Politics of Oil

could a bp-sized disaster happen in alberta?

It is hard to make light of the catastrophic BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill happening in the Gulf Coast, but this video provides a well-needed comic relief to the situation. The fumbling that the world has witnessed over the past few weeks really makes me wonder how similar corporate leaders would react to a disaster in Alberta’s oil sands. Our politicians love to assure us of how safe and reliable the wealth of our oil sands are, but in reality, would they react much different if a tailings pond levy breached and poured out into the Athabasca River?

According to the Pembina Institute, current tailings ponds waste water is equal to 220,000 Olympic swimming pools. Despite pledges to rid our province of them, by 2020 it is expected that Alberta’s oil sands will create enough wet tailings ponds to fill 400,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. There have already been cases of tailings ponds leaking contaminated water into nearby lakes and rivers and probably others that have not been made public.

Before anyone starts jumping all over me, I am not trying make a case against Alberta’s oil sands. It is a resource that is too valuable for us not to develop as part of our economy that so many jobs and investments depend on. I have heard a number of politicians and pundits note how the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will be good or bad for Canadian oil sands, but in the rush to “increase competitiveness” and open our resources to the world, could we be setting ourselves up to make some of the same mistakes?

Future generations of Americans will have to face the real effects of the Gulf Coast oil spill. Could we be setting up future generations of Canadians to face the same reality in our province?

One reply on “could a bp-sized disaster happen in alberta?”

Hilarious vid, Dave. I first saw it posted on f/b, though.

WRT the tailings pond, I’ve often wondered if everything in them is truly “waste” and really could not be recovered/reused. I know there’s heavy metals, etc., in them.

Like many “wastes” which are a by-product of various industries, I suspect that the problem is not only the “uneconomical” nature of recovery (from the POV of the industry involved), but also a dearth of imagination.

The “tar sands” could go a long way towards repairing its reputation if it made a concerted effort to reuse, recycle, and reclaim ANYTHING of possible use, EVEN if it didn’t make immediate economic sense to do so.

Yes, this would make their “intended” products more expensive, but this should be seen as reflecting the true cost of resource development. I won’t mind paying more for a product if I know its production didn’t require me to accept unnecessary environmental and health risks and costs.

The days of industry (ANY industry!) passing off the costs of its waste(and cost of resource depletion) as “externalities” SHOULD be over, in my opinion. I think our society has a much more sophisticated understanding that production is not a “closed loop” in isolation(e.g., effect of Gulf of Mexico oil spill affects fishing industry), and that “externalities” are costs that are passed on to society generally, and that it’s entirely reasonable that society requires industries to compensate it for those supposedly “external” costs.

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