Tuesday, August 12, 2008


There is a striking contrast this week amongst noteworthy achievements in two different parts of the country.

Off in Oil Springs, a long ago forgotten village in the swampy backwaters of southwestern Ontario they are celebrating our addiction to oil. One-hundred and fifty years ago this week, James Miller Williams of Hamilton, Ontario and his crew struck "black gold" at the Williams No.1 Well in Oil Springs, giving birth to the modern petroleum industry. Other wells followed in nearby Petrolia, Ontario and in and around Sarnia...a year later in Titusville, Pennsylvania.

Among notable facts: There are still 320 producing wells in that area averaging about 70,000 barrels per year. It was a crew from Petrolia, Ontario that drilled the first well in Arabia, on May 26, 1908. In this century, oil is produced in 87 countries.

Back then, the $1.00 wooden barrel cost more than 5 times the 20-cents worth of oil it contained. Although we'd hardly think so given today's price at the pumps, up 60% in one year, Canada remains among the few net exporters of oil...as many as 8 to 10 million barrels per day flow to our American neighbours alone!

Down east in my native New Brunswick, they are toasting the energy of the future. So convinced are private sector North American investors of our continent's insatiable thirst for energy that they are putting up $50-million just to seek a site licence and environmental approvals to build the proposed $6-billion Lepreau II nuclear generator near Saint John.

The Government of New Brunswick has a billion plus dollars project underway currently to refurbish the original 30 year old Point Lepreau Nuclear plant. It's been joined in new endeavours by the Irving family conglomerate. There is an unprecedented energy boom in the southern part of the picture province including the Irving's new massive Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) seaport, its pipeline to the New England States, and presently under construction a Potash/fertilizer shipping terminal to compete with British Columbia for the shipments from the world's largest producer, the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan.

The Irving family which also operates North America's largest oil refinery in Saint John...is developing plans for a second refinery which is expected to be the first new refining capacity built in North America in at least twenty years. New Brunswick's provincial government is banking on the developments to transform the province from its have-not status.

The Energy Minister, Jack Keir, describes each recent development as a step closer to "an impressive pot of riches".

In southwestern Ontario this week their claim to fame: The discovery of the first commercial oil well, was described as "the spark that ignited the world." One hundred and fifty years later we know that more than half of the planet's supply is gone...and the rest is rapidly declining. Our "ignited" world is down to a flicker.

As New Brunswick contemplates its "pot" of energy riches it has an opportunity, a duty perhaps, to learn from the lessons of our past.

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