Northern development in past has often led to social and ecological damage. Tar sand development today has the sane potential. The writer reviews the greatest potential dangers and assesses what the managers of the Syncrude project are doing to minimize damage and maximize social benefits.

What Is The Problem?

In the town of Puri, in India, there is a famous: shrine called the juggernaut. The shrine is mounted on sixteen wheels and on festival days it is pulled through the crowded streets. Sometimes careless pilgrims are crushed to death beneath its wheels.

Must the development of Canada's northern frontier – and in particular, development of Alberta's Athabasca Tar Sands – also be a juggernaut, rolling destructively over the people and ecology of the region?

Given the track record of development in northern Canadian communities over the past half-century including the cultural breakdown that has, among native people especially, often accompanied. industrial booms....

Given the presence of thousands of native Indian and Metis people, many of them ill-equipped to compete in an industrial world and ill-prepared for the stresses and strains of urban living....

Given the potentially disruptive ecological inpact of tar sands technologies....

And given the urgent need to develop the tar sands quickly if Canada is to have any assurance of badly needed future energy supplies....

GIVEN all of these factors can tar sands developers do anything to minimize the casualties of inevitable and necessary industrial development? Can a private company broaden its horizons to include not only profit, but also human and ecological values in its planning? What is at question in frontier economic development today is whether the business-sector in Canada has a sense of social responsibility and sophistication -- a feel and understanding for social and cultural matters to match its formidable expertise in economic and technical areas.

A Glimmer Of Good News

In a world in which the public mood is frequently one of pessimism about the future, I have some cautious good news for those who suffer from a sense of gloom and doom.

The Syncrude project hopes to show that it is possible to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, that new solutions can be found and new procedures formulated to enable developers to incorporate valid social and ecological concerns into planning. No doubt mistakes will still be made and some problems will not be anticipated; areas of ignorance will remain to sometimes frustrate our good intentions. But up in the muskeg, often in unspectacular, unreported ways, some good things are happening to ensure that human values and ecological values are not forgotten in the rush to development.

Not all native people are interested in permanent jobs in tar sands industries; for those who are, programs are in the planning stages to enable them to qualify for and retain employment n permanent, good jobs.

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