President Barack Obama is about to make his first trip to another nation flying aboard Air Force One. Traveling north in wintry weather isn’t necessarily the most comfortable choice, but Canada is a critical US partner, meriting being on the top of the list for foreign travel for many reasons.
When it comes to Canadian-US relations, there is one issue that lies amid the tangled heart of the intertwined economic, energy, environmental, and climate challenges: Canadian Tar Sands.
Now roughly accounting for 10 percent of the United States’ oil imports, the processes for transforming tar sands into fuel for America’s gas guzzlers makes traditional oil production (even into ANWR) look benign in comparison. Devastating for the local (water, forests), regional (air pollution, bird), and global (GHG emissions) environment, Tar Sands is the wrong answer to North America’s energy challenges.
An anniversary of sorts?
Just one year ago, Environmental Defense released Canada’s Toxic Tar Sands: The Most Destructive Project on Earth. Considering all the damaging projects, all the destructive activities around the globe, that is a quite damning conclusion.
Few Canadians know that Canada is home to one of the world’s largest dams and it is built to hold toxic waste from just one Tar Sands operation,” Rick Smith, the executive director of Environmental Defence.
And according to the report this is just the beginning. Approvals have already been given that will double the size of existing operations and Canada’s leaders have been talking with the US government to grow oil sands operations in a “short time span.”
Even a former Premier of Alberta is concerned. Peter Lougheed who served as Premier from 1971 to 1985 was recently quoted on the oil sands as saying:
… it is just a moonscape. It is wrong in my judgment, a major wrong… So it is a major, major federal and provincial issue.”
Some basic info re the Alberta Tar Sands:
Here’s a few facts about the Alberta Oil Sands:
- Oil sands mining is licensed to use twice the amount of fresh water that the entire city of Calgary uses in a year.
- At least 90% of the fresh water used in the oil sands ends up in ends up in tailing ponds so toxic that propane cannons are used to keep ducks from landing in them.
- Processing the oil sands uses enough natural gas in a day to heat 3 million homes in Canada.
- The toxic tailing ponds are considered one of the largest human-made structures in the world. The ponds span 50 square kilometers and can be seen from space.
- Producing a barrel of oil from the oil sands produces three times more greenhouse gas emissions than a barrel of conventional oil.
- The oil sands operations are the fastest growing source of heat-trapping greenhouse gas in Canada. By 2020 the oil sands will release twice the amount produced currently by all the cars and trucks in Canada.
Background video on Tar Sands
Note that the United States imports roughly 20% of its foreign oil from Canada and about half of that comes from Tar Sands. This video, if you give it five minutes, is an excellent backgrounder on the processes and issues.
Renowned environmental journalist Andrew Nikiforuk breaks down the tar sands operations in northern Alberta, Canada in this video. Based on his [must read] new book, Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent, this concise presentation explains how this “unconventional oil” - the majority of which is exported to America - is ruining forests, wiping out woodland habitat and draining our water systems. Not to mention wreaking havoc on economic systems and energy policy.
Tar Sands and Birds
Dr. Jeff Wells explains how Canada’s tar sands (US’ #1 source of oil, over Saudi Arabia), will likely result in millions of birds lost, where waterfowl land and die, and through habitat loss and water and air pollution. Most North American migratory birds breed in Canada, but are finding it increasingly difficult due to massive industrial projects like the tar sands.
This is a serious issue, that should be on the top of the pile for decision-making. Are we going to prioritize cheap gasoline (”Drill, Baby, Drill” or, in this case, Mine and Pollute) over a sensible energy policy that accounts for economic, energy, and environmental requirements over the long term? If the first, then President Obama doesn’t speak to Tar Sands. If the second, then there is a serious discussion to happen as to how to ramp down Canadian exploitation of this dirty resource amid serious US efforts to cut our own demand.
Write an email to Obama re tar sands
When you meet on February 19 in Ottawa, I urge your leadership on stimulating our economies by moving aggressively on green energy and transportation solutions that curb global warming. Nothing is more important to our future.
The future we want means moving away from trade in dirty fuels and towards solutions such as electric cars, smart growth, public transportation, wind energy and solar energy.
In discussions on a North American approach to energy and global warming, special treatment for tar sands oil development would be inconsistent with the necessary transition to a new energy economy that reduces greenhouse gasses wherever they are produced.
Tar sands development is a step backwards. It has rightly been called the most destructive project on earth because of the excessive global warming pollution it produces and the way its toxic mining operations devastate the Boreal forest and human health.
Both the U.S. and Canada have vast potential in renewable energy and green economic solutions. Let’s build a relationship between the two countries on the foundation of hope for the future, and not on dirty tar sands oil.
From the Sierra Youth Coalition came a comment from Tim Murphy, SYC member, tar sands cyclist, and editor of the book Journey To The Tar Sands
Once you’ve seen the tar sands mines, you ask yourself:
What on Earth are we doing to our planet?
It’s the biggest industrial project in the world already, and it could grow to be the size of Florida.
It produces nearly as much greenhouse gases [as] all the cars and trucks in Canada combined, and frankly when you reached that point, it’s time to start setting limits, saying ‘no more!’ and at the very least, enforcing environmental protection laws… and even that’s not being done.
So, President Obama, take a look at the tar sands mines, look your lovely daughters in the eyes, and ask “what on Earth are we doing to our planet”? And, take that emotion and thought into your meeting with Prime Minister Harper.