25 February 2008

Even the oil industry says slow down

Voices ranging from environmentalists to Alberta elder statesman Peter Lougheed have been warning that oil sands development is proceeding far too quickly, environmentally, economically and socially. But the Alberta government has refused to, in Premier Ed Stelmach's words, "touch the brake." Now even members of the Conservative government's nearest and dearest friend -- the oil industry -- are lobbying for a slow down. A letter presented to the departments of Energy, Environment and Sustainable Resources on behalf of the Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA) expressed the opinion that further lease sales at this time might reduce the options for establishing conservation areas. The letter was signed by some industry heavyweights, including Petro-Canada, Suncor, Husky, Shell and even Imperial Oil, son of Exxon.

The letter concerns only lease sales and focuses on conservation areas; nonetheless, it's an impressively progressive step for the exploiters of the sands to take. The group did not expressly challenge the pace of development but, according to CEMA president Randall Barrett, the framework the organization is creating represents a "more reasonable and orderly approach toward development." Welcome words indeed.

So will common sense finally touch the premier? When even some of the government's closest friends and benefactors suggest caution, will the premier take heed? That may very well depend on who the premier is. We'll know that next Monday.

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