of the Native reserves in Alberta are richer from the mineral rights than most municipalities in other provinces of Canada.

To say that Alberta is an Utopian spot would be putting a mask on the negative aspects of having oil companies driving a large section of the economy. There are constant court battles on the sour gas plants emissions, the refinery emissions and the some of the methods used by oil companies to drill for oil, or in the case of the oil sands, the extraction of oil and the effects on the ecology of the Alberta landscape. Another downside to the economic impact of the oil companies is that the cost of living is substantially higher in the areas, specifically Fort MacMurray where the bulk of the oil workers are living that squeeze out those who are not in the industry. Yet ask an Albertan and they will respond that these are a small price to pay for the benefits of having the oil companies in Alberta.

Looking from the outside, one will assume that Alberta and other oil producing areas have profited greatly from oil companies while those ‘have not’ nations have bourne the cross of that success. As one sits down to pay their gas bill, fill up their tank or start a lawn mower and the ritual of cursing the oil companies and their gouging practices begins try to think of this one fact. Oil companies are Frankenstein’s monster and not the Dark Lord – we are not the pitchfork and torch carrying villagers but Doctor Frankenstein that unleashed his beast upon humanity with our own insatiable desire for the power that oil and gas provides us. It is we who have to regain control through more diligent actions on the usage of this resource, to stop blaming the faceless monoliths that we erected.

Today we live in a world that is not willing to accept expensive technologies that will impact negatively on the Western world’s idée fixe of what is entailed in the materialistic side of ‘quality of life’. Until there is such a time where the constant and immediate demand for petroleum based products substantially decreases oil companies will take what ever amount they can, and in turn Alberta and other oil producing areas will take their share. The lessening of the pressure just may surprise people, there may be a more lenient price base for consumers, governments will have to find other avenues to rip out the heart of the taxpayer’s wallet – Then perhaps one day we will hear the oil companies whisper, “Tell your sister you were right, you were right”.

About karlsie

Some great perversity of nature decided to give me a tune completely out of keeping with the general symphony; possibly from the moment of conception. I learned to read and speak almost simultaneously. The blurred and muffled world I heard through my first five years of random nerve loss deafness suddenly came alive with the clarity of how those words sounded on paper. I had been liberated for communications. I decided there was nothing more wonderful than writing. It was easier to write than carefully modulate my speech for correct pronunciation, and it was easier to read than patiently follow the movements of people’s lips to learn what they were saying. It was during that dawning time period, while I slowly made the connection that there weren’t that many other people who heard the way I did, halfway between sound and music, half in deafness, that I began to understand that the tune I was following wasn’t quite the same as that of my classmates. I was just a little different. General education taught me not only was I just a little isolated from my classmates, my home was just a little isolated from the outside world. I was born in Alaska, making me part of one of the smallest, quietest minorities on earth. I decided I could live with this. What I couldn’t live with was discovering a few years later, in the opening up of the pipeline, which coincided with my first year of junior college, that there were entire communities of people; more than I could possibly imagine; living impossibly one on top of another in vast cities. It wasn’t even the magnitude of this vision that inspired me so much as the visitors who came from these populous regions and seemed to possess a knowledge so great and secretive I could never learn it in any book. I became at once, very conscious of how rural I was and how little I knew beyond the scope of my environment. I decided it was time to travel. The rest is history; or at least, the content of my stories. I traveled... often to college campuses, dropping in and out of school until one fine day by chance I’d fashioned a bachelor of arts degree in psychology. I’ve worked a couple of newspapers, had a few poems and stories tossed around in various small presses, never receiving a great deal of money, which I’m assured is the norm for a writer. I spent ten years in Mexico, watching the peso crash. There is some obscure reason why I did this, tightening up my belt and facing hunger, but I believe at the time I said it was for love. Here I am, back home, in my beloved Alaska. I’ve learned somewhat of a worldly viewpoint; at least I like to flatter myself that way. I’ve also learned my rural roots aren’t so bad after all. I work in a small, country store. Every day I greet the same group of local customers, but make no mistake. My store isn’t a scene out of Andy Griffith. The people who enter the establishment, which also includes showers, laundry and movie rentals, are miners, oil workers, truck drivers, construction engineers, dog sled racers and carpenters. Sometimes, on the liquor side, the conversations became adult only in vocabulary. It’s a good thing, on the opposite side of the store is a candy aisle filled with the most astonishing collection, it will keep a kid occupied with just wishing for hours. If you tell your kids they can have just one, you have an instant baby sitter; better than television; as they agonize over their choice while you catch up on the gossip with your neighbor. We also receive a lot of tourists, a lot of foreign visitors. They are usually amazed at this first sign of Alaskan rural life style beyond the insulating hub of the Anchorage bowl. Many of them like to hang around and chat. They gawk at our thieves wanted posters. They laugh at our jokes and camaraderie with our customers. I’ve learned another lesson while working there. You don’t have to go out and find the world. If you wait long enough, it comes to you.

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5 Comments on “Alberta: Tonto to the Oil Companies Lone Ranger”

  1. Where is the Lorax when you need him? Hmmmm…..but he wasn’t very effective either was he? One wonders what or whom it is going to take.

  2. It’s very difficult to push the plate of food aside when the other choice you’re left with is starvation. While we postpone our fast, the poisons from our feast continue to limit the ability to produce food. We can’t eat oil. The plastics from our microwaved food gives us cancer, as does the water in our plastic bottles. While the trumpeting call of the oil industry is “more jobs for everyone”, the truth of the matter is, a reversal to the use of wood, glass and steel once more, to small farms operations, wild fish support, alternative energy sources will create a greater diversity of jobs, a more sustainable, independent life style and less hazardous impact on our planet.

  3. Maya said:
    Very nicely written Tony. Remove the unnecessary “as they” from the first sentence. As I am sure you meant to. The statistics are interesting, 18% is a large percentage for the community to be working in one field. And Alberta pays no provincial taxes and waives health care costs? Forget the negative aspects, can you find me a house?

    Neonorth said:
    Yes we have no health care premiums for basic service, but a person has the option of going to a private clinic to get the more complicated procedures done to avoid the waiting lists. The big blow out right now concerning the health care coverage is that the government is thinking of cutting chiropractors from being covered and the sex re-assignment surgeries may no longer be covered as well. A house? Good lord that’s one of the disadvantages – the average cost of a small house is $190,000 to 250,000. The land I’m looking at buying in the middle of nowhere is going up for $450,000! The rent’s are incredible too, for instance for a one bedroom bachelor’s suite in Fort MacMurray, if you can find one, is around $1300 a month plus utilities. In my town it is a little cheaper, my place is only $850 but it’s a two bedroom/two bathroom deal which usually runs for $1200 otherwise.

    Grainne said:
    Wow, although you find that expensive, it is way cheaper than costs here in California. In my middle-sized college town the average 3 bedroom 2 bath with a small back garden on about 1/4 of an acre or less costs around $325,000.00 to buy and that is down since the housing market busted. Our rent for the same sized house is $1500/month. A one bedroom apartment in my area averages $850.00.
    How can we get Canadian citizenship? I’m ready for a house that costs $250,000!

    Neonorth said:
    I don’t think those are unreasonable prices considering it is California at all – in fact, I would pay double if I lived down there just because I was there. California has something that Alberta doesn’t have – it has the ABC’s of life (Ass, Boobs and Camel toes, if you must make me say what the ABC’s of life are – yes I realize that it sounds rather shallow but I don’t think I have yet recovered my chauvinist pig badge yet) year round, where up here we get the ABC’s maybe three months if we are lucky. Up here it’s such a headache trying to figure out if a chick is excited to see you of if that’s just the corner of her cigarette pack sticking out of her breast pocket. I think that perhaps why there is such a large difference in perception of what expensive housing is partially the population density. Alberta has 2,974,807 in a 255,541 sq mi area (making the population density 13.9 sq mi) while California has 33,871,648 while the square area of 163,696 sq mi (making the population density 234.4 sq mi). The higher the density the more the price of the available land is going to be. Do you realize how many more pairs of racks I could be staring at? Good god, I wouldn’t have to even move from one spot to see a different pair wiggle on past, here – I have to actually go out and hunt for ‘em.

  4. I feel there is a huge misconception that California is the land of loose babes of both sexes. The central Valley is pretty approxomate in both agriculture and well, culture to Alberta from what I can tell. Cowboys and Cowbois (as in rough riding gals that will kick your ass and whose boobs may turn out to be cigarrette packs) Hell we have one of the biggest Rodeos in the country here the Northern Central Valley.
    Going north of that into the Sierras you get the mix of neo-nazi camps and hippie communes that time forgot with a smattering of faux-eastern religious enclaves that may or may not be reputable. No I don’t think this warrents higher housing prices at all. Here’s an example of the ridiculousness of our housing prices. In 1998 I bought a manufactued home that was 5 years old on 5 acres of land for $79,000 about 30 minutes into the foothills in a small unincorporated town. 5 years later I painted that house and sold it for $200,000. Nothing else had changed and if anything our well water was threatened but people were that desperate to own houses. Right now even with the housing crunch a close neighbor of ours up there is listing their home for close to $300,000. There are absolutely no ABC’s up there to see, one would have to go to town for that.
    California is a land of great differences and depending on where you live you may get a good view of ABC’s however you would have to ask yourself a couple of questions, in So. California the question would be are they real and are they paid for yet or am I inheriting a payment plan? In No. California you would be asking are they on the menu for men at all?
    I’m afraid in any area that someone could afford to settle down in you would be dealing with the same age old problems that besets men everywhere. ABC’s don’t walk up to you, you have to get your game on and suss them out.

  5. I’m going to feed on the nostalgia for the days before Big Oil changed the face of Alaskan Society. We were one of the last states to lose the Homestead Act. Within a year after the first contracts for oil development came through, it was no longer possible to claim 120 acres of unsettled land and build your cabin home. With the first implements of the pipeline machinery, real estate and rental units sky-rocketed. An eight by thirty trailer you wouldn’t have been able to sell for five hundred dollars the year before was suddenly valued at $1,100 a month in housing deficit Valdez.

    The oil industry certainly brought more affluence than Alaska had ever been accustomed to before, but it also created a very wide margin of affordability between oil workers and the rest of the population. When everyone is equally poor, somehow nobody is very bothered by it. They use their tools industrially, as they can, together to improve their communities. When snuggled up against the glaring eye of opulance, poverty not only becomes aware of its existence, but has become an offensive clutter to the magistrated prosperity. The backbone of Alaska; the builders, the laborers, the farmers, the small businesses, have been swept away, their lands repossessed for an inability to pay escalated property taxes, or bullied into sales by the Department of Transportation for the special interests of large companies and corporations, poorly disguised as road construction.

    It seems ridiculous that one would have to pay nine hundred dollars a month for a two bedroom apartment (no lawn space or utilities included) in a state that has 1.1 people for every square mile, but this is how much Big Oil has influenced the “value” of a roof to place over your head. If you’re not on their wagon, it’s not their fault if you get mowed over. After all, you were supposed to be living their dream.

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