The oilsands have been an economic roller coaster ever since its first investors, Premier Ernest Manning and industrialist J. Howard Pew, took “the biggest gamble in history”. It has always been a gamble of bust, at times sinking so low that government subsidies have saved industry from plummeting, or boom, rapidly raising the dollar in 2008. Recent quarterly reports forecast the oilsands are slowing down. Canada Oil Sands Ltd’s quarterly report was quite disappointing as productions did not meet expectations causing profits to plummet 65% in the third quarter. And to further add to financial uncertainty the oilsands have yet to include the true costs and responsibilities owed to First Nations communities, restoration efforts, and climate mitigation. “Those types of social-licence issues could make the oil sands uneconomic if you added on enough of them,” says Canadian Energy Research Institute president Peter Howard. This is likely the reason why governments have drastically changed environmental legislation, and only created small levies for producers who exceed greenhouse targets. Avoiding these realities does not mean the cost of the oilsands are not being paid. Local First Nations are paying for the external costs of the oilsands, including contamination and habitat destruction. As First Nations communities execute their treaty power they are holding developers responsible and leaving lengthy court battles in the laps of industry. Not only are unrealistic production goals threatening the financial stability of the oilsands but so is climate change, public opposition to pipelines, and demands from local communities for an inclusive, fair, sustainable and accountable oilsands development. If business as usual persists, the stability of the oilsands will continue on a roller coaster ride and it is not only industry that will lose if the oilsands bust.
Jonathan Ventura is the web assistant with One River, Many Relations. His formal education in environmental policy & law, as well as his passion and experience in community based research and mobilization brings a unique perspective to the project.