Andrew Nikiforuk ponders how to bring humour to the tarsands.
He just won the City of Calgary’s W.O. Mitchell Book Prize for Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent.
“W.O. Mitchell set a standard for examining life critically, but with a sense of humour,” says Nikiforuk.
You get the feeling his humour might be awfully satirical. Tar Sands has landed him on the international speaker’s circuit, but he is persona non grata in the oilpatch here in Calgary.
Even the Alberta Book Awards didn’t shortlist Tar Sands.
An intellectual property lawyer I talked to argued vigorously that Nikiforuk was biased, not giving credit to scientific efforts to develop cleaner oilsand technologies.
Indeed, Nikiforuk argues that Alberta’s gooey black gold in and around Fort McMurray needs to be called the tarsands, not the oilsands, as there’s nothing oily about them, until a lot of water, steam, energy is applied to extract bitumen from the muck.
Tar Sands argues that Alberta’s oilfields have changed Canada: The feds suck out 50 per cent of oilsands revenue, now a substantial part of national GDP.
Calgary is the epicentre of the boom. In terms of revenues, the feds take half, the province takes 39 per cent, and the Alberta municipalities share 14 per cent (while out-of-province municipalities take the balance).
You can certainly see why our mayor is constantly lobbying the province to bring more money back to our city.
As Nikiforuk points out, the United States oil industry is having a heyday, using the tarsands environmental problems as reasons to lobby Obama to block our oil. The prescription in Tar Sands is slow development, figure out water and environmental issues, and apply higher royalties to invest in an energy future after oil.
Your job and mine is tied in some way to oil. Like it or lump it, Tar Sands is worth the read.
Were W.O. Mitchell with us, you can imagine him finding an eloquent way to write that the forces of oilsands status quo shouldn’t have the last laugh.