Tar babies

19 Sep

Originally uploaded by Greenpeace International

The Petroleum Producers Association of Canada is running a series of promotional spots on television these days. They show nice, just-regular people who happen to work for them in technical capacities, showing us all the great tree-planting and water filtering the Alberta tar sands industry takes on as it extracts usable fuel from the difficult oil laden bitumen.
Yet it is just as difficult to look at some of the deformed fish that are appearing in ever-larger numbers in Lake Athabaska, which is downstream from the oil sands. They have tumours and lesions and missing spines. Their bodies are loaded with contaminants and, as Robert Grandjambe told a Canadian Press reporter, “A lot of people are afraid to eat fish from the lake.”

Various scientific studies have found toxins in the lake, and local doctors are noticing higher-than-average rates of auto-immune diseases, cancer and other medical conditions among the residents of nearby communities. What’s more, another study done a few years ago found that average Albertans gain little from the tar sands boom, with massive profits going to the oil industry and their suppliers alone.

It takes two tonnes of the bitumen to produce a barrel of oil. The process of steam injection and refining it generates anywhere to two to four times the amount of greenhouse gasses per barrel of oil as the production of conventional oil. And six square metres of tailing are created for just one square metre of the bitumen to be mined. Those tailings now sit in extensive ponds, lakes really, of toxic sludge that kill thousands of migratory birds every year. What’s more a 2007 report for one company, Suncor, found that 5 million litres of polluted water had leaked from its lake into the groundwater.

But both the provincial government of Alberta and the Harper government are shrugging off the plethora of studies showing just how damaging the tar sands industry is turning out to be. Since it represents hundreds of millions of dollars of investment and is now responsible for at least half of all petroleum mining in Canada – the largest supplier of oil to the United states – they working hard at maintaining the fiction that this industry is largely benign.

Just like the green, sun-dappled images of those television spots. In reality, only about 2 per cent of ruined land has been reclaimed – a little more than one square kilometre of the 602-square kilometer total. 

The tar sands industry is making itself a lot of money with this archaic energy source. But at the same time, it’s giving rise to successive generations of sick people and even sicker wildlife: Canada’s tar babies, being born into an increasingly devastated environment.
To learn more about the human and environmental toll, check out Tar Sands Watch, and its roster of frightening statistics.


One Response to “Tar babies”


  1. From Underdogs to Watch Dogs « Global Kiosk - June 25, 2012

    […] vote, or whether we want to avoid patronizing unethical companies (see Pfizer,  Bedford Biofuels, Suncor, Cargill, etc ), or even to campaign for change.  It is also true that people might not care about […]

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