My Take on The Canadian Tar Sands

My take on the Canadian Tar Sands?! A juggernaut, seemingly unstoppable, a source of unimaginable profits for multinational energy companies versus shortsighted Russian roulette for the rest of us, for our planet, for our environment and for our economy. Development of the Tar Sands needs to be slowed and stopped if we have a hope of reducing our global carbon emissions, but to do this we need to slow down the “receiving end, our demand for oil, as well as development of proposed pipelines that would take the oil from the tar sands to refineries around the world”….at the same time we need to build up capacity of renewable energy.

Photo Credit: M. Shugarman Suncor Plant 2011

These massive Tar Sands mining and processing projects aren’t against any local or national laws. Morally, I believe what is happening is wrong, but that is certainly debatable.

Reality however, as reported by scientists, is that human caused greenhouse gases, attributable to the burning of fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal) are causing our climate to change. Reality, as reported by scientists, tells us that IF we keep the Tar Sands oil in the ground, we have a hope of managing our changing climate. Reality, as reported by scientists, tells us that if we burn all the tar sand oil “all bets are off.” The spin in Fort McMurray the epicenter of Tar Sands mining, and Reality, as reported by the Tar Sands Industry, the Alberta Government and broad public opinion, is that the Tar Sands are an important source of jobs (employing by some estimates directly and indirectly 20% of Alberta’s work force), a solid revenue stream for the province and a safe and secure source of oil for all. Reality as reported by scientists, isn’t high on the agenda of industry and government, when it comes to the Tar Sands.

With a current capacity of just over 1 million barrels, the oil industry is gearing up to double production in the short term, and almost triple production by 2025. Scientists tell us this would be equivalent to releasing a massive carbon bomb that would, to quote scientist James Hansen, “increase the atmospheric concentration of CO2 by 50%…” creating a planet permanently “out of balance.” This increase in C02 would result in worldwide extreme weather events that would become a regular part of life, threatening our very existence.

Born and raised in Alberta, it is obvious that the economy of the province rises and falls on oil production and mining. When I was growing up, unconventional oil like the Tar Sands were an “impossible dream” of many, too expensive to develop. However, current prices at close to $100.00 a barrel make the mining obstacles, no obstacles

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at all.

My personal tour of the Suncor mine, one of numerous multinational oil companies that have leased land in Northern Alberta from the provincial government, was mindboggling. The scale of the operations, which are massive, are hard to comprehend, even when one is on site. I watched as “mega size” trucks, 3 stories high, costing over $4 million dollars each, with tires that can be had for a mere $70,000, received tar sands from shovel trucks 5 stories high – what I imagine to be every “little boy” and “big boys” dream – literally a Transformer Movie, coming to life.

The town of Fort McMurray is the fastest growing city in Canada. As well, its population may be the most diverse, with Ethiopians, Nigerians, Venezuelans, and Pakistanis, mixing with Canadians and Americans, and Native Canadians, all gearing up to “make their fortune.” As I was told by several people I met in Fort McMurray, and many people I talked to while visiting my home town of Edmonton, a commonly held believe is that the Tar Sands are providing, safe, secure access to a necessary commodity. Tar Sands oil keeps “the lights on” and the neighbors to the south in the USA, satisfied by shoring up access to relatively inexpensive oil and gasoline that runs cars, heat homes and keep the economy running.

The province of Alberta is about the size of Texas. The Tar Sands area is roughly equivalent in size to the state of New York. The Alberta Tar Sands are located in the Canadian Boreal Forest, on the banks of the mighty Athabasca River which provides water to the oil companies, an integral part of Tar Sands extraction and production. A massive and controversial area, Tar Sands expansion must be closely monitored, followed, studied and slowed down. Unfortunately, the Tar Sands are so far removed from large populations and so difficult to get to, that the old adage “what happens in Fort McMurray, stays in Fort McMurray” really seems to be the case.



Climate Mama

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