Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

"Fort McMurray feels duck glare 'unfair'"

Fort McMurray feels duck glare 'unfair'

Carrie Tait, Financial Post // Saturday, May 17, 2008

CALGARY - Christopher Allen Van Moorsel was crushed by a giant dump truck at an oilsands operation April 26, an accident that received a smattering of attention in Alberta. The national press ignored it.

Three days later, roughly 500 ducks died when they landed on a toxic tailings pond at another oilsands operations. International media from as far away as Turkey covered the story --for days.

Critics pounced on the duck story, foisting it up as further evidence that Fort McMurray, a city that has experienced an economic explosion as a result of the oilsands, is a growing source of environmental evil.

Its residents, while conceding there are environmental consequences to the pace and scale of expansion in the oilsands, are miffed that the world has trained its sights on a bunch of birds when other issues, such as safety and deaths like that of Mr. Van Moorsel, persist. To those who call Fort McMurray home, critics are just cherry-picking issues to suit their agenda. Melissa Blake, Fort McMurray's mayor, calls it "drive-by journalism."

While she takes it personally when her city is painted ugly for incidents like the ducks' death, she finds it best just to ignore critical glare.

"Engaging usually doesn't net us very many positive returns," she said. "So a lot of times, you simply let the stories run their course."

But it still irks.

"There probably is a fair bit of over-excentuating what the circumstances are," she said. "Four hundred and fifty, or 500, or however many migrating birds, have perished in that pond--it is a horrible tragedy. It is an anomaly, without question, but perspective-wise, what about other industries and their impacts in their areas that don't even rise to the surface of concern?"

Echoing a line of defence employed by Alberta's premier in the wake of the ducks' death, Ms. Blake, who drives a hybrid vehicle, brought up the argument that wind turbines -- "which are suppose to be a clean source of energy" -- chop up thousands of birds each year with their massive blades.

"But you don't hear that story because the intensity is so focused on a particular region, that you almost feel," she said, before trailing off. "It does feel a bit unjust."

She questions why problems such as the dangerous Highway 63 -- the main artery that moves people to and from the oilsands operations -- do not receive the same attention as the dead ducks. "To me, that's the bigger tragedy."

Indeed, the push to widen the infamous Highway 63 should be as important as protecting ducks, residents argue.

"I don't mean to take anything away from the ducks, but there are a lot of lives that have been taken on this highway," said Cindy Parsons, who moved to Fort McMurray from Vancouver 30 years ago, long before the city became an economic and environmental hotseat. As for Mr. Van Moorsel's death, which occurred at the Albian Sands Energy Muskeg River Mine, she says: "There wasn't a real big issue made about that. Not as much as there was about the environmental issue."


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