As Premier Ed Stelmach and his ministers continue to lobby the U.S. government to approve yet another massive bitumen-export pipeline, Alberta's largest union group has uncovered information showing that even more potential Alberta jobs in upgrading and refining are being "lost down the pipeline" than previously thought.
For years now, the government has said it aims to upgrade or refine two-thirds (67 per cent) of all oil-sands bitumen within the province before export. Up until yesterday, figures from the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) had suggested that about 61 per cent of bitumen was being upgraded or refined within Alberta.
However, as a result of research inquiries from the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), the ERCB now admits the actual figure is closer to 56 per cent. And the ERCB's projections suggest the proportion of bitumen upgraded in the province will continue to fall.
An ERCB official told the AFL about the export figure in an email: "Therefore the percent upgraded would be 131.2/236.7 or 55.4 per cent. A small amount of in situ production was also upgraded to produce 0.8 m3/d but this would only round the total to 56 per cent."
McGowan says: "What these figures demonstrate is that Albertans have been lied to by their leaders. They also show that government ministers like Ron Liepert and Iris Evans have become little more than pitchmen for energy and pipeline companies that prefer raw bitumen exports over Alberta-based job creation."
Earlier this week, Stelmach wrote to the New York Times promoting TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline, which, if approved by the Obama administration, will send at least 435,000 barrels of raw bitumen per day to the U.S. Gulf Coast for upgrading and refining.
This will be in addition to the hundreds of thousands of barrels per day of raw bitumen that is already being shipped to refineries in the U.S. Midwest on two other bitumen pipelines (the Alberta Clipper and the original Keystone). Those pipelines were approved and built over the past three years with the Stelmach government's blessing.
In his letter to the Times, Stelmach boasted that oil-sands production will create more than 342,000 jobs in the U.S. between 2011 and 2015. The same job-creation figures have been used by Iris Evans, the minister of international and intergovernmental relations, in her many pitches for the pipeline to the U.S. audiences.
"It's outrageous that, while the Alberta government is so far from meeting its own targets for bitumen processing within the province, the premier and other cabinet ministers are actively campaigning to ship even more bitumen beyond our borders," says McGowan. "Who the heck do these guys work for - the citizens of Alberta or the pipeline companies?"
"Every barrel of raw bitumen we send out of Alberta means lost jobs," adds McGowan. "It also means lost revenue for the province, revenue that could be used to pay for things like health care and education. We are losing jobs down the pipeline and pouring revenue down the drain."
The ERCB is investigating the error in its most recent figures for bitumen processing in Alberta, which are from 2009. It expects to confirm corrected figures in the coming weeks. Once that's done, the figures will show that the proportion of bitumen upgraded in the province dropped from 58 per cent in 2008 to 56 per cent in 2009.
"Good jobs are leaking out the province right now as a result of bad decisions made by the Stelmach government at the behest of big oil companies," concludes McGowan. "But that leak will turn into a gusher if the Keystone XL pipeline is approved. When the heck is this government going to realize that what oil companies want is not always good for Albertans?"
McGowan will be available at the Legislature (Rotunda) today at 1:00 p.m. to answer questions from the media.
As the leader of the only party that has consistently opposed the construction of bitumen export pipelines, NDP Brian Mason will also weigh in on the issue at 1 p.m. from the NDP office in Calgary at 321, 3132-26 Street N.E.
Contact: Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour @ 780-218-9888 (cell)
Richard Liebrecht, Communications Officer, Alberta NDP Caucus @ 780-916-3937