Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Making the Tar Sands a Paying Proposition

When Canadian politicians gaze upon the scarred surface of the Athabasca Tar Sands they see wealth, not cost. They see a windfall bounty just waiting to flood into federal and Alberta government coffers and what's more appealing to a second-rate politician than free money?

These hacks - Harper, Stelmach, Ignatieff - adore free money so much that they're willing to see it where it doesn't exist. That would be Athabasca itself.

To create the oillusion of free, "help yourself" money, these greasy pols willingly but duplicitously overlook real costs going unpaid by Big Oil mining the bitumen pits of the Tar Sands.

Let's begin with water, the billions of barrels of freshwater Big Oil draws from the Athabasca and Peace rivers each year to extract and process oil sludge. Now if there's one thing global warming has already plain proved around the world it's that water ain't free. Why just ask the World Water Council and its World Water Forum, a front group for multinationals questing to privatize water resources in every corner of the world they can reach. These corporate giants know there's gold in water.

Alberta knows it's facing a grave water shortage problem over the coming decade or two. The province even has plans to divert northern watersheds to the thirsty south. So this would seem as good a time as any to begin putting a fair dollar figure on all that water being sucked into the gaping maw of Big Oil in Athabasca. I mean, giving those industrial giants such vast amounts of free water is handing them a massive subsidy, isn't it? And massive subsidies are socialist, aren't they? And Alberta of all places utterly rejects socialism, doesn't it? Or is socialism just dandy when it's for the uber-rich oil industry? Then again, it's not as though the Alberta Conservatives don't already have the oil patch in the provincial thumbscrews with that massive one percent royalty is it?

And maybe, while they're at it, Alberta should also begin sending invoices for the environmental costs of those ever-growing and highly toxic tailing ponds where the waste water of tar sanding ends up. These pitch ponds are big enough they're visible to the naked eye from the space shuttle. They're also increasing Big Oil's liabilities each and every day by leaking toxic chemicals into the region's groundwater too. Does anyone think that, if Big Oil had an affordable answer to its tailing pond nightmares, it wouldn't already be cleaning them up?

Giving Big Oil a pass on those tailing ponds is another form of subsidy, isn't it? And it's probably a really massive subsidy too, isn't it? But wait, Big Oil has solemnly promised to clean up these tailing ponds before they leave, hasn't it? And they're not the first major mining operation to promise to get to their tailings just as soon as they're done, right? And how well has that worked out in the past? Not so good? Hmmm.

There's really no getting around it. If Alberta fairly priced its water and put Big Oil on a "pay as you go" basis for its water consumption and its toxic leavings, bitumen's house of cards might just collapse. But if there's one thing Big Oil has learned from a century of global petroleum exploitation, it's that there's one thing they can always rely on - there'll always be plenty of greasy politicians around to do their bidding, politicians that can be bought off with beads and trinkets.

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