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February 1, 2014

Dirty Oil

Scott Stockdale

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In keeping with his time-worn - and increasingly tiresome - mondus operandi, Prime Minister Harper responded to concerns about the oil sands development, expressed recently by rock legend Neil Young, by skillfully changing the subject and attacking the messenger of the bad news.

On a recent four-city Canadian “Honour the Treaties” tour, with all proceeds going to a legal fund for the people of Fort Chipewyan, which is 220 kilometres downstream from Fort McMurray, Mr. Young criticized the Harper government for its lack of integrity, ignorance of science, shameful treatment Canada's First Nations and disregard for the well-being of future generations of Canadians.

In response to Mr. Young's concerns, Mr. Harper's spokesperson Jason MacDonald issued the following statement, in part:

“Canada's natural resources sector is and has always been a fundamental part of our country's economy. And it continues to present a tremendous economic opportunity for all Canadians from coast to coast to coast. The resource sector creates economic opportunities, and employs tens of thousands of Canadians in high wage jobs, contributing to a standard of living that is envied around the world, and helping to fund programs and services Canadians rely on. Even the lifestyle of a rock star relies, to some degree, on the resources developed by thousands of hard-working Canadians every day.”

Mr. Young questioned what rock stars needing oil has to do with government's breaking treaties and, of course, it also has nothing to do with environmental damage that future generations of Canadians will suffer for.

Mr. Young said that although he respects hard-working Canadians, and all working people, it's the particular job they're working on that concerns him.

“They are digging a hole that our grandchildren will have great trouble digging their way out of. By that we mean Climate Change, the result of too much CO2 in the atmosphere. There are better jobs to be developing, with clean energy source industries to help make the world a safer place for our grandchildren.”

He added that the oil sands projects are among the dirtiest on earth and that, per day, the oil sands operations produce as much CO2 as all the cars in Canada. He said that every gallon of gasoline from the cleanest oil sources produces 19.5 lbs. Of CO2, while Alberta oil sands derived gasoline produces up to three times as much CO2, because of inefficient methods used.  And most of this oil will go to China, where Mr. Young said the air quality has been measured at 30 times the levels of safety established by the World Health Organization.

“Is that what Canada is about?” Mr. Young asked, adding that “As a Canadian citizen, I am concerned that this government is not acting within the advice of science.”

And according to a 2011 entry on the Suzuki Foundation website, the science is troubling. A statement on the website reads, in part:

“It shows that the Alberta tar sands contribute to about five per cent of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions and are the country's fastest growing source of emissions. To date, they have disturbed 600 square kilometres of boreal forest with little or no chance of true reclamation, use enormous amounts of water, and pollute surrounding air and water.”

The Suzuki Foundation website reported that in the summer of 2010, an independent, peer-reviewed scientific study showed that toxic by-products from the tar sands extraction industry “are poisoning the Athabasca River, putting downstream First Nations communities and the fish they eat at risk. Health studies show these First Nations communities already have elevated rates of rare cancers associated with exposure to such toxins.”

The Suzuki Foundation also asks how ethical are the companies operating in the tar sands, considering that Exxon Mobil is a well-known sponsor of climate-change disinformation campaigns, BP was responsible for the massive oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and PetroChina is controlled by the Chinese government, which has little regard for the environment in its own country.

The Chinese government allows diesel fuel which has 30 times the level of sulphur U.S. Government regulations allow, because it's expensive to refine the sulphur out of the fuel. It's also common in China to see the buses spewing clouds of black smoke. With this kind of disregard for the environment its little wonder that China has thousands of hectares of land which can no longer support agriculture due to damage from pollution. Canada is not there yet, but Canadians should ask themselves: Do we even want to start going there?

Mr. Young is currently focused on helping Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) and its fight against Shell Canada's Jackpine mine, approved by regulators last month, as well as other First Nations fighting oil sands projects. The Jackpine extension is of particular concern. It was approved by the Harper government, although Federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq said there would be “significant adverse environmental effects” justifiable under the circumstances.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) issued a statement during Mr. Young's tour saying it offered to “have a balanced discussion” with Mr. Young and ACFN Chief Allan Adam. Mr. Young, who appeared on stage with David Suzuki and University of Alberta water scientist and oil sands critic David Schindler and ACFN Chief Allan Adam, said CAPP would not accept environmental activist David Suzuki as a moderator. One can only wonder why.

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