Mud, Sweat and Tears
October 31, 2007 7:21 AM   Subscribe

"The vast tar sands of Alberta in Canada hold oil reserves six times the size of Saudi Arabia's. But this 'black gold' is proving a mixed blessing for the frontier town of Fort McMurray, fuelling both prosperity and misery. As the social and environmental toll mounts, Aida Edemariam reports on the dark side of a boom town" - Mud, Sweat and Tears.
posted by chunking express (45 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Aida Edemariam reports on the dark side of a boom town

And if the land you're on starts spraying different crude,
I'll see you on the dark side of the boom
posted by Afroblanco at 7:32 AM on October 31, 2007 [7 favorites]


The carbon footprint of a gallon of gas produced from tar sands is equal to that of three gallons of gas produced from crude. The fact that there's so much of the stuff and we're so addicted to oil is very bad news.
posted by justkevin at 7:33 AM on October 31, 2007


So now the US will invade Canada? Awesome.
posted by doctor_negative at 7:42 AM on October 31, 2007


When do the Candian papers get to send reporters to Newcastle to discover the dark side of the coal boom?
posted by GuyZero at 7:51 AM on October 31, 2007


It's scary that we reached the point of price per barrel that makes extracting mud from sand economically worthwhile.
posted by raconteur at 7:57 AM on October 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


The oil must flow.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:59 AM on October 31, 2007


Living in a boom town sucks.
posted by Totally Zanzibarin' Ya at 8:01 AM on October 31, 2007


Small wonder Canada is increasingly described as the world's next great energy superpower.

God help us.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:03 AM on October 31, 2007


So now the US will invade Canada? Awesome.

No, they'll let Canada worry about the economic, environmental and social problems associated with the tarsands and buy the oil at one handy, all-in-one price.
posted by jeffmik at 8:05 AM on October 31, 2007


Energy return on tar sands oil is 10% that of subterranean deposits. "Oil reserves six times the size of Saudi Arabia" is very misleading.

The amount of natural gas being burned to heat and process this sludge is really sad.
posted by anthill at 8:17 AM on October 31, 2007


So now the US will invade Canada? Awesome., actually with the whole NW passage thing I think technically the US has already invaded a few times.
posted by edgeways at 8:18 AM on October 31, 2007


Oil isn't illegal yet?
posted by DU at 8:21 AM on October 31, 2007


Dont worry, the Alberta government is raising Oil royalties, which should effectively shut down most of the development of the Oil Sands, kill the Canadian economy, and restore some sanity to the western economy.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:24 AM on October 31, 2007


So now the US will invade Canada? Awesome.

Ummm, aren't most of these oil companies up there USian?
posted by Totally Zanzibarin' Ya at 8:26 AM on October 31, 2007


54-40 or Fight!
posted by Pastabagel at 8:29 AM on October 31, 2007


Dont worry, the Alberta government is raising Oil royalties, which should effectively shut down most of the development of the Oil Sands, kill the Canadian economy, and restore some sanity to the western economy.

Hey oil companies, Montana wants U!
posted by Totally Zanzibarin' Ya at 8:30 AM on October 31, 2007


Now showing: Tar Sands, Law of the Jungle.
posted by Abiezer at 8:36 AM on October 31, 2007


But the carbon footprint goes way down if you extract the oil from the sand using nuclear power, dontchya know?
posted by Rumple at 8:40 AM on October 31, 2007


Canadanschluss.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:46 AM on October 31, 2007


Too bad solar/wind/hydro power is too expensive/unreliable at this time. OR is it secretly really ready and good for us/the world but the oil tycoons are keeping it under wraps??? Darn rich people......
posted by Mastercheddaar at 8:52 AM on October 31, 2007


Dont worry, the Alberta government is raising Oil royalties, which should effectively shut down most of the development of the Oil Sands, kill the Canadian economy, and restore some sanity to the western economy.

Yeah, it's raising royalties to a rate lower than that charged in Wisconsin and Texas. Only high-robbing socialists (which nicely describes Alberta Conservatives, doesn't it?) would pull this kind of a Chavez move.

Give me a break. The day you start taking oil companies at their word is the day you know you've spent too long drinking the light sweet crude.
posted by Dasein at 9:15 AM on October 31, 2007


What Dasein said. The whole "Won't someone please think of the oil companies?!?" shtick is pretty pathetic.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:50 AM on October 31, 2007


The carbon footprint of a gallon of gas produced from tar sands is equal to that of three gallons of gas produced from crude.

Tar sands oil is piss-poor on carbon, you're right, but I don't think that you can find a recent, unbiased source that supports the 3x number. And these guys are working on closing the gap further.

Yeah, it's raising royalties to a rate lower than that charged in Wisconsin and Texas.

The economics of an oil sands project are absolutely nothing like those of conventional oil and gas, and your comment makes clear that you either are a demagogue, or that you're a good bit over your head here. Most importantly, the currency jaws that these guys face operating under a USD WTI royalty structure and a CAD cost structure are particularly insidious.

And Stelmach really, really took a page from the Chavez playbook WRT Suncor and Syncrude, effectively tearing up the Crown Agreement that was supposed to last until 2016.
posted by Kwantsar at 10:20 AM on October 31, 2007


Pretty interesting post, by the way.
posted by Kwantsar at 10:59 AM on October 31, 2007


Great article.
posted by salvia at 11:03 AM on October 31, 2007


I'm pretty sure blue_beetle was being sarcastic.
posted by Mitheral at 11:42 AM on October 31, 2007


Excellent article. It's Dawson City all over again.

Alberta has such a bizarre economy.
posted by painquale at 1:56 PM on October 31, 2007


Alberta has such a bizarre economy.

Huh? Hewers of wood, drawers of water, etc. It's a primitive, primary industry-based economy. It's hardly bizarre.
posted by GuyZero at 2:04 PM on October 31, 2007


And Stelmach really, really took a page from the Chavez playbook WRT Suncor and Syncrude

Oh for Christ's sake, the agreements didn't take into account $90 a barrel oil and the oil companies are still making insane profits.

This isn't another NEP. And if a few thousand oilpatch workers lose their jobs, that'll mean a tiny bit more wiggle room in this crazy labour market here.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 2:31 PM on October 31, 2007


From the article:

Politically, the oil companies have it all their own way.

Not any more.

Alberta has always been more rightwing than the rest of Canada.

Who told you that, Peter Marsden? Newfoundland has the most evangelicals; New Brunswick and PEI had the greatest opposition to same-sex marriage; Manitoba (yes, Manitoba) had the highest level of support for GWB before the 2004 US election; Quebec has the most outrageous (if under-reported) hate crimes, including firebombings of synagogues and racist anti-immigrant legislation. Alberta is second only to BC among the most secular provinces, was the second (before Ontario or BC) to permit same-sex partner adoption, and has the country's third and fourth most ethnically diverse cities (Calgary and Edmonton, respectively).

Alberta is entrepreneurial and relatively fiscally conservative (even though its social spending trumps every other province); it does have a sad record of single-party voting, although that's starting to change, and I am proud to say that my federal riding (Calgary Centre) had the best Greens showing, with 12% of the vote, of any riding in the country in the last federal election. A Green was just elected to Calgary's city council; although city council members do not run under party banners, he is known as, and ran as, an environmentalist.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 2:54 PM on October 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


Dude, Alberta is rightwing, redneck central. Just because Calgary Centre (my old riding too, where I once proudly voted hosted a Joe Clark sign on my Sunnyside lawn) happens to be a progressive enclave doesn't negate this fact; the same goes for any metropolitan core - Austin, Lawrence, Louisville - in otherwise far-right locales. Nice people flock to them.
posted by Flashman at 3:06 PM on October 31, 2007


... and the Greens? The environmental stuff is just a front - they're big-business conservatives trying to steal votes from the Liberals and NDP.
posted by porpoise at 3:40 PM on October 31, 2007


I have been to Fort McMurray, to visit my brother who was, at the time, assistant manager at the FtMcM Wal-Mart. This article was very good at conveying the surreality of the place. It's Alice in Wonderland meets North of 60.

Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, is in a permanent state of imbalance. It seems all the inhabitants of both sexes weigh over 250 lbs, wear plaid quilted jackets and baseball caps and drive monster trucks; it seems the only birds in town are big black ravens (mind you, it was Christmas and I'm sure the songbirds all flew south...right??).

Fort McMurray is a magnet for Canadians from coast to coast. The place is so full of displaced Newfoundlanders that the local supermarket carries a whole aisle of Nfld.-brand foods, and there's Newfoundland TV amongst the cable offerings.

You couldn't find a place to live for love nor money; the town's hotels were all full of permanent residents. My brother simply could not keep staff; once they were offered a job, any job, with the oilsands companies, they were gone like a shot. This led to constant turnover, and all the non-oil-related businesses in town were like that. Most of the workers are here only to make a lot of money in as little time as possible, and then leave and never come back. That overall attitude really drains the soul of a town.

It's a sad, stressful place. I'm not surprised the escort business is booming there.
posted by Quiplash at 4:51 PM on October 31, 2007


Oh and I agree with what Flashman said earlier: Alberta *is* rightwing, redneck central. The big cities of Edmonton and Calgary are slightly better than the countryside, but compared to most provinces, it's sooo not-liberal.

"Manitoba (yes, Manitoba) had the highest level of support for GWB before the 2004 US election"

WTF?!? I want a *source* on that one, ethnometh.
posted by Quiplash at 4:57 PM on October 31, 2007


Mitheral: Only partly.
posted by blue_beetle at 6:04 PM on October 31, 2007


paging East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94
posted by blue_beetle at 6:07 PM on October 31, 2007


Oh for Christ's sake, the agreements didn't take into account $90 a barrel oil and the oil companies are still making insane profits.

The Crown should have thought about that, no? Try having your prenup voided because your wife got fat.
posted by Kwantsar at 6:36 PM on October 31, 2007


Dont worry, the Alberta government is raising Oil royalties, which should effectively shut down most of the development of the Oil Sands, kill the Canadian economy, and restore some sanity to the western economy.

Bullshit. Oil companies have broken their profit records for several years running. The Albertans are rightfully demanding a pittance for the oil that they, the public owners of the land and resources, control.

Not a single oil company is going to depart Alberta, you may bet your very life on that. The oil companies will grouse about how unfair this is and will simultaneously post record profits yet again. Screw them: it's time to give back to the owners.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:42 PM on October 31, 2007


paging East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94

Rassin' frassin' 'Toban-come-lately...

Anyhoo, this 2004 Ipsos-Reid poll gives some weight to ethnomethodologist's assertion, with Manitoba and the Maritimes being relatively anti-Kerry and pro-Bush when compared to the rest of the country.

Some lowlights include:

Residents of Quebec (69%) are the most likely to say they would vote for John Kerry if they could, followed by Alberta (60%) and Ontario (60%), British Columbia (58%), Atlantic Canada (51%), and Saskatchewan/Manitoba (45%)

Residents of Atlantic Canada (37%) are the most likely to say they would vote for President George W. Bush, followed by residents of Saskatchewan/Manitoba (33%), Alberta (25%), Ontario (22%), British Columbia (21%), and Quebec (13%).

Agreement with the statement “President George W. Bush deserves to be re-elected for another four years as President of the United States” is highest in Atlantic Canada (40%) are the most likely to agree with this statement, followed by residents of Saskatchewan/Manitoba (35%), Alberta (25%), Ontario (23%), British Columbia (22%), and Quebec (16%).


In a lot of ways Manitoba is just as unenlightened as any other Have-Not with a large rural population and whose economy is heavily centered on labour, service, agriculture, and resource development.

And don't let the general strike and a gay former mayor fool you into thinking everything is hunky-dory inside the Perimeter, either.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:35 PM on October 31, 2007


Seconding what FFF said. I don't see the oil companies leaving Alberta any time soon. Where the fuck else are they going to go? More so, they're basically printing money now, so I'm sure they'll still be doing just fine.

The Green Party is basically Libertarians who like the environment. They are a creepy ass party.
posted by chunking express at 7:32 AM on November 1, 2007


Dude, Alberta is rightwing, redneck central.

Oh my God, you poor thing, you've never lived anywhere in the states, have you. You innocent, precious thing.

I grew up in a rustbelt shithole next to Chicago and endured being called "ngger lover" every day because I averred in my fourth-grade classroom that MLK did some good things. I morevoer lived in Mobile Alabama for two years as a grown-up.

I KNOW "rightwing, redneck central." You do not. Alberta, and Calgary, are about as "redneck" as Washington State.

Incidentally, the most racially integrated city in North America, by index of dissimilarity, is Victoria, BC. Second most racially inegrated is Calgary. The most racially segregated city in Canada is Montreal. That's where the "rednecks" are.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:29 AM on November 1, 2007


That's where the "rednecks" are.

Yeah, no kidding.
posted by GuyZero at 9:31 AM on November 1, 2007




Kwantsar writes "The Crown should have thought about that, no? Try having your prenup voided because your wife got fat."

Kwantsar are you familiar with the royalty agreement or are you just firing from the hip here? The two companies involved were essentially given a subsidy to keep them working on the oil sands extraction when the cost of extraction was equal to the sale price. They were being charged much less than conventional oil projects. It is unfair to all the citizens to not eliminate that subsidy now that oil is at 4.5 times where it was when the subsidy was implemented. The rediculous talk about shutting down and going elsewhere is just that, talk. It's so silly unbelievable that it can't even be considered scare mongering as no one believes it. They are still making money at the new rate hand over fist and they won't be giving that up to another company by shutting their operations down.
posted by Mitheral at 11:07 PM on November 1, 2007


Here's a good article on what a overheated oil sands economy is doing to renters in FtMcM. True horror story material.
posted by Quiplash at 8:14 AM on November 3, 2007


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