Tag Archives: Alberta tar sands

Koch Backed Mountain

15 Jun

detroit petcoke

There is a new ad out on our television screens. Paid for by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, it shows yet another canvas of wild flowers, grassy fields and big blue skies, with a soundtrack of soft tinkling music. That’s right, it’s another attempt to tell us how wonderful – and environmentally innocuous — are Alberta’s tar sands.

People in Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit, Michigan, however, are seeing quite another picture. A mountain of  oil-sands detritus called pet coke is quickly rising in a vast lot near the Detroit River. It has been put there by the Koch brothers, nasty, right-wing billionaires who have until now limited their assault on common decency by throwing big bucks at the most ultra-conservative of Republican candidates, the kind who want to curtail our rights while enhancing those of corporations. (If ever there was a pair of walking examples of the Mexican saying, ‘Dios da pan a quien no tiene dientes’ — God gives bread to those without teeth — it’s these guys.)

Collected in a huge pile three storeys high, Koch Carbon has purchased and stockpiled this gross stuff in order to sell it to, get this, to Asian countries to burn as a cheaper alternative to already harmful coal!

“This is dirtier than the dirtiest fuel,” Gary Peters, a Michigan Democrat who represents the area where the pet-coke mountain has been accumulating, told the Guardian. Yet, thanks to the oil sands, there is lots of it. With every barrel of oil sands crude producing between 60 and 130 pounds of this noxious, sulphurous waste, the province of Alberta already has more than 70 tons of pet coke lying around.

Meanwhile people in Windsor and Detroit are seeing the dust from this mountain of black waste blown into their homes by the wind, and it is more than likely that rain has washed plenty of it into the Detroit River and the entire Great Lakes system.

This is what happens when corporations, whether in the oil business or any of its offshoots, dump their garbage on our door steps. Maybe someone should make a television ad featuring the other side of our addiction to fossil fuels and over-dependence on this awful commodity. And instead of the soft, relaxing music, they might want to use the sound track from ‘Jaws.’

PS At least Hollywood has been taking a few  shots at the Koch brothers in this year’s comedy The Campaign, starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis — and with John Lithgow and Canada’s own Dan Ackroyd as the ‘Motch’ brothers.

Losing our Experimental Lakes

19 Mar
Photo:J. Tyler Bell

Photo:J. Tyler Bell

The closing of the famous Experimental Lake Area research station in northern Ontario was announced almost a year ago,  and its dismantling is apparently already underway.

As is a way of thinking that holds that a clean environment is something worth preserving.

Just imagine this amazing piece of nature — 58 lakes surrounded by forest, where for the past 45 years scientists have made the kinds of discoveries that enhance the value of our freshwater resources — and compare it to the simultaneously smug yet boring features of Tory government ministers and their obsession with the Alberta tar sands.

It makes a picture that, in many ways, illustrates only too clearly the frightening prejudices of our small-minded prime minister, Stephen Harper, and his acolytes — as well as the sharp sense of frustration the more than 60 per cent of us who didn’t vote for them must be feeling.

It was the evidence amassed by ELA scientists that stopped the use of phosphates in detergents and fertilizers. Studies there also made an open-and-shut case against the sulphur oxide pollution from the south that caused acid rain.  As Andrew Nikiforuk, one of Canada’s best environmental journalists, put it in an article last year, “The project not only broadened the world’s horizons on water with more than 750 peer reviewed studies and 120 graduate theses, but provided hard data on the impact of industrial activities on the world’s most critical resource.”

What’s more, the costs of this useful scientific activity were not particularly high — especially when compared to the amounts the Harper government wants to spend on fighter jets, or already spends on the emoluments of our idle and self-congratulatory senators.

And worse, its loss — described by one foreign scientist in Nikiforuk’s article as “the kind of act one expects from the Taliban in Afghanistan, not from the government of a civilized and educated nation” — is only one measure in the Tories’ quest to eviscerate the environmental protections previously afforded to land, air, lakes and rivers throughout Canada.

The Tory government has also taken away funding of the Arctic Institute of North America’s Kluane Research Station, axed the seven-person team of smokestack specialists that worked with both enforcement officers and industry to stop air pollution and is closing the entire Department of Fisheries and Oceans contaminants program next month.

And that is aside from removing environmental protections from aboriginal lands, firing hundreds of scientist from government departments and putting the kibosh on journalists simply contacting and interviewing a relevant scientist for an article without getting permission from Ottawa first — the way we used to.

Little wonder that (now unemployed) killer whale expert Peter Ross was moved to express that “(i)t is with apprehension that I ponder a Canada without any research or monitoring capacity for pollution in our three oceans, or any ability to manage its impacts on commercial fish stocks, traditional foods to over 300,000 aboriginal people, and marine wildlife.”

In fact, apprehension is an understatement. Fear is more probably what we should be feeling. With the determination to push through tar sands pipelines, the disdain for science and the loss of the unique environmental laboratory that was the Experimental Lakes Area, we are now more than ever at the mercy of contaminants, pollution, climate change — and proudly ignorant politicians.