It is often argued that the social and economic benefits of tar sands activities outweigh the environmental harm they cause. This is clearly not the case in Alberta. The pace of tar sands development has exceeded the ability of anyone to deal with the social consequences.
Giant tire on Sparwood coal truck used in tar sands operations.
Economically, Albertans are finding times tougher than ever. Inflation and consumer prices in Calgary and Edmonton are rising exponentially. Basic needs like housing are becoming unaffordable as demand outstrips supply. Services by skilled tradespeople (mechanics, plumbers, etc.) are expensive and hard to find because so many skilled workers are working on tar sands projects. Access to health care is becoming more and more difficult. Even traffic is getting worse – commute times are longer, accident rates are higher, and because most of the oil from the tar sands goes to the United States, even the price of gas is high!
Workers working in the tar sands are seeing fat paycheques, but there are enormous downsides: long hours, abusive situations, bad accommodation, remote locations, and a lack of job security are common complaints. Worker safety is another problem as drilling rigs and mine sites are some of the most dangerous work environments, and Alberta’s industrial accident rate increased by 17% between 2004 and 2006.
Communities feel they are being destroyed by the economic changes. Substance abuse, gambling and family violence has increased in towns near tar sands projects, and as thousands of workers are brought in by oil companies, towns in Northern Alberta face housing crunches and much higher costs. Homelessness in Edmonton increased by 19% in 2006 as there is not enough infrastructure or social services in Alberta to accommodate the increased population.