Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Environmental Costs of the Alberta Tar Sands

President Barack Obama and the Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper met on February 19th to discuss, among other things, the state of US-Canada energy and environmental relations. Unfortunately, the controversial Sunrise Tar Sands project in Alberta, Canada was glossed over in the press conference. British Petroleum recently poured over $5.8 billion into the project – at the expense of their renewable energy initiative – in March 2008 as a reaction to the unprecedented surge in oil prices.  The move has been met with general disdain from the environmentally conscious, as tar sand oil production is notoriously carbon intensive. “Tar sands produce up to five times more greenhouse gases than conventional oil.” [1] In addition, the project investment isn’t forecasted to profitably replace oil supplies until crude exceeds $80/bbl (currently it is around $40/bbl).President Obama has promised to ameliorate the environmental regulatory sphere in which BP is currently operating, however judging by his first international trip, he has not shown signs that he is truly devoted to this initiative.

Andrew Nikiforuk has described the tar sands project as:

Described by the United Nations Environment Program as one of the world's top "environmental hot spots," the project will eventually transform a boreal forest the size of Florida into an industrial sacrifice zone complete with lakes full of toxic waste and man-made volcanoes spewing out clouds of greenhouse gases. [as quoted in 2]

The indigenous local communities that surround the project entrails have been infiltrated by rapacious growth of the tar sand mines. Dammed up ponds containing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), naphthenic acids, heavy metals, salts, and bitumen have had indelible adverse effects on the wildlife of the surrounding area. These ponds leak into the neighboring Athabasca River killing off fish populations on which the people of the communities have always depended. Already the Cree population of Northern Alberta has experienced rising cancer rates, increase in contagious disease, reduction in game and loss of vegetation for food [2]. The gigantic mining tails dominate their ancestral landscape, and the on-site processing plant billows noxious gasses from the time the sun peaks over the begrimed tundra until the sky matches the black, upturned earth underneath.

I was so moved by the utter desolation of the Northern Alberta tar mines that I have included some pictures that I came upon. It is appalling the social disregard intrinsic to “growth” and “progress” in “alternative” energy.







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Franklin said...

When you were looking into the issue, did you happen to come across any stats about drop offs in production, or plans to abandon new (or even exisitng) developments?

Anonymous said...

Those trucks are huge!