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It's all about money! Like the fishermen who almost emptied Newfoundland’s Grand Banks of cod before the government imposed quotas, those who profit from selling carbon only care about “jobs and money” while ignoring the environment that sustains us.
As long as Enbridge can make a buck, they will gladly transport Alberta’s tar sands oil from Syncrude and its clones, even though the tar sands mines are one of the largest sources of air pollution in North America.
Syncrude and friends have removed hundreds of square miles of carbon dioxide-consuming, oxygen-creating forests that were providing food and shelter for hundreds of species. That’s bad enough, but in their search for wealth, a new mine is planned near Buffalo Provincial Park - a black, 36,000 acre pit called the Frontier Mine that will displace even more wildlife and cause more pollution..
Let me take you there, so you can see what I have seen. We are returning from a flight to the Arctic in my seaplane, the Tundra Cub. To the east lies Lake Athabasca, the lovely tiara that joins northern Alberta to Saskatchewan. At its Western end lies Fort Chippewa, where natives are experiencing an increase in pollution-related diseases, including cancer, and the fish in the once- pristine Athabasca River have begun to sprout tumors, probably caused by the oily sheen that colors parts of the river - a gift from the mines 100 miles to the south where a black and barren moonscape of tarrry mines spread outward from the Athabasca River.
Once covered by a lush, green carpet of spruce trees, brush and muskeg, the tar sands contain some 3 trillion barrels of a heavy oil called bitumen. Strip-mined like coal and then heated, the sands were yielding more than a million barrels of oil per day, and that was back in ‘80’s.
Thirty-two companies mine the sands, one of which is Syncrude, a consortium that began production in 1978, later adding several multi-billion dollar projects.
As we pass MacKay, an irregular gridwork of immense pits and settling ponds march to the horizon. In the pits, huge, 2,200 hp excavators equipped with GPS displays and buckets that carve out fifty cubic yards in a single bite dump mountains of tar-stained sand into $3.5 million trucks with 3,400 hp engines and $20,000 tires.
Moving back and forth from pit to plant at 40 mph, each truck delivers 300 tons of bitumen to the processing plants. There the sand is mixed with hot water to create a slurry in which the oil floats up to the top. Bitumen in deeper deposits is heated by injecting steam, which makes it easier to pump to the surface.
The molasses-like bitumen is pumped to a refinery, emerging as crude oil – the stuff that all nations desire. However, tar sands oil isn't sweet Pennsylvania crude, and the whole process is damaging the environment locally, regionally and even globally.
Just removing the oil from the sand takes five times more energy than pumping oil from a conventional well, which adds even more carbon dioxide to an atmosphere the cries out for less, not more. Furthermore, refining the sticky tar produces tons of hazardous petroleum coke. In addition, Syncrude, the largest greenhouse gas emitter in Canada, also created 12 million tons of CO2 in just 2012.
On the river below, the expanding, iridescent streaks warns of leaking tailing ponds, the likely source of the cancers 100 miles downstream.
Yes, Enbridge, Inc. transports tar sands oil, but just challenging or protesting Line 3, Line 5 or Keystone XL is like engaging the tentacles of an octopus, when we should also be opposing the head, the source - the Syncrudes and the newly proposed, innocuously named Frontier Mine. Fortunately, some caring Canadians are doing just that.
We have been abusing nature for personal and corporate gain for more than 200 years. That must change. Support the protesters and minimize your energy use.
George Erickson 218-744-2003 www.tundracub.com Member - National Center for Science Education and the Thorium Energy Alliance
For a presentation on climate change and energy issues call 218-744-2003 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. A FREE pdf of Dr. Erickson’s fifth book, Unintended Consequences: the Lie That Killed Millions and Accelerated Climate Change, can be downloaded from www.tundracub.com or https://tinyurl.com/yas7x2ok.