Posts Tagged ‘ Tar Sands ’

Schweitzer Waves White Flag on Big Rigs

(reposted from 4&20 Blackbirds) (we hope they’re not angry)

By JC

super sized

It seems that in lieu of any rational economic development proposals from Governor Brian Schweitzer (D-Imperial/Exxon) to mitigate the impacts of the collapse of the housing construction (timber) industry and Stone Container, it is best to lay down and let another multinational corporation walk all over us:

“If I could wave a magic wand and get Stone Container open again and get the timber industry going again, I’d do that,” Schweitzer said Friday. “In lieu of that, $68 million worth of road work and flaggers and utility work along the highways – I guess we’ll take it. It’s $68 million worth of jobs [associated with the Kearl big rig project].”

Well, no. 32 million of those 63 million oil dollars are the cost of transport. Not jobs or mitigation costs. Those are dollars paid to out of state/country employees to move the dang things–not jobs for locals. Never mind that the project will disrupt traffic along highways 12 and 200 in western Montana, and create safety hazards and emergency response nightmares. It’s full speed ahead, damn the EA:

“[Schweitzer] scoffed at fears that western Montana will become a permanent vessel for big rigs to the Canadian oil fields and elsewhere.

“That’s not the proposal at all,” he said. “This is temporary for 200 loads and nobody’s proposed a permanent corridor. That’s why it’s an (environmental assessment) and not an (environmental impact statement).”

Except, Governor Big Oil, Exxon did “Propose to create permanent ‘High/Wide Corridor’s through Montana”, as revealed in this MDOT presentation prepared by MDOT Director Jim Lynch last July:
permanent corridor

Of course, in the another quote from him in the Missoulian article, he contradicts himself by saying he’ll try harder the next time a proposal like this comes along:

The governor said he pitched hard – “but I’ll pitch even harder next time” – to see that the equipment to be hauled through the state is built “in some place like Great Falls or Cut Bank or Havre, as opposed to being built in Korea.”

So you say we need an EIS if it is going to be a permanent corridor? Then you’d better order Exxon and MDOT to get to work on an EIS. Or are you just a liar? How dumb do you think we are that you think we can’t read and put 2+2 together???

Even Missoula’s City Council recognizes the falsehoods behind those who want to dismiss this project as a one-off needing just an EA, and have prepared a resolution dated May 10th, 2010 that one would assume would be presented to City Council soon:

WHEREAS, the construction required for these large loads will create a permanent high/wide corridor through Montana and Missoula that will attract the interest of additional oversize trucking projects destined for Alberta, as set forth in the draft Environmental Assessment’s (EA) Past, Present and Reasonably Foreseeable Impacts section and in MDT Director Jim Lynch’s 2009 “Proposed High and Wide Corridors Briefing” to a Montana Legislature committee; and

WHEREAS, the draft EA’s Purpose of the Project does not address the creation of a permanent corridor to serve future oversize;

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, the Missoula City Council hereby declares that complying with the spirit and letter of MEPA and NEPA will require environmental review taking the form of a programmatic joint EIS under MEPA and NEPA and urges MDT to begin such a process in cooperation with affected or involved federal agencies, fully involving the public and exhaustively evaluating the impacts of creating a permanent high/wide commercial transportation corridor from the Port of Vancouver to the Alberta tar sands.

PASSED AND ADOPTED this 10th day of May, 2010.

So folks, get out there and make sure this resolution passes City Council, and get on Schweitzer’s case about his blatant lying here.

And the Clark Fork Coalition noted in its Take Action bulletin that:

“The Port of Lewiston anticipates that “If one oil company is successful with this alternate transportation route, many other companies will follow their lead.” It is obvious that this route is planned to be a permanent industrial corridor to be in use for the forseeable future.”

Somebody needs to get his head out of Imperial/Exxon’s ass the sand and call for a full blown EIS.

Missoulians take ExxonMobile to task over Tar Sand supply route

Video of Jim Hepburn’s public comments
Video of Barbara Hall’s public comments
Video of Summer Nelson’s public comments

Hundreds of residents of western Montana packed the bleachers of Meadow Hill Middle School gymnasium on a rainy Thursday evening in Missoula this week, but the reason for such turnout was hardly a game.  Ostensibly a public hearing regarding the recently released Environmental Assessment (EA) for ExxonMobile/Imperial Oil’s plan to transport massive pieces of equipment from Korea to Canada’s tar sand mines in Alberta along a route which would bring these shipments through the northern Rockies and the city on Missoula, the April 29th meeting appeared in some ways to be more a display of corporate theater.  Though hosted by the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) as a part of the EA’s public comment process, state officials huddled in the corner of the room half hidden by the bleachers, while executives from Exxon/Imperial, TetraTech and Fluor corporations sat center-stage, ready to clear up citizens’ confusions and ease concerns.  Beginning with what was to be a pleasant question and answer period, to be followed up by routine comments for the EA’s official record proving MDT’s duty to the public, Ken Johnson of Imperial Oil smiled politely as the first questioner stepped up to the microphone.  Fortunately we here in the inland northwest are not so naive as they likely hoped.

Welcome to Missoula, Mr. Johnson.  Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.

One after another, for four hours, concerned residents of the northern Rockies grilled the energy executives on their proposed transport plan, demanding answers regarding everything from how these over-sized loads would affect emergency services’ response times, air and noise pollution in residential neighborhoods, water quality in endangered species habitats, the local economy, and of course global climate.

“Montanans are incredible people, I grew up here and I am constantly amazed by the strength and intelligence I encounter on a daily basis.  The release of this EA with a finding of no significant impact seems insulting to that intelligence,” said Geneveive Schroeder, one of the Rising Tide activists arrested during a sit-in at a meeting of the Montana Land Board in Helena, March 18th.

Missoulian Robbie Liben had to ask the panel his questions several times due to the executives either evasion of an answer or their inability to provide one.  Inquiring about contingency plans in the event of an accident such as a load turning over into one of the many scenic rivers alongside of which the giant trucks intend to travel, each panel member responded with a simple denial that such a thing could happen.  “We do not forsee such an event occurring,” Johnson muttered repeatedly.

“Am I correct then in understanding that you do not have a plan?” Liben asked, eliciting a long silence as the corporate speakers exchanged awkward looks.  One could almost hear the crickets chirping.

“Yes,” replied Imperial Oil’s Ken Johnson as the triumphant crowd exploded in applause.

Several other speakers confronted MDT’s director Jim Lynch on the overall scope of the project which involves two U.S. borders, four U.S. states, corporations from at least five countries, and global climate change causing tar sands development. The facts that construction on highway modifications in Idaho have already begun without any public input or environmental review, that MDT and Port of Lewiston reports have marked this project as establishing a permanent high-wide corridor to the tar sands, or the effects of this project on the Earth’s climate due to its role in expanding the tar sand industry were all summarily dismissed.

The officials seem to see no evil, hear no evil, speak much evil.

“We are here to discuss only Exxon’s proposal to move these loads through Montana,” Johnson and MDT director Jim Lynch both stated, an assertion they were forced to repeat several times with increasing defensiveness as more and more Montana residents expressed their disgust with the limited scope of the EA.  It rapidly became clear than the attendees could see through MDT and Exxon’s cynical ploy to make this highly destructive project appear benign by segmenting it to such a disingenuous level.

“By filing EAs on a state to state basis,” said Schroeder, “Idaho was ignored as their laws allow for a circumvention of assessment of damage.  Most of the construction has already been completed in Idaho, without public knowledge that it was for this project.  It has disrupted local business and caused people in that section of the route to feel voiceless and trampled upon.  The Port of Lewiston has been expanded using federal [stimulus] money, with very specific modifications that fit the needs for this equipment.  The document describing the Port of Lewiston expansion also includes descriptions of several other future shipment projects which will follow the same route, proving that this will not be a one time use corridor.”

Missoula’s Max Granger, another of the activists arrested during the Helena sit-in,  spoke on behalf of Northern Rockies Rising Tide:

As an organization dedicated to confronting the root causes of climate change  and promoting a just transition to a sustainable, low-carbon economy, it is our opinion that this environmental assessment profoundly underestimates the local, regional, and global impacts of the project under consideration.

This EA, prepared by a corporation [TetraTech] with a vested interest in rubber stamping  Exxon-Mobile’s proposed exploitation of our state’s resources and roadways, glosses over or flat-out ignores the immense impacts of these shipments on our social and ecological environment, while highlighting the supposed local benefits they will bring to Montana; benefits which are questionable at best, and in any case will be utterly negated by the shipments’ adverse effects.

Limiting the scope of this EA to the 200 plus trucks traveling between Lolo pass and the Port of Sweetgrass ignores the fact that this project is intended to establish a permanent high and wide corridor through Idaho and western Montana–transforming what was once a treasured scenic byway into an industrial transport route which will facilitate the shipment of tar sands and other strip mining equipment for decades to come. The long-term impacts of this proposal on Montana roadways, communities, and environment, which are not even mentioned in the EA, must, for legal as well as ethical reasons, be considered.

By law, environmental assessments must take into account what are known as secondary impacts. Considering the intense and vast breadth of this project, limiting the scope of this EA to the space between the white lines of the highway and from border to border is not only absurdly myopic, but demonstrates a degree of dis-ingenuousness and contempt one might expect from the likes of Exxon-Mobile, not from a state institution entrusted with the public good [MDT].

But perhaps the greatest so-called secondary impact is the giant, dirty elephant in the room: the Alberta tar sands. The extraction of unconventional oil from the tar sands of northern Alberta constitutes, according to leading research climatologist James Hansen, one of the greatest threats to life on Earth today. The vast strip mining operations around Ft. McMurray are the single worst point of origin for climate change causing greenhouse gas emissions in the world–and the devastating repercussions of global climate change, as is becoming increasingly clear, do not recognize national or state boundaries. That is to say: the mining of oil sands in Alberta has a direct and increasingly detrimental effect on the ecological and economic environment of Montana, an effect which is completely absent from the analysis of impacts in the EA.

As corporations like Exxon exploit increasingly unconventional and increasingly dirty hydrocarbon resources, temperatures continue to rise and the Earth’s climate becomes increasingly unstable. Global warming is already having severe impacts on Montana’s agricultural industries as weather and precipitation patterns change, on Montana’s forestry industry as beetle infestations and droughts kill vast tracts of wilderness, on Montana’s tourism industry as the glaciers and snow-capped peaks–the quintessence of our wild and scenic state–disappear before our very eyes, and on the broader ecological stability of Montana’s environment as watersheds suffer reduced flows, invasive plant species thrive in harsher landscapes, and urban settlements struggle with diminished and degraded resources. The current and predicted effects of climate change on Montana are so dauntingly direct that to call this impact “secondary” is quite an understatement–to not even recognize it as an impact is inconceivably obtuse.

Northern Rockies Rising Tide opposes this proposed permit. We demand that this EA be rejected in its current form, that a full Environmental Impact Statement be issued before any further consideration of this project occurs, and that the current comment period on this EA be extended for more thorough public involvement and consideration.

Montana’s state constitution guarantees a clean and healthy environment for all Montanans. We believe that allowing Exxon-Mobile to exploit Montana roads and resources at the expense of the state’s taxpayers and citizens–all in order to make it cheaper for a few wealthy oil executives to continue destroying the planet–runs counter to this constitutional intent. I believe we are echoing a growing sentiment when we say: Montanans are neither obliged nor inclined to act as the servants of callous transnational mega-corporations like Exxon-Mobile, and we refuse to be complicit in their crimes.

Perhaps the most concerning aspect of this hearing for some though was the implication of government officials tucked away in the corner while the corporate giants essentially spoke on the state’s behalf.  When NRRT’s Nick Stocks spoke to the public record specifically about this project’s relationship to climate change, he joined several speakers before and after him in turning the microphone to the side to directly address the state officials for whom this forum was supposedly meant to benefit, ignoring the assembled company reps.

“In the current atmosphere of emerging federal climate policy, after federal judges have recognized the need to include carbon emissions within the scope of permitting processes in Montana,” said Stocks, “while the federal EPA realizes the need for stricter carbon emission standards, and while communities across the country vocalize their discontent concerning the current climate status quo, it seems to me to be unconceivable (sic) that the Montana Department of Transportation, in reviewing this Environmental Assessment, would come to the conclusion that concerns regarding carbon emissions that contribute directly to climate change don’t bear mentioning.”

Other commenters included representatives from the University of Montana’s Climate Action Now, National Wildlife Federation, Lochsa River Conservancy, and the Clark Fork Coalition.

Nearly all of the commenters requested in one form or another that MDT extend the public comment period and/or move on to a more comprehensive federal Environmental Impact Statement.  The decision, though completely MDT’s, may be influenced by Missoula’s strong message to ExxonMobile: Go home, and take your tar sands with you!

Unless an extension is granted, the public comment period officially ends on May 14th, 2010.  The time to speak out is right now!  Written comments can be submitted to MDT  online at:

mdtcommentskearl@mt.gov

or on paper to:

Tom Martin
Montana Department of Transportation
PO Box 201001
Helena MT 59620-1001

You are invited, cordially, to the Tar Sands Shipments Open House

So, you’ve heard about the giant trucks that are rolling through western Montana this fall and winter headed for the Alberta Tar Sands, but you want to know what, exactly, is going on?

Then please join us for

A Tar Sands Shipments Open House

6:30-7:30pm

Tuesday, April 27th

University of Montana Campus

Third Floor of the UC

Room 330/331

Northern Rockies Rising Tide, UM Climate Action Now, and the entire No Shipments Network invite you to a public presentation on the local, regional, and international impacts of the Mammoet Shipments and the Alberta Tar Sands.


The Alberta Tar Sands have been called out in the international community as the worst industrial project on the face of the planet. Currently Exxon Mobil is planning to invest 26.1 million dollars to open up a new northwest corridor to ship Tar Sands mining equipment from South Korea to Alberta. The proposed route begins in international waters, comes up the Columbia and Snake Rivers to the Port of Lewiston, and from there moves along the Lochsa river, up over Lolo pass, through Missoula and up the Blackfoot River to the Port of Sweetgrass. The trucks carrying the equipment are, at their largest, 24 feet wide, 30 feet tall, and 262 feet long; the size of a three story building with the length of almost a football field.

The Environmental Assessment as required by Montana Department of Transportation regulations has just come out but does not adequately address the impacts these shipment will have on local communities, emergency vehicle passage, or environmental damage from road construction. Most importantly, the assessment does not even mention the impacts Tar Sands mining has on Climate Change even though Montana stand to be greatly affected by the continued use of such fuels.

As well, the scope of the Assessment is drastically limited and does not take into account the entire route through which these shipments will pass. By only completing the Montana Environmental Assessment Exxon Mobil is circumventing any federal process that would require them to look at the shipment route as a whole. We need to press the Montana DOT to submit to a federal Environmental Impact Statement to take into full account all the damages that Tar Sands mining generates.

So, after coming to the open house and hearing about the issue please come out and tell the DOT that there needs to be a much more extensive review of the damages these shipments will cause.

Public hearings on the Environmental Assessment will be:

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 Open House: 6:00 p.m., Presentation and Public Hearing: 6:30 p.m. Cut Bank Civic Center, 800 E. Railroad, Cut Bank, MT

Wednesday, April 28, 2010 Open House: 6:00 p.m., Presentation and Public Hearing: 6:30 p.m. Lincoln School Gymnasium, 808 Main Street, Lincoln, MT

Thursday, April 29, 2010 Open House: 6:00 p.m., Presentation and Public Hearing: 6:30 p.m. Meadow Hill Middle School, Old Gymnasium, 4210 Reserve Street, Missoula, MT

Organize against the Tar Sands? From here?

Ok all,

The Environmental Assessment for the Kearl Oil Sands Project shipments just came out. Now is the time to jump on organizing around this issue. There are a few things in place already, and we’ve had some talks with regional and local organizers along the shipment path, lawyers, etc. Now it the time to start building a strong local opposition to this project.

If you don’t know, Exxon Mobile, through a subsidiary called Imperial Oil, is developing yet another devastating Tar Sands mine in northern Alberta. They are bringing giant trucks carrying equipment for the project through Missoula this fall. This issue not only involves our state and country subsidizing the work of a giant exploitative corporation, but also our country remaining complacent through the expansion of what some have called the most destructive project in the world. This shipment route through Idaho and western Montana is one of the few opportunities for local communities to take on the international issue of the Tar Sands from our side of the border. Let’s show ‘em what we got.

There is more information on our website , if you care to peruse it before coming to—-

A MEETING CONCERNING THE SHIPMENTS!!
Wednesday 14th (tonight)
5:15 PM
Jeanette Rankin Peace Center (back door)
519 South Higgins Avenue

Montana DOT Environmental Assessment

Mammoth trucks to invade northern Rockies, advance climate change

Mammoet. Dutch for “mammoth” …and that is exactly what we’re dealing with. Most people in northern Idaho and western Montana have probably heard about the giant trucks that are slated to cross the region on their way to Canada.  Most don’t seem to know much else about it, though, which is not surprising. The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) and the companies involved have been conspicuously quiet about the whole thing. Very little information has yet been made available, despite how soon the project is set to go forward. Inquiries to the MDT have been deflected to the companies and the companies are dragging their feet on reaching out to the public.

Example of Mammoet in action

The trucks belong to Mammoet, a dutch company that specializes in, well… big stuff. They are the ones who lifted the Russian submarine “Kursk” up from the ocean floor, for example. Here in North America they primarily move giant pieces of mining equipment to the Alberta Tar Sands, which is exactly what they have recently been contracted to do. While the world condemns Canada and the U.S. for the countries’ lack of dedication to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and as citizens and sovereign First Nations across Canada fight desperately against further developement of tar sand operations in Alberta, the largest company in the world is quietly planning to spend the next couple of years transporting the devices of its apocalyptic industry across the Northwest.

Example of Mammoet in action

Giant “modules” are being built in Korea and shipped to the Port of Portland, OR. There they will be loaded onto barges for transport up the Columbia and Snake Rivers to the Port of Lewiston, ID.  Then Mammoet trucks take over.

The massive dimensions of the largest of the trucks, at twelve times the size of normal tractor-trailers, require that two lanes be used during transport, which on narrow roads like U.S. Highways 12 and 200 means that the whole road, both directions of traffic, will be shut down while these trucks go through at as little as five miles per hour on hills.

Once these trucks start rolling, it will be virtually impossible to travel anywhere along the route without suffering delays, especially over Lolo and Rogers Passes.  Shipments are expected to occur three to five times per work-week for about a year and a half, including through the icy winter, for a total of over 200 shipments.  By law, traffic can only be held up for ten minutes at a time, but once hundreds of turnouts have been built and countless power lines, signs and traffic signals have been refabricated to allow for these trucks’ massive size, there seems little likelihood that these laws will be enforced against a company (ExxonMobil) with an economy six times the size of Montana’s.

Example of Mammoet in action

For turnouts (places for the trucks to pull over for traffic to pass) to be built, unknown ecological damage must occur.  Of particular concern is the Lochsa River corridor in Idaho, a steep and narrow valley of almost no developement and many groves of old-growth cedar right along the roadside.  For turnouts to occur every couple of miles, as the travel plan demands, they must be built either out into the river or else large portions of mountainside may have to be  carved out.  The impacts of these turnouts on the health of the river ecosystem and the species (some endangered and endemic) that rely on it are as yet unknown.  There is some doubt that a thorough and honest environmental impact assessment will be possible before the project begins if the company intends to stay on schedule.

MDT does not yet know what level of environmental review will be required before issuing the permits, however, Jim Lynch, Director of MDT, has said that only the direct impacts these shipments will have on the state will be considered for issuance.  They will specifically ignore any concerns about the effects of tar sand mining or the oil economy on the global environment. All of these permits combined will provide for each state only a few hundred thousand dollars while the economic impacts of traffic delays may far exceed that.  Modification of the roadways appears to require only a few months of construction –if the initial test run occurs this summer as scheduled (no construction has begun as of this writing). Jobs creation, therefore,  will be minimal and temporary.  The ecological damage caused by road work, not to mention by the Canadian Tar Sands themselves, will be extensive and permanent.

Example of Mammoet in action

In Idaho, and possibly Montana too, the success or failure of the initial test run this summer will determine whether the rest of the permits will be issued (though the turnouts will have to be built even just to make the test run).  While the State sticks its fingers in its ears when confronted with the obvious fact that allowing these shipments to pass through constitutes complicity in climate chaos, it is up to us in the Northwest to do our part, in solidarity with Albertans, to stop this project from going forward.

As more information is made available to the public, we will post it here.  For more background information about tar sand mining, click here.  To learn more about how you can help confront Northwestern states’ complicity in destructive tar sand mining, contact us or check out the Alberta Tar Sands links in our Allies & Resources page.  The only information produced by MDT about this for the public, including the precise route, can be read here.

Stop Tar Sand Mining Now!

The world’s largest, and possibly dirtiest industrial operation has frightening implications reaching far from the northern Canadian forest in which it is centered. As peak oil passes us by and industrial civilization’s thirst for exploitation of fossil fuels continues to grow, northern Alberta, Canada has become host to what is perhaps the greatest organized danger to life on Earth, ever. Old-Growth deforestation, huge levels of climate change-causing carbon emissions, poisoned watersheds, colonial encroachment, damaging social impacts, pipelines and road-building into wild places, wars, toxic wastelands… all in the interest of western materialism and the energy-industry’s profits; with the Alberta Tar Sands at the center. The tar sands are having an impact on the US’s northern Rockies as well (see also: this and this), and Northern Rockies Rising Tide is joining the fight to stop them.

Tar sands (aka, oil or bituminous sands) are mixtures of soil, water and extremely dense petroleum called bitumen. The largest known deposits of tar sand are in northern Alberta, Canada. The Alberta Tar Sands deposits cover an area roughly the size of Florida, under some of the largest old-growth forest left in the world, and they are being dug up.

Tar sands exploitation is the newest and most rapidly growing sector of the petroleum industry, due to dwindling reserves of conventional oil and the relatively young technology required to make tar sand mining profitable. Tar sand deposits can be found around the globe, however Alberta’s deposits are believed to contain as many barrels of crude as the entire world’s reserves of conventional oil (around 1.7 trillion barrels).

Tar sands account for nearly half of Canada’s oil production and, because of increasing production, Canada is now the single largest supplier of oil to the United States. Aside from a small (and declining) tar sands industry in Venezuela, Canada is the world’s only commercial producer of bitumen oil.

The first tar sand mine (Suncor) opened in 1967. The second, the Syncrude mine which began operations eleven years later, is today the largest mine of any type in the world. The third began only in 2003. Today, due to high demand and dwindling supply of conventional oil reserves, there are nearly 100 tar sand projects (comprised of 3200 mining leases, covering an area the size of Maryland) planned in Canada, with $200 billion dollars invested. These operations include not only the mines themselves, but also trans-continental pipelines, refineries, road construction and super-oil tankers and ports for overseas distribution.

First Nations communities downstream of tar sand mines are facing threats to their physical health, the health of their landbase, and their sovereignty. They are reporting increased cases of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, multiple sclerosis and rare types of cancer due to toxic wastes leaching into the waterway from tailings ponds. Also arsenic, at 33 times the acceptable level, is being found in game meats which local First Nations people rely on; as well as some animals being found with tumors and mutations. Hunting is also becoming more difficult as habitat is being destroyed and wildlife disturbed. The tar sands are being developed on land that has never been ceded (formally surrendered) by First Nations, and the communities are neither being consulted nor compensated for the destruction of their lands.

Conventional crude oil is normally extracted from the ground by drilling oil wells into a petroleum reservoir and allowing oil to push out, or else be pushed or pumped out of the ground. (Think Kuwait or Beverly Hills or off-shore oil rigs). Tar sands, however, being as much solid as they are liquid, require more effort to extract. The easiest method is strip mining, though some newer mines heat and dilute the bitumen underground to make it flow easier. Once removed from the ground, bitumen is too viscous to flow through pipelines as conventional crude does. Therefore it is next converted into synthetic oil (called upgrading) to aid transport. These processes can use huge quantities of sometimes scarce water and require so much electricity that one tar sand mine has considered building a nuclear power plant just to power the mine!

Tar sands mining causes an extraordinary, and often permanent, detriment to the environment. Air monitoring near Fort McMurray, Alberta, as well in the areas near tar sand upgraders, has recorded excessive levels of toxic hydrogen sulfide (the gas responsible for “rotten egg” odors), as well as nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and particulate matters; and one tar sand exploiter, Suncor Energy, received an Environmental Protection Order from the government of Alberta in 2007 as a result. 

Clearcutting old-growth boreal forest.

Surface mining of tar sand irreversibly destroys the land being mined. The mining site is cleared of all vegetation, often old-growth boreal forest, and tar sand developement is the cause of the second-fastest rate of deforestation on the planet behind the clearing of the Amazon rainforest. Then the top 50 meters or so of earth (called “overburden”) is blasted and removed, exposing the tar sand deposit. The largest power shovels and dumptrucks in the world (up to 400 tons, some of which are being shipped through northern Idaho and western Montana) are used to dig up the tar sand deposit, of which about two tons is required to produce just one barrel of oil (about 1/8 of a ton). Just one mine in Alberta has dug up more earth than the Great Pyramid, the Suez Canal, the Great Wall of China and the world’s ten largest dams combined. Surface mining also leaves behind large quantities of toxic chemicals making the land unlivable, even if some semblance of “reclamation” occurs. The Canadian boreal forest is one of the largest old-growth forests left on the planet, and stores more carbon per acre than any other ecosystem anywhere.

In some mines, each barrel of oil requires up to 4.5 barrels of water to produce it. Tar sand operations in northern Alberta use twice as much water as Calgary, a city of over one million people. Most of this water comes from the Athabasca River, which is already facing reduced flow due to shrinking of the once mighty Columbia Ice Fields and Athabasca glacier. Despite attempts at recycling the water, almost all of it ultimately ends up in toxic tailings ponds contaminated with coke, asphaltenes, sulphur, heavy metals and sewage. For every barrel of oil, six barrels of tailings are produced. Tar sand tailings ponds, visible to the unaided eye from space, are so large that one is held back by the world’s third-largest dam. These tailings are often stored dangerously close to the Athabasca river and threaten the health of the whole ecosystem downstream. A recent Environmental Defense report states that nearly 3 million gallons of tailings are already leaking into the watershed each year. With currently-proposed projects, that could grow five-fold within the next couple of years. The ponds are so toxic that in one incident over 500 ducks were killed when the flock landed during migration. Most ponds require noise-makers that deter waterfowl from landing, but some 8000 birds are oil-soaked and killed each year in the ponds. It is believed that over the next few decades, some 160 million birds will die from habitat loss and mistaken contact with tailings ponds.

Communities near the tar sands, who supposedly benefit from jobs created by the industry, are experiencing increased levels of substance abuse, rape & family violence, as well as increased housing costs and decreased housing availability due to the influx of thousands of people coming to work at the tar sands. Homelessness in Edmonton, the nearest large city, increased 19% in 2006 due to Canadian internal migration occurring faster than the city can grow its social services and housing infrastructure. Fort McMurray, the largest town in the tar sands area, has the highest suicide rate for 18-24 year old men in Canada and lacked 70 out of 72 quality of life indicators in one ranking. Oil companies are now beginning to more heavily use guest-worker programs, undermining the ability of unions to influence work conditions, and exploiting the people traveling to Canada to work the tar sands.

Tar Sand Operations

Tar sand mining emits even more climate change causing greenhouse gas (GHG) than conventional oil production, by a factor of 3 to 1. Not including the emissions from tailpipes and smokestacks when the refined oil is eventually burned, Alberta’s tar sands mines account for 0.1% of global GHG emissions. This is a huge portion when considering it is coming from only 0.0000008% of the Earth’s surface. And the industry is growing! Within the next five years, total GHG emissions from tar sands mining is expected to be 108 to 125 megatons per year.

Carbon sequestration (trapping carbon emissions underground), is often touted as the “green” answer to fossil fuel based industries. However, while up to 90% of emissions from conventional oil production may be trapped and stored with current technology (though it is economically infeasible to do so), only 10% can be trapped from bitumen production. In addition, the first sequestration plant is not expected to be operational until 2030, and oil companies doubt sequestration will be widely used before 2050. The method is untested in the long-term and is not proven to be a permanent solution, as leakage is believed to occur.

Such extreme amounts of electricity are used to mine tar sand that in 2007 one company applied for a permit to build a nuclear power plant near its operations, however, most of the energy comes from burning natural gas. Tar sand mining uses enough gas to heat 3 million homes, and this diversion of resources is causing a return to even dirtier coal-fired electrical generation for domestic use.

Current plans for Canada’s fossil fuel industry will propel the country’s emissions to 44% beyond what it is allowed by the Kyoto Treaty, of which it is a signatory.

courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Since the majority of U.S. imports of oil come from Canada, and the largest institutional consumer of oil in the world is the U.S. military (about 340,000 barrels per day), the Alberta tar sands are literally fueling the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Wars over oil, made possible by oil. Wars on people, wars on the land, wars on ourselves. It is time to stop the Tar Sands!