Of Buffalo and Biofuel - More Tales of Environmentalism in Alberta
By William Walter Kay
The posting contains four articles about environmentalism in Alberta.
Alberta is a cold place blessed with huge coal, oil, and gas resources. Regarding “global warming,” Albertans are inordinately sceptical. Despite this, the Government of Alberta is so concerned with “global warming” it spends $500 million a year assailing this phantom menace.
Albertans are being corralled by an ever-larger, ever-more integrated network of wilderness parks controlled by an increasingly autonomous and zealous green cabal.
Environmentalism’s campaign to steer Alberta away from a resource based economy involves promoting tourism as a viable alternative industry. In keeping with this strategy, official estimates exaggerate Alberta’s tourism sector’s size by a factor of five.
Environmentalists claim wilderness parks preserve Alberta’s “natural heritage.” In reality, Alberta’s environment has undergone so many natural transformations that any talk of preservation betrays an ahistorical, unscientific mindset.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Incredible Shrinking Province of Alberta
Fighting Global Warming From a Freezing Oil Field
Wilderness Tourism is Wildly Overrated
The Myth of Preserving Alberta's Natural Heritage
The Incredible Shrinking Province of Alberta
A “park” is an area of land, identified by legislation, where settlement, agriculture, and resource extraction are either tightly restricted or completely prohibited. Parks are usually governed by semi-autonomous councils. Alberta’s provincial parks go by many names: recreational areas, wildland parks, natural areas, heritage rangelands, wilderness areas, and ecological reserves. The generic term “park” has given way to the term “protected area.”
The term “protected area” begs the question: From whom is this land protected?
Answer: This land is protected from farmers, ranchers, home-builders, oil drillers, miners, loggers, etc. This land is protected from Alberta’s entrepreneurs. The premise underlying parks is that entrepreneurs are destructive people.
In Alberta, the governance of public lands, protected or otherwise, is strewn across several ministries and four boards. Thirty pieces of provincial legislation (five with “conservation” in their titles) involve public land use.
The trends in Alberta park governance are:
- Away from recreation parks and toward restrictive preservation parks.
- Toward more parks.
- Toward larger parks.
- Toward integrated regional park systems.
- Toward institutionalizing environmental activists in park planning and management.
When the Prairie Provinces, Alberta included, entered confederation in 1905, they were not given control over natural resources. Negotiations with Ottawa culminated with the Natural Resources Transfer Agreements (1929) later ratified by the British Government’s Constitution Act (1930). This transfer of lands and resources exempted native reserves, military facilities, and national parks. In Alberta’s instance, Jasper, Banff, Waterton Lakes, Elk Island, and Wood Buffalo National Parks (and three parks since abolished) were retained by Ottawa and placed off limits to resource developers. The Federal Government still controls 10% of Alberta’s landmass.
During its first quarter century, the Alberta Government created no parks. In May 1929 Premier Brownlee (United Farmers of Alberta) struck a committee to consider park development. The committee reported back in November with a list of several potential park sites. In 1930 the legislature passed the Provincial Parks and Protected Areas Act and commissioned a management board.
In 1932 four parks (Gooseberry Lake, Sylvan Lake, Saskatoon Island, and Aspen Beach) were announced. These swimming and picnicking spots covered 4.3 square kilometres (430 hectares). Over the next 20 years little money was allocated for parks.
In 1948 Premier Manning (Social Credit) divided Alberta into White (settled) and Green (unsettled) Zones. Policies blocking settlement in the Green Zone brought the homesteading era to a close. This strategic shift reflected a political alignment of parochial small town merchants and established farmers with metropolitan interests.
(The White Zone, then and now, comprises 39% of provincially-controlled land. Three-quarters of the White Zone is owned by 1.7 million title holders, 50,000 of whom are agriculturalists. Then and now, agricultural land covers one-third of Alberta’s total landmass; however, some pasture has been converted to cropland. Since 1970, while Canada experienced general inflation of 500%, Alberta farmland prices rose 2400%.)
Manning’s Parks Act (1951) established a parks board within the Department of Land and Forests. The 46 parks named between 1951 and 1971 were mainly for recreation. The Transportation Department built highway-side campgrounds and the Forest Service localized camping spots to minimize fire risks.
In 1959 the Willmore Wilderness Park was established with unique legislation. Soon after, three parks (Ghost River, White Goat, and Siffleur) were re-designated into restrictive, preservation-based “wilderness reserves.” Parks Act amendments in 1964 added the concepts “wilderness reserve” and “natural area.” Around the same time, a “natural areas” clause was added to the Public Lands Act. The Wilderness Areas Act (1971) placed the above-mentioned three parks under its purview.
Under Premier Lougheed (Progressive Conservative, 1971-1985), provincial money flowed into recreational and preservation parks. Lougheed’s Policy for Resource Management of the Eastern Slopes (1977) declared “watershed integrity” to be the foothills’ most important land use – while tolerating some oil and gas activity. Wilderness Areas Act amendments in 1980 introduced “natural areas” and “ecological reserves.” During these years, Alberta’s Environment Ministry constructed campgrounds to contain recreational outings.
In 1995 Premier Klein (Progressive Conservative, 1992-2006) launched the Special Places strategic initiative wherein, for the first time, parks were conceived of as networks representing natural regions. A Special Places committee carefully recruited local councils from “stakeholders” – a cohort explicitly including environmentalists. Also in 1995, twenty-nine new “protected areas” were designated and Willmore Wilderness Park Act amendments precluded industrial activity.
In 2001 eighty-one new parks and 13 park expansions added 2 million hectares (20,000 square kilometres) to Alberta’s provincial parks inventory, bringing their total area to 2.8 million hectares.
In response to the park explosion, Alberta’s Energy Ministry issued Information Letter 2003-25 (September 10, 2003) to assure resource companies that the province would honour existing commitments (drilling permits, etc.) in new parks. However, no new permits would be issued regarding these areas.
Between 2004 and 2009 the Alberta Government spent $200 million on park infrastructure.
In 2007 Premier Stelmach (Progressive Conservative, 2006-2011) founded Eagle Point Provincial Park and the Blue Ridge Provincial Recreation Area. In 2008 his government transferred 300,000 hectares to eight Metis settlements. Also in 2008 the trend toward converting ranches into “heritage” land was evidenced by the Harvie family’s endowment of the Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park and Doc Seaman’s (along with the Nature Conservancy of Canada and South Alberta Land Trust Society) endowment of the OH Heritage Range.
During the late-Klein/early-Stelmach years, three “strategic initiatives” (Water for Life, Land Use Framework, and Plan for Parks) were proclaimed, each profoundly impacting park development.
The goals of Water for Life, launched 2003, include sustainable development and protecting aquatic ecosystems. Water for Life stresses “shared governance,” i.e. embedding enviro-activists into the policy process.
The Alberta Water Council (AWC, est. 2004) sits atop the Water for Life pyramid. AWC, which became a non-profit in 2007, received $830,000 from the province in 2011 and a cool million in 2012.
Of AWC’s 24 members, 8 are from industry, 7 are from enviro-groups (Ducks Unlimited Canada, Alberta Wilderness Alliance, etc.), 4 are from municipal governments, and 5 are from the provincial government (including one from Alberta Environment and another from Alberta Innovates). AWC has published 30 reports and hosted innumerable confabs.
Beneath AWC are 11 Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils (WPACs) each policing a different rivershed. WPACs represent environmentalists, landowners, aboriginals, and businesses. WPACs appear to be citizen-led enviro-groups, like Robert Kennedy’s Riverkeepers, but they are provincially funded. They typically have three employees and receive $125,000 a year from the province. Lesser Slave Watershed Council received the least ($90,945). Mighty Peace Watershed Alliance Society received the most ($200,000). WPACs solicit additional funding from other sources. For instance, Beaver River Watershed Alliance is supported by Lakeland Industry and Community Association (which receives another $100,000 per year in provincial grants).
Beneath WPACs are dozens of Watershed Stewardship Groups (WSGs) policing developments around streams and lakes. The Edmonton-based Land Stewardship Central Canada (LSCC) is tasked to inventory and cultivate WSGs. LSCC claims there are 140 WSGs, but their list includes many groups not resident in Alberta or with goals other than watershed stewardship.
LSCC receives $150,000 a year from the province to distribute grants of up to $7,500 to WSGs. Recipients use these grants to lever additional donations. The grants often go to established Alberta enviro-groups like Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society (which recently received a separate provincial grant of $100,000).
Other water-oriented enviro-groups receiving provincial largesse this year are: Ducks Unlimited Canada ($500,000), Greater Bragg Creek Trail Association ($129,451), Alberta Fish and Game Association ($117,263), and Trout Unlimited Canada ($14,581).
Klein announced his retirement in March 2006. A tumultuous nine months later, Stelmach was Premier. Intriguingly, it was during the interregnum when the Alberta Government kicked-off its nationally unprecedented Land-use Framework (LUF). After two years of consultations with “stakeholders” (here defined as: landowners, farmers, conservationists and environmentalists, aboriginals, recreationists, academics, and industrialists), a 56-page Land-use Framework manifesto was issued.
The manifesto’s declared intention is enhanced land conservation because:
“Today’s rapid growth in population and economic activity is placing unprecedented pressure on Alberta’s landscape.”
References to population pressures are repeated in the document, and growth is said to have “reached a tipping point.”
LUF divides Alberta into seven watersheds corresponding to the drainage basins of Alberta’s main rivers. While LUF stresses “regional planning,” it states decision-making should remain with the same provincial officials. However, these decisions must be consistent with Regional Plans. Unlike Water for Life, LUF is a legally binding regime.
LUF creates a Land Use Secretariat and seven Regional Advisory Councils (RACs) – all provincially funded. RACs are selected from those citizens “able to appreciate the broad interest of the region.”
A guiding LUF principle, “cumulative effects management,” is code for placing caps on emissions corresponding to a watershed’s arbitrarily determined “carrying capacity.”
In repetitive prose lauding a commitment to future-generations, LUF calls for:
- Paying farmers and ranchers to keep land out of production.
- Restricting residential sprawl and promoting high-density housing.
- Building an “integrated knowledge system” around the $5 million-per-year Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute. (An additional, and equally costly, Environmental Monitoring Management Board was announced in October, 2012.)
- Involving more environmentalists and aboriginals in decision-making (LUF takes an expansive view of aboriginals’ constitutional rights).
- Promoting private land conservation through an array of pseudo-market mechanisms.
In 2008 Stelmach directed the Ministry of Tourism, Parks and Recreation to re-think parks. Bureaucrats held meetings with “stakeholders” before publishing the 34-page Plan for Parks manifesto in 2009.
Plan for Parks is “aligned” with LUF and deems itself an effort to “inform” the LUF process. Plan for Parks champions region-specific planning and bemoans Alberta’s booming population. Plan for Parks uses the seven LUF regions. Both manifestos contain this affirmation:
“Government of Alberta will address the gaps associated with conserving and protecting the biodiversity of Alberta’s land base.”
Two ministries, Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation and Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (SRD), are directed to share information and develop complementary processes. (SRD was transferred to Alberta Environment in 2011.) Plan for Parks recommends a new agency, Parks Conservation Foundation, assume the parks portfolio of the non-profit Alberta Sport, Recreation, Parks and Wildlife Foundation.
Plan for Parks calls for park officials are to use Traditional Aboriginal Knowledge and to employ aboriginals as park interpreters.
Plan for Parks also calls for:
- Turning private land into parks.
- Diversifying volunteer programs, specifically creating “Friends of” groups.
- Enabling public (i.e. environmental activist) involvement in new park selection.
- Nurturing a stewardship ethic.
- Eradicating invasive species.
- Launching both a Park Science Strategy comprised of academics and a Parks Advisory Council comprised of academics, environmentalists, aboriginals, and industrialists.
The Alberta Government funds many enviro-groups dedicated to expanding parks. In 2012 the following groups received the following grants:
Alberta Prairie Conservation Foundation Society ($20,000), Alberta Recreation and Parks Association ($599,000), Alston Park Foundation ($14,761), Eagles Nest Ranch Association ($12,500), Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park Society ($18,000), Friends of Jasper National Park Association ($13,900), Long Island Lake Society ($19,670), MacDonald Island Park Society ($58,666), Medicine River Wildlife Centre ($18,850), Miistakis Institute for the Rockies Inc. ($15,000), Pincher Creek Foundation ($247,855), Prairie Conservation Forum ($20,000), South Alberta Land Trust Society ($15,381), Calgary Parks Foundation ($119,950), Western Sky Land Trust Society ($37,500), Wilderness Ranch of Claresholm ($21,534), Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative Society ($25,000), Wainwright Buffalo National Park Initiative Centre Foundation ($142,642), Federation of Alberta Naturalists ($18,731), Society of Grasslands Naturalists ($8,887), Glenbow Ranch Park Foundation ($18,660), and Glenmore Canoe and Running Clubhouse Foundation ($34,000).
The Alberta Land Stewardship Act 2009 (ALSA) is LUF’s implementing legislation. ALSA bows before the environment, future generations, and aboriginals. ALSA advocates sustainable development and the cumulative effects approach and twice refers to protecting species.
When ALSA was being debated, a fear arose that the law might allow arbitrary expropriation of property. To allay this fear, the terms “compensation” and/or “property rights” are mentioned eight times in the Act. Twelve out of 35 of ALSA’s regulations deal with compensation. Landowners are entitled to compensation for any diminution in their property’s value resulting from a Regional Plan. Landowners may apply to vary a Regional Plan.
ALSA does allow for “conservation directives,” which may arbitrarily restrict the use of private property. Landowners are, of course, compensated for any loss of value resulting from a conservation directive, and such directives may not be used to facilitate industry.
Much of ALSA concerns converting private land into nature reserves through easements, directives, offsets, transfers of development credits, etc.
Under ALSA, Regional Plans are to be treated like provincial regulations; hence, binding upon the Crown and municipalities. The latter must review all by-laws to ensure they comply with Regional Plans. A Stewardship Commissioner may apply for court orders compelling compliance to Regional Plans.
The first of seven Regional Plans, the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan (LARP), took effect September 1, 2012.
Before LARP, provincial parks covered 27,600 square kilometres (4% of Alberta). 79% of these 478 parks were smaller than 10 square kilometres. The largest, Caribou Mountain, covered 5,908 square kilometres.
LARP’s 6 new Conservation Areas (CAs) add 15,000 square kilometres of parkland. 21,000 square kilometres, 22% of the Lower Athabasca region, is now protected. LARP enlarges the Dillon River Conservation Area from 27,000 hectares to 192,000 hectares and converts it into a “wildland park.”
In CAs, oil sands activity (including in situ) and all mining is prohibited. Previously sold permits are cancelled, and compensation must be paid. Nineteen oil sands licences cancelled, and it is not at all clear how much money the affected companies are entitled to. In CAs, no new conventional oil and gas activity will be permitted and existing operations must minimize land disturbance. LARP sets caps on air emissions.
LARP’s nine new Provincial Recreational Areas (PRAs) will need docks, campsites, and trails. LARP commits the government to building a regional trail. Conventional mining is cancelled within PRAs. Existing oil sands operations will be allowed to proceed but not new ones. Conventional oil and gas commitments will be honoured but, again, no new permits will be issued.
Another nail in entrepreneurialism’s coffin, Bill 202 or the Public Land (Grassland Preservation) Amendment Act, is presently before the legislature. Bill 202 is enthusiastically endorsed by the Alberta Wilderness Association – militant opponents of public land sales. The controversy prompting Bill 202 involved government sale of abandoned farmsteads, i.e. not “wilderness.” Bill 202 seeks extensive public notice, ecological assessments, and consultations before any sale of public land south of Highway 16 (Edmonton’s latitude).
Before 2020 six more Regional Plans will fall upon Alberta like boot-prints of a marauding giant. 100,000 square kilometres will be enclosed and more land will be marooned in a matrix of roadless wilderness parks. This will not satisfy the green giant. The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative Society (an alliance counting the Alberta Government and most Canadian enviro-groups as members) is plotting a vast wilderness preserve along Alberta’s western border.
Albertans are being corralled by an ever-larger, ever-more integrated system of protected areas managed by an increasingly autonomous and industry-hostile environmentalist cabal.
Fighting Global Warming From a Freezing Oil Field
The ironies compound. Alberta is a cold place with huge coal, oil, and gas reserves. Albertans are among the world’s most Climate Change sceptical people. Yet Alberta’s Government is so devoted to fighting “global warming” that, in addition to innumerable regulations and pronouncements, it spends $500 million a year suppressing its hydrocarbon fuel industry to address this phantom problem.
Alberta’s climate budget is tucked into envelopes deep in the accounts of several ministries and Crown corporations. Climate policy is escorted by a bodyguard of ulterior justifications concerning rural development, scientific research, and nurturing industries of the future. While a full detailing of the province’s climate program is impossible, the main culprits can be found in and around:
- Climate Change Central.
- Carbon Management Corporation.
- Alberta Innovates.
- The provincial government’s carbon offsets program.
- Climate Change and Emissions Management Corporation.
- Alberta Energy’s bioenergy operations.
- Alberta Energy’s carbon capture and storage operations.
In 1998 the Alberta Government announced a “Strategy for Action on Climate Change.” This led to an informal climate roundtable which gave rise to Climate Change Central (C3) in 1999. C3 is a non-profit corporation co-chaired by Alberta’s reigning Environment Minister and chartered to promote energy efficiency and small-scale alternative energy use.
C3 has administered two dozen programs including multi-million dollar consumer rebates and a carbon offset registry. C3 paid Albertan consumers to replace their older-model cars, lawn-mowers, and washing machines. Between 2009 and 2011, C3 dished out $60 million in consumer rebates. During these years C3 gave $50 million to homeowners to retrofit their houses in climate-friendly ways.
C3 also promotes biofuels and hybrid vehicles and bankrolls various climate activist and propaganda projects. Some of this activity has been delegated to C3’s in-house charity, the All One Sky Foundation.
In 2011, C3 had total revenues of $24.6 million. $22.3 million came from the provincial government. In 2012 their provincial stipend was pared to $17 million. C3 has 27 employees.
Carbon Management Canada (CMC, est. 2009) is a Calgary-headquartered national network of academic “carbon researchers” dedicated to radically reducing CO2 emissions. (CMC was concocted by eco-gnomes from University of Calgary’s Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy (ISEEE) – a green academic nebula boasting $480 million in grants since 2006.)
Seed money for CMC came in $25 million dollops from both the Federal Government’s Network of Excellence and Alberta’s Environment Ministry. Another $4.75 million came from industry.
CMC’s internal list of “Investigators and Affiliated Organizations” includes faculty from 33 universities. Seventy-two Alberta-based academics adorn this list as do two Alberta Innovates employees and one from the Pembina Institute.
As of early 2012, CMC was sitting on $22 million in cash and awaiting revenues of $9.8 million ($6.8 million from Ottawa). There is a discrepancy between CMC’s financial statements for the year ended March 31, 2012, which claims provincial donations of $2.2 million, and Alberta Treasury’s Blue Book for the same year which records a $5 million grant to CMC.
In 2003 Alberta became the first government in North America to force greenhouse gas emission reductions on large industrial operations (those emitting over 100,000 tonnes of CO2 per year). One hundred major CO2-emitting enterprises have three compliance options:
- Reduce emissions by 12%;
- Pay $15 per tonne; or
- Purchase carbon offsets.
Alberta’s carbon market is a haven for middlemen (“aggregators”) who pool offsets and sell them for $10 to $14 per “tonne of CO2 equivalent.” Wind energy, landfill gas capture, and waste heat recovery operators each sell offsets, but the main sellers (since the regulatory amendments of 2007) are “conservation cropping” farmers. “Reduced-till” methods involve using seed drills and herbicides to minimize the plowing-up of fallowed or stubble-covered fields, which, according to theory, reduces CO2 emissions. Farmers sell carbon offsets for around $1.50 an acre. Over four years, 2007 to 2010, conservation cropping netted farmers a total of $61 million (about half of the provincial offset market).
Alberta farmers were switching to reduced tillage methods before 2007. Farmers in other provinces deploy these methods without subsidy. Alberta farmers are being paid to do something they would probably do without payment.
When CO2 emitters opt to pay the $15 per tonne, their money is transferred by Alberta Environment to the non-profit Climate Change and Emissions Management Corporation (CCEMC, est. 2009). By law, these funds: “can only be spent on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving the ability to adapt to climate change.”
While these are “non-voted” budgetary items (de facto off-the-books transactions), Alberta Environment records CCEMC revenues of about $70 million a year. As of late 2011, CCEMC had received $257 million and spent $126 million on 27 energy-efficiency and alternative-energy projects.
Alberta Innovates (AI) is a multi-department government research program. AI’s climate portfolio is dispersed over its: Environment and Carbon Management Division, Biological Industries Tech Division, and a bioenergy subdivision. (U of C’s ISEEE takes credit for creating AI’s energy/environment operations.) AI is funded by the Alberta Ministry of Enterprise and Advanced Education.
AI is supervised by the Alberta Research and Innovative Authority (ARIA). Only two of ten ARIA board members live in Alberta. Four are Europeans.
AI funds research into renewable energy, waste-to-fuels, carbon capture and storage, and “enhanced ecology” technologies including boreal reclamation.
AI’s Budget 2012 allotment was $64.5 million, of which $17.6 million went to energy/environment.
In 2008 the Alberta Government earmarked $2 billion for carbon capture and storage (CCS). These funds are disbursed by Alberta Energy for the express purpose of combatting “global warming.”
Originally four projects were to receive CCS funds, but in April 2012 the Pioneer project was cancelled after three companies (TransAlta, Capital Power Corp., and Enbridge) backed out. Pioneer would have pumped CO2 from a coal-fired power plant into a depleted oil reservoir in the faint hope of enhancing oil recovery. Alberta Energy was going to give Pioneer $436 million. The Federal Government was in for $370 million. The companies choked when it came to coughing up their $596 million.
Three projects are going ahead:
Alberta Carbon Trunk Line (ACTL) is a plan by Enhance Energy and Northwest Upgrading to pipe CO2 from a bitumen upgrader north of Edmonton to a depleted oil reservoir 240 kilometres away. Alberta Energy has committed $495 million to ACTL.
Swan Hill Synfuels will be an underground coal gasification facility supplying a 300 MW power plant. The CO2 emitted from this facility will be piped to a nearby oil field for enhanced oil recovery. Total project costs are $1.5 billion. Alberta Energy has committed $285 million. Construction begins in 2013.
Shell’s Quest project will capture CO2 from their Scotford bitumen upgrader, then pipe it 80 kilometres north where it will be pumped deep underground. Alberta Energy will contribute $745 million. Ottawa will contribute $120 million. Construction has begun on this 30-month project, which will employ on average 400 skilled tradespeople (peaking at 700) in an area starving for skilled workers.
CCS grants will be doled out thusly: 40% for design and construction, 20% upon completion, and 40% to subsidize operations for the first ten years.
In the 2011-2012 fiscal year, Alberta Energy spent $58 million on CCS. According to Alberta Energy’s Business Plan, CCS spending will rise to $140 million in 2012-2013, then to $240 million in 2013-2014 before dropping to $193 million in the following year.
In Alberta “bioenergy” means energy derived from burning wheat, canola, saw dust, cooking grease, and methane from manure. Bioenergy subsidies, incentives, and regulations are justified with references to combatting climate change through reduced CO2 emissions.
Alberta’s Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS) became operational in April 2011. RFS requires diesel sold in Alberta to be 2% biodiesel and gasoline to be 5% ethanol.
The Bioenergy Producer Credit Program, recently extended to 2016, pays biofuel producers incentives of 10 to 14 cents per litre on their first 150 million litres and a diminishing subsidy thereafter. This program is designed to increase local supply for the RFS. Between 2007 and 2011, two precursor programs (biorefinery commercialization and bioenergy infrastructure) disbursed $150 million to 50 recipients. Several firms received multiple grants. The top recipient, Growing Power Hairy Hill LP, received two grants totalling $21.1 million. (They also received $5 million from CCEMC.)
In 2011-2012 the following bioenergy grants were dispersed: Alberta Ethanol and Biodiesel GP Ltd. ($4,650,000), Canadian Bioenergy Corp. ($173,513), Cargill ($1,600,000), Grow the Energy Circle Ltd. ($470,000), Hinton Pulp West Fraser Mills Ltd. ($5,538,482), Hinton Wood Products ($157,144), Otaka Energy USA ($4,300,000), SBI BioEnergy ($1,200,000), SFN Biosystems ($225,000), Synerchem International Inc. ($218,129), Taiga BioActives Inc. ($34,913), Valley Power ($933,391), and West Fraser Mills ($203,041).
Alberta Energy’s bioenergy budget increased from $39 million in 2010-2011 to $46 million in 2011-2012. For the next three years, bioenergy expenditures will be: 2012-2013 ($66 million), 2013-2014 ($162 million), and 2014-2015 ($216 million).
The Alberta Government claims Alberta presently has one ethanol plant producing 40 million litres per annum and one biodiesel plant producing 19 million litres per annum. The latter claim is dated. Western Biodiesel Inc. closed its High River plant in December 2010 after the Federal Government’s 20 cent-a-litre subsidy dried up. Alberta Biodiesel Association lists ten proposed biodiesel projects and three under construction but none currently operating.
Alberta biofuel producers’ main nemesis is not subsidy dependence, it is competition from massive American operations.
Alberta’s climate mafia won’t be collared anytime soon. The next election won’t be called until 2016, the Tories are asleep at the trough, and $500 million-a-year empowers a formidable lobby.
Wilderness Tourism is Wildly Overrated
Steering Alberta away from the resource extraction economy involves getting Albertans to resign themselves to the passing of the fossil fuel age and to view park creation as a form of economic stimulus. The code word is “diversification.” Topping the diverse list of alternative industries is tourism; in particular, wilderness tourism.
Innumerable Alberta Government publications champion “nature-based tourism.” The recently approved Lower Athabasca Regional Plan defines itself in part as an effort to promote “diverse regional economic development.” The only diversification discussed in the Plan is tourism.
Peddling tourism as a plausible substitute requires exaggerating the existing tourist industry’s size.
The province’s The Economic Impact of Tourism in Alberta 2010 is the latest word on the scale of Alberta’s tourism sector. “Facts” from this document are flaunted by Alberta’s Ministry of Tourism, Parks and Recreation.
From this study we learn that in 2009 Alberta hosted 23 million tourist “person visits.” The $5.5 billion tourists spent in Alberta generated over $2 billion in taxes ($1.3 billion to the Federal Government, $552 million to the province and $204 million to municipalities). Tourist expenditures, we are told, paid $3.4 billion in wages to 92,620 tourist sector employees.
Thus, an illusion is cast wherein tourism generates billions of dollars in revenues and taxes and creates tens of thousands of jobs.
However 18.6 million person visits (81% of total visits) consisted of Albertans visiting Alberta. Of the $5.5 billion in tourist expenditures, $2.9 billion came out of Albertans’ pockets. Half the $2.5 billion tourists spent on “accommodation, food and beverages” and over half the $908 million tourists spent on “retail goods” came from Albertans.
To put this in context – Alberta’s core area (Edmonton-Red Deer-Calgary) has a population of 2.5 million (two thirds of the province’s inhabitants). Another million live in towns a day’s drive from the core area. People from the towns routinely drive to the core area to shop, visit relatives, take care of business, seek professional services, etc. These people do not think of themselves as “tourists” – no one should.
Most visitors (Albertan or otherwise) did not stay overnight; they were either day-trippers or were traveling through Alberta.
Regarding the 19% of visitors who came from outside Alberta:
a) 66% of those from other parts of Canada came on business trips or to visit family.
b) 25% of those from the USA came on business trips.
Such people are not tourists.
Unsurprisingly, the second largest category of tourist expenditure was the $1.2 billion spent fuelling private automobiles. $814 million worth of these fuel-ups were made by Albertans.
Narrowing the stats to visitors from outside Alberta who came on recreation/pleasure trips and who stayed at least one night (i.e. real tourists) leaves around 1.5 million “person visits.”
Almost all real tourists have one or more of four destinations in mind: Edmonton, Calgary, Banff, and Jasper. The Calgary Stampede is a major draw. Edmonton and Calgary are clearly not “wilderness” destinations but neither, contrary to propaganda, are Banff and Jasper.
Within Banff National Park’s 6,641 square kilometres lie the village of Lake Louise and the town of Banff. The latter’s non-tourist population of 8,300 increases by a few thousand during peak seasons. The Park’s 100 accommodation businesses include 54 hotels. The Park’s four well-equipped ski resorts cover 40 square kilometres. Banff is famous for its gondola and its 27-hole golf course. “Canada’s hiking capital” sports 20 well-maintained and guided trails. Parks Canada rents 2,500 camping spots equipped with toilets, showers, fire pits, and with officials to enforce stringent park rules.
Jasper National Park is a major rail and road intersection point traversed two million times by people, tourists or otherwise, every year. Jasper’s permanent population of 5,200 is sustained by 40 hotels, the Jasper Park Lodge Golf Course, and the Marmot Basin ski resort. The latter’s numerous groomed runs span 5 square kilometres. 1,200 kilometres of well-maintained trails crisscross the 97% of Jasper’s 10,878 square kilometres that are designated wilderness. Tourists enjoy tramways, boat tours, snow coach rides, and cruising the 232-kilometre “heavenly highway” (Icelands Parkway).
Note: Alberta’s top two tourist destinations could not support a city of 15,000.
Also note: both parks are far larger than they need to be. Tourists rarely stray from the 5% of the parkland that is fully developed.
Real wilderness consists of inaccessible, inhospitable tracts of land the enjoyment of which generates no revenue.
Another disconnect involves how so many Albertans enjoy the great outdoors. Albertans love their motorboats, snowmobiles, and all-terrain vehicles. These are hardly eco-tourist devices. They involve roads, trails, docks, engine noise, and collisions with wildlife. Over the protests of Albertans, these sports are banned in the many choice spots being turned into ecological reserves and wilderness areas.
Alberta’s actual tourism industry brings in about $1 billion per year and employs around 10,000 people.
Alberta’s gross domestic product is $250 billion and its employed workforce numbers 2.1 million.
Tourism will never fill the boots of resource extraction. Alberta’s oil and gas sector, alone, directly provides 150,000 high-paying jobs and accounts for 73% of the province’s annual $80 billion in exports. Non-renewable resource royalties and leases supplied the Alberta Government with revenues of $11.6 billion in the 2011-2012 fiscal year. This figure does not include taxes paid by resource companies and their employees. Total provincial government revenues for 2011-2012 were only $38.5 billion.
Alberta is not well-equipped to compete with tourist Meccas like New York, Las Vegas, or Cancun. Even for the Rocky Mountain tourist dollar, there is stiff competition from British Columbia, Colorado, etc.
The Alberta Government spends more on tourism than it takes in from taxes on tourism. The official declared provincial tax take on tourism of $552 million is probably a five-fold exaggeration.
Alberta’s Ministry of Tourism, Parks and Recreation will spend $182 million in 2012-2013. This breaks down to: tourism ($68 million), parks ($78 million), and recreation ($29 million). Capital investment for “parks” is scheduled to rise from $14 million to $18 million over the next three years. Much of the “parks” budget, capital and operations, is justified as a means of enticing tourists.
Included within the Ministry’s “tourism” portfolio is the $53 million budget of the 80-employee Travel Alberta Corporation – a marketing agency financed by the 4% Tourism Levy on hotels, etc. Aside from the fact that taxing tourists is a nutty way to promote tourism, the project is ridiculous because Alberta’s tourists are overwhelmingly Albertans. Edmonton teens do not need to be brainwashed into snowboarding at Jasper nor sold on the idea of filling up their vehicles before making the trip.
Similarly, massive wilderness enclosures undermine outdoor recreation and have no effect on the majority of visitors who come to shop or to see relatives or to have business meetings.
Environmentalists are conning Albertans into thinking that suppressing land development and hobbling resources industries can be justified, in strict dollar terms, by the benefits such economic sabotage can bring to the tourism industry.
The Myth of Preserving Alberta's Natural Heritage
The “preservation of Alberta’s natural heritage” is one of the main ruses deployed by environmentalists for keeping land out of development.
An example of this political line appeared October 22, 2012 in another appallingly biased article in the Edmonton Journal. Beneath a blaring front-page headline, Wildlife ‘tipping point’ Looms, reporter Marty Klinkenberg warned of catastrophe should Shell Canada’s Jackpine Oilsands Mine expansion be approved.
The article quotes Pembina Institute and Alberta Wilderness Association spokespersons while listing 17 elaborately-named species alongside percentage-based estimates of how much of the species’ habitat will be lost (black-throated green warbler – 44%; olive-sided fly-catcher – 13%, and so on).
The habitat loss estimates are based on comparisons to dubious “pre-industrial levels” and presume all proposed mining and logging projects in the area will proceed simultaneously, to the maximum extent, and without reclamation. The likelihood of this scenario is zero.
Klinkenberg could not find space to inform the reader that Shell’s Jackpine expansion project will at most temporarily affect an area 10 by 13 kilometres – the size of Denver’s airport. Even by Klinkenberg’s obscure calculus, the project will disturb only 0.47% of the habitat of our iconic species de jour, the woodland caribou.
The article came accompanied by a massive colour photo of a buffalo glaring back from a scraggle of North Alberta bush. Beneath the photo a caption begins:
“Wood bison are among the many species of wildlife whose habitat will be endangered…” (emphasis added)
Wood bison are not a species; they are not even a subspecies, nor are they wildlife.
Like many species, the American Bison (Bison bison; a.k.a. “buffalo”) vary in shape and appearance depending on environment conditions, especially as regards latitude. Such slight differences in size and coat are of no taxonomic significance. Despite this, in the early 20th century there emerged an orthodox belief that “wood buffalo” were a species, or at least a subspecies, distinct from “prairie buffalo.”
The Canadian Encyclopedia weighs in on this controversy:
“Although split into 2 subspecies, the prairie bison and wood bison, a critical re-examination of the evidence provides no taxonomic evidence that these subspecies are valid.”
This false dichotomy became politically useful for conservationists creating a hullabaloo about the impending extinction of our majestic “wood buffalo.” Rescuing the last surviving herd was the official reason for establishing Wood Buffalo National Park in 1922. This park covers 44,802 square kilometres of strategically important and resource-rich land in Northern Alberta and the southern Northwest Territories; it is one of the world’s largest parks.
Exposing the fraud behind this park’s pedigree requires a bit of natural history:
American Bison descend from a much larger pre-glacial buffalo species, the Bison Antiquus, remnants of which dwarfed to their current size in the post-glacial epoch beginning 15,000 years ago.
The fossil record shows that, because of vigorous hunting by aboriginals, overall numbers of American Bison were very low before 1492.
After 1492, because of diseases and disruptions inflicted upon aboriginals, the American Bison were given a reprieve from human predation and their population exploded.
When European settlers arrived at the Prairies they found 50 million buffalo roaming in oceanic herds. As this species has a unique ability to eat and digest just about any plant, they profoundly impacted the Prairie ecosystem’s flora. Wolves and grizzlies hunted buffalo while coyotes feasted on buffalo carrion. Populations of these beasts boomed along with the buffalo.
In the latter 19th century, pioneers, aided by the US Army, made a concerted effort to wipe out the buffalo in order to facilitate agricultural settlement. Buffalo were further pressured by competition for food from herds of feral horses, which by this time also numbered in the millions.
By 1900 buffalo were reduced to: 23 animals in Yellowstone National Park, a few hundred in Northern Alberta, and a few hundred that Montana ranchers Michael Pablo and Charles Allard had reared from four orphaned calves captured in 1878. In 1908 the Canadian government paid $200,000 for the Pablo/Allard herd. All buffalo alive today descend from about 400 animals.
According to the Canadian Encyclopedia:
The Canadian government bought the famous Pablo/Allard herd in Montana and transferred the animals to Buffalo National Park (no longer in existence) and Elk Island National Park. When bison outstripped their range, the Canadian government shipped the bison, by then infected with livestock diseases, to Wood Buffalo National Park. Controversy surrounded the decision then as now.
6,673 “prairie bison” were shipped to Wood Buffalo National Park where they interbred with the Park’s “wood buffalo.” Of course, this is a moot point as there never were two subspecies. More importantly, for generations these animals were fed, penned-in, tended to, and shipped about. They are not wildlife. Coat patterns of today’s buffalo are artifacts of their ancestors’ stay at Elk Island.
American Bison are in no danger of extinction. After bison farming became a cottage industry in the 1970s, bison meat rapidly gained in popularity. Now Canada has 200,000 head of bison lodged at 2,000 farms. These herds are often fed grain supplemented with vitamins and minerals. They are given veterinarian attention and are selectively bred.
Therein lies the solution to trumped-up extinction crises. Commercialization, not the suppression of commerce, will save the caribou.
The Alberta Elk Commission was founded in 2002. Today the Commission’s 450 members own 45,000 elk. The Commission has cultivated a brisk market for elk meat and for ground elk antler (sold as a medicinal supplement). The Commission rightly takes credit for finding a profitable use for marginal land.
Alberta’s Whitetail and Mule Deer Association cannot boast of similar success; only four farms so far. (The Association recommends prospective deer farmers invest in high fences.) For success in deer farming, one need look to New Zealand where deer were initially imported for sport-hunting, but after feral deer populations grew out of control, New Zealanders began farming them. Today 3,000 New Zealand farmers own 1.2 million deer of which 400,000 are processed each year. Venison and deer-hides are lucrative export industries.
Although farming our celebrity woodland caribou is not presently permitted, reports from the Alberta Reindeer Association clearly indicate this could be done. The Association’s four members import reindeer from the Northwest Territories. (While the issue has been obfuscated by conservation biologists, caribou and reindeer are the same species.) Association members found a niche market selling livestock to ski resorts where they poke around as cutesy ornaments – an easy gig for a caribou.
A bizarre conservationist side-show has developed regarding “wild horses.” The Wild Horses of Alberta Society struggles to preserve wild horse herds, which they claim are vital to Alberta’s ecosystem and natural heritage. Ecologists deem these horses “feral” not “wild”; and thus, being an invasive species, they must be exterminated. The Society claims the horses descend from Spanish mustangs and have survived in the wilderness for centuries, while the ecologists claim the horses’ ancestors were abandoned by ranchers and loggers a mere 100 years ago.
Mother Earth has wiped out more species than biologists have classified. Preserving wilderness does not ensure a species’ survival. Wilderness is not static; every patch is constantly changing. The introduction of massive buffalo herds to the Prairies caused a complete ecological makeover. The buffalo’s removal caused another makeover.
For 99% of the last 1.5 million years, Alberta was 100% glaciated. To get in touch with their natural heritage, Albertans should spend a day burrowing inside a snow bank.
Enviro-myth-makers contend that blocking industrial projects preserves unique ecosystems like primordial insects trapped in volcanic amber. In reality, life on Earth is a roiling evolutionary kaleidoscope rudely twisted by solar, tectonic, volcanic, and meteorological happenstance. With or without human intrusion, ecosystems are flickers in the fireplace.
Suppressing economic development is not an unfortunate by-product of the impossible goal of preserving natural heritage. Suppressing economic development is the real motive; preserving natural heritage is the phony pretext.
Always ahead of the game, environmentalists now spin their agenda as a way to help Alberta remain competitive and retain market access. According to the new line: The more environmentally compliant Alberta becomes, the lesser will be the environmental movement’s efforts to boycott and blockade the province. For the sake of marketing Alberta’s “brand,” Albertans should forsake major market opportunities. The extortionist’s demands equal the punishment threatened.
In their ratcheting up of regulations and taxes to squeeze resource companies’ profit margins, environmentalists have proven themselves to be measured, methodical, and insatiable. As well, their ravenous expansion of wilderness areas will over time foreclose the resource industry as existing deposits are depleted and new ones are placed off limits.
Going along with the environmental agenda will doom resource extraction industries. Resisting the environmental agenda will bring boycotts and blockades aimed at stopping resource extraction.
Alberta was the first jurisdiction in North America with a carbon emissions market (a de facto carbon tax). Regarding wind power, bioenergy, and tax dollars spent fighting Climate Change, on a per capita basis, Alberta is a world leader. Alberta has designated more parkland than almost any place on Earth. Alberta spends lavishly on recycling, environmental monitoring, green academics, and wildlife conservation officers. This appeasement of the international environmental movement has failed.
Environmentalists awarded Alberta’s slavish obedience with vigorous campaigns to block the vital Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines. Environmentalists spare little expense slandering Alberta’s industries, including tourism. There has been no quid pro quo. Appeasement has cost billions in tax dollars and billions more in lost economic opportunity. An experiment in defiance seems timely.
Most of the facts in the above posting came from the Government of Alberta’s website: http://alberta.ca
Relevant provincial ministry websites are:
http://tpr.alberta.ca/ (Tourism, Parks and Recreation)
http://www.finance.alberta.ca// (Treasury – contains budget documents and the Blue Book of grants)
Some other useful websites:
www.cmc-nce.ca/ (Carbon Management Canada)
http://CCEMC.ca/ (Climate Change Emissions Management Corp.)
www.albertawatercouncil.ca (links to various watershed stewardship groups)
Articles, Reports, etc.
Alberta Auditor General’s 2011 Report, Provincial Action and the Climate Change Strategy, November 22, 2011
Whealdon, B.I.; I Will Be Meat for My Salish, Salish Kootenai College, Pablo MT, 2001
Alberta Energy, Information Letter 2003-25 (September 10, 2003)
Careen, Evan; Western Biodiesel Inc. ceases production; High River Times, December 6, 2011
Chandler, Graham; Alberta’s Support for biodiesel yields an uncertain future; Alberta Oil, April 9, 2012
Government of Alberta, News Release and Backgrounder, July 27, 2011,
re: Swan Hills Synfuels
Government of Alberta, Clean Air Strategy for Alberta, 1991
Government of Alberta, The Economic Impact of Tourism in Alberta, 2010
Government of Alberta, Water for Life, 2003
Hoffman, Nancy; Conventional Tillage: How Conventional is it?, Statistics Canada, November 21, 2008
Information Letter 2012-30, Alberta Energy, August 24, 2012, re: LARP
Jackpine Mine Expansion Brochure, Shell Canada
Klinkenberg, Marty; Wildlife ‘tipping-point’ looms; Edmonton Journal, October 22, 2012
Overview of Alberta’s Agricultural Carbon Offset Trading System 2007-2010, Alberta Government, revised September 2012
Tate, Corrie; Alberta’s carbon capture efforts set back, Globe and Mail, April 26, 2012
Vanderklippe, Nathan; Alberta’s farmers cash in on ‘tillage credits’, Globe and Mail, November 23, 2011