Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Oilsands split Saskatchewan: poll

Opinions on environment differ based on race, education, location

By Jeanette Stewart
The StarPhoenix
January 4, 2011

Photograph by: Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images

Despite alarm bells raised recently over toxins spewed from Alberta's oilsands into Saskatchewan, results of a recent survey indicate one-quarter of the province's residents support oilsands development.

The results of a survey performed by Sigma Analytics for the Saskatoon StarPhoenix and the Regina Leader-Post show 24.9 per cent of respondents "strongly support" oilsands development in the province.

But those who caution against this type of development see a different picture in the survey numbers.

"If you didn't really know much about the issue, sure, why wouldn't you support it?" said Ann Coxworth, research adviser for the Saskatchewan Environmental Society (SES) and author of a report titled Carbon Copy: Preventing Oilsands Fever in Saskatchewan.

"I think the fact that 23 per cent of people are opposed or strongly opposed is a fairly high level of opposition," she added. "Over 50 per cent of the respondents have some reservations about it . . . which I think is significant."

According to its website, Oilsands Quest has extended oilsands land holdings in Saskatchewan close to existing exploration permits in Alberta.

Calls to its Alberta office were not returned.

The SES has recommended that a thorough land-use plan be created before large-scale industrial development proceeds and that all underground aquifers be mapped. It also suggests if a development goes ahead, it should be limited to one project to ensure this type of industry does not lead to serious environmental problems.

A report released in late December, after the survey was conducted, by a federally appointed oilsands advisory panel found inadequate environmental monitoring of Alberta oilsands. Previous research indicates more than 150,000 tonnes of acid-rain causing gases are released each year from the Alberta oilsands.

It is thought 70 per cent of these gases blow into Saskatchewan each year.

These numbers, along with the panel report, prompted provincial NDP environment critic Sandra Morin to say she will introduce a private member's bill to make Alberta pay reparations for harmful toxins entering Saskatchewan from the oilsands.

The Sigma Analytics survey also found as the education level of respondents increases, support for the oilsands decreases.

Participants were asked to rank how strongly they support oilsands development from one to five, with one being "strongly opposed" and five being "strongly support." The survey found university graduates averaged 3.04 on the one-to-five scale. Those with Grade 12 education or less averaged 3.54 support on the one-to-five scale.

Young people are also less likely to support this type of development: Using the same scale, those between the ages of 18 and 29 averaged 3.06 on the five-point scale. Support went up with age, and those between the age of 30 and 44 averaged 3.49, the strongest support from one age demographic. Respondents age 60 and up gave an average of 3.4.

Overall, respondents seemed to consistently rate the quality of Saskatchewan's environment as "average" or "very good."

In a further break down of those perceptions, 22.1 per cent of aboriginal people rated the environment as "very good" versus 46.3 per cent of non-aboriginal people who rated the environment.

The largest disparity was from those living in northern Saskatchewan, where 21.1 per cent of respondents rated the quality of the environment as "very poor."

Those in urban centres were much more likely to rate the environment as "very good."

Morin believes the negative perception of the environment by northerners could be due to escalating pollution in the province's north, where changes are felt more acutely than within an urban setting.

Sigma Analytics conducted the survey of 612 people between Nov. 30 and Dec. 7. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.96 per cent, 19 times out of 20.


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