Oil sands myths

Oil sands are a big deal around here (Alberta) and though the government and industry are smart enough to know that they can’t hide all the environmental impact from us, they do have a bad habit of using “spin” to make it seem like it’s not that big of a deal. A recent publication from the Pembina Institute addresses some of the spin.

For example, the spin suggests that only a small percentage of Alberta land is being used for oil sands development, but according to Clearing the Air on Oil Sands Myths, an “area larger then the province of New Brunswick has already been leased to in situ oil sands companies for development.” That may be just a small part of Alberta, but it’s still a large area. Imagine, my NB friends, if every part of your province was surfaced mined for oil. Now imagine, my NS, PEI and PQ friends, if you had to live next door to that.

Speaking of living next door to oil sands development, some spin suggests that adjacent First Nations are (and have to be) consulted before any new development is OK-ed, but they aren’t required by law and three lawsuits have been launched by First Nations alleging that they were never consulted properly.

There are many other issues, such as:

  • Athabasca River water use – The spin suggests that water use is minimal compared to river flow, but this is based on annual averages even though water flow in the river varies 10-fold over the year.
  • Toxin seepage – Did you know that tailings lakes seep water soluble toxins? Imagine how easy it is for those toxins to get around when it rains – they already seep into the groundwater.
  • Greenhouse gas contributions – The spin suggests that oil sands account for only 5% of Canada’s greenhouse gases, but according to the report “oil sands operations are the largest source of projected new greenhouse gas pollution in Canada” and “[t]hey are the number one reasons Alberta and Canada’s emissions are rising instead of falling.”

If you don’t feel like reading the whole report, at least check out the slide show that summarizes the may points.

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