Could the Alberta election result hurt tar sands development?

Fort McMurray in the Alberta tar sands. Photo credit: Kris Krug via Flickr.
By Anders Lorenzen

The people of Alberta, which is home to the tar sands and one of the most Conservative provinces in Canada, have just ousted the right wing Conservative Party, a fan of Canada’s powerful energy industry.


For the first time in 44 years the left leaning New Democrats (NDP) will now control the province , and they have promised to review the monitoring of the oil and gas industry.


NDP won comfortably with 53 seats, gaining 49 more than in the last election, while the Conservatives took a massive loss having only managed to win 10 seats, losing 60.


NDP’s Rachel Anne Notley, who is a lawyer, will now be Alberta’s new Premier, and although she and her party have not made any statements about the tar sands since the election, the heavy energy industry in Alberta has already started to panic, as energy shares on the Canadian stock markets have reacted negatively to her victory.


But during the election campaign Ms Notley said that she was not a big supporter of certain pipeline projects, including the controversial Keystone XL pipeline or the Northern Gateway pipeline, on environmental grounds.


The NDP are expected to be less accommodating to the expanding tar sands industry, although probably not wanting to shut it down. It could, though, introduce further regulation and make sure that indigenous groups are not being exploited due to tar sands production.


The Alberta tar sands project is the world’s largest and most polluting industrial project, so vast that it can be seen from space. Economically it is crucial to Canada, as the US imports more oil from Canada than from any other country.


All eyes are now resting on what Ms Notley will do, first, on energy policy reforms. It is certain changes will be made, but what and how is still uncertain.


And, secondly, there is a general election in October, and questions are now being asked whether the NDP can go one step further and oust Stephen Harper’s Conservative-Liberal coalition government. This is a hope that Canada’s environmentalists are clinging on to in a country that was once seen as being at the forefront of progressive environmental policies.

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