While stopping to fill up with gas last week when it was -30C here in Red Deer, I was reminded of my riggin' days. I couldn't help but think that right at that moment there were thousands of oil patch workers bustin' their's in this cold miserable weather so I could heat my house and fill up my gas tank.
I did my time and now I'm out, but cheers to the riggers! It was a good living and I am grateful for the opportunities it has afforded me. I have a nice house and my kids are well taken care of. My business still serves those workers and I'm continuously grateful for everything.
Now many of you may know that I have a strong environmental side and you may be questioning me saying "why is he praising the oilfield?"
I am reminded of a Corb Lund song, no not Roughest Neck Around; I wish...
...but another more somber song called This Is My Prairie. Give it a listen when you get a chance. There are a few lines that go like this:
I can't blame the riggers or the guys drivin' truck
For feedin' their families and makin' a buck
But take a close look at the stock that you own
Cuz' this is my prarie, this is my home
No one knows the environmental impact of the oil patch better than hard working oil patch guys! When I hear on the news that people are protesting Hydraulic Fracking and pipelines and the bitumen industry I understand why, I get it! None of that stuff is pretty by any means.
I know! I've worked there!
But some of these guys take it to extreme and leave no room for reason or collaboration. Some even make outlandish claims that are clearly based on fear and mis-understanding of what is actually going on.
But then when I hear the other side and guys are denying climate change and the impact that humans are having on the environment I feel like pulling out my hair!
We will never get anywhere pitting the economy vs. environment.
We will never get anywhere with mis-information and fear mongering.
Public policy needs to be based on sound scientific evidence.
Last week I attended the Chamber of Commerce luncheon here in Red Deer and listened to Mark Scholz president of the CAODC speak about the state of the oil patch and the direction it is heading. The room was filled with community leaders representing oil and gas companies. I really got the vibe that everyone there was a strong supporter of the "Drill Baby Drill" philosophy. Who'd-A-Thunk?
I couldn't help but think that somewhere else there was a room full of "environmentalists" presenting information about climate change. In both rooms the speaker was essentially preaching to the choir. It struck me that we need to bring these two groups together in order to find a solution to the challenges we are facing.
Mark Scholz didn't talk about climate change, but he did speak about all the hard working people making our province a great place to live. He spoke about how Canada's oil patch workers are the best trained in the world and how our safety practices are superior by far. He spoke about how its more ethical to buy Canadian oil than Saudi oil or Iranian oil as we actually care about the environment and human rights.
Im sure that in that other room I imagined, the speaker didn't once mention any of those successes but just went on about how "big oil companies" are destroying everything!
Mark Sholz made a compelling argument that coal consumption in China is by far a larger contributor of greenhouse gasses than what we do here in Alberta and that we could "offset" their dependance on coal by selling them compressed natural gas (CNG).
While his argument was persuasive I doubt China will get off coal because we sell them CNG. China will probably just take more of both and everything else. Furthermore there is serious doubt that CNG is really any better at all than coal.
With all this said I am very optimistic for our future.
However, Alberta is at a cross roads.
The best minds in the world are finding more and more ways to use less and less of the oil we want to sell them. The global push to become less dependant on hydrocarbons is intensifying and will grow exponentially. Alberta has a shining opportunity to use its oil wealth to become a leader in cutting edge technology that will move us towards environmental sustainability and economic sustainability*.
Yes there is a place for wind farms and large scale solar plants but I'm not a strong proponent of those as there are large drawbacks. From what I can tell the evidence is pointing strongly towards decentralized rooftop solar, nuclear, compact fusion and bio fuels from landfill gas, sewage and organic materials as an alternative to conventional oil, gas and coal.
My argument is that wherever the money goes there too will go jobs, wealth and prosperity.
I fully reserve the right to be wrong but I predict that those 4 sectors will grow dramatically over the next 25 years and they will out-compete conventional oil and gas. Roof top solar is already out competing natural gas and coal. The prices of solar are dropping and the tech is becoming more advanced. There is a company here in Alberta that will install solar on your roof and get your home net zero. I'm having my house priced out soon!
Whatever actually comes to pass lets not fail for lack of imagination! There are solutions to be found. We can have prosperity and environmental sustainability.
We need: Collaboration, Reason & Imagination!
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*We clearly don't have "economic sustainability" as 20% of Alberta's Operating Budget is dependent on oil and gas royalties and when the price of oil drops our budget is no longer sustained.