Alberta Oil Sands

A resolution passed at the annual conference of American Mayors in Miami, Florida has urged American municipalities to forbid the use of oil sands gasoline in municipal vehicles. The resolution was brought forward by Eugene, Oregon Mayor Kitty Piercy in an attempt to limit the flow of “dirty oil” into American cities. But rather than adapt to the realities of changing market forces, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (which includes some of the largest oil sands companies) has launched a public relations offensive in the form of a slick – in an effort to re-brand the oil sands.

The oil sands are driving Alberta’s economic engine, and in a time of continental economic insecurity, Alberta can play a central role in providing some economic stability. But as I’ve previously written, the future environmental costs of how the oil sands are currently being extracted are too high for my liking (and apparently too high for many American municipal politicians).

Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier has invited a group of American Mayors to Alberta to allow them to see the effects of the oil sands. I’m sure there are some nice boardrooms in downtown Calgary, but you’ll nary find a tailing pond in sight from Centre Street.

The chemical-filled tailing ponds that dot approximately 50 square kilometers of northern Alberta (equal to the size of 220,000 Olympic swimming pools) are only one of the problems facing the oil sands and other implications of oil sands extraction are easily identifiable. The effects of oil sands development have increased cancer rates in northern Alberta’s aboriginal communities and have caused the rapid decline of indigenous animals such as the Woodlands Caribou.

Current oil sands operations use an unsustainable amount of water from the Athabasca River basin – using up to 4.5 barrels of water to extract and upgrade one lonely barrel of bitumen from an oil sands mine. Companies extracting the oil sands are currently allowed to continue extracting water from the Athabasca River, even when river levels are at sitting at dangerously low levels.

Ironically, with oil prices at record high levels and Alberta’s Treasury overflowing, our Federal and Provincial governments have the funds and resources available to responsibly initiate real positive change in the oil sands by turning around the larger disasterous impacts that we could be heading towards in the future if we continue along the simplistic path we’re on. correctly states that…

The oil sands are owned by the people of Canada through their governments. Companies buy rights to access the resource, and pay royalties to government on their production.

… and it’s time that we as Canadians started taking responsibility for the environmental impacts we are allowing to shape our future.

Big changes need to happen in order to address the environmental challenges that we’ve created for ourselves, but focusing on real positive change – such as changing the way we extract our resources (and lessening our dependence on unsustainable fuels), investing in the expansion and development of public transit and new smart growth initiatives in our rapidly growing municipalities, as well as developing more environmentally efficient and sustainable energy sources (and ways of living) are more positive solutions than a public relations campaign can offer.

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