Okay, it’s (the beginning of) the end of oil. But what are tens of thousands of working men and women to do when they’re no longer needed? The question was asked in Paris, but it’s being felt personally in Alberta’s oil patch, which produces some of the world’s most expensive—read, ‘least economical’—and dirtiest crude.
“We hope we’re seeing the end of fossil fuels for the good of everybody,” Alberta oil worker and union leader Ken Smith told a side event at the World Climate Summit. “But how are we going to provide for our families?” Alberta has seen thousands of oil patch jobs disappear as employers respond to low world crude prices and the province’s new climate policy.
“We’re going to need some kind of transition. We’ve moved out there, we’ve invested in that industry—and when it ends, we’re going to be left holding the bag,” Smith said, according to a report in the National Observer. “Our employers will move on to the next shiny thing they see and make another billion dollars—but where are our workers going to go?”
Some, it seems, are finding nowhere to go. According to CBC News, the incidence of suicide has jumped by nearly a third in Alberta in the wake of mass layoffs in the energy industry.
“This is staggering,” suicide prevention advocate Mara Grunau told CBC News. “We would never have expected to see this much this soon.”
Oil prices are forecast to remain far below the average cost of tar sand/oil sand production for several years. But other Alberta oil and gas producers may fare better. And a review of the impacts of the province’s climate policy, which will raise Alberta’s carbon tax, indicated there will be “winners and losers.”
That policy, announced not long before the climate summit, “does not create a level playing field,” Tracy Johnson reports for CBC News. “It rewards companies that are the most efficient when it comes to greenhouse-gas emissions per barrel of oil and penalizes those that are less efficient.” Alberta’s most carbon-efficient oil producer is seven times cleaner than its least.
As Trevor Tombe, a University of Calgary economist who helped CBC with its analysis, put it, “Cenovus is going to make money from this. Nexen is not.”