Monday, May 10, 2010


“Tar Sands – Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent,” By Andrew Nikiforuk, 2008

While we watch the BP Keystone Kops try to control the Gulf oil leaks that they claimed were totally “unpredicted”; a government that continues to exempt deep ocean drillers from environmental and safety plans; an administration that joined Sarah Palin in exclaiming “drill, baby, drill;” an environment of deep sea water containing methane explosions, ice crystals and massive pressure, unlike any oil drilling environment on the surface of land – we are witnessing the world of peak oil. We have dead oil-rig workers and dead coal miners, victims of this world of profit’s peak - just in time for Workers Memorial Day, April 28. There will be more damage, unless sustainable production and planning take over from profiteering and uncontrolled environmental mayhem.

Of course, the march of 10,000 unionists and others on Wall Street on April 29 was as invisible as Workers Memorial Day to the bourgeois media like ‘reasonable’ CNN. When the massive immigrant's rights march happened, it was invisible to these same censorious 'journalists.' Just like they never celebrate International Women’s Day, but go on endlessly about Mother’s Day, they ignore Workers Memorial Day for Memorial Day. Since dead soldiers are the only ones to mourn.

The Gulf oil spill is an introduction to this book. Canada is now the largest source of foreign oil in the U.S. and the reason is the massive tar sands above Edmonton, Alberta. These sands are the leading source for gasoline used in Minnesota. A large pipeline from Alberta is being planned through the northern part of the state, into Superior, Wisconsin, and on to the oil processing plants at the bottom of Lake Michigan. This is the ‘on-land’ face of peak oil – massive environmental destruction in the woods, air, wildlife, humans and water of northern Alberta, in one of the biggest watersheds in North America, the McKenzie River basin.

Nikiforuk is a journalist living in Calgary, Alberta, and believes that there is a reasonable, capitalist solution to this mess. He hopes that rational men and women can come together and figure out that the unrestrained rape of the environment, for a short-term gain of profits and oil, is a really bad mistake, and will reasonably decide that we have to slow down this process, or stop it all together. Let me know when that happens, will ya?

As a good journalist, Nikiforuk details the many ways the tar sands rush, like a ‘gold’ rush, is damaging Alberta. There are cancers downriver. The sludge ponds are leaking into groundwater. The ponds will never be returned to nature. There will not be enough fresh water to process the tar sands or bitumen, as the tar itself gets harder and harder to extract as time goes on, and needs more and more water. Nor is there enough natural gas to run the melting process central to the extraction of the oil from the bitumen. Multiple nuclear reactors have been proposed to ‘cleanly’ process the sand instead. The air turns black. The water gets sick. Massive forests are falling to the axe so the open-pit mines can proceed, replaced with a moonscape. Alcoholism, drug addiction, traffic accidents, mental illness, family breakups, ridiculous real estate prices, failing health, dead fish, dead animals, no government regulation, lordly politicians, corporate control of government, scandalously tiny taxes on oil companies, high carbon output and stupidly high wages all afflict the people of Fort McMurray and the small communities around the oil sands. Nikoforuk likens it to any ‘petro-state’ in the world, where the quick or profitable extraction of minerals or oil change the culture for the worse. Sort of like the foundation of the State of Texas, except with trees.

While we have a somewhat rosy view of the government of Canada – and in some things they certainly rank high above America – in the matter of tar sands they resemble our policy to mountain-top removal. Their regulators – like those in the US Minerals Management Service - are in bed with Exxon, BP, Chinese oil companies and others. The Alberta Provincial government – which used to be stronghold of the Labour Party – is now the most right-wing in the nation. Their un-audited and careless treatment of oil sands taxes puts them below nearly every other country and state in the world, including Texas AND Alaska, in that matter. The Alberta tar sands are the reason that energy usage and carbon emissions have gone UP in Canada, and made Canada fail to meet even the meek targets of Kyoto.

And this is all taking place to provide, not Canada, but primarily the United States, with oil. Much of the sludge will even be shipped to the US to be processed, thus robbing the Canadians of even that profit – making them a pure extractive economy. Like China, Canada is being used as a milking station for the profits of the oil giants and an out-of-control production system based only on scum-sucking profits. Nikiforuk, while proposing idealistic and wonky solutions, nevertheless makes the damage the tar sands are doing inescapable.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog, May 10, 2010

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