Alberta 2062 – Tapped Out

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Alberta Tar Sands

Imagine Canada’s strongest economy in another fifty years, the year 2062.

Pump jacks no longer pumping, old derricks abandoned in scrap yards, a crater the size of a small city in place of what we know as Fort McMurry. Oil towns like Drayton Valley and Lloydminster ghost towns – boarded up and left to decay.

What is now Canada’s economic jewel – the robust and thriving resource based economy that is Alberta, has an expiration date that we all need to plan for. This resource based economy is already in a state of decline for traditional oil production, and it is projected that production from the oilsands will hit declining rates in 2020.

With an uncertain future, we must put a plan in place.

Athabasca Oil Sands
Athabasca Oil Sands in Alberta: 1984 (top), 2011 (bottom). Click to enlarge.

It is our responsibility to be environmental and economic stewards for future generations. We must make sure that Fort Mac doesn’t become a site for disaster tourism for generations to come. The economic challenges faced by former manufacturing leaders like Ontario and Michigan stand to be Alberta’s fate one generation away from now. The eventuality of unskilled and skilled labourers making a six figure salary will change and the environmental impact of an exploitative industry long after the reclamation funds are spent will have a lasting impact.

As responsible corporations, energy producers need to spend more time investing in a realistic tomorrow. Typical Corporate Social Responsibility programs in the energy industry revolve around the principal of giving back to the communities that they are taking from. It is evident that the sector is generous by the immediate impacts are felt by the not-for-profits fundraising record amounts in the province. It is apparent that paying it forward is critical to the image of these organizations, and arguably assists with the image of these organizations allowing for more damaging work to take place. Changing the way that companies look at paying it forward is something that must happen to ensure that future generations are left with a strong energy sector and a bright environmental future.

The term sustainability has many meanings. It has become the catch phrase of the day in the energy sector as an approach to giving back. There is an emergent market of professionals in the field of sustainability ready to measure and quantify corporations efforts to recycle, measure energy consumption and diagnose operational inefficiencies. Calculating emission rates, purchasing off-set credits and spending money to quantify and qualify the plethora of environmental impacts is encouraging to see, however, we must continue to plan for tomorrow. As responsible members of the public we need to lobby for a clear definition of how energy companies are investing in tomorrow – the tomorrow after the industry activity in the province slows and reclamation funds dry up. What we do today that pays energy sector employees, investors and all provinces through royalties and equalization payments could end up costing our kids, our grandkids, their kids and so on immensely in the future. We are living in the now when it comes to resource extraction and depletion.

One thing is clear, oil and gas won’t be the primary fuel source for generations to come and we must address this today. Solar and wind are similarly natural resources, and arguably resources that wont rival oil and gas in depletion rates. Industry needs further regulations around Corporate Social Responsibility, Sustainability and planning for tomorrow. Ensuring that these funds aren’t simply given to charities for a warm heart and a tax break, and invested in future clean energy technologies that will have a lasting impact is important.

Just imagine the Alberta landscape after fifty more years of exploration and exploitation of minerals. Lets do our part to ensure that this province remains a land of opportunity for generations to come and doesn’t turn into a waste land thanks to generations past.