Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

‘Tar sands are killing us’

‘Tar sands are killing us’
Cree, Metis, Dene tell Sen. John Kerry
By Kate Harries, Today correspondent

Story Published: Mar 11, 2009

TORONTO – Dene, Cree and Metis activists from First Nations affected
by Alberta tar sands development made themselves heard in Washington
as Canadian Environment Minister Jim Prentice was making the rounds of
Capitol Hill.

They hand-delivered a letter to Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., head of the
powerful Foreign Relations Committee, and later about 50 young people
from Canada demonstrated outside Kerry’s office when Prentice went in.

Clayton Thomas-Muller, Canadian tar sands campaigner for the
Indigenous Environmental Network, said the goal was to pre-empt
Kerry’s meeting with Prentice and ensure the senator got a complete
picture of the disastrous effect of the tar sands on environmental and
human rights.

“Pollution from these projects are adversely affecting peoples’
health, way of life and violate established treaty rights,” says the
letter signed by Melina Laboucan-Massimo, of the Lubicon Cree Indian
Nation, Gitz Crazyboy of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and
Myron Lameman of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation.

“Animals are dying, disappearing, and being mutated by the poisons
dumped into our river systems. Our traditional lands and water houses
our culture. They are one and the same. Once we have destroyed these
fragile ecosystems we will have also destroyed our peoples,” the
letter adds. “The tar sands are killing us.”

The activists urged Kerry to focus on renewable energy and energy
efficiency in the “clean energy dialogue” between Canada and the U.S.,
part of the agreement signed by President Barack Obama and Prime
Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa Feb 19.

After half an hour with Kerry, Prentice said, “the subject never came
up,” in regards to the tar sands.

Laboucan-Massimo thinks the message is being heard in the U.S. “It’s
coming to the point where Americans have to decide – is it about
energy security or is it about the life and sustainability of the

Coming from a community under siege from industrial forestry and oil
development on Lubicon territory, Laboucan-Massimo intends to dig in
on the tar sands front lines. She’s currently working on a Master’s
Degree in environmental studies at York University in Toronto and will
be returning to Alberta soon to take up a position as a Greenpeace

It was Prentice’s misfortune that his diplomatic mission March 2 and 3
coincided with PowerShift, a youth initiative that attracted 12,000
people to Washington for four days of workshops, protests and lobbying
congressional leaders on clean energy.

Another recent strike against tar sands promotion is a long article on
Canada’s oil boom in the March issue of National Geographic. “Nowhere
on Earth is more earth being moved these days than in the Athabasca
Valley,” writes author Robert Kunzig. Four tons of Earth, in fact, for
each barrel of oil and the waste water from the process has filled 50
square miles of tailings ponds.

The article has been criticized by mainstream Canadian politicians,
including Liberal Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff, although Kunzig
takes pains to depict the prosperity that even First Nations that
bemoan the loss of fishing and hunting grounds have gleaned from the

Such caveats cut no ice with James Hansen, NASA’s top climate
scientist, who in 2006 defied efforts by the Bush administration to
muzzle him for sounding the alarm over global warming.

Hansen has called for the phasing-out of coal, the main source of CO2
emissions in the U.S. But the tar sands are even worse, he told
Reuters before the Obama visit to Ottawa.

“This unconventional fossil fuel is a total wild card on top of that,”
he said. “You just can’t do it, that’s what politicians and
international leaders have got to understand. You can’t exploit tar
shale and tar sands without pushing things way beyond the limit.
They’re just too carbon intensive.”

Obama made no direct comment on the tar sands issue in Ottawa,
although he did say that “increasingly we have to take into account
that the issue of climate change and greenhouse gases is something
that’s going to have an impact on all of us and as two relatively
wealthy countries, it’s important for us to show leadership.”

He has since called on Congress to pass legislation he will be putting
forward to limit carbon pollution and make clean energy profitable.

He and Harper agreed that one focus of the clean energy dialogue will
be on carbon capture and storage (CCS). Although the agreement
referred to CCS only in the context of coal-fired plants, the Harper
government is touting the technology as a way of scrubbing the tar
sands clean.

That’s a notion that Thomas-Muller dismisses as ludicrous. CCS
retrofitting may offer benefits for coal plants, but its efficient
application is an impossibility for the tar sands, with multiple
emissions points, both in the boreal forest and thousands of miles
away at refineries all over the continent.

While the current recession has put some expansion plans on hold,
Thomas-Muller warns that the infrastructure that’s projected to flow
from tar sand development is “insane.”

A massive pipeline grid is to transport fuels to process the tar sands
and to take tar sands crude oil to the lower 48 for refining.

New pipeline projects are planned to send the crude oil to refineries
in Ontario and Quebec as well as to Montana, Wyoming, Colorado,
Illinois, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Louisiana, California, Pennsylvania and

Many of the pipeline projects will traverse traditional aboriginal
territories where consultation with First Nations and American Indian
communities has been inadequate.

Plans are also in the works for pipelines to take oil to ports in
British Columbia for shipping to California refineries, which would
involve lifting a moratorium on oil tanker traffic in British Columbia
coastal waters.


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