Frances Russell of The Winnipeg Free Press has a column today entitled "The gassy elephant; Alberta's tar sands are fuelling an ecological disaster" which is proof positive that worrying over the development of Alberta's tar sands is not just a fad among us Eastern Snobs. One line in the column that particularly piqued my interest was:
...every barrel of tar sands oil requires three to five barrels of water, water then so contaminated it must be impounded in tailing ponds now big enough to be visible from space. The amount of water currently allocated to the tar sands is 350 million cubic metres, the equivalent required by a city of two million people.
I broke out google Earth, and sure enough its true.
This shot is from about 27 miles up, although believe me you can still see them (the six blue spots on the West side of the river) when G-Earth is set to 100 miles, which is my personal definition of "space". I used a shot from lower down so as to better use the G-Earth measuring tool. With it, I was able to determine that the top and largest pond is three miles from North to South and about 1.5 miles across; the bottom one two miles long and one across; the smaller ponds about a mile North to South.
Another line in the column that caught my attention:
The Pembina Institute's latest book, Death By A Thousand Cuts, warns that one-quarter of Alberta, 138,000 square kilometres, "could be mined or drilled for oil sands with major impacts to boreal forest, water, air, climate and wildlife." As of July 2005, the area leased for deep oil sands development was 35,680 square kilometres, "setting the wheels in motion for an industrial sacrifice zone the size of Vancouver Island." If all deep tar sands are developed, fully 11,454 square kilometres of boreal forest will be cleared.
I love that term "industrial sacrifice zone". it sounds so noble! But imagine a kind of giant scab over the land, visible all the way from Jupiter! Will the people of Alberta and their political leaders allow it to happen? I am reminded of the old Pretenders song, "My City was Gone", when Chrissy sings:
I WENT BACK TO OHIO
BUT MY PRETTY COUNTRYSIDE
HAD BEEN PAVED DOWN THE MIDDLE
BY A GOVERNMENT THAT HAD NO PRIDE