Canada’s environmental reputation has a large black eye – over 600 square km. That’s how much land has been disturbed so far by mining projects extracting oil from the tar sands deposits in northern Alberta. Much of these deposits lie under the Boreal forest, part of the huge coniferous forest lying across the Northern Hemisphere. This forest is second in size only to the Amazon rainforest and has been called “the lungs of the planet”. Over 3000 square km of Boreal forest land is claimed for oil sands exploitation. Where the oil is sought out, the trees are being cut down.
To extract each barrel of oil from a surface mine, the industry must first cut down the forest, then remove an average of two tons of peat and dirt that lie above the oil sands layer, then two tons of the sand itself. It must heat several barrels of water to strip the bitumen from the sand and upgrade it, and afterward it discharges contaminated water into tailings ponds [that] now cover around 50 square miles. Last April some 500 migrating ducks mistook one of those ponds […] for a hospitable stopover, landed on its oily surface, and died.
Note that the above paragraph describes what is needed for a single barrel of oil. Currently, over a million barrels of oil are being extracted every day from the tar sands.
The destruction of natural habitat has led to a decline in Alberta’s woodland caribou population. A sane response might be to see this as one of many warnings that it is not sustainable to continue. However, the Canadian government’s actual response has been to order the shooting and poisoning of 6,000 wolves, on the premise that wolves are threatening the caribou population. Meanwhile, a tiny fraction – 65 square km – of land used for oil sands mining has been “reclaimed”, or purportedly restored to support the same environment it supported before being exploited.
Oil interests have sought to bring tar sands oil to the United States. After a sustained battle, the Obama administration stopped the pipeline plan. However, the Republican-controlled Senate has sought to revive the issue. In addition, the company that wants to build the pipeline is going to court anyway to force landowners along the proposed pipeline trajectory to allow their land to be used in this manner.
Meanwhile, if the United States don’t take the tar sands oil, China is interested. Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, recently visited China and pitched Canada’s oil reserves to businesses there.
It is imperative for the sake of the planet and all beings on it that we stop being stuck in the tar of the idea that we must have oil at all costs. Alternative energy sources exist and are becoming more affordable all the time. If they were supported with the same intensity that supports the oil sands, they would become incredibly innovative, affordable and widespread, very quickly.
If you are Canadian and you are concerned about Canada’s approach, you can contact your local MP, and any of the following:
The Honourable Peter Kent
Minister of the Environment
Les Terrasses de la Chaudière
10 Wellington Street, 28th Floor
The Honourable Joe Oliver
Minister of Natural Resources
580 Booth Street
Tel: (613) 996-2007
Fax: (613) 996-4516
The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
Prime Minister of Canada
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2
If you are American and you don’t want your government to support tar sands with a pipeline, you can contact your Senator.
If you are elsewhere in the world, you can still add your name to any of a number of petitions or contribute to anti-tar sands campaigns, such as Draw The Line At Tar Sands.