In Tar Sands Battle, Canada Chooses Economic Interests Over the Environment

In the U.S., when we think of Canada, we envision vast open spaces of clean and pristine natural areas. Some of us also consider many of their leaders as environmentalists with a love of the great outdoors and respect for all the people and creatures that it sustains. Wrong.

New evidence has surfaced that Canada is not only promoting the gutting of greenhouse gas regulation and the destruction of an entire region, but actively campaigning against any who oppose such efforts. Energy companies are clearly pulling the strings of our neighbor to the north.

Ottawa is backpedalling from its own report, entitled “Pan-European Oil Sands Advocacy Strategy,” which explicitly lists “allies” and “adversaries” in the Canadian government’s efforts to exploit the world’s largest deposits of the world’s dirtiest source of oil in the center of the country.

The March 2011 document, obtained under Access to Information legislation, was released Thursday by Greenpeace Canada and Climate Action Network. It targets European leaders in an effort to lobby them to allow Canada to skirt international pollution and carbon emissions regulation in extracting oil from the vast tar sands. 

In what Environment Minister Peter Kent calls “a gross mischaracterization of reality,” the report lists Canadian environmental NGOs, environmental organizations, Aboriginal groups, competing industries, and media in Europe as “adversaries” to the federal government of Canada. Meanwhile, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Shell and BP are named as “like-minded allies.”

Greenpeace also released evidence of collusion in meetings between the government and oil industry officials, who expressed interest in “upping their game” and a desire to “turn up the volume” in promoting the tar sands.

Links to Google Docs of the minutes of the meeting and the Pan-European Oil Sands Advocacy Strategy report can be found here.

Primarily in Alberta, the tar sands encompass an area the size of Florida. Mining them has an enormous carbon footprint, several times that of traditional oil extraction. Transporting the billions of tons of it, boiling it, processing the oil, transporting that to refineries and the sheer destruction of the landscape are all tantamount to environmental suicide. Three to four gallons of water are required to extract one gallon of oil in this way. Listed as an “ally,” the province of Alberta has worked hand in hand with Ottawa and big oil in its own destruction.

Environment Canada is one of the government agencies named in the report as an ally in the political strategy to lower environmental standards. Like the EPA, this group’s name can be considered Orwellian when one considers the hand they have played in polluting the environment.

The net efficiency of the extraction process only makes economic sense because of the high price of oil. The only reason the government has cranked up the effort under Prime Minister Stephen Harper is that the market allows it. What will happen if demand goes down? And when the oil runs out? What will be left besides lagoons of wastewater and moonscapes of dead earth? This is the antithesis of sustainability.

In the proposed Keystone-XL pipeline, the raw bitumen will be heated and diluted with chemicals in order to liquefy it. Then it would be pipelined to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries and exported throughout the Western Hemisphere. The proposed Northern Gateway pipeline from Edmonton to British Columbia would perform the same function for oil export to Asia.

In failure, Canada withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol last December in the United Nations Conference of Parties in Durban, South Africa (COP 17). Canada not only failed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels, as outlined in Kyoto, but they have increased 24% since then. This has been a result of the tar sands extraction.

Don’t let anyone tell you that Canada is a nation of environmentalists. As evidenced by their representative government, this is no longer the case. On a per capita basis, it turns out that Canada is now among the world leaders in carbon emissions.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Joseph Doolen

A science policy writer with professional experience writing in Washington, San Francisco and Madison, Joseph holds an MS in Biology, an MA in Journalism and is pursuing a PhD. For media organizations, he has covered San Francisco Bay Area environmental news, D.C. politics and Wisconsin state news. This year he is writing for Yale, the Obama campaign and covering AAAS in Vancouver. Joseph has done environmental work and science research in Texas and at the flagship universities of Illinois, Wisconsin and Cal-Berkeley.

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