Friday, September 28, 2007

A Little Golf A Little Hustle

Alberta suddenly has become a destination of preference for U.S. Ambassador Dave Wilkins.Though his presence in the province has been downplayed despite his visiting the largest American city north of the 49th Parallel.

There are 75,000 Americans who call Calgary home -- more than any other city in the nation.

U.S. Consul General for the region Tom Huffaker says Calgary may indeed have a higher number of American ex-pats than any other city on the planet.

And this Saturday, Huffaker is calling all to share some food and good times to celebrate the great relationship that exists between Canada and the U.S.

The Can-Am Celebration, formerly known as the American Picnic, will take place at Heritage Park starting at 10:30 a.m.

Dignitaries at the Calgary Economic Development-sponsored function include Huffaker and U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins.

Last weekend he shot a little golf and shot the shit with Prince Ed over the royalty review.

U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins reportedly button-holed Stelmach last weekend in Banff about the key Hunter recommendation not to "grandfather" out any oilsands plants "on the grounds of fair treatment for all participants."

In October he will return to address that august body the Whitecourt Chamber of Commerce. Whitecourt is softwood lumber country, and it just so happens Alberta is named in the U.S. softwood suit.

Whitecourt is the site of three mills:

  • Blueridge Ranger Lumber Sawmill (owned by West Fraser)
  • Millar Western Sawmill / Pulp Mill (owned by Millar Western Forest Products)
  • Alberta Newsprint Company Pulp & Paper Mill.

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It is also being courted as a site for a nuclear power plant by a Franco Canadian company. One in competition with Canadian Candu and American G.E. reactors.

Furthermore, Areva is talking to the federal government about forming a partnership with AECL. (Ottawa is also in discussions with Areva's American competitor, General Electric.)

So why is he visiting? Talk a little softwood, a little G.E.?

Nuclear Power Discussion is Back ( 9/26/2007 )

Nuclear power is back in the spotlight in Whitecourt. Areva Canada President, Armand Laferrere, attended town council last night, to give a presentation on his company in relation to nuclear power. Laferrere says Whitecourt would be the perfect site for his companies next project. He also said he was encouraged by the reaction from council members. Areva is the world's leading nuclear power plant provider, and currently has 98 plants worldwide.

Areva Canada does not build nuclear reactors, that is done by its parent company in France. In Canada Areva is involved solely in uranium mining in Saskatchewan. Given the fact that Whitecourt's sits right on the Athabasca river, this is an advantage for the companies expansion in competition with Energy Alberta who plans a nuke plant in neighbouring Peace River.

It's late afternoon in Saskatoon and Armand Laferrere's flight back home to Toronto doesn't leave for a couple of hours yet.

The president of Areva Canada Inc. doesn't seem to mind the wait. The day is typically busy for the smartly dressed Frenchman -- leaving Toronto in the early hours of the day for a morning business meeting in Alberta, and then hopping on another plane to give an afternoon presentation to the Canadian Nuclear Workers Council in Saskatoon before heading home.

Laferrere is talking about excited American customers who have already purchased equipment to compliment Areva's newest reactor, the EPR, although it's still in the licensing process. The model is being built in Finland and France, he explained, and is a third-generation plant that has buyers eagerly awaiting the day they can purchase the technology. The EPR, perhaps, is the model he would like to see in Western Canada.

"Saskatchewan has been pro-nuclear for a while because uranium is involved with it. The friendly atmosphere for nuclear in Saskatchewan, which we're already used to, seems to be spreading even further west, which is good news for the industry," Laferrere said. "I think public opinion is moving at astounding rates right now. Alberta is very seriously considering a nuclear build. Even British Columbia, which used to be very anti-nuclear, is starting to think about it -- much quicker than we thought."

Sitting in a nearly empty hotel conference room, Laferrere makes it clear that when the opportunity arises, he would like to see an Areva reactor in Western Canada. With the recent nuclear announcement coming from Alberta, Laferrere is keeping a close eye on the situation. Although plans for a nuclear reactor there aren't a done deal, Calgary-based Energy Alberta Corp. said its partner, Atomic Energy of Canada, would use Candu reactor technology if its applications are approved.

"We're interested in working in Alberta, definitely, and we're continuing contacts for that," he said. "The business model is not the kind of business model Areva would use; we would rather partner with an existing utility. But still everything that goes on in the industry is positive for the industry, and I'm watching it very closely. We just wouldn't do it this way."

With buzz around the nuclear horizon in the West, Laferrere notes that without uranium mining in Saskatchewan, Areva would be at a significant disadvantage in the industry. Though a provincial election could alter some contacts in his address book, he doubts any major changes would take place if a new party came into power.

A nuclear power plant in White court would be a carbon offset to the pollution spewed by the lumber processing plants. And in effect would allow them to continue spewing, without having to add scrubbers and new technology to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Saskatoon Sask Mining Week Areva Resources Canada Inc. Saskatoon Sask Mining Week Areva Resources Canada Inc.

Whitecourt is also a hub into the Tarsands. Which is another reason the nuclear industry is looking at it. In the global economy the way big oil treats the environment, using up fresh water for tarsands extraction, creating deserts of sand from the extracted mud, whether in Ecuador or Whitecourt, it's all the same.
Long term pain for short term gain.

As bobert the blogger writes from the Amazon jungle on Blogging It Real he compares the situation of Ecuadorian oil workers, many working for Canadian companies, with those in Whitecourt. Of course some of those Ecuadorian workers may be coming here soon.

I’m in the Amazon. In a place called las joyas de sachas. It should be a pretty town, but it is the text book definition of an ecological and human disaster. The girl here is in a "soccer pitch" and that dark horizontal line is indeed the petrol vein. This is the place that Texaco came tearing into, and pulled out as much crude oil as possible with very little given to environmental and human health. The public outcry of Texaco’s handicraft forced them to change their name to Chevron. You know, a new name means a new history, no?

Despite Texaco / Chevron rubbing the slate clean, the after effects of their work in the Amazon is still devastating, as all the new petroleum developers continue to follow a few basic rules: pay nothing to environmental sustainability, pay very little to the Ecuadorian government (only $4 - $7 of every barrel of oil pulled out of Ecuador, actually stays in Ecuador), and pay the workers next too nothing.

Oil workers in sachas get paid about $120 a month, when the work is good. If it is slow, or there is maintenance to be done on the pipeline, that number goes down…a lot. The rates of cancer, according to some local doctors, are skyrocketing! Cancer is just about ready to takeover as the number one killer in sachas. That’s a pretty impressive accomplishment, to have a first world disease compete among diseases of the poor for the champion of morbidity. I can see the mayor now, broadcasting to all how 25 oil workers died from cancer, while only 14 pregnant mothers died on the road to the hospital to give birth (this is quite a common occurrence, as despite the abundance of Texas tea, locals can hardly afford anything, let alone a working vehicle with petrol in it).

So now, I’m curious. About 6,000km to the north and a little to the west is Alberta. Canada’s very own American State. In June I was passing through the town of Whitecourt, another oil town. Whitecourt is struggling, in its own way, as it can’t build enough houses or schools to accommodate the growing population that is seeking fortune on the oil fields. Car dealers can’t keep up with the demand for hummers, and the guy selling big screen TV’s is struggling to keep inventory in his store for more than a day.

At the local Boston Pizza, the young oil workers, almost all high school drop-outs who abhor any idea of higher education as salaries of $100,000 for a guy without grade 12 math is pretty hard to turn down, are doing lines of cocaine in the bathroom. They just can’t spend their money fast enough, so it goes up their nose. Without their grade 12, and the mentality of a spoiled kid in the candy store, they spend and spend.

What I can’t figure out is why my pals in Whitecourt, who don’t have enough math skills to do their own taxes, have the right to furiously spend money as if it were on fire. And in the light of the bonfire comes the chatter of how Alberta needs private healthcare, more private schools, and won’t give one cent from the oil boom to other provinces who are struggling with public debt.

Meanwhile in the broiling Amazon, oil workers only have the right to work, get paid next to nothing and die from being poisoned. Oil is oil. Be it from Alberta or Ecuador. The world market says there is no difference between oil pulled out of ground by a group of guys who get paid $100,000 a year compared to another group of guys who do the very same job, and sell the proceeds to the very same market, for about $1400 a year.

Halliburton and friends should have an annual worker exchange program! The boys from Alberta should come down to the Amazon and get cancer, and the Ecuadorians should enjoy a month in Whitecourt complete with nightly visits to Boston Pizza’s bathroom.

In many ways Alberta is the whitewash of oil. It justifies the extraction, because life is good for those who do it. But, the grim reality is that most of the world’s oil is pulled out of the ground by the desperate of the earth, who either have to suffer through bad health or brutal violence, and in the case of Iraq…both! If the entire world’s oil was pulled out of the ground with same lifestyle and mentality as it is in Alberta, we would be paying a solid $20 a gallon for fuel. No questions there.

But most of the world’s population enjoys bargain prices on oil, and complain about the imposed taxes that get thrown in there. It’s the brutality of labour conditions coupled with trade policies that ensure that next to no money remains in the communities of oil workers; money that could be put into safety equipment, transportation systems and basic social services that could do something about the monthly occurrence of a dead-would-be-mother lying in the ditch 20km from the nearest hospital. Spikes in energy prices might occur from time to time when speculators smell war, or hurricanes, but the baseline price, is based on places like sachas. Places torn open and left to rot, with absolutely no capacity to take care of those in need.

It’s the same philosophy that lies in Whitecourt, only seen through the fun-house mirror that is the global economy.


RONA Vs Greenpeace

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