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The Alberta Oil Sands

10 facts about the tar sands project that you may not know about at DeSmog Blog

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Canada: Climate Change Villain

 

Alberta Tar Sands: The World’s Most Destructive Project

Alberta Oil Sands

While the federal and provincial Conservative governments look the other way — all in the name of prosperity — their immediate neighbors in Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan are suffering from environmental trauma, and all of Canada suffers from the indignity of being — on a per capita basis —one of the world's worst greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters.

For years, Alberta has polluted with nary a care for other provinces - mostly because we didn't know any better. Now we do. So what do the people of Alberta owe us? What do the oil companies in Alberta — reaping billions in profits — owe us?

Perhaps some facts will aid your deliberations. The Tar Sands are located in Northern Alberta, comprising three major deposits that make Canada an international energy superpower, not so far removed from Saudi Arabia. The three oil sands projects combined cover an area larger than England, and hold proven oil reserves amounting to 175,000,000,000 barrels. Many pundits talk about US dependence on foreign oil, and most look to Saudi Arabia and Iraq, but the simple truth is that Canada supplies more black gold to the United States than any other country.

The Problem

Ah, but here's the rub. It's not the bubblin' crude of Beverly Hillbillies fame. It's heavy, thick oil. The earth doesn't relinquish her bounty easily, and this oil needs serious processing before it becomes usable. It's a dirty, dirty business. In fact, Alberta oil holds three or four times the greenhouse gases found in other crude.

But that doesn't matter, because Tar Sands oil is highly profitable, especially with prices bouncing around $100 per barrel. The oil companies have invested more than $100 billion in the various oil sands projects, and the scale is expected to grow dramatically - by five fold - because the world, and the US in particular, needs more oil, and our federal government is pushing development.

Amazingly, the Conservative government gives tax breaks to companies active in the Tar Sands. Our money goes to pillage the environment.

Of course, pillage is a loaded word, but it applies, and I have no qualms about using it. Several of Canada's First Nations live downstream from the oil sands, and still live off the land. One study suggested that moose meat from this region has 453 times the acceptable level of arsenic. Of course, the Alberta government calls that figure preposterous, and claims that arsenic levels are just 33 times as high as they should be. As if that fact should be comforting.

The Environmental Defense Fund points to a surge in cancer rates among some communities in Northern Alberta, and calls the Tar Sands projects a toxic moonscape.

It's hard to argue with their data, or their conclusions:

By 2020, the two most active companies in the area will have created tailing ponds of toxic sludge that cover more than one billion cubic meters. Birds that land on these ponds will die in minutes.

Benzene, one of the most lethal human carcinogens, is released by Alberta's Tar Sands into the atmosphere at a rate of 100 tonnes per year; it could be as high as 800 tonnes per year by 2015, if planned expansions occur. How much of that makes it to Saskatchewan? To Quebec? To Nova Scotia. We used to have a vibrant salmon fishery in Nova Scotia but the salmon population was killed by acid rain that generated by pollution in the America industrial belt near Ohio. So I suspect some Tar Sands pollution makes it into the east, and that BC and Saskatchewan are getting battered.

According to the Environmental Defence Fund, "in 2005, existing facilities in the area produced 19,000 tonnes of nitrogen oxide and 20,100 tonnes of sulphur dioxide. In October 2007, the province proposed airshed targets of 25,000 tonnes of nitrogen oxide and 28,000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide per year, a growth in emissions for an already polluted area. And if experience is any guide, companies may be able to incur a financial penalty to exceed these limits."

But Canadians shouldn't be the only people raising an eyebrow to what is happening in Alberta. BP is expanding it's facility in Indiana so it can process more heavy Canadian oil. The state legislatures have already given them a pollution waiver to send more toxins into Lake Michigan. In fact, tar sands oil is already being processed in Colorado, Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Remember this heavy oil is heavy with greenhouse gases.

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