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The Oil Industry

In Entrusted To My Care, Grant MacEwan discusses the significance of oil and gas from its turbulent history to its massive impact on the West's economy. Interestingly, very little is made about oil extraction's contentious relationship with the environment. When MacEwan was writing his book on protecting Canada's resources contemporary phrases like "dirty oil" were not yet coined. Oil has impacted the development of Alberta, particularly in the northern part of the province, in ways unforeseeable prior to the discovery of Leduc. No. 1 in 1946. In the fifteen years after the Leduc discovery, private companies invested 6 billion dollars in the oil industry of western Canada. In a short matter of time, Alberta became a glamorous and profitable place not only to invest but also to work. The oil and gas industry created a plethora of jobs in the second half of the 20th century.

As a conservationist, MacEwan is particularly concerned about the non-renewable status of a resource like oil and gas. Once the resource has been exhausted other resources must be discovered and used. Finding new sources of oil, per se, is an expensive and time-consuming process. Society must be prepared to deal with the inevitable depletion of oil thus making conservation and responsible management even more vital to the well-being of the West's economy and environment. At the time of his writing MacEwan feared that a large portion of society were sampling ignoring the future, focusing all of their attention on maximizing productivity. Instead, according to MacEwan, policymakers should have been concentrating their efforts on making decisions that would alleviate the strain of oil dependence. Here again is MacEwan introducing issues on conservation decades before the general public and media.

MacEwan's chapter on the oil sands near Fort McMurray demonstrates the resource's vast potential in the international economy and the direct benefits of harvesting useful technology. The oil sands for years brought a sense of security to the province, particularly in the north. Only recently has the vulnerability of the resource been exposed. †Interestingly, at the time of writing, MacEwan scarcely mentions the environmental impact of oil sands exploration and extraction. Contemporary phrases such as "dirty oil" were simply not used in the lexicon of conservationists like MacEwan writing in the 1960s. MacEwan chooses to describe the oil sands of Fort McMurray as fabulous and focuses his writing on the economic impact of the non-renewable resource.

MacEwan does not mention oil's impact on soil fertility, clean water, and wildlife. Rather, he warns readers about the vulnerability of a non-renewable resource. Though Canada's resources are enormous in quantity and potential it does not mean Canadians can afford to be wasteful. How long, MacEwan ponders, will the current oil and gas resources last? MacEwan's goal, whether he was warning about the dangers of permanently losing non-renewable resources or promoting the preservation of the forestry industry, was to create a new dedication to stewardship and place new emphasis upon the responsibilities of safeguarding Canada's resources.


MacEwan, Grant. Entrusted To My Care. Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books, 1986.

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