Centennial for oil a quiet party

There have been celebrations in the past week in Alberta to mark the 100th anniversary of the oil strike that triggered the first oil boom to rock the province. But those celebrations have been muted, more focused on the industry’s fascinating history in this province than looking toward the clouded future.

By Doug Firby

Special to the Advocate

There have been celebrations in the past week in Alberta to mark the 100th anniversary of the oil strike that triggered the first oil boom to rock the province. But those celebrations have been muted, more focused on the industry’s fascinating history in this province than looking toward the clouded future.

This has been billed as the birth of the modern oil industry in Canada, but it was certainly not the first oil rush.

That honour goes to a little village in Ontario called Oil Springs. It was there in 1858 that asphalt producer James Miller Williams stuck oil while digging for water.

The supply there lasted just a few years, although there was another mini-boom in 1914, setting the pattern for the industry that carries on even today. Good times, followed by jarring corrections.

In Alberta, the boom started in the southwestern town of Turner Valley on May 14, 1914, with the find of gas at a well nicknamed Dingman No. 1, after the man who backed its development.

That triggered a boom that lasted for 30 years — boosted by the discovery of oil in 1936 — and the Turner Valley Oilfield become the largest producer of oil and gas in the British Empire.

Unlike the experience in Ontario, though, when the easy supply of oil and gas faded in Turner Valley there was still much more to be found in the province.

Near Edmonton, a well called Leduc No. 1 ushered in the modern oil industry in February 1947, with a gusher that put the province on course to be a major world supplier of oil and gas.

Today, as conventional supplies run low and production moves to “unconventional” sources, such as the oilsands, the province — and indeed the nation — has become addicted to the royalties, jobs and development the industry has delivered for decades. Indeed, economists agree that the oil industry’s performance has kept the country’s economy ticking along while the industrial heartland of Central Canada has swooned under the relentless pressure of cheaper imports from Asia.

In spite of its economic contributions, though, the oil and gas industry finds itself unwelcome in many corners of the country.

With the attention of pop stars like Neil Young and moviemakers like James Cameron, the environmental impact of the oil sands has become emblematic of the carbon emissions that are accelerating global climate change.

In other words, a lot of people have come to loathe one of the key drivers of our economy.

In the United States, this has led to the powerful environmental lobby that has been so far highly successful in delaying — and, according to many, possibly killing — the Keystone XL pipeline, an important link that would make it easier to ship our bitumen to the southern U.S. Somehow, even though Canada’s oilsands emit a tiny fraction of the carbon that the U.S.’s own coal-fired plants spew out, the “oil sands” debate has been framed in life-and-death terms.

Why stop a coal-fired generating plant when the “foreigners” across the 49th Parallel make such an easy target?

It turns out the passive resistance to enhanced carbon regulation mounted by the federal Conservative government could well be at the heart of this reputational disaster for the industry and the country.

If the intention in ragging the puck on regulation was to make it easier for Canadian producers to produce and sell their product competitively, the outcome has been perverse in the extreme.

Our country now looks like the schoolyard brat who defies the guidance of authority figures — like climate change scientists — even though the evidence is stacked against them.

As a consequence, the oilpatch is facing mounting international opposition to further development, and the fear that the growing resistance will have permanent and deep financial consequences.

It’s been a good run — 100 years of growth that has made Alberta the economic rock star of the provinces.

Ongoing prosperity in the coming decades, however, seems less certain today than it has in a long, long time.

Doug Firby is editor in chief of Troy Media and national affairs columnist. See www.troymedia.com for more.

Just Posted

Trudeau’s cabinet choices have domino effect on House of Commons work

OTTAWA — As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau settles on his choices for… Continue reading

Protesters say Alberta bill would make it harder to access some medical services

EDMONTON — Opponents of a private member’s bill that calls for more… Continue reading

Freeland’s imprint of foreign affairs remains even if she’s shuffled: analysts

OTTAWA — Whether or not Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shuffles her to… Continue reading

Saskatchewan government considers funding first supervised consumption site

SASKATOON — Saskatchewan’s health minister says the government will consider whether to… Continue reading

Thousands fill City Hall Park for Red Deer Lights the Night

With the flip of a switch, downtown Red Deer was filled with… Continue reading

Central Albertans help families during holidays with Christmas Wish Breakfast

It takes a community to help a community. And Sunday morning at… Continue reading

Your community calendar

Nov. 19 The Mountview Sunnybrook Community Association will hold its AGM at… Continue reading

‘Ford v Ferrari’ speeds to No. 1; ‘Charlie’s Angels’ fizzles

NEW YORK — “Ford v Ferrari” put its competition in the rearview,… Continue reading

Teen with cancer whose viral video urged Canadians to vote has died, uncle tweets

WINNIPEG — A terminally ill cancer patient who recorded a video from… Continue reading

Five things to watch for when Trudeau shuffles his cabinet this week

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to unveil his new… Continue reading

Closing arguments begin in B.C. case launched in 2009 over private health care

VANCOUVER — A framed iconic photo in Dr. Brian Day’s office shows… Continue reading

Rowing Canada, university investigate celebrated coach for harassment, abuse

VANCOUVER — Lily Copeland felt she had found her purpose in life… Continue reading

MacKinnon scores OT winner, Avs recover from blowing late lead to beat Canucks

VANCOUVER — Nathan MacKinnon scored his second goal of the game 27… Continue reading

White House urgently ramps up push for drug cost legislation

WASHINGTON — The White House is ramping up its push to get… Continue reading

Most Read