By Stephen Dafoe
Sturgeon County – With a catchy slogan and a serious economic message, Sturgeon County Mayor and Alberta Industrial Heartland Association (AIHA) Chair Don Rigney launched a new campaign last week in Edmonton to get people thinking about how much of Alberta’s raw bitumen is flowing south of the Canadian border. The Refine It Where We Mine It campaign and website seeks to educate Albertans about the importance of adding value to the province’s natural resources.
Mayor Rigney explained that the motivating factor behind the campaign was the growth in the exportation of raw bitumen to the US over the past several years and how it is outstripping home-grown upgrading. The Sturgeon County mayor said bitumen production has increased from 700,000 to approximately 1 million barrels per day over the last few years, but there have been minimal increases in upgrading capacity.
“We think that has some long-term consequences for the province and the ability of our kids and grandkids to live, work and play in this great province we call home,” Rigney said. “We feel it’s essential that we try and do whatever we can to support the province to get more upgrading capacity here so we secure more value for our citizens from our resources.”
The result, Rigney said, would be an increase in the number of long-term high-skilled and high-paying job opportunities for Albertans. Rigney said his concern is that with the plan to add between 1 and 1.5 million barrels a day of pipeline capacity, much of that raw material will be flowing to the US for upgrading and processing rather than here at home.
“We recognize those pipelines can also ship synthetic crude oil,” Rigney said. “We had a real industry in Alberta. We pioneered it with Suncor, Syncrude, Shell and CNRL. You know, massive projects, massive mines with supporting upgraders, but even those companies are starting to produce more raw product for export than they’re upgrading.”
Rigney said the time to act is now because once the pipelines are built and the long-term contracts are signed, future generations of Albertans may have to follow the pipelines to the US to find work.
Thus far, support for the cause has been strong from the construction trades industry. Rigney said that both the Alberta Building Trades Council, which represents unionized workers, and Merit Contractors Association, an open shop organization representing non-unionized workers, have stepped forward and attached their names to the campaign.
But while Rigney is grateful for the support from the building trades, he said it is essential for all Albertans who believe in the cause to visit www.refineitwherewemineit.ca and enter their own stories or cast their vote as to whether they feel Alberta’s natural resources should be upgraded here or shipped to the US as raw material.
“I think Albertans inherently – almost instinctively – support it because to do otherwise means you are a hewer of wood and drawer of water,” Rigney said. “Most of us have a proud past in that but we’re looking for something different and better. And if we want to support the kind of infrastructure and medical programs and healthcare that we take for granted, we’ve got to secure more value from this for our citizens as well as for our communities, municipalities and province.”
Rigney explained that by adding value to our natural resources through the upgrading and petrochemical industries, the province is less affected by fluctuations in the price of oil.
“When the oil prices drop, people turn off the tap, but in the last five years heavy bitumen prices got to as low as $4 a barrel,” Rigney said. “Those big mines and upgraders didn’t shut down. They kept going 24/7.”