Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Tar Sands From Space

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

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Not everyone in Alberta is in love with how the Oilsands are being exploited.

It's sort of like the mantra about Alberta hating Ottawa - the real whining comes from a subset of the population.

bigcitylib said...

Actually, I know. I just like teasing Albertans. I also know that Fort Mac has some tough choices to make. Its tough being a boom town.

Anonymous said...

I did a search. I have never used the phrase "Eastern snobs." Not that you should let that deter you.

Anonymous said...

So AC is saying BC is pre-var-i-ca-ting ?

bigcitylib said...

Ac is right, the term he used was "urban snobs" (in "The Man Sent to Kill The Issue"), and I should have realized that there are cities West of Ontario. I have rewritten that section to correct the error.

Nice of you to grace the site, AC. Your the first famous person to visit since the black guy that claimed to be Jesus.

Anonymous said...

Maybe some Albertans have realized that the biosphere that they'll be living in will also make a nifty firewall...

Jay said...

My parents are in Fort mac, and contrary to what CPC bloggers tell you, people are not happy with it at all.

The stench of oil in the air is sickening. There are high incidences of rare cancers around the oil patch. People are stressed to the max, so much so that drug abuse is skyrocketing and families are breaking down. People are living in work camps. Rent is out of control, my parents had a $325 increase in their rent in just one month.

People need to ask themselves if it is worth selling their lives for a quick buck that gets lost in inflation.

Canadians in general need to think if they like the concept of Albert's uncontrolled growth stealing away their workers and pushing up their cost of living. The province is starting to act like an abusive partner.

Then their is Stevie Harper, "The man who sold the world", forcing consumers to reduce the drop in the bucket they produce in GHG should a 5 fold increase in oil sands production occur. If a two fold increase occured it would become the single biggest source of GHG in Canada at 70 megatonnes. Imagine a 5 fold increase is allowed to occur then their will be 175 megatonnes a year.

Baird and Harper keep saying how GHG increased by 30% under the liberals. Just look what will happen under the conservatives. We are talking triple the figure they keep ragging the liberals on.

Explain to me how Canada is going to be an energy superpoer when he is just referring to the oil patch in Northern Alberta. There is no Canada that picture. The other provinces will just be struggling with lack of workers and high inflation.

Some serious choices. Do we poison everyone for the sake of a few soulless multinationals?

Ti-Guy said...

I'm just enjoying the temporary calm, now that the deniers and paid shills have gone quiet. God, what a waste of time they were.

Anonymous said...

The Fort MacMurray mayor and city council have asked for an immediate moratorium on tar sands development. At the same time, Lunn is predicting a five-fold increase in tar sands production to help the Americans get off of Mideast oil and to help establish Canada as an energy super power.

Don't worry, though. Lunn says nuclear power will make the oil extraction viable and he thinks nuclear power is totally emission-free.
Jim Elve

Anonymous said...

Living in Calgary the past six years, I can tell you about the summertime water shortages (no watering or washing cars on odd days, etc.). The Bow Glacier (which feeds the Bow River) will be completely melted in less than 10 years. Perhaps then Albertans will "stand up for Canada" and start conserving. The oil industry is using up ALL of Alberta's fresh water - and doing it in the most wasteful ways possible.

Calgary will see nothing but water shortages and rationing in the future. It will be a crying shame to watch a city of one million located next to what used to be some of North America's largest glaciers, in the country containing the world's largest fresh water supply, having to pipeline/truck in water. Calgary will effectively die as a city within 20-25 years with the death of the oil industry, and the emergence of wind farms thriving on the high winds of global warming, and nuclear energy.

bobthebuilder said...

Notwithstanding any other point with which I may or may not disagree, somewhere around 1% of the Bow River volume is fed by the Bow Glacier. Sorry, I prefer facts to be correct.

http://geoscape.nrcan.gc.ca/h2o/bow/cycle_e.php

Recent water shortages have had more to do with construction of upgrades at Bearspaw WTP than anything else.

That is not to say that it is certainly possible that Calgary may have long term problems with water supply. I just prefer that bad information not be used as the basis of an argument.

Holly Stick said...

ti-guy: "I'm just enjoying the temporary calm, now that the deniers and paid shills have gone quiet. God, what a waste of time they were."

Unfortunately, they seem to have migrated to the Globe and Mail discussions. Same old BS. I like the ones who accuse others of not being willing to look at all the facts, while forgetting to actually produce any facts. Actually I think they have learned not to produce references to Friends of Science or whatever, because then it is too easy to explode them. They just fall back on invective, and poor invective, at that.

paul said...

You ought to see all the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers propaganda that runs on the local TV stations every night. One of the spots even has an 8 year old girl saying "I am the oil and gas industry"!

Ti-Guy said...

One of the spots even has an 8 year old girl saying "I am the oil and gas industry"!

Man. All money-sucking capitalists (or, more likely, their PR people) must be on all kinds of psychotropic medication these days to even venture that kind of twaddle.

Last time I said anything that gushy was when I was on morphine after an appendectomy.

paul said...

The other ones I've seen are like glazed versions of ads you'd expect from the 50's-a manly voice saying "The oil industry-responsible, progressive, vital" or one where they talk about how much money the poor oil industry pays in taxes compared to the average Albertan. They leave out the parts about how royalties are only 1% and that they are all posting record profits.