Majority vote doesn’t always make it right

More than 100 years ago, Ottawa decided to withhold mineral rights when homesteaders filed for a land title.

Part 3 in a four-part series on property rights in Alberta

More than 100 years ago, Ottawa decided to withhold mineral rights when homesteaders filed for a land title. At the time, few people realized how valuable those mineral rights would become.

Similarly, using Bill 24, the Alberta government recently pilfered property from landowners that in years to come, could have value beyond anything today’s economy can imagine.

In first-year law school, every student is taught that the rights of a landowner extend from the surface right down to the centre of the earth.

If the government, or someone else owns the minerals (almost 20 per cent of the mineral rights in Alberta are privately-owned), then the landowner owns everything down to the centre of the earth, except the minerals. The land title will actually say something like, “excepting there out all minerals.”

If the minerals do belong to someone else, the underground pore spaces belong to the landowner.

Pore spaces are underground hollow spots, like the holes in a sponge. They’re valuable. They’re valuable because energy companies can pump liquids and gases into them, using them like condominium storage units.

In Ontario, landowners have been leasing vast tracts of underground pore space to energy companies for years, putting more than $100 per acre per year into their jeans. In parts of the U.S., pore spaces rent for more than $1,000 per acre per year.

In other regions, landowners can literally sell ownership of their pore space, the same way mineral rights get sold.

The pore space business is massive. A TransCanada Pipelines subsidiary company in the U.S. boasts that the company has established storage capacity for more than 250 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

That requires pore space.

And now that governments everywhere are talking about pumping CO2 underground, pore space is even more valuable.

Bill 24 is the law that Alberta’s PC government used to transfer ownership of every square inch of pore space in the province from landowners to the government. The law applies, even if the minerals have been fully depleted on a property, and even if the landowner owns the surface rights and the mineral rights.

The legislation stole literally millions of dollars’ worth of private property, yet written into the law are statements where the PC government insists it’s not stealing. Bill 24 also indicates that even if a land or mineral owner recognizes that the government is stealing, they can’t claim damages or take anyone to court.

Official government documents say the purpose of Bill 24 is to “clarify” ownership of these important assets. It makes one think of how a landowner might feel if some punk walked onto his yard, pointed a gun at him, climbed behind the wheel of that landowner’s new pickup, and then as the thief starts driving away pauses to explain that he is not really stealing the truck, merely “clarifying” ownership.

That’s exactly what Alberta’s PC government did to thousands of Alberta landowners, and explains why the PC government’s Bill 24 should be repealed.

Rick Strankman of the Wildrose Party is the MLA for the Drumheller-Stettler riding.