Oil sands carry a heavy cost
CANADA’S vast oil sands are the ‘‘ most destructive project on the planet,’’ environmentalists say, accusing Ottawa of not enforcing its environmental laws to allow projects to blossom. ‘‘ The federal Government is not using laws already on the books to require companies to reduce (CO ) emissions and
2 clean up their toxic mess,’’ says Matt Price of Environmental Defence.
The group pointed to more than 100 government and independent reports critical of oil firms for creating toxic waste ponds visible from space (tailing ponds covering 50 sq km) and seeping into Alberta groundwater.
As well, it said the oil sands produce three times more greenhouse gases than conventional oil extraction, and are likely responsible for acid rain in neighboring Saskatchewan province and ‘‘ unusual cancer clusters’’ in northern Alberta.
Oil upgraders and refineries are creating health ‘‘ sacrifice zones,’’ the report says.
In Fort Chipewyan, an aboriginal community downstream of the oil sands, doctors ‘‘ have been growing increasingly worried’’ about the number of cases of bile duct cancer, colon cancers, lymphomas, leukemia, autoimmune diseases such as lupus, thyroid cancers, overactive thyroids and skin rashes, the Environmental Defence says.
‘‘ These (health woes) were previously unheard of in the region,’’ says chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.
Arsenic has been found to be as much as 453 times acceptable levels in moose meat from the region, the Environmental Defence report says. ‘‘ Some First Nations describe how fish frying in a pan smell like burning plastic.’’
Adam commented: ‘‘ We live off the land, hunt wild game, and fish. But we’re putting all that in jeopardy.’’
Meanwhile, lax enforcement of federal environmental and fisheries acts, according to Environmental Defence, and CO emission
2 reduction targets ‘‘ set deliberately low’’ by Environment Minister John Baird will undoubtedly spur more development of the Athabasca, Peace River and Cold Lake Oil Sands deposits, eventually turning northern Alberta into a ‘‘ moonscape’’ and causing its CO emissions to double to 142 million tonnes
2 by 2020, the group says.
‘‘ We’re not asking the oil industry to stop, but to slow down so that we can catch up,’’ says Councillor Willis Flett of the Mikisew Cree First Nation.
At an estimated 173 billion barrels, the second largest oil reserve in the world behind Saudi Arabia, the Alberta oil sands were long neglected except by local companies due to high extraction costs.
While conventional crude oil is pumped from the ground, oil sands must be mined and bitumen separated from the sand and water, then upgraded and refined.
Since 2000, skyrocketing crude oil prices and improved extraction methods have made exploitation more economical, and lured several multinational oil companies to mine the sands.
According to the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board, oil sands output is expected to triple over the next decade, making Canada one of the biggest energy producers in the world by then. AFP
Polluting: As oil prices rise, Alberta’s oil sands are becoming more likely to be exploited