February 21 2012: Beyond Acute Care Conference; Better Way Alberta; Budget 2012; farm workers; HSAA information pickets
Last chance to see Ralph Nader and Maude Barlow at Beyond Acute Care Conference
- You have only until tomorrow afternoon (Wednesday, Feb. 22) to register for the Beyond Acute Care: Covering Seniors and the Disabled with the Medicare Umbrella. This is an important event affecting all Albertans, bringing in experts from around the world and across Canada, including world-renowned consumer advocate Ralph Nader and Maude Barlow, of the Council of Canadians. For information on the conference and to register, click here; want to find out what the conference is all about? Watch this great animated video here.
For information about the speakers at the Beyond Acute Care conference, click here ...
Great video ad shows there is a Better Way for Alberta
- It just doesn't add up! Alberta is one of the wealthiest jurisdictions on Earth, but can't seem to find enough money to adequately fund the public services that Albertans want, including health care and education. The reason? Our tax and royalty system is broken and wealthy individuals and corporations aren't paying their fair share. But there is a Better Way. Watch the great video ad for Better Way Alberta. Here the cheeky radio ads, follow the campaign on Twitter and like the Facebook page at www.BetterWayAlberta.ca. For more information ...
Tax and royalty giveaways continue in Alberta's Budget 2012
- The first budget from Conservative Premier Alison Redford showed that little has changed in the government's attitude to the oil industry and wealthy corporations. There was no sign of an end to billions of dollars in tax and royalty giveaways and no honest conversation with Albertans on how to fix the province's broken revenue system. For more information ...
Alberta government must act now to prevent farm-worker tragedy
- A transportation tragedy on the scale that killed 11 farm workers in Ontario in early February is looming in Alberta unless the government acts now to prevent it, says the AFL. It called on the Conservatives to close the legal loopholes that allow farm workers to be transported in the back of open trucks and in other dangerous vehicles now - not to wait until there's a tragic accident in this province. For more information ...
Join HSAA members on information pickets - HSAA will be holding information pickets tomorrow (Wednesday, Feb. 22)from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Bargaining with AHS broke down after 10 months when they finally tabled a monetary package that included an "offer" of 0, 0 and Cost of Living and failed to address the issues brought forward by the HSAA membership. Please show you support by joining them at the following locations:
- Edmonton: University of Alberta Hospital - 112th Street entrance
- Edmonton: Royal Alexandra Hospital - Kingsway Avenue
- Edmonton: Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital - 111th Avenue
- Calgary: Foothills Medical Centre - Main Entrance on 29th St. NW
- Calgary: Peter Lougheed Centre - 36th St. NE
- Red Deer: Red Deer Regional Hospital - 50A Ave
- Medicine Hat: Medicine Hat Regional Hospital - 5 St. SW
- Fort McMurray: Northern Lights Regional Health Centre - Hospital Street
- Grand Prairie: Queen Elizabeth II Hospital - 105 Ave
HSAA President Elisabeth Ballermann will be addressing the media from the University of Alberta Hospital picket.
For further information, visit http://www.hsaa.ca/home
- Attend the Calgary launch of Kevin Taft's Follow the Money - Ever wonder why Alberta's so rich, but our schools and hospitals seem to be so poor? MLA Kevin Taft has the answer in his new book, Follow the Money, and accompanying video documentary by award-winning producer Tom Radford. Join us for the Calgary launch of Follow the Money at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 23, at Memorial Park Library, 1221 2 Street S.W., Calgary. For details ... To view a clip from the documentary, click here ... For more information on the book ...
- February 24-25: Beyond Acute Care conference with Ralph Nader and Maude Barlow
- February 24-26: EDLC Annual Labour School
- March 8: International Women's Day
- March 21: International Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination
- March 21-23: CUPE Alberta 62nd Annual Convention
- March 22: World Water Day
- April 3: International Day for Mine Awareness
- April 6: World Health Day
- April 21: Earth Day
- April 27: International Day of Mourning for workers who have been killed, suffer disease or injury as a result of work.
Premier must fulfill her pledge to protect workers and close legal loopholes, says AFL
A transportation tragedy on the scale that killed 11 farm workers in Ontario last week is looming in Alberta unless the government acts now to prevent it, says the province's largest labour group.
"The lax laws governing how farm workers can be taken to and from worksites is a recipe for disaster," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), which represents 145,000 workers.
In Alberta, an exemption to the Alberta Traffic Safety Act/Rules of the Road Regulation allows farm workers to ride in the back up pickup trucks and larger trucks. "The government says it's wrong for all other Albertans to travel in this unsafe way, but says it's OK for farm workers. Why? Are their lives worth any less?"
Alberta also allows farm workers to travel in 15-passenger vans, dubbed "death traps on wheels" by some U.S. safety experts. These vans have been banned in Nova Scotia, banned by the U.S. government for transportation of children and banned by some school boards in Canada, while some Alberta school boards will no longer insure them.
"These vehicles aren't good enough for our children and they aren't good enough for our workers. It's time to take them off the road," says McGowan.
The AFL today calls on the Alberta government to:
- End the exemption for riding in the back of trucks;
- Ban the use of 15-passenger vans;
- Outlaw vans that have been modified below acceptable safety standards; and
- Give paid farm workers the same rights as all other Albertans, by including them under Employment Standards and Occupational Health and Safety rules.
"The exemptions from road rules is just another example of our government hanging on to outdated, dangerous attitudes that date back to the 19th century. Alberta's farms are industrial worksites like any you'll find in urban areas, involving the use of heavy machinery and heavy loads," says McGowan.
"During her campaign to become premier, Alison Redford promised tougher rules to protect farm workers, but, so far, it's a case of Promise Made, Promise Broken. Farm workers have the right to the same protections as all other Albertans. We expect the premier, as a human-rights lawyer, to recognize this and fulfill her pledge now."
This call for action coincides with a national day of action tomorrow (Friday) demanding justice for migrant farm workers, including those who died in Ontario.
See below photographs of a 15-passenger van being used to transport Alberta farm workers
AFL calls for change in laws governing farm workers before it's too late
EDMONTON - The Alberta government must act now before farm workers in this province suffer the kind of tragedy that has recently rocked Ontario, says the province's largest labour group.
"The conditions endured by farm workers on their journeys to and from worksites are a recipe for disaster," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, which represents 145,000 workers. "Let's learn the lesson from the tragedy in Ontario last week, when 11 farm workers died when the van transporting them crashed. Let's learn the lesson from B.C., where three farm workers died in 2007 when a van carrying 16 workers flipped. Let's not wait until people are killed on Alberta roads before doing the right thing," he says.
Tomorrow, the AFL will hold a media conference and will call on the Alberta government to end the exemption that allows farm workers to travel in the back on open pickup trucks. "We won't let anyone else travel in such a dangerous way – why are farm workers treated like second class citizens?" It will also call for tougher rules governing the types of vehicles used to transport workers.
This call for action coincides with a national day of action Friday demanding justice for migrant farm workers, including those who died in Hampstead, Ont.
A backgrounder on farm-worker transportation, including a photograph that illustrates the conditions facing farm workers, will be made available at the media conference.
TIME: 2:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 16
LOCATION: McDougall Room, 3rd floor,
Chateau Lacombe Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown Edmonton
(10111 Bellamy Hill)
MEDIA CONTACT: Gil McGowan, AFL President, 780-218-9888
For more information call:
Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour @ 780-218-9888 (cell)
February 2012: Beyond Acute Care Conference; Better Way Alberta campaign; farm workers safety; health care; Burns Lake blast; 2012 Centennial
Register now to see Ralph Nader and Maude Barlow at conference on health care
- It's time that seniors and those with disabilities were covered by the medicare umbrella. World-renowned consumer-rights advocate Ralph Nader will be the keynote speaker on Friday, Feb. 24, at a major conference in Edmonton on provincial and national policies needed to ensure fair and compassionate care of seniors and the disabled. Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians will close the conference on Feb. 25. For more information ...
Coalition launches Better Way Alberta campaign on tax and royalty reform
- It just doesn't add up! Alberta is one of the wealthiest jurisdictions on Earth, but can't seem to find enough money to adequately fund the public services that Albertans want, including health care and education. The reason? Our tax and royalty system is broken and wealthy individuals and corporations aren't paying their fair share. But there is a Better Way. For more information ... Hear the cheeky radio ads, follow the campaign on Twitter and like the Facebook page at www.BetterWayAlberta.ca
- MLA Kevin Taft publishes book that asks Albertans to Follow the Money
Labour leaders from across Canada call on premiers to stand up for health care
- Canada's most important social program is universal health care, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper has announced his intention to abdicate from his responsibility to defend it, opening the door to increased privatization. The presidents of the provincial and territorial Federations of Labour called on the Premiers to fight for health care and reject the PM's plan. For more information ...
Farm workers still waiting for Alberta government to take action on safety
- Three years ago, a judge investigating the death of farm worker Kevan Chandler recommended that the Alberta government extend the laws on workplace safety to include farm and ranch workers. The government has failed to heed the judge's call. With an average of 16 workers dying every year on agricultural sites, there's no excuse for this shameful inaction. Farm workers deserve the same rights as all other workers in this province. For more information ...
Join labour movement in rallying round community devastated by blast
- The community of Burns Lake, B.C., has been rocked by an explosion that levelled the Babine Forest Products mill. The Vancouver Sun describes the mill as "the lifeblood of Burns Lake, a small town in north-central B.C., providing 250 jobs and supporting hundreds more jobs in logging, timber hauling, welding and other services." The United Steelworkers and the B.C. Federation of Labour have joined forces to raise funds for families affected by the blast. To read about the effects of the blast ... To donate to the fund ...
- Centennial celebrations looming – and we need your help! The AFL will host its centennial celebrations in Fort Edmonton Park on June 16, 2012. This event is open to everyone. We would like to see ALL unions, members, their families, activists and the general public. We need your help in developing an "ACTIVIST" database or email addresses that would allow us to spread the word. Do you know former activists who helped build the movement in Alberta? Can you provide us with names and contact info? June 16 is a chance to celebrate 100 years of struggle and solidarity and recognize the role unions have played in advancing the rights of all workers. Help us make this event a great success! For more information ...
- February 3: Deadline for nominations for AFL International Women's Day Award 2012
- February 3: Deadline for nominations for May Day Solidarity Award 2012
- February 14: Calgary's 4th Annual Valentine's Day Women's Memorial March
- February 14: AFL Executive Committee
- February 14-15: AFL Executive Council
- February 15: WCB Labour Education Seminar: Understanding the Request for Review Process
- February 15: WCB Labour Education Seminar: Understanding WCB
- February 16: Deadline to register for Edmonton and District Labour Council (EDLC) Annual Labour School
- February 20: UN World Day of Social Justice
- February 24-25: Beyond Acute Care conference with Ralph Nader and Maude Barlow
- February 24-26: EDLC Annual Labour School
- March 8: International Women's Day
- March 21: International Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination
- March 22: World Water Day
Did You Know ...
- Alberta is the only province with a flat tax, which disproportionately benefits high-income earners. Returning to a progressive tax system could generate billions of dollars by making the wealthy pay their fair share.
- Alberta has set the price it charges for its oil assets far lower than other jurisdictions. The province could collect billions more and still leave energy companies making a profit far more than is considered normal.
- According to a study conducted by the University of Alberta's Parkland Institute, the Alberta government would have taken in an additional $37 billion in revenue from energy companies over the past decade if it had met its own minimum targets for royalty collection.
- By the Alberta government's own estimates, we could increase taxes by nearly $11 billion a year and still be the lowest tax jurisdiction in the country! Such an increase would entirely eliminate the province's current $3-billion deficit, with almost $8 billion left over for savings or investment in services that Albertans value like education and health care.
- More than 90 per cent of the world's oil reserves are controlled by national energy companies and out of the reach of private companies. Of the remaining 10 per cent, half are in Alberta. So, if private companies want to get at the oil – and at $100 per barrel, they really do – they have to come here. This puts us in a strong bargaining position. For more information ...
Three years have passed, but Tories fail to act on judge's recommendation in farm-death inquiry
Today marks an unhappy anniversary for an important group of Alberta workers whose safety has been neglected by the Alberta government.
"Three years ago, after investigating the death of farm worker Kevan Chandler, Justice Peter Barley recommended that farm and ranch workers be included in Alberta legislation governing workplace health and safety," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), which represents 145,000 workers.
"Sadly, the government has chosen to ignore this recommendation, leaving agricultural workers to face the kinds of risks at work that no other Albertans are asked to face."
About 160 farm workers have died in Alberta in the last decade, but this remains the only province in Canada that maintains 19th century rules where these workers are excluded from occupational health and safety laws, as well as legislation governing hours of work and overtime, statutory holidays, vacation pay, the right to refuse unsafe work, being informed of work-related dangers and compensation if they are injured on the job.
"There is no credible reason to continue to exclude these workers. Today's farms are industrial worksites like any found in urban areas, involving heavy equipment and overhead power lines. The simple fact is that the rights of paid farm workers continue to be ignored because the government has chosen to bow to pressure from the industrial agribusiness lobby, rather than listen to an unbiased judge or the many voices of Albertans calling for change," says McGowan.
"The government's proposal for a farm-safety education campaign run by the industry instead of real action was a joke – and one in very poor taste," he says.
"During her campaign to become Premier, Alison Redford promised to extend rights to farm workers. With a new session of the Legislature set to begin soon, Albertans are waiting to see if this important change is made, or if are we on the cusp of another broken promise."
- 30 -
For more information:
Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour (780) 218-9888
A monument to Alberta’s Broken Families began to take shape today, with workers breaking ground in Edmonton’s Grant Notley Park.
“Alberta is a dangerous place for workers. Last year, 166 Albertans died as a result of going to work. That means 166 Broken Families - families missing a mother or father, a son or daughter, a brother or sister,” says Brian Henderson, president of the Edmonton and District Labour Council (EDLC).
For nearly 100 years, the labour movement has been fighting to make workplaces safer in Alberta. To mark the centennial of this struggle, the EDLC commissioned the building of a memorial obelisk, designed by local artist Memi Von Gaza.
“Made of stainless steel, granite and concrete, this obelisk will stand 14 feet tall and be 10 feet wide at the base. On each of the four sides, a family will be seen, cast in bronze – but with one family member missing - one family member who went to work, but didn’t come home,” says Henderson. “At this time of year, when families come together for the holidays, it’s particularly important to remember that some family members are missing because of fatal accidents in the workplace.”
The monument will be unveiled on April 28, 2012, the National Day of Mourning recognizing those who have been injured or killed on the job.
“This monument will not only commemorate those who have died before, it aims to educate people so future deaths can be prevented,” says Henderson. “It is fitting that it will be in the park named after Grant Notley, the former MLA and leader of the NDP, a great public servant who lost his life in a 1984 plane crash while representing the people of this province.”
The family of Grant Notley gave their permission for the monument to be located in the park named after the former leader of the Alberta NDP. “I know what it’s like to lose a beloved family member,” says Rachel Notel, NDP MLA for Edmonton Strathcona. “My father died in a plane crash while working for the people of Alberta. Having this monument in the park that bears his name just feels right.”
MEDIA CONTACT: Brian Henderson, EDLC president, 780-940-6797 (cell)
November 2011: Canadian Wheat Board; Keystone XL decision; Occupy Movement; health and safety blitzes
Prairie labour groups defend Canadian Wheat Board
- The The Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba Federations of Labour united to defend the Canadian Wheat Board against attack from the Harper government. In a joint statement, the labour groups said the plan to dismantle the wheat board was illegal and undemocratic. AFL President Gil McGowan said: "The real truth is that the Harper government believes in a free market only when it's good for large corporations. It wants to destroy the ability of farmers to freely and collectively bargain to get the best price for their goods. It's the same ideological attack Harper has made on the rights of workers to collectively bargain to get a fair deal for their work in back-to-work legislation at Canada Post and Air Canada." For more ... and AFL Joint Statement on Canadian Wheat Board
AFL applauds U.S. decision to delay Keystone XL decision
- Albertans should see the Obama administration's decision to delay its decision on the Keystone XL pipeline as an opportunity to get more value out of our bitumen, rather than shipping our raw resources and jobs down the pipeline to the U.S. "It is an opportunity for us to move up the value chain and create a more prosperous and stable economic future for Albertans," says AFL president Gil McGowan. For more ... and news story on Keystone XL decision
Occupy movement a force for positive change in Alberta
- While protesters at Occupy Edmonton and Calgary faced moves to force them from their camps, they earned praise from the AFL for bringing important issues to the fore. "The Occupation sites were vibrant reminders of deeper issues of economic inequality in Alberta. What is truly unsightly is the presence of a government that favours its corporate friends over the interests of all Albertans," said AFL president Gil McGowan. He said their message and voices "will continue to inspire positive change in this province." For November 26th AFL press release; for November 9th AFL press release; and for October 14th AFL press release ...
Want to be safe at work? Join a union!
- A blitz of construction worksites by Occupational Health and Safety inspectors revealed the shocking level of unsafe practices faced by Alberta workers, with nearly 400 orders issued after 600 inspections of 387 employers. While the AFL welcomed a move to add evening and weekend inspections, it said much more must be done to keep workers safe. The best solution is to allow workers to join unions. "The evidence is clear from Alberta and across the country that the presence of unions at construction sites reduces the number of injuries and fatalities," says Gil McGowan, AFL president. Meanwhile, the AFL welcomed the Alberta Court of Appeal's decision to uphold a ruling that that Sinopec Shanghai Engineering Co. can be prosecuted for the deaths of two oilsands workers. "Today's ruling makes it clear that if international companies want to do business here, they have to not only respect our laws, but also be accountable when they violate them," says McGowan. For November 8th AFL press release and for November 23rd AFL press release ...
- Rally for striking workers at Peri Formwork Systems in Calgary - The workers at Peri Formwork Systems in Calgary have been on strike since July 4, 2011. They are seeking fair compensation and improved working conditions in their first collective agreement. The members of Carpenters Local 2010 members have not received a pay increase in three years. Join the rally in support of these workers.
Wednesday, November 30, 2011, 3:00 pm until 6:00 pm,
29 Industry Way S.E., Calgary
- Sign the Declaration of Support for Jordan's Principle - Jordan River Anderson of Norway House Cree Nation was ready to go home from hospital when he was two years old but spent over two years unnecessarily in hospital as the federal government and provincial governmentt could not agree on who should pay for his at home care. Jordan passed away at the age of five never having spent a day in a family home while governments continued to argue. Jordan's Principle seeks to ensure no other child becomes a victim of such jurisdictional disputes. Sign the petition here ...
- December 1: World AIDS Day
- December 3: International Day of Persons with Disabilities
- December 4: Commemorative Brunch
- December 6-7: AFL Executive Council
- December 6: AFL Open House
- December 6: National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women
- December 9: Deadline for registration for AFL 2012 School
- December 18: International Migrants Day
- December 20: Deadline for registration for January 27-29 2012 Equinox Weekend
Did you know ...
If four new upgraders were built in Alberta, we'd gain:
- 52,000 person years of direct construction employment
- 10,960 person years of engineering work
- 4,000 permanent operations jobs
- An additional 12,000 supply, service and maintenance jobs
- $400 million per year in provincial corporate taxes (based on Alberta estimates)
- $780 million per year in federal corporate income taxes
(Source: Alberta's Industrial Heartland Association, "Refine it where we mine it – Job creation,")
Alberta's Court of Appeal ruled Wednesday a Chinese company can be prosecuted for its role in the deaths of two temporary foreign workers in 2007.
Sinopec Shanghai Engineering Company Ltd. had claimed it shouldn't be involved in the trial also involving Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. and contractor SSEC Canada Ltd.
The companies face 53 charges in connection to the double fatality at CNRL's Horizon site, north of Fort McMurray on April 24, 2007. Hong Liang Liu, 33, an electrical engineer, and Genbao Ge, 27, a scaffolder, were killed when the roof of the oil tank they were working in collapsed.
Sinopec Shanghai had brought the workers into the country, but had argued it had no official presence here and that it was never properly served. However, several acts outlined in an earlier hearing helped link Sinopec Shanghai and SSEC.
"The next step is we go back to provincial court and we're going to be asking for Sinopec to be tried jointly with CNRL and SSEC Canada Ltd.," said Josh Stewart, Alberta Justice spokesman Thursday.
That court appearance will also seek approval to move ahead with the trial already scheduled for Oct. 1, 2012. It will be heard in a St. Albert courtroom.
"We can do it in absentia now," he added, if Sinopec fails to show up for court.
The companies were set to go to trial last month, but the court granted an adjournment requested by CNRL which had argued all three accused should stand trial together.
"The Crown objected and we asked that it go ahead on schedule as planned, but the judge ruled against the Crown and granted the adjournment," said David Dear of Alberta Justice at the time.
That appeal had been scheduled for Oct. 8.
Meanwhile, the Alberta Federation of Labour is applauding the court's ruling.
"(Wednesday's) ruling makes it clear that if international companies want to do business here, they have to not only respect our laws, but also be accountable when they violate them," said Gil McGowan, AFL president.
Though he applauded the decision, he admitted his organization is concerned the proceedings are taking so long. It's been over four years since the workers were killed.
"With one of the three court justices holding a dissenting position, there's a possibility that the company may seek to delay their day in court even longer," said McGowan. "It is incredibly frustrating and distressing that this company tried to dodge justice by dragging the process out as long as they have. We hope these workers' families will see justice as soon as possible."
Given the companies will be in court for trial more than five years after the accident, he said the delays make a mockery of the laws designed to protect workers.
Fort McMurray Today, Fri Nov 25 2011
Byline: Carol Christian
Chinese engineering, procurement, and construction management company Sinopec Shanghai Engineering Company (SSEC) could face charges in a Canadian court after a decision handed down yesterday by the Alberta Court of Appeal.
In a decision released yesterday, the court found that SSEC could be held accountable for the deaths in 2007 of two temporary foreign workers at the Horizon Oil Sands project in northern Alberta, operated by Canadian Natural Resources.
The Canadian company is due to face court over the matter in 2012, but SSEC had argued that it did not come under the jurisdiction of the Alberta court as it had no official presence in the nation or any Canadian employees.
The Appeal court's decision upheld a previous ruling finding that this was not the case.
Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan applauded the decision in a statement.
"Today's ruling makes it clear that if international companies want to do business here, they have to not only respect our laws, but also be accountable when they violate them," McGowan said.
"It is incredibly frustrating and distressing that this company tried to dodge justice by dragging the process out as long as they have. We hope these workers' families will see justice as soon as possible."
upstreamonline.ca, Thurs Nov 24 2011
Renewed calls to process more bitumen in Alberta are following a delay in a proposed export pipeline even though the economic upside for upgrading plants in recent years has shrunk.
The push to encourage more processing of production from the province's vast bitumen resource into higher value light oil resurfaced this week in a debate among elected leaders, after the U.S. federal regulator deciding on a permit for the 830,000 barrel per day Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast indicated it won't budge on its additional year or more of study.
The heightened pressure on lawmakers to get more revenue for Alberta's bitumen follows recent calls to address a predicted decline in synthetic oil produced in the province, as a percentage of total bitumen output. The Energy Resources Conservation Board predicts 47 per cent of bitumen produced in the province in 2020 will be upgraded to light oil, down from 58 per cent in 2010. In 2008, the province had set a goal of 66 per cent. The regulator's summer forecast had some eyeing jobs and tax revenue attached to additional upgraders crying out for government action.
Energy Minister Ted Morton told an energy conference in Calgary this week there has been "heated" discussion on the issue in caucus since the Keystone XL delay and there are some "enthusiasts" in cabinet backing support for more upgrading, but that he isn't one of them.
Morton's view is that the economics for upgrading aren't certain and seem to change like the weather in Alberta, "every month or two," as he told an audience at the 2011 Calgary Energy Roundtable on Tuesday. Industry observers confirmed a confluence of factors make building a multibilliondollar upgrader riskier now than a few years ago.
Between 2004 and 2006, energy companies could earn 20 to 25 per cent more on each barrel of bitumen produced in Alberta by processing it into synthetic oil at an upgrader, said Kam Sandhar of investment bank Peters & Co. Today, a barrel of bitumen is only fetching 10 per cent less on markets than a barrel of synthetic crude.
A pair of new pipelines came online in 2010 to bring bitumen south to facilities that can handle the heavy oil, which lifted the price, Sandhar explained.
"What's changed between now and then is there's more take-away capacity to the Midwest, there's more coking capacity in the Midwest, which has essentially grown the market for heavy oil," Sandhar said.
While existing upgraders in Alberta are making money, Sandhar said, it's hard to justify new projects given that labour costs and supply chain costs have risen - including loftier steel prices. Expansion of oilsands mining and in situ bitumen production, expected to double from about 1.5 million barrels per day by 2020, means competition for workers in northern Alberta is fierce - which ratchets up wages, he said.
"Let's assume you heard somebody say tomorrow, 'There are two new upgraders being built,' " Sandhar said. "It's not doable."
The oilpatch is "clearly" supportive of doing upgrading in Alberta, said Greg Stringham, a vice-president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
There are five upgraders operating in Alberta with capacity to process more than 1.2 million bpd, and a few more planned. North West Upgrading Inc. and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. are pitching a three-phase project starting in 2014 to cost $15 billion and amount to 150,000 bpd, with a bitumen supply commitment from the government. The proposed Voyageur upgrader by Suncor Energy Inc. and Total S.A. is projected to add 200,000 barrels per day in 2016. CNRL has said it would add to its existing Horizon upgrader facility, as long as cost inflation isn't too high, and Nexen Inc. has publicly mused about an upgrader expansion at its Long Lake in situ oilsands project.
Stringham said U.S. Gulf Coast refiners that can take in Canadian heavy oil have existing contracts soon expiring with suppliers from Venezuela and Mexico and are willing to pay more.
"So that's what you're competing against," Stringham said. Assuming Keystone XL gets built to supply those refineries, he said, that demand will be satisfied.
The Alberta Federation of Labour has long bemoaned export pipelines for allowing value-added jobs to flow "down the pipeline," the group's president, Gil McGowan, said. Even worse, McGowan argued, is that pipelines leaving Alberta have contributed to the thinner profit margins upgrading projects could potentially earn by inflating heavy oil prices, leaving those profit spreads for refineries in Illinois to enjoy.
University of Alberta business professor Andrew Leach said the effect of pipelines on the economics of upgrading isn't so simple, since pipelines would also be needed to export new synthetic crude.
"Even if you are running 100 per cent synthetic in the province, you'd still want access to Gulf Coast or West Coast markets," Leach said.
Calgary Herald, Thurs Nov 24 2011
Byline: Rebecca Penty