Energy money – Haves and have nots

Fossil fuel companies are getting rich, western governments are salivating over energy revenues, while communities and First Nations face the impacts of boom and bust economies, and poisoned and fragmented land.

EnCana’s 2004 third quarter results – oil and gas sales up 22%, cash flow increased by 40% to $1.36 billion. This is a company engorged with fossil fuel riches. (It’s also a company that knows how to cut and run – having announced its intention to shut down its losing coalbed methane exploration in the East Kootenay area link.)

Shell Canada is afloat on a sea of oil and gas revenue, too. The company only a few days ago announced record earnings for the quarter – up 94% over the same quarter in 2003. Yet Shell’s potentially fraudulent disclosures about their reserves (reduced four times this year), and criminal charges against Shell executives, nip at the rosy projections.

What’s right about this?

Alberta Premier Ralph Klein is running for reelection in a province with no debt, a province that itself floats on a sea of oil and gas. Arrogant, boastful and self-centred, the province and the premier present themselves as if the affluence came about by intelligence and hard work. Sure, we’ll grant Albertans intelligence and that they work hard-same as Canadians everywhere-but the affluence is simply the consequence of geography and geology.

What’s right about this?

Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams “stormed out” of a premiers’ conference this week, claiming that Prime Minister Paul Martin reneged on a promise to leave all oil and gas revenues in Newfoundland, and not net them out in equalization payments.

What’s right about this?

The fact is, all that oil and gas is part of the common wealth, it’s a Canadian natural resource. For EnCana to “own” it, or Alberta to “own” it, or Newfoundland or Ottawa to “own” it and thereby “own” the profits that derive from it, sets up a situation of inequity and injustice that needs rethinking.

It’s morally wrong, and it leads directly to hostility, resentment, and national stress that does this country no good at all.

Greed over fossil fuels has turned Canadians into a family of squabbling children. Me, me, me.

What is lost is the opportunity to discuss different ways to use our fossil fuels, to weigh the advantages of short-term financial gain against the economic and ecological value of leaving the stuff in the ground. What is lost is the opportunity to distribute the wealth equitably among Canadians, instead of just to the shareholders of EnCana or residents of Alberta.

Instead, we get provincial governments that override environmental and community cncernts in their rush to get oil and gas revenue. Who even cut their royalty regimes (not to mention their environmental standards and public review processes) to induce companies to drill where otherwise uneconomic.

That’s not right.

And we get companies that are happy to exploit the greed of governments. Who take advantage of streamlined (i.e. cut) regulations without paying the real costs, in damage to habitat, health, tourism business, and community.

No, there’s a lot that’s wrong here.

Communities are fighting back, though. EnCana’s decision to abandon its coalbed methane dreams in the Kootenays must have a lot to do with the well organized opposition in that area. And so far, we’ve been able to help First Nations communities and ranchers in the Hat Creek watershed keep the drilling companies out. And the people of Princeton and Smithers are forming powerful opposition to coalbed methane plans for their communities.

There’s a lot that’s right about that.

When the provincial government forgets its first duty is to communities, local people must take matters into their own hands. We applaud those who are doing so, and pledge to continue working with you, to ensure you join the true haves: communities that have a sustainable future.

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