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If We're So "Oil Rich" Why is Alberta Planning Spending Cuts?

Posted: 03/06/2013 4:48 pm

Canada has the third largest proven oil reserves in the world, but the province of Alberta is planning to cut education and health care spending this year, and Canada's national debt stands at a whopping CDN$600 billion. 

How can that be? With so many people calling our massive tar sands reserves the "Saudi Arabia of the North," how can we be so cash-strapped? How can the Alberta government be planning to cut funding to schools, education and health care if the province is so oil rich? 

The best answer can be found in Norway, which this year alone will enjoy a $44 billion budget surplus. The country has the 22nd largest proven oil reserves in the world and about 40 per cent less oil is produced by that country, compared to Canada. 

On top of massive government budget surpluses, Norway also has no foreign debt, and $634 billion set aside as a pension fund. This fund, called the Government Sovereign Wealth fund -- set up to collect oil and gas revenues -- is projected to be worth $1 trillion by 2020 and currently holds more than one per cent of all the world's equity. 

To put it simply, Norway is rolling in the dough and their number one sector is oil and gas exploration, production and export.

There are many differences between Norway and Canada that can explain why Norway is so rich and Canada so relatively poor, but there is one huge difference that stands out amongst the rest: oil royalties. Royalties are the amount a government charges oil companies for being allowed to extract and sell the country's oil.

Norway charges oil companies about 70 per cent of their profits for the right to extract and sell Norway's oil. So for every dollar a company like ExxonMobil or British Petroleum makes in profit in Norway, about 70 cents of that dollar goes to the government and back to the people of Norway. 

A director of the Norwegian Ministry of Oil & Energy, Matte Agerup, summed up Norway's philosophy on their oil reserves best when she explained that, "the state [Norway] operated on the basis that the oil company was the helper in harnessing the country's natural resources, but that the oil ultimately belongs to the nation."

The Canadian government does not charge a royalty on the profits of oil companies operating in the Alberta tar sands, only the Alberta provincial government does. In 2009, the Alberta government collected more in gambling and casino revenue than it did in royalties from oil companies.

In recent years, the Alberta government has been collecting roughly a 5 to 10 per cent royalty from oil companies operating in the tar sands (the calculations, as you can imagine, are complicated, but this appears a safe estimate). Author and tar sands expert, Andrew Nikiforuk, writing in the Tyee, provides a much more in-depth look at the numbers if you're interested. 

Suffice it to say, Canadians are not getting the returns they deserve for the risks they are inheriting. Companies like ExxonMobil, who last year made an estimated $104 million a day from global operations, get to extract oil from Canada's tar sands and sell it off to foreign interests, and Canadians get little more than the resulting climate change pollution and massive toxic lakes of sludge that seep into our freshwater reserves. 

Great deal if you're ExxonMobil. Bum deal for Canadians. But the answer seems pretty simple - charge the oil companies way more for the right to extract and sell our country's oil. Politicians, of course, will tell you it's much more complicated than that. 

But trust me, it isn't. Norway did it and the oil companies are still there. And, in fact, they are investing more than ever.

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  • Dalai Lama

    In September, the Dalai Lama was one of nine Nobel Peace Prize laureates who <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/09/07/nobel-peace-prize-winners_n_952248.html" target="_hplink">sent a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama</a> urging him "to say 'no' to the plan proposed by the Canadian-based company TransCanada to build the Keystone XL, and to turn [his] attention back to supporting renewable sources of energy and clean transportation solutions."

  • Archbishop Desmond Tutu

    Archbishop Desmond Tutu was among<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/09/28/nobel-prize-winners-oil-sands_n_985171.html" target="_hplink"> a group of Nobel Peace Prize laureates</a> who signed letters to both U.S. President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, urging the men to stop the Keystone pipeline.

  • Al Gore

    Gore has said it is essential to stop the Keystone pipeline because the tar sands oil it would carry is "the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/al-gore/the-dirtiest-fuel-on-the-_b_944186.html" target="_hplink">dirtiest source of fuel on the planet</a>."

  • Robert Redford

    Actor and environmentalist <a href="http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000602/" target="_hplink">Robert Redford</a> recently added his name to the list of prominent individuals who are calling on President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/24/robert-redford-keystone-xl_n_1019789.html" target="_hplink">In a video for <em>The New York Times</em>, produced with the Natural Resources Defense Council</a>, Redford described the negative aspects of the proposed tar sands pipeline and said, "By deepening our reliance on oil, the pipeline would be a job killer." Redford has previously been vocal about calling for alternatives to oil. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-redford/keystone-xl-pipeline_b_978835.html" target="_hplink">Writing last month for HuffPost</a>, he said, "Let's build the next generation of energy efficient cars, homes and workplaces. Let's develop wind, solar and other cleaner, safer, more sustainable sources of power and fuel. Let's invest in high-speed rail and smart communities that give us better transportation options."

  • Mark Ruffalo

    Actor <a href="http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0749263/" target="_hplink">Mark Ruffalo</a>, famous for films like "<a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0842926/" target="_hplink">The Kids Are All Right</a>" and "<a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0443706/" target="_hplink">Zodiac</a>," is also an outspoken activist and opponent of the Keystone XL pipeline. Ruffalo <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/11/mark-ruffalo-tar-sands_n_924245.html" target="_hplink">said in a video</a> for the <a href="http://www.tarsandsaction.org/" target="_hplink">Tar Sands Action</a> group, "I've seen the kind of damage that out-of-control energy development can do to water and to communities near my own home, where fracking for natural gas is causing widespread pollution ... All these problems are connected -- we need to get off fossil fuels." In the past, Ruffalo has also expressed his ire for hydraulic fracturing natural gas extraction, or fracking. He told The Huffington Post, "The <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/18/mark-ruffalo-fights-frack_n_810461.html" target="_hplink">world is already leaving us behind</a>. We're being left behind. America. Because the gas and oil industry has a strangle hold on us. And our politicians."

  • Bill McKibben

    Environmentalist and author <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bill-mckibben/" target="_hplink">Bill McKibben</a> has expressed strong disapproval for the planned Keystone XL pipeline. In fact, he was <a href="http://www.tarsandsaction.org/press/releases/aug20/" target="_hplink">one of the first</a> of over 1,200 who were arrested at the Tar Sands Action sit-in at the White House in August. Referring to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/23/keystone-xl-frustrated-environmental-activists-obama_n_933648.html" target="_hplink">his opposition to the Keystone Pipeline</a>, McKibben told HuffPost, "The people who've carried this fight for three years are indigenous people on both sides of the border who have a huge stake in it because it's on their land, and farmers and ranchers from places like Nebraska," he said. He added, "It wasn't until I sat down and read <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-james-hansen" target="_hplink">Jim Hansen</a>'s analysis of how much carbon was in those things that I understood that this was not just a national issue, it's a global issue of the first order."

  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus

    <a href="http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000506/" target="_hplink">Julia Louis-Dreyfus</a>, known for her role as Elaine on the popular sitcom "Seinfeld," has released a video urging President Obama to reject the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. Dreyfus recalls when Obama said "Let us be the generation that ends the tyranny of oil." But she says, "Big Oil is still pretty much running the show." She claims that by rejecting the pipeline, Obama has a chance to "make good on [his] word." <a href="http://www.tarsandsaction.org/video-release-julia-louis-dreyfus-challenges-pres-obama-stop-keystone-xl/" target="_hplink">Louis-Dreyfus asks Obama</a>, "Denying the permit for a brutally stupid, money-grab like the Keystone XL pipeline is a no-brainer, right Mr President?"

  • Daryl Hannah

    Actress <a href="http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000435/" target="_hplink">Daryl Hannah</a> has also lent her voice to the movement against the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/keystone-pipeline" target="_hplink">Keystone XL pipeline</a>. In August, Hannah was one of the over 1,200 people to be <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/30/daryl-hannah-arrested-keystone-protest_n_942072.html" target="_hplink">arrested as an act of civil disobedience</a> in front of the White House. Shouting "no to the Keystone pipeline" as she was handcuffed, Hannah made it clear she opposed the proposed Canada to Texas pipeline.

  • Maude Barlow

    Maude Barlow, a Canadian author and activist and chairperson of <a href="http://www.canadians.org/" target="_hplink">The Council of Canadians</a>, was arrested in September at a Keystone pipeline and oil sands protest on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/09/26/ottawa-oil-sands-pipeline-protest_n_981052.html" target="_hplink">She was one of over 100 protesters</a> of the demonstration's estimated 400 to be arrested. Writing for HuffPost Canada about <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/maude-barlow/maude-barlow-arrested_b_982487.html" target="_hplink">her first experience being arrested</a>, Barlow blogged, "I did it because I fear we are killing the planet and I can no longer be content to only write and speak about it. Today my feet spoke for me as I crossed that barricade and took away one more fear in my life." She also said, "By investing trillions of dollars into these pipelines, governments and the energy industry are ensuring the continued rapid acceleration of tar sands development, instead of supporting a process to move to an alternative and sustainable energy system."

  • Kyra Sedgwick

    <a href="http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001718/" target="_hplink">Kyra Sedgwick</a>, star of the television crime drama "The Closer," has voiced her opposition to the pipeline. In a video for the <a href="http://www.nrdc.org/" target="_hplink">Natural Resources Defense Council</a>, Sedgwick said "Just like the BP oil spill, one glitch in the tar sands pipeline could destroy our clean water sources, possibly forever."

  • David Strathairn

    Joining several other prominent actors, David Strathairn appeared in a video urging President Obama to reject the Keystone Pipeline. He calls on his fellow Americans to join the November 6 <a href="http://www.tarsandsaction.org/" target="_hplink">Tar Sands Action</a> in Washington, D.C. <a href="http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000657/" target="_hplink">Strathairn</a>, who is known for his portrayal of journalist Edward R. Murrow in "Good Night, and Good Luck," said, "Obama ran for office speaking of the dangers of our fossil fuel addiction, promising to fight climate change and fully embrace a clean energy future. The <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/keystone-pipeline" target="_hplink">Keystone XL tar sands pipeline</a> is a dangerous step away from that commitment."

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