Tuesday, August 27, 2013

On patterns of behaviour

Sure, it's tempting to treat Pamela Wallin's role as a director of a failed oil sands firm as a personal commentary on the Cons and their Senate appointees. But the story is far more closely connected to another theme that's popping up in news stories on a daily basis.

There's ample question as to how honest Oilsands Quest was with the public (and the settlement of the class action suit against it effectively ensures that nobody will be pushing for further answers). And the complete disconnect between corporate self-interest and the public good is turning up all over the resource sector in far more significant ways.

Oil and gas sector employers have decided they'd rather jeopardize workers' lives than implement safety standards. Even new pipelines (including the U.S. portion of Keystone XL) are being installed with shoddy work. And Alberta's oil and gas sector has made a choice to thumb its nose at tailings pond regulations - with no apparent consequences.

Which would seem to signal the desperate need for some counterbalance against the whims of the oil industry. But instead, the Western Canadian economy is relying almost entirely on a philosophy of taking corporate spin at face value - even when the public bears the downside risk if it proves wrong.

Instead of insisting that our desperate lack of capacity to monitor and clean up after the corporate sector be remedied before we ratchet up the level of risk in extraction and transportation operations, we're simply assuming that the industry will get its way - and hoping (in the absence of evidence) that we won't be stuck with bills far exceeding whatever minor spillover gains we might see in the short term.

And that mitigation strategy may be understandable at the municipal level given the combination of provincial and federal governments determined to rubber-stamp and subsidize any oil-related project, no matter how dirty or dangerous. But it doesn't figure to be long before the bill comes due - and we'd best start verifying the corporate and political spin we're stuck with now before it far exceeds our ability to pay.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

1 comment:

  1. Ah, the life of leisure in a Petro-State. The Edmonton Journal just ran a piece about the 20-year history of CCS in northern Alberta and Saskatchewan. It concerned about the spectacular achievements of the researchers and concluded with a passing mention that the energy companies found it "economically unviable."

    Whether it's tailing ponds or carbon capture or, it seems, worker safety and environmental remediation, it's all fairy tales. Utter nonsense dished out to a gullible public.