Alberta oilsands crucial to have-not Ontario future – by Greg Van Moorsel (Sudbury Star – January 20, 2012)

The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.

“Alberta government figures show oilsands investment over
the last decade topped $100 billion. Ontario’s only new
auto plant built over the same period, Toyota’s Woodstock
complex, checked in at $1.1 billion.” (Greg Van Moorsel)

An early investor in the Alberta oilsands, Ontario cashed out a generation ago. That said, Canada’s most populous province still stands to lose from the setback dealt the oilsands industry and the hottest economic province by U.S. President Barack Obama’s rejection of the proposed Alberta-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline.

After the 1970s oil crisis, Queen’s Park bought a sizeable stake in a pioneering Athabasca oilsands venture.

That was before dwindling conventional oil supplies and surging prices made the capital-intensive oilsands the boomer it is now.

But while Queen’s Park sold out in the 1990s, its books then awash in red ink like they are now, Ontario still accrues huge benefits from the oilsands: Alberta jobs for its many unemployed workers, shots at manufacturing much of the needed equipment and, like all other “have-not” provinces, equalization payments that flow to it from an Alberta government now paying many of Canada’s net bills.

The $7-billion Keystone project, to carry oilsands product to Gulf Coast refineries, was never a slam dunk — not with its route through a sensitive Nebraska aquifer that conveniently doomed it, nor with the sticky election-year politics in the U.S. and the growing environmental backlash against so-called “dirty” oil.

But here’s the thing: Alberta has the world’s third-largest proven oil reserves, mostly locked up in the oilsands — for which there’s no shortage of potential customers.

If the U.S. doesn’t slurp it up, through Keystone or other pipelines, the oil will find markets elsewhere. Asia, for one, is thirsty for it.

Alberta government figures show oilsands investment over the last decade topped $100 billion. Ontario’s only new auto plant built over the same period, Toyota’s Woodstock complex, checked in at $1.1 billion.

Even leaving aside tax revenue, Ontario can only benefit from oilsands development. Its jackpot could be worth more than 60,000 industrial jobs alone over the next 25 years, according to the Canadian Energy Research Institute.

A rising tide, as they say, lifts all boats. If oilsands critics point to a black water line left behind, the question for a struggling Ontario is whether it’s better to have that extra buoyancy or none at all.

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