On Canada’s 150th, What’s Next for Alberta’s Oil Sands?

By Kerry Oxford

From the Catalyst, Summer 2017

As Canada marks 150 years since Confederation, I find myself reflecting on Alberta’s role in the Canadian economy as an engine. The past few years have been critical to our development and deepening understanding of who we are as Albertans. I am grateful for the opportunities afforded me living in a strong economy. And I am hopeful that our next 150 years will not only be economically strong, but more principled as well.

I moved to Alberta from the UK with my family in May of 1980 just a few days after Mount St. Helens erupted. This event shaped my psyche, teaching me respect for the power of the natural world. Growing up steeped in the culture of the oil and gas industry, I learned the value of opportunity in a strong economy. I was pulled in a tug of war between protecting the environment and landing a great career in oil and gas.

In my thirties I worked as both a welder and an engineering technologist for a local gas compression manufacturer. I was excited about the challenges of the job, but acutely aware of the darkening perception the outside world had for what I helped build. I didn’t want people near gas wells getting sick, and I was horrified that they could light their water on fire.

My career choice was not popular with everyone I knew. People suggested I quit the “bad oil companies” to make a difference. But I didn’t see how that would change anything. I knew, from my travels in Australia’s Tarkine, that sabotaging and vilifying people’s livelihoods never ended well.

In 2015, after my second lay off in six years, I was frustrated. I had worked hard, and been praised for what I did, but it made no difference. I watched as my colleagues lives were turned upside down one by one. I knew there had to be a better solution for Albertans than this lopsided hamster wheel.

Around this time several things happened: Alberta elected its first NDP government, and Iron and Earth began working to change attitudes. Iron and On Canada’s 150th, What’s Next for Alberta’s Oil Sands? By Kerry Oxford Earth is a platform to talk openly about climate change and enlist the pragmatic nature of Albertans to find a practical solution for both the destructive cycle and the vilified industry upon which we relied.

The shifting sands of time (excuse the pun) revealed a path to the future all Albertans can proudly walk. This radical middle ground sets aside differences, stops alienating people for making a living, and provides practical solutions to real life problems. Problems like how to ensure people in towns losing their only source of income have alternatives in a changing economy, or how to reduce the cost of our education and healthcare systems. Our solutions come in the form of joint partnerships between communities, industry, and government to retrain, retool, and re-equip our people and facilities through methods that are economically viable.

Albertans, myself included, are grateful for what we have built. We are not blind to the effects of fossil fuels, but neither are we naive to the importance of petroleum products to the global economy. We have been hit hard these past few years, but we are resilient and forward thinking.

Our work now is in preparing the path for our children and grandchildren to move on to a different, more principled 150 years.

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