10/24/2012 11:31 EDT | Updated 12/24/2012 05:12 EST

Oilsands Investment Benefits All Of Canada, As Well As U.S.: Conference Board

EDMONTON - Economic benefits from oilsands investment are eye-poppingly large and will be spread across the country, says the Conference Board of Canada, but the biggest beneficiary outside Alberta will be the United States.

"The international effects totals are larger than the interprovincial effects and the U.S. is the largest international," Michael Burt, who wrote the report commissioned by Alberta and the federal government, said Wednesday. "It's not unusual for us to trade more north-south than east-west."

Released at a conference of oilsands-related businesses, the report paints a dazzling picture of energy-fuelled job growth — as long as development proceeds uninhibited.

The paper predicts an estimated $364 billion in investment by 2035 is anticipated to create at least 2.3 million person-years of employment. That's the equivalent of about 100,000 jobs a year, either directly or in companies supplying goods and services.

The report says 54 per cent of those benefits are expected to remain in Alberta. The rest of Canada will divvy up just under 20 per cent.

It also expects Ontario to lead with nearly 10,000 jobs a year created through direct goods and services supplied to the industry. British Columbia comes next with about 5,400 jobs, followed by the Prairies at 2,700 and Quebec with about 2,500 jobs a year.

Atlantic Canada can expect about 530 jobs a year.

Other countries will reap about 27 per cent of the benefits. In the U.S., 8,300 jobs a year will be created in the manufacturing sector alone, says the report.


Oilsands Investment Benefits

Those American jobs could be a Canadian opportunity, said Burt.

"I would definitely characterize it as an opportunity. There's a lot of space there where we may be able to capture market share from international markets. We are seeing growing interest in other provinces to take advantage of this opportunity."

Brad Duguid, Ontario's minister for economic development, said recently he plans to add more staff to focus on trade issues with Alberta.

Burt acknowledged that his report assumes that oilsands oil will be able to get to market freely. Plans to build pipelines for oilsands bitumen to the southern U.S. and the Canadian West Coast have encountered significant opposition.

Environmental concerns are another risk, he said.

"If we don't address some of the concerns resulting from that we could see a slower pace of investment."

The report also warns that oilsands oil is more carbon-intensive than conventional oil and that a significant global effort to combat climate change could dampen investment. However, Burt downplayed that risk in his remarks to the conference.

"That's not the most likely scenario."

Keith Stewart of Greenpeace said the assumptions undercut the report's credibility.

"Any report in 2012 that ignores the climate implications of major development programs shouldn't be taken too seriously," he said.

Earlier this week, a group of 49 investment funds with money in the oilsands released a statement warning the industry that its environmental performance, including on climate change, is creating financial risk.

Stewart said $364 billion spent on anything — renewable energy, for example — would create a lot of jobs.

"It's ethically questionable to say we're unlikely to stop catastrophe, so we should make as much money as possible in making the problem worse. This report presents as inevitable the very thing that governments should be trying to prevent.

"There are no good jobs on a dead planet."

Burt said the sheer scale of investment flowing into the oilsands is almost beyond compare.

"The best analogy I've been able to find is the building of the U.S. interstate highway system (which) cost half a billion dollars over about 40 or 50 years," he said. "We're talking about $364 billion over the next 25 years — if you add in the investment that's already taken place, you're into that ballpark.

"We're talking about something equivalent to building the interstate highway system in the U.S."

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