May we have a drum roll, please?

Andy Davies isn’t just rolling an oil barrel down the highway; he’s making a political point

Fed up with the Klein government’s policies and the voter apathy that
perpetuates them, Red Deer College student Andy Davies was looking for a way
to effect a little change in the society around him. Problem was, the whole
traditional hanging-out-in-front-of-the-Legislature-with-a-clever-sign route
didn’t really appeal to him; he had to come up with something bigger.
The solution? A week-long stroll down Highway 2 with a 45-gallon oil drum.
“One day, I was thinking about what it would take for the average
Albertan to be heard, and I thought maybe if someone just walked around in
front of the Legislature with a scuba suit and flippers on, eventually
someone might come and ask what you were doing and why, and maybe your
message would get out,” says the 28-year-old visual arts student from
his home in Innisfail. “But that didn’t really evolve, so I
started thinking, ‘What if I dragged a big rock?’ or something
totally outrageous that would get attention. But then I figured that that
wouldn’t be very practical, so it ended up being an oil barrel.
It’s going to be visible, thousands of people will pass me on the
highway—people can’t not know that something is going on.”
By the time this article hits the stands, Davies will be four days into his
five-day, 148-kilometre barrel-wheeling excursion that will have begun 9 a.m.
Monday in Red Deer and will take him to the steps of the Alberta Legislature,
where he hopes to arrive at around 4:30 p.m. this Friday so he can personally
deliver the barrel to Klein. Although the symbolism of the oil barrel may
seem obvious, Davies stresses that he is not an opponent of the oil and gas
sector in Alberta. As a onetime employee within the industry, Davies
recognizes the value of oil and gas to the Albertan economy; rather, Davies
hopes that his journey will illuminate a couple of suspect practices and
policies in place regarding the industry. According to Davies, the Klein
government is turning away billions of dollars a year in revenue from the oil
and gas industry. As evidence, he cites the Parkland Institute’s
November 1999 study, “Throwing Away the Alberta Advantage,” which
examines the history of economic “rent” generated by oil and gas.
Rent, explains the study (rather longwindedly), is the difference between the
international commodity price of oil and gas, less all costs of production,
including an allowance for a normal return to capital employed but before
royalties, taxes and duties. In short, rent is the net revenues generated
from the production of oil and gas. “In the past, the government has
collected more revenue from the oil industry than they do now,” Davies
explains. “Under [Peter] Lougheed in the ’70s, business was
booming. In the mid-’80s, the industry went bust, and [Don] Getty had
to offer rent prices to encourage development and to stimulate the economy,
so he cut this rent. But Klein continued the same policies despite the fact
that by the mid-’90s, oil was back up. “It’s important to
realize that Getty cut the oil industry a break and Klein has perpetuated
that break even though economically it’s not necessary anymore,”
he continues. “So essentially we’re just turning away billions of
dollars of revenue that could be going towards healthcare, education, debt
reduction, infrastructure—in a time when we apparently have no money,
we’re turning away billions of dollars every year. And that’s my
problem.” That, and the little problem of the oil industry’s use
of freshwater resources for a oil recovery process called floating, in which
massive amounts of water are pumped into drained oil cavities, causing any
small oil deposits that weren’t caught the first time to float to the
surface. According to Davies, while the process is useful, its environmental
costs far outweigh its fiscal benefits. “I was speaking to a friend
today who is in the oil industry, on his way to becoming a petroleum
engineer, and he was saying that they recover very little oil from [this
process], it’s such a minor amount, but it does work,” said
Davies. “So the oil companies will drill a water well nearby, bring
water up 500 metres from the water table, and then dump it down-hole. But the
problem with this is that it lowers the water table for farmers. In a time
when we’re already experiencing drought conditions, the oil industry is
taking enormous amounts of water away from farmers.” Beyond all this,
Davies stresses that the overall purpose of his trek is to raise awareness
about voter apathy. “Albertans have clear expectations for high
standards in healthcare, education and senior care,” he says.
“The current government is eroding these values in favour of tax cuts
for multinational oil corporations. Klein is acting irresponsibly by
supporting the pumping of millions of litres of our fresh water down oil
wells. “I oppose the Klein government,” he continues, “but
I really just want to see more political involvement in Alberta, specifically
within the younger generation. The 18-35 part of the population is almost
unrepresented when it comes to voting; we’re the most progressive, but
we’re so disenchanted with the system that we don’t bother.
It’s time to change that; it’s time to participate more in
society and the democratic process. That’s what I’d like to see
out of this.” Upon his arrival in Edmonton, Davies will walk up 103
Ave, down Whyte and across the High Level to the Legislature grounds. Davies
encourages all concerned citizens to join him at any point along the way or
wait for him at the finish line. Who knows: that oil barrel might be full of
candy or something, and you’d feel mighty stupid if you missed out on
some free candy, wouldn’t you? V

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