28 April 2008

Tar sands: the "baby seal" issue of the 21st century?

An iconic environmental issue of the 20th century for Canada was baby seals. Environmental activists gained international attention and created international revulsion about the clubbing of big-eyed seal pups. That effort continues, but another issue is now creeping into the international consciousness that could darken Canada's reputation even more than seal slaughter. That of course is the Alberta tar sands.

It's a dirty business. Producing a tar sands barrel of oil results in at least three times more greenhouse gases than producing a conventional barrel. Production requires huge volumes of water and results in veritable lakes of contaminated fluids. It also devours large quantities of natural gas, the cleanest hydrocarbon fuel -- some wit once likened it to transmuting gold into lead.

The international opposition to tar sands development is growing. Alberta deputy premier Ron Stevens, on a five-day mission to Washington to peddle the oil sands brand, is being met by protesters and a full-page ad in the congressional newspaper claiming oil sands production is a major contributor to global warming.

With $100-billion of projects in the pipeline so to speak, the Alberta government is desperate to convince Americans, the people who buy the stuff, that the province is committed to "environmentally sustainable development of the oil sands." It plans to spend 25 million taxpayer dollars on the effort. Even that may not be enough to give this dirty business a clean face.

From killing baby seals in the East to producing the world's dirtiest oil in the West, it seems that environmentally we are not winning hearts and minds.


  1. Whooee!Good boogin', BillFeller. The seal hunt and the tar sands got somethin' else in common. Both of 'em get massive gummint subsidies.

    With all the money the big oil's got, they'll be spendin' a fair bit on greenwashin', like yer sayin' with the $25 mil.

    If big oil wants a PR boost, all's they gotta do is bail out the UN World Food Program. WFP's facin' a $750 million shortfall this year while it tries to feed 89 million people. That amount is about 2% of Exxon's annual profits.

    Big oil can buy a clean name but I ain't sure they even want to. The only reason they're puttin' on the dog an' pony show fer the Merkins is to protect their investment. As far as protectin' people or ol' Mother Earth, big oil don't give a rat's patoot.

    I figger the intenational hate fer the tar sands'll surpass the baby seal thing. If only we could find a cuddly, doe-eyed darlin' fer a mascot...


  2. If the Americans feel they can do without 1.6 million barrels of oil a day...so be it. The Chinese will take it. If the Europeans ban the import of seal hide products...so be it. Canada will just file a complaint with the WTO and we'll slap an import tax on European wine. My, my, the eco-freaks can't win for trying.