Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Showdown With Big Oil-- Ed. Sun

When these are the types of editorials written by those most sympathetic to the tarsand producers, we know the tide is slowly yet surely turning.


Showdown With Big Oil
April 3, 2007

There’s a battle brewing out there. People are getting right ticked off.

The boom-to-end-all-booms is starting to look like a bust for many. And they are getting mad.

Already Premier Ed Stelmach has three not-in-my-backyard movements going in his constituency alone.

Maybe four, if the decision handed down by Provincial Court Judge Peter Ayotte in Vegreville last week sets the tone around the province.

The evidence piled up against farmers and ranchers land rights advocate Ray Strom by a trio of petroleum land agents – representing Exxon Mobil, Encana and Aquila Networks – was too strong.

Ayotte was forced to throw the book at Strom.

This, despite the Alberta Surface Rights Federation’s “Strom Defence Fund” which was kicked off to raise cash and help out with the Two Hills land reps’ legal expenses.

Affect rights

“The outcome of this case will affect the overall rights of landowners of the province of Alberta,” the federation’s resolution warned.

The federation’s mission statement blasted the fact that surface rights have become “a dominant bone of contention” in rural Alberta.

And complained bitterly of the “massive transfer of wealth” from the country to the cities – fingering “the government and industry” as the culprits.

The federation was set up to “mount a defence against the takings and trespasses of Big Government and Big Oil” and to defend “our shared cultural values and property rights.”

That appears to be what Strom was doing in Ayotte’s Vegreville court.

And even though he was “guilty as charged” when the provincial government took him to court for acting as a land agent without a licence, it was what the judge said next that should have the Alberta Tories paying attention – and Stelmach reviewing what he really means by an “open and transparent” government.

Especially when he already has a coal mine, a sulphur plant and a feedlot in his constituency with a public protest attached.

Ayotte slammed that “as presently constituted” the PCs’ land agent law “creates an unbalanced playing field favouring the oil and gas industry.”

He added: “It would appear to be landowners ... who suffer the consequences of the imbalance the act creates.”

But the judge noted “those are political not judicial issues.”

And he pretty well begged Strom to appeal the case on constitutional grounds to Court of Queen’s Bench “if they can get no satisfactory redress.”

That process starts Thursday when the ASRF is scheduled to appear before the Alberta Tories’ rural caucus and demand the law be changed to make it fairer for landowners in their showdown with oil companies who want to enter their land to drill wells.

The surface rights federation is also backing the Lavesta Area Group – the NIMBY from Rimbey – in its fight with the Energy and Utilities Board and AltaLink over a power line between Lake Wabamun and Calgary, which they insist is an export line to California in disguise.

The group has taken steps to “compel if that’s what it takes” ex-Alberta premier Ralph Klein to testify before an EUB hearing and explain his “close relationship to the company.”

AltaLink Management lists several key Tories on its board of directors including Calgary Health Region chair David Tuer, ex-provincial treasurer Pat Nelson and former Alberta Economic Development Authority chair Doug Mitchell, whose law firm recently hired Klein as a special consultant.

Trouble broken out

Trouble has broken out in the oilsands, too, after the Sierra Legal Defence Fund and four other environmental groups filed an application in federal court calling for a judicial review of the EUB/federal environment department’s decision to allow Imperial Oil’s massive Kearl oilsands project to go ahead.

The thumbs-up came despite a warning from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans that “over time between 50% and 60% of the Muskeg River watershed would be disturbed as a result of development.

“Resulting in direct loss of fish habitat,” the department warned.

The Sierra Legal Defence Fund complained about “phantom mitigation measures”. And charged that the joint panel has “rubber-stamped another oilsands megaproject in the absence of clear answers about how to restore wetlands, rehabilitate toxic tailings ponds, protect migratory bird populations or address escalating greenhouse gas pollution.”

So it’s see you in court, Ed.

Which seems to be the way things are going in Alberta these days.

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