The mining of tar sands to extract oil and other byproducts offers hundreds of thousands of jobs and a multi-billion income the companies and the government of Canada. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it is the most destructive and polluting method of feeding man’s addiction to oil.
‘Hell on earth’
As Greenpeace says, the tar sands of Northern Alberta, Canada – also called oil sands – are one of the largest remaining deposits of oil in the world. Developing the tar sands has created the biggest industrial development project, the biggest capital investment project, and the biggest energy project in the world. It has also created a “literal hell on earth.” This is not much of an exaggeration.
Little wonder that local environmentalists and people belonging to communities near the mining zones have been up in arms leading protests.
Leads to runaway climate change
As protestors say, areas of wilderness the size of small countries are chewed up and replaced by a landscape of toxic lakes, open pit mines, refineries and pipe lines. The tar sands are what unrestrained fossil fuel use and unchecked greenhouse gas emissions look like and are said to pushing the world towards runaway climate change. Although there have been some attempts to cover over the destruction and make the land healthy again, those efforts have been small.
Photographer Garth Lenz has got close and was shocked by what he saw. Lenz says the impacts of the tar sands are multiple. “The vast forests and wetlands of the boreal forest which they lie under are considered the most carbon rich forest ecosystem on the planet. Storing almost twice as much carbon per hectare as tropical rainforests, the boreal forest is the planet’s greatest terrestrial carbon storehouse.”
To the industry, these diverse and ecologically significant forests and wetlands are referred to as overburden, the forest to be stripped and the wetlands dredged and replaced by mines and tailings ponds so vast they can be seen from outer space, Lenz says. “So, as the expansion of the tar sands consumes more boreal forest and wetlands, it is releasing to the atmosphere all the carbon stored in this ecosystem. At the same time, we also lose the long term future carbon sequestration of these forests and wetlands. In turn, they are replaced by an industrial operation which produces almost twice as much carbon as conventional oil production.”
Felix von Geyer is a Montréal-based freelance sustainability and global affairs journalist. In a blog post in the Guardian newspaper of London he questioned his government’s madness in allowing such massive destruction.
For various takes on tar sands mining, check out:
Stop The Tar Sands – Suncor Upgrader Action
SPOIL – A powerful documentary on the Great Bear Rainforest by EP Films.
The film shows the splendour of nature with some beautiful photography. It highlights the nature we all want to protect, but our blinkered and incessant addiction to burn more oil, is helping to destroy.
African leaders call to Canada
African leaders including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Jay Naidoo of former President Nelson Mandela’s cabinet, and Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, at the end of November released an ad calling on Canada to step up the battle against global warming, rather than actively promote the use of its tar sands. The ad came just after Canada signaled at climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa that it would likely pull out of Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty aimed at combating global warming. The treaty is scheduled to expire in 2012.
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Activists shut down a Shell gas station in London for 5 hours