I have just paid $52.15 for a simple meal consisting of a seven ounce steak and two beers. The restaurant is not fancy: it is simply The Keg in Fort McMurray, Alberta, where lots of work is being done in and lots of money is being made off the oil sands mines.

On the basis of that meal and that bill, let me tell sad human stories, indulge in a bit of philosophy, and tell you what I see, and why I think what I think. And I think the oil can be mined in an environmentally responsible way that benefits all of North America.

I am in Fort McMurray to do real engineering work at one of the oil sands mines. I am here to test new technology to close the mines and protect the environment.

Today, amid the noise of construction equipment, I chatted with a 29-year old fellow. He is pail, almost blond, descended from Irishmen where the sun never shines.

He is but one week from Newfoundland where for seven years he worked in the timber industry. But as he told me: “They don’t sell no-more to America, for the economy there is shot. Can’t buy our timber, so they shut us down. And I was laid off five month ago. I got two kids, seven and five, and owe money back home. Lucky my father is getting $30 an hour here so he made me come here, and I got this job for a week now, and they give me $20 an hour. Now all I gotta do is get enough money to get the mama and kids here. I got $30 in my pocket for a week and spent none, so it won’t be long now.”

At the other end of the scale we have today’s news that the Premier of Alberta told the premiers of the other Canadian provinces that he is elected by Albertans, is beholden to them, and won’t participate in a whole-scale transfer of money from Alberta to other provinces or foreign countries on the basis of an illusion called carbon credits. I draw no conclusions about the financial or Gore-related wisdom of his position.

Now the philosophy. I acknowledge the nature versus nurture debate. Are we the product of our genes or of our upbringing and environment? If I had been born the son of a mullah in Iran, would I still be what I am now?

I suspect I would have opposed the Shah and hated the current regime regardless. Maybe that is genes. But I am sure I would have been a patriot and able to argue the case against the rest.

So I acknowledge that being here in Alberta and working on an oil sands mine as a consultant colors my opinion about engineering possibilities.

Last night I had supper with a very old friend who is convinced the U.S. economy is going to go down a long way, particularly in mining. But he pointed out that the capital value of the oil sands companies far exceeds the capital value of even the biggest international metal mining companies. He is convinced that oil sands mining can only get bigger, and I agree.

You will read interminable news releases about the vast scale of the mines and their environmental impact. But come up here and see for yourself: sure the tailings piles are big, but so is the landscape. Sure the emissions are visible, but so is the need for jobs for kids from Newfoundland who have kids of their own to feed. And think of the need for gas to fuel SUVs in California.

I believe in the common sense of the average human being. There is lots of research that shows that the average opinion of twenty average people is more likely to be correct than the opinion of one expert. So look around at what the average Canadian and the average American wants and needs, and it must follow that money invested in oil sands mining is good. Consider how the fellow I chatted to today is going to act and vote. Consider how the Californian who cannot afford a hybrid is going to vote, Obama versus McCain and his beer-profit endowed lady, and you cannot but come to the conclusion that oil sands will go on and grow on, and get bigger and more.

No matter who becomes president, they will have to support expansion of Canadian oil sands. There is no way Americans are going to dig up the oil shales (it would take the mass elimination of too many opponents), or build forty nuclear power plants (only the lawyers promoting the impact statement will benefit), or pull up oil off-shore in California and Florida (except perhaps in Huntington Beach). And there are just not enough places in the US where the wind blows long and hard enough. Maybe Nevada for solar energy, but the rest of the country? Keep your coal mine share though.

I plead that you come and look yourself and talk to the lady at Blockbusters who told me: “I came ten years ago from Newfoundland, and now I earn so much I cannot go back.” I plead you get in now so that in ten years time you cannot go back. And you will have contributed to the common good.