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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID
Red Deer down to 313 active cases of COVID-19

Alberta reports an additional 411 COVID-19 cases

Friday, Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced the province’s plan to reduce surgical wait times over the next two years. (Photo by Paul Taillon/Office of the Premier)
Alberta provides more funding to reduce surgery wait times

The province is working to provide better access to surgeries over the… Continue reading

RDC Queens volleyball players Sydney Rix and Emma Holmes gave blood as part of the Bleed Green Challenge, in partnership with Canadian Blood Services. (Photo courtesy RDC Queens Instagram)
Blood donation: RDC Athletics give back with Bleed Green Challenge

In what has been a challenging year for everyone across Alberta, Red… Continue reading

Eastview Middle School’s Jeremy Spink was selected as the 2020/21 NHL/NHLPA Most Valuable Teacher for February (Photo Courtesy of Red Deer Public Schools)
Red Deer teacher earns NHL’s Most Valuable Teacher Award for February

Eastview Middle School’s Jeremey Spink picked up the honour

Silent protests are being held this week in response to Red Deer Public Schools rejecting a Pride Week in favour of a Diversity Week last month. (Photo courtesy Black and Indigenous Alliance Facebook)
Central Albertans protest Red Deer Public Schools’ Pride Week decision

Central Albertans are silently protesting Red Deer Public Schools’ decision to not… Continue reading

Bryson, six, and Mara, eight, play with puppies from Dogs With Wings Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
WATCH: Dogs With Wings introduces Red Deer program

A program that trains puppies to be certified service, autism, facility and… Continue reading

A flare stack lights the sky from the Imperial Oil refinery in Edmonton on December 28, 2018. The federal government is unveiling proposed regulations for its greenhouse gas offset program that will govern how developers can register and sell credits earned through projects that reduce emissions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Proposed federal carbon offset credit regulations raise farmer advocate’s concern

CALGARY — Projects that qualify to sell federal greenhouse gas emission credits… Continue reading

The National War Memorial honouring Canadians who served in the military is shown in Ottawa on Sunday, March 31, 2019. A member of the Canadian Armed Forces has died in Afghanistan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Canadian soldier found dead in his quarters in Afghanistan: military

OTTAWA — A member of the Canadian Armed Forces has died in… Continue reading

A flare stack lights the sky from the Imperial Oil refinery in Edmonton on December 28, 2018. The federal government is unveiling proposed regulations for its greenhouse gas offset program that will govern how developers can register and sell credits earned through projects that reduce emissions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Ottawa unveils proposed federal carbon offset emission credit regulations

CALGARY — The federal government is unveiling proposed regulations for its greenhouse… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa Friday, March 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau holds firm on premiers’ health-care funding demands, COVID-19 aid comes first

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal government will keep… Continue reading

Supporters pray outside court in Stony Plain, Alta., on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, as a trial date was set for Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church. He is charged with holding Sunday services in violation of Alberta's COVID-19 rules and with breaking conditions of his bail release. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Judge rules Alberta pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

EDMONTON — A judge has ruled that an Alberta pastor will remain… Continue reading

Image courtesy Creative Outlet
Man found guilty in attack that left Winnipeg teen with hammer in head

WINNIPEG — A Winnipeg judge has found a man guilty in an… Continue reading

Pictured here is Stettler’s Jenner Smith with a guide dog from Aspen Service Dogs. An online auction will be running soon to help raise funds for Jenner to receive his very own service dog later this year. Jenner, who is four years old, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in 2019. photo submitted
An online auction is planned to raise funds for a service dog for a Stettler family

Jenner Smith, four, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in 2019

Team Canada third John Morris follows as second Carter Rycroft (right) and lead Nolan Thiessen (left) sweep his rock during round robin competition against Team Newfoundland and Labrador at the Brier curling championship, Wednesday, March 9, 2016 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Champions at The Brier list

Brier champions since the inception of the Canadian men’s curling championship in… Continue reading

Most Read