I just watched Downstream – and had my eyes opened about an industrial project which is considered to be the most ecologically destructive project on Earth: the Alberta tar sands. Downstream is a new documentary by Academy Award nominee Lesley Iwerks, which you too can watch at http://www.babelgum.com/downstream . But I warn you, it’s unsettling to say the least – I can’t seem to sit still now that I know this is going on!
Turns out that not all oil is created equal – in terms of how much energy and water it takes to get the oil out of the ground. Oil recovered from the tar sands is at the “extra dirty” end of the spectrum, meaning it takes more energy and water to recover oil from the dirt than other kinds of oil. (See the Environmental Defense report on the tar sands, http://www.environmentaldefence.ca/reports/tarsands.htm )
Consider this equation — the production of one barrel of tar sands oil:
Requires between 2 and 4.5 barrels of water and two tons of tar sands (scraped from below the surface of the boreal forest),
And it creates two barrels of toxic waste.
The processing of this tar sands oil also requires immense amounts of natural gas. Daily, tar sands producers burn 600 million cubic feet of natural gas to produce tar sands oil, enough natural gas to heat 3 million homes.
Production is licensed to use more water than Alberta’s two major cities — Calgary and Edmonton — combined.
That water is held in ponds laced with chemical sludge. And now the tailings pond for Syncrude (one of the corporations) is the largest dam project on Earth and can be seen from space by a naked eye. These ponds are so toxic that propane cannons are used to keep ducks from landing.
One barrel of tar sands oil produces three times the greenhouse gas emissions than does a barrel of conventional oil. The project is presently producing the most greenhouse gases in Canada, the equivalent to the emissions of the Czech Republic, while destroying the boreal forest, part of the world’s most important storehouse of climate regulating carbon and oxygen.
And here’s the kicker: Alberta’s Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) has released a report predicting that the province will go from 1.32 million barrels of raw bitumen per day in 2007 to 3.2 million barrels per day in 2017 (and who knows, if oil prices stay high, they could ramp it up even more quickly).
Today, a set of corporations is offereing money to various Native American tribes in exchange for a 20-year lease of tribal lands: The proposed Enbridge Alberta Clipper pipeline is one of the most controversial in history, with immense environmental and economic impacts. The proposed pipeline starts in the tar sands of Alberta, Canada and will end in Superior, Wisconsin.
To secure more markets, Enbridge is seeking expansion of this project by initially transporting 450,000 barrels per day (bpd), with ultimate capacity of up to 800,000 bpd available. See the commentary by Nellis Kennedy and Winona LaDuke at http://www.bemidjipioneer.com/articles/index.cfm?id=23115§ion=Opinion