Oil sands carry a heavy cost

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Resources -

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

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