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It's time to end oilsands shaming

Enough with the guilt trip. I’m proud to represent people who work in the oilsands. They’re proud of the jobs they do. And they should be.

As a union leader, I represent thousands of oilsands workers. These people are extremely skilled at keeping our oil plants and refineries operating. And guess what? They care just as much about the environment and global warming as the people who want to shut the industry down.

It might not be popular to say so, but the people who work in our oilsands are crucial to our way of life. Nearly 200,000 Canadians depend directly on the oil and gas industry for their jobs, almost three-quarters of them in Alberta. Hundreds of thousands more in just about every industry in Canada couldn’t work without refined oil products.

Our lives depend on Alberta oil — and I’m not just talking about the oil and gas that lubricate and power our vehicles. Even if we could electrify every car in Canada overnight, we’d still need oil, and lots of it.

Most people don’t realize how much oil is used to make the asphalt and cement in our roads and buildings. They forget that plastic is a petroleum product. They don’t even think about industrial lubricants, pharmaceuticals, fertilizer, refrigerant, food preservatives and dozens of other commodities. Without oil, modern life would be unsustainable.

Why then, is this industry being demonized? I’m not talking about people who want to see a cleaner oil industry that makes less of an impact on our carbon emissions. I am talking about the people who claim Alberta’s oil is “filthy” and want to leave it in the ground.

These folks would rather see us buy oil from Russia and Saudi Arabia than employ Canadians. They don’t want Canadian tankers in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, but don’t mention the ones from Alaska and Russia that supply oil for B.C. drivers. The refineries of Washington state could get their oil by pipeline from Canada far more safely.

Certainly, the oil and gas industry has a lot to answer for. But in Canada, people do care about the environment and our governments have listened. They’ve made regulations over the years that have made the industry cleaner, safer and more benign in its environmental impact. They’ve forced the industry to adopt and embrace practices that are anything but common in other parts of the world.

As a result, we have exhaustive hearings before major projects are undertaken. The industry has bolstered its role in environmental protection with new technology and procedures that make the extraction and shipping of Alberta oil cleaner all the time.

The examples are many. Shell’s carbon-capture project north of Edmonton and one of similar scale in Saskatchewan will soon pass the two-million-tonne mark annually in carbon reclaimed. The newest technology makes oil from the sands as clean as intermediate crude from Texas. A major new refinery in Alberta collects and reclaims carbon by pipeline from industries as much as 100 kilometres away. Two proposed new refineries in B.C. claim they will be carbon neutral.

Canada is leading the world in developing new ways to extract and ship oil sustainably and safely. We’re certainly doing more than Donald Trump, who wants to turn back the clock to the 19th century. And as far as the other big oil exporters, like Russia, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria, let’s not even go there.

Far from dwindling, worldwide demand for oil is forecast to increase until about 2050. The countries where that demand is growing will buy their oil from somewhere. Why shouldn’t it be from us?

Canada and Canadian oil workers have nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, they can be proud of the environmental, labour and human rights regulations and protocols under which our oil is produced. Canada needs to sell the world more oil, not less.

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Published on the Web: September 14, 2018

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