By Tamsin McMahon - Tuesday, September 25, 2012 - 0 Comments
Low interest rates and record high crop prices means high yields for land
The hottest real estate investments aren’t in big cities. Today’s bidding wars are in the breadbasket.
Much like the frenzy that has swept Canada’s urban housing market, real estate prices are soaring in the hinterlands. Prices of farmland have shot up as much as 25 per cent across Canada this year. Fruit growers in B.C.’s Fraser Valley command $60,000 an acre. Bidding wars are breaking out for farms in Saskatchewan, while grain land in Alberta “can sell virtually overnight,” says a report this September from Re/Max. In some areas of southwestern Ontario, prices jumped 70 per cent in the past two years to $15,000 an acre.
Much of the enthusiasm for farmland has been driven by farmers enticed to expand their operations by low interest rates and record-high prices for corn, barley and wheat, thanks to the worst drought in a half-century that’s swept the U.S.
But it’s not only farmers that see a gold mine in cropland. Central Alberta’s oil sector has helped fuel a 25 per cent jump in farm prices. Nearly three-quarters of farms have oil and gas wells that are leased to oil companies for added income. Where once sellers could add three times the rental income of a well to the price of their property, they can now command five or six times, says Don MacDonald, a Re/Max realtor in central Alberta.
By Scaachi Koul - Thursday, September 13, 2012 at 2:03 PM - 0 Comments
Regina’s mayor has issued a formal apology, but it’s not about any political scandal….
Regina’s mayor has issued a formal apology, but it’s not about any political scandal. Instead, Mayor Pat Fiacco apologized for the foul smell wafting into the west and northwest parts of the city from a wastewater treatment plant.
The problem is being blamed on old infrastructure, warm temperatures, and low oxygen levels in the lagoons. Fiacco says chemicals are being added to the water to help reduce the scent for now. He also said that a broken blower that pumps oxygen into the water should be running by the end of the month.
There are plans to upgrade the wastewater treatment plant by the end of 2016.
By Brian Bethune - Friday, August 31, 2012 at 10:20 AM - 0 Comments
A prolific author, Savage, 62, is often described as a bird writer—and, to be fair, she is an exceptionally good one, as shown in Crows: Encounters with the Wise Guys of the Avian World (2005)—but the breadth of her two dozen books shows she’s really a writer of place. It’s the intersection of landscape, people and natural history that most intensely captures her attention, and that focus is on display in Geography of Blood, a meandering memoir that ultimately arrives at a disquieting destination.
Savage, a prairie girl, begins over a decade ago, when she was drawn to the Cypress Hills area of southern Saskatchewan, near the small town of Eastend, where she and her partner Keith Bell first stayed in the boyhood home of celebrated American author Wallace Stegner, and later bought a house. Slowly, she starts to see what lies unnoticed around her (the circles of stones that anchored teepees for innumerable generations), she starts to read about the not-so-distant past (the West’s abrupt and bloody transformation in the latter 19th century) and, most importantly, she starts to feel the absences, so recent in natural history terms, that echo across the land.
Savage is not ploughing entirely new ground here. Sharon Butala, an Eastend resident herself, wrote hauntingly about the Prairies’ new human emptiness seven years ago in Lilac Moon. But Savage extends her own journal of the plague years to cover the wider destruction of the natural world: the wolves, the birds, the plains grizzly—in the winter of 1871-72 a single Hudson’s Bay post acquired 750 local bearskins—and, of course, the buffalo. In little more than a decade, millions of creatures were gone, and so too, at least from our sight, were tens of thousands of humans, made “refugees in their home and native land, launched on a journey of desolation.” Forget the residential schools, Savage seems to be saying, this is the primal sin, the one we have yet to face up to.
By Mark Richardson - Wednesday, July 25, 2012 at 10:28 AM - 0 Comments
Medicine Hat, Alberta – Day 42
Trans-Canada distance: 5,849 km
Actual distance driven: 12,852 …
Medicine Hat, Alberta – Day 42
Trans-Canada distance: 5,849 km
Actual distance driven: 12,852 km
THEN: (Gull Lake, Sask.) In 1912, there were no road maps to guide the way west. Thomas Wilby wrote that he and Jack Haney were led across the prairie by a local driver along roads and tracks “of the most amazing description, wheeling and returning on his course at the most unexpected places, and darting across the rough stubble while his car swayed and pitched like a tiny craft caught in a heavy swell.
“We bumped through sand dust and furrows, manoeuvring in wide sweeps like swift-wheeling cavalry until we picked up the railroad in the absence of any other recognized route. Gates had to be opened and shut incessantly, and it was evident that for at least half the time we were on no commonly recognized highway.”
SOMETHING DIFFERENT … (Walsh, Alta.) At the Alberta Welcome Centre, plenty of free tourist literature is readily provided but it costs $2 for a provincial road map. Alberta is the only province to charge visitors for its road maps.
“It’s just always been that way,” says Victor the tourist guide. “We have a road map here from 1987, and it was two bucks back then.”
NOW: (Medicine Hat) There’s little doubt that Alberta’s 55 kilometres of Trans-Canada from the provincial border to here is the best quality of highway I’ve driven since New Brunswick.
It’s smooth and wide and properly painted and well maintained – no seams of bitumen or patched-over potholes. It’s four lanes, safely twinned, and a pleasure to drive underneath the big sky.
Best of all, when it’s time to stop for fuel, gas is selling for $1.15.9 / litre, which is a far cry from the $1.35 of Newfoundland and Northern Ontario last month.
SOMETHING FROM TRISTAN, 12: (Fort Walsh, Sask.)
Today we went to Fort Walsh. We looked at many artifacts and then watched a movie on the history of the Fort Walsh massacre.
We eventually made our way down to the actual fort and watched a cannon being fired because a group of people had arranged for it. Everyone was saying how loud the cannon was, but compared to other cannons that I’ve heard it wasn’t actually that bad.
We also had a little bit of a tour of the camp before we had to leave for Medicine Hat because the CAA had to take pictures of my dad and the car.
Cypress Hills in my opinion was a great escape from the long flat prairie and now that we are in Alberta we won’t be seeing prairie for much longer.
By Mark Richardson - Tuesday, July 24, 2012 at 7:22 AM - 0 Comments
Trans-Canada Trek, Day 41: ‘Today I realized the true meaning of boredom’
Swift Current, Saskatchewan – Day 41
Trans-Canada distance: 5,627 km
Actual distance driven: 12,466 km
THEN: (Ernfold, Sask.) This rural town, 68 kilometres east of Swift Current and with a population of 21, is surely the only community in the country that lies in the Trans-Canada Highway.
Warren Beach has lived here almost all his 55 years. He remembers when the road was a single two-lane stretch of asphalt, and then when it was twinned in 1973 to become a four-lane highway. But to avoid razing the town that lay to the south of the road, the eastbound two lanes branched way off to the south, as far as three kilometres away from the westbound lanes. Much of Warren’s 3,600 acres of ranch land lies between the opposing lanes of highway, as does the town itself.
“It makes it kind of novel,” he says. “You think of it as like the railway once was: it was the link of Canada, the lifeline of Canada. That’s what the Trans-Canada is now. We’ve always felt here that we’re kind of close to civilization, and it’s because of that highway. You go 15 miles south of here and you feel you’re in the middle of nowhere, but the Trans-Canada makes you feel less isolated.”
Warren took me in his pickup truck along the track that formed the original graded gravel road across the province. It’s the road that Perry Doolittle would have driven in 1925, when he wrote enthusiastically about the gravel and cinders that Saskatchewan spread on the sticky gumbo of its clay highways, and that Alex Macfarlane would have driven in 1946 to win the Todd Medal, before it was replaced in the early 1950s with the construction of the new Trans-Canada.
We spoke for a long time while a prairie storm approached about the decline of western rural communities, and the effect of the railway and later highways on its residents. Ernfold used to be a thriving town of as many as 300 people, but it’s now rundown and without facilities – just a few homes among the boarded-up houses between the Trans-Canada.
“It wasn’t the highway that did that to Ernfold,” says Warren. “The factors that killed this community were in place long before. It was the ongoing development of the West. Technology has changed the way we live. We don’t need communities every nine miles any more. Everything is more centralized now, and it’s centralized in the city – that’s where the heavy capital comes from that services the rural communities. Rural life is changing. But it’s all ongoing; it’s still going on.”
NOW: (Moose Jaw) The 60-kilometre stretch of Trans-Canada between Regina and Moose Jaw was renamed the Highway of Heroes in a ceremony last November. It’s now one of five provinces to honour Canadian soldiers.
The most recent was New Brunswick, which decided to give the name to its entire 900 kilometres of TCH earlier this summer. I wrote about it earlier in this journey in this blog post.
However, I still think this cheapens the original Highway of Heroes, which is the 150 kilometres of Highway 401 from the air base at Trenton, Ontario, to the coroner’s office in Toronto. This is the stretch of asphalt along which the hearses travel that contain the bodies of the fallen soldiers who are being delivered home, and people line the road’s bridges to pay their respects whenever a procession passes.
No such thing happens on the TCH in Saskatchewan. Sure, the provincial government stated in a press release for the renaming that both Regina and Moose Jaw “were important bases to the Air Training Program during the Second World War and an active military presence in both cities remains today.” But why not follow Nova Scotia’s example and honour our soldiers by naming the TCH simply as a Veterans’ Highway? This would allow the Ontario portion of road to be accorded the unique recognition it deserves.
SOMETHING INTERESTING … (Moose Jaw) Tristan and I stopped at the giant moose on the edge of town to find out if it really is anatomically correct. It is, sort of, though nothing that a male moose ought to be too proud of.
While there, we met Jack and Karen from Syracuse, New York. They were holding onto a copy of today’s Regina Leader-Post, in which there was a story about this journey. (I worked at the Leader-Post in the summer of 1988, so it was a little strange to be the person interviewed for the story.) They had driven out to the Pacific on American roads and were now returning along the Canadian highway.
“This is a good road – we’ve got no complaints,” they said. I forgot to ask, though, how they fared in the Banff area, where the Trans-Canada was closed just a few days ago by a mud slide and traffic was stranded on the road overnight.
SOMETHING FROM TRISTAN, 12 … (Swift Current) Today I realized the true meaning of boredom. Today, I was stuck in the car by myself for about an hour. (Dad’s note: He refused to come along when Warren Beach and I invited him to drive with us to the nearby track that was once the main provincial highway.)
All I had was my dad’s iPhone that didn’t have like any good apps on it. I was basically just scanning bar codes on magazines with the scanner app the whole time. I eventually fell asleep for about 10 minutes I think when my dad finally arrived. But other than that, today was pretty ok.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, July 16, 2012 at 1:16 PM - 0 Comments
It’s no wonder people around Abernethy feel strongly about this National Historic Site. It costs less than $400,000/year to operate as a vital community asset, tourist attraction, educational tool, job creator, and living monument to a prairie hero. But none of that matters to Stephen Harper. Like that tree nursery at nearby Indian Head, the Motherwell Homestead got chopped in this year’s budget. It’s being drastically downsized and left to languish as a pale shadow of what it used to be.
This is a dumb decision. But worse still, it’s biased and discriminatory. While the Motherwell Homestead is being gutted, the Harper Conservatives are putting $2.5-million into the home-riding of Treasury Board Minister Tony Clement for a National Historic Site near Muskoka, Ontario. Remember “pork-barrel” Tony? He’s the Harper Minister who mis-spent $50-million without lawful authority on sheer waste (e.g., ornamental gazebos and sidewalks to nowhere) to puff-up his riding before the G-8 fiasco there in 2010. Now he gets yet another spending boondoggle, while Abernethy gets cut. Why?
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, June 25, 2012 at 11:00 AM - 0 Comments
Thomas Mulcair rallies in Saskatchewan.
“I know that the vast majority of people in Saskatchewan believe that polluters should pay,” he said. “It’s not sustainable development to let people use the air, the soil and the water as an unlimited dumping ground that they don’t pay for. You have to include those costs whenever you have any form of production, whether it’s a factory or a natural resource … It’s a false debate to oppose economy and environment; the two go hand in hand.
“The basic question is do we allow companies now to receive subsidies to develop natural resources, especially extractive industries, without assuming the cost in this generation. We think that’s wrong,” he added, reiterating that a Canadian dollar inflated due to resource development has “caused the hollowing out of the manufacturing sector.”
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, June 4, 2012 at 11:26 AM - 0 Comments
The NDP points to the Alberta budget to support Thomas Mulcair’s position that the high dollar has hurt the manufacturing sector. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has concerns, but Mr. Mulcair rejects the idea of a regional fight.
“What I’ve said since the beginning is I didn’t want to deal with anybody else but Stephen Harper,” Mulcair said. “I’ll work with all the provinces. – If they want to turn this into a provincial federal fight with me, I’ll set the record straight every time, saying I’m not looking in any way to have the debate with them. I want to work with them. My debate is with Stephen Harper.”
The federal official Opposition leader also rejected the notion he is pitting the eastern part of the country against the West, saying that is “how some of my political adversaries are trying to portray it. ”Some people were trying to change the message, setting up an east-west straw man, saying that’s what it was about,” he said. “But that’s not the case. Since the beginning, this has been about sustainable development. Some people have tried to turn that into, ‘Oh, they’re attacking us personally.’ ”Having seen that sort of exercise before in my home province, I’m immune to it. I’ll keep talking over it and I’ll keep setting the record straight, as I’m doing now, and make it very clear that we want an energy future that is sustainable, we want an economic future that’s sustainable.”
Meanwhile, Stephen Gordon looks at who benefits from oil sands development.
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Monday, May 28, 2012 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
An exhibit that teaches teens about sex came and went in Regina. In Ottawa, it’s been labelled ‘insulting.’
When Sandy Baumgartner left Ottawa and moved back home to Regina 3½ years ago, it was for the usual reasons: friends and family, cheaper housing and the slower pace of life. But now the executive director of the Saskatchewan Science Centre can add another plus to the Queen City’s ledger—it’s far less prudish than Canada’s capital. Sex: A Tell-all Exhibition, developed in consultation with teachers, doctors and sexologists to educate teenagers about their bodies and desires, won an award when it premiered at the Centre des sciences de Montréal in 2010. Last summer in Regina, it came and went with barely a complaint. When the exact same exhibit opened at the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa on May 17, however, it was greeted by hundreds of public objections and denounced by James Moore, the federal minister of heritage, as “insulting” to taxpayers.
“The talk shows tried to get something going here, but it just didn’t generate any controversy,” says Baumgartner. She’d been concerned enough about the show’s frank content—which covers not just the usual biology but also sexually transmitted diseases and a vast spectrum of bedroom activities—that she had consulted widely before bringing it to town. Almost all of the feedback, including from the provincial minister of culture, was encouraging. “And the people who didn’t think it was a good idea just didn’t come.”
The controversy in Ottawa began with a socially conservative think tank, the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada. Started in 2006, with seed money from the American evangelical movement Focus on the Family, the IMFC has waded into the debate over same-sex marriage, abortion, tax policy and all-day kindergarten. Protesting the content of museums is a departure from the research-focused agenda, admits Dave Quist, the organization’s executive director, but one they felt was necessary. After being alerted to the exhibit by a member of the public, he arranged for a preview tour and was shocked by its matter-of-fact tone. “It basically reduced sex to a pleasurable act,” he said last week. “The message was, ‘If you enjoy it, go for it.’ ”
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, May 17, 2012 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
The NDP leader is scolded by Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.
“Here’s someone who wants to be a national leader, who, for the sake of politics, I think, would risk the economic advantage of the country,” Wall said. ”I work for the people of Saskatchewan and if Mr. Mulcair is wondering for whom I am a messenger, I am a messenger for the people of Saskatchewan and for the economic interests of this province.”
And dismissed by B.C. Finance Minister Kevin Falcon.
“Of course not. The prime minister or the finance minister has never phoned me to suggest what we should be saying about ignorant comments that a national leader may say,” he said. “I’m just telling you exactly what I think about those comments. When I read them, at the time, I was shaking my head. I just could not believe it,” he added.
Alberta Premier Alison Redford expands on her concerns via Facebook.
His claims about unregulated development and disregard for the environment are false. I would also like to make it clear to Mr. Mulcair that as Premier of Alberta I expect that someone would have the courtesy to properly inform themselves rather than making disparaging comments about Alberta.
By Charlie Gillis - Thursday, April 19, 2012 at 10:31 AM - 0 Comments
Aboriginal communities say decades-old bans on alcohol failed to curb abuse. Not everyone agrees.
As a young man in the mid-1980s, Glenn Pelletier took elaborate steps before coming home to the Cowessess First Nation, the reserve in southeastern Saskatchewan where he grew up. Pelletier, who was working in Calgary at the time, would pull over his 1972 Mercury Montego before reaching reserve land so he could stash his weekend supply of whisky in his rusted hulk of a car. Cowessess was a dry community—or so Pelletier thought. “I figured if I got stopped there and the cops found my liquor, they’d take it away,” he says. “So I’d put it under the seat, in the trunk, in a suitcase. Wherever.”
Years later, Pelletier learned the truth: Cowessess was not officially dry in those days, and never had been. All that time, his elders had hoodwinked him and his friends, throwing around the phrase “dry reserve” so often the youngsters assumed the band had passed a bylaw imposing prohibition. It was a masterpiece of brainwashing—and testimony to the power of an idea. At the time, the “dry” movement was sweeping Aboriginal communities across Canada, where leaders saw it as a means of curbing the catastrophic effect of alcohol abuse on their populations. Why wouldn’t Cowessess do the same?
Much has changed. Pelletier, now a band councillor, hasn’t taken a drink in seven years. And prohibition is an idea that he and many Aboriginals are happy to leave behind. In February, 67 per cent of residents in the remote Arctic hamlet of Kimmirut voted to rescind their dry status, bringing the number of dry communities in Nunavut to six, down from eight just a few years ago. Voters opted instead for a system where residents wishing to ship liquor into the community can apply to an “alcohol education committee.” The decision stunned outsiders, because Kimmirut had been the site of an alcohol-fuelled shooting of a young RCMP officer in 2007, an incident that drew nationwide attention to the hamlet’s substance abuse problems.
By Luiza Ch. Savage - Tuesday, February 14, 2012 at 10:30 AM - 0 Comments
Will new technologies make North American energy self-sufficiency a reality?
The rural state of North Dakota is famous mainly for its rough weather. Its largest city, Fargo, is best known to outsiders as the title of a noir movie in which a body is fed through a wood chipper. With a population half the size of Winnipeg’s scattered across rugged plains, it once held the distinction of being the least-visited state in the U.S. But today, so many people are flocking to North Dakota that there is nowhere to put them. In a nation beset by joblessness, workers are coming here in such numbers that an estimated 15,000 people are now living in trailers, cars, corporate “man camps” and other forms of makeshift housing. So scarce are places to sleep that in 2010 one firm housed some of its workers by trucking in a chunk of Vancouver’s recently used Olympic Village to the overwhelmed city of Williston.
The reason is an oil boom. Production in the state has surged from 100,000 barrels per day in 2007 to 500,000 barrels per day and growing—almost overnight making North Dakota the fourth-largest producer in the U.S., and on its way to becoming second only to Texas. And, like the Alberta oil sands boomtown of Fort McMurray—whose mayor recently visited to offer advice (“Plan ahead!”)—Williston is abruptly bursting.“First it got hard to find the hotel rooms. Then it was housing. Now it’s everything,” says Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council. The state is racing to build more houses, roads, schools and hospitals. The biggest sign of change: “Young people in the communities,” says Ness—sons and daughters are not leaving the state to look for work as soon as they turn of age. It’s been, he says, a “renaissance—and a challenge.”
A rebirth of the local economy is the least of it. The oil boom under way here is part of a global transformation with far-reaching consequences for matters of warfare, the environment and modern life. Like Alberta’s oil sands, the sudden bonanza in North Dakota is driven by recent technological advances that have, for the first time, made it economically viable to extract oil (and natural gas) from previously untappable geological formations—so-called “unconventional” fuel trapped in rock. Such formations have been discovered elsewhere around the United States, but for years sat fallow as a mere curiosity. Suddenly, however, the technology is available to get the oil and gas out. And the rise of the feasibility this type of oil and gas extraction is poised to transform the geopolitics of energy.
In spite of the considerable environmental and logistical challenges involved, these developments have led to feverish calls for “energy independence.” The prospect that the U.S. could fulfill all its own energy needs from domestic sources, plus those from friendly neighbours such as Canada, has become a rallying cry for the Republican presidential candidates who are attacking President Barack Obama for standing in the way of job creation and “energy security.” Obama’s decision to deny a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have moved Alberta oil sands crude to refineries on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, has become a staple topic on the Republican presidential trail. In November, the Obama administration did move to open more areas in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska to offshore drilling, but banned development along the East and West Coast, fuelling more criticism from industry groups and Republicans.
The debate over North American energy security has been unfolding against the backdrop of the unpredictable Arab Spring in the Middle East and North Africa, home to 70 per cent or more of the world’s known conventional oil reserves. “The Arab world is very possibly at the beginning of the great revolutionary period of the 21st century,” says Paul Sullivan, an economics professor at the National Defense University in Washington. “Nobody really knows how long this will go and how it will all play out.” Of course, non-oil-producing states like Egypt and Syria are in chaos. But tensions continue to threaten some of the region’s largest producers, like Libya, Algeria, Bahrain, even Saudi Arabia.
And now the discussion has been sent into overdrive by recent threats by Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz—a choke point on the Persian Gulf separating Iran from Oman—as retaliation for harsh economic sanctions over its nuclear program and the threat of a military attack on its nuclear facilities. The Strait of Hormuz is only 54 km wide, but each day, 15 million barrels of oil—17 per cent of the oil consumed by the world—move through the waterway. It would be a global disaster.
The rise of North America as an energy power is starting to get attention overseas. “A few years ago, much of the global debate was based on the premise of acute resource scarcity and its economic and political ramifications,” said Khalid al-Falih, the head of Saudi Arabia’s state-owned energy company, Aramco, in a speech on Nov. 21. But, he added, “Rather than supply scarcity, oil supplies remain at comfortable levels, even given rising demand from fast-growing nations like China and India.” The reason? Abundant supplies and a “more balanced geographical distribution of unconventionals”—such as the new sources now being developed by Canada and the United States.
Canadians are among the loudest voices in the U.S. selling a vision of continental energy independence. One of the pitchmen is Brad Wall, the premier of Saskatchewan, who gives several U.S. speeches a year on energy. Speaking in December to conservative lawmakers from around the U.S. who had gathered in Phoenix, Ariz., he urged the audience to choose Canadian oil over what he calls “extreme oil” that depends on the U.S. military presence abroad. “I think we should have a broader goal continentally to move toward energy independence,” Wall told Maclean’s afterward. “Maybe this should be the moon mission of the next couple of decades.”
There is also a view that North American energy independence should include “Canadian energy independence.” Currently, Canada is a net exporter, producing more oil (2.5 million barrels per day) than Canadians consume (1.85 million). However, most Canadian production is exported from western provinces to the U.S., while about half of the crude used by Canadian refiners to meet domestic demand comes from imports—44 per cent of that from OPEC countries and 37 per cent from the North Sea, according to Natural Resources Canada. (The reason is the cost-effectiveness of exporting western oil to relatively closer American refineries, rather than moving it to refineries in Atlantic Canada, Ontario and Quebec.)
But are the Canadian and American unconventional sources enough to fuel continental energy independence—or, at the very least, to wean America off Middle Eastern oil? The number to start with is 19.1 million barrels—the amount of petroleum products the U.S. consumed per day in 2010, according to the U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration. Most of that was used for transportation.
The U.S. only produced about half of that—9.4 million barrels per day (counting crude oil, natural gas liquids and biofuels)—leaving a gap of about 9.7 million barrels to be supplied through imports. Canada contributed the largest share—one-quarter. The next biggest supplier was Saudi Arabia, at 12 per cent, followed by Nigeria, Venezuela, Mexico and others. All told, OPEC members (Persian Gulf states, African countries, Venezuela and Ecuador) supplied about half of U.S. imports—already down from a peak of 70 per cent in 1977. So in order to eliminate oil from hostile or unstable sources at its current level of consumption, the U.S. would have to replace roughly five million barrels per day. Can it?
The U.S. domestic oil industry says yes—“Drill, baby, drill!” By ramping up domestic U.S. production and increasing imports from Canada, the United States could end its reliance on all other sources. “If the full potential of domestic oil and gas production could be achieved while also increasing imports of Canadian oil, all of America’s liquid fuels could come from secure North American sources within 15 years,” says Jack Gerard, the head of the American Petroleum Institute, an industry group.
The API hired consulting firm Wood Mackenzie to analyze a scenario of maximal North American oil production. They looked at what would happen if “all impediments” to extracting oil within the U.S. and off its shores were lifted. Under their scenario, drilling would be allowed in currently restricted areas off the coast of Alaska, the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, the eastern Gulf of Mexico, the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, and in portions of the Rocky Mountains. This would also include lifting a moratorium on shale drilling in New York state, and speeding up drilling permits in the Gulf of Mexico that were slowed after the BP oil spill. In addition, Canadian oil sands pipelines into the U.S. would be fully developed so that the United States can absorb the expected increases of Canadian oil sands production.
The report concluded that without any change to current policies, U.S. production would increase only slightly above current levels. But if development was encouraged, U.S. production could surge to 15.4 million barrels per day in 2030 (not counting biofuels). The extra six million barrels would slightly exceed the portion of current consumption that comes from overseas. In addition, if enough pipeline capacity is built, Canadian oil sands production would increase from 1.6 million barrels per day in 2010 to 5.8 million in 2030. “By 2030, we could be very close if not equal to not having to import from other places in the world.” says John Felmy, chief economist for the API.
Already, the United States has seen a boom in natural gas production, thanks to the same technology that is enabling the oil boom: hydraulic fracking. This process pumps millions of litres of water and chemicals underground to break apart rock and release natural gas or oil. It is used to extract natural gas from underground shale formations such as the Marcellus in the northeastern part of the country, and the Eagle Ford and Barnett in Texas. Not only does the U.S. now produce enough natural gas to cover its own needs, but it is expected to soon become a natural gas exporter. Meanwhile, the abundant supplies have driven down prices for consumers, and have raised the possibility of replacing gasoline with natural gas for some vehicles such as buses and trucks, and for industrial plants to be adapted to run on natural gas—helping to reduce dependence on oil.
“Natural gas could conceivably become the basis of a vehicle fuel in the long run,” says Washington-based independent energy analyst Joseph Dukert, although, he adds, “We still have a long way to go before that happens. There is room for natural gas to penetrate the industrial energy market to a greater extent—but it would involve bringing in new types of equipment. Industry has been reluctant to move in that direction so it might take some nudging from the government.”
As for oil supplies, Canada is not the only neighbour that could help the U.S. move off of Middle Eastern oil. Oil giant BP has looked at the broader picture in the western hemisphere and concluded that if oil reserves trapped deep below the ocean off the coast of Brazil are developed, self-sufficiency is within reach by 2030. “The growth of unconventional supply, including U.S. shale oil and gas, Canadian oil sands and Brazilian deep-waters, against a background of a gradual decline in oil demand, will see the western hemisphere become almost totally energy self-sufficient by 2030,” the company concluded in a report on Jan. 18.
But on the opposite end of the spectrum are advocates for the surest form of independence: ending reliance on oil altogether. According to the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, a “comprehensive but achievable” clean energy strategy could cut America’s oil consumption by seven million barrels a day by 2030—more than enough to displace all imports, at today’s consumption level at least, from hostile and unstable countries.
The biggest piece of the NRDC’s strategy is a major increase in fuel efficiency. Already the Obama administration has taken a substantial step in that direction. Last November, the President announced new mileage rules for passenger cars and light trucks. Beginning in model year 2017, fuel-efficiency rates will have to start rising five per cent until they reach an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025—nearly double the fuel efficiency of today’s car. If the vehicle fleet on the road today had that efficiency rate, it would reduce U.S. oil consumption by 1.7 million barrels per day, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Under the NRDC’s plan, emissions standards should be increased further—to 60 miles per gallon by 2025—and seven per cent of all passenger-vehicle miles be travelled using plug-in electric vehicles. The estimated savings if the plan went into effect would be 2.8 million barrels a day by 2030. For additional savings, fuel-efficiency standards for new medium- and heavy-duty trucks would be increased from six to 10 miles per gallon, old vehicles retrofitted, and large numbers of heavy trucks switched from diesel fuel to natural gas. The rest of the plan consists of long-term changes to urban design and lifestyles—such as expanding public transit and planning “smart communities” that require less driving and commuting, a savings of 1.6 million barrels per day. Another 1.6 million barrels per day could be saved by a combination of conservation initiatives, including fuel-efficient replacement tires and motor oil. “The fact of the matter is that the lowest hanging fruit lie in efficiency and clean fuel technology,” says Anthony Swift, an attorney for the NRDC.
Environmentalists also argue that reducing supply is a more “secure” form of energy independence. The price of oil is set by global markets regardless of whether oil is produced in the U.S. or imported from Canada, so instability in the Middle East that leads to price hikes will still be felt by North American consumers. “Should OPEC or any other major exporter choose to cut off supplies to any country, supply shortages and a price spike are likely to affect every major importing country regardless of where they get their oil,” says Swift.
The National Defense University’s Sullivan, though, says that energy security is greater when supply is guaranteed, even if prices are high: it’s the difference between paying more at the pump—and a scenario under which no oil can be had at any price. Still, the maximalist North American production scenario is unlikely to happen in the kind of time frame contemplated by the oil industry, or ever, given environmental concerns, political opposition and infrastructure challenges. Witness the years of delay and impediments to building the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would have helped move not only Alberta crude but also domestic U.S. shale oil. Or take the mounting opposition to the hydraulic fracking that underpins so much of new domestic production—a major concern for environmentalists as well as local communities concerned about the possibility that the aquifers that supply their drinking water could be contaminated by chemicals.
There is also reason to be pessimistic about the political prospects of achieving independence purely by reducing fossil fuel consumption through greater conservation and the use of renewable “green” energy sources. A case in point is the controversy that erupted over the Obama administration’s half-billion-dollar loan guarantee to solar-panel-maker Solyndra Corporation in 2009. The company went bankrupt and taxpayers were left on the hook, in a debacle that critics have made into a poster child for wasteful government efforts to expand clean energy production faster than market forces would do on their own.
Indeed, the most likely way to reach oil independence by 2030 is probably a combination of some increase in production, alongside further reductions in demand. “In order for North America to become energy independent, there would have to be substantial changes in the demand side of the equation as well as supply,” says Joseph Dukert, an independent energy analyst in Washington. Murray Smith, a former Alberta energy minister and the province’s former envoy to Washington, agrees. “If you sat down and formed a presidential commission and said, ‘How do we do this? How do we get to the math?’ you could come very close to energy independence. It would require some increased availability of drilling in the U.S., changing natural gas into a transportation fuel, and it would require further savings on making the hydrocarbon molecule more efficient, and increasing the level of diesel engine penetration in the marketplace.” Smith adds, “I don’t think it’s a dream out of reach—but it’s an elusive dream. You have to commit to it.”
But rather than Americans uniting around a plan for the future, the politics have become divided. The pro-drilling advocates and the anti-oil advocates have taken to the barricades, as the Keystone and Solyndra clashes show. Republicans and Democrats have made energy a partisan issue. Each side has enthusiasm and fundraising for their cause—be it from the oil industry or national environmental groups. There is little evidence of a constituency for a compromise approach that could realistically take North American energy independence from buzzword to reality.
“It would be best to have a full, comprehensive energy security policy, but this is unlikely to happen any time soon,” Sullivan testified to a congressional committee earlier this year. “It seems we will need to settle for ad hoc improvements in the diversification of supplies and other ad hoc policy measures, until the real shocks hit us in waves upon waves upon waves of economic and energy security woes.”
By Anne Kingston - Friday, January 13, 2012 at 12:58 PM - 0 Comments
Brad Wall: ‘It’s a good day in the province of Saskatchewan’
Yesterday Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall left the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) and the MS Society of Canada in the dust when he announced his government has allocated $2.2 million for 86 multiple sclerosis patients in Saskatchewan to participate in Phase II clinical trials into chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency, or CCSVI, currently underway in Albany, NY. (Phase II trials consist of randomized treatment in a clinical setting, as opposed to Phase I trials, which research the safety and efficacy of a drug or procedure.) Applications, which will be accepted until Feb. 24 from patients who fit trial criteria, will be chosen randomly. Results from the lottery, one destined to be oversubscribed, could be announced as early as March. “It’s a good day in the province of Saskatchewan,” the premier said at a press conference, adding that very few residents of his province, which has one of the country’s highest incidence of MS per capita, have not been touched by the disease. He also noted the FDA has approved the Albany trial, the largest double-blinded study yet into the venous angioplasty treatment for MS pioneered by Italian vascular specialist Paolo Zamboni.
Anyone following the tortuous politics in the battle for CCSVI clinical trials in Canada over the past two years couldn’t help but read the comment as a not-so oblique reference to the fact the CIHR, which did an about-face on a previous decision not to fund clinical trials last year, has yet to announce its research team into Phase I trials (Phase II trials aren’t on the radar). Or that the MS Society, which allocated $700,000 into ongoing studies reviewing only the efficacy of CCSVI scanning, not treatment, has not exactly been a trailblazer on the issue, one that has dominated MS-patient activism in the past two years.
In sending Canadian MS patients to the U.S., after failing to get a home-grown trial off the ground, the premier is also debunking any myth that Canada is “a leader” in CCSVI research. Though the Albany trial is expected to take two years, Wall is already strategizing. While saying he didn’t want to get ahead of himself, the premier did allow that “if we find any symptom relief for MS, treatments that work for the many who suffer—the 3,500 plus in this province—I think it will be incumbent on the province of Saskatchewan to provide those proven and efficacious treatment to those patients.” Those are compassionate words. They’re also fighting words, suggesting that Saskatchewan, the home of once-universal Canadian health care, could also be ground zero for furthering CCSVI science—and possibly providing new treatment for a mysterious, incurable condition that afflicts so many Canadians.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, November 7, 2011 at 10:13 PM - 7 Comments
Early returns give the Saskatchewan Party 49 or 50 of the province’s 58 seats.
That would be the biggest win in a Saskatchewan election since the NDP won 55 of 66 seats in 1991. Nine (or ten) would be the lowest New Democrat total since 1982.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, June 27, 2011 at 1:15 PM - 0 Comments
Matthew P. Harrington argues against the currently proposed Senate reforms.
At present, the Senate is regarded as a deferential body, confining itself largely to amending or revising legislation passed by the Commons, largely because senators lack democratic legitimacy.
Once members of the Senate are themselves elected, however, there is little justification for their continued deference to the House. After all, a senator elected by an entire province arguably has a stronger mandate to govern than members of the Commons, who are sent to Ottawa by relatively small segments of the electorate. This would create increased opportunity for gridlock as members of the Senate and Commons disagree over legislation.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, May 27, 2011 at 3:53 PM - 8 Comments
Vermont’s governor signs into law a single payer health care system. Tommy Douglas references ensue.
Vermont has become an incubator for innovative public policy. Canada’s single payer healthcare system started as an experiment in one province, Saskatchewan. It was pushed through in the early 1960s by Saskatchewan’s premier, Tommy Douglas, considered by many to be the greatest Canadian. It was so successful, it was rapidly adopted by all of Canada. (Douglas is the grandfather of actor Kiefer Sutherland.) Perhaps Vermont’s healthcare law will start a similar, national transformation.
A Washington congressman similarly invoked the father of Canadian health care earlier this month.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, May 19, 2011 at 2:07 PM - 11 Comments
“I think it takes away momentum for change at the provincial level and it will probably increase calls that we hear from time to time just saying, ‘Do we really need this institution?’” Wall told reporters at the provincial legislature Wednesday.
Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter is also unimpressed.
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, May 3, 2011 at 3:27 PM - 23 Comments
Union wants one-time 12 per cent raise
Teachers in Saskatchewan plan to walk off the job on Thursday for a “study day and rally” after 95 per cent voted in favour of job action last week. The Saskatchewan Teacher’s Federation wants a 12 per cent increase in pay over the next year. The province’s school boards have offered 5.5 per cent over three years. Alberta’s teachers currently make 20 per cent more than their colleagues to the east. The teachers say they will return to class Friday.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, April 20, 2011 at 4:25 PM - 87 Comments
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall decides that the nation needs his constitutional insight and issues a written statement.
The party that wins the most seats on May 2 should be recognized as the government, period. If that were to be the Liberals, I would join with other Canadians in accepting this result and recognizing Mr. Ignatieff as our next Prime Minister. However, if the Conservatives win the most seats but come up short of a majority, I would expect Mr. Ignatieff and his party to accept that result … Ironically, this election was caused by a confidence vote over “contempt for Parliament.” I can think of no greater contempt for Parliament or for Canadian voters than the spectre of a party leader refusing to recognize the democratic outcome of the election.
By Kate Lunau - Friday, March 25, 2011 at 4:09 PM - 12 Comments
As communities line up for a shot at storing Canada’s nuclear waste, the industry’s opponents point to the Fukushima Daiichi plant
Bruce Fidler is the mayor of Creighton, Sask., a town of about 1,500 people on the border with Manitoba. “It’s pretty much a one industry community,” he says. “Mining is the largest employer we’ve got.” If Fidler gets his way, that could one day change: this town could become a nuclear waste dump. Continue…
By macleans.ca - Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 10:20 AM - 1 Comment
Who’s suing whom
Nova Scotia: A 33-year-old man is suing a pub in Dartmouth, alleging that early one morning last May he was left “highly intoxicated” after being “over-served alcohol.” He claims that the bar is liable for the resulting car accident and injuries he sustained as a result of driving drunk. A bartender at the pub denied the charge.
Ontario: Tobacco farmers in Ontario have launched a $500-million class-action lawsuit in federal court against Ottawa for failing to collect taxes from illegal smoke shacks. The suit alleges that Ottawa ignored “flagrant violations” of the prohibition on the sale of black-market tobacco.
Manitoba: A Winnipeg man is suing a North Dakota hotel for damages, alleging to have suffered head and neck injuries because an attendant was not in place on the receiving end of a waterslide. The man is seeking $194,000 for medical bills and other economic losses, and at least $75,000 for personal injuries. Lawyers for the hotel say the lawsuit has no merit and asked that it be dismissed.
By Andrew Coyne - Thursday, November 4, 2010 at 2:00 PM - 0 Comments
COYNE: Why we need fundamental reforms to our foreign investment laws
They say the stakes are high in this potash business, but really, I’d no idea. Apparently, if BHP Billiton’s bid for Potash Corporation goes through, a part of Saskatchewan will have to be dug up and moved to Australia.
Or what else can Ralph Goodale possibly have been on about? The normally phlegmatic Liberal deputy leader—and the party’s only Saskatchewan MP—had been in high flight for weeks over the deal. As federal officials pondered whether the takeover was of “net benefit” to Canada, he appeared to enter the stratosphere.
“Never before has there been a takeover of this magnitude,” he quivered, denouncing the deal as a “fire sale” of one of our “key national champions.” And not just a single company: “Canadians will lose control of an entire industry.” And not just the industry: “53 per cent of the world’s reserves [of potash] are in Saskatchewan, and that’s about to move into foreign ownership, presumably permanently.” To sum up: “At stake here is the global supply of a strategic resource vital to food production for generations to come.”
By macleans.ca - Thursday, November 4, 2010 at 12:20 PM - 0 Comments
What you’re thinking
Quebec: Quebecers are the most likely to gossip at dinner parties. More than four in 10 say that friends’ chatter around the table revolves around family gossip, celebrities, or friends who aren’t there. British Columbians, by contrast, are the most weighty in terms of dinnertime conversations, with 68 per cent claiming that discussions are usually focused on current affairs—or so they say.
Ontario: Over 54 per cent of entrepreneurs in the province (and 56 per cent nationwide) believe they’ve had it easy in the recession, saying the downturn has had no effect, or even a positive one on the bottom line. The outlier is Toronto, the country’s financial engine, where only 47 per cent of small businesses claim to have ridden out the crisis without suffering a few bumps along the way.
By Colby Cosh - Thursday, November 4, 2010 at 9:40 AM - 0 Comments
In opposing the Potash Corp. takeover, is the province protecting Canada’s interests, or its own bottom line?
Saskatchewan, says its premier, Brad Wall, is in the world spotlight. “If you were watching the Google trends back in August,” he said at an Oct. 21 speech in Regina, “when the BHP Billiton hostile takeover story broke, you would have seen a real spike in terms of the number of stories with the word Saskatchewan. In fact, we broke our own record in terms of the number of media stories around the world involving the word Saskatchewan.”
The previous record, he added sheepishly, was set after the province’s beloved Roughriders lost the 2009 Grey Cup by having 13 players on the ﬁeld for a key play. “So there have been some unintended beneﬁts to all of this.”
Not everyone is so sure that attention is a good thing right now, as Wall strives to block the hostile takeover of Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan (PCS) by the Anglo-Australian mining giant. BHP Billiton would derive a bonus from the deal, since it is already building the world’s largest potash mine near the village of Jansen, 150 km east of Saskatoon. The first ore from the site is not expected until 2015 at the earliest, but with BHP and PCS merged, the new company could immediately subtract the capital costs of Jansen from royalty payments that PCS mines are currently contributing. Moving forward, that writeoff is expected to save BHP and cost the Saskatchewan treasury about $200 million a year over the next decade.