Oil company to charge First Nations living downstream for inadvertently free oil

This article originally appeared on the Syrup Trap

Photo via Mark Ralston/Getty Images
Photo via Mark Ralston/Getty Images

FORT MCMURRAY (The News Desk) — After a study found that chemicals have been leaching into the Athabasca River from oil sands tailings ponds, a major player in the Alberta oil sands has decided to recoup its losses.

This week, Suncor Energy billed the Fort Chipewyan First Nation for three decades’ worth of oil and chemicals that have been sent downriver to the small community. Community members are furious, saying they thought the oil was a gift and hadn’t expected to pay for the development.

“Since when have aboriginal people had to pay for development in our territory?” said Chief Archie Cyprien. “We thought we had a good thing going here.”

A good thing though the free oil may have been, it appears that the oil company has changed its mind. It will continue dumping chemicals in the river as it always has — but the community is going to have to start pulling its weight, according to the invoice filed this week.

“The community has been reaping the rewards of much more than just oil,” the invoice reads. “Chemicals such as arsenic (once used to cure syphilis), mercury (used to make top hats) and lead (used in soldering) have also been provided to Fort Chipewyan.”

The document has stirred up a longstanding bitterness among some Albertans, who feel that the province’s aboriginal people have profited from oil development while the rest of the province suffers.

“Not everyone is as lucky as the Chipewyan to live downstream from an oil patch,” said Ethical Oil author Ezra Levant.

“Some of us regular, hard-working people have to pay for our oil.” ♦

Norway, the Heritage Fund, and Ralph Bucks

Why, in Edmonton, the heart of Canadian resource wealth, is the University of Alberta $40-million in the hole? Why is the president of the University of British Columbia – in a province bragging that its natural gas wealth will make it the next Alberta – saying it will have to shut down programs because of budget cuts?

I hate to bring up the old Norway analogy, but Norway should be the energy-rich economy our energy-richest provinces should want to compare themselves to. General social welfare aside (because that wouldn’t even be fair), Norwegian students are actually paid generous grants to study at any of its universities, rather than graduating with crippling debt.
We say Norway is expensive, because it’s expensive to eat out, get drunk, and buy things we don’t need. But in Canada, students can’t even afford to get an education.

Former Alberta Premier Ralph Klein was praised last week in the National Post for his work in reducing the province’s deficit. What wasn’t mentioned is that in the process, he raided the province’s rainy-day piggy bank, the Heritage Fund. This fund was established in 1976 with the understanding that oil wealth doesn’t last forever. Then, as Klein led Alberta through the 2000s, with talk of the province as an “energy superpower” never far from his lips, the fund flatlined. Today, it stands at $16.4-billion, just a year’s worth of royalties higher than in 1987, according to an industry promotional website.

And back to Norway – its fossil fuel royalties go straight into its own fund. The value of that fund should enrage every Albertan who has been told again and again that oil wealth is providing for the next generation and not just buying trucks and iPads for the province’s young men and women who could afford to pay for their engineering degrees. Norway’s $710-billion fund (43 times that of “superpower” Alberta) is one of the world’s largest investors. It’s a safety blanket for the entire Norwegian economy, whose GDP is just $485-billion. That’s a year and a half of the country’s entire economic output in one giant bank account.

My point is this: if Alberta is an energy superpower, why can’t it afford to educate the next generation of engineers to exploit its resource wealth? Across the fence, we British Columbians should ask ourselves the same thing before we buy into the LNG boom.