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”.