Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

It’s time to rethink harmful tar sands projects

It’s time to rethink harmful tar sands projects
By Roy Strang - Peace Arch News
February 17, 2009

There may, after all, be a small silver lining in the dark fiscal cloud hanging over us.

It’s so small that it’s hard to discern amidst the monetary gloom, but it’s there nonetheless.

A slowing of the economy, leading to a reduction in the frantic pace of tar sands development in Alberta, could give governments opportunity to step back and look at the environmental impact of the tar sands projects – quite apart from the fiscal, political and social aspects which also need review.

The bitumen in tar sands is a low-quality, high-cost alternative to oil and, so far, there have been inadequate environmental safeguards or monitoring of extraction and processing for export to the U.S. Canada’s environment is being harmed to help wean the U.S. from dependency on off-shore oil

Two tons of earth and sand are dug out to yield just one barrel of bitumen; that one barrel generates three times as much greenhouse gas (GHG) emission as excavating one barrel of conventional oil; three barrels of fresh water are drawn from the Athabascan river system to process each barrel of bitumen.

Most of this water, contaminated in the processing, is stored in vast, above-ground contaminated tailings ponds, which leak toxins into the catchment.

Last year, about 500 ducks alighted on one pond and all died very soon after landing. Dikes are constructed from the overburden removed for oil extraction and are unstable.

The results will be disastrous should one fail and release its content of poisonous water. Downstream residents in Fort Chipewyan can no longer safely eat fish from the river because deformities are so common, and they themselves are showing high rates of cancer, some in rare forms.

There’s no certainty about reclaiming the thousands of hectares of boreal forest and wetlands ripped up to yield bitumen and, to date, little reclamation has been accomplished.

From the environmental perspective alone – and there are others – the tar sands project cries out for urgent review to minimize the obvious environmental harm being caused and development of effective remedies for the damage already done.

The economic downturn offers a breathing space and allows some time to put matters right. Will it be used effectively? Indications so far are unpromising.

Dr. Roy Strang writes weekly on the environment for the Peace Arch News. rmstrang@shaw.ca


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