Thursday, 13 March 2008

Documentary on Alberta Tar Sands tonight

Just a quick post to let any Albertans out there know about the CBC's documentary special airing tonight, called "Tar Sands: The Selling of Alberta." It airs tonight, March 13th, on CBC at 9 p.m. MDT and again on Sunday, at 8 p.m. EDT (which is 6 p.m. MDT, right?). Here is part of the summary of the program:
This hour-length documentary, commissioned by the CBC, tracks the growth of the world's largest reserve of 'unconventional' oil. This Florida-sized "environmental sacrifice zone" has become Canada's contribution to U.S. energy security in the post-9/11 world. Yet, for many, the tar sands are a global warming disaster.
Gord and I are sitting down to watch this tonight, probably with a bowl of popcorn and some of Chile's cocoa. The tar sands are a strange topic for me. Growing up in Alberta, I've heard about the the "oil patch" all my life. Until relatively recently, it was always a far away, distant thing for me. Just some grubby guys squeezing oil out of some tarry sand way up in the north somewhere.

But the tar sands now encroach on every aspect of life, from the pervasive environmental degradation, to the ridiculous amounts of traffic everywhere, to the ongoing glorification of the relentless pursuit of oil/money/power at all costs. I hate it and all it stands for now, yet I'm sure the economic benefits from it during the '70's were part of why my parents could make a good life in Alberta and give me and my siblings a carefree childhood. I guess it's an example of why moderation is good and excess is not.

I hope we Albertans can wake up and smell the excess, and soon.

Picture courtesy the Boreal Songbird Initiative, who know that a boreal forest should look boreal, not surreal.


green with a gun said...

Gah, that's horrible stuff. Did your Greens party just spontaneously combust when the project started, or what?

DC said...

Unfortunately, there's a lot of money to be made from the tar sands. Shell announced in its 2006 annual report that its Canadian oil sands unit made an after tax profit of $21.75 per barrel. That's nearly double its worldwide profit of $12.41 per barrel on conventional crude oil.

Conventional oil extraction is also not a pretty thing. There has been an enormous environmental and human cost to oil drilling in the West African delta region and the Amazon rainforest. Then of course there's the war in Iraq . . .

I wish more people in mainstream America were aware of these issues. When I pick my son up from school every day, 90% of the cars there are mini-vans, SUV's and pickup trucks -- and many of the parents leave their engines idling for 10-15 minutes while they're waiting for their children to come outside. Let's hope the kids grow up to be smarter than we are.

green with a gun said...

Well, environmentally-speaking, the tar sands are particularly awful.

The Niger delta has an ongoing civil war. But that's just what you get when any large US company goes into a Third World country. Ever heard of the United Fruit Company? :)

Even Australia's had a go at that. Our own Rio Tinto had a copper mine on Bouganville Island, and the pesky locals got upset at the poisoning of their rivers with not even any dollars to them. A bit uppity of them. So they rebelled against the PNG government, and in the ensuing 9 year conflict 20,000 people were killed, quite a lot for an island of only 200,000... When the PNGDF pulled out of Bouganville, there was an attempted military coup, PNG appealed to Australia for help, got none, employed a foreign mercenary company, Australia decided to help after all... and the mine remains closed.

If you're a Third World country, having large natural resources actually makes you poorer. Strange but true when you look at the history...

The tar sands are still dreadful, of course.

DC said...

GWAG, yep. My feeling is they need to add a few things to the stickers they put on new cars -- maybe the revised stickers would look something like this:

- 5.7 liter SFI V8 engine

- 4 speed auto transmission

- P245/502R16 BSW all weather tires

- Manufacturer suggested retail price: $26,000 plus 3 acres of Canadian boreal forest clear cut, 500 gallons of toxic waste dumped in the Ecuadorian Amazon, one factory worker in China dying from lung cancer, and 0.1 children in the Middle East killed by cluster bombs.

Whether this would do any good, I can't say. I can still hear some people examining the sticker thoroughly and then asking the salesperson, "How much extra for heated seats?"

Also, regarding your earlier question, I think that spontaneously combusting is frowned upon in the Green party -- it releases too many pollutants into the atmosphere. Carbon-neutral implosions are probably preferred.

Theresa said...

Not suprisingly, we were very dismayed after watching this program last night. It touched on the economic, political, environmental and social impacts of the tar sands, and none of them are pretty.

The "boom" is leaving a lot of people worse off than before, due to huge increases in the cost of housing and food. The federal and provincial governments are pretty much letting the US take what it wants, at firesale prices.

The picture pretty much speaks for the environmental problems - rampant deforestation, water table/river contamination, etc. Socially speaking, families are separated for long periods of time, pets are given over to the spca or abandoned because no rental places will allow them, and that's if you can find a place. People die on the one, crowded, two lane highway that goes up to Ft. McMurray.

All this for oil that takes the equivalent energy of one barrel of oil to produce two.

CindyW said...

eeek. That looks horrible. What I often wonder is that clearly someone is making a load of money of the oil - from tar sand, from underground, from offshore. But doesn't it belong to us all - us humans? Why don't we get a say? Someone cleverly put a stick in the sand and claimed the ownership. In most cases, we simply sheepishly assume that it is their property because they said so and they can pillage it however they see fit. But, no. They don't own it. We all do. As the planet citizens, we all have to right to say - stop it. We need to get off our behinds and say it out loud.

Theresa said...

Ya, it does belong to everyone! But it's even hard to get the Alberta government to think it belongs to Albertans, never mind the whole world. The government seems to think it belongs to them and their oil company buddies, and that they have to get it all out of the ground NOW! I don't see the harm in withdrawing it slowly and responsibly - it's not going anywhere after all.