Environment Faces Sacrifice As Alberta Explores Oil Reserves

<p>Oil reserves in Canada have the mouths of investors watering, and many Canadians willing to accept the vast environmental degradation that will result from the oil's extraction.</p>
October 25, 2007, 1pm PDT | Nate Berg
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"Every day approximately 50 new fortune seekers travel north on Canada's Highway 63 to the tar sands of Alberta, to join what may be the world's last great oil rush. The two-lane all-weather highway starts about 100 miles north of the provincial capital, Edmonton, and ends at Fort McMurray, a sprawling city hastily carved out of swampy groves of spruce. The road was originally built in the 1970s to connect a marginal and experimental source of heavy oil with the rest of the country. It has since become a continental artery to a modern-day Klondike that has made Canada the number-one supplier of oil to the United States. That's right -- Canada."

"Thanks to a recent explosion in investments by the major multinational oil companies (more than $125 billion in U.S. dollars is committed over the next decade), Fort McMurray and environs may soon become the planet's largest source of new oil. By some estimates the surrounding waterlogged forest holds almost 60 percent of the black gold available to global investors. With nearly 175 billion barrels in proven reserves, the tar sands represent the biggest pile of hydrocarbons outside Saudi Arabia. Many experts suspect they hold eight times that much. Stephen Harper, the prime minister of Canada, rightly calls the project 'an enterprise of epic proportions, akin to the building of the pyramids or China's Great Wall. Only bigger.' Al Gore calls the whole enterprise 'truly nuts.'"

"But for friendly Canada the tar sands are rapidly becoming an environmental liability as well as an economic hurricane. Described by the United Nations Environment Program as one of the world's top "environmental hot spots," the project will eventually transform a boreal forest the size of Florida into an industrial sacrifice zone complete with lakes full of toxic waste and man-made volcanoes spewing out clouds of greenhouse gases. Are Canadians willing to create an environmental disaster in Alberta in order to provide the U.S. market with some of the most expensive oil in the world? The answer seems to be an emphatic yes."

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Published on Monday, October 1, 2007 in OnEarth
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