Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

"Gulf's pain oil sands' gain, experts agree" ---ick.

Leave it to the tar sands industry-- including CEO Rick George of Suncor (partners with the Canadian Boreal Initiative and the Pembina Institute) to find a way to spin the disaster in the Gulf as a good thing for the tar sands players. Yuck. These people simply do not have any morals or scruples and know no limits to their depths (so let's partner up with them!).


Gulf's pain oil sands' gain, experts agree

'In face of real disaster...pretty benign operations'

Carrie Tait, National Post
Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The environmental evils of the oil sands, whether real or perceived, have been largely forgotten since thousands of barrels of oil began oozing out of the seafloor in the Gulf of Mexico. Louisiana's tragedy at the hands of the exploded Deepwater Horizon oil rig, experts argue, could be to Alberta's advantage.

"Without a doubt it takes the heat off [the oil sands] from within the [United States]," said Tyler Priest, an oil historian at the University of Houston's Bauer College of Business. "Everyone is now focused on the Gulf of Mexico right now."

He and other observers do not mean to sound flip on the subject, considering 11 people died and others were injured in the Gulf explosion that precipitated the spill, and the ecological and economic fallout may linger for decades. Indeed, the entire energy industry could be damaged as people consider the consequences of relying so heavily on fossil fuels.

But in the meantime, images of gigantic ponds of toxic waste and dead ducks in Alberta have given way to pictures of a moving slick of crude -- one that is growing over the ocean and is not bound by barriers.

Oil has been leaking into the Gulf since April 22, two days after a rig leased by BP PLC, the British energy powerhouse, suffered an explosion and fire. An estimated 5,000 barrels of oil per day are escaping after emergency systems designed to shut off the well failed. Officials do not know when they will be able to stop the leaks. It could take months.

Alberta's oil sands, which hold the world's second-largest proven reserves behind Saudi Arabia, have been pummelled by international backlash recently:

Seventeen members of the European Parliament last month asked the European climate commissioner to solidify rules that would keep oil sands crude out of the EU; state and federal lawmakers in the United States have been lobbying against the industry; and institutional investors are publicly demanding more information related to financial risk from companies operating in the oil sands, BP included.

Green groups have made the 1,606 ducks that died in a bitumen-coated tailings pond in April 2008 famous as they use them to illustrate the oil sands' danger.

"I'm hopeful in the face of this real big disaster [in the Gulf of Mexico], people start realizing the oil sands are pretty benign operations," said Garth Parker, the leader of Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP's oil sands group. "The more that people are aware of how production operations in the oil sands are conducted in Alberta, the more they will realize it is less likely this kind of situation is going to happen."

Location -- offshore Louisiana versus the interior of northern Alberta -- makes a big difference. "Oil sands risk is typically more localized and manageable," said Arnold Olyan, a senior member of Gowlings' oil sands group. Bitumen, after all, is too thick to leak out of control. And if a refinery blows up, there would be a finite amount of oil involved.

That said, Alberta is stuck with tailings ponds, which host the toxic byproducts tied to bitumen mines; ground and river-water contamination problems; the destruction of wetlands and forest; and other problems.

Rick George, Suncor Energy Inc.'s chief executive, said he reviewed his company's offshore "procedures and processes" after the BP disaster. While the spill prompted U.S. President Barack Obama to put a halt on any new offshore drilling and California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to yank plans to expand his state's offshore activity, Mr. George thinks the industry will carry on.

"What it may require is more regulations," he told reporters after Suncor's annual meeting yesterday.

And that, too, could work in Alberta's favour. Should political pressure and public anger translate into extensive offshore drilling rules, the landlocked oil sands could become financially favourable, said Brad MacKay, a professor in the University of Edinburgh Business School's MBA program.

That advantage, however, may not last. The oil sands will suffer along with the rest of the energy industry as people -- scared by the images and consequences of the BP spill -- make a better effort to go green, Mr. MacKay said.

But until then, the cries against the oil sands are likely to quiet.



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