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Who needs pipelines, the Oil Bucket Brigade is ready

An oil-sands worker operates a rig near Fort McMurray, Alta., in September of 2010.

Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Andrew Leach is an Associate Professor at the Alberta School of Business. He blogs on energy, environment, and oilsands issues at http://www.andrewleach.ca and is on Twitter @andrew_leach .





In response to the recent difficulties encountered by both TransCanada and Enbridge with respect to getting approval for their pipeline projects to move oil from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico and Kitimat respectively, oil producers have begun to look at alternatives. Just last week, Cenovus announced a deal to transport oil by rail to market.



As more potential projects surface, they can always count on the support of 'job-creating' politicians, even if the economics are dubious. How about this one, which promises to offer many times the employment and economic impacts of pipeline or rail transportation (millions of jobs are on the line!). Plant your tongue firmly in your cheek, and watch TransPortImpact's Oil Bucket Brigade ** project sail through the regulatory process.

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If you haven't heard about TransPortImpact's Oil Bucket Brigade project yet, I'm sure you will. After all, it'll likely be looking to hire you.







The model is simple, and relies on technology which has stood the test of time. Oil will be transported from Alberta's oil sands regions to the B.C. port city of Kitimat by bucket brigade. The brigade route, stretching almost 1,200 kilometres across the Prairies, Rockies, and through the Great Bear Rainforest will be staffed 24/7/365 by workers who will each contribute to moving Canada's oil sands on its way to meet the growing need for energy in China and other Asian markets. The world needs oil, and with each bucket passed down the line, another small piece of that demand will be met.







Preliminary estimates provided by TransPortImpact suggest that just under one million workers will be needed for each shift on the brigade, with each worker responsible for moving buckets a little over a meter and a half on their way to the coast, with lower distances covered in uphill and downhill sections. In recognition of the difficult working conditions associated with a bucket brigade, workers will work only six hours a day, five days a week, with each day's work split into three two-hour blocks. Thus, the bucket brigade will create more than four million permanent jobs. The Northern Gateway Pipeline project, by comparison, offers only 62,700 person-years of employment during construction and only a few hundred permanent jobs.







The Oil Bucket Brigade will use locally-sourced 10 litre covered buckets, so one barrel of oil will be transported for every 16 buckets moving down the line. TransPortImpact expects to be able to move 8,000-10,000 buckets a day, meaning that approximately 20 jobs would be created for every single barrel of oil transported to the B.C. Coast, and those are just the direct jobs!



The indirect jobs associated with housing, clothing, and feeding four million bucket brigadiers is almost too large to fathom -- up to 10 million indirect and induced jobs, or another 40 permanent jobs per barrel of oil transported. Jobs will literally be created along every meter of the brigade route -- every community will benefit. These estimates still don't take account of the economic impact of all four million of those brigadiers spending their hard-earned wages in their local communities -- a permanent economic boom.







The site preparation requirements for the Oil Bucket Brigade are small relative to the construction of a pipeline -- about $1-billion of infrastructure investment is required up front. Given that infrastructure investment creates significant economic impacts, this low number may be a worry, but the infrastructure spending will still create 100 direct, permanent jobs and five times that many permanent, indirect jobs for every $1,000 spent. With that type of long-term impact per dollar invested, the limited infrastructure investment should be easy to overlook.



Some concerns had arisen with an earlier proposal for an oil bucket brigade, since the potential for spills is obviously quite high. TransPortImpact has determined that, on average, five buckets a day would be dropped, leading to daily spills of up to 50 litres -- plenty of work for clean-up crews on an average day. While understanding that clean-ups create jobs is important, TransPortImpact has also made it clear that they are taking every precaution when crossing waterways and sensitive areas while protecting their workers from un-needed job losses. Through those areas, each bucket will be transported by two people, in a specially created double-bucket-harness, so that no jobs are lost while safety is maintained. The Oil Bucket Brigade means you don't have to choose between the environment and job creation.

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With up to 50 direct and indirect jobs created per barrel of oil transported, economic impacts in the hundreds of billions, or perhaps even trillions of dollars over the life of the project, and top notch environmental controls, it will be impossible for the Government of Canada to say no to this project.



** Author's note: ** TransPortImpact is not a real company, and the Oil Bucket Brigade is not a real project.

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About the Author

Andrew Leach is an energy and environmental economist and is Associate Professor at the Alberta School of Business at the University of Alberta. He has a Ph.D. in Economics from Queen's University, and a B.Sc (Environmental Sciences) and M.A. (Economics) from the University of Guelph. Dr. Leach was previously Assistant Professor at HEC Montreal. Dr. More

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