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Home » Literature

Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent

Submitted by on April 14, 2010 – 1:53 amNo Comment

books_tarsands_1542-200x300The travesty, says Andrew Nikiforuk, author of Tar Sands: Dirty oil and the future of a continent, is it costs the country three barrels of fresh water from the Athabasca River and two tons of earth to get one barrel of bitumen out of the Alberta tar sands.

Bitumen, the pseudo-oil he describes in his book as half-baked fuel synthesized by plants, is considered Canada’s black gold, and the country’s Achilles heel. As Nikiforuk writes in Tar Sands, “bitumen, the new national staple, is redefining the character and destiny of Canada.”

Rapid development of the tar sands has done for Canada what the war in Iraq has done for the U.S. – changed the nation irrevocably, he says, for the worse. “The project has destroyed the country’s environmental conscience, made us a global embarrassment on climate change, changed the economy and linked us with the fortunes of the United States.”

The irony, says Nikiforuk, is it takes 1.3 billion cubic feet of natural gas everyday to power the oil operations in northeastern Alberta, enough to heat six million homes, yet energy prices for Canadian consumers continue to climb.

“We’re using a relatively clean fuel to produce one of the world’s dirtiest,” he says. “That’s like taking the best furniture in your living room and throwing it into the fireplace to keep warm.”

In 2007, oil, natural gas and petroleum products accounted for more than 70 per cent of Alberta`s exports and 40 per cent of its provincial GDP. Most of the money came from the sale of raw bitumen from Fort McMurray to the U.S. That year, Canada shipped 680 million barrels of crude oil to its neighbours to the north, while importing the majority of its oil from the Middle East.

The question, says Nikiforuk, is will unchecked development of the tar sands hollow out the economy, destroy the world`s third largest watershed, consume the last of the nation`s natural-gas supplies and erode Canadian sovereignty?  Could the tar sands could be the pelt that breaks the pioneer`s back?

Increased integration, he prophesizes, will be driven by the energy needs of the U.S. and will lead to the formation of a North American union. The country`s new fur trade won`t be run by the Hudson`s Bay Company, he says.  Of the $200 billion already invested at Fort Mac, Cold Lake and Peace River, more than half is American money.

Remi L. Roy

also appeared in XPress-10/16/08

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