EDMONTON-Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach got some help from the National Energy Board (NEB) yesterday when they decided to quietly release their approval of the controversial Alberta Clipper super pipeline late on a Friday afternoon - obviously hoping for as little media attention as possible.
But regardless of the way the announcement was made, the fact remains that the decision has serious - and very negative - long-term implications for Albertans, says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"This is the second major bitumen pipeline to be given approval by the NEB in the last six months," says McGowan. "The Keystone pipeline was approved in September. The Alberta Clipper was approved yesterday. And a third pipeline called Southern Lights was approved earlier this week that will carry lubricant from Chicago up to Alberta. This lubricant is designed to make raw oil sands flow more easily down pipelines.
"Taken together, these three pipelines will provide the plumbing necessary to export about 1.4 million barrels of raw oil sands per day to refineries in the American mid-west and Gulf coast. That means that almost all of the expected increase in oil sands production between now and 2015 could be carried away in those pipes. But it won't be just raw bitumen going down those pipelines - we'll also be losing thousands of high-paying upgrader and refinery jobs."
McGowan says he's not particularly surprised that bureaucrats at the NEB approved the application from Enbridge Inc. to develop the Alberta Clipper. What does surprise him is Premier Ed Stelmach's apparent lack of interest in the issue.
"This is the guy who, when he was running for the Conservative leadership, said that allowing raw bitumen to be exported without first upgrading or refining it in Alberta was like 'a farmer selling off his topsoil'," said McGowan.
"He's also the guy who in a recent Conservative television ad said very clearly that - and this is a direct quote from the Premier himself - 'we'll ensure our oil sands are upgraded right here.' So what's the deal, Ed? If you're so dead set against sending Alberta jobs down the pipeline, why haven't you even raised a finger to put restrictions on pipelines that everyone knows will do just that?"
McGowan says the AFL is not opposed to all new pipelines - as an exporting province, we obviously need mechanisms to get our products to markets. What the AFL is opposed to are pipelines that will be used almost exclusively to transport raw bitumen - as opposed to upgraded crude or refined products like gasoline and diesel. McGowan says that evidence presented in NEB hearings - which the Stelmach government didn't even bother to attend - clearly shows that the Keystone and Alberta Clipper pipelines will be nothing
more than "bitumen super-highways."
"Premier Stelmach has spewed a lot of rhetoric on this issue," said McGowan. "But action speaks louder than words. And Stelmach's inaction on this issue speaks volumes about where he really stands. It's clear that he's simply not willing to stand up to Big Oil.
"These companies clearly have a plan to send massive amounts of unrefined bitumen to refineries and upgraders in the U.S. And, in the absence of any clear restrictions or regulations from the provincial government, that's exactly what they're going to do."
McGowan points out that in addition to his inaction on the Alberta Clipper and Keystone pipelines, Stelmach has also done nothing to stop or even discourage companies like Encana, Conoco Philips and Husky Energy from proceeding with plans to export hundreds of thousands of barrels of raw bitumen from their oil sands projects.
"Stelmach and the Tories are sleepwalking over a cliff - and they're taking the rest of Alberta with them," said McGowan. "The only good news is that we're still in the middle of an election campaign. So, I encourage all Albertans to demand real action from Premier Stelmach and the Conservatives on this issue. If no action is taken to keep oil sands jobs in Alberta, then the Conservative should be made to pay a price at the ballot box."
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For more information contact:
Gil McGowan, AFL President @ 780.483-3021 (office) or 780.218-9888 (cell)