Everything You Need To Fight The Tar Sands Pipeline (And Why You Should Want To) by Alex Snider

You can scroll to the bottom of the post for links and other resources to help in the fight. But first, a little background on why the tar sands and the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline are such a terrible idea:

Why The Tar Sands Are Bad:

The boreal forest, also known as Taiga, covers 60% of Canada stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Southern Ontario to the Arctic (and majority of Russia and northern Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Japan as well as most of Northern Europe). It's the world's largest terrestrial biome. More so than even the tropical rain forests, the Taiga is the earth's greatest carbon sink — the forests sequester 22% of the carbon stored on the planet's surface. This means approximately 186 billion tonnes of carbon — or 27 years worth of the emissions we burned in 2003 — are held in the boreal forests, wetlands and muskeg. Obviously, if carbon emissions are held in the Taiga, they are prevented from entering the atmosphere. Basically, boreal forests are our best friends.

Canada's boreal forests (and wetlands and muskegs) are also home to millions of mammals, birds (waterfowl, land and also migratory species), insects and fish — including countless species at risk brought back from the brink of extinction such as the buffalo and the whooping crane. There are also hundreds of Indigenous communities which still depend on the ecosystem for their livelihood, food and traditional lifestyle despite the 500 years of cultural genocide waged upon them by the government (whether French, British or Canadian). There are also non-Aboriginal Canadians who depend on the land for their livelihood, who appreciate and understand the reciprocal nature of our relationship with the earth, and who understand that the earth is not there just to be exploited and ravaged for profit without any thought to a sustainable future for our grandchildren, their grandchildren and so on.

Which brings me to the tar sands. (They are not 'oil sands". As Garth Lenz says in the TED talk embedded below, "Oil sands is a PR created term so that the oil companies wouldn't be trying to promote something that sounds like a sticky, tar-like substance that's the world's dirtiest oil.") The tar sands underlie 140,200 sq km (an area nearly the size of Florida), and sit in north-east Alberta right along the Saskatchewan border. They are the third largest store of oil in the world, after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, with 12% of the global reserves. In 2010 they produced 170.8 billion barrels of oil, exporting 1.4 million barrels a day to the United States. This generated $3.7 billion in royalties for the Alberta Crown. The tar sands employ 140,000 people.

So what's the problem? Money and jobs = good, right? Not this time. There is a huge human and environmental cost to the tar sands.
"[T]ar sands oil production not only deforests land, disturbs peat and wetlands, and changes local hydrology, it also generates almost three times as much greenhouse gas per barrel as conventional oil production.Peat extraction in Canada emitted 7.74 million tons of carbon between 1990 and 2000, mostly due to the decomposition of extracted peat after being removed from this secure carbon pool. Large scale drainage and flooding of peat lands for mining or hydroelectric development also results in substantial emissions from this otherwise long-lived carbon pool."
There goes our carbon sink. On a small scale it's like cutting down a tree and burning a tire in its place. And there goes our clean water. No wonder the Canadian government voted against making access to clean drinking water a human right – our water isn't for Canadians to drink but for oil companies to pollute. (Harper and Aboriginal Affairs minister John Duncan also refuses to acknowledge water as being a right for Indigenous people in Canada.)

Then there are the tailing ponds. Comprised of the waste byproduct of the tar extraction process, they are the largest toxic impoundments in the world and can be seen from space. They are built unlined and on the banks of the rivers. They are incredibly poisonous. According to the Pembina Institute, not only have massive volumes of Arsenic, Benzene, Lead and Mercury been found in the ponds, but the amounts are rising. "Between 2006 and 2009, total levels of mercury across all tailings ponds increased by 63%, lead by 29%, and arsenic by 28%. Asbestos topped the volume growth rates, with a 949% increase over the same four year period". And those fuckers seep into the groundwater.

Canada's tar sands
The effects that the tar sands have already had on animal populations and human health are well documented:

In 2008, 1606 dead ducks were discovered in one of the tailing ponds. And another 230 migratory birds in 2010.

Also in 2008, a two-mouthed fish was caught in Lake Athabasca down stream of the tar sands.

Caribou populations have been devastated by the tar sands, to the point where now there is a secret government plan to poison wolves in order to prevent them from hunting caribou.

There has been increased rates of rare cancer among those living in Fort Chipewyan, a predominantly Aboriginal community downstream from the sands. And according to this article from the David Suzuki Foundation, there is a distinct threat of cancer from the tar sands.

The release of harmful substances into the atmosphere during extraction (greenhouse gases, nitrogen oxide and sulphur oxide) causes respiratory diseases such as asthma, emphysema, heart problems and bronchitis. While the other volatile organic compounds can cause brain damage and various cancers.

In addition to the health and environmental threats posed, the mines and the companies also present a host of other serious social problems: the exploitation of migrant workers, racism towards migrant workers and Indigenous people, increased sexual and domestic violence, housing crises, spikes in drug and alcohol addiction, and other issues springing from the isolation and demand for hyper-masculinity.

That's the short-story of the tar sands and their pros (money, jobs) and the extreme downside (absolutely everything else). Now, onto the pipeline, because super long post must be longer!

The proposed route for the pipeline
Why The Pipeline Is Bad:

Enbridge's Northern Gateway Pipeline is a proposed pipeline that will go from the Alberta tar sands to Kitimat, B.C. Every day, 525,000 barrels of crude will be shipped (by oil tankers) to a refinery in China. A second pipeline will transport condensate from Kitimat to somewhere near Edmonton for the purposes of thinning out the crude that will be piped to the coast. The pipes are to be 36" and 20" respectively and 1,177 km long. They'll be buried in trenches and although there are promises that the soil removed will be (mostly) stored and then replaced, the statement that they will be "leaving the area close to the way it was before the pipeline was installed" is laughable.

Much like the tar sands, the pipes will generate a lot of money and a lot of jobs, but once again: is the environmental cost of disrupting 1,177 km of farmland, forest, and Indigenous territory worth it? Is the (really high) risk of a spill worth it? A spill anywhere along the pipeline or B.C. coast would have a devastating effect on the health, livelihood, tourism, food production, animal species, economy and biodiversity of Canada.

There have been economic assessments that predict the pipeline will force Canadian oil prices through the roof (Enbridge predicts a $2-$3 increase per barrel); the Harper Government is threatening a trade war with the European Union if they label the tar sands as "dirty oil". Canada officials are basically the dinosaurs in The Land Before Time, struggling in a tarpit while the rest of the world moves onto a sustainable future.

This is just one part of the Harper Government's increasingly desperate moves in his propaganda war on behalf of big oil (and against the best interests of Canada). The Natural Resource minister, Joe Oliver, labelled all opponents of the pipeline "radicals" and Harper jumped in, suggesting that it's all foreigners and celebrities fueling the opposition. Sure.

Brian Jean, the Conservative MP for Fort MacMurray-Athabasca, suggested that First Nations' Chiefs are pocketing bribe money from foreign groups to oppose the pipeline. (Yeah, because Aboriginal groups have never fought the government and big corporations before when it comes to land and the environment? Give me a fucking break.) He also suggested a legislation that would prevent foreign interests from being represented in Canadian environmental issues. (You mean like CHINA'S INTERESTS?)

The Land Before Time
The government has drawn up a list of allies and adversaries in the fight for the pipeline. Allies include the National Energy Board (a supposedly neutral regulatory board which will be overseeing the hearings for the pipeline), government departments such as Aboriginal and Northern Affairs, Natural Resources Canada and the Privy Council Office. (From the PCO's website: "Led by the Clerk of the Privy Council, PCO helps the Government implement its vision and respond effectively and quickly to issues facing the government and the country". Yeah, sounds super non-partisan.) Oh, and also private energy companies and industry associations. Adversaries are environmentalists and Indigenous groups. That shit is beyond fucked up. 

Both Oliver and Harper have also complained about how these phantom foreign villains who keep buying off First Nations Chiefs (who would totes be all for the project otherwise) and investing all these *Dr Evil voice* millions of dollars into the radical environmentalists protestors (those fat-cat environmentalists!) are holding up the National Energy Board hearings. Gah, democracy and due process, amirite Stevie?! Such a drag when your trying to be supreme dictator of a start-up petrostate!

Plus, just yesterday the Fisheries Department announced that it would not be honouring its promise to give an $8.3 million grant to Tides Canada, an environmental group dedicated to consulting the department on the BC coastline. The grant money comes from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, an American-based environmental fund. Documents obtained from the government through the Access to Information Act reveal that the deal was reneged because of pressure from Enbridge. Is this the kind of government Canadians want? 

Aaaaaaand, Harper has so far refused to meet with Aboriginal groups and Chiefs even though the proposed pipeline goes through 50 First Nations communities. This isn't a big shocker given Harper's considerable disdain for the Aboriginal people within Canada, but Canadians should be fucking angry about it. It's disgraceful.

What You Can Do:

The good news is, even though Harper does have the final say he wouldn't be spinning his wheels so damn hard if he wasn't feeling threatened by all the amazing work already done by the Aboriginal groups and environmental activists. In the past, even bigger projects have been taken out by the will of the people. Now is the time for action, for alliances and for spreading the word about the threat posed by the pipeline project. The economy and jobs are hugely important to non-Aboriginal Canadians and Indigenous people, but so is a sustainable future. And it's not a zero sum game. We can have both, but not if that includes an increasing reliance on the tar sands and this exploitation of non-renewable resources.

You can sign an online petition here.

You can email the Prime Minister: pm@pm.gc.ca
You can email the Minister of Natural Resources, Joe Oliver Joe.oliver.c1@parl.gc.ca
And you can email your own MP. (It's super-easy to look up their email address here even if you're not sure who yours is. All you need is your postal code.)

You can watch the videos we've posted below to educate yourself further. And maybe most importantly, you can post them, the petition, and articles about the pipeline to your Facebook feed and Twitter account so your friends and family learn about all this stuff too.

And you can also check out all of these organizations, who have more online resources and ways to get involved:

A short film, B.C.'s Huge Gamble by Corey Ogilvie:

A TED talks on the environmental and human cost of the tar sands:

And, a short film: Spirit Bear Guid Marven Robinson Gets Personal:


Main image courtesy Kevin Kimber Photography, the rest are from Wikipedia, National Geographic and northerngateway.com.

Alex Snider wants to leave the planet inhabitable for her great-great-great-great-great grandchildren. This post originally appeared at her blog, What Fresh Hell is This?. Find her on Twitter here.


Anonymous said...

By the time I got to 'Why The Pipeline Is Bad' it was more than obvious you don't really know what you're talking about. I would guess you've never lived somewhere that has wilderness.....pretty sure no one has ever seen 1606 ducks in the same place at the same time. 1 weird fish, and secret government plots...Really? Is it safe to assume you don't expect anyone to take you seriosusly? That number of birds who died has been steadily growing since the incident in 2008, and even then what was on the news was not akin to what really happened.
Have you given up all the advantages and comforts you have due to the prosperity of the tar sands? If you're not willing to walk the walk, perhaps you should talk a little more quietly.
Everyone is certainly entitled to their opinion but I can't imagine airing such an uninformed one in public like this. This is how the bandwagon gets momentum, lots of copying and pasting, not enough real world information.

Adam Bunch said...

Dude, weak comment. Suggesting that you're "pretty sure no one has ever seen 1606 ducks in the same place at the same time", is kind of not a great way to start since that's just blatantly a false assertion. The post is also pretty clear about all the opposition by people who do live in the wilderness. And that, yes, giving up the prosperity is the price we'll have to pay, but that price is worth it. Poorly trolled, my friend, poorly trolled.

Alex Snider said...

So... You're not going to share it?

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