In 2002, Canada surpassed Saudi Arabia and Mexico as the top supplier of oil to the United States. That’s quite a feat, given that we consume one-quarter of the earth’s supply of oil and only have five-percent of the population. That equation makes us less reliant on dictatorial nations, but as Andrew Nikiforuk points out, we might not be any better off in the long run. The mining of bitumen, which is a $200 billion development and growing, is labor-intensive, gas-intensive, water-intensive, and it pollutes the air, water, ground, and, likely, the local citizens of Alberta where a majority of the projects are based.
The Canadian government hosts a web site about the country’s “oil sands.” As Andrew Nikiforuk says, they prefer use “oil sands” rather than “tar sands” because it evokes a more lucrative image. But this is the definition that very site uses for the substance: “Oil Sands are deposits of bitumen, a molasses-like viscous oil that will not flow unless heated or diluted with lighter hydrocarbons.”
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has responded to National Geographic’s March article about the tar sands projects. The CAPP site avoids photographs of the grimy open tar pits and sledge filled tailings ponds which are available on National Geographic’s web site.
Oil Sands Truth is a non-profit organization dedicated to documenting and closing the mining projects (complete with photo albums of each of the mining sites, mostly taken from the air): http://oilsandstruth.org/.
For a copy of Nikiforuk’s book, Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent: click here. Living in the United States, you’ll be interested to see the maps he provides in the appendix: pipeline extensions projected for the years 2009, 2015, and 2030 to bring the dirty oil here for refining.