By Mika Rekai - Monday, March 25, 2013 - 0 Comments
Welcome aboard Air Congestion
It’s an industry boom that knows no altitude limit. As Alberta’s oil industry rapidly expands, efficiently moving workers to and from remote extraction sites has become vital. But as petroleum companies of all sizes increasingly turn to private planes and company-operated airports, the skies are getting dangerously crowded. “There is a mentality that, here in the Great White North, there is nothing but space and open skies,” says Bill Werny, vice-president of operations at the Fort McMurray Airport Authority. “That’s just not the case anymore.”
While many oil-sands airports consist of a few small planes on a single strip of tarmac, the biggest companies charter more flights than many of Canada’s top commercial airlines. Combined, oil-sands airplanes move roughly 750,000 people a year, more than municipal airports in St. John’s, Victoria, Regina or Saskatoon. But while the location of municipal airport tarmacs is regulated by Transport Canada, private tarmacs can be built wherever someone is willing to lease the land. At low altitudes, Werny says the only navigation technique available to pilots is to “see and avoid.” Near-collisions, he warns, are becoming increasingly common.
This month, following on the heels of a study by the Fort McMurray Airport Authority that found 47 private air strips in the Athabasca oil-sands region alone, Werny set up a round-table group including private airstrip owners. While oil companies are wary of having private airstrips become regulated, many are taking part to discuss safety problems. While the group has “no authority” to set regulations, it is a first attempt to improve oversight for congestion concerns that have grown too big to ignore.
By Jason Kirby and Erica Alini - Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 12:36 PM - 0 Comments
This interactive graphic is best viewed in Firefox, Safari or Chrome. Click here for instructions.
The commodity boom is rewriting the list of the “haves” and “have-nots” in Canada. Unlike in the U.S., where the highest per capita incomes tend to be found in and around the biggest metropolitan centres, Toronto is nowhere near the top of Canada’s rank of wealthiest urban areas, while Montreal and Vancouver don’t even make the cut. Small and mid-sized cities are clearly winning the day.
The biggest dots on our map are, of course, in Alberta, with tiny Fort McMurray, right next to the Athabasca oil sands, topping the charts. It may not legally be a “city”—the former fur-trading post was granted the title in 1980 only to lose it 15 years later—but it sure shows all the symptoms of a boomtown. A single family home in the community of 61,000—where daylight lasts as little as seven hours in the dead of winter—cost upwards of $750,000 on average in November. That’s even more than in downtown Toronto, where the going price last month was around $740,000.
One needn’t look much further east to find more stories of vertiginous growth, happy realtors and chronic labour shortages. Welcome to Saskatchewan, the only province planning to run a budget surplus this fiscal year. The resource boom that started a decade ago is now prominently on display in Regina and Saskatoon, which boast, respectively, the lowest unemployment and highest population growth rates of any metropolitan area in Canada.
The title of hottest real estate market in 2013 will likely belong to St. John’s, however. RE/MAX sees home prices in the Nfld. capital climbing six per cent next year, faster than anywhere else and bucking the trend in Vancouver and Toronto, where the optimists are now predicting a soft landing rather than a crash. Sure, St. John’s still has a way to go to reach the top of our chart but the city is already neck-and-neck with Calgary and Edmonton in terms of employment growth. If the current trend holds up, who knows, St. John’s could soon leave Toronto in the dust.
MAP: Hover over the dots on the map to view more information about cities and per capita income and to see the tool bar in the upper right-hand corner. You can also zoom-in by double-clicking on the map. To grab and move the map, press SHIFT and click. Click on the “home” symbol to restore the original settings.
BAR CHART: Click on the symbol next to “Per capita income,” below the chart, to rearrange it from the lowest to the highest per capita income. Click again to order it alphabetically.
Use the “Province” tool bar on the right to view select provinces on both the map and the bar chart.
*Calculations: Jason Kirby. Visualization and text: Erica Alini.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, August 20, 2012 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
Esquire dispatches John Richardson to report on Fort McMurray, the oil sands and the Keystone XL pipeline.
So what does the damn stuff look like? I’ll show you, Tom says. In a long rectangular building with lots of tubes, he opens a faucet at a station and fills a paper cup with pure bitumen. Thick as melted chocolate, it smells like tar. ”That’s our product,” he says. To the touch, it’s lighter than it looks. Mix it with liquid natural gas and it flows. This is what goes into the pipeline under the name “dilbit,” short for diluted bitumen. ”That’s what it looks like,” he says. “That’s what all the fuss is about.”
Awe seems the appropriate response. This greasy black gunk with the protean powers of money itself, able to metamorphose into everything from my iPhone to the fancy petroleum-based REI jacket I am wearing, a staggering combination of chemistry and human ingenuity. And yet, according to one credible and centrist study, if Canada caps the oil sands at 1.6 million barrels a day, the world has only a 50 percent chance of keeping CO2 in the atmosphere below 450 parts per million — the target most scientists think will keep the earth from warming more than a few degrees in this century. Current approved flow is already 1.6 million barrels a day. Projects in construction bump that to 2.3 million. Projects announced or in application send it to more than 5 million barrels a day. So the bottom line is: If the production of oil sands keeps on growing at the rate it is now growing, the temperature of the world could go up 11 degrees by the end of the century. You look down at the cup, a sludge the color of hot chocolate. Is this the way the world ends?
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, July 11, 2012 at 6:00 PM - 0 Comments
The pipeline has become a powerful symbol and political pawn this election year. It is also a sort of Rorschach test of how Americans view energy issues: Are we energy rich or energy poor? How do energy policies affect job creation, tax revenue and U.S. manufacturing competitiveness? How pressing are climate-change concerns, and how do we balance them with economic priorities?
The American public is firmly behind the pipeline, seeing plenty of upside in potential jobs and limited environmental downside. A new Washington Post poll finds nearly six in 10 saying the U.S. government should approve the project. Its wide acceptance is rooted in the fact that 83 percent think it will create jobs. Nearly half think it will not cause significant damage to the environment.
The oil industry and many national security experts think that importing more oil from Canada, a stable neighbor and ally, will make the United States more secure, and they worry that, without the Keystone XL, Canada will send that oil to China. But the process of extracting oil from the sands, also called tar sands, has alarmed people worried about climate change.
Presumably the Post team will eventually visit the towns of Reklaw (pop. 379), Alto (pop. 1,225) and Gallatin (pop. 419), Texas, which are fighting the pipeline because they fear a spill could contaminate their water supply.
See previously: Keystone rhetoric and reality
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, July 11, 2012 at 2:54 PM - 0 Comments
“Northern Gateway should be stopped and the plug should be pulled on it,” said Mulcair, after meeting with local community groups and business leaders. “Today’s conclusive report by the Americans, I think, should be the final nail in that coffin.”
British Columbia’s environment says “when you read about the culture at Enbridge, that’s worrisome,” but otherwise the B.C. Liberal government will continue to study the pipeline.
Meanwhile, Bob Rae visits Fort McMurray and attempts to assert a middle position between the Conservatives and New Democrats.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, June 1, 2012 at 8:30 AM - 0 Comments
The mayor of Fort McMurray reports on her meeting with the NDP leader.
“His passion is deep for the advances he’s trying to make in environmental legislation,” she said. “He’s got some valid points. He’s got some that I disagree with. But overall, I respect the visit he made to our region and the time that he spent while he was here.”
The three Western premiers have condemned Mulcair’s comments, saying that he is using wedge politics to divide the country. But Mulcair rejected that premise saying he is holding the federal government to account accusing the Stephen Harper Conservatives of failing to meet its legislative obligations in enforcing environmental standards.
“Our thesis has always been that one of the reasons we have an artificially high number of U.S. dollars coming in is because we haven’t internalized the environmental costs,” he said. “We haven’t included those costs in the product so allowing a bit of a free ride in using the air, the soil and the water in an unlimited way.”
He also tries a little diplomacy, saying he agrees with Premier Alison Redford that there needs to be a national conversation about resource development.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, May 30, 2012 at 11:53 AM - 0 Comments
The NDP has announced the details of Thomas Mulcair’s trip to Alberta. He will receive a helicopter tour of the oil sands tomorrow morning, followed by a tour of Suncor’s facilities (including the Flue Gas Desulphurization Unit, the mine complex, a virtual tour of the extraction process, an overview of the upgrading process, an overview of former Pond 1 reclamation and a discussion on tailings reduction operations). Then he will meet with the mayor of Fort McMurray and then he will depart for Edmonton for a meeting with the deputy premier. He’ll be joined by Peter Julian, Megan Leslie and Linda Duncan.
Mr. Mulcair was asked about the trip earlier this week.
The most important element for us in going out there is to talk about the sustainable development of all of our natural resources, but, of course in particular there, the oil sands. This is about the future of the economy of the country, maintaining the equilibrium, coming up with a strategy that will allow us to maintain a vital industrial sector. But of course it’s about the enforcement of federal legislation. Since the beginning we’ve made it clear that we’re very concerned that the federal government is not enforcing federal law—the Navigable Waters Act, the Fisheries Act, migratory birds, not looking at cumulative health effects, not looking at groundwater, not monitoring the water in any way shape or form. A year ago, they talked about monitoring water. Now they’re dropping it completely. Some of the people who were supposed to be on that committee haven’t even been convened to a meeting. So these are all things that the federal government is not doing. But, of course, I want to come and talk to people in Fort Mac, see more about the actual installations themselves.
By macleans.ca - Monday, May 7, 2012 at 11:55 AM - 0 Comments
Ottawa’ s hanging on to its embassies’ artwork and al-Qaeda’s taste for porn uncovered
Back at the table
U.S.-Iran relations are enjoying a welcome thaw this spring, as the threat of further sanctions appears to have renewed Tehran’s interest in diplomacy. The two sides met recently in Istanbul and have agreed to more talks next month in Baghdad, with senior clerics in Iran voicing support. Two short months ago, the prospect of Israel bombing installations in Iran looked real, as Tehran remained defiant about continuing its nuclear program. Ending the stalemate will require Iran to stop making weapons-grade nuclear fuel while agreeing to a new inspection regime. Still, this is a good start—and far preferable to the alternative.
Back in Black
After Stephen Harper’s government initially refused to give special consideration to a residency application by Conrad Black, Citizenship and Immigration Canada granted the former media baron a one-year temporary resident permit, allowing him to live here after his release from prison. The backlash was immediate, and expected, with critics accusing the government of a double standard, but Black’s crimes were not violent, he behaved well in prison, and it served no purpose to prevent him from returning home.
By Colby Cosh - Thursday, April 29, 2010 at 3:30 PM - 36 Comments
Having stuck up for Syncrude in the early stages of the blind, agonizing struggle over the Case of the Bitumen-Bathed Birds, I ought to express my disapproval of the high-pitched political threats made yesterday by the consortium’s lawyer, Robert White. White told the press that “If… Syncrude is guilty of this crime, the government is complicit and the industry is doomed… If by having a tailings pond we’re guilty of this charge, we have to stop having tailings ponds.”
When some business holds itself hostage, and argues that it must either be allowed to continue perpetrating illegal behaviour or it will vanish from existence, it’s a near-certain sign that its other legal and moral defences aren’t getting the job done. In this case the behaviour is only arguably illegal—that remains to be decided—but White isn’t arguing that it was, in fact, legal. His argument is that, no matter what the judge or any fair-minded observer might find, the consequences of a guilty verdict are simply intolerable. He has departed from making a defence under the law, and chosen to attack the power of the court to decide what the law is.
This would be understandable if the law, in this case, were unreasonable, dangerously subjective, or tyrannical. Speaking as someone who would be as happy as a cat in a yarn factory if the regulatory apparatus of state were reduced to 1% of its current size, I don’t see that this is so. Reasonable efforts to protect migratory birds, as the judge rightly reminded White this morning, are among the conditions of Syncrude’s license to create gigantic tailings ponds. The key issue in the trial is whether the efforts Syncrude did make were, in fact, reasonable. “Provincial law does not require that Syncrude performs the impossible,” observed Judge Tjosvold; he might have added that if Syncrude’s activity is inherently incompatible with provincial law, then either legislators must change the law or Syncrude must stop. That’s what the word “law” means, yes?
By Tom Henheffer - Thursday, February 25, 2010 at 11:00 AM - 11 Comments
Getting a hospital bed in Alberta can take 14 hours
Some good and some bad news regarding Alberta’s health care system. First the bad: the median time it takes to get a bed after arriving at provincial ERs is more than 14 hours, up from 11 in 2007 (by comparison, the median wait time in Ontario is 12.1 hours). Now the good: most patients at Chinook Regional Hospital in Lethbridge get a bed in just three hours, and 30 per cent of those visiting the ER see a doctor within half an hour—far, far quicker than the provincial average of 2.6 hours. “Chinook’s getting better and the province is getting worse,” says Dr. John Cowell, chief executive officer of the Health Quality Council of Alberta.
Diane Shanks, Chinook’s director of emergency care, says the hospital used private consultants, and a grant from the province, to develop a dedicated approach to keeping wait times down. “The in-patient unit, the seniors’ outflow and community care groups, the lab, ICU, everybody is working to make sure we keep people in beds when they should be in beds, and trying not to delay moving them to where they need to go for the best care,” she says.
Following that integrated model, Chinook staff have a daily “bed huddle” that examines expected discharges and admissions, and tries to ensure there will be enough space before patients arrive. The hospital also emphasizes communication between departments to prevent unnecessary retesting and help stop bottlenecks. “In the past, beds were emergency’s problem,” says Vanessa Maclean, medical director for Alberta Health’s south zone. “Now everybody is responsible for how patients flow through the hospital.”
By Peter Shawn Taylor - Thursday, February 25, 2010 at 8:00 AM - 7 Comments
Loblaws has ended its bag fee in Atlantic Canada
The environmental crusade against plastic shopping bags in this country began in earnest last year when Toronto established a bylaw forcing all local retailers to charge five cents per bag. Since then other cities have waded in—Fort McMurray, Alta., recently approved a full-scale ban—and some retailers, including Ikea and Home Depot, have implemented the Toronto fee country-wide. Yet any suggestion the end to giveaway bags would become a national trend appears to have fizzled. And now the biggest promoter of bag fees faces an awkward climb-down over obvious customer dissatisfaction.
On April 22—Earth Day, 2009—the country’s largest grocer, Loblaw Co. Ltd., implemented the five-cent bag fee in all its stores across Canada as part of a larger plan to burnish its “green” credentials. At the time, Loblaw senior vice-president of corporate affairs, Inge van den Berg, told Maclean’s the fee was a way of “incentivizing good habits. It’s a gentle reminder because I think customers really want to take the right action to protect the environment.”
But some shoppers aren’t so keen on being incentivized. This past December, Loblaw-owned stores in Atlantic Canada, including Atlantic Superstore and Dominion, temporarily waived the five-cent fee as a Christmas gift to customers. That change was recently made permanent; the bags are once again free. “The Atlantic region is unique,” says Julija Hunter, vice-president of public relations for Loblaw. “We are mindful of our business environment and the fact consumers have other options.”
While major competitor Sobeys mimicked Loblaw’s bag fee in Ontario and Quebec, it never implemented the charge anywhere else for competitive reasons. And so East Coast shoppers irritated at having to pay for bags appear to be choosing Sobeys over Atlantic Superstore. If the bag fee was born out of concern for the environment, its demise is due to unhappy customers and a concern for the bottom line.