Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Stupid to the Last Drop: How plans to detonate a nuke to get the tarpits flowing never came to pass

Big, bad oil in all its glory
Financial Post

Saturday, September 29, 2007


William Marsden,

Alfred A. Knopf Canada

256 pp. $29.95 (Available Oct. 2)


The rise of the loonie has been partially explained by the price of oil, which recently hit a record of almost US$84 a barrel. The Canadian economy has the world's attention because Alberta's oilsands contain an estimated 174 billion barrels of oil, the second-largest oil reserve tally after Saudi Arabia.

William Marsden's book, Stupid to the Last Drop, paints a darker picture of the oilsands. Not only does Marsden argue that Alberta's oil business poses significant environmental risks, he tries to portray the industry and its supporters as somewhat thick.

The book launches with an exotic and engaging tale. In the 1950s, Manley Natland, a paleontologist from the Richfield Oil Co. of California, came up with a plan to release the oil mixed within Alberta's gritty sand using an underground nuclear blast . The force of the nine-kiloton explosion would blow a giant cavity in the underground rock, and the heat and the pressure from the blast would literally boil the oil out of the sand.

Richfield Oil thought the plan was a great idea. It even went so far as to spend $350,000 to buy an atomic bomb from the United States government for what the company came to call "Project Oil Sands." A debate in Canada over nuclear testing in the early 1960s diverted Richfield Oil's attention to Alaska. Project Oil Sands was shelved.

From the vantage point of the 21st century, the fact anyone would consider using nuclear weapons to mine oil seems absolutely harebrained, which obviously makes it the ideal launching pad for a book entitled Stupid to the Last Drop. Marsden's book is an engaging and entertaining read. He mingles amusing anecdotes with some hefty science, something that's not always easy to do.

That said, as the title instantly suggests the book is no objective description of life in the Alberta oilpatch. Oil is always big, bad and corporate. Industry opponents are always virtuous Davids facing snarling Goliaths. Alberta's oil-friendly politicians are always portrayed as rude rednecks. This is a one-sided book that will be embraced by the left and lampooned by the right.

Marsden tangles with some hot-button issues, such as Alberta's energy royalty system. He criticizes the current regime for not taxing oil producers highly enough. Note that Marsden's book is hitting stores just weeks after a six-member Alberta panel recommended the province impose a drastic hike in energy royalties. Marsden also bemoans Alberta's decision to sell off a provincially-owned energy company in 1993. The province should instead follow Norway's lead and keep energy production in the hands of a crown corporation.

Given that much of Marsden's book warns of the energy industry's negative impact on the environment, this case for socialism is somewhat perplexing. If oil is inherently dirty, how does it become any cleaner if it's the government who digs it out of the ground?

Even then, much of Marsden's book mocks Alberta's Conservative government, which he chastises for treating oil and gas revenues like a "slush fund."

If the province's politicians are as intellectually bankrupt as Marsden contends, how can he argue for government ownership with a straight face? When you write a one-sided book, you don't have to burden yourself with such questions.

Such flaws aside, Stupid to the Last Drop is still a worthwhile read and it will likely generate a fair bit of discussion about the industry.

© National Post 2007


Oilsandstruth.org is not associated with any other web site or organization. Please contact us regarding the use of any materials on this site.

Tar Sands Photo Albums by Project

Discussion Points on a Moratorium

User login


Syndicate content