Saturday, May 03, 2008

Dead Ducks All In a Row

Special Ed Stelmach has a problem and it's one that's not going away.

Ed's problem, or at least his latest problem, is the toxic waste dump also known as the Athabasca Tar Sands. Getting ersatz oil out of Athabasca's bitumen tar uses an awful lot of water - fresh water that's turned into a black, oily waste that has to be pumped into tailing ponds built out of earthen walls.

These tailing ponds are big. They can be seen from the shuttle as it orbits in space. And they're not getting any smaller because no one, it seems, has any plan for dealing with this toxic sludge. Now I don't know what the lifespan of an earthen wall may be but I'm pretty sure it's not all that long. No one's really sure how much of this stuff may seep into the groundwater or when or just who may be effected by it eventually.

When it comes to the Tar Sands and the rich array of environmental threats associated with that boondoggle, Special Ed clings to the "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" school of environmentalism. When native villages downstream get swept with cancer or migratory birds die in the tailing ponds, he proclaims the Tar Sands an environmental triumph and brands his critics as outsiders, sh*t disturbers.

So now Ed has five or six hundred dead ducks on his hands and, of course, it's not really about the ducks at all but where they died - the tailing ponds. That defeats the "out of sight, out of mind" firewall on which people like Ed rely so heavily. The timing couldn't have been worse, coming at the same time as Ed had dispatched his Number Two to the US to promote the Tar Sands. How did Ed react? Predictably. Ed tried to set up the province of Alberta as the underdog, the David to the environmentalists' Goliath. Why not? That kind of bullshit has worked great for the White House for the past eight years. Who cares whether the statement is utterly ridiculous so long as your target audience is willing to swallow.

Now it turns out that a Seattle scientist is calling "bullshit" on Ed Stemcell's claims that the normal, annual loss from the Tar Sands ponds is only 20-birds. Jeff Wells belongs to a group that conducted research at just one operation in 2003 that found, even with bird-deterrence programmes in place, 705 birds died in just a four week span. That's one operation, the Albian Sands project, and just four weeks. Albian Sands is a joint venture of Shell and Chevron-Texaco, operator of the Muskeg River mind about 75-kms. north of Fort McMurray.

Makes you wonder. If Ed's going to deceive the public about a few hundred migratory birds, when it comes to his cherished Tar Sands, what else is he willing to hide and bury and lie about? My guess is that he'll do whatever he thinks it takes.

No one seems to be asking why these tailing ponds are being left to grow and spread? The wealth associated with those tailings is leaving Athabasca and much of it is leaving Canada with the American oil companies running these mines. Simply leaving these tailings unresolved as a future threat to the region doesn't sound like much of a plan.

The National Spot ran the predictible opinion piece dismissing the incident as just a few hundred birds that otherwise would have fallen to hunters anyway. What was interesting was the furor that sparked in readers' letters. People were uniformly incensed with the Post's whitewash. Maybe there is hope yet.

The satellite picture at the top shows the Albian Sands project. I expect you can figure out for yourself what those black objects are at the top left.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Where exactly do you want to get your oil from? End our addiction to oil that is the problem.

The oil sands are run with very strict guidelines. I've worked on a tailings dam for 3 years and it is very clean. I'd even drink that water. (not everyday though)