From Riches to Rags

There are a lot of workers in Alberta who are without jobs right now. Aside from the cutbacks due to Covid-19, the resource industries are in decline. In January 2017 there were 297 active drilling rigs but by June 2020 there were only 11. (Government of Alberta) That number has gone up slightly since then, but even so no plans are in place (as far as I can tell) for retraining or relocating all the people who have been laid off.

In today’s news I read that the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, that was supposed to be used to send oil to Texas refineries, will not continue in the US after Biden becomes president. So far, this pipeline has cost Albertans $1.6 billion and an additional $6 billion in loan guarantees. (CBC) Now it looks as though that money is lost, aside from whatever can be recouped by liquidating the inventory of pipes and heavy equipment. All the jobs that have been created through that and would have been created, are probably lost.

Adding to this bad news, many Albertans are now upset because our government wanted to allow open-pit coal mining on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. One intrepid reporter made his way up to the location for one of these projected mines and took this picture of a test pit, and it really upset me.

Test Pit for Open-pit Coal Mine. Photo by Kevin Van Tighem via Facebook

Anyone who has enjoyed the views of the eastern slopes of the Rockies in Alberta will know how I feel. Even if you have never had the chance to come to Alberta in person, you may have seen glimpses of that scenery in films that used it as a backdrop. For examples, Brokeback Mountain, Legends of the Fall, The Revenant, and Unforgiven were all filmed in southern Alberta.

Aside from the beauty of the mountains, this area provides grasslands for ranchers and the water that Albertans drink. All of that would be threatened, spoiled, and/or contaminated by open-pit coal mining.

The blowback from the proposals caused the provincial government to cancel eleven controversial coal leases, and I cheered. My satisfaction was short-lived, though, when I realized that this was just the tip of the iceberg. According to Katie Morrison, the Conservation Director of CPAWS (Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society), there are 840,000 hectares of coal leases and grants in the eastern slopes. About half of those used to be protected (under Category 2 coal policy) but no longer are. (CPAWS) This map shows the extent of the leased land.

Source: Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Southern Alberta Chapter

I have very mixed feelings about all of this. I want to preserve the planet and especially the part of it that I live in, and I resent the many negative effects of resource extraction. At the same time, too many people are looking for work, are unable to meet their financial commitments, and are worried about the future. In addition, Albertans have invested huge amounts of money into these industries over the years. Now it looks as though a lot of that money has been invested about as wisely as the money at a Las Vegas blackjack table.

This all reminds me of the closure of the coal mines in England. Many were closed before I was born but still more were closed during my childhood and early teen years when Harold MacMillan and Harold Wilson were Prime Ministers. I remember very clearly the images in the news of bereft workers and their families. Now I wonder what happened to all those people, and the situation in Alberta is a deja vu for me. I think I know how this ends.

The sooner Alberta’s governments transfer our investments from resource extraction to alternative sources of energy, the better. If someone could come up with a method of producing steel without coal, that would be pretty good, too. And, while we are at it, can we please retrain all those laid-off workers? That would be great. Thanks.

5 Comments

  1. Yes saw this on the news that Keystone XL pipeline, will not continue in to the US . We are all going through a disastrous time..alot of people are loosing their jobs and we see so manu homeless in our city.

    1. Edmonton is taking a different approach to homelessness since Covid-19 hit, and it seems to be working. I hope it continues even after the coronavirus is no longer a threat. They are putting homeless people in bridge housing for up to two months, with support services and links to various agencies.

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