Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Impacts of tar sands under scrutiny

Impacts of tar sands under scrutiny
By Sara Constantineau
News Writer
McGill Daily

An independent publication is trying to shock the public into understanding the social, environmental, and economic impacts of the Alberta tar sands.

The Dominion, an independent news cooperative, has launched a special issue about the tar sands with presentations at universities across Canada. The lead editors of the issue were at Concordia on Thursday night presenting their research and exclusive footage.

The tar sands are oil reserves located in Northern Alberta that cover approximately 141,000 square kilometres, an area roughly the size of New York State. It is now the second largest source of oil in the world, behind Saudi Arabia.

It requires massive amounts of energy, water, and human labour to separate the oil from the sand and to process it for use. Where the tar sands are relatively close to the earth’s surface, trees are cleared and the top layers of earth are completely removed, turning forests into uninhabitable, sandy wastelands.

Dru Oja Jay, an editor of The Dominion, pointed to Alberta’s weak environmental laws.

“[The oil companies] are obligated to clean up to the extent that the government of Alberta says they should,” said Jay. “Even according to their standards, no land had been reclaimed.”

Canada is legally committed to the Kyoto protocol, which mandates that it lower its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 6 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012. According to a study by the Pembina Institute, extraction from tar sands produce three times the amount of GHG emissions compared to normal oil extraction, and this will grow as the project continues – which compromises Canada’s ability to reach its Kyoto target.

“Canada wouldn’t exactly be on track in its emissions deadline, but the tar sands are certainly making that quite a bit more difficult,” Jay said.

Social effects of the tar sands are also a concern, as the speed of its development creates a need for labour that is often filled by temporary workers from China, the Philippines, and Central America, who have limited rights because they lack immigrant status.

“Nobody knows how much the foreign workers are being paid,” Jay said. “They don’t have any rights as immigrants. They are here to work and then leave and go back to their countries.”

First Nations people in the area have also seen their treaty rights violated. The proposed Mackenzie Gas Project (MGP) pipeline would cross over lands traditionally owned and used by the Dene. The Deh Cho Dene, across whose land some 40 per cent of the MGP pipeline will run, refuse to surrender their aboriginal title.

As well, indigenous bands in the immediate vicinity and downstream of the tar sands have seen their rivers polluted and have suffered adverse health effects.

“It’s a matter of life and death for them,” Jay said. “If it continues without [consulting the First Nations], then...it’s going to end a whole way of life and force people to leave a place where they’ve lived for thousands and thousands of years.”

The Dominion’s editors are hoping to educate the public about the concerns surrounding the tar sands.

“It really comes down to what power actually is and how you can mobilize it,” Jay said. “[The tar sands are] not going to slow down or stop if nobody knows what’s going on, we can guarantee that.”


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